Lightning strikes an old castle. A chilly autumnal wind blows across a spent field of corn. A black cat arches its back in perilous fright.
These are images associated with ghosts, the supernatural, Halloween. All products of the imagination. Pure fiction. Right?
Cultural anthropologists have noted that many otherworldly celebrations such as Halloween, Day of the Dead and All Souls’ Day take place in the fall because of the aboriginal belief that the realms of the living and dead overlap during this time frame.
For instance, the Yaqui Indians of Mexico and Arizona celebrate Day of the Skull from Oct. 1 to Nov. 2. Traditional Yaquis believe the spirits walk among us then as the wall between worlds grows thin.
Old buildings, thunderstorms and ghosts go together like ham and cheese. Horror movies seldom take place on a warm, sunny afternoon in the burbs.
But more than stereotypes might be in play here. The most allegedly haunted places in the world are usually older structures. Recently much attention has been given to ghostly sightings in San Jose’s old legislative complex. Frightened security guards claim chairs move on their own, lights turn on, elevator doors open and a tall man in a plaid shirt prowls the hallways along with a nun and small girl. Many other older buildings in this area also are ripe with tales of recalcitrant spirits.
Ghost hunters believe older structures are more likely to be haunted because of the longer history of owners, some of whom could have had extremely emotional ties to the places. Also, the older a home or building, the greater the odds of some horrific event happening such as a homicide with the energy of the murder stamped into the walls and ceilings to cure for all of eternity.
Weather also seems to be a factor. Some parapsychologists think the electrical discharges during a thunderstorm or other natural phenomenon might facilitate the materialization of ghosts.
In 2013, a Pew Research survey reported that one out of five Americans have seen a ghost.
I believe in them. I have had several encounters. My first occurred at the age of 45 in Chandler, Arizona. Around midnight, during an electrical storm, I woke to find a luminescent green and blue woman without a face sitting at the foot of my bed. I rose up on my hands. The ghost then hurled what looked like a pie, also luminescent. Instinctively, I jolted back. The faceless woman then disappeared along with her pie.
A few years ago, during another storm, I woke to find a man named Joe standing in my doorway with a sad smile. The man was a business owner in Quepos who had been ill for some time. Two weeks later I learned that Joe died. He died the same day I saw him standing in my doorway.
I have subsequently learned she also died.
Animals, especially cats, have long been thought to sense the presence of entities invisible to humans. At the very least, animals can be predictors of natural disasters. In September 2012, a 7.6 magnitude earthquake rattled Costa Rica’s Pacific coast. Five minutes before the quake, my black cat Clarice went on a very disturbing yowling spree while frantically looking for cover.
So what’s the truth about ghosts? After years of writing on this topic, I’m of the opinion it’s impossible to know. I suspect in death we are dealing with a different set of physics. To understand it from the perspective of the living would be like trying to visualize a color we have never seen.
No answers, no solutions. But as Halloween approaches, there are plenty of things to watch for, because, after all, who knows what things are watching us.
Mr. Ropp, now of Atenas, is editor of Costa Rica Report and A.M. Cuba. He authored a column on the paranormal for three years at the Arizona Republic newspaper.