Britain’s Slenderman: The Evolution Of Ghosts And Monsters

The character, Slenderman, was created in 2009 in a story posted to the website Something Awful by Eric Knudsen. In January of this year it was claimed by several newspapers that Slenderman had been seen by several people in Cannock Chase in Staffordshire, England. Lee Brickley, who prompted the stories by approaching the media in the first place pointed out that there were sightings that pre-date the creation of Slenderman and several references have since been made to a 2001 sighting of an entity that resembles the character Slenderman, the eye-witness account of which was published in 2008 in the book There’s Something In The Woods written by Nick Redfern.

The suggestion that these earlier sightings might add weight to recent sightings being significant- a sentiment echoed by Redfern himself at the end of a Mysterious Universe article -is misguided. People often underestimate the influence that oral traditions of telling stories of strange creatures and ghosts can have upon the way in which people interpret the things they encounter. I don’t think the sudden emergence of numerous eye-witness accounts of tall, slender, human-like entities in the Cannock Chase area is indicative of something paranormal in nature but, instead, revealing of the human nature to borrow ideas from the folk stories that we grew up with in an attempt to explain the unknown.

And, although the Slenderman character was created in 2009 it isn’t difficult to imagine that the character was directly or indirectly influenced by creatures that exist and survive in folklore tales handed down from generation to generation. Slenderman is a modern-day Bogeyman and the folk tales that have been inspired by the Bogeyman are impressively numerous.

A grayMany in the Cannock Chase area reported that they saw the so-called Slenderman entity while experiencing sleep paralysis, but if they lived in a different part of the world they might perhaps report that they saw a Grey- an alien considered synonymous with E.T. encounters -rather than a spirit or monster.

Cultural influences can play a huge role in determining how people report what they see and when an anecdote is shared with the national or international media it too can influence the way that people interpret what they experience. What was once considered a mundane experience can suddenly be given a new significance based upon the word of another person simply through the power of suggestion!

A great example of this would be tourists visiting Lake Windermere who saw a strange shaped buoy out on the water and thought nothing of it until they later read a newspaper that reported some people thought there was a lake monster in Windermere after which they claimed they too had seen the lake monster.

As the way in which society communicates changes so too do the ways in which folk stories are shared. Traditional oral folk stories have gradually been displaced by books, newspapers, radio, television and, more recently, the internet. The creation of the internet made it even easier for people to access folk stories not only from people in their own culture but also from other cultures they wouldn’t have come into contact with if it wasn’t for having online access. This is something that we see happening when people in Western countries claim to have captured ghosts on camera or video that resemble Asian ghosts, for example.

This relatively new platform from which folk tales can be shared brings a number of problems with it. It’s easy to access folk stories out of context and presume them to be factual without realising that what you’re reading is a story. It’s also possible to stumble upon hoax stories- often called fakelore -that are made to look like traditional folk literature even though they are not. Sometimes these manufactured “fakelore” stories aren’t recognised as such and get shared as though they weren’t hoaxes and become twisted up in the fabric of traditional lore.

This happens within the ghost hunting subculture too. Ghost folklore stories inspire ghost hunters to visit the locations mentioned in the stories in the search of the legendary ghosts. Often the ghost hunter will have strange experiences at the location that, despite there probably being a perfectly rational cause, will become part of the ghost lore. Before long ghost hunters are simply inspired by the stories of other ghost hunters and all of their experiences become part of the fabric of the ghost lore that first inspired them.

The problem is, of course, that these stories are based on anecdotes that are often passed from generation to generation and become embellished over the years as they are retold. As convincing as an anecdote might be and as reliable as an eyewitness might seem it isn’t possible to use the word of mouth as a reliable source. The evolution of traditional lore is truly fascinating but for a paranormal researcher or investigator to rely purely on anecdotes is limiting.

“Anecdotes do not make a science. Ten anecdotes are no better than one, and a hundred anecdotes are no better than ten” Frank J. Sulloway

Stories are where paranormal research is supposed to start and not where it’s supposed to finish. An over-reliance on folklore and anecdotes and a lack of rational inquiry into claims they encounter means that some paranormal researchers are doomed to a future of constantly reinventing the Bogeyman…

Recommended Reading

Folk Literature | Encyclopædia Britannica
The Cultural Evolution of Storytelling and Fairy Tales [excerpt] | Princeton University Press

About Hayley Stevens 442 Articles
Hayley is a ghost geek and started to blog in 2007. She uses scientific scepticism to investigate weird stuff and writes about it here while also speaking publicly about how to hunt ghosts as a skeptic.

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