Fascinating lists!

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

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

copyright 2008 by Gary L. Pullman

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

Magical thinking--belief characterized by assuming that because two or more things are similar in some ways, one can affect the other or others or that mistakes coincidence or correlation for cause (the author).

Magick--a misspelling of “magic” with the intention of distinguishing spells and incantations from the tricks and illusions of the stage magician (the author).

Magnet therapy--the use of magnets to treat or cure physical or emotional diseases, or other conditions (the author).

Marfa lights--lights that appear, vanish, and reappear, behaving strangely, even for lights, near the town of Marfa, Texas. There’s another near Joplin, Missouri, and others elsewhere (the author).

Massage therapy--the use of massage to run out one’s physical, emotional, and spiritual problems, somehow (the author).

Mayan prophecy--predictions about the future, based upon the unusual Mayan calendar (the author).

Meditation--the use of transcendental techniques to relax the mind and body, levitate, fly, and perform other apparent miracles (the author).

Medium--one who allegedly communicates with the spirits of the deceased, through channeling or some other means, often acting an an intermediary between the quick and the dead (the author).

Men in Black (MIB)--supposedly government agents or agents of some other organization that dress in black and intimidate people who claim to have seen UFO’s or to have been abducted by extraterrestrial beings (as if such people don’t already have enough problems) (the author).

Mentalist--a reputed mind-reader, or clairvoyant (the author).

Metaphysics--the branch of philosophy concerned with what may be known to be real and why; the chapter in Aristotle’s book that follows the chapter on “physics”; therefore, called “meta” (after) physics (the author).

Mermaids (sirens)--fish-women given to song (the author).


Meteorite--;a stony or metallic object that is the remains of a meteoroid that has reached the earth's surface (Dictionary.net); some allege that meteors bring with them microbes, seeds, or plants from elsewhere in the universe (see “panspermia“) (the author).

Mind--the soul, or seat of consciousness, said to exist by some (mostly religious) people (dualists), but denied existence by others (materialists) (the author).

Mind control--the control of another person’s mind (and thus his or her behavior) by another, usually using occult techniques, without the controlled person’s knowledge or consent (the author).

Minotaur--in Greek mythology, a creature whose upper half is that of a man, and whose lower half is that of a bull; we know they exist, because Theseus killed one (the author).

Miracle--a marvelous event manifesting a supernatural act of God.

Moody, Raymond--a parapsychologist whose works include studies of, and reports concerning, near-death experiences, altered states of consciousness, divination, past-life regression, and the like; he chaired University of Nevada, Las Vegas’ Department of Consciousness Studies for five years before the department was discontinued (The Skeptic’s Dictionary)

Moon, full--a lunar phase that, according to some, inspires lunacy (and lycanthropy) (the author).

Moroni, angel--the angelic giver of the plates to Brigham Young.

Mothman--a West Virginia man-moth (the author).

Multiple personality disorder--the personality disorder in which a sufferer has ore than one personality who controls his or her behavior--Spider-Man, who is sometimes Peter Parker, is a textbook example, as are most other comic book superheroes (the author).

Murphy, Bridey--Virginia Tighe’s spiritual mouthpiece, who claimed she was a 19th-century Irishwoman who had nothing better to do, after being reincarnated, than channel herself, lilting accent and all, through Ms. Tighe, whether or not Tighe’s was hypnotized at the time (the author).


Naturalism--the doctrine that the world can be understood in scientific terms without recourse to spiritual or supernatural explanations.

Nazca lines--goggles (giant pictures drawn on the ground); many form animals, such as a monkey or a bird, or an arachnid, such as a spider (the author).

Near-death experience (NDE)--the belief among some patients who recover from a near-death experience that they encounter loved ones or God, sometimes after seeing a bright light or tunnel of light before being resuscitated or revived (the author).

Nephite tribe, and Mormons--the Nephite tribe is one of the so-called lost tribes of Israel; according to Mormonism, the tribe immigrated to America and one of its descendents, the leader Mormon, buried his book, Another Testament of Jesus Christ, which after it was published in 1830, became the Mormons’ book of faith, being held to be “more accurate” than the Bible or any other book (the author).

New Age--“of or relating to a complex of spiritual and consciousness-raising movements originating in the 1980s and covering a range of themes from a belief in spiritualism and reincarnation to advocacy of holistic approaches to health and ecology” (American Heritage Dictionary).

New World Order--any proposed change in the international political, social, cultural, and economic structure, real or imagined (the author).

Naiad--in Greek mythology, a nymph of lakes and springs and rivers and fountains.

Night terror--a nightmare on steroids (the author).

Noah's ark

Noah’s ark--a great boat, built by Noah, at the command of God, to carry two pairs of all animals and Noah and his family while the earth was under a flood, sent by God to drown the wicked (the author).

Numerology--the occult discipline that holds that numbers have hidden divinatory or other significance (the author).


Occam’s razor--the principle, advanced by William of Occam, that the simplest explanation of an event is to be preferred over more complicated ones (the author).

Occult--having an import not apparent to the senses nor obvious to the intelligence; beyond ordinary understanding; "mysterious symbols"; "the mystical style of Blake"; "occult lore"; "the secret learning of the ancients,"

Occultism--a certain Oriental system of theosophy. --A. P. Sinnett.

Ontology--the branch of philosophy that considers being, or existence, and its categories (the author).

Oracle--a priestly spokesman for the gods, who divulged the divine will to heroes (e. g., Oedipus of Thebes) and other supplicants (the author).

Orb--a sphere that is held, by some, to be a ghostly phenomenon (the author).


Ouji board--a board game, in which users use a planchette to determine answers to specific questions they ask (the author).

Ouspensky, Petyr Demianovich--a mystic who interpreted and popularized the teachings of G. I. Gurdjieff, founder of The Institute for the Harmonious Development of Man (the author).

Out-of-body experience (OBE)--the perception that one has left one’s body; there is often a perception of floating above the body and looking down upon it (the author).

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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.

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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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