If you ask three people for a definition of supernatural, you will get five different answers.
I knew the definition of Supernatural Travel was going to be a sticking point for some people when I named my site and podcast. From the start I got some wrinkled brows. Not enough to make me consider changing the name, however!
Two groups in particular have a problem with the definition of supernatural. They tend to furnish their own meanings that fall outside the dictionary definition.
This leads to a fair amount of confusion and argument about what supernatural really means, and therefore, what this site is actually about.
Merriam Webster Dictionary Definition of Supernatural:
1: of or relating to an order of existence beyond the visible observable universe; especially : of or relating to God or a god, demigod, spirit, or devil
Problem #1: People confuse the definitions of Supernatural and Paranormal
For many people, the words supernatural and paranormal are virtually interchangeable. For me, they are not. In my opinion, paranormal is a very limited subset of supernatural.
Merriam Webster Definition of Paranormal:
Not scientifically explainable. (See Supernatural)
There is a subtle difference between these two terms. Supernatural is a kinder and gentler way to describe things that are wondrous, faith based and difficult to explain.
Paranormal is more absolute. Not explainable. It makes no mention of faith. There is no allowance for personal experience, belief systems or wonder. In many cases, it would require you to abandon any beliefs (scientific or otherwise) to embrace.
Add to this the fact that in recent years, cult classic films have firmed up the use of the term paranormal to describe ghosts, demons and all sorts of classic bloody demonic horror fodder.
Paranormal is rarely used in a positive light. It’s just, well… kind of creepy and weird.
Problem #2: Religious people struggle with both supernatural and paranormal
The confusion between paranormal and supernatural has made explaining the theme of Supernatural Travel especially problematic when speaking with religious folk.The terms both have connotations of demons and devil worship to certain people. Ouija boards, seances and blood rituals come to mind.
This is not limited to Christians, by the way. But it does seem more common in countries with a strong Catholic/Christian presence.
Imagine my surprise when I attended World Travel Market in London last fall. The PR reps of nearly every country with a strong church presence clammed up, the moment I handed over my card.
“Oh no! There is NOTHING Supernatural in (Spain, Italy, Greece, Montenegro… etc), all we have are churches and holy places,” they stammered, backing away slowly.
I had to laugh. “So you mean you have no miracles? No saints? Not one healing spring? How about a monk with visions? Was a child miraculously cured? A notorious sinner punished by divine intervention? Not one single fairy tale, legend or folk tradition?”
As far as I am concerned, any story that involves faith is a supernatural story. Religion is supernatural because of the faith required.
Irony: The more religious a country is, the more supernatural stories they seem to have.
Problem #3: Analytical people have a problem with the definition of supernatural
Recently at a conference I was attending, I had an argument with Gary Arndt and Chris Christensen, two men I generally respect and admire. Both are extremely respected travel writers/podcasters and Gary takes mind blowing photos.
Both of them, however, confidently insisted they had never once had a “supernatural travel” experience.
Naturally, both of them were rigidly substituting the definition of paranormal for the definition of supernatural. They were not able to recognize or respect the subtle differences that are the soil in which most of the stories on this site and podcast grow.
Perhaps because these guys reminded me of my supremely analytical, and terribly mansplain-y, older brothers, their wholesale dismissal of “Supernatural” got under my skin for a moment.
I understood the subtext of what they were saying – they don’t subscribe to any of “thatthere hoodoo voodoo nonsense.” They believed there is nothing they have encountered in their travels that cannot be rationally, scientifically, and logically explained.
But they were sort of deliberately missing the point.
My definition of Supernatural Travel doesn’t vary much from Merriam Webster’s
Supernatural Travel is : of or relating to an order of existence beyond the visible observable universe.
Why we are all here? How can we explain our own consciousness? Not everyone believes that there is anything beyond the visible and observable universe. But most of us are willing to hedge our bets. Just acknowledging that you don’t have the answers to everything, suffices. Bonus points if you are willing to stargaze and pontificate.
I can think of a thousand questions that won’t lead to answers, but would make excellent discussions around a campfire on any continent.
Existence beyond the visible, observable universe can only be speculated about. G-d, faith, space, aliens, nothing… These theories all have one thing in common. They are theories. It’s impossible to know, for sure, what’s beyond. I don’t care how high your horse is.
Almost everyone has a Supernatural Travel story to share, even if they don’t think they do
When I heard Chris talking about his experience on the Ganges river, watching death rituals, and how that made him feel? I thought THIS is Supernatural Travel. Of course he has the sort of stories my listeners love!
This is the wonder that pulls us places, and opens our eyes, and makes us ask questions, knowing full well that sometimes the answers are impossible to sort.
Supernatural travel is also: departing from what is usual or normal especially so as to appear to transcend the laws of nature
Likewise, when I heard Gary talking about swimming in a remote landlocked lake full of glowing, stinger-less jellyfish? Yep. You guessed it. Also Supernatural Travel fodder as defined above.
Can landlocked, freshwater, stinger-less jellyfish be explained by the laws of nature? Apparently they can. Nevertheless, these jellyfish are such a surprising departure from what is normal and usual that they appear to transcend those laws of nature. It’s sort of a miracle they evolved the way they did. That’s supernatural.
Problem #4: People associate Supernatural Travel exclusively with haunted houses, ghost tours, death etc
Supernatural travel is: attributed to an invisible agent (such as a ghost or spirit)
I love ghost stories. I’m game to go stay in a haunted hotel. I love catacombs and cemeteries as much as the next Supernatural-stuff-loving traveler. If you are looking for an underground tour or a listing of the most haunted hotels in a given city, I’d be happy to furnish this for you. Technically this is a correct definition of Supernatural Travel, but it’s not the only one, or even the preferred one.
Here’s why: It’s been my experience that 90% of of haunted, ghostly travel attractions, hotels, events etc are largely theatrical tourist traps. For sure they can be a fun way to experience history and elicit goose bumps but for me these are cheap thrills. And I personally don’t do dark/horror stuff. Perhaps I’d entertain a guest post but it’s not for me.
The best transformative supernatural travel experiences do not generally involve a brochure, entry fee or jump-scare from someone in costume.
My goal is neither to embrace or debunk anyone’s theories. I leave that fun to others. The world is a wondrous and wacky place. That’s why we feel compelled to explore it.
This site’s definition of Supernatural Travel only requires that we acknowledge and stay open to the improbability and wonder all around us, at home and on the road.
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