Spooky Season: Stuyvesant Edition

Investigating Stuyesant students’ opinions on the paranormal and supernatural.

Reading Time: 6 minutes

Halloween season is right around the corner, and it’s that time of year when fake ghosts, creepy sculptures, and other spooky trinkets decorate homes and businesses. Despite the quarantine, Halloween festivities are still in sight, ranging from socially distanced trick-or-treating to online events. To add some excitement to this well-known “spooky season,” we’ve interviewed Stuyvesant students about their spooky experiences and beliefs, ranging from supernatural experiences to paranormal events.

Religious Ties to the Supernatural

Paranormal and supernatural ideas have been integrated into the human experience for centuries, but each person often has a different opinion about what constitutes these phenomena. Some believe that people’s perception of certain phenomena arises from the need to explain the unknown. Senior Fahima Miajee described her views of these events, noting that “paranormal phenomena are things that can’t be explained and therefore, are turned into thrilling stories.” In her experience, unexplainable events often have, to some extent, rational explanations. In terms of her personal beliefs, Miajee mentioned her religious belief in certain supernatural beings such as jinn, which are creatures of fire known for making deals with humans, and angels made of light. “Aside from belief in the supernatural based on my faith, I have zero belief in other supernatural beings, whether in my own Bengali culture or western society,” Miajee stated.

Senior Bushra Islam similarly touched upon these religious values, as she mentioned her experiences and upbringing surrounding the existence of Islamic entities and creatures. In fact, “religion and the supernatural often go hand in hand,” she explained. “From a young age, I’ve heard stories about jinns, Dajjal, and other creatures that encompass the capability to possess humans or animals, that have contributed to my fear and belief in the supernatural.”

Influences From Multiculturalism

Cultural folklore often makes its way into childhood in the form of tales and stories. In South Asian culture, especially from the Bengal region, specific stories often have themes of “black magic, tantric arts, witches, roaming spirits with malicious intents, and demons,” Islam recounted. When asked to give a specific example, Islam referred to the scariest story she ever heard. Her grandmother told her about “the lady with long hair [who] sits in trees and in the sunset, attacks those that come under it.” This superstitious story has stuck to Islam, who heard it at age six, as she is still scared of going under large trees and avoids them when she can.

Though students’ paranormal beliefs are often shaped by their personal origins, Miajee stressed that her personal perspective is influenced by a combination of international cultures. To start, her interactions with Western culture have combined with her Bengali one. Growing up, she heard stories of Rakkhosh (man-eating giants) in the woods as much as she read and watched tales of the Brothers Grimm, Walt Disney, and Hans Christian Andersen. In addition, Miajee learned about both pujas in Hinduism and Santa Claus during Christmas. She believes it’s impossible to talk about the paranormal strictly in terms of a single culture and the local myths that it carries. “Globalization has made our supernatural beliefs immensely multicultural,” she concluded.

The Culture of Horror Filmmaking

Cinematic culture has had one of the largest influences on students, instilling fear around topics that otherwise would not hold the same meaning. Haunted houses are classic examples of this impact. One of Islam’s favorite movies is “The Conjuring,” which is about a haunted farmhouse that is taken over by a supernatural entity. Part of why the movie is so terrifyingly terrific is its believable nature and connections to reality. Islam found herself personally concerned about the wellbeing of the characters.

Unknown entities and the bloody destruction they create aren’t the only categorically paranormal topics that horror filmmakers use. Miajee cites the film “Brimstone” as the scariest movie she’s watched, recalling that it was hard for her to fall asleep at night after watching it. It’s about a vindictive preacher who hunts a wrongly accused woman turned fugitive. Brimstone plays on the loss of human emotion and exposes a dark, hidden side to human nature.

Frightening Stories From Our Students

Outside the screen, students have experienced some spook in their day-to-day lives as well through unexplained, possibly supernatural experiences. Islam recounted the “absolute scariest, most frightening, [and] unforgettable night” in her life. She was in Bangladesh in 2017 staying at a house that already seemed scary because of its enormous, haunted house-like size. Islam slept with her sister that night after everyone locked their rooms and settled in. The clock had just struck 3:00 a.m. when Islam’s sister awoke to perform the morning Fajr prayer. Instead of carrying on with the prayer, Islam’s sister whispered her name and nudged her awake before turning her face and panicking about another presence in the room. In the faint light, Islam recalled seeing “a long black shadow” that lasted for a moment before disappearing. Though she dismissed the shadow as a mere deception of the eye, she felt restless thinking of the possibility that it was actually there.

Senior Nicholas Zhong recalled a recent encounter during an outdoor walk in which he felt on-edge because of an unhuman presence. “There was this one time when I […] came across some abandoned train tracks. It was in the late afternoon, right before nighttime, and I noticed three figures following me in the distance,” Zhong narrated. “I couldn’t really tell, but they were kind of unnerving—it was something about those three guys in the distance that was just creepy,” he concluded.

Miajee also mentioned a similarly unnerving experience in her own childhood memories in a remote location. “One time when my father was back from New York, we took a trip as a family to my dad’s childhood village [...] [W]e were on a dirt road with no street lights,” Miajee remembered. “I could tell that we were also right next to a graveyard, [...] and for some reason, the car was stalling. I think I held my breath the entire time and prayed until the car left the dirt road and we could see streetlights again.”

Present and Lurking Fears

In terms of supernatural or paranormal fears, Zhong mentioned his specific aversion to possession or losing control of his body. “You can’t control yourself—you’re not ‘you’ anymore—and the feeling of something—ghosts, spirits, anything—crawling under my skin is not something I’m a big fan of,” he explained. In more everyday terms, however, Zhong described his more common fear, stating, “The creepiest thing for me right now, though, is when I think I see something in the corner of my eye, and there’s nothing there. It’s probably irrational but still a little disturbing.”

Miajee smiliarily described her present fear of jinn, noting, “I have heard a lot about jinn activities and seen some evidence of them, which is why I constantly mumble prayers to repel evil at times. Jinn activities look a lot like ghost activities, so that’s the only paranormal thing that might scare me.”

Though the true existence of the paranormal or supernatural is met with differing opinions, the influence that they extend on cultures and humanity itself is undeniable. As Miajee stated: “A lot of human experience is grounded in tales and accounts of paranormal activities, and they are the basis of primal human fears, cultural superstitions, and spiritual beliefs … Scientific discoveries have somewhat extinguished some of the irrational fears that human beings live with, but I feel like people like that fear. Fear makes people feel alive, and no matter how ‘rational’ society becomes, people still seek fear and make up unexplained phenomena that can produce fear.” This search for fear, in fact, could be what makes horror movies and horror-based genres so popular. And while quarantine may hinder traditional Halloween activities, it may be festive to indulge in some fear, whether through paranormal films or supernatural stories. Miajee echoed this sentiment and described how her own fear has influenced her. “In my world, I live with the knowledge that there are forces beyond my control and which scientists still can’t explain,” Miajee explained. “While sometimes that produces fear in me, it also can be reassuring to know that the human race is not alone in this universe, that our existence has a deeper meaning and this world has a hidden side.”