By Ed Sum
(The Vintage Tempest)
Going on a public ghost hunt can be fun, but it’s not without some caveats. Some paranormal groups offer it because Halloween is when they are the most popular. It shows what an organization does in a regular investigation. The only difference is in the amount of people involved and whether what’s manifesting is a product of mind over matter or it what’s occurring is truly supernatural! If anything happens, that’s up to the participant to decide.
Every organization has something different for the season: The Vancouver Paranormal Society offers public evidence reveals, a different kettle of fish, year round. Peter Renn, the leader of this group, does not see these public events as a bad thing. People get to meet the team and see how well they are at it. Darryl Pearson of Northern Paranormal Investigations said his group was contacted a few times to appear on television but they never got a call back when he told them what his group represented.
“Zak Bagans; he’s got his ups and downs but he’s done a lot for the field. From my point of view: his show is a show and nothing but. You’re looking at 20 minutes of the best of the best,” said Pearson.
“I respect the people on TV; I can’t ever put them into the domain of being the best representatives because they’re for entertainment. I take anything I see on TV with a pinch of salt. The only reason–if I do watch anything–is purely for the locations,” added Renn.
Pearson finds those programs with less dramatic recreations and more talk better. He fondly recalls Leonard Nimoy’s In Search of… and is anxiously waiting for the reboot with Zachary Quinto to broadcast.
As for the use of mediums/sensitives in a case, “I believe that 99% of them are full of sh*t and I think that they’re involved for other reasons,” argued Renn.
He’s called out some of them, and if they can give them something accurate, it may hit a nerve. But he’s often found them fishing than relaying very detailed information. They can aid an investigation. ultimately, it is about whether clients choose to believe while others will not. As long as they have the same goal at the end all day, it’s all good.
“My development as a clairvoyant/medium became prominent around 20 years ago,” said Dawn Kirkham, founder of Beyond Belief Paranormal Events, “In order to hone my skills, friends suggested that I go into paranormal investigation. I’ve sat in a couple of groups, where the primary intent is to attract and cross over spirits who are stuck.”
According to her, to be part of this community to passing on information from the other side when other communication methods are not perfect. “I have encountered lots of spirits that want to tell me of injustices that led to their transition,” said Kirkham, “For example, a young lady was hung for something she had not done; I actually felt the rope tightened around my neck, choking me so much I had to leave the room and disconnect from the spirit.”
Old school Spiritualist methods–table tipping, glass moving, and the Ouija board–are not necessarily bad either. Whatever the technique, they are all the same to an experienced user. “But a good medium doesn’t need these tools,” said Kirkham, “I choose to use these methods in public and private investigations to help those that are not sensitive enough to communicate with a spirit.”
Whether they truly work is a very subjective thing. Everyone has an opinion, but ultimately it is about whether the information presented is valid. When objects move on their own, Pearson asks of what kind of energy (the psionic will of the user or something else) is causing that planchette to move. Telekinesis and Remote Viewing/Projection has not made huge leaps since institutes studied this side of the paranormal back in the 50s (mostly to spy or use during the cold war). “I have 50% sensitives in NPI,” said Pearson, “Skeptics, believers and everybody in between. Whether you use them is up to you. They can offer ideas, but they’re not evidence unless there’s some good solid researched information to back it up.”
The leader of NPI noted, “[What we encounter] is affected by a source of energy; as for what it is exactly–nobody really knows. The equipment is made to help you determine what things are there or not.”
Pearson also points out how investigators must know how the video camera or audio recorder works inside and out, and all its quirks. Digital equipment has an advantage with non-moving parts, but old school methods, namely that rotating motor in an aging tape deck is audible and the microphone can hear it. Additionally, nothing must not touch the device during recording as even a gentle tap will be picked up!
These days, there are lots of new inventions, and they don’t always necessarily mean a ghost is present. According to Pearson, it’s showing a form of energy is present. We still don’t know if a manifestation is just that, or it’s simply a product of the environment. Frank’s Box/Spirit boxes are a conundrum where the odd word responding may sound right, but it’s rare to carry a conversation. The answers are one or three words which needs personal or historical relevance to make sense. Renn has access to the latest gizmos which include very sensitive vibration detectors.
Sometimes, other people are reviewing the findings of what one investigator sees or hears. It needs to be substantiated by a second party with no preconditions in mind.
Pearson notes that if someone wants to start their own team, don’t illusion yourself to what’s on TV. “I read books on the methodology of how to investigate,” to which everyone agrees is the first thing to do. Renn finds the works of Peter Underwood inspirational. Independent investigator, Susan M. Schulz-Jelley has quite a number of books from the father of the field, Hans Holzer and recommends Michelle Belanger’s Ghost Hunter’s Survival Guide, Protection for Encounters with the Paranormal (Amazon Link) because not everyone knows how to keep themselves safe from possession. Another memoir to consider is Holy Ghostbuster (Amazon Link) by Aelwyn J. Roberts.
Bigger organizations like WSPIR offer training courses, and they’re helpful so that newcomers can ask questions and learn about what they’re getting into in a safe environment. Getting certificates are meaningless as the education is ongoing.
The folks interviewed here agrees a cancer exists in the field. “There are teams who are out there for not so legitimate reasons and there’s a lot of dishonesty in our field. For what we do, it shines a negative light [on all of] us,” said Renn. NPI is still part of the TAPS family and they must follow an established code of rules and ethics.
Even Susanne Gilby of Paranormal Victoria knew what to expect before she started this group in the Garden City of BC back around 2009, which lasted for about 8 years. The effort put in to running a group was draining, but eventually other priorities (life and career choices) had to take over. She knew before and during, there will be individuals who will take advantage of others for fame and profit. They take away the experiences of those who legitimately search for answers. PARAVI’s goal was to treat clients with empathy first and data-gather second. Even before forming this group, she’s met some investigators who were very territorial about locations and they didn’t share. “[Additionally], others may provoke the spirits negatively to force activity, and yet claim that’s a good thing to do,” said Gilby.
Renn’s best advice is to look for credentials about the group. He said, “Look at how they present themselves, at how long they’ve been around and their mission statement to see whether they are actually there to help you rather than just going in there for a cheap thrill.”
Pearson agrees that not all teams are well rounded. Having a dedicated researcher/historian can make for an ideal group. Some people are better at data finding than others. As with a murder mystery case, it’s far more ideal to locate the information to back up the findings instead of just accepting them because a ghost or medium said so.
Questioning everything that’s out there, including what may cause these feelings of dread is important. It all boils down to a simple adage. “To think outside the box in this field is required,” concluded Renn.
My own personal interest in becoming an investigator took years to realize. Part of it was due to difficulty in finding like-minded individuals back in the 90s. The Got Ghosts Conference back in 2008 changed all that; by the time I was part of a group, we had our fair share of cases and sadly disbanded when our normal lives had to take precedent. Some whisperings behind my group’s back also left a sour taste and we did no wrong. It was rival egos and feelings that left a few of us jaded.
I investigate when I can, and continue to this day as a researcher. When I go on a case, it’s mostly to consult and those public spaces considered haunted are examined low-key.
I still read every single book I can find about the subject. Robin Skelton‘s career was special. He’s a Wiccan fascinated with the supernatural and taught at the University of Victoria—that kind of credibility is unheard of when compared to celebrity ghost hunters of today (Brad Steiger and Loyd Auerbach are exceptions). His book, A Gathering of Ghosts, explored the cases in my hometown and I am still learning from case files from The Society of Psychical Research. They are one of the oldest institutions who has a treasure trove of resources, and there are a few universities that offer courses in the subject which explores parapsychology in all its forms. It’s not simply about ghosts.
Alfred Hitchcock loves a good mystery, and for the Three Investigators (reading The Green Ghost got me interested in investigating) to report to him of their exploits. They were never made into a film. The first book was about finding the famous director a haunted house to use as a location. It’s not like how Ed and Lorraine Warren’s many cases have demonized locales for cinematic exploitation. Instead, it was to legitimize what they did as helpful, and the director helped them in taking on bigger cases, if not provide a forward to later chronicled adventures.