Sean Daley, professor, anthropology, is not just a professor. In addition to teaching an anthropology of the paranormal class, Daley spends much of his time outside of the college working with the supernatural.
The cultural influence of the paranormal is what drew Daley into the field as an anthropologist. Daley developed what he called an “academic interest” — i.e., less scary movies and Stephen King books than anthropological research, books and documentaries.
“Something that struck me from a very early point in my career was that when you talk about things like ghosts, demons and extraterrestrials, you find that they’re worldwide phenomena,” Daley said. “Maybe the words are a little different, maybe how they appear is a little different, maybe how you deal with them is a little different: but the ideas are everywhere.”
What began as reading books and doing research snowballed into making house calls for potentially haunted friends. For the last 10 years, Daley has been investigating homes and helping people who negative entities have attached themselves to. Daley goes into each home with a list of explanations other than the supernatural, whether it be plumbing issues, electrical problems, mental illness or loneliness.
“I go in with the idea that there’s going to be an answer,” Daley said. “There’s a lot of real-world, organic, biological issues at play. But I’ve been in plenty of houses where the lights turn themselves on and off, and there’s no electrical issues in the house. You hear people talking and there’s nobody around. I’ve been scratched and burnt by things I can’t see. Once you check everything else off the laundry list and you’re left with a ghost, that’s the best explanation I have right now.”
Despite his extensive work in the field, Daley doesn’t claim to be an expert.
“I’ve been doing this a long time, but this isn’t a bench science,” Daley said. “This isn’t chemistry, this isn’t biology. I can’t reproduce this stuff in a lab. So, anybody who claims to be an expert in the paranormal is a liar. You can’t be an expert in this.
“What we think are ghosts right now may end up having a scientific explanation. I don’t know where science is going to take us in the future.”
Once someone approaches Daley, there is an ensuing process. This process often begins, oddly enough, at Starbucks — it’s a public, neutral place to meet with potentially haunted people, after all. The danger associated with demons or negative entities, though, doesn’t tend to scare Daley away.
“Once I came to accept that these [supernatural] things are real, a lot of the nervousness went away,” Daley said. “It’s not a matter of going after this negative entity — you’re just a human representative there. Just like you can’t always see the negative things, well, you can’t always see the good things, either. But they’re there.”
Daley has no social media or web presence, meaning that his services are shared purely by word of mouth. Whether it be an unfortunate teen experimenting with a Ouija board or a person knowingly summoning a demon they don’t know how to get rid of, Daley has learned the ropes of how to relieve people of their supernatural problems. Just last week, an envelope sat on his office bookshelf next to a small black box — a deck of tarot cards gone bad, he said.
Daley also works closely with the Roman Catholic church, of which he is a part. Far from conflicting with his supernatural work, Daley finds that the two worlds go hand in hand.
“I do a lot for the church with this,” Daley said. “You know, Roman Catholics get ghosts and demons in their houses, too. If the catholic church needs something investigated, they’re going to want a catholic to do it for them. I can understand it academically, but I can also understand it from their religious perspective.”
Modern culture, however, is becoming more and more disenfranchised with group religions that dictate right and wrong. Thirty five percent of this generation are categorized as the phonetically paradoxical “nones” after our tendency toward avoiding organized religion, according to Pew Research Center. Wiccan and pagan traditions, for instance, are focused on an individual and their relationship with the God, Goddess, deity, universe, etc.
“I, as an anthropologist, would argue that there’s something cultural with that,” Daley said. “In one case, it’s immediate gratification, which Americans are all about. It’s also very individualistic, which Americans are all about. My concern with this is that the American version of a lot of these crafts has become watered down.”
Over the past decade, American culture has become increasingly intrigued by the paranormal, even tossing Ouija boards onto phone cases and T-Shirts. There’s also something to be said about the normalization of tarot cards, which may be equally as dangerous as Ouija boards – both mediums invite entities to interact with a person physically, which invites danger.
“There’s a movement where things that would be considered occult are becoming very mainstream,” Daley said. “The paranormal, particularly the darker side of it, is becoming a part of pop culture.”
Students who want to learn more about the paranormal may want to enroll in Daley’s anthropology of the paranormal class. The class, Daley said, is for those who have developed an interest and want to learn about the subject from a different angle — for students who want to investigate the paranormal from a scholarly perspective rather than from Youtubers or podcasts. The class is not to prove or disprove anything, but to discuss how the paranormal has influenced cultures around the world.
“Whether you want to believe in these things is a completely different issue,” Daley said. “Whether you believe in ghosts or not, there are cultural words for them, there are cultural traditions surrounding them. You can laugh at it all you want, but the vast majority of the world takes it seriously. So, in that sense, it is real.”