Deborah Hyde has been Editor-in-Chief of The Skeptic Magazine for over five years. She speaks regularly at conventions, on podcasts and on international broadcast media about why people believe in the supernatural – especially the malign supernatural – using a combination of history and psychology. She has written on subjects from the ‘Poltergeist’ to ethics, and the history of ideas. She thinks that superstition and religion are natural – albeit not ideal – ways of looking at the world.
In September 1591, a prosperous Wroclaw shoemaker killed himself by cutting his throat. To avoid the shame associated with suicide and to ensure the man received a religious burial, his family concealed the damning evidence. But the shoemaker did not rest in his grave. The whole town was disturbed by his ghost which made noises, appeared to some, and oppressed others. The Council was convened, and the man’s corpse was exhumed and examined; what they found shocked the whole community. In the talk, we will conduct a historical paranormal investigation to look at the many factors which have led to perfectly sane, intelligent people coming to believe that there was a mischievous and dangerous ghost in their midst, including:
- The history of the Wroclaw and its many historical and cultural influences
- The context of sixteenth-century religious and folkloric belief
- The historical understanding of biology and bodily decay
- The social psychology of scapegoating behaviour and ritual
- The similarity between many varieties of supernatural revenant folklore across Europe, some of which persists to this day.