What Can We Learn From Legend Tripping?

Legend Tripping is the term for youths attempting to have experiences of a paranormal nature by visiting the reported haunted hotspots in their area.  Unfortunately, the practice also shares with it a certain degree of danger – particularly since many areas reported to be haunted are also private property or are in themselves naturally dangerous.  But what can we learn about ourselves and our culture by examining the practice of legend tripping?  And is there any precedent to the phenomenon in history that will teach us about them as well?

It’s a classic story, or the beginning to any number of horror movies.  A group of teenagers assemble on the edge of an old abandoned mansion with the intention of finding out once and for all whether or not the ghost that others have talked about is really there or not.  In the horror films, these teens soon find out what began as a harmless adventure will turn into a horrifying and dangerous night.  But why does our culture do this?  What are the elements of exploring a haunted location that tell us who we truly are?  Though there is a great deal of concern among parents and law enforcement that these outings can be dangerous, it only seems to fuel the practice in the end.  The more remote and eerie a place is, the more popular it becomes.  Some individuals and groups even make pilgrimages across the country to visit these abandoned places and catch a glimpse of something.  But is it always the paranormal that drives them?

Examining popular perception of ghosts suggests otherwise.  These haunted locations are often less haunted than many well established and popular locations.  Haunted hotels, museums, and homes are often overlooked in favor of marginally less famous haunted graveyards, abandoned buildings, and even ghost towns.  And it may lie in the remoteness – the isolation from the rest of civilization that gives these places their true appeal.

Legend tripping is no good in our cultural perception if the haunted places are simply haunted.  They need to be isolated – remote.  They need to be on the outskirts of civilization as though held in our world only by legend and dreams.  These are the locations where urban legends spring up with or without the assistance of history.  And it is in these locations that we find the true meaning of what it is to finally visit that frontier where the edge of mankind’s domain ends and the untamed wilderness of something else begins.

Other cultures do have long histories of legend trips and trippers.  In medieval times, when villages were isolated communities surrounded by vast and thought-to-be intelligent forests filled with unknown monsters and spirits, there are still legends of villagers that would stand at the edge of the wilderness with their backs to this wild as a right of passage – with many paranormal folktales and urban legends arising from this practice in the haunted locations.  Are we so different now?  In many ways we are, as is the wilderness.  But at its heart there is something else there always waiting that humans inevitably in our journey through life will find the urge to seek out.