October 31, 2015

Seeing is Believing: A Halloween Reflection

The Joshua Ward House in Salem, Massachusetts

By John Sanidopoulos

A few people have asked me, "John, as a knowledgeable and pious Orthodox Christian who has a positive view of Halloween, how do you celebrate the holiday? You wrote down what you wouldn't do, but never explained what you actually do." Well, the simple answer is that Halloween for me is just like any other day, pretty much, not because I avoid Halloween, but for me Halloween is a daily experience throughout the year, it just happens to be a little more intensified in the autumn months of September through November. So for me, October 31st may be Halloween, but every other day is Halloweenish, because I will involve myself with something on other days that your average person will consider only a theme for Halloween.

I understand that such an answer will confuse most people, while few others will feel me to be one of their kindred spirits. I'm not going to explain at this time what I mean when I say that Halloween is a daily experience, nor should you speculate, because that's not what this reflection is about, but I will say that by the time Halloween comes around, I sort of just sit back and relax and watch everyone else experience a little bit of what I daily experience, and I experience the day through others. Then I'll go home and watch some horror movies and Halloween specials while eating some candy, since I don't eat candy everyday. That is my typical Halloween.

One of the things I especially enjoy about the Halloween season is that supernatural and paranormal themes come to the forefront in American society, and not only will you see this on television and your local haunted houses, but even in something like historical ghost tours. I've been on many ghost tours, especially all along the East Coast from Florida all the way up to Nova Scotia. It's a great way to learn about the local lore of an area you are unfamiliar with, and you actually go to the places where the events of the story took place. Additionally, I enjoy going by myself to such locations and exploring them a bit deeper. In this way you become part of the experience ... and may even have a first hand experience yourself.

It was on one such historical ghost tour in Salem, Massachusetts that I personally had one of my many paranormal experiences. It was October 30, 2006 and I was by myself in Salem just walking around and enjoying the sites. I decided to join a historical ghost tour, to see what I can learn from an experienced guide. One of the first stops was at the Joshua Ward House, built in 1784. It was built on the same site as the house of the former Sheriff George Corwin, who was responsible for the imprisonment and ill treatment of the prisoners accused of witchcraft during the Salem Witch Trials. The tour guide was telling us the history of the house, and how George Corwin is said to be buried there in the basement, and how the owners today (in 2006 it was a law office) have had numerous paranormal unexplainable experiences, but were very private about them so as not to attract unnecessary attention.

We outside the house for a good ten minutes when I noticed a male figure through the window walking on the first floor of the house, which we were told was empty at the time. This male figure was dressed in period clothing from, I would say, the 18th century, and he was holding a violin. He then walked to the window, seemingly not noticing us there, and started playing the violin to a slow tune, though I could not hear a violin sound. As I looked at this, I thought the owners were playing a trick on us, but when I looked at the group of about thirty people, most were not paying any attention to this male figure in front of us playing the violin in period clothing. Suddenly a young girl, a bit freaked out, said out loud, "Does anyone else see what I'm seeing?" pointing to the male figure. Then I together with a few others said yes, but everyone else, including the tour guide, continued to act as if nothing was there, so everyone just ignored it and moved on to the next haunt.

To be honest, I have always been skeptical of this apparent apparition. Whenever I would explain it to people, I would say that I'm on the fence whether or not this was a personal paranormal experience or it may have been an actor. If it was an actor, however, he did an excellent job, because it seemed very realistic. This is what I believed until yesterday.

Yesterday, the 30th of October 2015, exactly nine years after this experience, I decided to take a drive up to Salem by myself and go on another historical ghost tour. The interesting thing about this tour guide was that he told us about his many personal experiences with ghosts in Salem, especially as it related to the haunts we visited. He told us so many, in fact, that I started to become more and more skeptical, since he was very nonchalant about it. One thing I did find interesting, however, was that he explained how once on his ghost tour only those who believed in the paranormal could see an apparition, but those who were skeptics in the group could not see it. This reminded me of my experience nine years ago. And that's not all.

The last stop of this tour was the Joshua Ward House, and we stood across the street from it. The tour guide explained how he had a few personal experiences here. He said that once he was on the property with the group giving the details of the haunt, when suddenly he heard a loud voice in his ear that told him to get off his property. After hearing this a few times, they moved on. Another time when he was alone he actually saw a man in period clothing come up to him and told him to get off his property. Having seen ghosts before, he was sure that this was a ghost. He was also notified by the owner of the property to not come on the property again, which is why this time we were across the street. When I heard him describe this, it added a little bit to my confidence that I may have actually had a paranormal experience at the Joshua Ward House.

Now the day prior to this, I had gone to Rhode Island to listen to some preeminent New England paranormal researchers describe some of their experiences. As they did so one by one, at some point they all came on stage together and answered the question, "Why do you believe in ghosts?" I have never heard anyone give a theoretical or philosophical explanation of why they believe in ghosts, and I didn't hear it from these guys either. These guys believed in ghosts and became prominent researchers in the field and dedicated their lives to its study because they had very strong experiences, and continue to do so. Even when I ask myself why I believe in the supernatural, its not because I'm a Christian and believe in the supernatural in light of my Christian faith, rather I believe because I have also had personal experiences that are undeniable to me.

To conclude, experience is the key to understanding and it is also the key to an authentic faith. Hence, the saying is true, "seeing is believing." This is what I also believe about my Christian faith. There is an initial faith that you may acquire from your upbringing or your studies, but this faith is of the mind or of the heart, based on emotions or the reasoning process. Anyone can have this faith. But this faith never has any surety unless there is an actual experience. Not an emotional or intellectual experience, but an experience that comes to us from somewhere else. It is a faith based on our way of life and our sense of sight. It is based on the Beatitude: "Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God."

For those interested in reading some of the things I've posted on Halloween,