Are ghosts and goblins real or just ‘Trick or Treat’?
By David Place – Mid-Valley Town Crier
Weslaco, Donna, Mercedes, Progreso, Progresso Lakes and the Delta Area, Tx. – Oct. 31, 2004
Issue number 229
Tradition upholds the belief that October 31st is of specific importance in relation with the afterlife.
Ancient Celts believed that the dead could return to Earth on All Hollow’s Eve, the night commonly known as Halloween.
Throughout the centuries a devout belief in spirits returning from the grave has given way to more popular images of teenagers wearing grease paint skulls and children cloaked in bed sheets. But to some ghosts are much more than the inspiration of Halloween costumes and horror movies. To those that have had experiences, the existence of ghosts is unquestionable.
James Sangster, a Houston based paranormal researcher and co-founder of G.H.O.S.T. (Ghost Hunters of South Texas) -, firmly believes in the existence of disembodied spirits.
“Ghosts are formally known as disincarnates. They are something that once was alive and is no longer.” Sangster said.
Throughout his time as a paranormal researcher, Sangster has witnessed a variety of unusual events. Although he hasn’t documented the appearance of a full-bodied apparition, he has experienced a number of bizarre encounters that he attributes to the supernatural.
“Seeing a ghost depends on how you classify it. I have actually experienced different types of events. I have seen objects get picked up and moved, I was temporarily blinded by a bright flash of light by something that was angry with me for being in it’s area, and I was growled at once while investigating a graveyard attached to a church”, Sangster said.
Sangster says that there are different types of entities that may be involved in hauntings.
Not all spirits are benevolent souls simply lost in limbo. There are darker more nefarious things that lurk in the shadows.
“Really the dividing line between ghost, demon or spirit is if it was ever alive at one time. Some of the more negative things can be ghosts if they died horribly or were bad people in life. There are some entities that come from some other place”, Sangster said.
Belief in ghosts is controversial in the United States and considered somewhat taboo in some social circles.
Dr. Ramon Guerra, an associate professor of Sociology at the University of Texas Pan American in Edinburg says the belief in ghosts plays an important role in western society.
“The concept of ghosts has been discussed for hundreds of years. Our view in western society is very different from that in other cultures. Ghosts are represented very differently around the world; in Japan they are often welcomed as benevolent ancestors”, Guerra said. Guerra stated that there are two general views of ghosts within society. They are seen as both good and evil in different scenarios.
“We have two aspects of ghosts, the friendly, dearly departed and the potential evil that causes harm, the potentially malevolent. Maybe we use ghost stories to scare individuals, they keep the young away from areas where they may get into mischief, maybe it does some good by using fear”, Guerra Said.
On the other hand, Guerra points out that using ghost stories as methods of control may have harmful effects.
“There is also a potential negative, a lot of children are afraid of the dark, afraid of the boogieman in the dark or in the closet. The fear of the dark is very present in our society and western society as well”, Guerra said.
A common folk tale in the Rio Grande Valley is the story of La Llorona, the weeping woman. Details of the legend vary between story tellers, but the core of the tale tells of the spirit of a murderous woman wailing for the lost souls of her children which she drowned in the river.
The identity of the woman is unknown and the actual riverbank she is said to haunt is often debated.
Guerra said that the tale of La Llorona may be another ghost story retold time and again for an element of control.
“It could be told so children will stay away from the river or behave. He concept of don’t do something bad or the ghost will come and get you.”
Guerra illustrated the point that spirits of the dead are viewed more positively in some other countries. Mexico’s Day of the Dead is a good example of this.
“The Day of the Dead is a custom where people clean up the graves, make altars and present marigolds to the dead. Pastries and candy is commonly made in the form of skulls and skeletons.
Their view is very different from the U.S., those kind of things within our society are usually seen as gruesome”, Guerra said.
Although opinions differ on the reality of ghosts, there have been many eye witnesses accounts of spiritual phenomena throughout the history of mankind. Research groups like H.G.R. and some academics have found the subject so compelling that they have devoted themselves to investigating things that go bump in the night. Sangster said that H.G.R. is an organization dedicated to uncovering the unknown and helping people in frightening situations.
“We’re a volunteer group, we don’t charge anything, we gather data and try to understand the phenomena. Our secondary purpose is to help people with no place turn. We help families with nowhere to go and try to evaluate the situation”, Sangster said.
H.G.R. is a Houston based organization and only investigates phenomena in their immediate area.