By Nikki Harper
Staff Writer for Wake Up World
2020 has been something of a global experiment in social isolation, fear and human coping mechanisms. Although much of the world is now out of what we might call ‘total lockdown’, research is starting to filter through which provides fascinating insights into human behavior during these unprecedented months.
One of the more offbeat revelations to have surfaced is that there appears to have been a global upswing in reports of paranormal activity during the months April, May and June, when many countries were at the height of their lockdown periods.
What’s going on here? Have we really been seeing more ghosts? Many articles, like this one from the New York Times, seem to think so – or is there something else at the root of this?
I’m what I would call a sceptical spiritualist. I believe in spiritualist principles and I have occasionally witnessed excellent mediumship which I can’t explain as well as occurrences I can’t discount – however, much of the mediumship I see (and I’ve sat through thousands of hours of it through many years of running a spiritualist centre) provides only poor evidence of life after death and honestly convinces no one of anything. For this reason, I’d love to consider an upswing in ghostly sightings as evidence that perhaps we have been joined by more spirit beings during the lockdown – but I’m also drawn to considering psychological reasons why people may have thought they were experiencing something paranormal when they really weren’t.
A 2019 YouGov survey reports that 45% of American believe that ghosts exist; a much older but still interesting report from the Pew Research Center asserted in 2009 that 29% of people believed they had interacted with or sensed a spirit presence, and 18% had actually seen something they believed to be a ghost or spirit.
There are not insignificant numbers to begin with, and this of course was pre-pandemic.
Possible Psychological Explanations for An Upswing in Paranormal Experiences
It’s relatively easy to find reasons to be sceptical of the apparent increase in paranormal activity during the lockdown period.
For a start, much of the world was more or less confined to home. If you’re normally in your home for only around 14 hours a day, and then suddenly you’re there consistently for a full 23-24 hours every day, you’re going to start noticing things more.
Even newer houses make noises depending on temperature and weather conditions; if you suddenly notice your home creaking or squeaking or popping or groaning or doing any of the other repertoire of noises homes appear to be able to make, it’s not surprising that you might think it was haunted. But do you really know that it hasn’t been making those same noises most days, pre-lockdown, when you just weren’t there to hear them?
Factor in also that during the lockdown period, many people were fearful or psychologically stressed, whether about the virus itself or about the possibility of losing their livelihoods. Research such as this study by Peter Suedfeld in back in 1987 found that stress, boredom and danger can all alter our perceptions slightly as search for coping mechanisms, and that a sense of presence can be one effect of this.
Many people were also lonely or feeling isolated during the lockdown period. Interestingly, anecdotal evidence suggests that those who felt particularly stressed or lonely during this period were more likely to report a comforting spirit presence, which they may have believed to be a family member, or least a non-frightening presence. Could this have to do with the psychological need for company or a reassuring presence during a time of great worry?
One other factor to consider is that heuristics – mental shortcuts we tend to take without even realising it – suggests that we’re more likely to classify an experience as such and such if we’re aware that others are also experiencing this. In other words, if you’re aware that many other people seem to be experiencing something paranormal, you’re more likely to classify your own experience that way, rather than just assuming your floorboards are dodgy. The same principle may account for the upsurge in disturbing dreams during Covid-19.
Clearly there are a number of sceptical theories then as to why an increase in paranormal activity may have been reported, and a lot of these theories do make perfect sense.
But then, what if there really were an increase in spirit presence around us during this time?
An Increase in Spirit Activity – or Perhaps an Increase in Spiritual Awareness?
Could it be, perhaps, that loved ones in spirit really did draw closer to many of us than before during this time of great stress? Were they intending to offer comfort, or guidance?
Perhaps even more intriguingly, could it instead be that the same levels of spirit presence are around us as at any other time – but that we have collectively become more open to experiencing spirit presence and spirit visitations? Have some of us successfully raised our vibrations to a point where we’re more likely to experience mediumistic phenomena including spirit sounds, sightings or touch?
The lockdown period was the perfect opportunity for many people to work on their own spiritual development, and it could well be that many people found time to meditate, ‘sit in the power’, open up spiritually and simply build their awareness of other dimensions around them.
Only time will tell whether 2020 really has created spiritual growth opportunities for much of mankind. If indeed it has, an increase in paranormal activity and spirit sightings may be a fascinating first glimpse of higher levels of consciousness in a wider array of the population.
About the author:
Nikki Harper is a spiritualist writer, astrologer, and Wake Up World’s editor.