Anyone familiar with cable television programs knows that Americans love the occult. Series like “Ancient Aliens,” “Finding Bigfoot,” “Haunted History,” “MonsterQuest” and “Most Terrifying Places in America” are more popular than shows about Adolf Hitler, real housewives or tiger kings. The fact that the objects of the search are never found does not matter. Ghosts, space aliens and monsters continue to dominate our imagination, whether they are real or not.
As a lifelong student of the occult, I admit that shows about ghosts, space aliens and monsters are a guilty pleasure of mine, along with DC Comics and chips ‘n’ salsa. This does not mean that I believe in them. Take ghosts for instance. Many people believe that death is not “the end,” and that a person’s soul or spirit travels to another realm after their body’s demise. (Here I am an agnostic, though I hope the believers are right.) From that comes the belief that many souls, whose bodies died abruptly or violently, remain at or near the site of their deaths, seeking closure. Though I do not believe in ghosts, I know some people who do. In fact, I once had a roommate who claimed that the ghost of my late partner, Michael Greenspan, haunted his bedroom. I investigated the matter, found nothing amiss, and threw out my roommate.
Still, I enjoy watching programs where ghost hunters investigate “haunted houses” in search of a “presence.”
Space aliens, or unidentified flying objects (UFOs), have stirred our imagination since the 1940s. They are not as farfetched as they seem. We could argue that, in a universe that is as vast as ours, intelligent life is not limited to our planet Earth. We could further argue that, if there is intelligent life elsewhere, those beings could have developed a form of space travel that is more advanced than ours. Furthermore, if their curiosity is as advanced as their technology, it is not inconceivable for them to have visited us, if only to see what is going on around here. This does not mean that space aliens came over in ancient times and helped us built the Pyramids in Egypt or Machu Picchu in Peru, no matter what “Chariots of the Gods” or its television offspring, “Ancient Aliens,” might say.
The dictionary defines cryptozoology as “the search for and study of animals whose existence or survival is disputed or unsubstantiated.” Today’s cryptozoology might be tomorrow’s hard science as new species are discovered every year. Still, some cryptids’ existence remains in doubt. If such creatures are large or deadly, we call them monsters, and here our fascination is tinged with fear. The most famous of these “monsters” are the Bigfoot or Sasquatch of North America, along with their Asian cousins, the Yeti. In this case I am a believer. Though I have never seen a Sasquatch, I do not doubt that a population of giant apes, descended from Gigantopithecus, roams the forests of the Pacific Northwest and, perhaps, other places. On the other hand, no science is as fraught with hoax as the study of Sasquatch. Many so-called “Bigfoot” sightings turn out to be bears, men in ghillie suits or figments of someone’s imagination. Sadly, no photo or video of a Sasquatch is clear or conclusive, even the famous Patterson-Gimlin film (1967). Only the capture of a Sasquatch’s body, living or dead, will prove to the world, once and for all, that this creature is real.