St. Valentine of Terni, a third-century Roman saint, was known as the patron saint of lovers. He had the reputation of healing the sick and is said to have restored the sight of Julia, the daughter of Asterius his jailer.
Anyone inquiring into the nature of paranormal experiences and events does so with some apprehension and at some peril to himself. To remain wholly impartial in the face of inexplicable and disturbing phenomena is a difficult achievement, and inevitably one is swayed by one’s own biases which may take the form of a determined scepticism or an equally determined belief in the objective reality of the occult.
For well over a century, psychologists have attempted to understand belief in psychic or paranormal phenomena (e.g. Carpenter, 1873; Jastrow, 1886). In doing so, they have traditionally approached such beliefs as erroneous, and often the product of misattribution of normal (i.e. non-paranormal) experiences. Such experiences have been attributed to malobservation, probability misjudgement, gullibility and wishful thinking, while belief in the paranormal has been associated with low intelligence, marginal social status, inadequate education, and a lack of critical thinking (e.g. Gilovich, 1991; Irwin, 1993; Wiseman and Watt, 2006).
All normally developed humans are equipped with cognitive machinery dedicated to threat detection and handling, machinery that has been assembled and fine-tuned incrementally by a long process of natural selection. We have evidence to suggest that horror fiction runs on the same machinery.
The popularity of horror fiction is puzzling. Why would anyone willingly expose himself or herself to such aversive, outlandish nonsense; what is the appeal of supernatural monsters and moaning ghosts? I argue that a biocultural approach, one that integrates research into evolved psychology with attention to sociohistorical circumstance, is uniquely equipped to answer these questions.
Insanity, paranoia, and psychology have long been a staple of American film noir thrillers. These motion pictures provide insight into an evolving American popular culture landscape from World War II through the postwar era and function as cultural, industrial, and aesthetic products of Hollywood’s classical studio system during a fascinating period of the American film industry.
The historical record shows that personal experience of bewitchment was multifarious, concerning livestock, goods, chattels, and agricultural processes. However, over the last five centuries the majority of those experiences that were deemed severe enough to lead to the formal accusation, prosecution, or physical assault of supposed witches, concerned people suffering from ill health, or some other form of physical or mental discomfort.