Across the Great Divide

April 1st, 2014


“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:, Silicon Valley Business Journal Photo: San José Library Digital Collections

© 2014 R. Wolf Baldassarro/Deep Forest Productions


The Orb: A General Overview
When is s a spirit entity not a sprit entity?

While mentioned previously in this manual it is necessary  to devote at least some more time to the subject of “orbs”. In recent years a number of people have reported finding anomalous circular images, often called “orbs,” in photos taken at night with a flash, under seemingly ordinary conditions. The photos have been taken both outdoors and indoors. These photos were not taken under “conventional UFO,” conditions, i.e., there were no strange lights or objects visible to the photographer. These images first
turned up in photos taken for various reasons other than to photograph “orbs,” i.e., photos of home scenes, outdoor scenery at night, etc. Subsequently numerous photographers have simply taken pictures “into the dark,” even though they didn’t see anything that could make orb images, in order to find out if “orbs” would appear in
the photos. (Note: I should point out that there have been numerous photos of unusual lights at night which were seen at the time of the photos and which have also been called orbs. Photos such as these are not the subject of this discussion. The subject of this discussion is orb images which appear in photos taken when there was no bserved
cause for them.)
The images discussed here are rather diffuse or “transparent” areas of the film that are generally slightly brighter, but sometimes much brighter, than the (generally dark) background. For many cameras the orb images are round, but for at least one type (Polaroid Model 600) the shape is nearly rectangular. Figure 1 shows an example of such images in a flash photograph of an outdoor nighttime scene. If one examines the dim circular images carefully one sees that they have a bluish tint. Images such as these appear at random locations in photos. Similar images obtained by other investigators can be found at
Photos have been taken at many different geographic locations. Some outdoor locations produce more, perhaps many more, of these images than other locations. Therefore the occurrence of these images raise the following questions: (a) what are they or what causes these images, (b) why do they occur in some locations and not (or rarely) in others, and (c) why are they (apparently) a recent photographic phenomenon? The investigation reported here has provided answers to these questions.
This investigation was prompted by several correspondents who reported to me that they had found these round images in their own digital photos. They had not seen anything when the photos were taken, yet here were the distinct, reasonably bright round images. They asked for my comments on their photos and photos of others.
My first impression upon seeing images such as these was that they were unfocused images of small, bright reflectors of light. However, I could not prove that there were such reflectors present at the times of the photos. The photographers didn’t see anything. At the same time, an alternative hypothesis presented itself. So far as I knew, the first photos in which these images appeared, or at least the first in which they were noticed, were flash photos that had been taken with consumer-grade digital cameras. This raised the question of whether or not these images were some sort of strange artifact of the digital camera like some unexpected light leak. (More recently similar images have turned up in flash photos taken with recyclable cameras, such as the one used to take Figure 1. Other photographers have found similar images in photos taken with 35 mm cameras.) On the other hand, if the cause did not lie with the camera, then it must be something outside the camera. Perhaps the flash had illuminated something very small that was close to the lens. Perhaps a few small flying insects happened to
be close to the camera lens when the flash went off. This hypothesis (tiny insects very close to the camera and lit by the flash) seemed acceptable for photos taken when such insects would be present (outdoors in the spring, summer, fall) but not when such insects would unlikely be present (very cold weather,e.g., winter, or inside buildings).
Since I did not have a digital camera (they have been quite expensive until recently) I was not able to do any experiments myself to determine whether or not these anomalous images could be an artifact of the camera and so there the matter rested until recently when a correspondent reported finding some images in digital photos he had taken inside his house using a new Olympus camera. He was worried that his new camera had some sort of strange defect. He wrote, “The (anomalous images) look like lens flares, but there appear to be too many of them, and they don’t seem to be in the right position for lens flares.” He offered to send me some of his pictures and wanted
to ask my advise as to whether or not he should return the camera.
He emailed the pictures to me and I, too, was puzzled. They showed scenes in a house where insects would not likely be flying around close to the camera lens. About the only thing I could do was suggest some experiments to determine whether or not these images were caused by something outside the camera or inside the camera. One of the
experiments was to take flash pictures with his hand over the lens to block light. This would test whether or not the images were coming from inside the camera, as, for example if there were some bizarre hole in the camera structure that would allow light to leak directly from the flash to the film. For comparison I asked him to take pictures in some area where there were no surfaces to reflect light, for example, outdoors where the nearest object was far away. I pointed out that if he got anomalous images when his hand was not on the lens and got no such images when his hand was on the lens then
the anomalous images were coming from light reflectors outside the camera. The correspondent noted that there was a bright metal ring around the lens aperture and thought that perhaps that might cause some unexpected images. I suggested that he cover it with black tape. To my suggestion that there might have been tiny reflective particles in front of the camera he replied,
The tiny, shining objects idea is an interesting one. Most Christmases, my kids make various things with glitter, which they bring home. This stuff sheds into the carpet and can be quite difficult to get out. I believe this could be the explanation for the anomalous images which appear to be silhouetted against) the carpet. I’ll take some repeated shots from the same position and see if they move–if not, then we’ve got the explanation for those, at least. As for the ‘floating’ (images), perhaps some minute particles of glitter
can float on air currents–but would they stay around for a year? Again, some sequence shots might help here, too.
It is clear from what he wrote that he thought the anomalous images that appeared silhouetted against the rug might have been caused by bright reflections from tiny pieces of reflective material – glitter – on the rug. He also wondered whether or not floating glitter could explain the images which appeared to be above the rug, e.g.,
silhouetted against the walls or ceiling. I did not believe that “Christmas glitter” in the rug or floating in the air would explain the images, but I didn’t know what would.
About a month and a half later he wrote again and this time supplied the first good suggestion as to the source of the anomalous round images:
I have followed the experiments you suggested, as well as done a few of my own. I can definitely state that the (images) are the result of the illumination of dust particles in the air by camera flash. I was able to produce a (picture) image with hundreds of (round images) by having the kids run around for several minutes on an unvacuumed
carpet! Most of the dust particles seem to be intrafocal, although even those at greater distances can produce quite a convincing small (image). I borrowed a professional flash, which fires several times a second, and was amazed at just how much ‘junk’ is stirred up in the home environment by ordinary activity. I could see hundreds of quite
brilliantly-illuminated particles with my eyes. When I read the above I knew that what the correspondent said was perfectly logical. I already knew that reflective particles so tiny
that they could not normally be seen by the naked eye could make circular, defocused images if they were close enough to the lens. What I didn’t know was the nature of these particles. The correspondent supplied that answer.
By extension, one can infer that pollen grains and aerosol particles can also cause such images. These types of particulate matter are also floating in the atmosphere at various concentrations that depend
upon the geographic location, whether inside or outside a building, the time of year, the temperature, wind, etc. For example, near a wooded area small particles from plants and trees could float in the air at higher concentrations than in areas where there are no trees or plants. Fine dirt particles, such as from a road or dry, sandy area, can be stirred up by wind or human activities (automobiles) and could be suspended in the air for considerable amounts of time and be transported over considerable distances. This could explain the geographic dependence of the phenomenon. Of course the photographer would not normally notice these particles during the time of the flash because the photographer would be looking through the viewfinder. Even with a single lens reflex camera (that allows the photographer to look through the lens) the photographer would not see the particles during the time of the flash because the “reflex
mirror” within the camera moves to a location that blocks the view through the camera while the photo is being taken.
After reading what my correspondent wrote I decided to carry out my own experiments. In order to show how an amomolous source  is far from the camera lens. If one were to assume that the image was actually caused by an object on the far side of the structure, about 20 feet away, then one could calculate that the object was several inches in diameter. However, the object which caused that image was actually only a dust grain close to the camera and the apparent blockage of the image by the structure is an illusion. The faint bluish image can be seen at the right side of the vertical support of the arch because it is silhouetted against perfect blackness. The portion of the circular image that overlaps the structural member cannot be detected because its low brightness was overwhelmed by that of the structure.


Generally one can say that the closer the spheres, the larger and brighter are the images. This is to be expected although I have not been able to determine a quantitative relationship. Qualitatively one knows that the refleted light that reaches the film plane and makes an image is proportional to the illumination reaching the object
(which depends upon the optical power output of the flash multiplied by the “radiation pattern” factor), to the reflectivity of the object, to area of the lens aperture and to the inverse fourth power of the distance (just as with radar – inverse square out t the target
and inverse square back to the receiver). The inverse fourth power with distance means that the image brightness (actually the image exposure, which is the product of the optical power per unit area within the image multiplied by the exposure time) changes rapidly with distance of the reflective object. On the other hand, the image size also decreases with increasing distance, almost in the inverse proportional to distance (even though the object is too close for to be focused) so the image area is approximately proportional to the inverse square of the distance. Therefore the combination of the
inverse fourth power decrease of illumination on the image with the inverse square shrinkage of the image area means that the exposure (proportional to the power per unit area) decreases only as the inverse square of the distance. However, distance alone does not explain the brightness variation. The image brightness is also affected by the object size and this means that a collection of different sized objects all at the same
distance will make images approximately the same size but differing considerably in brightness. The size dependence of the brightness occurs because the amount of light reflected by one of these tiny objects is proportional to its “cross-sectional area,” that is, to its diameter squared. In the case of these glass spheres there was a wide range in diameters and hence a wide range in image brightness even for spheres at nominally the same distance.


The shape of an image of a moving object is determined by the object shape itself as modified by motion during the exposure time. Hence, if a perfectly circular light or steady intensity moved in a straight line a distance 3 times its own diameter during the exposure time the resulting image would be elongated, 4 times as long as it is wide,
with rounded ends.(Why not 3 times its own width? Draw a circle on a piece of paper. It has some diameter, d. Now imagine sliding the circle to the right by the distance d, and then another distance d and then once more. Now measure the distance from the far left to the far right boundary. It is d + md, where m is the number of displacements.) In the case of a constantly moving object with a constant velocity v perpendicular to the line of sight the length of the image is d + vt. (In the previous example vt was 3 times the diameter, 3d, so we had d+3d = 4d.) (In the more general case the length of the image is the integral of the component of velocity perpendicular to the sighting line over the time of the exposure.) Clearly the shorter the exposure time the smaller the motion “smear.” In order to determine how much of the image shape might be due to motion it is necessary to know the exposure duration. This duration is determined by the shutter during ordinary non-flash photography and by the flash duration when a flash is used.
For the recyclable camera the flash intensity reached its peak very, very quickly (about 30 microseconds) and then the flash brightness decayed (approximately exponentially) over the next millisecond. The effective duration of the flash was about 300-500 microseconds (depending upon how one wants to quantitatively define “effective duration”). When photos are taken in the dark the only source of light is the flash and hence the flash duration determines the exposure time. (In normal non-flash daylight shots the shutter determines the exposure time.) This is an “effective shutter time” of 1/2000 to 1/3000 of a second. An object moving several meters per second or millimeters per millisecond will be quite effectively “stopped” in its motion by such a short shutter. By “stopping the motion” is meant having such a short exposure that
the image hardly moves during the exposure. For example, if a tiny object were to move perpendicular to the line of sight at 1 meter per second at a distance of 10 cm from the camera lens its angular rate would be (100 cm/sec)/(10 cm) = 10 rad/sec. For a 3 cm focal length this transfers to an image velocity of 30 cm/sec. In 1/3000 of a second the image would move 30 x (1/3000) = 0.01 cm = 0.1 mm. At the same time, these experiments suggest that the image diameter for a tiny object 10 cm from the lens (of the recyclable type of camera) would be a bit over 1 mm (see above). Hence the motion smear would be a small fraction of the image size and the image would be nearly
circular. Objects moving more slowly than 1 m sec or objects at greater distance would create even less smear. (However, objects at greater distance also make smaller images so for constant sized objects at the same velocity but at varying distances the percentage of the image which is smear could be constant.) In the case of the glass spheres used in these experiments the velocities were in the range of several to ten centimeters per second rather than a meter per second so the motion smear is not detectable.

With so much contradictory evidence available and considering the fact that orb photography was all but unknown before the advent of digital cameras the only safe procedure when dealing with orb photographs is to consider all orb photos suspect until and unless proven otherwise beyond any question or doubt by the elimination of any possible error, flaw or defect at any stage of the photographic process. With orb photography all possible efforts should be made to eliminate any and all naturally occurring conditions that would produce the anomaly before assuming that it even could be paranormal in nature.


Investigation Procedures: Analysis of Paranormal Activity (Part 4 of 5)

Any paranormal investigation is only as good as the data collected and how well it is analyzed.  Some groups do a lot of their analysis on location as it happens, such as Discovery Channel’s Ghost Lab.  This has a lot of advantages in that you can quickly determine a course of action, or an area of higher priority.  You can also readily debunk claims by being able to recreate activity while still on the site.  If you get a shadow figure you can quickly refute or substantiate it by recreating it in the very location at the same time and with the exact same environmental factors still in play.  The down side to this is that if you’re spending all your time analyzing the data as you collect it, you’re lengthening the investigation cycles and the potential for missing activity increases.  Find a happy medium ground and maybe mix it up with a little on-the-fly and a little post-investigation analysis.  Do what works best for you and your team.

Personally, I think it’s advantageous to wait until after the group has had a good amount of rest but do NOT put off analysis for a few days.  After a good rest, assemble your analysis team and go over things as soon as you all wake up and eat immediately following investigation.  You’re refreshed, alert, and your tummies are full.  You’re able to scrutinize what is in front of you while still having the experiences very fresh in your memory and all team members are present for questions and clarification.

Split the data up between several group members and go through everything together.  That way if something anomalous turns up it can be immediately reviewed by the others as to its validity and provides a sounding board for bouncing opinions and reactions off of each other.

It helps to have members who have technical knowledge or skill in key areas.  I have psychology training and knowledge and can lend opinions related to the psychology of perception; another member of ours is a forensic profiler for the courts and a skilled professional photographer.  These are just some examples of the kinds of members who can be an asset to your investigations.  If you don’t have such membership then you may want to present your findings to reputable experts before presenting your final report to your client.  Follow up with professional video and filmmakers, photographers, physicists, geologists, and psychologists, for example.  To be honest, even if your crack team does have superior knowledge and skills, it’s always wise to send the data off to third-party experts for an unbiased second opinion.

Save all raw data files, be it audio, video, or photo in a secure backup location!  I can’t stress this enough, as I know first hand the disappointment of losing valuable data.                 Put all raw, original data files on a large server and work with copies on individual computers.  This ensures that the original is safe in case your conclusions are questioned.  Remember to manipulate COPIES ONLY when analyzing them and save anomalous findings in a separate folder.

With photos you’ll want to import them into a computer and view them on a large screen.  Be aware of the matrixing effect and go through each one to look for differences in lighting, shades, and shadows consistent with a vortex, apparition, or various other paranormal activity.  Using the hundreds of tools available in programs like Photoshop, increase levels and clear up the image as best you can by adjusting for light, contrast, and color balance.  Be careful not to adjust a picture in such a way that you artificially create the activity you’re looking for.  Any professional photographer out there with expert-level knowledge of Photoshop can slam your claims.  The most important thing is to differentiate between reflections and objects that are emitting their own light.  Look at how lights and shadows are affected by the objects in question and their positions three dimensionally.   Light bends around objects, not hover in mid air.

Next are the audio and video recordings.  A photo is a photo- look away for a moment and it won’t change.  Unlike photographs, audio and video must be highly scrutinized and paid attention too; if you are distracted by any means you may miss that fleeting apparition or otherwise ghostly encounter.  A glance away from the screen or drowsiness could result in you concluding there was no evidence when one of the field’s best verifications is sitting on your hard drive unaccounted for because you were too tired or lazy to see it.

When listening to audio for possible EVPs use noise cancelling headphones that effectively remove other noises from the room you are in.  Turn the volume up to a reasonable level as to clearly and accurately listen but not result in a burst ear drum.  Too loud is as ineffective as too low.

Effective EVP analysis is something of a special skill that is developed with practice.  The more you do it and recognize sounds and effects, the better you’ll become, and the more accurate your findings will be.  Listen to everything, even long periods where no one is conducting an EVP session.  Just because no one in the group is asking questions doesn’t mean the spirit isn’t asking his own questions or making a statement.  Listen for whispers, words, sounds, taps, and bangs.  When specific questions are asked listen for intelligent answers.  Listen to everything in the context of what is going on at the time of the recording- the conversations between team members, a neighborhood dog barking, cars driving by, or various other factors.  Again, this is where time stamping is if importance.  If you do have something that is agreed upon by the analysis team to be worthy of further analysis, save a copy for later study.

Most digital recorders these days come with bundled software to listen to your audio.  If you’re lucky it’ll be a robust program that has hundreds of tools to bend, pitch, clean up, and adjust the volume of audio samples.

Personally I use Nero’s Wave Editor.  The tool kit in this program is simply amazing.  With this you can see a visual representation of the file with spikes indicating verified sound.  You can adjust for noise reduction, hums, hisses, and clicks.  You can also adjust volume.  One of the best EVPs I ever caught might have been missed because the word was said so softly it was almost overlooked.  Once the volume was increased it was clearly a direct answer to a specific question!  EVPs are among the most spine-chilling but awe-inspiring evidence of paranormal contact.

When looking over video you not only have sound to pay attention to but the visual happenings as well.  Just as with photographs, use a large monitor but not so large that you’re darting around trying to watch everything.  A 15-19 inch screen works just fine.  Look for light and shadow effects, objects in the environment being affected by unknown means, strange glitches in the video and defined shapes.  That glitch most probably is interference from other equipment but it could also be the manipulation of an entity.  This is where the IR motion detectors pay their cost.  Suppose the room you’re watching has an object move apparently on its own.  If the motion sensor guarding the room is not tripped then you truly have something paranormal.  Is it a ghost or spirit?  Only further analysis will tell, but it is definitely not an easily explainable event.

After you’ve gone over all the data hopefully you will have something worthwhile to report back to the client with.  Even if you don’t, it doesn’t mean a failure for the investigation.  All investigations are a gamble.  Sometimes you catch good evidence but most of the time it turns up no valid results whatsoever as far as evidence goes but each investigation is a learning experience and that has no price tag.  Also the client may be comforted by the fact nothing paranormal was going on and whatever logical, natural explanations you may have for the events in the house could put them at ease.  If substantial evidence is found it can also comfort the clients.  When friends and family give them a crooked eye they can present professional proof to support their claims.

Quality analysis comes from fair, grounded, unbiased attention to detail and hinges on the knowledge and experience of the collectors and those who go over the results.  All of these things come with honest, serious practice.  Even the most skilled investigators should still seek second opinions.  So don’t get too over-excited or discouraged.  Be diligent and keep at it.  Even I am always learning something new.

Next month we will wrap up this series with the final component of investigation procedures- The Reveal & Follow Up.  Until then, Happy Thanksgiving from yours truly.  Next month is also special because it’s the first anniversary of Across the Great Divide.  I have had an amazing and fun year providing you with, what I hope, is an enjoyable and educational romp through the world of paranormal research.


The word poltergeist comes from the German word poltern meaning rumble or noise and geist meaning ghost or spirit.  These noisy spirits are known to cause trouble. They are characterized by their ability to move stationary objects such as furniture. Some may report hearing knocking or scratching sounds. They have even been known to write notes and at times cause physical harm by hitting or slapping whoever occupies the “haunted” location.  There are rare reports of actually seeing the source of the poltergeist activity and there are two main theories of why and how this activity occurs.

The first theory is that it is a ghost that has such a high level of energy it is able to move objects, cause noises, and make themselves known.  The other theory is that this is an example of psychokinesis, or the ability to move objects generated by energy in the brain. This raises the debate if poltergeists are really a paranormal occurrence or not.  Below are two cases, one example of the activity being caused by a spirits high energy and another that discusses the high emotional state of a human as the source of the activity.

Case #1; Danny; Al Cobb from Savannah Georgia bought a vintage 1800’s bed as a present for his teenage son Jason.  After about three nights Jason reported feeling as if someone were leaning on the pillow, watching him and that he could feel a cold breath.  The next night he noticed a picture of his grandparents turned face down, Jason sat the photo upright and the next morning the photo was moved once again. Later in the day, after returning to the room Jason noticed several toys moved to the center of the bed. Finally his parents began to take notice. Al decided to ask if there was a ghost present to reveal its name and age. He then left a piece of lined paper and a crayon on the bed.  The family returned several minutes later to find written on the paper in a child’s script the word Danny and the number seven.  Al encouraged the communication with the spirit and Danny continued to leave notes. Danny explained that his mother had passed away in that bed in 1899 and he wanted to stay there with it; he also left a note warning “no one sleep in bed”.  Jason had moved out of the room but stretched out on the bed one day possibly to test that warning, and upon getting up a piece of wall décor flew across the room barely missing him.  Yet a spirit seemed to reveal itself as the source of the occurrences around the bed, a parapsychologist that studied the case argues it was the electromagnetic energy of the wall that the bed was moved to that caused a heightened psychic ability in Jason

Case  #2; Macomb; In 1948 in Macomb Illinois a teenage girl named Wanet Macneill was forced to move with her father to her uncle’s farm  after her parent’s bitter divorce.  Wanet was very emotionally disturbed and her emotions ran high.  Soon small fires began erupting all over the farm.  They began as small brown spots on the wallpaper and would soon burst into flames. This would happen day after day and the family began to keep pans and buckets around the house so water was readily available to extinguish the fires.  Neighbors would come to assist and witness the phenomena.  The fire chief was even called and decided to strip all of the wallpaper.  Soon they witnessed the brown spots appear on the bare wall and burst into flames.  The fires began to ignite in several other rooms as well as the porch. In one week over 200 fires broke out and finally claimed the entire house.  Other areas of the farm including the barn began to suffer the same fate.   The fire marshal questioned Wanet and came to the conclusion that she was starting the fires with matches when no one was looking, which pleased the authorities, but several witnesses refused to believe this since they had witnessed the fires erupt without any form of heat or fire such as a match.  Many believed that because Wanet was so unhappy with the living situation, she was causing the fires with the kinetic energy of her mind.

There will always be the debate if this activity is spiritual or scientific. There are several reported cases and the source is always controversial.  Yet this activity will always remain in a category of its own due to the intensity of the cases and the emotions involved.


Science and Psychics- The Tech of Paranormal Research

Most of the intellectual rhetoric thrown back and forth between skeptics and parapsychologists concerns the types of tools used during investigations; sometimes even those within the field of psychical research will argue among themselves for or against certain techniques and tools.

Since the field is one which attempts to quantify and classify phenomena that are, by definition, cultural, religious, and fundamentally unknown, it is somewhat acceptable to utilize devices and techniques of a more “mystical” nature. Many times the use of arcane devices and psychics can help lead the team to an area of interest or heightened activity, and sometimes even actual contact with the netherworld.

Once these devices or techniques have pointed the way to the presence of activity, the seasoned researcher will switch to more scientific instruments to document any possible activity. Unfortunately, the truth is that at the end of the day it doesn’t matter what kind of personal experiences, thoughts, feelings, intuitions, or psychic imagery is collected, or by whom- if it can’t be verified or quantified through impartial scientific measurement and documentation, then it technically never happened and just becomes yet another account in the mythos of a location’s “ghost stories.”

Tools have been modified or adopted from various sciences and applications over the years to measure and analyze data in a paranormal investigation. Some devices are used specifically to debunk phenomena and establish clear natural causes; while others have the purpose of capturing evidence- such as voice and video recorders. EMF detectors have a unique function of being used both for the debunking and the signifying of paranormal activity.

However, regardless of how expensive or scientific the tools, they are only as scientific as the person using it; a team may boast about owning the most sophisticated thermometer available, but if members are using it as a barometer, the measurements are worthless; Just as using a calculator doesn’t make you a mathematician, using a Geiger counter doesn’t make you a scientist. In the wrong hands the most accurate measurement device is nothing more than an expensive toy.

All paranormal research groups have their own unique procedures and instruments of choice. Some are religiously-based and use age-old tools and techniques; some consider themselves ultra-modern and use only the most expensive and scientific of equipment. Most groups, however, fall somewhere in the middle; and the tools, techniques, and even the very members come from a vast array of backgrounds, philosophies, and religions. The make-up of these groups and the tools they use are contingent on finances, personal preference, and practicality.

We’re all familiar with EMF detectors, and I’ve gone over at length the ins and outs of video and audio equipment; but as I mentioned earlier, some of these tools are of a more arcane nature and we’ll focus on that this time around.

The use of dowsing rods for various functions goes back thousands of years. They have been used to find water in new settlements, material objects, fortune telling, and various religious applications. Essentially, a pair of L-shaped metal rods made of brass or lightweight metal are held loosely in each hand and will remain straight or static during normal conditions, but when in the presence of paranormal activity they will begin to move erratically or cross when directly over, near, or in direct contact with paranormal activity. Interestingly, during the Vietnam War, U.S. Marines even used dowsing to locate weapons and tunnels.

Traditionally, the divining rod was a Y-shaped branch from a tree or bush. Different cultures preferred the branches come from particular trees- hazel twigs in Europe and witch-hazel in the United States. Branches from willow or peach trees are also common. Both skeptics and many of dowsing’s supporters believe that dowsing apparatus have no special powers, but merely amplify unnoticeable movements of the hands resulting from the expectations of the dowser. This psychological phenomenon is known as the ideomotor effect and boils down to basic mind over matter. Your mind is signaling the muscles in your body to make subtle movements that are unnoticeable to the naked eye. Some supporters agree with this explanation, but insist that the dowser has sensitivity to the environment; other dowsers say their powers are paranormal.

The American Society of Dowsers admits that “the reasons the procedures work are entirely unknown.”

Research focusing on possible physical or geophysical explanations for dowsing has been conducted in recent years. For example, Russian geologists have made claims for the abilities of dowsers, which are difficult to account for in terms of the reception of normal sensory cues. Some authors suggest that these abilities may be explained by postulating human sensitivity to small magnetic field gradient changes. One study had even concluded that dowsers “respond” to a 60 Hz electromagnetic field, but this response does not occur if the kidney area or head are shielded.

Whatever the evidence for or against, dowsing will undoubtedly continue to be used in the course of investigations. Those that swear by their results will present evidence to support their claims, and skeptics will chuckle at the “superstitions of ages past.”

Another example of this type of tool is the pendulum. A pendulum is a small dowsing tool composed of a dangling crystal or metal plumb which is used to answer questions or find things through psychic energies. Answers are determined by the direction of movement to preset variables; the most common formation is back and forth for yes, circular for no. Pendulums are used in much the same way as dowsing rods and similar to function and result. Due to its design of both answering specific questions and ability to detect or be affected by paranormal activity, the pendulum can be considered a hybrid between the centuries-old dowsing rod and the Ouija Board of Spiritualist fame. Skeptics also point out the high probability of the ideomotor effect.

One device I have to mention, as it’s come up in conversation a lot lately, is called the Ovilus.

This odd gadget blends the psychic and the scientific into an all-in-one tool- an EMF, audio recorder, dowsing rod, and K-II that turns EMF into phonetic speech by translating the readings into numbers, and those numbers into words, sounding them out using text-to-speech algorithms via a vocabulary of 512 words.  Various modes include speech mode, using the environment to pick the words to say; phonetic mode, using the environment to create words phonetically; commutation mode, using speech mode and phonetic mode together, EMF Mode; yes/no mode, to ask questions and get yes or no answers (a digital Ouija?); level mode, to watch the energy change in the environment; and dowsing mode, to work like a pair of dowsing rods.  It is equipped with something called the Paranormal Puck.  The Puck is designed to aid in paranormal research and meant to be the “center” of investigation.  A place to gather, log, track, and maintain the data it watermarks to prevent tampering.

Every time I try to justify this thing, all I can picture is Dug and the other dogs from Disney’s Up!

Users note that it can be “randomly repetitious” at times by stating selected words for every question asked and every environment investigated.

The first question that comes to mind is how can the inventor of this device possibly test the results?  Whatever formula they use to equate EM energy with words would have to start as an arbitrary guess.  It would then need to be tested repeatedly to verify the results.

In the end, the most important thing to take away from this is that whatever tools or techniques you or your group are using, as long as it is used correctly and truthfully then happy hunting.

So, dear readers, what kind of experiences have you had using these types of tools? As always, the floor is now yours. Please share.

© 2011 R. Wolf Baldassarro/Deep Forest Productions



“Paranormal Healing”

I’d like to tell a story that happened many, many moons ago when I was a wee little wolf cub.

When I was a child we went to Italy to visit family and we were staying in a house at the top of a mountain. A relative happened to be very ill for several days at the time with high fever to the point of delusions and was passed out from sheer exhaustion and medication.

It was a quiet night with only a few of us sleeping in the house when we heard voices and saw small lights coming from a very…very…old cemetery down the way from the house. As one would expect, the adults were a bit concerned with this and wondered who was down there and what was going on but no one would even entertain the idea of venturing out there to investigate- and I wouldn’t blame them!

The incident didn’t last long and we inferred that it was just my father and his brothers, as they had gone outside to talk some time earlier. With many a raised eyebrow everyone went to bed.

The next morning my father was asked what they were doing in the cemetery with flashlights. He had no idea what we were talking about and informed us that he and his brothers actually went into town and so they weren’t even there at the time! Let me make it clear that our family was the only one staying in the house and there were no other houses in the area because it was a brand new building development.

Here’s where it gets really interesting. Remember that sick relative?

He awoke in completely perfect health. No fever. No cough. Nothing. Over breakfast he asked who was singing last night.

Um…“What singing?!” we all asked.

He said that he woke up at one point during the night because he heard what sounded like angels singing.

So, my dear readers, what do you think happened here? A simple case of fever-induced delusion? Mind over matter? Spirits unsettled by the new construction in a centuries-old location? Or did angels really sing a song of health and wellbeing?


© 2013 R. Wolf Baldassarro/Deep Forest Productions

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