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Sounds in the Dark

In ancient days, the sounds of twigs breaking in the forest were a sign of approaching predators. Man had to learn to tune in to the slightest sound, and to sleep with one ear, as well as one eye open in order to survive. The sounds of hungry wolves howling in the dark brought terror, but predators were more often crafty and quiet, and man had to be constantly aware and to listen hard to stay alive.

Over time, we built walls around our dwellings and developed other ways to protect ourselves. We became full of our own industry and affairs, and gradually became less dependent on our hearing for safety. Our ears were then freed from their constant vigilance, and we had more time for amusement and recreation.

Our attention to auditory signals in the world around us has now become fragmented by the ceaseless noise we surround ourselves with. People bring their cell phones with them everywhere, a cacophony of radios compete with each other in public places, and many people have their TV on from the time they wake up to the time they fall asleep at night. Even if you seek quiet, there are few places in settled areas throughout the entire world that are free of background noise from machinery, cars, trucks, buses, trains, or planes. Even high-power electric lines which criss-cross remote fields emit a buzzing sound.

Though we've "outgrown" our need for it, even today, sounds alert our innate responses to "flight or fight." Our hearing isn't nearly as acute as that of other animals, but where natural sensory perception fails us, our "sixth sense" -- or our imagination -- often fills the gap.

Even Freud's famous pupil, Carl Jung, encountered mysterious noises and made a study of psychic phenomena. He and Freud had a falling out because of his belief in the paranormal, among other ideas that required modifying or expanding Freud's. Jung reported that on one occasion, he was discussing the paranormal with the "father of psychiatry" -- a staunch skeptic -- in Freud's office. As if to punctuate the topic of discussion, Jung said, a loud rapping noise appeared to come from Freud's bookcases. Although it did nothing to convince Freud, it confirmed to Jung that he was on the right track -- that the sounds were of paranormal origin.

When I was a teen, I woke from a sound sleep at a little past three in the morning. I could see perfectly into my room because the full moon's light was shining in through the window. I heard someone come up the stairs and go into the bathroom at the end of the hall. Then, though I was certain that the person I had heard was still in the bathroom, I heard a single knock on my bedroom door.

I called, "Who is it?" There was no answer, but the knock came again as I heard the person in the bathroom using the sink. I called again, "Who is it?" No answer again, but I could see the doorknob turning slowly. Suddenly, the person in the bathroom came out and went back downstairs, and the turning of the doorknob stopped.

I lay in bed for a moment more and then crept quietly to the door. Although I had closed it when I went to bed, the door was now slightly open.

I told my mother about it the next morning, and she gave me a strange look. She told me that the day before, she had been sitting at the kitchen table when she heard a knock at the door -- not the outer door, but the door leading into the kitchen from the basement foyer. There had been no one there, but she said it hadn't been the first time.

After a few days, we were sitting in the living room watching TV after a meal. We heard a loud crash coming from the kitchen, and discovered that a serving platter, which had been on the kitchen table, was now in pieces on the floor across the room. It had evidently been thrown against the wall, but no one else was in the house. We were thoroughly spooked, and I hit the library shelves in search of information to explain the phenomenon.

People have reported hearing sounds that seem to them to be of supernatural origin from the earliest times. Disembodied voices, chains rattling, rapping at windows, knocks at doors, and other less identifiable sounds have been associated with a host of legendary manifestations over the centuries. As we developed electrical and electronic forms of communication, it seems inevitable that the supernatural should begin being manifested over these devices as well. Now contacts with the supernatural are being made not only through ordinary sounds, but using our phones, tape and video recordings, and our televisions and radios.

Such manifestations are called electronic voice phenomena, or EVPs. defines an EVP as "the recording of apparent supernatural voices, some of which are audible, on magnetic tape. Some voices claim to be spirits of the dead. Other theories are that the voices come from extraterrestrials, impressions from the Akashic Records, or an unknown phenomenon of the subconscious mind. Still other psychical researchers believe the sounds are intercepted radio transmissions or static, or distorted mechanical noises."

The Fox sisters, back in the mid-1840s, achieved a great deal of notoriety through their performances as mediums. During their seances, there would be loud noises, supposedly from the 'spirit realm.' The sisters later admitted that they themselves had created the noises by cracking their toes and other bones, giving skeptics great satisfaction and setting the field of parapsychology back still further from the goal of respectability among scientists. Serious paranormalists have learned that fraud is a common occurrence, making it even more important to eliminate all other potential sources for a phenomenon. Even when there is no attempt to deceive, there are any number of reasonable explanations which should be eliminated before assuming that an unexplained sound is paranormal in origin.

But when strange things happen, humans have a natural tendency to personalize them. When the phone rings, yet when you pick it up no one is there, at the least you may feel a bit paranoid, wondering whether someone is making a prank. Combined with other conditions, you may even feel threatened, as if someone may be watching you. If the phone rings and there is a bad connection, as if to another phone number, yet the voice or voices you overhear are talking about some topic related to something in your life, it's difficult not to think there is something eerie at work, or that someone or something is trying to communicate with you.

Such was the case with an early researcher in EVP phenomenon. Fredrich Jurgenson began conducting investigations into EVP back in 1959, when he inadvertently picked up an incident of EVP while taping bird songs. During playback of the actual birds singing, he also heard a male voice speaking Norwegian discussing bird songs. He thought he had picked up a radio broadcast, and was unable to replicate the event when he made more tapings. However, as he made more tapes, he began hearing many voices that not only gave him personal information but also gave him instructions on how to record more EVPs.

Inspired by Jurgenson's discoveries, a Latvian psychologist, Konstantin Raudive, became a leading researcher into the phenomenon during the 1960s and 1970s. Raudive recorded over 100,000 voice phrases and made such an impression in the field that another name for EVPs is "Raudive voices." The voices he recorded speak in different languages, and "vary in clarity from being very audible to sounding like bad long distant telephone connections, while others seem to be delivered in code, At times only one or two voices are heard while at other times a multitude of voices can be heard. The voices are identifiable as men, women, and children." Raudive died in 1974, without having reached a conclusion on the origin or meaning of EVPs. He was conducting experiments related to his "Raudive's voices" research at the time of his death with a parakeet that inexplicably had begun speaking seemingly significant sentences in German.

Perhaps the most well known writer in the field of auditory paranormal manifestations and EVPs is John Keel, who wrote the book, "The Mothman Prophecies," which became a movie by the same name. John Keel's philosophy is that creatures like the Mothman, UFOs, and "men in black" are to our generation what vampires and fairies and angels were to generations prior to ours: "cover stories" for what is really happening. He believes that some kind of intelligent life form is persistently making its appearance among human affairs throughout time. He doesn't know what it is, but he is trying hard to find out.

In accounts of the Mothman (dubbed Mothman by the press, after a character in Batman comics of that era), his research focused on events that took place in the town of Point Pleasant, W. Virginia. Aside from actually sightings reported of the strange creature or creatures, there were many auditory manifestations. Newell Partridge, a resident of the town of Salem, about 90 miles from Point Pleasant, had an encounter at about 10:30 p.m. on November 15, 1966. He reported that he was watching TV when the screen abruptly went dark, then filled with a weird pattern. At the same time, he said he heard loud, whining sounds that raised in pitch, "like a generator winding up," until they suddenly ceased.

His dog then stood up on the porch, facing the barn, and began howling. Partridge was terrified to see two glowing red orbs, like eyes or "bicycle reflectors," which moved as if belonging to something that was alive, but not an animal. The dog, trained to hunt, didn't listen to Partridge's commands to stop, and took off after the eyes. Partridge ran in the house, thought about getting his gun and going after him, but was too frightened. The dog had still not returned two days later when Partridge read in the newspaper about other "Mothman" sightings in Point Pleasant that same night.

Another incident occurred on November 16 of that year, to Marcella Bennett, a Point Pleasant resident, as she was driving to a neighbor's. When she got out of the car, she described seeing a figure that appeared to rise up from the ground as if it had been lying down near the automobile. She described it as "a big gray thing. Bigger than a man with terrible glowing eyes. She was so terrified by the encounter she actually dropped her child. She scooped her up again and ran into her neighbor's home where they locked all the doors and called the police. They claimed the creature actually came up onto their porch and looked in at them through the windows, but it was gone by the time police arrived.

Bennett was completely shaken by the incident, and she reported being haunted by the creature at her own home, which was in an isolated area. She said that she could hear it keening and screaming with a voice like a woman, months later, and had to be treated for anxiety.

John Keel did a thorough job interviewing people in the Point Pleasant area. His analysis of the EVPs led him to state that he believed the Mothman to be incapable of human speech, but that it had made sounds like screeching or a woman screaming to many. He also chronicled many incidences of problems with television and radio reception in the area during the fall of 1966.

His research included accounts of bizarre EVP manifestations even before he wrote "The Mothman Prophecies." An early influence was recounted by Keel in a 1973 interview related to the research he was doing on UFO sightings: "On a number of occasions, when I was most active in my research, I would go to an obscure farm on an obscure back road to research a story that had never been publicized. As soon as I would walk into the house, the phone would start to go crazy. But no one would be on the other end of the line, and the farmer would be amazed because this had never happened before. This occurred several times in several different places. Someone was trying to get through to me that they knew every move I was making. They finally convinced me."

Many paranormal researchers from around the world have investigated EVPs, and there is more controversy than there are conclusions. While some EVPs may be paranormal in origin, many have been proven to be natural sounds or "white noise." Because of the nature of using self-reported accounts from subjects who claim they have experienced EVPs, like the examples above, the conclusions made by scientist D. J. Ellis -- that interpretation of the sounds is highly subjective and susceptible to the imagination -- are undeniable. Ellis was commissioned to reach those conclusions by the Society for Psychical Research in London from 1970-1972.

While there may be no proof of their origins, however, there is no doubt in the minds of people who have encountered noises in the dark that there is something out there that needs explaining. Until a reasonable source can be identified, the sounds meet all criteria of being "not scientifically explainable," or paranormal.

For some interesting accounts of EVPs by John Keel, sci-fi writer Philip K. Dick, and others see: Voices from Cyberspace

Internet sources for this article:

Electronic Voice Phenomena

UFO Wave,'73: Interview with John Keel

Prairie The Mothman

More reading on the web:

The Unconscious Fallacy

What is Parapsychology?


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