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ghosts“Nobody likes a skeptic.”
— Dean Winchester, Supernatural

I’m a fantasy junkie. Every year, when new TV shows premier, I always check out the science fiction and fantasy ones first. The comic books I read aren’t of the superhero genre, such as Superman or Batman, but more fantasy stuff like Sandman, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and Trese (plug: Book 3 is coming out in November!). I’m actually writing an urban fantasy graphic novel right now. (OK, I’m procrastinating more than actually writing it, but it will get done.)

And no, I don’t believe in ghosts.

I’ve stopped believing in ghosts since I was 10 years old and decided that everytime I’d hear a strange noise at night, I’d get up and see what was making it. It always turned out to be something innocuous like paper being blown around by the electric fan, or an rusty door. Or a cat walking on the piano keys. As I got older, I’d volunteer to take the most “haunted” room of the house (it was my grandparents’ house, which was big and old, and supposedly housed a couple of ghosts according to my Mom, aunts and sisters who all swore they saw apparitions). In all the years I’d lived there, I never saw a single supernatural event or entity, despite my habit of walking around by myself in the dark in the middle of the night to check what was making that banging noise that woke me up.

Why do people believe in ghosts? You’d think that if they’d existed all these thousands of years, someone somewhere would’ve been able to get positive proof. Yet all we’ve come up with so far are a million anecdotes and those “reality” ghost shows, which are basically just footage of a bunch of idiots running around in a dark house and asking one another, “Did you hear that? Did you see that?” Yet a lot of people still believe they exist. And not just ghosts, but manananggal, tiyanak, mangkukulam, and a host of other supernatural beings.

It’s quite simple, really. For one, our eyes (and light) occasionally do play tricks on us. Even I’m not immune to that. For another, nobody really knows what happens to us after we die. Oh, sure, religion tells us that we go to either heaven, hell or purgatory, but as no one has actually gone to any of these places and come back to confirm their existence (at least, no one credible), the idea of ghosts comforts us. Their “existence” tells us that there is some part of us that lives on even after our bodies have been turned to worm food. They may be scary and all, but the thought of there being nothing for us after we die is a million times more terrifying. So we cling to the idea of ghosts being real. And everything else follows from there — the manananggal, the tiyanak, the mangkukulam. Oh, and let’s not forget the kapre and tikbalang.

I think the kapres, tikbalangs, tiyanaks and the like are actually quite awesome. But only as myths. Only in storybooks, movies, TV shows, and our daydreams and nightmares, where they belong. That’s why it’s called the fantasy genre, children. In Supernatural, the Winchester brothers may be demon hunters, but they go about their investigations in a scientific manner. They don’t jump to conclusions, and they make sound hypotheses which they then proceed to test. The reason why they can get proof of ghosts is because in their world, ghosts exist. When Joss Whedon — who is an atheist, by the way — created Buffy the Vampire Slayer, he knew he wasn’t making a documentary on the undead, he wanted to empower the tiny blonde girl who kept getting killed off in horror movies, and turn her into a heroine we could all look up to. He wanted to explore the pleasures and pains of growing up, using demons and vampires as metaphors. Because that’s what mythical creatures are — literary devices that represent our dreams, our fears, our hopes. I say we keep them alive in our books and movies, but I also say we keep our heads and not think they’re lurking out there in the dark.

So when you think you see or hear a ghost, get up and investigate. Turn on the lights — and I mean this literally and figuratively. Use reason, logic and science. Be a skeptic. Because the real world is terrifying enough as it is without us having to be scared of our own shadows.

Photo from savaman / CC BY 2.0

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