In my all-time favorite M. Night Shyamalan movie, Signs, there is a scene where the Reverend Graham Hess (Mel Gibson) asks his brother Merrill (Joaquin Phoenix) if he believes in signs. Merrill proceeds to tell his brother about the time he nearly kissed a girl at a party but got distracted by something at the last second and didn't kiss her after all, and thereby missed having her vomit in his mouth. So yes, he does believe in signs.
Pareidolia - A tendency to perceive a specific, often meaningful image in a random or ambiguous visual pattern. -Merriam Webster Dictionary
The above definition describes how people can look at a cloud and see a camel, or look at a shadow in a corner and see a ghost. My definition of pareidolia is how skeptics disprove anything that looks even vaguely supernatural. I may "connect the dots" as they say, and come up with a ghosts. Skeptics connect the dots and come up with pareidolia.
But there are those of us who do believe in signs. The most common stories are of people who have just lost a loved one and believe things show up as "messages" to prove that their missing loved one is all right. I read about a woman who started finding dimes all over her apartment, her car, her office, in very random places. Her beloved grandmother collected dimes. I read about a woman who lost both her husband and son in a car accident, and started finding feathers on her front doorstep, or dropping into her path when she took a walk, and she knew it was from them. The meaning of the feathers escapes me now, but I know they were significant to that family.
I think signs can be a form of communication. Some years ago, I was lucky enough to participate in a writers' retreat in New Mexico. I was going through a very rough time that year, and while I appreciated the beauty and splendor of the Jemez Mountains and the Santa Fe National Forest, my heart was aching and I felt alone and out of place. I was sitting on the edge of a bluff overlooking a sharp, rocky descent and off in the distance, I could see the mountains. The forest was all around me, but my perch was in a clearing. The nearest trees were yards away from me. All of us participating in this retreat were having our first "alone time" to get used to our surroundings and also to get our heads out of our everyday lives and into the experience we were about to have.
As I sat there, trying to figure out if I had made a mistake in journeying to the wilds of the high desert and the mountains, feeling uncomfortable with everything around me (see my earlier post about nature spirits and their abundant presence with trees all around), I asked the question, should I be here? Almost immediately, two pieces of pine branch fell into my open hands. I was sitting cross-legged on the ground with my hands open in my lap, and these branch tips fell into my palms as if they had been aimed. There was no wind. There were no trees very close to me. These things just...arrived. And I thought, I guess I am supposed to be here.
Coincidence? Maybe? Pareidolia? I'm sure someone would happily use that to explain why I was seeing an answering message in a random dropping of branch parts. But what pareidolia does not take into consideration is the inner feeling when something like that happens. Okay, I guess we can all look for signs and find them, since we're looking for that to happen. But I wasn't looking for anything when I asked. The question was rhetorical to myself and I was expecting my own usual answer: haven't a clue.
That was just one little moment in my life but it has stayed with me very vividly. The spirit energy in that area is amazingly strong, as it seems to be anywhere that was once land occupied by a Native American nation. Georgia O' Keefe's Ghost Ranch is very close by, and she was drawn by the energy of the place.
I don't look for signs consciously. I don't even usually think about them. But I do believe we get little nudges from time to time, so I do believe in them.