‘ … suddenly, I began seeing Santa Muerte everywhere.’
It was a huge coincidence that the hotel the skeptic conference was happening in was said to be haunted. I can’t remember what year it was, but I was sat in a hotel bar in Manchester as an attendee when it happened. I was sitting with a small group of friends and acquaintances when the story came up and the discussion turned to ghost hunting. For one reason or another, it was decided that I would teach everyone there how to do glass divination.
I took an empty glass and turned it upside down and the small group all placed one finger very gently atop the glass. I then began “asking out” as one would on a typical ghost hunt.
“Is there anybody there?”
“Move the glass to show your presence”
Suddenly, the glass moved.
Everybody who had their finger on the glass looked at me with pure surprise on their faces as though I had made it move, to which I responded by removing my finger from the glass. It continued to move. It only happened for a few seconds, but a number of the people who had participated were shocked. They hadn’t expected it to move because they knew about ideomotor responses which cause unconscious muscular movements in response to a situation.
To them, the cause of the movement was known and yet it was still an uncanny experience. They hadn’t been in control of their perception quite as much as they’d hoped. They had experienced what it’s like to witness a mystery even though they’d known the cause to begin with!
When you participate in dowsing, divination, ouija boards, or table tipping sessions, it’s very, very surreal. And in that moment, what is happening is very, very real. I recall one table tipping session I took part in, in 2005 that saw us participants really having to run to keep up with the table. It was the weirdest thing because it felt as though the table was as light as air. In reality it was a hefty, wooden table that took three of the group to lift into position. I know why the table moved, but it didn’t stop it from feeling strangely significant.
In the early 1800’s, poet John Keats accused Sir Isaac Newton of attempting to ‘unweave the rainbow’, suggesting he was guilty of taking the magic out of life by only seeing the scientific core to concepts and experiences around him. I think he had somewhat of a point because even though events which occur are likely to have some common, natural cause, it isn’t so strange when people see higher meaning in them. I’d also argue that it isn’t automatically magical thinking.
Coincidences are a good example of this. A week or so ago, the thought occurred to me that I should donate some food items to the local food bank the next time I was at the supermarket. The very next day, I saw a post on Social Media begging people to make donations because the Food Bank were running low on everything.
More recently, I read From Here to Eternity by Caitlin Doughty and the book piqued my interest in Mexico’s Dias de los Muertos and that Nanitas of Bolivia. This led me to reading up on the so-called “cult” of Santa Muerte. Following this, suddenly, I began seeing Santa Muerte everywhere. Statuettes in a shop that was closing down and had their remaining stock out at discounted prices. On a documentary unrelated to the subject, on a show a family member was watching as I walked into the room, in a conversation between colleagues, while re-watching Breaking Bad…
The coincidence was uncanny and felt almost message-like. In reality, we’re surrounded by death iconography a lot and I was likely noticing it more as a result of something known as Baader-Meinhof Phenomenon or what is more commonly known as a frequency illusion. This occurs when things seem to happen in sequence or in a way which seems connected. Many people refer to this as synchronicity and place meaning in such coincidences. Non-believers are likely to put it down to chance.
However, it’s important to remember that concepts such as synchronicity, meaningful coincidence, and even supernatural explanations for the startlingly mysterious things we experience in our lives are appealing. They’re appealing because mysteries butter our bread. They always have and they always will. Yet, it’s also important to remember that seeing connections between events is human nature. People aren’t stupid for feeling as though there’s some deeper cause or deeper meaning to what has happened.
They can’t reach out and touch, but it has touched them in some way, and reacting to that isn’t necessarily delusional or wrong. It’s… human.