Two things we’re told about the supernatural: one, it doesn’t exist and two, it can’t be studied. Of course the vast majority of people in the world don’t buy into number one and hardly care about number two. Both, it seems to me, could be wrong. As Jeannie Banks Thomas says in her introduction to Putting the Supernatural in Its Place: Folklore, the Hypermodern, and the Ethereal, belief in the supernatural is not declining. In fact, the more we’re told by cocksure scientists that all of reality is quantifiable and material, the more we become aware of the many exceptions to the rules. Of course, “supernatural” may be a misnomer. It could be that anything sloughed off into that category is simply not understood well enough to be empirically studied. Thinking back over the history of science I find it ironic that the very system that had to convince people that something couldn’t be seen (many gases) could be deadly. Now if it can’t be seen it can’t exist. We certainly don’t want any deities hanging out around here.
But back to the book. Putting the Supernatural in Its Place is a folkloric study of place. The contributors to the volume look at popular beliefs, some serious, some not, that accrue around certain places. As I’ve often stated on this blog, we are aware as humans that some places are fraught with meaning. Scientifically we know this shouldn’t be true, but we feel it when we approach any space of significance. The contributors to Thomas’ book look to some very interesting places: New Orleans, Salem, St. Ann’s Retreat, Lily Dale, Japan, and even movies and the internet. If any of these places aren’t familiar to you, it’s worth picking up a copy of this accessible book to learn more. Supporting folklore is a very good thing. Folklore, after all, is the wisdom of the people.
The places in this book are rumored to be haunted by ghosts, witches, zombies, vampires, and even fairies. Folklorists, of course, don’t try to prove that beliefs are true. Like any academic they study and analyze. The main form of exploration for the non-academic is the legend quest. Many of us have gone legend questing from time to time. A place where something happened is said to have a certain feel or manifestation, so we go to see what it’s all about. If such trips are given religious sanction we call them pilgrimages. We want to see. But more than that, we want to experience something that the past has left behind. In the part of the year when each night grows longer than the last, my thoughts turn to what is usually termed “the supernatural.” And I, for one, am glad to have able guides along the way to make the simple voyage into a quest.