BWW Interview: PART TWO - SUPERNATURAL HISTORIAN & AUTHOR MASON WINFIELD
I know you read part one so here is part two.
Mason Winfield is an author and a historian of the supernatural. He is a friendly and likable man who does enjoy the "ghostly/paranormal business".
And he does it well.
This is part two of my two part interview with Mr. Winfield.
It is the month of Halloween.
The timing is perfect!
MCL: Have you witnessed any supernatural events? If so, please let us know more.
MW: I believe I have seen three ghosts in my life, or, rather, five, with three having manifested at the same time. All sightings were at night, but otherwise they varied. Two seemed simple site-apparitions with little message to be drawn. The first - three odd people under a streetlight at a country crossroads - was an outdoor sighting. The second, a ghostly cat in a friend's apartment, seemed to have been the apparition of the family's late animal companion. The third, an inexplicable, broad white light-form that survived every test of wakefulness, I associated because of its shape and timing to have been connected to the death of my grandmother. That could have been the one that was a message.
I believe I have encountered other psychic effects - inexplicable sounds and spontaneously moving objects - more often, say, ten or fifteen times in my life. I wish I'd made a better list from the beginning. This, incidentally, is right in line with the pattern I have observed at the storied haunted sites. For every ghost-report, there could be dozens of sound- and physical effects reported.
But we all may have observed psychic phenomena without realizing it. Many of us could have heard sound effects - that proverbial bump-in-the-night - that could quite well have had no material cause. Because it didn't become a pattern like an outbreak of poltergeist phenomena, we didn't make much out of it.
Likewise, we all could have seen ghosts and not realized they were ghostly. Imagine: You're walking down a street somewhere, you glance across and see eight fellow pedestrians. Look again in five seconds and there are seven. Would you have noticed? Would you have made anything out of it? That's another simple example.
MCL: Are there really haunted houses?
MW: If you are asking me if there are really ghosts, I am quite flattered that you think I would know for sure. The last I checked, I was not God, and there is no way to prove a ghost to everyone's satisfaction. I would say that I believe ghosts do occasionally manifest. There are too many millennia of accounts - and, as you see, it is my perception that I have seen a few. I can also assure you that ghostly reports and folklore tends to pile up in certain sites, not always buildings. So I guess that's a qualified version of a "Yes." However, the complete answer depends on our definition of "haunted."
The working definition of "haunted" has usually meant, "rich in reports of psychic (spooky) phenomena." A haunting holds the idea of an attachment, the recurrence of unexplained effects, with places or objects. It doesn't always mean that there is a famous or even locally-agreed-upon ghost.
Many people tend to ascribe every unexplained thing to the will of "the spirits." All it takes is a few sound effects coupled with the rumor-cycle to give a building the broad reputation of being haunted. I have to be honest that some of upstate New York's most legendary haunted sites have very few eyewitnesses to ghosts and perhaps no single apparition at the root of the folklore. They may have a great many witnesses to the mysterious tricks something plays with sound, electrical devices, and small objects.
But to answer more directly: Yes, based on collective human testimony, there do seem to be sites (not always houses) that are energetic. People report miraculous manifestations involving very little physical force. Visions, chills, and premonitions could involve virtually no physical force at all. Sounds, electrical displays, and light objects being moved could involve tiny bits of force. Since these manifestations are rare and spontaneous, it is hard to record and validate them. And their causes are unknown, despite what the TV ghost hunters presume. Some energy source from somewhere may be at root. I can think of several other potential causes for these effects besides the willing intervention of disembodied spirits.
MCL: The Great Houdini exposed fakes in the world of psychics and mediums ... Do you have the desire to do the same in the supernatural?
MW: I don't generally take joy in the discomfort of any other being, and if I were to engage in pursuits like that I would have to be sure I was doing so for constructive purposes. (Boosting my own ego or delivering a little payback does not count as constructive.) Some people believe in ghosts or in their favorite psychic reader because it makes them feel better, which means that it improves the quality of their lives. How am I helping the big picture of life by taking away some of their comfort?
However, I do feel the need to stand up when I see something hurtful happening, at least within my field of expertise. I have taken stands against some supernaturalists - like some TV-style ghost hunters - when they start to claim to do and know more than anyone can. Most ghost-hunters are simply lightening the public's wallets and claiming a few understandings that are not scientific; and, let's not forget, people buy it because they want to.
When these supposed experts move into the very dangerous field of demonic possession and presume to mediate between "demons" and the living - diagnosing and remedying cases of demonic possession, for instance - I have to protest.
The possession/exorcism cycle is very dangerous for the individuals involved, and it takes a lot of gall to presume to do this without deep training and that backing of some powerful and ancient tradition, like, for instance, the Christian Catholic Church, which has made a very disciplined study of the matter. I could declaim at length. But if your stereotypical "paranormal investigator" ever did come across a legitimate possession case, it would be disastrous for all involved.
MCL: The art of the theater seems to be famous for ghosts ... Why is that the case?
MW: You are right that the stage does seem to be the most supernaturalized of all our arts. I've thought about this before. I think there might be several factors.
At the simplest, a hefty portion of our theaters fit many of the parameters of haunted buildings everywhere: classic architecture, high human traffic, late-night occupancy, and what I call a gossip-culture - a folklore-building human community that meets and talks often. Schools, fire halls, hospitals, sanitariums, and many pubs and restaurants fit the same bill.
The stage is also, I think, the most conservative of our arts. I don't mean that at all in political senses, and I think I might doubt that it is. But in cultural senses, the stage tends to hold the most respect for the tradition of the past, especially in recent decades. Tell me you don't agree.
Few rock stars have ever studied Western classical music. You can get an English lit Ph. D. these days without knowing a thing about Shakespeare. (This is like studying physics and skipping Isaac Newton. Or architecture and missing Frank Lloyd Wright.) But most actors do their Shakespeare (foremost a playwright) and, often, their Sophocles and other classic greats. It seems to be widely acknowledged that this is a means to perfecting a craft, as well as for developing a complete artist or scholar. This respect for the stage of the old world could hardly miss at least observing its supernaturalism. ("Materialism" as a philosophy is a very recent development in the big picture of human history.)
I will add a totally subjective impression of my own.
Like only the dancer, perhaps, the actor is his or her art. Actors are their characters, at least when they are on stage. You visualize and experience plays and actors on-site. The memory of their forms and voices is vivid. How their former stages must resound for the people who worked with them and loved them! There's little distance between that impression and the perception of a ghost. No wonder theaters would seem haunted.
I hear that an especially beautiful tradition exists among the illustrious community of actors in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario, Canada. When an actor dies, those who knew him or her gather after hours in one of the deserted theaters. They replay with conviction that actor's signature parts until there's no more to be done. Then, "we drink ourselves happy," in the words of an actor I interviewed.
MCL: Have you experienced or know of supernatural happenings at any of the local theaters?
MW: My claim to fame is not my psychic insights - nor my experiences. I'm a researcher. I talk to people and listen to people. I read books and articles, and I write them. If I've ever experienced something psychic in a theater, I can't recall it.
On the other hand, I have a ghost/supernatural story of some sort from virtually every upstate theater about which I've inquired, including buildings that were that were no longer used as theaters. Several of the legendary haunted dormitories in Western New York, for instance - including St. Bonaventure's Devereux Hall and Niagara University's Clet Hall - were once home to theaters. I am sure all Niagara theaters, once and former, have some story - all but one.
You know that one of the traditions of the stage is that every theater has a ghost; and that if the ghost ever leaves the theater, the theater's fortunes will plummet. Hence, if there is truly no ghost there, a story about one has to be manufactured almost instantly, or the theater will go broke and its actors will be out of work.
There is actually only one Buffalo theater that could not summon up a story for me - it was Studio Arena Theater in its new location at the corner of Main and Tupper.
Its former location was in the old Town Ballroom, a classic casino, dance hall, and mob hangout that is a legend in the theater community. Almost everyone I interviewed who had contact with the spot considered it spooked. But when Studio Arena reopened in a much less historic and atmospheric building - we Americans are starting to build a lot of what I call "dead (cheap as possible) architecture" - there wasn't a story to be found. The theater closed. I point that out on tours as an example and a warning. Don't hold out on me.
MCL: Finally, What do you want people to know about the supernatural and you?
MW: The supernatural" is not to be expected to behave like it does in books, film, and on TV. It is no discrediting of the potential of psychic phenomena to observe that it does not act up upon command. (Well... Duh.) There is still mystery in the world; it just doesn't come when you call it.
As for me, since you asked... I'd like people to think of me as a compassionate being who wanted to do some good in the world and leave it a bit better off than it would have been without me. I want to help tug on the rope of moving world and society in the right direction and improving people's lives, at least within my skill-set.
Alas, though, "trying to do some good" sometimes means telling the crowd something it does not enjoy hearing. That, we see, has at least social and professional hazards. So far I've avoided major controversy, but I am not sure that will always be the case.
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