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Urban Legend

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Urban Legend is a kind of modern folk tale of dubious truth, but it’s usually told as if true.

Urban legends often involve horror themes that attempt to evoke strong emotions. They’re transmitted by word of mouth, through the print media, TV, radio or the internet. Ghost stories, vampires and the idea of creepy things in city sewers would be some examples.

Wikipedia puts it this way:

An urban legend, urban myth, urban tale, or contemporary legend, is a form of modern folklore consisting of stories that may or may not have been believed by their tellers to be true, and often possess horror implications that are believable to their audience.

Despite its name, an urban legend does not necessarily originate in an urban area. Rather, the term is used to differentiate modern legend from traditional folklore in pre-industrial times. For this reason, sociologists and folklorists prefer the term “contemporary legend”.¹

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The academic view may be more correct, technically. But the term “urban legend” has a cool ring to it that’s missing in the phrase “contemporary legend.” Maybe that’s partly why pulp fiction sells better than academic text books. The very term “urban legend” also plays into the mystique. And that’s probably what people seek when consuming this kind of stuff. A bit of excitement. Escape. Or as Carl Jung put it, an experience of the numinous.

Urban legend, especially regarding urban tales, differs from mythology. Traditionally, myths are said to carry some kind of supernatural connotation. Myths also are understood by modern people to be factually untrue. But with urban legend, the listener doesn’t know if the story is true or not. And urban legends do not necessarily have a supernatural element.

Urban legend is also said to differ from myth in that urban legends linger in the imagination as if they may be true, however exaggerated they might become through repeated telling.²

¹ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Urban_legend

² This distinction seems debatable. Consider Hindus who believe that the story of Krishna is not myth but reality. Also, many Christians take aspects of the Bible literally, no matter how fantastic or limiting some Bible tales may be. And yet many see the Bible as just another myth. Alternately, many see it as a combination of myth, politics, prejudice, distant history and spirituality.

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Edgar Cayce

Edgar Cayce (1877–1945) was a psychic of the 2...

Edgar Cayce (1877–1945) – Photo credit: Wikipedia

Edgar Cayce (1877-1945) was an American who claimed to be trance prophet, psychic and healer. He also believed in reincarnation. Cayce claimed, among other things, to have lived in the fabled Atlantis, ancient Egypt, Persia and Troy.

He believed he was able to absorb information from books just by holding them near his stomach.

Cayce gained quite a following. He rubbed shoulders with the elite of the psychic world and had prominent clients like Woodrow Wilson, Thomas Edison, Irving Berlin, and George Gershwin. A workaholic, his own readings warned him that if he did more than two readings per day he would deteriorate. He responded by doing four to six readings per day and eventually collapsed in 1944. His alleged healing techniques involved restoring patients’ equilibrium through natural methods.

Several organizations devoted to his work and ideas continue to this day, although some critics see him as eccentric and possibly fraudulent.


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Extrasensory perception (ESP)

Example of a subject in a Ganzfeld experiment.

Example of a subject in a Ganzfeld experiment. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Extrasensory perception (ESP) is a type of alleged psi phenomena. ESP is sometimes used as an umbrella term for many types of alleged paranormal phenomena but it properly refers to the ideas of telepathy (reading another’s thoughts) and clairvoyance (‘seeing’ without the eyes).

Some Fundamentalist, Protestant and Catholic Christians have a knee-jerk reaction to this idea, saying ESP is the workings of Satan, a delusion or evidence of mental illness. However, in Catholicism some of the more advanced saints claim to have been given similar gifts, usually called the reading of hearts. Indeed, some Catholic mystics claim to know another’s thoughts and/or feel their emotions near or at a distance with no observable cues.

Reading of Hearts. The knowledge of the secret thoughts of others or of their internal state without communication is known as reading of hearts. The certain knowledge of the secret thoughts of others is truly super-natural, since the devil has no access to the spiritual faculties of men and no human being can know the mind of another unless it is in some way communicated. But knowledge of the secrets of another’s heart may be conjectured by the devil and transmitted to a person, or they may be surmised by a deluded individual who takes his conjectures to be supernatural illuminations.¹

From the above it should be clear that Catholics – or, at least, sane Catholics – are cautious when it comes to mysticism. Central to Catholic mysticism is the idea of discernment or “the discernment of spirits.” Discernment is said to be a gift and acquired ability that enables one to differentiate supernatural experiences and abilities that come from God from those that do not.

¹ AUMANN, J. “Mystical Phenomena.” New Catholic Encyclopedia. 2nd ed. Vol. 10. Detroit: Gale, 2003. 105-109. Gale Virtual Reference Library. Web. 29 Apr. 2012.

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Empath

The Empath

The Empath (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

An empath is a person who apparently recognizes, understands and possibly feels the emotions of another person or possibly living beings and organisms, such as animals and plants. Different schools of thought variously try to explain the phenomenon of empathy.

Psychologists say that the empath physiologically copies another person’s emotions based on observable cues. Religious perspectives believe the empath feels another’s emotions due to a mystical connection among all people (some mystical schools would extend this to all living beings, organisms and even inorganic material like rocks, gems, and stones).

In contrast to the psychological explanation for empathy, some mystics claim to know another’s thoughts and/or feel their emotions – called the reading of hearts in Catholicism – near or at a distance with no observable cues.

Reading of Hearts. The knowledge of the secret thoughts of others or of their internal state without communication is known as reading of hearts. The certain knowledge of the secret thoughts of others is truly super-natural, since the devil has no access to the spiritual faculties of men and no human being can know the mind of another unless it is in some way communicated. But knowledge of the secrets of another’s heart may be conjectured by the devil and transmitted to a person, or they may be surmised by a deluded individual who takes his conjectures to be supernatural illuminations.¹

Estimating the prevalence of the gift of empathy is difficult for a variety of reasons, the most obvious being that many people wouldn’t want to talk about their empathetic abilities for fear of ridicule. Not surprising then that the psychiatrist Carl Jung said that most individuals are unwilling to talk about their experience of the paranormal because of potential repercussions.

Empaths are differentiated from psychopaths. Apparently psychopaths often can sense another person’s feelings but try to use that ability to manipulate and exploit. Empaths, on the other hand, try to use their perceptions for the common good.

The idea of empathy has been thoroughly explored in science fiction and fantasy. At top right of this entry we see a scene from the 1968 Star Trek episode called The Empath.²

¹ AUMANN, J. “Mystical Phenomena.” New Catholic Encyclopedia. 2nd ed. Vol. 10. Detroit: Gale, 2003. 105-109. Gale Virtual Reference Library. Web. 29 Apr. 2012.

² Fair dealing / fair use rationale of this low-res copyright image.

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