Fascinating lists!

Sunday, March 16, 2008

A Dictionary of the Paranormal, the Supernatural, and the Otherworldly (A - C)

copyright 2008 by Gary L. Pullman

Note: Unless otherwise noted, definitions are courtesy of dictionary.die.net, an Internet dictionary in the public domain.


The Alchemist

Abracadabra--A mystical word or collocation of letters. . . . worn on an amulet. It was supposed to ward off fever. At present the word is used chiefly in jest to denote something without meaning; jargon.

Abominable Snowman (Bigfoot, Sasquatch, Yeti)--a large hairy humanoid creature said to live in the Himalayas.

Acupuncture--The insertion of needles into the living tissues for remedial purposes.

Ad hoc hypothesis--an interpretation of facts that explains away evidence that contradicts a favored idea or belief (the author).

Akashic record--a spiritual or incorporeal plane upon which all knowledge is stored (the author).

Alchemy--An imaginary art which aimed to transmute the baser metals into gold, to find the panacea, or universal remedy for diseases, etc. It led the way to modern chemistry.
Alien (Extraterrestrial Biological Entities, EBEs)--a form of life assumed to exist outside the Earth or its atmosphere.

Allopathy--That system of medical practice which aims to combat disease by the use of remedies which produce effects different from those produced by the special disease treated; -- a term invented by Hahnemann to designate the ordinary practice, as opposed to homeopathy.

Alpha wave--the normal brainwave in the electroencephalogram of a person who is awake but relaxed; occurs with a frequency of 8-12 hertz.

Altered state of consciousness--a trance or trance-like state of mind (the author)

Amityville (New York) haunting--a hoax; the Lutz family, owners of a Dutch Colonial house in Amityville, NY, claimed their residence was haunted; prior to their purchase and residence in the house, Ronald DeFeo, Jr., killed six of his family members in the same house (the author).

Amulet--An ornament, gem, or scroll, or a package containing a relic, etc., worn as a charm or preservative against evils or mischief, such as diseases and witchcraft, and generally inscribed with mystic forms or characters.

Angel--spiritual being attendant upon God.

Animal ghost--the ghost of an animal.

Animism--the doctrine that all natural objects and the universe itself have souls.

Anomaly--deviation from the normal or common order or form or rule.

Appeal to authority fallacy: the idea or belief that the credibility or authority of an expert is sufficient cause to accept the claims of an argument (the author).

Apollo--Greek god of light; god of prophesy and poetry and music and healing; son of Zeus and Leto; twin brother of Artemis.

Apparition--the appearance of a ghostlike figure.

Apport--the transference of an article from an unknown source, to you, or another place by unknown means (Wikipedia).

Argo--The name of the ship which carried Jason and his fifty-four companions to Colchis, in quest of the Golden Fleece.

Argonaut--one of the heroes who sailed with Jason on the Argo in search of the Golden Fleece

Argument from design (teleological argument)--the argument that the order the universe and the inetraction of its myriad parts necessitates the belief in God as a ominscient and omnipotent designer (the author).

Argument from incredulity--see "Divine fallacy."

Artemis--the virgin goddess of the hunt and the moon; daughter of Leto and twin sister of Apollo; identified with Roman Diana.

Astarte--a Phoenician goddess; counterpart of Ashtoreth and Ishtar.

Astral plane--an otherworldly plane of existence or one in a parallel dimension (the author).

Astral projection--the spiritual body’s travel from the physical body (the author).

Astronauts, ancient--extraterrestrial visitors to earth (sometimes mistaken for gods) during prehistoric times to manipulate or control human evolution or culture (the author).

Aura--a distinctive but intangible quality surrounding a person or thing.

Aural hallucination--hearing things (that aren’t there) (the author).

Autism--an abnormal absorption with the self; marked by communication disorders and short attention span and inability to treat others as people.

Autokinetic effect--the apparent movement of a stationary light in an otherwise dark environment (the author).

Automatic writing--writing produced without conscious thought; often considered a means of channeling (the author).


Baal--any of numerous local fertility and nature deities worshipped by ancient Semitic peoples; the Hebrews considered Baal a false god.

Backward Satanic messages--supposedly diabolical communications created by backmasking (the author).

Ball lightning

Ball lightning--a rare form of lightning sometimes seen as a globe of fire moving from the clouds to the earth.

Banshee--In Irish folklore, a female spirit who wails to warn of impending death.

Begging the question--circular reasoning (the author).

“Believe It Or Not” strip--a comic strip in which the artist-writer Robert Ripley recounted strange and mysterious incidents and recorded odd facts and trivia.

Benzene molecule--a ring-shaped chemical molecule the structure of which was perceived by Friedrich August Kekulé, a German chemist, during a dream in which he saw a snake biting its own tail (the author),

Bermuda Triangle--an area in the western Atlantic Ocean where many ships and planes are spposed to have been mysteriously lost.

Bible Code--information patterns said to exist in encrypted or coded form in the text of the Bible, or, more specifically, in the Hebrew Torah, the first five books of Old Testament (Wikipedia).

Biorhythm--a hypothetical cycle in physiological, emotional, or intellectual well-being or prowess (Wikipedia).

Blavatsky, Madame Helene Petrovna--founder of the Theosophy Society (the author).

Book of shadows--a witch's personal collection of spells and incantations (the author).

Brainwashing--forcible indoctrination into a new set of attitudes and beliefs.


Cardiff giant--a hoax perpetuated by P. T. Barnum in which it was claimed that a giant “petrified man” had been dug up on Cardiff, NY, by laborers digging a well (the author); this alleged giant is the basis of “A Ghost Story” by Mark Twain (the author).

Cartomancy--the art of telling fortunes with cards.

Castenada, Carlos--a Peruvian mystic (the author).

Cayce, Edgar--an American psychic who claimed to channel messages from the dead concerning health, reincarnation, Atlantis, and other matters (the author).

Cattle mutilation--the evisceration of cattle, often on isolated farms, allegedly by extraterrestrials, presumably for research purposes (the author).

Celestine Prophecy--a 1993 novel by James Redfield which discusses various psychological and spiritual ideas which are rooted in many ancient Eastern Traditions (Wikipedia) .

Centaur--a mythical being that is half man and half horse.

Cerberus--three-headed dog guarding the entrance to Hades; son of Typhon.

Chakra--a anatomical energy center (the author).

Channeling--opening oneself as a medium for the receipt of messages from spirits, often during séances (the author).

Chariot of the Gods--book by Erich von Daniken in which the author claims ancient humans were visited by extraterrestrial beings (ancient astronauts) (the author).

Chemtrail--gaseous trails released by aircraft; they are believed to consist of dangerous, but unidentified, chemicals sprayed by the government as part of a nationwide (possibly worldwide) clandestine mission (the author).

Chiropractic--a method of treatment that manipulates body structures (especially the spine) to relieve low back pain or even headache or high blood pressure.

Chopra, Deepak--Indian mystic and author who influenced the New Thought movement in America and elsewhere (the author).

Christ, foreskin of--a holy relic.

Chupacabra--a legendary beast that roams North, Central, and South America, attacking goats and other animals, from which it sucks blood; also known as a “goatsucker” (the author).

Close Encounters of the Second Kind (CE2)--an observation of a UFO and associated physical effects (heat, radiation, damaged terrain, human paralysis, frightened animals, interference with engines or TV or radio reception, and/or crop circles found in the vicinity of the UFO (Wikipedia).

Close Encounters of the Third Kind (CE3)--an observation of. . . “animate beings” in association with a UFO sighting (Wikipedia).

Coelacanth--a supposedly extinct fish caught (several times) by Japanese fishermen and others (the author).

Cold reading--a medium or other’s use of people’s innate need and tendency to make sense of experiences by imposing order and cause upon otherwise random or seemingly random incidents as a means by which to ascertain information and to seem credible as fortunetellers or others who are adept in the use of allegedly paranormal or supernatural abilities (the author).

Collective hallucination (mass hallucination)--the same hallucination, shared by several (often many) people (the author).

Conspiracy theory--the belief that many individuals or organizations are involved in an attempt to conceal evidence, mislead the public, discredit individuals, secure power, promote a hidden agenda, or otherwise extend influence and socio-economic and political power over the unsuspecting masses (the author).

Cosmobiology--the metaphysical study of the universe; the astronomical study of the universe (the author).

Course in Miracles, A--a book that Helen Schucman (1909-1981) claims was dictated to her by Jesus Christ (the author).

Crop circle

Crop circle--geometrical patterns cut into the crops or grass of a field, allegedly by extraterrestrials, possibly as messages or navigational aids; some have been revealed as elaborate hoaxes (the author).

Crowley, Aleister--author of several books of occult mysticism, including Magick in Theory and Practice and The Book of the Law (the author).

Cryptomnesia--forgotten or repressed memories (the author).

Cryptozoology--the study of legendary, mythical, or unknown animals (the author).

Crystal skull--skulls carved in quartz or other stone and sometimes alleged to be endowed with magical powers of various kinds (the author).

Cult--adherents of an exclusive system of religious beliefs and practices.

Cupping--a treatment in which evacuated cups are applied to the skin to draw blood through the surface.

Curse--an evil spell.

Cyclops--In Greek mythology, one of a race of giants having a single eye in the middle of their forehead.

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Paranormal vs. Supernatural: What’s the Diff?

Copyright 2009 by Gary L. Pullman

Sometimes, in demonstrating how to brainstorm about an essay topic, selecting horror movies, I ask students to name the titles of as many such movies as spring to mind (seldom a difficult feat for them, as the genre remains quite popular among young adults). Then, I ask them to identify the monster, or threat--the antagonist, to use the proper terminology--that appears in each of the films they have named. Again, this is usually a quick and easy task. Finally, I ask them to group the films’ adversaries into one of three possible categories: natural, paranormal, or supernatural. This is where the fun begins.

It’s a simple enough matter, usually, to identify the threats which fall under the “natural” label, especially after I supply my students with the scientific definition of “nature”: everything that exists as either matter or energy (which are, of course, the same thing, in different forms--in other words, the universe itself. The supernatural is anything which falls outside, or is beyond, the universe: God, angels, demons, and the like, if they exist. Mad scientists, mutant cannibals (and just plain cannibals), serial killers, and such are examples of natural threats. So far, so simple.

What about borderline creatures, though? Are vampires, werewolves, and zombies, for example, natural or supernatural? And what about Freddy Krueger? In fact, what does the word “paranormal” mean, anyway? If the universe is nature and anything outside or beyond the universe is supernatural, where does the paranormal fit into the scheme of things?

According to the Online Etymology Dictionary, the word “paranormal,” formed of the prefix “para,” meaning alongside, and “normal,” meaning “conforming to common standards, usual,” was coined in 1920. The American Heritage Dictionary defines “paranormal” to mean “beyond the range of normal experience or scientific explanation.” In other words, the paranormal is not supernatural--it is not outside or beyond the universe; it is natural, but, at the present, at least, inexplicable, which is to say that science cannot yet explain its nature. The same dictionary offers, as examples of paranormal phenomena, telepathy and “a medium’s paranormal powers.”

Wikipedia offers a few other examples of such phenomena or of paranormal sciences, including the percentages of the American population which, according to a Gallup poll, believes in each phenomenon, shown here in parentheses: psychic or spiritual healing (54), extrasensory perception (ESP) (50), ghosts (42), demons (41), extraterrestrials (33), clairvoyance and prophecy (32), communication with the dead (28), astrology (28), witchcraft (26), reincarnation (25), and channeling (15); 36 percent believe in telepathy.

As can be seen from this list, which includes demons, ghosts, and witches along with psychics and extraterrestrials, there is a confusion as to which phenomena and which individuals belong to the paranormal and which belong to the supernatural categories. This confusion, I believe, results from the scientism of our age, which makes it fashionable for people who fancy themselves intelligent and educated to dismiss whatever cannot be explained scientifically or, if such phenomena cannot be entirely rejected, to classify them as as-yet inexplicable natural phenomena. That way, the existence of a supernatural realm need not be admitted or even entertained. Scientists tend to be materialists, believing that the real consists only of the twofold unity of matter and energy, not dualists who believe that there is both the material (matter and energy) and the spiritual, or supernatural. If so, everything that was once regarded as having been supernatural will be regarded (if it cannot be dismissed) as paranormal and, maybe, if and when it is explained by science, as natural. Indeed, Sigmund Freud sought to explain even God as but a natural--and in Freud’s opinion, an obsolete--phenomenon.

Meanwhile, among skeptics, there is an ongoing campaign to eliminate the paranormal by explaining them as products of ignorance, misunderstanding, or deceit. Ridicule is also a tactic that skeptics sometimes employ in this campaign. For example, The Skeptics’ Dictionary contends that the perception of some “events” as being of a paranormal nature may be attributed to “ignorance or magical thinking.” The dictionary is equally suspicious of each individual phenomenon or “paranormal science” as well. Concerning psychics’ alleged ability to discern future events, for example, The Skeptic’s Dictionary quotes Jay Leno (“How come you never see a headline like 'Psychic Wins Lottery'?”), following with a number of similar observations:

Psychics don't rely on psychics to warn them of impending disasters. Psychics don't predict their own deaths or diseases. They go to the dentist like the rest of us. They're as surprised and disturbed as the rest of us when they have to call a plumber or an electrician to fix some defect at home. Their planes are delayed without their being able to anticipate the delays. If they want to know something about Abraham Lincoln, they go to the library; they don't try to talk to Abe's spirit. In short, psychics live by the known laws of nature except when they are playing the psychic game with people.
In An Encyclopedia of Claims, Frauds, and Hoaxes of the Occult and Supernatural, James Randi, a magician who exercises a skeptical attitude toward all things alleged to be paranormal or supernatural, takes issue with the notion of such phenomena as well, often employing the same arguments and rhetorical strategies as The Skeptic’s Dictionary.

In short, the difference between the paranormal and the supernatural lies in whether one is a materialist, believing in only the existence of matter and energy, or a dualist, believing in the existence of both matter and energy and spirit. If one maintains a belief in the reality of the spiritual, he or she will classify such entities as angels, demons, ghosts, gods, vampires, and other threats of a spiritual nature as supernatural, rather than paranormal, phenomena. He or she may also include witches (because, although they are human, they are empowered by the devil, who is himself a supernatural entity) and other natural threats that are energized, so to speak, by a power that transcends nature and is, as such, outside or beyond the universe. Otherwise, one is likely to reject the supernatural as a category altogether, identifying every inexplicable phenomenon as paranormal, whether it is dark matter or a teenage werewolf. Indeed, some scientists dedicate at least part of their time to debunking allegedly paranormal phenomena, explaining what natural conditions or processes may explain them, as the author of The Serpent and the Rainbow explains the creation of zombies by voodoo priests.

Based upon my recent reading of Tzvetan Todorov's The Fantastic: A Structural Approach to the Fantastic, I add the following addendum to this essay.

According to Todorov:

The fantastic. . . lasts only as long as a certain hesitation [in deciding] whether or not what they [the reader and the protagonist] perceive derives from "reality" as it exists in the common opinion. . . . If he [the reader] decides that the laws of reality remain intact and permit an explanation of the phenomena described, we can say that the work belongs to the another genre [than the fantastic]: the uncanny. If, on the contrary, he decides that new laws of nature must be entertained to account for the phenomena, we enter the genre of the marvelous (The Fantastic: A Structural Approach to a Literary Genre, 41).
Todorov further differentiates these two categories by characterizing the uncanny as “the supernatural explained” and the marvelous as “the supernatural accepted” (41-42).

Interestingly, the prejudice against even the possibility of the supernatural’s existence which is implicit in the designation of natural versus paranormal phenomena, which excludes any consideration of the supernatural, suggests that there are no marvelous phenomena; instead, there can be only the uncanny. Consequently, for those who subscribe to this view, the fantastic itself no longer exists in this scheme, for the fantastic depends, as Todorov points out, upon the tension of indecision concerning to which category an incident belongs, the natural or the supernatural. The paranormal is understood, by those who posit it, in lieu of the supernatural, as the natural as yet unexplained.

And now, back to a fate worse than death: grading students’ papers.

My Cup of Blood

Anyone who becomes an aficionado of anything tends, eventually, to develop criteria for elements or features of the person, place, or thing of whom or which he or she has become enamored. Horror fiction--admittedly not everyone’s cuppa blood--is no different (okay, maybe it’s a little different): it, too, appeals to different fans, each for reasons of his or her own. Of course, in general, book reviews, the flyleaves of novels, and movie trailers suggest what many, maybe even most, readers of a particular type of fiction enjoy, but, right here, right now, I’m talking more specifically--one might say, even more eccentrically. In other words, I’m talking what I happen to like, without assuming (assuming makes an “ass” of “u” and “me”) that you also like the same. It’s entirely possible that you will; on the other hand, it’s entirely likely that you won’t.

Anyway, this is what I happen to like in horror fiction:

Small-town settings in which I get to know the townspeople, both the good, the bad, and the ugly. For this reason alone, I’m a sucker for most of Stephen King’s novels. Most of them, from 'Salem's Lot to Under the Dome, are set in small towns that are peopled by the good, the bad, and the ugly. Part of the appeal here, granted, is the sense of community that such settings entail.

Isolated settings, such as caves, desert wastelands, islands, mountaintops, space, swamps, where characters are cut off from civilization and culture and must survive and thrive or die on their own, without assistance, by their wits and other personal resources. Many are the examples of such novels and screenplays, but Alien, The Shining, The Descent, Desperation, and The Island of Dr. Moreau, are some of the ones that come readily to mind.

Total institutions as settings. Camps, hospitals, military installations, nursing homes, prisons, resorts, spaceships, and other worlds unto themselves are examples of such settings, and Sleepaway Camp, Coma, The Green Mile, and Aliens are some of the novels or films that take place in such settings.

Anecdotal scenes--in other words, short scenes that showcase a character--usually, an unusual, even eccentric, character. Both Dean Koontz and the dynamic duo, Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child, excel at this, so I keep reading their series (although Koontz’s canine companions frequently--indeed, almost always--annoy, as does his relentless optimism).

Atmosphere, mood, and tone. Here, King is king, but so is Bentley Little. In the use of description to terrorize and horrify, both are masters of the craft.

A bit of erotica (okay, okay, sex--are you satisfied?), often of the unusual variety. Sex sells, and, yes, sex whets my reader’s appetite. Bentley Little is the go-to guy for this spicy ingredient, although Koontz has done a bit of seasoning with this spice, too, in such novels as Lightning and Demon Seed (and, some say, Hung).

Believable characters. Stephen King, Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child, and Dan Simmons are great at creating characters that stick to readers’ ribs.

Innovation. Bram Stoker demonstrates it, especially in his short story “Dracula’s Guest,” as does H. P. Lovecraft, Edgar Allan Poe, Shirley Jackson, and a host of other, mostly classical, horror novelists and short story writers. For an example, check out my post on Stoker’s story, which is a real stoker, to be sure. Stephen King shows innovation, too, in ‘Salem’s Lot, The Shining, It, and other novels. One might even argue that Dean Koontz’s something-for-everyone, cross-genre writing is innovative; he seems to have been one of the first, if not the first, to pen such tales.

Technique. Check out Frank Peretti’s use of maps and his allusions to the senses in Monster; my post on this very topic is worth a look, if I do say so myself, which, of course, I do. Opening chapters that accomplish a multitude of narrative purposes (not usually all at once, but successively) are attractive, too, and Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child are as good as anyone, and better than many, at this art.

A connective universe--a mythos, if you will, such as both H. P. Lovecraft and Stephen King, and, to a lesser extent, Dean Koontz, Bentley Little, and even Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child have created through the use of recurring settings, characters, themes, and other elements of fiction.

A lack of pretentiousness. Dean Koontz has it, as do Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child, Bentley Little, and (to some extent, although he has become condescending and self-indulgent of late, Stephen King); unfortunately, both Dan Simmons and Robert McCammon have become too self-important in their later works, Simmons almost to the point of becoming unreadable. Come on, people, you’re writing about monsters--you should be humble.

Longevity. Writers who have been around for a while usually get better, Stephen King, Dan Simmons, and Robert McCammon excepted.

Pacing. Neither too fast nor too slow. Dean Koontz is good, maybe the best, here, of contemporary horror writers.

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