Ghosts, paranormal activity, and superstitions are all phenomena that are interesting to the human mind. These phenomena have an interesting origin dating all the way back to the Victorian Era. While some may say the paranormal activity is just a way to distract the human brain from reality; ghosts, paranormal activity, and superstitions greatly affected people, especially in the Victorian Era. From changing the way how people worshipped, to more trivial aspects like entertainment by floating objects, these topics had a big impact on Victorian living.
The Victorian Era was the time period when Queen Victoria reigned, ideas changes, literature shifted, and much more. The Victorian Era lasted from 1837 to 1901, making it one of the longest-reigning British monarchs to exist (History). During the Victorian Era, the middle class grew exponentially. This meant that many more people were now working and earning money for their hard labor. Common jobs in this era included teachers, textile mill workers, artisans, factory workers, etc (Victorian Occupations). Because of the increase in employment, social inequality rose since differences in jobs existed. The Victorian Era was an age of rapid change that affected the place and people were involved greatly. From a more conservative time period, it shifted to a new open-minded era.
One change that occurred in the era, involves something never mentioned before the Victorian Era. This was a paranormal activity. The word paranormal relates to crazy inhumane scenarios and is a “supernatural phenomena”(Paranormal, Dictionary). Ghosts are considered paranormal because of the unfamiliarity with them and because it is a world of unknown. During this time along with paranormal activity, superstitions, spiritualism, mesmerism, and more rose in popularity. These made the Victorian Era the creepy and interesting time that is known today. During this time, Victorians were obsessed with death. As uncommon of a statement it is to say, people were dying constantly in the Victorian Era (Why were…). Diseases such as Tuberculosis shorten the average lifespan to a fraction of today. Since death was a common occurrence, people were fascinated by where the body’s soul would go beyond the normal, physical life humans witness. This curiosity sparked many new beliefs.
Mentioned earlier, many more people were employed. Servants who worked at late hours started to report ghost sightings. These were some of the first well-known sightings. However, with all discoveries, come speculators appeared. During long, tiring shifts, in dark conditions, the lighting was provided by gas lamps. With the use of these gas lamps, carbon monoxide, a hazardous gas, was emitted. Intake of such a gas can lead to hallucinations (Cochrane, Kira). Skeptics say these gases could have caused workers to see things they didn’t actually see like ghosts. However, the sight was not the only way people would feel the presence of a ghost. Believers, including the Fox sisters, would hear “ghosts” (Cochrane, Kira). They claimed to hear tapping noises, which was a way of communication of ghosts. With the uproar of ghost sightings, the desire of change, and a new time period, the Victorian Era was greatly affected by ghosts, paranormal activity, and superstitions. One of the biggest effects of the paranormal in the Victorian Era was religion. The idea of religious teachings was altered after people heard about the paranormal.
During the time period, Britain was very religious (Ghost stories). The main form of religion practiced was Christianity. However, with new discoveries, other beliefs joined Christianity and were practiced. Some of those being spiritualism and mesmerism. Religion in the Victorian Era taught that good people reach salvation in heaven. They also mention that people who sin and are bad going to hell. However, it is said that the church left a grey area for ghost speculations to be in (Ghost stories). A new belief called spiritualism, which is the belief in spirits, emerged. More specifically, it is the idea that the dead can communicate with the living (Victorian Spiritualism). People such as Emmanuel Swedenborg and Elizabeth Barrett Browning were examples of spiritualists.
Mesmerism, the belief in magic, also was an interesting counter idea to normal Victorian religion. It was especially different because of the number of new inventions and theories created in the same time era. Since mesmerism had basically no validity towards its preachings, scientists, inventors, and religious leaders were quite perplexed by the teachings (Mesmerism). The main effect of ghosts, paranormal activity, and superstitions on religion, is the shift from basically only Christians to other types of believers. No matter what, the Victorian Era always held religion as one of the main concepts in Victorian lives (English Heritage). Another major impact of ghosts, paranormal activity, and superstitions on the Victorian Era was made in the entertainment industry. Similar to today, when something new and striking appears, the first industry impacted is the entertainment industry. The entertainment industry used newspapers, performances, TV shows, movies, etc to capitalize on ghosts (Historicgeorge). The first example of the effect of ghosts in entertainment was in newspapers, TV shows, and movies. Ghost stories were short and sweet, they were interesting, and they were the perfect size to fit in a newspaper column or TV ad. Some famous ghost stories include, “The Signal-Man”, “Was it an Illusion?”, and “The Body Snatcher”. Directors would also use “ghosts” as roles in movies. Another form of entertainment from the paranormal and ghosts were performances. Mediums, people who claim to be able to talk to the dead, would have live performances (Nosowitz, Dan). These performances contained real-time readings, floating tables, inhumane sounds, and much more. Many people would gather at these functions as a form of entertainment and way to distract themselves from worldly problems. During the pre-show, skeptics made the performers get patted down to check for anything on them to fake ghost interactions.
One last way ghosts affected the entertainment industry is with ghost photography. There were two types. The first type is that some people would purposefully pay to get their pictures edited with ghosts. They did this as a form of entertainment. However, some people were scammed with ghost photos. Photographers would trick clients by photoshopping a random ghost into their family portrait, saying that that was a dead relative. An example is a photographer, William Mumler (Historicgeorge).
Overall, the Victorian Era entertainment industry was positively affected by the increase in ghost fascination. One more way the Victorian Era was effected was by superstitions. Superstitions are unjustifiable beliefs about the supernatural world (Superstition). With the rise in the paranormal, superstitions arose. Some examples were: if you open an umbrella indoors, a murder is going to happen, if you dream about a birth, a death will occur in real-life, and if you don’t cover your yawn, a spirit will come out of you (Victorian Superstitions). Though they are trivial beliefs, it effected how Victorians lived. Victorians would purposefully not do certain tasks or think certain thoughts just so they don’t jinx themselves. Ghosts, paranormal activity, and superstitions had a large and lasting impact on the Victorian Era. While some may say, “Ghosts have no history! They’re just some made-up thing!”, they are uninformed about the vast and fascinating history of it all. It will always be interesting until the day when humans aren’t scared of the unknown and don’t want a daily thrill anymore. Maybe we will only fully understand the paranormal when we join the paranormal ourselves.
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