Whenever I tell most people that I am involved in the paranormal, unless they are paranormal television fans or paranormal investigators, they have a tendency to believe that I am somehow involved in the occult. They understand "paranormal" to mean a main dish of "scary, evil, devil stuff" with side dishes of "ghosts," "demons," and "seances." Dessert is "all the stuff of which bad dreams are made" with a topping of whipped "stupid." For many of the uneducated, that is a general understanding of the word, "paranormal."
It is like Groceries
I try to explain to people that using the word, paranormal, is more like saying, groceries as opposed to occult. Groceries are made up of various food categories that are further broken down into packaged products. Then groceries are broken down still further into individual brands or items with their distinctive flavors and characteristics.
Like groceries, the word paranormal is a broad, encompassing term that includes various main categories, such as parapsychology, ghost hunting, entities, spirituality, and metaphysical studies. Those categories are broken down into styles, brands, cohorts, or venues of action, such telepathy, paranormal websites, negative hauntings, teams, paranormal electronics, religious rituals, and yes, even the occult. These then get broken down still further into even more individual elements, such as EVP recordings, exorcisms, team promotions, camera choices, and experimental techniques. Just like with groceries, the person gets to spend his or her money and pick and choose which one he or she wants to take home and/or metaphorically ingest.
Sometimes people outside the paranormal community do get "paranormal" when I explain it to them like that. Just as often, people will give me a forced, indulgent smile or sometimes a condescending frown. Many individuals still regularly warn me that I should not be messing with such things, especially as a minister. (I usually just bite my tongue but I always want to ask them, "So you think Jesus should not have been messing with demons either?")
Frustrated with this communication problem between what we are doing actually in the paranormal and what people have in their minds that we are doing, I decided that maybe we in the paranormal community need to adjust our terminology. Maybe we need to refer to what we are engaging in as something more mainstream and less negatively loaded. Maybe we should classy it up a bit and make what we are doing more official and more acceptable sounding. After all, as Mr. Shakespeare wrote, "What is in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet."
Taking Willie's advice, I have begun to tell people recently that I am involved in paranormalogy. When pressed as to what that means, I explain that my definition for paranormalogy is "the scientific study of all things beyond what is typically considered to be normal or natural and that have yet to be fully understood or scientifically explained or proven." (I thought that definition sounded kind of cool!)
When pressed further, I explain that I study the biological, metaphysical and spiritual unknown aspects of humanity and our universe through scientific and occasionally advent guard, experimental means. (Now, that is probably one of the fanciest ways that you will ever hear anyone say that he or she is a ghost hunter! But hey, "A rose by…")
The subjectively charged "paranormal" loses its negative connotation as it becomes the parent root word for our more formal, scientifically-sounding discipline: paranormalogy. I am probably not the only person to ever consider calling what we do paranormalogy, but now I am one of the biggest advocates for its usage to describe that which we in the paranormal community are involved to those outside of our community. And why stop there?
As opposed to just calling ourselves ghost hunters or paranormal investigators, we also can claim to be citizen scientists (regular people without degrees in a particular subject but who are involved in its study using scientific means) in the field of paranormalogy. We can explain that we often do the same things that scientifically-minded individuals have been doing for years, decades and millennium. We experiment. We guess. We try new things. We try to figure out what works. We document and share our findings. And then, we do it all again with new environmental variables! [Editor's note: Citizen Science is a growing field of lay enthusiasts who do exactly that, from environmental observation like bird watching to more sophisticated projects.]
("As a hobby, I am a citizen scientist in the emerging field of paranormalogy," probably sounds so much more socially acceptable and appealing to grandma or your boss as opposed to saying, "As a hobby, I hunt ghosts.")
As citizen scientists, we engage in semi-scientific-to-totally-scientific methodologies as we attempt to understand the phenomenon of ghosts and whatever is truly going bump in the night. The main difference from the past is that we now are more open and rigorous in our intentional explorations as opposed to being closeted Dr. Frankensteins. Our lay scientific community is expanding daily, which makes paranormalogy probably the fastest growing science on the planet, with the ever-improving odds for its eventual success and acknowledgement based upon the sheer numbers of those involved.
As the citizen scientists of paranormalogy, we set out regularly into our version of the unexplored wilderness, not with tents, sleeping bags and compasses, but with meters, cameras and recorders. (Well, actually, sometimes we do bring tents, sleeping bags and experiment with compasses.) But like those who have blazed trails before us, we also go forward to explore the unknown with a mix of excitement, fear, and a need to record and map where we have been for ourselves and for future generations. Our bravery against the norm, our new methodologies, our subjective theories, and our new scientific toys will be the building blocks of our legacy and the frontier history of our emerging science.
Science, unfortunately, has a tendency to destroy creativity and spontaneity due to its stringent requirements for the reproducibility of results. That necessity for recreation is used as one of the primary standards in determining the validity and accuracy of scientific inquiry. The very nature of what we are studying, the paranormal, with its unknown variables, however, often precludes the ability to reproduce results.
Paranormalogy, by the very nature of what is being studied, dictates innovative thinking and the establishment of new norms for a unique science. We must not allow paranormalogy to be frozen out because it cannot play well yet with the big kids of science using the same rules of their game. In this new science, because of its very nature, it means that "once" may be all that is ever possible. We may never be able to reproduce an event or a successful experiment. (Some of us believe that ghosts/unknown entities have rights and have the freedom of choice to cooperate or not.)
Caution must be exercised as our new science of paranormalogy evolves. If paranormalogy becomes too mainstream scientific too soon, this actually may destroy or stifle the unprecedented and creative advances being made possible by its less constrained citizen scientists. Attempting to discover the unknown demands creativity, new experiments, and taking investigate risks. Citizen scientists must be allowed the freedom to exist, to be creative, and to fail.
Our fledgling science must never forget its roots. The inclusion of its citizen scientists in their varying stages of understanding, education and knowledge about the paranormal are essential in order for paranormalogy to succeed and to flourish in its early stages. Sadly, it will become easy for lay scientists to be forced out in the future as advances are made and paranormalogy becomes a more recognized science.
In the years to come, people probably will have to become certified in paranormalogy or have at least a bachelor's degree in paranormalogy in order to be taken seriously. (Sadly, some people are claiming that all ghost hunters should be certified even today as opposed to simply being educated about having respect for all involved and about safety protocols.) The roots of paranormalogy research – from the ancient Egyptian priests to two plumbers with a television show to the paranormalogy lay scientists – will eventually become the quaint stories told of our science's beginnings.
With all of these considerations in mind, and as the founding fathers and mothers of this new science, we still boldly go forward into the emerging field of paranormalogy. The final frontier is not space. (Apologies to all the trekkies!) By whatever name we choose to call our rose, the final frontier will always be the metaphysical, the spiritual, the unexplained, the possibility and complexity of life after life, and the challenges of understanding the existence of the human soul… which hopefully paranormalogy scientists actually will prove exists at some point in our near future.