ghosts

Book Excerpt from A Modern Celt: Day of the Dead by Mabh Savage

October, 2017

Day of the Dead

 

Samhain, for many on a Pagan path, is “the biggy”, the festival of all festivals, and much of this is to do with the day’s association with the dead and thus ghosts, spirits and other things otherworldly. It’s generally celebrated on October 31st although in Gaelic the word actually means “November” so the festival being named thus would seem to indicate that is to be celebrated at the start of November. This is probably because the Celts believed a new day started at sunset, so when fires were lit on the 31st October as the sun went down, it was already Samhain, the next day, and time to celebrate another point in the year when the veil is thin and one can almost speak to one’s ancestors, as they walk amongst us. Sometimes the night time celebrations are still called “Samhain Eve” rather than Samhain, and I think it’s key to understanding the Celts that we recognise that they weren’t taken too much by the time of day or the date, but more by splitting things into light and dark. Sunset was the end of the current day, therefore it was the beginning of a new day. Samhain was the halfway point between equal night and day (the autumn equinox) and the longest night (the winter solstice). Winter was darker; summer was brighter.

 

This is how I believe they saw the world, and this is how, as someone trying to understand their ancestors, I am also finding myself looking at the world. Even though we are, as a modern society, so obsessed with timekeeping and date stamping, it’s nice just to think “It’s cold and the sun is low after only a few hours, it must be winter. The moon is full and the sky is clear- it will be cold tonight. The leaves are yellowing; it is autumn.” It’s so much more special to watch the world change around you, to feel the turn of each season, than to mark its continuation by the flick of the page in a diary and waiting for dates to happen. The most physical evidence of any sort of calendar kept by a Celtic people is the Coligny Calendar, bronze plates dating from around the year 200 (although it’s thought the calendar usage may go back as far as 800 BCE) which show a calendar based on a 5-year cycle using both the solar and lunar cycles to describe an approximately structured year. This is not unlike our modern Gregorian calendar if you think about it- we have months roughly based on the cycle of the moon, although as we only have 12 now we stick in random days here and there (i.e. the 30 and 31-day months), and every 4 years when we’ve not managed to travel quite all the way around the sun, we get an extra day!

 

So here we are at Samhain. We now understand that the Celts were looking forward into the darker part of the year and preparing for winter, whilst at the same time feeling the touch of the other world; the fae, the Tuatha Dé Danann and indeed their own ancestors. Ever since I can remember this has always been a time to remember one’s own ancestors and honour them the best you can. This can be simply saying their names out loud, or holding a feast with their favourite food included. A common practice is to leave an image out of the ancestor or ancestors in question, and if no image is available or appropriate then something that either belonged to them or reminds you keenly of them. This is their physical link to you; this is how they know where to come through when they reach the veil. Offerings are left with this image or symbol, as a way of thanking your ancestor for what they have brought to you. Hopefully, your ancestor will see the gesture and be grateful, but also be at peace seeing that you are doing well and honouring your traditions; understanding yourself as a whole person, and acknowledging what came before you and what will come after; after all, by whole heartedly embracing this practice you accept that one day you will be on the receiving end of the gesture- whether through a direct blood descendant or even from friends or students- anyone you may have had significant and positive influence on.

 

As well as honouring our ancestors, we also accept that in the long run, they no longer belong here. Not that they are unwanted, but that they now reside somewhere else, and only at Beltane and Samhain can we be this close to them again. Samhain, starting at sunset, has the longer darkness, and therefore the greatest opportunity to light fires and candles as beacons to guide the dead, which I think is why this winter festival is more widely recognised as the day of the dead, rather than its summer counterpart, which is more about the continuity of life and fertility.

 

So at Samhain, there tends to be a threefold celebration. We welcome the ancestors- we draw them towards us somehow, we feel their presence and we celebrate their return. We spend time among them, enjoying their company like one would a friend you have not seen for years. Not only ancestors but friends and acquaintances past, including pets and working animals that may have been close to us. Because of this it can be a very bitter sweet time of year: although it’s wonderful to feel the presence of someone or something deeply missed, it also brings sharply into focus the original grief when you lost them. Because of that though, it can be a great way of dealing with grief. Sometimes we bottle things up too much, and Samhain has a tendency to bring to the fore feelings we would not normally have to deal with on a daily basis. It’s a good idea, because of this, to surround yourself with friends, family and loved ones or whoever can best support you through this.

 

Of course, you may be someone who genuinely deals with grief better on your own, but when you are also dealing with the potentially supernatural, it’s good to know that you are not alone; that you are not the only person who is feeling the presence of someone long gone but clearly not forgotten. So this is the second stage of Samhain: being with those we lost, and dealing with it either with happiness or grief while ensuring we are supported and making it as joyous as possible with feasting, drinking, and even gifts. Some celebrate Samhain as New Year too (understandable looking at how the Coligny calendar split the year into two halves), so again, more drinking, gifts and excuses for tomfoolery! The third stage is a little more solemn, and just as important. This is the stage where we feel the veil closing, and we say farewell to our ancestors (and other loved ones) and ensure we guide them on their way.

 

There are many different ways of doing this and I would not recommend that you practice rituals, rites or magic with the intention of guiding the dead without the guidance of someone experienced in such matters- quite frankly it can be a bit scary. More simply and traditionally, candles can be lit as symbolic beacons to show the dead their paths. can be played, for in Celtic tradition music is a gift from the otherworld and thought to be very magical indeed. Ancestral feasts are cleared away and images of ancestors are cleaned and put away until after the season is over, to remove temptation for the spirit to stay. It’s like saying, we’ve been happy to have you here, and we wanted to let you know how grateful we are for your influence in our lives. But we are the living; you are the dead. It’s time for us to get back to our lives, and for you to return to whence you came. I think it’s very healthy in that way; we accept that our loved ones are gone. We in no way cling on to them or expect them to return to us to be a permanent part of our lives, and in this way we can deal with our grief and move on, although it can take several years for grief to lose its keen edge of course. But we also accept that here is a time when we can celebrate them. Whether you believe that the dead physically (or metaphysically) return or not, how can anyone sneer at the idea of having a whole festival dedicated to love, remembrance and joy?

 

 

 

 

 

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About the Author:
Mabh Savage is a Pagan author, poet and musician, as well as a freelance journalist.

She is the author of A Modern Celt: Seeking the Ancestors and Pagan Portals: Celtic Witchcraft.

 

Follow Mabh on TwitterFacebook and her blog.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Across the Great Divide

July, 2014

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“All Good Things…”

Wolf

 

I sit outside with our dog, feeling the inviting rays of the Sun upon my back, enjoying the crisp air as I type this; and the feeling turns bittersweet. Gone are the long, dark nights of winter as the stirrings of spring harken warmer and sunnier days and the flora and fauna are returning in a triumphant display of color and vibrancy of life’s ever-turning wheel. I suppose that it is fitting that our lives, too, change with the seasons.
What I have accomplished has led me to a wonderful opportunity and I have reached a point where my personal and creative endeavors are at a crossroads. I am pleased to share that I have been granted a role in the upcoming film Aladdin 3477. Additionally, my other writing projects have moved up to the next level and I am both excited and exhausted as I juggle the responsibilities of daily and professional life.
Over the last several months I have contemplated what is to come in the next chapter of my life.
I began this column in the fall of 2009 and every month since I have been honored and blessed to share and discuss with you all a common love and interest in all things paranormal.
I have had many wonderful and thought-provoking discussions on these subjects with fans and friends alike, but, sadly, the time has come for me to say goodbye and put my full attention on other projects that I have put off for far too long.
I want to extend heartfelt gratitude for sharing in this journey as we walked across the great divide into the realms of the unknown. Know that I do not come to this decision carelessly or thoughtlessly. I consider myself truly grateful to have been part of the Pagan Pages family for these many years and to share my knowledge of and experiences in paranormal research.
I hope you learned from me as much as I have from each of you and take that knowledge with you along your personal, spiritual, and academic paths. Always remember that it is on those rare moments when these three paths cross that true wisdom and awakening occur.
Again, thank you and blessed be.

 

Wolf2

 

© 2014 R. Wolf Baldassarro/Deep Forest Productions

Across the Great Divide

June, 2014

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“The Fine Line Between Believer and Skeptic”

I’ve been doing a careful dance as of late on a very thin tightrope.
I have been skeptical, highly critical, and utterly blatant lately in calling out bullshit when it comes to ghost hunting and paranormal research news. However, I want to make it clear that I am as much a believer in the field and open-minded when it comes to the possibilities posited by the many theories as I have always been. That’s because I believe in the existence of those possibilities and that we, as a species, do not and can not know everything about the universe in which we exist. Our collective understanding of how the universe works is akin to the collective understanding of science to the participants in a fifth grade science fair. Every answer only leads to more questions.
Who among you could blame me for being a bit miffed when there is a definite negative correlation between merchandising and the amount of real science these so-called reality shows share- such as a new video game based on that joke of a show, Paranormal State? That’s right. A video game- as if science needed further mocking. Last month I talked about amateurs playing scientist, but now you can- quite literally- play scientist and think that any of the phenomena or “history” experienced in the game will translate over to the real world of science.
Legacy Interactive, A&E Television, and developer Teyon released Paranormal State: Poison Spring on the iPad. In the hidden-object adventure game, available to download for free on the App Store (and a full Collector’s Edition priced $6.99), you can team up with the show’s stars to “investigate” a “terrifying supernatural event” at Poison Spring State Park, the historical site of a horrific Civil War battle.
The gullible continue to frolic through a brightly lit open field, pointing in awe at everything; while the staunch skeptics stumble through the dark, so blinded by their narrow vision that they can’t even see the light in the distance. A smart researcher knows that the road to the truth lies midway between cynicism and naiveté.
For example, do I believe in the possibility that the living can communicate with the dead in real time? Yes. However, the experiences of spirit mediums are highly subjective and the chances of proving those experiences are about as good as being hit by lightning twice.

 

Ghost
That didn’t matter to a team of ghost hunters known as Haunted Heritage from claiming during a visit to Donington le Heath Manor House near Coalville, Leicestershire, to have made contact with King Richard III after holding a séance by the bed where he spent the night before he died. The site became a beacon for ghost hunting groups after a skeleton found in a Leicester car park last year was identified as the remains of Richard III, sparking newswires and interest worldwide.
Their night at the 700-year-old house was a complete bust (something that happens more often than not in real investigations) until they entered the chamber where Richard slept before his fall at the Battle of Bosworth in 1485.
When members of the group shouted out “What is your name”, they say a man’s voice clearly replied, “Richard”.
That sounds legitimate, right? After all, he must have been the only man in the whole of written history with that name or something similar, not to mention that the mindset of the investigators had that name foremost on their minds and could have subconsciously thought or spoken the name, thus triggering the captured audio.
The medium in question, Gill Hibbert, was quick to point out that they were “being careful” about saying it was Richard III himself because they can’t prove it and are trying to employ a historian to look into other Richards who may have lived in the residence. Of course, they define “being careful” as plastering the name and the “evidence” all over the internet from their Facebook page, to their website, and all over YouTube; not to mention the various news and media sites covering their story.
The group’s “proof” of this contact? A response on the oft-maligned Ghost Box, a device that’s been routinely slammed by numerous members of psychical research, myself included.
At least the group put their data out there for the world to mull over. Here is a link to the group’s YouTube channel and the audio clip from their session. There is no mention as to whether the audio has been modified in any way (such as removing noise and hisses); had elements or volume enhanced; what the variables were; who were all those present; or what environmental and weather conditions were in effect at the time of recording.
The clip is only 34 seconds long and “Richard” only speaks at the :16 mark. I asked a credible and knowledgeable source on British history what she thought and if the speaking style would have been consistent with the late 15th century. As it turns out, whoever set this up did their research. I share in her summary that “it’s bollocks, but it’s well-researched bollocks.”
The pattern would have been Midland or Rhotic and somewhere between Welsh and the Deleware Islands, but, in her opinion, the accent being from Richard III’s time is believable.
From a purely scientific standpoint had the variables of the event been charged enough for his spiritual energy to become trapped in this dimensional plane, after 500 years it would have dissipated so much that the man known as Richard III no longer exists, nor could he communicate with them or anyone else.
As always, I’ll leave it up to you, my informed readers, to weigh the evidence and draw your own conclusions. If you have an opinion, please share it below and join the discourse of scientific discovery.

© 2014 R. Wolf Baldassarro/Deep Forest Productions

Across the Great Divide

April, 2014

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“The only thing worse than amateur scientists are drunken amateur scientists”

Just when I thought that the bar of integrity in ghost hunting couldn’t get any lower someone went and removed it entirely.

I only allow members to bring a small water bottle on investigations, but the owners of one of the most infamously haunted locations in the country will now allow you to drink alcohol anywhere and everywhere while you play scientist and fall victim to their new amusement park.

Built in the 1880s, the Winchester House has never been registered for lodging let alone licensed for alcohol, but the current owners of the 160-room California mansion, Winchester Investments LLC,  will allow guests to stay the night and drink anywhere on the 6-acre maze of false doors and stairs that lead nowhere. Sarah Winchester reportedly built the famed additions in order to confuse the evil spirits she believed were the tormented souls of those killed by the family’s firearms business haunting the home.

A special use permit, which was approved by the San José planning department on March 5, 2014, will allow overnight guests to stay at the landmark site. It was made clear that their target market won’t be road-weary families on family vacations or traditional hotel renters, but those who want the ‘ultimate Winchester House experience’. In other words- a niche of clients predisposed to fall for their smoke and mirror act.

A reporter for the Silicon Valley Business Journalattempted to contact the owners to ask for plans that are more detailed but, conveniently, his request was ignored.

A visit to the Winchester House website reveals that no room rates have been added yet, but they have plenty of theme tours playing up the haunted history that seem better fit for Cedar Point’s Halloweekends- like their “Friday the 13th Flashlight Tour”. Tour rates range from $26-$65; and you can’t visit any page on their website without a highly-intrusive popup ad for the books and movie that have been made about the House making it perfectly clear that they don’t care whether or not the claims are real and substantiated- they’re going to use it to make a lot of money. The ads hover annoyingly center screen in front of whatever you are trying to read.

The city also approved the remodeling of the existing café into a full service restaurant open to the public.

Basically, this is nothing less than a clever marketing and moneymaking scheme by Winchester Investments to cash in on the legendary status of the residence by exaggerating and accentuating activity while bilking money from those foolish and gullible enough to fall for it. Well, we all know what they say about a fool and his money.

So an iconic and historical landmark will degrade into a booze-filled joyride of misfits and fools looking to play ghost hunter. I wonder how long it will be before the grounds are littered with beer bottles and a once-majestic residence falls prey to countless grubby feet and hands eroding every inch. The addition of alcohol to the equation is just asking for a lot of trouble in terms of increased police patrols, vandalism, and disruptive behavior.

I have nothing wrong with an historical site using public funds via tours to help offset the costs of maintaining beloved locations, but this goes far and beyond. It enables amateur and unprofessional individuals and groups to come in and make a sham of legitimate science. Any activity witnessed or recorded at the site from hereafter will be completely unsuitable for detailed analysis due to an exponential cascade of contaminations proving once again that the modern day business of ghost hunting is less about the science and more about the fame.

I look forward to laughing at the first bit of “evidence” put forth by those whom stay at the Winchester House.

 

Sources: io9.com, Silicon Valley Business Journal Photo: San José Library Digital Collections

© 2014 R. Wolf Baldassarro/Deep Forest Productions

 

Across the Great Divide

March, 2014

 

 

 

“Parapsychology’s Database Debacle”


It’s well-known that paranormal research isn’t taken seriously by mainstream scientists- after all there is a big difference between measuring phenomenon like earthquakes and hurricanes, which affect and are witnessed by hundreds of thousands, as opposed to telekinesis and ghosts sightings, which are often the subjective experiences of an individual.

Not only is there a measurement issue, but there is a records issue.

Advancement in medical research and development, for example, hinges on one crucial component- the existence of a database of verified knowledge and investigative research that is shared, and contributed to, by doctors and laboratories around the world. Without that collaboration, medical research does not progress. A doctor can look up the symptoms of his patient and find that a physician on the other side of the world had a patient with similar symptoms; they compare notes and, at some point, not only is a condition defined, but also a course of action determined.

This is at the very core of the issues facing parapsychology that I have covered lately. Gone are many of the world’s leading, official, labs and academic programs- at least in North America; and the few remaining respected and professional names in the field are seldom heard or departed. Meanwhile, amateur and semi-professional ghost hunting groups are concerned more with competing for exposure and fame, and not with the advancement of science.

This leaves the field with few professional organizations, no official research guidelines, and no reliable, secure central database to pool information that is collected from investigations.

Even if there were such a system-, something that I’ve been an outspoken proponent of for years- there must be a safeguard to certify that the data shared is not falsified, misrepresented, or incompetently interpreted. There have to be similar safeguards for those who are contributing that data. If a chain of people experiment based on fraudulent information, it does a disservice to all and makes the findings worthless. That’s a heavy price for someone’s time wasted and further ridicule of the field.

There must be an independent group  of qualified researchers tasked with keeping contributors to strict submission guidelines and testing and reviewing data to verify the results put forth for others.

These are factors which ruined database initiatives in the past and why any Joe Schmo with a night vision camera and voice recorder can call himself a ghost hunter and get a television show to flaunt his “evidence”.

For that evidence to be proven or disproven, and be taken seriously, it must be willingly and freely shared. There are a number of groups out there that refuse to do this.

I contacted a famous restaurant in Detroit that has been reportedly haunted for decades about doing an investigation only to discover that they have an exclusive contract with another group. No other group or research team is permitted to investigate, collect data, or post evidence of phenomena experienced at the restaurant. This contracted group even holds for-profit “tours” on occasion for mutual benefit of the establishment and “credibility” of their own group. The restaurant bilks patrons on the haunting legends and the group gets street cred for it. It’s a perfect win-win situation. No one is allowed to verify or refute the group’s findings and no one can recreate the exact conditions present when the data was collected to rule out or confirm factors. Not only is this bad science, it’s damn insulting.

There are a few ostensible databases on the internet that claim to collect information for scientific integrity, but beware because many of these are hackneyed and trite websites that merely collect folklore and personal anecdotes from often-anonymous responders looking to merely have their stories heard. It’s more fan fiction than fact.

A quick search on Bing found a number of hits.

Paranormaldatabase.com, for instance, seems like a legitimate attempt at such a database but much of the language in their legal disclaimer is highly suspicious and many of the highlighted phenomena have nothing to do with parapsychology or related theories.

Likewise, if a ‘database” is nothing more than a Facebook page without links to an official external website, or uses gimmicky names or acronyms such as PANICd (Paranormal Database and Research Information), then odds are it’s run by amateurs.

A promising one called ParaDB, created by a Seattle ghost hunting group, is a web-based PHP/MySQL application designed for use by ghost hunting and paranormal research organizations. It’s format and design is akin to many mainstream academic and medical forums.

The most serious and legitimate organizations are the American Society for Psychical Research and the famous Rhine Research Center– considered the last bastions of authoritative and academic paranormal research in North America. They publish The Journal of the ASPR and the Journal of Parapsychology, respectively, and both are world-renowned for the quality of their scientific content including research reports, theoretical discussions, book reviews, correspondence, and abstracts of university and laboratory research papers. I have been a subscriber to both and they hold a special place in my office library.

Until such a time that a verifiable, comprehensive, and worldwide database exists, the ASPR and Parapsychology Association journals will have to carry the weight of scientific discovery, but at least it’s a start.

 

 

© 2014 R. Wolf Baldassarro/Deep Forest Productions

Across the Great Divide

February, 2014

 

 

Paranormal Communication

            To exist is to communicate. Bees in a hive; a pack of wolves on the hunt; two women in a coffee shop; – even the phones we text each other with-; effective communication is occurring everywhere around us every day and in various forms both organic and artificial.

            Humans are quite egocentric when it comes to the physical world and their professed mastery of it. If they cannot hear it, see it, touch it, or understand it then it doesn’t exist or is laughed off as the illogical ramblings of the foolish. A common- and clichéd- axiom is “if a tree falls and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?” This naïve reasoning asserts that since no human was around to hear it, then it didn’t happen; that it is impossible to occur. The wildlife that scattered as the sound pierced the serenity might feel differently.

Humanity assumes that the only effective, real, communication between two sentient beings is in the verbal patterns of spoken language; but true communication occurs all around us every day without us even being remotely aware that it is happening or how. Just because we do not readily perceive or understand it does not dismiss this fact.

To effectively communicate with the world around us means that we have to let go of this arrogant mentality and realize that all things are different in the way they speak to each other and to the environment around them. This is the central canon when learning to understand and communicate with the world on a deeper level.

Why is it that emotionally-connected people can know exactly what each other are thinking or feeling without a single word being spoken? A look from a beloved dog or cat can elicit intense understanding in the same way. These are forms of paranormal communication.

When one knows how to listen, communication and understanding come easy.

            We saw last month that parapsychology researchers have made interesting discoveries about the possibilities of telepathic communication between two beings; and we’ve previously covered the topic of Electronic Voice Phenomenon with some intriguing examples that I personally captured. (It should be noted that Instrumental Transcommunication (ITC) is the more general, accepted, term in parapsychological research for any variation of device and corresponding phenomenon collected.)

            Many believe that communication with the dead is a scientific fact and experiment with a variety of techniques for spirit communication to provide evidence of the continuation of life after physical death. Many parapsychologists and ghost hunting groups agree. That is why it is such common practice to attempt communication with spirits using devices such as voice recorders and cameras.

            Mainstream science has generally ignored ITC, finding the results less than credible, and references a percentage of recordings that turn out to be hoaxes created by frauds or pranksters. Many also regard the examples put forward by proponents as simply misinterpretations of natural phenomena, explained via a variety of known psychological and physical phenomena- the tendency of the human brain to recognize patterns in random stimuli and radio interference are respective examples. I am not arguing the validity of the recorded samples that I or others have collected over the years as absolute proof of spiritual communication nor am I completely debunking them but if anyone has sound, logical explanations for their origin then, please, enlighten us; if not, then take it with a grain of salt and an intellectually open mind.

            Pareidolia and Apophenia are the most common basis for arguments against the legitimacy of ITC.

Auditory pareidolia is a situation created when the brain incorrectly interprets random patterns as being familiar patterns. In the case of ITC, it could result in an observer interpreting random noise on an audio recording as being the familiar sound of a human voice. The tendency for a “voice” heard in white noise recordings to be in a language understood well by those researching it, rather than in an unfamiliar language, has been cited as evidence of this; and a broad class of phenomena, referred to by author Joe Banks as “Rorschach Audio”, has been described as a global explanation for all manifestations of ITC.

            Apophenia is related to, but distinct from pareidolia, in that it is the spontaneous finding of connections or meaning in things that are random, unconnected, or meaningless, and has been put forward as a possible explanation.

            Suppose, for example, that an English-speaking group such as Ghost Hunters International were in Germany on an investigation. Would it not seem logical that any samples recorded and cited be in German rather than English? If a group’s team members are walking around an Italian castle asking questions in English how do they expect any possible spirit to understand the question, let alone respond correctly and in English? When they analyze the audio, are they listening for English and Italian words, or perhaps another language entirely?

            I have developed a theory that attempts to explain Rorschach Audio.

Everything about life I learned from watching Star Trek. (Humour me for a moment.) Ever wonder how the intrepid crew of the Enterprise can travel the galaxy and always find alien cultures speaking perfect English? Well, they have an ingenious little device called a universal translator that puts the spoken words through a sound algorithm that searches for patterns and then correlates them to the correct English vernacular. Neat trick, I think. However, there’s often a fine line between science fiction and reality.

In Jungian psychology, there is a bedrock principle that part of the unconscious mind is common and accessible to a group, a society, or even all of humanity, which is the product of all the ancestral experiences of a people throughout time and shared by all, termed the Collective Unconscious. Based on this model, if- as many world cultures similarly believe- we are all related, and taking into account the scientific theory that we revert to pure energy after the death of the physical body, then it stands to reason that as we pass from the material world into the realm of pure energy we have access to all of the knowledge of our fellow man. Therefore, if one were Russian in physical life, then such a being would have knowledge of the English language after death and would thus be able to communicate freely and fluently with an English-speaking researcher conducting an ITC session.

            It might not be too hard to imagine the possibility. It is a known fact that the human body creates, stores, and uses electrical energy. Our neurology is much like a computer’s in that it transmits data in much the same way as a circuit board. This explains how ITC is possible because if, after death, we revert back to pure energy then that energy is quite capable of manipulating and being captured by recording devices that operate on the same principles.

            The old-style method of using cassettes to communicate with spirits is a testable theory because those mediums rely on the creation of electromagnetic fields to imprint the data on the magnetic strips. This is also why spikes in EM fields are of major interest to researchers and ghost hunters because it hints that spirits must draw upon the energy in the environment in order to be discovered. The modern digital recorders are similarly valid because of the means by which they retain information.

            In a recent conversation online, it was jested that if ghosts did exist, it was doubtful that they would be using Facebook as a means to communicate. Based on the points raised today I would have to disagree. The internet is a digital world, using electrical currents and electromagnetics to transmit data from one side of the globe to another in an instant, and is just one more avenue that a being of energy could manipulate in order to communicate- a literal “ghost in the machine” as it makes its voice heard.

            It is said that we have two ears but one mouth because listening is twice as hard as speaking. This is a universal truth. If we simply learn to listen to the world around us in a different way, we just might hear things that we were previously unaware were there.

            Until next time, quiet yourselves and listen carefully to the sounds of the universe. The truth- and understanding- are out there if we are simply willing to listen with an open mind.

© 2014 R. Wolf Baldassarro/Deep Forest Productions

 

Across the Great Divide

January, 2014

 

 

 

“Where, Oh Where, Has the Science Gone?”

There was a time, about 40 years ago, when paranormal research was fueled more by a passion for science and understanding than for fame and glory. It was a time when some of the world’s most prestigious universities were home to large parapsychology departments conducting cutting-edge research and publishing their theories and findings in the world’s top academic journals where they were discussed and graded on their methodology and scholastic merit. It was a great time for the field- before Hollywood and groups using poor techniques and duct-taped equipment stumbled around with night vision cameras looking for ratings rather than answers.

Somewhere, lost in the shadows of the scripted “results”, camera magic, and glitz of reality television’s idea of what paranormal research is, the honest, academic exploration of parapsychology has all but disappeared from the public eye, vanishing into the mists like a Gray Lady on a windy autumn night. Or has it?

For several decades, Duke University ran one of the largest centers for paranormal research in the world: The Duke Parapsychology Laboratory, established in 1935 as part of the college’s main psychology department. Other programs at Stanford and UCLA followed; but the academic environment was about to change.

Remember what happened to Dr. Venkman and company in “Ghostbusters” when they were kicked out? Those scenes were based on the real history of the Duke program when skeptics derided the field of parapsychology as pseudoscience and Duke ended its affiliation with the program. J.B. Rhine moved his labs across the street- literally- and continued the work off-campus that he and William McDougall started as the independent and privately-funded Rhine Research Center.

While it may be true that in recent years the field has become fragmented and underfunded, it still manages to hold on, even as the mainstream scientific community has once again ignored it. John Kruth, executive director of the Rhine, says, “It hasn’t gone anywhere. People have never stopped doing research in these areas, but the skeptic community is strong and vocal, and they’re much better at working the media.”

Kruth points to media-savvy skeptics such as James Randi for much of the academic community’s attitude toward the field. I would have to agree with him, at least in part, but it’s this level of blind skepticism that can’t accept anything that does not fit into rigid definitions and worldviews. Anyone who dares look at other possibilities is immediately labeled a fraud and excommunicated via a round of laughter.

This is a mindset summed up in the words of  Michael Shermer, editor of the quarterly journal, Skeptic, and columnist for Scientific American: “It’s [parapsychology] fallen into disuse due to the fact that there’s just nothing there.”

“Certainly there are fraudulent practitioners out there, and we’re always watching for that,” Kruth said. “It’s like we have the frauds on one side and the debunkers on the other, and we’re in the middle, still trying to do science.”

Critics retort that parapsychology, as a field of scientific study, has a fundamental evidence problem. I would have to agree, but I think Shermer is wrong when he arrogantly claims that “parapsychology has been around for more than a century. (Yet) there’s no research protocol that generates useful working hypotheses for other labs to test and develop into a model, and eventually a paradigm that becomes a field. It just isn’t there.”

At a recent presentation on the campus of Duke University, three parapsychology researchers presented results from their latest studies. The presentation topics:

“Synesthesia, Time and the Geography of Anomalous Experiences”

“Synchronicity and Psi: A Controlled Comparison”

“The Bio-Energy Lab at The Rhine and The O.B.E. (Out of Body Experience) Project”

Other recent research has huge implications in both parapsychology and mainstream clinical psychology. Surely it’s not your Vulcan mind-meld level of telepathy, but researchers came closer than ever to getting one mammal to read another mammal’s mind.

A research team had wired together the brains of two rats, allowing them to transmit information between each other and cooperate. The results, detailed in the journal Scientific Reports, could help improve the design of neural-controlled prosthetic devices and perhaps even show that one day we could network brains as well as computers, or communicate by translating neural activity in the brain into electronic signals.

In the experiment, the Duke scientists trained two rats to press one of two levers when a particular light switched on. Next, they connected the animals’ brains with tiny electrodes, each a fraction the size of a human hair, that linked the parts of the rats’ brains that process motor signals. Rat #1 was the “encoder” while rat #2 was the “decoder.” The first rat’s job was to receive the visual cue to press the lever. If it got it right, it got a reward.

As the encoder rat did its task, the electrical activity in the encoder rat’s brain was then translated into a signal and transmitted to the decoder rat. That rat would then press its own lever. For the second rat, though, there was no light cue to tell it which corresponding lever was correct. It could only go by the signal it received from the other rat.

It hit the correct lever an average of about 64% of the time, sometimes up to 72%- a result much greater than possible by chance. To confirm that this was an effect of the signals from the encoder rat’s brain, the team gave the decoder rat the same stimulation, but this time from a computer, with similar results.

Another experiment tested whether the rat’s brain could transmit information about touch. This time the rats were trained to put their nose through an opening and, using their whiskers, distinguish whether the opening was wide or narrow. For wide openings, the rats were taught to poke a computer port on their right. For narrow openings, they poked to the left.

Once trained, the rats were wired to each other. When the encoder rat poked the relevant port, the scientists recorded the brain activity and sent the signal to the decoder rat. The decoder chose the correct side- left or right- to poke 60-65% of the time.

These research models show promise for parapsychologists as they examine psi and other extra-sensory forms of communication.

Perhaps what researchers should do is employ a bit of psychology when publishing their findings to show just how much there is valid “research protocol and working hypotheses” in the field. By running their experiments with parapsychological theories in mind, make no mention of that fact and publish their experiments as typical mainstream neuropsychology, and see just how the scientific community reacts. Then we may be able to see just how deep the animosity and arrogance truly is among the world’s scientists. Remember that some of history’s greatest minds were laughed at in their own time, only to be repeatedly proven correct decades and centuries later, especially once the correct level of technology came along.

Until next month, keep your minds and your eyes open as you peer across the Great Divide. In the meantime, enjoy this video showing the most detailed map to ever be drawn of the human brain: Play Video

 

Sources: Discovery News

© 2013 R. Wolf Baldassarro/Deep Forest Productions

 

Across the Great Divide

November, 2013

 

“Who Left the Gate Open? The Idiots Got Out Again.”

For all the many topics and issues within the realm of parapsychology there is one phenomenon that- pardon the pun- continues to haunt the field. A phenomenon that is predator rather than prey; and despite the most valiant efforts by some, a phenomenon that can be easily kept from causing mayhem – if it weren’t for someone constantly leaving the gate open and letting it out.

I am talking about professionalism. What should come as common sense and a given is apparently seen by some as a hindrance; a roadblock to their fame and fortune. Moreover, unlike many topics that the origins are relatively unknown there are clear methods of manifestation for this problem.

Take, for example, a story out of Montana recently about a city employee who got into trouble after she let a local ghost hunting group set up an infrared camera in the Butte-Silver Bow County Health Department because she thinks that the office is haunted and contacted a group to catch the unwelcome spirits in action.

John DeMuary, co-founder of the Butte Paranormal Investigative Team, told the New York Daily News that he complied with the request because he is also convinced that it’s haunted based on the woman’s claim that “she [reported] a lot of strange things were happening and that she heard strange noises coming from certain parts of the building.”

In the interest of fairness and journalistic integrity I should point out that DeMuary is a rookie in the field and began ghost hunting just over two years ago. He has a lot to learn, and now that inexperience and arrogance has landed someone in a very real world of trouble. I can’t say that I feel sorry for her in the least. Despite what she may personally believe, her actions, and the actions of the “investigative team”, were completely inappropriate and unprofessional.

DeMuary did “a bit” of research and found that the office building was constructed in the 1970s and that before that a woman had spent 80 years of her life in a house that previously stood on the grounds. He was unable to verify whether she died at the location but nonetheless speculated that, “Maybe her spirit wasn’t able to move on.”

So on one night last August, the group snuck into the building with the help of the employee. Their investigation backfired when another employee turned the camera over to police, fearing that someone was using it to spy on the government workers.

The Butte police found no ghosts on the camera’s SD card, but plenty of normal office interactions; and the office managers were in no way amused or sympathetic to the situation, feeling that the incident was a violation of the public trust. The employee who contacted the group was given a formal written warning and another employee who had knowledge of the situation was given a verbal warning. No known charges have been filed against anyone, but I would think it only fitting that some form of trespassing fine be imposed on the team.

The first obvious issue to be addressed is that all involved were not only trespassing, they were willfully trespassing on government property. That takes enough testicular fortitude for this world and the next. How hard is it to understand that whether it’s a cemetery, someone’s home, or a professional building, it is NEVER okay to just walk in whenever you feel like it without the landowner’s permission.

It doesn’t matter if it’s an abandoned building either. In cases of an abandoned property, sometimes contacting the city or church that owns the cemetery or building and presenting your honest and objective intentions goes a long way toward garnering permission. You should also have a client contract that explains what each party’s legal and financial responsibilities are. Often having an explanation of what is publicly planned for the data collected or a clause that releases the building’s owner of responsibility due to injury puts their mind at ease.

For an example of such a contract, here is a download link to the very client contract that DFPS uses: DFPS Client Contract

It is also relevant to mention that any seasoned and professional paranormal research group will require all members to wear photo identification while investigating or representing the group in public- even when just doing research in a library or records office. Not only does this present a more professional image but it helps clients, law enforcement, and others know who is and is not part of the group. Law enforcement has the right to request identification and trespassing on private property can lead to fines, imprisonment, or worse- I’ve personally known of ghost hunting groups getting shot at when trespassing.

Secondly, many professional buildings are, by design, in urban areas close to well-traveled roads and occupied by more than one company with their own hours of operation. This can seriously pollute any evidence due to a large amount of X factors involved. Even abandoned cemeteries in secluded and neglected locations have environmental conditions and noise variables to account for that could skew results.

DeMuary’s said his merry little band of trespassers noticed lights flickering and thought it was “weird” and took one picture of an “orb”. He also based his conclusion that the building was haunted on noises he heard from his Ovilus X- the “ghost box” that I have debunked before,- saying that he “understood words” but “didn’t know what they were saying.” He just guessed that there were past employees at the office who died of breast cancer who may have been trying to communicate. The choice of instrumentation, the methods of research, and the analysis techniques of this group are laughable. There’s really nothing positive to say about it at all.

Orbs? Really? For as much of a joke as the TV reality ghost groups have become even they shrug of orbs as rarely legitimate. Yet the sad fact remains that so many amateur groups out there still try to pass off any bit of anomalous dust in the air as spirit manifestation.

I’ve given way too more attention to the pathetic toy that is the Ovilus than it’s worth. The plastic casing of it has more value than it’s data.

Let this be a lesson to everyone. The more structured and professional you are in your methods the more professional you will come off when investigating and the more serious your data will be taken.

But none of this seems to be of concern to the amateurs pulling the reigns of the Butte Paranormal Investigative Team. To them it’s just saddle up, lock and load. It’s time someone put a lock on the gate before more idiots get out.

 

Sources: NY Daily News

© 2013 R. Wolf Baldassarro/Deep Forest Productions

Across the Great Divide

October, 2013

 

“When Ghost Hunters Go shopping”

 

Ghost hunting is big business these days. It takes serious cash to attain a collection of data capturing and analysis tools to make your research a success, after all you have to get the latest and greatest gadgets if you’re going to troll around at night playing scientist. The trend is such that the owner of a new business in downtown Springfield, Ohio is cashing in on it, confident of long-term success. Darin Hough’s Ghost Hunting Source offers shoppers paranormal research equipment in a truly unique niche market.

Perhaps a bit morbidly, Hough explained, “As long as people are dying people are going to have an interest in it.” He’s not alone. Morticians, cemetery owners, and fraudulent psychics and mediums have been cashing in on the deaths of loved ones for centuries.

The truth of the matter is that there’s really no better time to open a store like this. It’s possibly the only place outside of the internet where you can buy an electromagnetic field detector, an infrared camera, and a dowsing rod at the same time and take them home the same day.

The questionable “science” of reality television fuels demand for these items as each group and show tries to patent and trademark the latest innovations in paranormal research.

Hough wanted to offer fellow investigators the chance to get their hands on the exact equipment as seen on these shows and play scientist. Sadly, there aren’t any proton packs, ecto containment units, or the latest edition of Tobin’s Spirit Guide available for purchase.

Ghost Hunting Source in an old industrial site known as the Robertson building and comes with the perfect coincidence- other tenants of the building have told Hough they think it’s haunted. And why shouldn’t they? Increased foot traffic means their stores will benefit as well.

Naturally, he’s hoping to conduct a ghost hunt there as part of the store’s grand opening party on Oct. 19 with Miami Valley Paranormal Services, a group which he founded 6 years ago.

Hough promises to instruct newbie ghost hunters on how to properly use what they buy.

“We’ve got something that’s very popular. It’s called the spirit box,” Hough said, picking up and turning on what is essentially a handheld radio, which retails between $59 and $79. “The theory is, maybe the spirit could use the white noise to speak through.”

Readers of Across the Great Divide have heard of these laughable devices before in “The Harsh Truth about Ghost Boxes”.

Still, this all amounts to big money. Last year alone he claims to have sold more than $220,000 in gear at his online storefront and shipped as far away as Australia and Russia.

Another gadget he’s peddling is something labeled E-POD-AMP, a $100 pod that features a series of lights that remain lit until static electricity is detected, and touted as ideal for trying to decipher why the hair on your arm is standing up. Sure, because we all know that static electricity isn’t a normal, everyday fact of physical life and only occurs when an apparition is around.

In addition to all of the high-tech gear available at the store- such as full-spectrum video cameras- Hough also carries low-tech, old-world tools including dowsing rods, tarot cards, and sage incense.

Interestingly enough, the one thing conspicuously missing from the shelves at Ghost Hunting Source is a Ouija board, the infamous board made and sold by Hasbro.

“It’s a personal thing,” Hough said. “I’ve had nothing but bad experiences with them.”

Hough is banking that his store “will turn skeptics into believers.”

I would love nothing more than concrete, scientific proof of paranormal activity- which I wholeheartedly believe in the possibility of- but the unfortunate truth is that the greed of capitalism is at its most successful when it prays on the ignorance and gullibility of the uninformed shopper.

There are a number of websites that sell paranormal and ghost hunting equipment and software. These sites offer very little in terms of real-time customer service to answer concerns and questions about the equipment offered and the correct usage of them.

It’s a big wheel of supply and demand as shows like Ghost Lab act more like hour-long infomercials pushing interest in the newest must-have gadgets. Fans see these cool toys with wide eyes and want to find them at any price so that they can play like the Big Boys on TV. This is why these programs only show those incidents wherein the devices “prove” activity and not the other 99 percent of the time when it acts erratically or not at all.

Even the money machine known as SyFy’s Ghost Hunters has jumped into the game. They highlight innovative and glitzy gadgets for an hour and then offer fans the opportunity to purchase their very own at the “Ghost Gear Store”, an online shopping site run by NBC Universal. My, how convenient.

Be smart and research these items fully before spending your hard-earned cash. Read reviews, tips, and usage techniques. Question the “science” behind their development and look for analytical data on their results. If you’re willing to open your wallet, be willing to open your mind as well. Before you walk into, or web surf, these stores keep the old adage in mind: “A fool and his money are soon parted.”

Trust me, their checkout lanes are counting on it.

 

Sources: Dayton Daily News, WDTN News, SyFy’s Ghost Gear Store Image © Dayton Daily News

© 2013 R. Wolf Baldassarro/Deep Forest Productions

Paranormal Path

October, 2013

Improve Your Chances Of Spirit Communication
     So, you want to be a ghost hunter.  You have picked your location and of course have permission to investigate the area.  You have done your research on the history of the location, such as who lived or worked there and if they passed on, you know how it happened.  You have extensive notes on the type of activity reported and the camera, flashlights and digital recorder are ready.  However, none of this will guarantee you will experience an encounter.  Many times investigators come up empty handed; it takes time, patience and persistence.  So how do you improve your chances of experiencing paranormal activity?
     You may not be aware if the activity is residual or intelligent until you get started.  Once you have done your research it is a good idea to bring a few “props” with you to aid in the communication process.  For example, if the reports are of the ghost of a child you may want to bring a few toys with you and attempt to coax the child into playing.  Leave the toys behind and return later to see if anything has been moved or altered in any way.  Young spirits are often shy and hide.  Another example would be if you know the spirit is of a person who liked to play poker, bring a set of cards with you and sit down to a game as if you know someone is joining you.  Make sure you have the digital recorder and cameras ready.
     Certain tools can also be used to detect immediate responses.  If the spirit is strong enough it can make the temperature in the room drop or raise and if you have an EMF detector it can come in handy.  Spirits pull energy to manifest and this will affect the temperature as well as the surrounding electromagnetic field.  If these tools are not available to you there are more simple techniques.  Try to loosen the bottom of your flashlight enough that it takes a slight touch to bring the light back on.  Lay the flashlight down on a steady surface and begin communicating.  Explain that if they touch the flashlight and make it come on, that is a yes answer.  Be patient, remember some spirits are from a time so long ago that this is all new technology; it may take a moment to figure it out.  A simple call bell works as well, one ring for yes and two for no.
     How you communicate is also crucial.  At times the spirit does not realize they are no longer part of the living world.  Try speaking to them as if you are part of their old life.  If they were once a nurse, try speaking to them as if you’re a patient in need.  Were they part of an old war?  If so, try speaking about the battle they were a part of as if it is still occurring.  Another point to keep in mind is the possibility there may be a language barrier pending on the location.
     There may come a time when the spirit is angry or had a violent past.  Take great caution with how you approach these situations.  For example if they were a former prisoner, you may want to act as though you are on their side instead of one of the prison guards.  Provoking is another popular technique but not always recommended.   At times the investigator is so caught up in trying to get evidence that they will become aggressive with the entity, calling it a coward or challenging it to do something to prove its’ existence.  There have been reports of spirits scratching, biting or even physically pushing investigators.  Do not risk your safety for the sake of proof.
     One of the most common mistakes occurs when you do finally make contact.  It can be very exciting if the spirit is able to play, ring the bell, or turn on the light but don’t stop the session there.  Continue asking important questions for as long as possible.  The energy the spirit has to manifest can be very short lived so time is everything, use it wisely.  If you hear a noise, remain quiet to try to determine the source and direction, you may want to communicate with fellow investigators right away but try to refrain until the activity has ceased.  You may want to use hand gestures to ask if they heard or witnessed the same things.
     Even with all these tricks you may still go away empty handed.  If it is a residual haunting it is not going to be able to communicate because it is simply like a silent movie playing over and over, unaware of your presence.  Spirits that are part of an intelligent haunting are what we all hope to connect with, to get evidence, gain knowledge, and even help the ghost move on.  This takes time, so if the first session is not a success simply try again.

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