Sunday, April 14, 2024

Do You See Faces in the Cemetery?

Faces – besides having been a great rock and roll band in the 70s, what do we know about OUR human faces? I wrote a blog on The Cemetery Traveler in 2015 called “Tombstone Faces” where I posted images like the ones you see here. I didn’t delve very deeply into the subject. Then in April, 2024, my fourteen-year-old daughter said something quite profound, which has prompted me to write this new piece on faces in the cemetery.

We were sitting on the sofa watching her favorite serial killer series on television when she said, “You know how people sometimes see faces in inanimate objects?” I said yes. She proceeded to relate to me a theory she read about recently that suggests that this is a common occurrence and relates to our survival instinct!

"Face pareidolia is the phenomenon in which people see faces or other patterns in ambiguous images, such as Jesus on toast or the man in the moon."

According to what she read, seeing faces in inanimate objects is a survival technique, an evolutionary advantage, according to the UNSW (University of New South Wales, Sydney, Australia):

“There is an evolutionary advantage to being really good or really efficient at detecting faces, it's important to us socially. It's also important in detecting predators. So if you’ve evolved to be very good at detecting faces, this might then lead to false positives, where you sometimes see faces that aren't really there. Another way of putting this is that it’s better to have a system that's overly sensitive to detecting faces, than one that is not sensitive enough.” 

The graphic design site, Grapheine adds, “this ability may derive from an evolutionary advantage that has led to a hypersensitivity to detecting presence, which favors survival but not necessarily accuracy.” 

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Better safe than sorry, right? I’d rather see false faces in an abandoned cemetery to keep me alert to the possibility of actual ne'er-do-wells who might be lurking about. Or are there more supernatural reasons for seeing faces here? I always thought that if I didn’t believe in them, they wouldn’t try to get me. This generally works – it has only been on the rarest occasion that I’ve experienced the unexplainable. I’ve been rattled, yes, but never when it had anything to do with a face that wasn’t there. I’ve written about these experiences, by the way, in my book, The Cemetery Traveleravailable from Amazon.

There are many examples I know of in local cemeteries where such faces exist. They appear on the old marble posts used to fence off Victorian-era family plots. If the tubular metal cross members are still in place, you don’t see the face, because the tubes fit into the metal channels in the side of the post. Pipe fencing, or gas pipe fencing this was called. The pipes were about two inches in diameter. The channels may have rusted and fallen off, leaving circular “eyes.” With one eye in place, you might see a man with a monocle, or the man in the moon with a rocket in his eye. The fixity of their stare can be unnerving.

Decorative angel, joining two pieces of pipe fencing

The images you see here are from various old cemeteries. In many cases the piping may have rusted off, fallen, and been discarded. Or stolen, if they were of a decorative design. The purpose of the fence is not security, but rather to mark the boundaries of a particular plot. The fence itself is not high, maybe two feet. If the cross members were still there, they would be at just the right height to trip you, as Sharon Pajka says on her website post,
Cemetery Pipe Fencing:  

“I always think of pipe fencing as just the right height to trip you if you’re not paying attention. They are nice reminders to stay off the grass and the flowers.” 

Marble post showing green patina bronze channels, which hold pipe

“The phenomenon of pareidolia can be very disturbing for some people, who may consider it a sign of a deceased person, for example.” - 

Easy to do in a graveyard, right? Scary, perhaps, for the superstitious person who upon visiting a cemetery sees not only faces, but the emotional states in those faces! Angry, shouting, moaning faces. And what's with the nose and mouth on these posts? Or is it just me that sees that? I honestly don't know what purpose those carved gouges in the marble serve. Other than to give me the willies, I suppose.

Lachlan Gilbert tells us, “What this means, say the researchers, is if you feel like a pareidolia object is looking at you, or conveys some sort of emotion, “it may be because the features of the object are activating mechanisms in your brain that are designed to read that kind of information from human faces.” -

So if you really want to catch a fright, I suppose, you can watch some horror movies then go check out these faces in your local graveyard. But since I do not relish the thought of leaving you fearful, face pareidolia has other, more constructive, evolutionary advantages. Jesse Thompson, in the article, Pareidolia: seeing faces in random, inanimate objects could be survival technique, tells us:

"The infant that recognizes the face and smiles back at it, and hence bonds with its parents or caregivers, is more likely to be nurtured and survive.”



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