Deborah Hyde is a British skeptic, folklorist, editor-in-chief of the UK The Skeptic, and also a fellow of The Committee for Skeptical Inquiry (CSI). She writes about numerous topics concerning the paranormal but is known for her work on superstition, witches, exorcism, and vampires. Deborah will be speaking at CSICon on Friday, October 19, at 2:00 pm.
Susan Gerbic: Hello, Deborah. So glad to be able to talk to you again. We got to spend quite a bit of time hanging out together at the European Skeptic’s Congress (ESC)in Wrocław, Poland, this past September. What a beautiful city, and what a great conference. Also, congratulations on becoming one of CSI’s newest fellows. Please tell readers a bit more about yourself.
Deborah Hyde: Great to talk to you, too. Didn’t we have fun at the ESC in Wroclaw?
Yes. I was hugely honored to become a fellow of CSI. Totally unexpected.
I have always been fascinated by belief in the malignant supernatural. Even as a child I’d rather read about poltergeists and werewolves than anything else. But if you read around this subject well, you reach the point that you realize the accounts and events aren’t objectively true. However, they are pretty consistent. This means that the belief in the dark supernatural says something about us.
Hyde’s lecture at Wrocław
So this became my abiding interest and my career! I figure that I have the best of both worlds. I can enjoy the dark frisson you get from a horror movie while simultaneously looking through a window onto fundamental aspects of our human nature.
Gerbic: Your website Jourdemayne has an interesting name, can you tell us about that and what people will find if they venture over there to look?
Hyde: I started out jourdemayne.com but I’ve moved to DeborahHyde.com now.
Margery Jourdemayne was a fifteenth century London witch. Since she knew about the supernatural, it was a vehicle for me to write about mythology, witch hunts, and belief in magic and so on. But I suffered from huge mission-creep—hence the move. The section headings at the moment, to give you an idea, are vampires, skepticism, alt-med, animal, religion, witchcraft, lucid dreaming, “psychics,” ghosts, and poltergeists. I’ll write about anything with a supernatural belief/skeptical stance. I often write for The Guardian and do TV shows such as Mysteries at the Museum from a similar angle.
Gerbic: You are also the editor-in-chief of the UK magazine The Skeptic. How did that come about? And tell us about your magazine.
Hyde: I took over the magazine several years ago now after Professor Chris French stepped down. He’d been doing it for a long time and deserved a rest! It’s been a great opportunity for me to engage with other areas of skepticism: alt-med, science outreach, and so on.
It’s been a massive honor and a little bit intimidating, as the magazine has been established for so long. That’s an amazing tradition to take on. It was established by Wendy Grossman in 1987.
We produce more digital content than print content as this is the way that people engage with each other now. But I still love print, and there’s a book in the works at some point. The website is at skeptic.org.uk.
Gerbic: The magazine also gives out an Ockham award each year. I accepted the award for Skepticality Podcast in 2014 when I was speaking at QED where the Ockham is awarded. I know people who are nominated for the award are really excited. The European Skeptics Podcast (the ESP) were over the moon when they won best podcast for 2017. There is also a Rusty Razor Award as well. Can you tell us about the Ockhams?
Hyde: We have a wonderful skeptic convention over here. It’s called QED and it’s held in Manchester. I thought that since the most active people in skepticism in the UK (and Europe and the rest of the world too) are there each year, it would be a great place to mark the work of the people who put their own time and money to make the world more rational. Our shortlists are assembled with public votes. I emphasize to our shortlisters every year that even if they don’t win, being on that list means there’s a whole load of skeptics out there who notice their work and appreciate it.
You’ve been there, so you know the buzz in the room when The Ockhams ceremony is on.
Last year I added the “Rusty Razor” award for bad thinking to the line-up, again awarded via public votes. It was won by a landslide! Gwyneth Paltrow didn’t accept the award personally, nor did anyone from “goop” attend, but we feel they must have been proud to get such a prestigious award for pseudoscience.
Gerbic: I understand you are writing a book called Unnatural Predators about folklore and why it is common throughout our history. Can you tell us about that?
Hyde: Using a combination of approaches—history, psychology, anthropology—I think we can come to an understanding of why people believe vampire-like supernatural creatures exist … even though they don’t. I’ve started to produce video blogs too, so I don’t have much spare time!
Gerbic: At CSICon you will be talking about vampires. That is such a sexy topic, and I’m not talking about the sparkly kind.
Hyde: There is a lot of good historical and anthropological work on vampires, so I’m going to go right back before all the literature to contemplate the creature as it was in folklore in Eastern Europe. There were vampire-like traditions in the USA too—in New England—and I did a short video blog about them if you’d like to get your fangs sharpened before my talk at the convention.
Gerbic: Thank you so much, Deborah. CSICon is quickly approaching, and I understand that we are already surpassing 2017 attendance numbers. Attendees, please check out the Event page on Facebook for in-between activities and to get to know other attendees.