Things that go bump in the night – Mark 2

I recently attended the Japan Supernatural exhibition at the Art Gallery of New South Wales.  Touted as an exhibition revealing “three centuries of folklore and fantasy in Japanese art” it was a profoundly rich cultural feast of the human psyche, design and colour.  Painted images of spirit-infilled objects, ghastly animal demons, spectral creatures who attack the living, and mournful tales of revenge and love lost themed the display, which wound its way through a series of rooms designed, quite obviously, for impact and effect … which did not disappoint.

Engagement in any form be it artistic or otherwise with the supernatural realm, that place dominated by other-worldly happenings and other-worldly beings, crosses all artistic mediums and cultures.  Who doesn’t remember telling ghost stories around a campfire, or huddling under a sheet with your best friend and a torch reading ghost comics (and then being too frightened to lower the sheet), or having siblings who took great delight in dressing up with ghoulish masks and jumping out from behind a darkened corner.

While all this is tantalising and scary fun, where does our association with the afterlife originate?  And why does this association exist?  In my previous monthly post I blogged about the interaction between Hamlet and his dead father’s spirit, who in disembodied form warned him of treachery in their kingdom.  And now, an exhibition from Japan provokes my own reflections about the spiritual presence and ongoing influence of the Wandjina, which Aboriginal Dreaming stories tell us are sacred ancestral spirit beings who created, shaped and govern the land and all those who live on it.

This cross-cultural relationship with the afterlife demonstrates knowledge-sharing of something important, of something which has not only persisted through time but which is part of people’s lives for a reason.  Science and Physics have demonstrated that we don’t live in a purposeless universe and that though there might be mysteries regarding it, there are always answers as well.  Everything appears to have a place, everything appears to be designed for a use.  What then is the place and use for these tales of the afterlife?

Are they designed just to scare us, or are their roots deeper, originating perhaps in the collective unconscious of humanity (hence their cross-cultural presence)?  If they are teaching stories, then what are we learning about the multidimensional universe, and what are we learning about ourselves?  What are they telling us?


Michele T Knight Written by:

Dr Michele Knight is a Social Worker, Social Scientist, researcher and independent scholar. Her interest and research in the end-of-life has its origin in the lived experiences of her own bereavements, her near-death and shared-death events, the returning deceased and attitudinal responses to those experiences. Since 2006, she has been extensively involved in community development, support and advocacy in both a professional and community services/voluntary capacity in the areas of bereavement and grief, hospital pastoral care, and academic lecturing/tutoring. Her PhD, Ways of Being: The alchemy of bereavement and communique, explores the lived experience of bereavement, grief, spirituality and unsought encounters with the returning deceased.

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