Ghost Hunting Myths
Let's Clear the Air About this 'Ghost Hunting' Business, Shall We?
With the never-ending parade of TV programs, and the groups they inspire, popping up virtually overnight, it's the branch of paranormal investigation with the biggest credibility problem. There's so much misinformation and disinformation out there that it's enough to make your head spin...even if you're not possessed. So, without further adieu, here's the 411 on the myths, untruths and downright lies that are perpetuated and perpetrated on an uninformed public, presented (in no specific order) for your edification and amusement...
There's not an ounce of scientific data to prove the existence of ghosts, however, experience tells me otherwise. We cannot simply dismiss centuries of anecdotal reports from otherwise credible people. Are they all lying, mistaken or suffering from mental illness? I think not.
"We Can Prove a Haunting"
Beware of bold claims made by any ghost hunting group or paranormal investigator. Bombastic statements such as, "We can prove a haunting!" or "We obtain more evidence than anyone!" stem from either inexperience, insecurity, or both. Can anyone "prove" a haunting? No, unless their bar is set exceedingly low. Proof of the afterlife would also be one of the greatest discoveries in the history of mankind. Highly unlikely to be revealed by an amateur ghost hunting group, don't you think?
Legitimate paranormal investigation is not a game of numbers; it is not a race or competition. There is no need to "dominate" or claim access to "secret" methods of evidence collection, as one New England ghost hunting group ridiculously boasts on their website. Rather, it is a matter of experience and purpose. The experience lies, not in the quantity of evidence collected, but in the quality, and the ability to discern the difference. The purpose is to successfully help the client resolve their issue.
"I Have ___ Years of Paranormal Investigation Experience"
Feel free to randomly fill in the blank on that statement. In doing so, you will likely be as accurate as some New England paranormal investigators and amateur ghost hunters are on their websites.
I have been actively investigating things that go bump in the night for 20 years, but had my first paranormal experience in the 1960s. If choosing to use the optimistic math and skewed logic some employ on their sites, I could boast of being in the paranormal field for over 40 years! However, that would be misleading and dishonest.
The next time you're visiting someone's site and suspect an inflated claim about their paranormal longevity, be conscious of the creativity used to arrive at that number. Obviously, something is amiss if they claim to be well in to their third or fourth decade of investigation, yet are only in their 40s or 50s. The clock didn't start ticking the night they first read a spooky ghost story, flashlight in hand, under their blankets.
"Our Group Has ___ Years of Combined Paranormal Investigation Experience"
The same 'reader beware' warning concerning creativity holds true for this statement as in the one above, and this one actually propels it to the next level. Why waste that use of optimistic math and skewed logic on only one person when we can apply it to the entire team! Hmmm...it's curious that we see such creativity on the websites of some New England paranormal investigators and amateur ghost hunters, while their investigations often lack that quality.
The keyword here is combined. To be fair, the paranormal community is far from being the only 'profession' to use this marketing tactic, but have you ever stopped for a moment and considered its significance? Probably not, as we are so bombarded with advertising claims on a daily basis that most no longer have meaning. However, if you have, you've undoubtedly come to one conclusion: it has none. If a group has X number of amateur ghost hunters and claims X number of combined years of experience, take a moment to do the math. You may find that you're left with a number that's decidedly less impressive than the first. A combined tally of years gives you no insight into the actual experience level of any group. A few years of individual experience really is just a few years of individual experience, regardless of the liberal use of the multiplication key on the group's calculator.
"Our Group Has Won (or been nominated for) a Paranormal Award"
The Paranormal Awards is a regional award ceremony/convention held every Spring in New Hampshire to honor excellence in the amateur ghost hunter crowd. While that certainly does seem to be an oxymoron, it gets even worse; it is hosted by a woman who goes by the moniker, "C.C. The Huntress". Alternately billed as "The Queen of the Paranormal" and "The Hardest Working Woman in the Paranormal", she appears to be (or wants to be) one of those 'Paranormal, Inc.' pseudo-celebrities that I discussed in the March 2012 edition of The Booo! Blog. Once again, they confuse and attempt to blur the lines between amateur ghost hunters and those of us who have been in the field of legitimate paranormal investigation for many years. Perhaps they just don't understand, but marketing themselves as cartoonish, TV wrestler-like paranormal investigators is no substitute for experience and professionalism. It's the dumbing down of paranormal investigation to its lowest common denominator, and cheapens the field for those who honestly are the hardest working. Real paranormal investigation doesn't involve award ceremonies or yet another 'me too' web series. Those involved comprise the minor league of an already dubious field, and certainly not the element you want in your home if you are experiencing what you believe to be a paranormal issue.
My opinion? The Paranormal Awards is nothing more than a marketing venture, a day-long convention with "tons" of vendors, with an awards ceremony thrown in to give the appearance of legitimacy. As with everything associated with 'Paranormal, Incorporated', all roads lead to one goal: money. But, admit it; you're on the edge of your seat, as such honors as "EVP of the Year", "Team of the Year" and "Investigator of the Year" will be announced! It definitely promises to be intense this year, with such giants in the local amateur ghost hunting community in direct competition. But I guess I no longer have a shot at that last category, eh? Oh well...
"We Do It Just Like It's Done on TV"
Yikes! That's a truly frightening statement. If you would like a quick tutorial on what not to do on an investigation, watch some of the ghost hunting rubbish that passes as 'reality' television. In the real world, there's no editing for dramatic effect. You won't hear an investigator excitedly exclaim, "Whoaaa! Did you see that?", followed by a drum beat and a commercial break. Of course you didn't see it, because there was nothing there to begin with. Isn't it convenient how the camera always happens to be pointed in the other direction when the alleged sighting takes place? Although small 'helmet cams' are relatively inexpensive and readily available, some TV ghost hunters still don't use them, citing lame (but convenient) policy. You also don't go in with cameras flashing and equipment blaring. If you were a ghost, would you want to cooperate with a group of strangers who just barged, rudely and unannounced, into your home?
I've been accused by some of being cynical concerning the quality of the majority of what is called "reality" paranormal television. I'm not cynical; I'm honest. If you enjoy the programs purely as a form of entertainment, that's totally cool. However, the operative word is also the genre: reality. Real paranormal investigation doesn't resemble what you see on TV. We roll our eyes, shake our heads and are embarrassed to be in any way associated with that theatrical nonsense. Those of us who are real, and who have been at this for a very long time, now field the inevitable question, "Why don't you do it like those guys on TV?" on every investigation. My polite answer? "Because they probably wouldn't recognize something as paranormal if it materialized and smacked them on the ass". Yes, that really is my polite answer! You should hear my reply if they happen to catch me in a cranky mood.
But wait! I'm not entirely thumbs down on paranormal television; there are a few that I actually do like. This isn't a plug, but I always try to catch The Dead Files on Travel Channel, Destination Truth on Syfy and My Ghost Story: Caught on Camera on Bio.
The Dead Files is a perfect example of the wisdom in the old adage, 'Less is more'. While other paranormal 'reality' television programs have come and gone, The Dead Files keeps chugging along, season-after-season. A retired NYPD homicide detective (Steve DiSchiavi) and a psychic medium (Amy Allan) individually investigate purportedly haunted locations, then compare their findings at the end of the show. Simple. No CGI. No drama. The reality TV genre in its purest incarnation. What makes this show work? Honesty. DiSchiavi and Allan are polar opposites: the experienced, hard-nosed detective dealing in black and white, and the gifted psychic medium interpreting every shade of gray. Yet, those divergent paths meet in the end.
Destination Truth is a fun show to watch. The locales are terrific (I mean, who wouldn't want to spend a night on Easter Island?), the cast's 'chemistry' is spot on, they don't take themselves too seriously, and it's usually a paranormal mix of ghosts and cryptozoology. Unfortunately, Syfy's relentless program cross-promotion has impacted the show somewhat, as episodes featuring 'guests' from the network's other programs have consistently been the weakest. Still, what's not to like? Yes, they often come up empty-handed, but I'm convinced Josh Gates (the host) has the best gig in television, hands down. (Update: Syfy has canceled Destination Truth, but Josh's new show, Destination Unknown on Travel Channel, is equally entertaining, albeit less paranormal-oriented.)
My Ghost Story: Caught on Camera is genuinely spooky in its simplicity. No theatrics or reenactments, just ordinary people telling their extraordinary stories, with corroborating photographs, video or audio. How refreshing is that? That's not to say it's all true, but it does come as close as any program on TV to what we often see on investigations. Bravo, Bio!
"Our Mission is to Help the Client with Their Paranormal Problem"
Yes, that's supposed to be their mission but, once in your home, you may find the reality quite different. Most (and yes, I said most) of the ghost hunting groups out there are much more concerned with gaining access to your home in hopes of catching something they believe to be paranormal on audio or video. Now, you may ask, "What's wrong with that? That's why they're there, right?" Well, yes...but unfortunately, it's not for your benefit, it's for theirs. Once they do, observe how quickly that photo, video or EVP will land on their website. Here's a helpful hint: don't blink your eyes or you may miss them uploading it. They will then give some advice that's usually complete nonsense, very likely something they've heard on TV. If they work with a 'psychic medium' or 'sensitive' , he/she will do their performance..."Your 5-year old daughter likes the color pink!"..."You know someone named John!"... And then, the show's over. You will be contacted a few days later after they've reviewed the 'evidence', which will probably be inconclusive and underwhelming at best. And, guess what? You'll still be left with your paranormal problem, maybe even worse after they've been there to stir things up. And, guess what else? The group will have used information gathered in your humble-but-haunted private abode to add content to their website. And where does that leave you, the client? No better off than you were before you contacted them.
"We're Professional Ghost Hunters"
By strict definition of the word, ghost hunters and paranormal investigators cannot label themselves as "professional". Even with my two decades in this field, I cannot call myself a professional (which really sucks because, for all intents and purposes, those of us that have been at it for a long time really are). I believe we should cut some slack in this regard. If people have experience and conduct themselves in a professional manner, they are professional, even if not in the strictest sense.
"We're Certified Ghost Hunters"
This one really makes me growl and sound more like a paranormal pit bull than a paranormal investigator, as it is a willful attempt to deceive. There are no recognized, accredited ghost hunting schools, and no such certification in that field. There are no recognized certifications in the fields of parapsychology and paranormal investigation, either. However, there are those who will solicit others to part with their hard-earned cash for correspondence courses or ghost hunting classes consisting primarily of information readily available on the Internet for free to anyone willing to to do a little research, then issue a worthless certificate at the end of their 'training'. While the names of the organizations issuing certification may sound impressive, none are currently affiliated with any recognized or accredited institution or university. In fairness, it must be noted that most are registered 502 non-profits, and not all issue certification in paranormal fields. That being said, it must also be noted that none have put an appreciable dent in the acceptance of parapsychology, or the paranormal in general, by the mainstream scientific community, despite some being in existence for decades. Even the Rhine Research Center, arguably the most influential of the group, has ended its long affiliation with Duke University, hence severing the one link to mainstream science and respectability. What these organizations fail to realize is their newly proclaimed course of going it alone and thumbing their noses at the mainstream scientific community will get them nowhere in their quest for wider acceptance and 'proof' of the paranormal. That is exactly where they are today. That is exactly where they have been for decades, and is exactly where they will find themselves in the future if they remain on their current trajectory. Contrary to what has often been claimed, it is not that mainstream science, stubborn as it is, will never accept proof of the paranormal. Rather, it is that the organizations in question have never presented evidence that could withstand scientific scrutiny.
The nature of the paranormal is a complete unknown, and no aspect of the paranormal has ever been scientifically proven to exist. How, then, can someone be certified in such a subject? The quick and dirty answer: they can't, at least not legitimately. Therefore, such certification is meaningless, and certainly not accepted in the mainstream scientific community. This nonsense becomes particularly reprehensible when used as a marketing tool. For example, a statement such as, "The course will be taught by certified parapsychologist (or certified paranormal investigator) John Doe". If Mr. Doe truly had good intentions and wanted to be taken seriously by the scientific community, he would embark on the legitimate route and earn his M.D. or D.O. and complete his residency in psychiatry, or earn his Ph.D or Psy.D in psychology. He could then branch out on his own to parapsychology and have a foundation to honestly stand on. Do I really believe someone would go to such lengths simply to teach a course on the paranormal? Of course not, nor should they. However, my point is this: if you want to make the claim, you must play the game, not make an end run around the requirements. Flaunting fast, easily obtainable and unrecognized pseudo-certifications does nothing to meet those requirements, and only serves to supply more ammunition to the many detractors of the paranormal field. The bottom line? If an individual or group claims certification of any type, just for laughs ask, "Certified by whom?" Invariably, you will get some impressive-sounding organization. After you do, hang up the phone, close your door, or ask them to leave your home immediately.
A quick search of ghost hunting group websites around the country will reveal seemingly endless claims, many of which would be amusing if they were not, in my opinion, so blatantly dishonest and misleading. Apparently not content with merely claiming paranormal certification, New York's Long Island Paranormal Investigators boasts some of its members hold such academic accomplishments as a "Shadow People Certificate" and "Demonology Certificate", among others. But wait a minute; no legitimate body offers certification in those 'subjects'. How did they earn such certification? No problem, this group issues their own! So, to do this with even an ounce of legitimacy, Michael Cardinuto, the group's founder, must hold an advanced degree that could somehow be applicable in the field, right? Ummm...not quite. His occupation as listed in his official site biography: "Store Manager". But, rest assured, you're obviously in good hands. After all, he is the head of Long Island Paranormal Investigators Demonology and Shadow People departments. These clowns must be under some delusional belief that theirs is a paramilitary group, as members are given rank, such as Colonel, Lt. Colonel, Sergeant Major, Corporal and Private, among others. Reading further, they offer paranormal investigation classes taught by "certified" equipment specialists and, at the end of the three to four hour class, the lucky graduate will take home a certificate of their very own to frame and proudly display on their wall. Of course, there's no mention of the fee to attend; I guess you're just supposed to call for that minor detail. That is, of course, if you could call. Nowhere on the Long Island Paranormal Investigators website will you find a telephone number. Fifteen full-time members and three 'guest' investigators "dedicated to helping people understand and cope with paranormal activity", all of whom very likely possess cell phones. And yet, not one contact number if you're experiencing what may be an acute paranormal problem? Eighteen people and not one of them willing to answer a phone to advise you on what to do? "Dedicated"? I'll leave that for you to decide.
To give you further insight into the moral fabric of this group, they make extensive use of "hidden text" buried within the homepage of their website. Hidden text is a misguided, underhanded SEO (Search Engine Optimization) technique in which a webmaster will hide the most-used search keywords for the type of business within the site, invisible to the reader, but visible to search engines such as Google, Bing and others. These keywords, usually small and the same color as the background (i.e. white text on a white background, black text on a black background, etc.) are 'read' by search engines to give the site a higher ranking. It is the SEO equivalent of lying, and universally frowned-upon in the industry. In the short-term, this can give a placement advantage. However, if a website is well-written, there is no need for such digital dishonesty, and those employing this manipulative circumvention are eventually identified by search engine algorithms and penalized by assignment of lower search placement. Once again, Long Island Paranormal Investigators does an end run around the requirements, just as with their bogus certification.
What follows is the string of hidden keywords placed once at the top (buried within their Bethpage Best of Long Island 2013 announcement) and twice at the bottom of Long Island Paranormal Investigators homepage, presented exactly as written:
long island paranormal new york ny ghost spirit demon investigations help demonic evp haunting ghost haunted investigators group paranormal
Speaking of their Bethpage Best of Long Island win, I can tell you from working within the media that 'best of ' awards, which are ubiquitous in communities throughout the country, can be extremely easy to win, especially in a category devoid of much competition. While categories such as "Best Restaurant" or "Best Physician" may truly be competitive, "Best Private Investigator" isn't exactly a nail-biter. When was the last time you voted for your favorite private investigator? Have you ever needed one? Do you even know one? With enough friends and family voting, a win in the category is easily obtainable. Is that how they won? I have no idea and am not making that claim, but consider Long Island Paranormal Investigators seemingly limitless less-than-truthful modus operandi, and decide for yourself. But wait...there's even more! Once again unable to resist the desire to twist the truth, Long Island Paranormal Investigators boasts that they won first place in the category. However, a quick and easy check of the Bethpage website reveals a rather odd discrepancy: they didn't win first place, but third in 2013. Come to think of it, that's a bit more than just a "twist", don't you think? How's that for honesty and integrity? Are you starting to recognize a pattern here?
Why have I dissected and peered so deeply into the belly of Long Island Paranormal Investigators website? Because examples such as theirs are becoming more the rule than the exception, and are illustrative of why the field of paranormal investigation has a credibility crisis. Consider the examples in their entirety and ask, "How could I trust their investigative findings?" and "Do I want this type of group in my home?" Unfortunately, Long Island Paranormal Investigators is far from unique; there are similar groups in every state, city and community in the country. Not only do they throw their own integrity out the window but, in the process, tarnish the image of the field as a whole. The title of the April, 2012 edition of The Booo! Blog, sadly, says it all: You Have Much More to Fear from the Living than the Dead. And yes, that's very true. As always, caveat dolor.
Update, May 31, 2013: Long Island Paranormal Investigators claim of winning first place in Bethpage Best of Long Island 2013, a claim which had been displayed on their website for several weeks, has been changed to reflect their correct standing of third. The change was made less than 24-hours after it was brought to attention on this website. A truly mysterious coincidence!
"We Conduct Paranormal Research Using Scientific Methodology"
No, they don't, although you will repeatedly read this claim on the websites of many New England paranormal investigators and amateur ghost hunting groups. Perhaps university parapsychology departments did, indeed, conduct such research decades ago, but those days are long over. Running around someone's home with unproven equipment can hardly be described as research and, at the very least, is certainly not scientific.
"We Can Communicate with Ghosts Using Our Flashlights"
You've seen this experiment done on TV. You know the one, where the viewer is supposed to say, "Oooooh!", "Ahhhhh!" and "That's Amazing!". For those lucky enough to have missed it, it involves the use of two flashlights, their switches modified or only partially depressed (the details are murky). The flashlights are then placed side-by-side on a table or other flat surface, with their lights off. That's when all the fun and spookiness starts. The ghost hunter/paranormal investigator/television personality asks the ghost or spirit to respond "Yes" or "No" to questions asked, making either the right or left flashlight turn on respectively. And, of course, thanks to the miracles of television editing, the flashlights don't disappoint. Just how the "ghosts" do this is not explained, nor has anyone seemed to consider that the switch could very well be making momentary contact if partially depressed. But that's just those inconvenient details getting in the way again; why bother with them when it makes for great TV! The Internet paranormal forums are abuzz with questions from amateur ghost hunters on how they can reproduce the results and emulate their heroes.
Well, there is a way; possibly a much more accurate way: ditch the flashlights. There's currently a device on the market, the Moditronic Paracorder 667, which I use quite often. While unproven, it is a multi-functional unit, but one of those functions serves the same purpose as that nifty flashlight trick, with much less chance of error or mechanical malfunction. All the 'ghost' has to do is touch a wire to activate a LED in response to a question. No physical force needs to be applied and, due to theories of what ghosts may actually be, it may very well be much more accurate and sensitive than those ACE Hardware specials. Of course, it probably wouldn't look nearly as impressive on TV.
"Orbs and Mists In Photographs Are Ghosts"
Not really. The vast majority of "orbs" are light from a camera's flash reflecting off dust or water particles in the air. Seeing faces in orbs is ridiculous, and most likely attributable to visual pareidolia. Occasionally, a photograph or video will come along that's a bit harder to dismiss. For example, an orb appearing in a daylight photo not caused by flash or lens flare, or an orb in a video exhibiting intelligent movement and control.
Almost as ubiquitous as the orb in photographs is the appearance of the notorious cemetery 'ectoplasmic mist', which you will find offered as evidence on the websites of many New England paranormal investigators and amateur ghost hunting groups, as well as sites throughout the Internet. Usually photographed outdoors in cooler weather, it is nothing more than water vapor from the photographer's breath. What many fail to understand is that, even if attempting to hold their breath when taking a photo, a very small, nearly undetectable amount of vapor still escapes from the nose or mouth. The intense light from the camera's flash reflects off that vapor at very close range, while the minute, individual water droplets in the vapor simultaneously refract that light. All of this conspires to make the 'otherworldly' mist look much larger and brighter than it otherwise would. Those 'scientific researchers' almost have it right, they just attribute the wrong "P" word to the explanation; the correct word is physics, not paranormal. For more information on ghost photography, see the December 2011 edition of The Booo! Blog, How to Photograph Ghosts.
"Paranormal Investigations Can Only Be Conducted at Night"
Perhaps that's true on TV for dramatic effect, but there's no basis for it in the real world. Actually, most evidence collected during the day (especially photographic evidence) is much less suspect, as there are less variables. Was it a shadow caused by the flash? Was it dust or another object too close to the lens? Those are questions that, unlike ghosts, only come out at night. In fact, the most compelling photographs of alleged paranormal activity have been acquired in broad daylight.
That being said, there are some very practical reasons to 'go dark'. If conducting an investigation of a business that is open during the day, there's an obvious advantage in regard to evidence contamination in waiting until after business hours. If an outdoor location is noisy during the day (traffic, people, etc.) then, yes, it may be better to investigate at night. Finally, if the client mentions that the reported activity only occurs after the sun goes down, that is when you want to be there.
Speaking of businesses, have you ever noticed the disproportionately large number of restaurants and taverns investigated and featured on the television ghost hunting programs? Send up the red flags, sound the bs alarms and ask, "Who benefits the most from spinning this spooky yarn?". It's always the same story: the glass moved across the bar, as if pushed by an unseen hand. One of the waitstaff was alone in the restaurant, closing for the night, when he/she caught a glimpse of a woman in period dress walk past. One of the patrons felt a cold chill and someone or (gasp!) something touched their hair, yet no one was near...and so it goes. Customers flock to purportedly haunted establishments, and proprietors know it. I'm certainly not saying there aren't haunted restaurants and bars; there are. Only not that many haunted restaurants and bars. I'm also not implying that all owners of those businesses have hidden agendas; they don't. However, be wary when you see yet another eatery or watering hole featured. Factories, warehouses and other types of businesses are just as likely to be haunted, but rarely featured. The distinction and possible motivation are obvious. Viewer beware.
"There Is More Paranormal Activity During a Full Moon"
While some paranormal investigators swear this is true, I have never found the lunar phase to have any bearing on the level of ghostly activity. I'm lost as to the origin of this belief in the paranormal community or the reasoning behind it; probably some imagined mystical effect from the very weak gravitational force the moon exerts on our planet. Or maybe it all started with Russian-born actress Maria Ouspenskaya, the old gypsy fortune teller in the movie, The Wolf Man, when she told Lon Chaney, Jr., "Beware of the full moon, my son!". In any event, you can safely ignore her sage advice when it comes to ghosts. Werewolves, however? Well, she convinced me...
Not to be outshone by the moon, the sun is also said to play a part in the paranormal, with cycles of increased solar flares and activity reportedly giving spirits the 'juice' to materialize. I can actually follow the logic on this one but, like the phase of the moon, have also found it to have no bearing. The theory is that the electromagnetic radiation which blankets the planet after such activity lights a fire under their butts and gives them the ability to do things which they would otherwise not be able; much like ghost Viagra. The problem with this theory is that very little of that electromagnetic energy actually reaches the surface; almost all of it is blocked by the upper layers of Earth's atmosphere. Without that protection, Casper would possibly get blue balls on our blue ball, but we would fry.
There is one advantage to ghost hunting during a full moon, and that's when conducting an outdoor investigation using a Sony camcorder equipped with the NightShot feature, which records in the infrared spectrum. A full moon, obviously, reflects more light. While the actual amount of paranormal activity does not increase, your ability to capture it does.
"Ghosts Can Drain the Batteries In Our Equipment During an Investigation"
Another statement that defies common sense, yet somehow has become 'fact' in the ghost hunting community. In 20 years of paranormal investigation, I have never had batteries fail that could not be attributed to my own forgetfulness, stupidity or other decidedly non-paranormal causes. Yes, I've forgotten to charge them or to give them a complete charge. Yes, batteries have gone to 100% mercury-free heaven during an investigation because they were old, defective or otherwise would not hold a charge. No, the ghosts had nothing to do with it.
The prevailing 'wisdom' here is that spirits need to suck the power from our Duracells and Energizers in order to materialize and do whatever it is that ghosts do...or perhaps they just don't like to be photographed on a bad hair day? Whatever their motivation, never mind that the room probably has several hot AC wall outlets; the news here is that it's apparently possible to be dead and health conscious! Why gorge on 110 volts when a fit and trim 9 volts will do?
The four cardinal rules? Well, actually three cardinals and one of my own: Always remember to check your equipment before every investigation. Always give batteries a complete charge before every investigation. Always have extra batteries on hand during every investigation. And stop blaming the ghosts on every investigation.
"Our Paranormal Affiliation(s) Make Us Better than Other Groups"
"We are family..."
Lyrics from '70s pop songs aside, there's no truth to that statement, although you'll hear it quite often from groups affiliated with this-or-that ghost hunting "family" or "crew". When such a seal is proudly displayed on a group's website, it should announce only one thing to the prospective client: "We are Amateur Ghost Hunters, Not Serious Paranormal Investigators, and Our Group Embraces the Conformity, Mediocrity and Pseudoscience that has Permeated the Weekend Ghost Hunting Community for the Past Decade". Membership requirements are so lax as to be virtually nonexistent. Is at least one person in the group 18 years of age or older, and does the group have a website? If the answer is "Yes" to both, congratulations, the requirements have been satisfied! Why is membership so easy to obtain? Because it's just business, and has absolutely nothing to do with improving the methods and quality of ghost hunting, no less serious paranormal investigation. Naturally, it's all kept on the down-low, because they don't want groups to wake up and come to the realization that they are simply being used as uncompensated salespeople. The game is marketing. The key to marketing, whether selling tires or TV ghost hunters, is numbers. It's all about getting the 'brand' out there, moving the merchandise, packing 'em in at ghost hunting conventions and selling the ghost hunting gear. Who's doing the work, yet intentionally not invited to this party? The amateur ghost hunting groups that proudly display their membership seals.
The sad truth is, the paranormal field has become big business. Really big business. If you believe any TV ghost hunters still have their day jobs, then you're definitely overdue for a reality check. The media darlings have become marketable brands, and TV, personal appearances, conventions and organized ghost hunts do bring in big bucks. Many of the most-recognized names in the field are represented by Ideal Event Management of Bennington, Vermont. A relatively new management and event planning company, they apparently have 'tapped' into the Syfy network talent pool, among others. This short paragraph from their website speaks volumes: "With these events comes talent. Ideal Event Management also manages talent and represents many clients. The team is always looking for new talent to represent and will be glad to help you unload some of the stress and get you the connections and money you are looking for." Well, at least you've got to give them points for blunt honesty. As for being part of the 'family', local ghost hunting groups are certainly not getting rich in the process. But follow the money; the ones at the top have raked in millions off the backs of those on the front lines. Having their cloned minions in the field has helped keep the genre on the radar and, therefore, on television screens. Several examples can be found on the CelebrityNetWorth.com website. Case in point: both Jason Hawes and Grant Wilson, founder and co-founder of The Atlantic Paranormal Society (TAPS) are millionaires. That's fine; everyone should have the right to make a buck. Yet, to become a "TAPS Family Member", a ghost hunting group has to agree to never charge for an investigation. Oh, I forgot to add that it is okay for the groups to beg for donations to cover gas, tolls, lodging and other expenses incurred during the course of providing their services. Perhaps Mr. Hawes and Mr. Grant should also be required to accept only donations instead of happily taking the money pouring in from marketing, merchandising and personal appearances? True, they never charge the client for an investigation, but they are not doing them for free; NBC/Universal (parent of Syfy) is compensating them very well. And don't lose sleep over the thought of them struggling to fill the tanks of their thirsty black SUVs to get to an investigation; the network picks up the tab. Contrast that with what is expected of "family" members, and you understand their elaborate charade is nothing more than an elaborate money-making venture. Mind boggling? You bet. Hypocritical? Absolutely. At the same time, those same members are strongly encouraged to march in lockstep and conform with ideas and practices that have been static and stagnant for over a decade. If we are ever going to uncover answers in this field, we will have to think outside the box, not remain trapped inside of it.
"Our EMF Meters Can Tell Us If You Have a Ghost In Your House"
EMF (electromagnetic field) meters are not "ghost meters". In a nutshell, there are two types: AC (alternating current) and DC (direct current). The former are what most amateur ghost hunters use, and are great for finding sources of AC electromagnetic energy in and around your home (wiring, appliances, etc.). To see what I mean, place one in front of your microwave oven when you're nuking your Lean Cuisine or attempting to resurrect last night's pizza; it'll go off like a Geiger counter at Chernobyl. And what does that have to do with ghosts? Zip. Zero. Nada. Nothing. AC EMF meters do not detect ghosts, but are possibly useful in debunking, as there is the possibility that high levels of EMF radiation has odd effects on human physiology, such as nausea, headaches and hallucinations. Now, the notion that your toaster is causing you to see dead Aunt Martha does seem a bit far-fetched, don't you think? Her visit would more likely be induced by the leftover pizza. If a member of one of these groups is traipsing around your home, AC EMF meter in hand, and suddenly exclaims, "Ooooh, I got a spike!" and thinks it's paranormal, well (how can I put this delicately), he/she is misinformed on the meter's capabilities and proper usage.
That leads us to DC EMF meters which, in my opinion, are much more interesting in relation to the paranormal. They also tend to be more expensive and much more persnickety, which are two (but probably not the biggest) reasons why many groups don't use them. Unlike AC EMF meters, DC meters ignore the toaster in favor of Aunt Martha. That's the theory, at least. And admit it; you never liked the woman and would prefer that she stay wherever she was sent. Unless, of course, your kitchen is the portal to Hell. Anyway, DC EMF meters are sensitive to static and ion charges, and must be kept stationary or they'll be beeping and giving false readings all over the place. They're less dynamic and exciting, and not nearly as sexy as AC EMF meters. They don't have flashing red, yellow and green lights and don't look as impressive on TV, so they're not what most of those guys (and, consequently, their disciples) use. That must mean the AC variety is better, right? Wrong. You've heard people say, "The hair stood up on the back of my neck" when they believe they've had an encounter with a ghost? Well (theory time again) that may be because ghosts produce static charges when they manifest. It may also have to do with any movement the ghost does or does not make.
Moral to the story: if you're going to use an EMF meter, DC is the way to go.
"There Are Many Paranormal Groups, But There's Room for All of Us"
Sounds wonderful, doesn't it? It evokes the image of amateur ghost hunters standing in a circle, hand-in-hand, singing Kumbaya and raising their EMF meters (AC, of course) towards the heavens in unison. However, the truth is not quite as harmonious...
Unfortunately, there are way too many of these groups, and they are currently in the midst of a shakeout. A quick Internet search for your area will result in several hits, even if you live in a relatively remote location. With barely an inch of daylight or originality between them, turf wars and infighting have become commonplace, and egos (especially those of some group leaders) are off the scale. For example, some will not communicate with me because they claim to have been offended by the honesty and candor of this website, even though nowhere on these pages will you find an individual or group mentioned by name in a negative context. Since I've been at this much longer than most, indeed before some were even born, I find that quite amusing! The one exception I've made to that policy is where an individual or group has made the decision to go the 'media fame' route and enter the public arena; they are then legitimate candidates for both positive and negative critique because of the disproportionate influence they may have on this field. As I've said more than once, there are many good groups in New England. Unfortunately, there are many more that should be doing something, anything, other than paranormal investigation. You would never know it from the prerequisite and hilariously serious TV ghost hunteresque poses and expressions of some "team" members in their official website portraits and matching team t-shirts, but the simple truth is they are not curing cancer. Most are not even experienced paranormal investigators. They are amateur ghost hunters. That's fine, but ditch the misplaced sense of self-importance.
There is a fairly recent movement among some amateur ghost hunting groups called "Paranormal Unity". Apparently, they've had their "Houston, we've got a problem" moment, and are trying to make a correction. While all of the warm and fuzzy rhetoric is nice and should be encouraged, I'm afraid the movement is destined to fail. Why? Because not all of the individuals and groups involved have altruistic goals. Many have entered into the fray for the wrong reasons, despite the selfless stated missions on their websites, and will do whatever it takes to get their faces on TV. Shedding the ego and becoming sweet, cooperative, ghost hunting wallflowers isn't going to get 'em there, and they know it. However, what they don't seem to understand is that they're a little late to the party. Actually, about a decade late. The oft-used TV ghost hunter exclamation, "Let's go dark!" changed to "Let's go green!" and now, unfortunately, "Fade to black!" as far as their TV prospects are concerned. The audience has seen it all before. Been there. Done that. Unless offering something new, they should be content to look for their heart's desire...and their ghosts...in their own backyard.
The primary goal of Paranormal Unity is to form a united front, so that one group or individual doesn't publicly question or criticize another. With the rampant pettiness that has saturated the amateur ghost hunting crowd, on the surface it does sound like a positive move. The problem is that it has acted as insulation against constructive criticism and legitimate questioning; many of the worst offenders were also the first to sign on. Anyone should be called out if what they're doing effectively damages the reputation of the field as a whole, especially if they're doing it for personal gain. I have said elsewhere on these pages that we don't need a "paranormal czar" telling people in the field what's right and what's wrong, and that's very true. However, the issue comes down to one of motivation, intent and honesty. If an investigator's real goal is fame and to become a Paranormal Media Whore, using self-bestowed but nonexistent titles such as "expert", "specialist" and others, he should be honest and not state that his goal is to help you with your paranormal problem. But wait; can't he be both? Can he be helpful and a PMW? Yes, of course, but actions speak louder than website words. And a website picture is worth 1,000 of those words. And if he walks like a PMW, squawks like a PMW, devotes nearly all of his website space to paranormal industry and shameless self-promotion like a PMW, and even egotistically poses like a PMW on that website...guess what? You can be assured that his goal is not to help you with your paranormal problem.
On the opposite end of the spectrum from the Paranormal Unity movement, several websites by others in the field have surfaced to challenge the unsubstantiated claims and evidence presented by individuals and groups on their websites. While not always in total agreement with their approach, it is generally a very healthy trend, and long-overdue. However, going forward, owners and moderators of these sites will need to be extremely cautious and avoid fostering a 'lynch mob' mentality, believing they and their site's members are the moral authority on the methodology everyone should employ. Unsubstantiated claims, questionable "evidence" and blatant attempts to deceive should, indeed, be called out, and I have certainly attempted to do so on this website. But keep in mind that it is not the goal of all to conduct 'research', and intent is a very important underlying motivation to consider when judging any group or individual, especially in a public forum. Also, keep in mind that, unless an individual holds an advanced degree in a discipline that may be applicable to some aspect of paranormal study and limits their study to that discipline, they are not conducting scientific research. Yes, they may be intelligent. Yes, they may have altruistic goals. No, they are not scientists, and the term "scientific research" and claims such as, "We employ scientific methodology" are among the most overused and misused on any paranormal website, even those with good intentions. When visiting any site, always be aware that ego is not only alive and well, but thriving in the paranormal community, and can live on either side of the debate.
Nielsen ratings for the television ghost hunting genre have generally peaked and are now on a downward spiral. Consequently, as popularity fades, many groups will naturally disband and disappear. Check out any paranormal directory on the Internet and notice how many 'dead' links there are to ghost hunting group websites that no longer exist; here today, gone tomorrow. Still, groups will continue to form, at least in the short term. When the dust finally settles, those still standing will be the experienced individuals and groups that were in the field long before the 'craze' began, and possibly a handful of stronger ones founded during that time. The fact is there's a high personnel turnover in many groups once members realize that it's not like what they've seen on TV. Much of investigation involves waiting, and waiting, and (yawn) waiting...
"Ouija Boards Are Dangerous"
Yes, it boggles the 21st century mind. This is yet another pearl of wisdom you'll find repeated on the websites of many New England paranormal investigators and amateur ghost hunters. Dangerous? Really? Will we become possessed and pee on the carpet? One has to stand in awe of their universal and cosmic knowledge...or at least their proclivity and willingness to lift even the most laughable trash from the Internet in an attempt to supply content for their sites. Should they not, instead, provide original thought, opinion and ideas? I've read that Parker Brothers, the maker of the board since buying the business from the estate of inventor William Fuld in 1966, still receives several inquiries a month as to how their corporate conscious allows them to sell such an evil tool of Satan. No doubt from evangelical Christians, and perhaps we can forgive them for living in the 15th century, but what's the excuse of the ghost hunters?
Ouija boards, spirit boards, talking boards, witch boards...whatever you like to call them, have gotten a bad rap over the years. If you believe you've opened a paranormal doorway or portal between dimensions or worlds by using a board, yes, you may have done just that, and keep ever-mindful that once a portal has been opened, anything can come through. However, the board itself had very little to do with it; your intent, concentration and thoughts at the time are what opened the portal turned on that neon "Welcome!" sign. Ouija boards are not inherently evil; they're only paper and plastic, and the same result is equally possible with or without a board.
As stated elsewhere on these pages, people don't change when they cross over, nor do their morals. Think of them as the same person, only without a physical body. If someone was an honest person while living, they keep the same attribute on the other side. If someone was a lying scumbag, unfortunately, that rule still applies. That is why the person whom you believe you have made contact with in the spirit world may not, in reality, be that person. Many times an entity with negative intentions will lead you to believe they are completely benign only to keep the line of communication, and the portal, open. If you suspect that you're being duped, take your hands off the planchette and end the conversation.
I have an antique Haskelite Talking Board from the 1940s in my equipment arsenal, along with a very high-tech I-Way planchette that measures finger pressure to ensure that no participant is consciously moving it around the board. It has never been used on an investigation, but is available if a client ever requests that we try a more traditional approach. I must say the combination of antique board and lighted, high-tech planchette is a cool sight, even if I never get a chance to use it.
The bottom line? Get out there and enjoy your Ouija! The new, glow-in-the-dark board would be particularly awesome to use on a crisp, dark Halloween night, but be cautious; if you start to receive sarcastic, profane or threatening answers to your questions, put the board away and call it a night.
"Mr. and Mrs. Smith, You Have a Demon!"
"A demon? OMG! Has it come for the children? Will it kill Fluffy? And all this time we've been blaming that foul, sulfur-like odor at 3:00 am on the dog!"
Relax, Mr. & Mrs. Smith. After centuries of mischief and dastardly deeds, I think there's little chance a demon would decide to move into the guest bedroom of your double-wide mobile home (although I'm sure it's very nice). In all my years of paranormal investigation, I've never come across what I believed to be a demon. I don't believe they exist. Perhaps it's because I'm not particularly religious. Perhaps it's because I could see the wires lifting Linda Blair off her bed in The Exorcist. Or perhaps it's because they just don't like me. Whatever the reason, I believe the whole demonology thing is a crock. However, that's not to say there's not money in it.
New England's rich puritanical history and influence has made the region ground zero for many so-called demonologists, and some have made quite a nice living by finding the fiendish and diabolical around every corner. Movies, television, books and, as an added bonus, we get to sleep more soundly knowing they're out there 24/7 keeping evil at bay! Sounds like a helluva deal, don't you think?
Needless to say, should I ever stumble-upon a demon during an investigation, I'll be the first to call a priest, rabbi or whomever the top banana is in your religious affiliation. But never, ever, a demonologist.
"We Burn Sage to Cleanse Your Home"
Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and...Salt?
My apologies to Simon and Garfunkel, but who knew that eradicating Satan's minions is as easy as a trip to your local supermarket? How convenient! "Bread, eggs, milk, condiments to vanquish demons...", just a few simple additions to spice up your usual tired weekly grocery list and your home can be spook-free. Thrifty too, as you'll be able to use what's left over to season the rump roast for tonight's dinner.
Many in this field have somehow crossed the divide between Hollywood and reality; not only do they believe demons exist, but they also know how to send them packing. Sage, salt and other culinary staples have left the pantry for the paranormal, but when serious investigation mixes with the metaphysical, the result is always a recipe for disaster. Why do demonologists and paranormal groups that have jumped onto the demon/possession bandwagon throw salt around your house (apparently natural sea salt is preferred because, well...it just sounds more in tune with nature) and smoke up the place by burning what was intended to be consumed? Because that's the way it's done in movies; very Pagan/Wiccan/New Age/pseudo-religious, but with absolutely no basis in fact or even scientific theory.
My suggestion? Keep your investigation (and investigators) on a low-sodium, bland diet. Tell them to hold the salt and hold the spices; you can have it your way.
Please feel free to contact me if I can be of assistance.