On a freezing cold day in January I bought two psychic magazines. Spirit and Destiny ‘for women who want the best possible future’ and Soul and Spirit with special offer ‘angel advice cards’. I was shopping with my sisters at a supermarket in a small town in Wales. There on the rack alongside Cosmopolitan were magazines with psychic predictions, spiritual makeovers, interviews with celebrity mediums, articles by mystics and witches, offering ‘words of wisdom from our leading gurus.’ There next to the TV, celebrity gossip and puzzle books were Take a Break and its sister magazine Fate and Fortune, ‘Britain’s best loved mystic magazine.’ Not long ago these magazines, with their free pagan wall charts, crystals, and afﬁrmation cards, would have been available in occult bookstores, or alternative therapy centres. Now, the paranormal is mainstream – you can buy it with your milk, bread and eggs. There is a paranormal turn in popular culture. Beliefs are on the rise in
contemporary Western societies. Almost half of the British population, and twothirds of American people, claim to believe in some form of the paranormal, such as extrasensory perception, hauntings and witchcraft. Entertainment, leisure and tourism industries have turned paranormal beliefs into revenue streams. From television drama series such as Fringe, reality TV Most Haunted, to ghost tourism, paranormal ideas offer new twists on ‘things that go bump in the night.’ The paranormal in popular culture is distinct from research into the scientiﬁcally inexplicable. It is paranormal matters purposely shaped within an entertainment and communication environment. There is a historical tradition to spirit forms, such as magic lantern shows, phantasmagoria, the spirit telegraph and photograph. Fascination with the dead, a desire to see the unique, and a search for unusual experiences, suggest a strong narrative of spirits and magic in society. Paranormal matters show culture is both ordinary and extraordinary. A sociology of the paranormal in popular culture suggests how people create
extraordinary entertainment and communication experiences. One ghost hunting events organiser said ninety nine per cent of what happens on an all night ghost
hunt is not paranormal at all. And yet many people are searching for a ‘disquieting experience’ about death and the terror of death. They are looking for experiences that provide evidence of paranormal and afterlife beliefs. As one person put it ‘people produce beliefs.’ The paranormal as it is experienced within popular culture involves seeing an audience not as spectators or viewers but as participants. People co-perform and co-produce their individual and collective experiences. In a very real sense the audience is the show. Without them there would be no paranormal turn in popular culture. This book is the story of audiences and their participation in a show about matters of life and death.