This past week, while visiting family, my father asked me an interesting question — which I’m sure was inspired by the Halloween season. He asked me if I thought it might be possible in a place where great human suffering had taken place that something could be imprinted upon that location; something that could be measured by science, but right now is outside of human understanding. Essentially, it was a question of whether or not I see any possible truth to cases of hauntings in the world.
A tall question to consider, assuming you’re even open to the possibility. Looking at the question from a perspective of reason and logic it’s pretty easy to dismiss as simply untrue. This is likely the case, since I base most of my beliefs on logic and reason, though there is a part of my mind that is open to the possibility, where others would quite easily dismiss it.
What I’m more interested in when considering this, however, is what this has to do with the concept of the power of storytelling. I believe many people feel this creeping sense in archetypically spooky locations like graveyards, churches/temples, and old and/or abandoned buildings like asylums. These are the types of locations where scary stories are commonly set. The feeling you get from them makes you uncomfortable, jump at every little sound, and suspicious of your own shadow, even though you know there’s nothing there.
As I’ve said I’m open to this being a phenomenon yet to be understood by science — I think it would be neat — but the force at the heart of these feelings in people susceptible to the creeps is story. I’ve brought it up before, but people often misunderstand the power of story. Stories transmit ideas in ways like no other. The building blocks of a story are insidious, and they can weave their way into your understanding of the world without you even realizing it. These structural qualities lay the foundation in our minds, making “spooky” locations creepier because of what our subconscious is interpreting.
Even a children’s book about ghosts in a graveyard can implant the idea that entities like this live in those types of locations. You may not even think about this book while strolling through one at night, but you are already subconsciously thinking about it because it is familiar, and when confronted with the real-life possibility it becomes very creepy.
You will die 30 hours after looking at this image.
That one sentence was a story. We all know it’s not true. I just wrote that myself and as I continue to write this I haven’t even chosen the image yet. Some of you may even scoff at how ridiculous this is, but speaking from my experience that I believe other people share, a simple little story with this suggestion makes the image all the more terrifying. This method has been used on me before without warning, and though I did not really believe my life was in any real danger from it, I was unsettled by it.
If there is measurable force within supposed “haunted” locations I would not begin looking for any force of the human experience that imprints something physically, but in the stories imprinted on our minds. Not just the history of a location, but the tropes and archetypes that create the building blocks of a story that form the expectations within us. They immediately affect how you begin to perceive such locations and make you look for evidence of what you fear can be expected.