"And sometimes he's so nameless"

Ghosts, God and the Trouble With Ghosthunters.

Posted in atheism, Debunking myths, Paranormal, Religion by Chris Jensen Romer on April 3, 2012

Right, a quick post today, which will cheekily incorporate in the second half a re-post of some material I posted years ago on this very topic, because let’s face it, no one is going to click on a link to read another entry. Many of you know I have great respect for the sceptic writer/researcher Hayley Stevens, especially as she constantly manages to actually get out there and do real research, and to write more than I can. I put it down to my age – “it’s never how it used to be/what happened to all that energy?” Today Hayley has written an interesting piece on a site for young atheists, skeptics and freethinkers, The Heresy Club. I had to have a nose, despite being neither young, nor as it happens an atheist.

As usual Hayley’s article is excellent, well written and informative, and deals with real issues – an issue I care deeply about, the damage that poor research ethics in amateur ghost groups can do when they are let loose in private houses or even businesses and upset or scare people badly. Now I’m not going to quote Hayley’s article in full, because I want you to go read it for yourself. Do that now. No summary I give would be fair, because she makes several points.

However I am notoriously contrarian (freethinking?) so I’m going to disagree with one fundamental thing Hayley wrote, which is at the heart of the article for me, as an Anglican and a “ghosthunter” of sorts. She writes –

Looking back now, on those early years, I can see that the whole culture surrounding ghost hunting that I became involved with was a mish-mash of religious practices and beliefs that were all geared towards convincing the people involved that their very soul was in danger from evil at all times, and that invisible enemies were around us just waiting for us to mess up so that they could attack us psychically.

Now given in the past I have suggested that ghosthunting groups do sometimes take on the attributes of a religious group, and in fact enjoyed once a great discussion on the phone with Jeff Belanger where we talked about this, I can’t disagree too strongly. However, s always I’m going to raise issues.

Number one is the fact that in the sociology of religion defining what a religion or religious group is really proves difficult. Patriotism, political parties and ideologies, even perhaps scepticism or atheism are defined by some as having the same kind of principles involved, and hence “secular religions”. I don’t mean by this the people who used to turn up to sneer on Richard Dawkin’s forum and say “Atheism is a religion: he is your guru.” I’m talking about serious academic sociologists desperately trying to pin down what defines something as a religious behaviour. I happen to have spent a lot of my life as an academic studying religion: so I’m not going to get sidetracked in to a huge discussion of this, which would bore everyone. However it raises another point, which Alex Gabriel has already highlighted in the comments much better than I ever could! We can clearly see the Roman Catholic Church, or the CofE, or various other religions denominations are “religious” because of what they do and their detailed creeds. Yet those groups inpose really strict behavourial codes and ethical requirements on their members, and while I may claim to be an Anglican, many Anglicans might say “hey CJ you are not – you don’t go to Church enough/have shabby morals/dabble in the occult” or whatever. We know what these groups stand for – they are authoritarian in a real sense, and people who don’t do the “right” things get kicked out, or told they are “bad” members of the group.

Now some religions have very little in the way of formal dogmas, theology, doctrine and imposition. Hinduism is incredibly diverse, and hard for me to comprehend as a religion cos I’m used to this rather more authoritarian structure, but there are core beliefs, and social measures to ensure consistency of practice as far as I can see. Wicca is perhaps the best example of a theological anarchy – the various “wiccan denominations” have core theological beliefs, but those outsoide of the formal coven-structures, which in the 90’s I think though do not know comprised most of the self-proclaimed adherents of the Wiccan religion could believe an incredible diversity of things about the nature of the divine, afterlife, and karma etc. This “folk wicca” ran the risk of being mistaken for the coven traditions, and just because a complete loony did something vile in the name of the religion, well it was not in any way the fault of any other adherents of that faith. As Alex Gabriel wrote

“You hear a lot from New Agers and ecumenicals, don’t you, that the coercive and oppressive elements of religion are all from the institutional structures? But this is a brilliant example of how bad beliefs themselves can be oppressive.”

Yes I agree totally, well said Alex, and I’m no fan of heavy authoritarian religion, but I am painfully aware of the dangers posed by liberty of conscience. I absolutely hold the principle of freedom of religious belief and non-belief, but as anyone who knows me know I distinguish between beliefs and practices/behaviours. If a practice is illegal, and damaging to others, your freedom of belief does not make it right in my mind. Still we could disagree on this and still we are no closer to my actual issue with Hayley’s article.

Many ghosthunting groups do adopt a sort of “folk spiritualism”, and in some cases other religious beliefs, In the USA we see a lot of very religious ghosthunters – they often term themselves demonologists, and look at things in terms of a very religious paradigm, because the base culture there is profoundly religious compared with the UK. Yet in all my ghosthunting experience nearly none of the participants have been Christian believers, or held to any of the other mainstream faiths — with the exception of David Carter-Green, and on the social and academic side David Sivier. And in fact, belief in the paranormal does not seem to map well to what most people would see as “religious belief” in any way — in fact quite the opposite.

Now years ago I wrote a piece I consider one of the most important ton this blog, called “Are Education and Atheism Enemies of Reason”. The title was half joking half serious, but it’s so directly relevant to what we are talking about here i’m going to reproduce it before moving on to discuss the implications…

“The majority of Britons believe in heaven and life after death, new research suggests.” The BBC News story here is well worth reading, and shows some interesting things. Firstly we are a lot less sceptical about New Age ideas and certain fringe practices like astrology and tarot cards than we used to be – what Randi’s people categorize as “woo”. However we are more sceptical about certain aspects of the supernatural than a decade ago in 1998 – in short popular belief in the supernatural is constantly waxing and waning; I think I could have told you that. The popular culture of the 1970’s was far more sympathetic to parapsychology say than the 90’s were – and yet the 2000’s saw a sudden interest in Spiritualism connected with certain TV shows.

I have a rather heretical thought about ‘paranormal’ beliefs, and their relationship to atheism. I originally posed a question on Professor Dawkins forum as it was inspired by his show The Enemies of Reason. I am sure the Professor has better things to do than answer my questions though, (and he didn’t) and so I have revised it and asked it here.

I had been reading The Whys of a Philosophical Scrivener (1983) by noted mathematician, science writer and skeptic Martin Gardner. In 1976 Martin Gardner was a founder member of CSI(COP), which has done a great deal over the years in debunking paranormal claims and fighting the rise of superstition. Many readers of this blog may have his enjoyed his Fads & Fallacies In the Name of Science.

In Chapter 3 of The Whys of a Philosophical Scrivener – “Why I am not a Paranormalist” – Gardner mounts a blistering attack on superstition. It contains many of the themes touched in Dawkin’s The Enemies of Reason, and one curious disagreement.

Martin Gardner, 1983 wrote:

As always with such manias, causes are multiple: the decline of traditional religious beliefs among the better educated, the resurgence of Protestant Fundamentalism, disenchantment with science for creating a technology that is damaging the environment and building horrendous war weapons, increasingly poor quality of science instruction on all levels of schooling, and many other factors…

I found that first bit fascinating. Now Gardner is not Fundamentalist obviously, he is not a Christian, though he is a Fideist rejecting all special revelation, but remaining a theist. Like most scholars he sees Fundamentalism as arising recently (within the last century pretty much) and a bad thing– but he regards the “decline of traditional religious beliefs among the better educated” as a key factor in the rise of pseudo-science, cults and superstition?

It in no way justifies religious belief, but it is very interesting as a claim. OK, so I doubted. Gardner is a theist – he must be biased. What are his sources? Luckily he references them. It is the article Superstitions Old and New by William Sims Bainbridge and Rodney Stark in The Skeptical Inquirer, Volume 4, Summer 1980.

Gardner says they

…reported on their surveys of how beliefs in certain aspects of the current occult mania correlated with religious faith. They found people with no professed religion were the most inclined to believe in ESP and extraterrestrial UFOs. Paranormal cults were strongest in areas where the traditional churches were weakest.

Never trusting anyone’s opinions I have just been through the Sheep/Goat tests from my 1993 Paranormal Beliefs Survey of attendees at a lecture series in Cheltenham. The test used by the group was an early Sheep/Goat test which measured some religious claims as well as paranormal ones. Later we adopted the 1979 New Australian Sheep/Goat Test by Michael Thalbourne, but this earlier version suited my purposes. There were 83 respondents, and while I have not had time to perform a proper statistical test – the data is on stapled questionnaires, not in electronic format and it’s too late to type it all in tonight – there does appear to be a very strong correlation between non-belief in God and belief in UFOs as alien visitors, and between non-belief in Jesus as divine and belief in both ghosts & magic, to give a few examples. I recall now being once asked asked if many parapsychologists were Christian – and I said none at all that I knew of, they were all atheists. I have just looked at my “psychics” who I sometimes work with on testing – only one identifies as Spiritualist, two as atheist (Atheism is VERY common among Spiritualists following the example of Arthur Findlay – indeed Roll’s Campaign For Philosophical Freedom is an atheist organization which makes Dawkins look like a vicar) and seven “none”; six more are unclassifiable.

Not one professed belief in any “orthodox” faith. Now I’m sure Dawkins would regard my Anglicanism as just as much superstitious woo as does say crystal power, so this is a false distinction to him: but the evidence seems to suggest to me that the modern irrationalist supernaturalism is inversely related to traditional (non-fundamentalist) religious beliefs. I think whoever misquoted G.K. Chesterton was right, even if as is possible Chesterton never actually said it “when a man stops believing in God he does not believe in nothing: he believes in anything”. Correlation is not causality – and of course the better educated college students are more likely to believe in ghosts etc -

http://www.livescience.com/strangenews/060121_paranormal_poll.html

assuming the Skeptical Inquirer is cited correctly! So perhaps the increase in woo is just a by product of the decline of traditional religious belief, increased secularism and atheism, and better education? The evidence certainly seems to point that way???

I find this both interesting, amusing, and deeply ironic.

So I wrote a few years back, and I have discussed at length elsewhere the issues. What concerns me is that actually while Hayley as a rational sceptic may be an excellent investigator, “atheism” as a non-belief does not actually necessarily imply scepticism of any claim but the existence of a God. There are plenty of loony and not bright atheists, just as there are plenty of loony and thick as two short planks Christians out there. Furthermore, rationality does not always map to good personal ethics, as I think we all recognize, and even rational people make mistakes – though like the Christians who confess they are crap at it by definition (we are all sinners), they may spot the problem and be able to do something about it.

Still, it’s peoples right to believe what they like, and no one has a monopoly on how to investigate spooks etc, or say what we should believe. The actions/behaviours/practices which are damaging to others should however clearly be subject to scrutiny, and I’m absolutely in favour of higher ethical standards in the field. I just don’t think that religiosity, in the normal sense, is much to do with a lot of this — and I hope I have somehow made that point. Yes my personal research ethics may be terrible, as I often joke, but that stands completely independent of the actual religious framework I exist within (Church of England liberal, in case you wondered.)

So as Martin Gardner said, I think the decline of traditional religious belief may actually underlie, rather than be the opposite of, this explosion of popular ghosthunting. Still a great article by Hayley, and got me thinking as normal. Now I really must go do some work!

cj x

Ghosthunting with the League of Gentleman

Posted in Paranormal, Reviews and Past Events, Uninteresting to others whitterings about my life by Chris Jensen Romer on October 30, 2010

Back in the summer Becky and I went ghost hunting with some rather unusual chaps —  The League of Gentlemen.  We had an excellent night, and met the League – Pemberton, Dyson, Shearsmih and Gatiss — reunited for the first time in five years, and obviously really enjoying each others company and the bizarre situation, for we were guests of John Humphries at the Ancient Ram Inn. It is a bit Royston Vasey!

Strangely neither Becky or I thought to take a camera with us, or if we did neither os us took a photo, but anyway here is the Radio Four promotional shot.

League of Gentlemen at Ram Inn

League of Gentlemen at Ram Inn (c) Radio Four

Stephen Garner the producer made us very welcome, and we met Toni a medium who was a very interesting lady, and her colleague Phil a ghost hunter who had visited the Ram many times before. I kept quiet and out of the way most of the evening, though there was a discussion of wider issues in which I got caught up, so I do appear in the programme – I’m the boring bit!

Anyway if you are interested you can hear the broadcast here..

cj x

GSUK update

Posted in Paranormal, Reviews and Past Events, Uninteresting to others whitterings about my life by Chris Jensen Romer on March 9, 2010

I wrote this update for Facebook fans of my  little ghost research group, GSUK. I thought I may as well share it on my blog as well!

We maintain a quiet but social forum, and are always delighted to welcome new members. You can sign up here –

http://ghostlystayuk.myfreeforum.org/index.php

and it is the first place we announce new research or forthcoming events. Once you have signed up Becky or I have to approve you, so please do include an email – this is simply because we used to be besieged by SPAMbots who put some, er, interesting, links all over the forum!

If you have forgotten your password, just drop me a line at chrisjensenromer@hotmail.com and I’ll sort you out :)

Ye Olde Trip To Jerusalem game card

card design by Ed Woods - more on this another time!

If you are a fan of GSUK you may also be interested in another very famous and illustrious group – the SPR. Sign up to the facebook page here to see forthcoming events etc – http://www.facebook.com/pages/The-Society-for-Psychical-Research-SPR/295503008217?ref=search&sid=642030568.2925864055..1

or visit their website at http://www.spr.ac.uk/main/

So what have we been up to?

Becky completed the MSc course in Parapsychology at Coventry University – http://www.facebook.com/search/?q=MSc+Parapsychology&init=quick#!/pages/Coventry/Coventry-University-MSc-Parapsychology/109629113877?ref=search&sid=642030568.4198790475..1 – highly recommded if you have the time and money.

She is now working on a PhD in anomalous experiences based on looking at peoples strange happenning and so forth. Last summer she and I conducted a trial piece of research, which we are currently coding, with one very interesting result straight off — http://jerome23.wordpress.com/2010/03/08/charting-the-unknown-ghosts-memory-the-progress-of-time/

I have been busy writing reviews for The SPR (one is in the current issue of the Paranormal Review actually: Tricia Robertson on psychic surgery, a most fascinating talk) and i’m keeping up to date on the latest in parapsychology.

Becky and i are now officially an item – we still have not moved in together, so we are commuting between Derby and Cheltenham at weekends, so things are a bit hectic.

The Next Event

No dates yet, as i’m still trying to sort out the best location, and what exctly we want to try. Our ghost nights are always a bit “different”, but I’ll keep you updated!

cheers
cj x

Poltergeists

Posted in Paranormal, Science by Chris Jensen Romer on December 30, 2009

EDIT: If you are interested in Poltergeists you may wish to check out my other blog: POLTERWOTSIT

Yesterday (Halloween) Becky and I attended the SPR Study Day on Poltergeists. I won’t be writing a review for my blog as I have been asked to write a review for the SPR magazine The Paranormal Review but obviously the subject is one of considerable interest. I have been fascinated for nearly twenty years with Poltergeist/RSPK cases, and have participated in a number of investigations (one minor one is reported elsewhere in an earlier post on this blog). I have a very real interest in following up any case – those who feel they may be experiencing something of this nature are welcome to drop me an email at chrisjensenromer@hotmail.com or you can contact the  SPR Spontaneous Cases committee.

Anyway while I won’t be writing directly about the fascinating insights from yesterday here, I thought a brief theoretical overview of the poltergeist phenomena would make a great blog post, and was about to start work on one when I remembered that Becky wrote an essay on this for her MSc last year. Well I will edit it a biot to tweak it, and with her permission have simply reproduced it, with my own comments interspersed, below. I hope it proves of interest!  It’s a first for the blog to have something not written by me, but I think a healthy one. :) This version was not the final version of Becky’s assignment, but an earlier draft, but it is all I have to hand!

Introduction

The term poltergeist derives from an old German world which means ‘noisy ghost’ or ‘spirit’.  Although this term is now rarely used in Germany it has become a common term in English.  [CJ: ‘Polter’ meaning to make a noise was also a 19th century Suffolk dialect term, probably adopted from the Dutch; so I am not sure if the words etymology may not be English — but as far as I am ware the first usage in English was  Catherine Crowe’s The Night Side of Nature, published in 1848. The term ‘hobgoblin’ or just plain ‘ghost’ was in common usage before this.)

This term suggests that poltergeist activity is caused by the spirit of a deceased person; however there are four main distinct theories for what causes poltergeist activity.  This essay will begin by looking the common features of poltergeist activity and then will briefly describe two well known poltergeist cases; Enfield (Playfair & Grosse 1977) and Cardiff (Fontana 1993).  It will then look at the first two theories of what poltergeist activity is, these being fraud and misinterpretation of natural phenomena. The second two theories; the Entity Hypothesis and Recurrent Spontaneous Psychokinesis (RSPK) will then be discussed as theories of poltergeists.

It will be argued that fraud and the misinterpretation of natural events may be able to explain a few cases of poltergeist activity but certainly cannot explain the majority of them, especially cases like Enfield and Cardiff.  It will also be argued that there appears to be evidence for both the Spirit Hypothesis and RSPK in some cases of poltergeist activity so rather than two separate theories a more appropriate theory may be a combination of the two.
When purportedly  paranormal activity is experienced in a house or other type of building this activity will be considered to be either place-centred or person centred.

The Symptoms of the Poltergeist

If the activity is place-centred this means that the activity is linked to the building; the occupants of the property can change and the activity will continue.  This would usually be called a haunting but may be classed by some as a poltergeist outbreak.  If the activity is person-centred this means the activity appears to be linked to a person and will follow this person to different properties; this is typical of poltergeist activity.  The person that the poltergeist activity is linked to is known as the focus and it has been found that the focus is often a young adolescent around the age of puberty who may be facing personal turmoil of some kind (Irwin, 2004; 158).

There are several different types of activity (“symptoms”) associated with poltergeists which include the movement of objects, noises, bite and scratch marks appearing on people, and water inundations (Gauld & Cornell, 1979).  One of the most common types of activity is the movement of objects which can include small objects such as keys, ornaments and cutlery and the movement of much larger objects such as wardrobes, beds and tables. [CJ: Called SOD, an acronym for Small Object Displacement - blame the ‘sodding’ poltergeist!]

Gauld and Cornell found that of all the poltergeist cases they looked at, 64% featured the movement of small objects and 36% featured the movement of larger objects.  Another common type of activity is noises which can include knocking, banging and scratching sounds.  Gauld and Cornell found that noises featured in about 50% of the cases they sampled.  15% of these cases featured the appearance of scratches or bite mark appearing on people’s bodies and the outbreak of numerous small fires featured in about 11% of cases, with some of these fires featuring objects that would normally seem to be incombustible.  Finally about 5% of these cases featured water inundations, which may include the unexplainable appearance of puddles of water. (CJ : Gauld and Cornell’s book remains the classic study, well worth acquiring). Another common feature is that most poltergeist outbreaks tend to be brief, lasting around two weeks to two months although some cases have been found to have lasted for more then a year (Irwin, 1994; 154).

The Enfield Poltergeist

One of the most famous British poltergeist cases is that of the Enfield Poltergeist (Playfair, 1980).  The activity at Enfield started on 31st August 1977 and lasted over a year, finally ending around the beginning of 1979.  The family who lived in the house at the time included Mrs Harper, Rose aged 13, Janet aged 11, Pete aged 10 and Jimmy aged 7.  The activity began when Pete and Janet reported that their beds were shaking, this was followed by shuffling sounds and knocking and then a heavy chest of drawers slid out of the bedroom on its own.  Activity experienced at Enfield included the movement of furniture and other objects (large and small), knocking, and the poltergeist developing a voice, all of which seemed to focus around Janet. Many other people witnessed the activity at Enfield including the Harpers neighbours, the police, reporters and different types of investigators. (The case has been much discussed, and it must be noted that a minority group of the SPR investigators did not believe it to be of paranormal origin – a position Maurice Grosse and Guy Lyon Playfair heartily contest.)

The Cardiff Responsive Poltergeist

Another well known British poltergeist case is the Cardiff poltergeist which was investigated by David Fontana over a period of two years from June 1989 to early 1992 (Fontana, 2006; 64-80).  This case involved mostly stone throwing and some movement of objects in a lawnmower repair shop and adjoining garden accessory shop.  As well as the owner John, four other middle-aged people were closely involved with the case; Pat John’s wife, Paul Pat’s brother, Paul’s wife and a business associate who worked with John in the workshop.  Activity was also witnessed by visiting salesman and acquaintances of John and Pat’s family. We will refer back to both these classic modern cases in the following discussion.

Theories of the Poltergeist

There are four main theories for what causes poltergeist activity.  These are fraud, misinterpretation of natural causes, The Spirit Hypothesis and Subconscious Psychokinesis or Recurrent Spontaneous Psychokinesis (RSPK).  Each of these theories will be addressed in turn.
The first of these theories, that is fraud, holds that poltergeist activity is simply childish pranks (Irwin, 2004; 156) or deliberate hoaxing.  When you consider that poltergeist activity is often associated with adolescent children it would suggest that children playing tricks may be a possible explanation, however if you actually look at some of the activity supposedly experienced if accurately reported fraud cannot account for this.  In the Enfield case one occurrence particularly astounded the family and investigators (Playfair, 2004; 66-67).  In the bedroom where the family was sleeping there was a gas fire that was cemented into the brickwork of the building.  One morning while the family were still in bed there was a violent shaking sound that caused panic in the bedroom.  When Playfair reached the room he discovered that the gas fire had been wrenched from the wall, it was still attached to the half-inch pipe that connected it to the mains but this was now bent at a 32 degree angle.  When the investigators went to dismantle the gas fire they found it hard to move due to the weight of it.  It is therefore hard to believe that this kind of activity can be faked in any way; it would not be possible for Mrs Harper or any of the children present in the room to wrench out a gas fire that is concreted into the wall.
On another occasion a researcher called David Robertson was experimenting with trying to get Janet to levitate (which she claimed to have done before) by bouncing on the bed.  On one attempt Janet exclaimed ‘I been through the wall’ meaning she had passed through the wall into the bedroom of the house next door.  To test whether Janet may have actually passed through solid matter David gave her a large red cushion from the living room and asked the poltergeist to make it disappear.  Before he had even left the room Janet called out and the cushion had disappeared.  Janet said she had thrown it at the closed window to see what would happen and it had gone through and gone onto the roof.  Playfair tried to get the cushion on to the roof to see if this could be done.  He found to begin with that the window was hard to get open and then he had to lean out dangerously far and reach up as far as he could to get the cushion on the roof.  He did manage this but nearly fell out of the window doing this.  In the amount of time Janet had before calling out and taking into account Janet’s size compared to a grown man it is inconceivable that Janet would have been able to open the window and get the cushion onto the roof.

Fraud and Misinterpretation

While some poltergeist cases can be explained by fraud, Gauld and Cornell found that 8% of the 500 cases they looked at involved total or partial trickery, this certainly cannot explain the majority of cases, especially those featuring activity that is currently beyond known human capabilities. A stronger possibility is that poltergeist activity is misinterpretation of natural events.  Whereas the fraud theory states that poltergeist activity is deliberately faked this theory states that it is genuine misinterpretation.  This means that noises or movement of objects is caused by vibrations from small earthquakes, the movement of water through underground streams or subsidence (GW Lambert, 1956).  Cornell and Gauld looked at whether these natural events would be able to produce the kind of object movement featured in poltergeist cases by measuring the vibrations needed to produce this movement and comparing this to the vibrations produced by these events.  They looked at the movement of an object in contact with a wall 6ft above the ground which is thrown a distance of 6ft and 9ft, an object in contact with a wall 3ft above the ground which is thrown 6ft and 9ft, a stone being thrown from the floor of a room to a ceiling 12ft high and a teacup flying from a table.  They found that the vibrations produced by natural events were far too weak to produce the sort of object movement under consideration and in fact an earthquake would substantially damage a building before this type of movement could be produced.  Therefore it would be obvious that this type of movement was being caused by natural events because anybody in the building would be able to feel the earth movement and the building may well fall down around them.
As well as not being able to explain the sort of movement considered above these natural events will not be able to explain other activity such as water inundations, fires, apports and the substantial movement of much large objects such as tables being overturned.

The Entity Hypothesis

Two theories are the most supported by researchers into the poltergeist phenomenon.  The first of these is the Entity Hypothesis which states that poltergeist activity is caused by an entity, possibly the spirit of a deceased person.  This theory appears suitable to explain poltergeist cases that are place-centred, as the activity is not linked to a particular person, and those that seem to display a level of intelligence.  This would appear to be the best theory to explain the Cardiff poltergeist.  Towards the end of the activity one of the people most closely involved with the case started to see an apparition of a young boy within the workshop, therefore it may be assumed that this was an apparition of the spirit that was causing the stone throwing activity.  The activity at Cardiff also showed evidence of intelligence.  Sometimes after unlocking the premises and entering the kitchen they would find that there had been attempts to lay out cutlery on the table as if ready for a meal.  One day John decided to test whether somebody in the workshop was responsible and so after closing they sat with their hands visible on the counter and the stone throwing continued.  A suggestion was made to request for certain tools to be bought to them.  Each time they requested a tool this appeared in front of them appearing to drop down from the ceiling and John commented he would not have been able to find the tool that quickly himself in the workshop.  A common feature of poltergeist phenomenon is that when objects move they appear to travel as if being carried; they appear to be lifted, carried in a straight line and then are placed down again or drop straight down as if they have been released.  The stone throwing in the Cardiff case does not appear to follow this type of movement, however one day John placed an object on the far side of the workshop and attempted to hit it with stones.   After unsuccessfully being able to hit the object John called out for Pete to hit it which he immediately did.  Therefore although the stones in the workshop appear to be thrown and not carried Pete was able to accurately hit an object that Fontana and John were unable to hit. It appears that Pete would attempt to be helpful, was able to respond intelligently to requests and would join in games and be able to beat the people in the workshop.  As will be discussed shortly this level of intelligence would appear unlikely if RSPK is responsible for poltergeist activity.

Recurrent Spontaneous Psychokinesis (RSPK)

Those that do not believe in life after death or the existence of spirits or that just do not believe that spirits are responsible for poltergeist activity may instead support the theory of Recurrent Spontaneous Psychokinesis (RSPK).  The theory of RSPK says that poltergeist activity is the result of the unconscious use of psychokinesis (PK) as a way of releasing psychological tension (Irwin, 1994; 158).  Psychokinesis means ‘movement by the mind’ and involves the movement or alteration of an object without any direct contact with the object (Irwin, 1994; 6).  The theory of RSPK supports a claimed common factor in poltergeist activity, which is that a child around the age of puberty is usually the focus of the activity.  Around this age children may experience a lot of psychological tension because their bodies are changing and they are facing become an adult and if this tension builds and this cannot be released through normal means this may result in a psychological release of PK.  This release of PK may result in the movement of objects or other possible effects around the focus.

Returning to Enfield at first Janet appears to be the focus of the poltergeist activity and indeed she reached puberty and started her periods during the outbreak.  However a lot of factors in this case also appear to suggest that the activity may have been caused by a spirit.  The poltergeist developed a voice, which appeared to be linked to Janet as it would only speak when nobody was watching her, however the voice claimed to have lived in the house and to have died downstairs in a chair.  Later when Janet was sent away from the house, although some activity did follow her activity also still continued at the house and while Janet was away an apparition of a man was seen in the living room.

It appears that although RSPK may explain some aspects of poltergeist activity such as the association with adolescents around the age of puberty that the activity seems to focus around this may not be able to account for other aspects of poltergeist activity.  Very little is known about what PK actually is and even less is known about how to try and control it.  As mentioned previously a common feature of poltergeist activity is that when objects move they appear to be lifted and carried; would it be possible for an object to be moved in such a controlled way by unconscious PK.  Unfortunately not enough is known about PK to be able to say whether this would be possible or not, although it appears if the PK involved is unconscious it would not be possible for it to be that controlled.  Would this unconscious PK also be strong enough to move larger objects such as the fireplace that was wrenched from the wall in Enfield and could this explain other activity such as fires and water inundations.  It appears that trying to explain poltergeist activity with RSPK is currently using one unexplained phenomenon to try and explain another unexplained phenomenon.

Combined Approaches

A suitable explanation may be a combination of the two theories.  It may be that spirits are responsible for poltergeist activity but the build up of tension within adolescents provides useful energy for the poltergeist to use and therefore they become the focus of the activity.  The existence of a spirit causing the activity would explain the intelligent nature of the activity when at first it would appear that the activity is originating from the focus as subconscious and probably uncontrollable PK.

While fraud and misinterpretation of natural causes can explain a few probably very simple poltergeist cases these theories certainly can’t explain the best cases in the literature.  The Entity Hypothesis seems to be most appropriate for the Cardiff poltergeist case because the activity displayed a level of intelligence that might not be expected with RSPK, and sightings of an apparition were reported during the outbreak.  Although RSPK at first seems to be the most appropriate theory for Enfield because the activity appears to focus around Janet, on closer inspection of the activity experiences and as an apparition is also sighted this case appears to contain aspects of both theories. At this stage we simply can not tell if psi or entities underlie the poltergeist.

_________________

Elliot O’Donnell 1872-1965: the first great ghosthunter?

Posted in Paranormal by Chris Jensen Romer on September 19, 2009

It’s hard to believe it is fourteen years since I wrote this piece, and it reflects my  ideas at that time. I have however, with some embarrassment as some of my ideas have changed, reproduced it here. I hope it may amuse, and furthermore it will not offend!

Elliot O’Donnell was an extraordinary man, perhaps the first of the great media star ghost-hunters. His fame has been largely eclipsed by Harry Price  yet he was in his day a household name on both sides of the Atlantic. His fifty plus books are still reissued today; no-one has ever managed to create a complete bibliography of his prolific works and there is no biography, (as of writing in 1995, see the wikipedia article for a partial list), but his methods did much to inform modern ghosthunting, for better, and for worse.

the cover of werwolves by Elliot O Donnell

the cover of werwolves by Elliot O Donnell

Born in 1872 in Bristol, O’Donnell’s first psychic experience was purportedly at the age of five when he encountered an ‘elemental spirit’. Terrified of ghosts and the dark, he grew up a nervous yet energetic child, intensely proud of his claimed descent from a noble Irish clan, and the family banshee (a banshee is a death-omen spirit whose wail heralds the passing of a clan member).

He was educated at Clifton College in Bristol, and then at the Queen’s Service Academy in Dublin where he claimed to be involved in another supernatural struggle, this time with a spectral strangler! On graduation he went to America, where he was a rancher in Oregon and collected tales of ghosts in the New World. By 1894 he had left the ranch and was working as a policeman in Chicago during the great railroad strikes and labour unrest. The brutality of the suppression of the strikes, the Haymarket Bomb outrage and the anarchist and IWW provide a colourful backdrop for a colourful character.

O’Donnell was by nature a raconteur; it is unsurprising that he found employment as a freelance journalist in both San Francisco and New York. Well so he would have us believe, for with O’Donnell it is hard to know exactly what to believe, and it may well be that some of his American exploits are as fictitious as his later ghost stories! By 1900 he seems to have returned to England, and taken up a career as a schoolmaster. This was merely however a means of support as he trained as an actor, and he soon left teaching to join a traveling repertory company.

Eventually he settled in St. Ives, Cornwall, and there wrote his first occult novel For Satan’s Sake which was published in 1905. Then O’Donnell struck upon the idea that was to make him famous – he would become a ghost-hunter! He had a few previous figures to model himself upon; the early SPR, already over twenty years old, and other collections of ghost stories (by folklorists such as Andrew Lang). Elliot collected stories, visited haunted houses, and pursued a distinguished career as an author, lecturer, playwright and broadcaster in both radio and later television. As previously stated O’Donnell was so prolific an author and writer of articles and columns that no-one has ever managed to create a definitive bibliography.

His books, primarily non-fiction, include his own experiences and those of a large number of his friends and acquaintances as well as famous stories from English ghost lore — such as the Berry Pomeroy castle White Lady. There is little doubt in the mind of any critical reader of O’Donnell that much of what he wrote has been, well, dramatized! Elliot was not a man to let the truth get in the way of a good story… (One wonders what he made of Harry Price?) EDIT: Some of his books are now available online through Project Guntenberg.

Should we therefore ignore O’Donnell? I feel not. There is almost certainly an element of truth underlying all his stories, and they afford fascinating glimpses into the beliefs in apparitions and folklore of a bygone age. Furthermore, he almost justifies himself, as when he wrote:-

‘Let me state plainly that I lay no claim to being what is termed a scientific psychical researcher. I am not a member of any august society that conducts it’s investigations of the other world, or worlds, with the test tube and weighing apparatus; neither do I pretend to be a medium or clairvoyant — I have never undertaken to “raise” ghosts at will for the sensation-seeker or the tourist. I am merely a ghost hunter. One who lays stake by his own eyes and senses; one who honestly believes he inherits in some the degree the faculty of psychic perceptiveness from a long line of Celtic ancestry; and who is, and always has been, deeply and genuinely interested in all questions relative to phantasms and a continuance of individual life after physical dissolution.’ (O’Donnell; 1964)

As the above quotation makes plain, O’Donnell believed his celtic heritage rendered him more ‘psychic’. It is interesting how common this belief that Romany and Celts are more ‘sensitive’ is. Is it a folk belief or is there some evidence for the assertion? The most likely reason why these races should be seen as imbued with greater psychism may lie in the binary opposition between Nature and Culture. The Celts and Romany are both geographically and socially marginalized within the British Isles; they are “Other”, and hence ascribed “other” values. They are also seen as “Ancient”; indeed the Celts are seen as almost aboriginal, and it is common to ascribe great wisdom to ethnically indigenous races, particularly if they are seen as closer to nature and natural rhythms and cycles – a notion of “the primitive” as “noble savage” which is potentially offensive.They are seen as aligned with Nature as opposed to Culture (by which I mean the “artificial constructs of civilisation”.) Their own culture (small ‘c’) is seen as natural, healthy, and spiritual. This seems to link with the post-Darwinian idea of progress and evolution. Could these races possess strange vestigial powers which have been lost to the rest of us in our struggle to become what we are? Victorian anthropologists noted that ‘primitive’ ( a value-laden term now thankfully obsolete) people quite commonly manifested psi-powers. Even if they did not possess them it was necessary for us to imbue them with them, giving them an Edenic existence and compensation for the excesses of the conqueror?

However if we are to consider Batcheldor’s idea of psi-resistance, by which we have an unconscious resistance to allowing ourselves to perform impossible psychic deeds, which may be overcome by certain methods, it becomes possible that a race or culture who believe they are psychic or allow for the possibility may become just that! They are “allowed” to, and it is simply not impossible or “satanic” to them. Religious folk and spiritualists who place responsibility for these manifestations on an exterior deity or spirit could theoretically also more easily break down this negative conditioning, and allow psi to manifest more easily, as could those who believe they have inherited “the Gift?”

There is no doubt that O’Donnell did not see things in this light. And why should he? The Celts themselves believed in their psychism; any suggestion that like the tragic association in Medieval Europe of money lending and the Jews the role of “psychic” was forced upon the Celts by outsiders he would have deeply  resented.  Eric Quigley and myself have recently completed (1995) a preliminary study of possible cultural traits in apparitional experiences in Britain. Amongst the oddities there reported are the fact that Scotland has a very high proportion of ghostly green ladies, and England prefers white or grey. Wales and Cornwall oddly enough follow the English distribution, with English Green Ladies mainly clustered in Lincolnshire. This research was suggested by our interest in Elliot O’Donnell. Does it tell us anything? Probably not!

What did O’Donnell make of the phantoms he purported to encounter? He classified them as belonging to one of four main groups:-

1, Recordings

Created by high emotion, O’Donnell believed that “recordings” could be created which embedded themselves in the ‘ether’ and which replayed from time to time when the conditions were right. Unlike most of the post-war ghosthunters O’Donnell believed in anniversary ghosts, and many of his phantoms manifest at midnight. The recording was just that — not technically a ghost but an apparition, a scene replaying rather than a self-aware conscious entity  (a ghost).  The recording theory remains extremely popular with the intelligent public, though increasingly psychical researchers are dismissive of it. Today the emphasis is often on the idea that silica, the very stones, can be recorded upon, following Kneale’s famous Stone Tape theory.

2. Thought Projection

O’Donnell cites several incidents where the ghost turned out to be the ‘astral double’ or projected thoughts of someone who was dreaming or thinking intensely of a place. One anecdote he gives is quite amusing in that it involves the Rev. Wynn Wescott, one of the founders of the  Order of The Golden Dawn who apparently appeared in the British Library when unable to keep an appointment, by doing so in spirit!

Today this form of telepathic communication or projection seems increasingly acceptable to some psychical researchers. Andrew Green gives a convincing case, and if we include crisis apparitions in this category the evidence is very strong. The SPR Census of Hallucinations found phantasms of the living more prolific than the spectral dead. Many ghosts may be nothing more than the wandering memories of living persons!?? (Edit: in 1995 when I wrote this I was unaware of how strong the theoretical framework for ghosts as telepathy was in the psychical research culture of the late 19th and early 20th century)

3. Ghosts of the Future

Not precognition as we usually understand it; or rather precognition manifesting in an apparitional framework. Here O’Donnell seemed to be closest to folklore; he cites several nights when visions of the future may be gained by certain charms or visiting supposedly haunted locations. These visions could be explained as the result of the attempts at scrying into the future breaking down resistance and allow precognition to manifest, or as the results of vivid imagination!

4. Elementals

One of the strangest things about O’Donnell’s experiences is the number of times he encountered what he termed Elementals. These were usually hideous half-human, half-bestial entities which almost always seem to be malevolent. He believed that many poltergeists fell into this category, and felt they could be drawn to a location, family, object or individual by sentimental attraction or hatred. These strange pagan manifestations seem like pre-Christian satyrs, dryads or nymphs. Often they form the genius loci or spirit of a place, and they are the monsters of Celtic mythology. O’Donnell suggested that some were the thought projections of nightmares; others he felt were independent alien entities, intruders from ‘outside’ or possibly ‘beyond death’.  Some of these entities could be profitably examined in terms of the new UFOlogy with its emphasis on psycho-social manifestations. (Edit: I think now that Arthur Machen’s fiction and the Celtic Twilight might give a better angle)

These are the major categories O’Donnell discusses. There remain two more which he implies and addresses from time to time. The first is the 5. Classic ghost -the surviving spirit of a deceased human being. He deals with several stories where the dead apparently manifest. The second is the 6. Death Omen- in O’Donnell we find a man who took the Banshee seriously, and his own family was haunted by one. Sadly we do not know if the banshee wailed before his own demise!

Throughout his life O’Donnell varied in his ideas as to what conditions were suitable for a haunting to occur.  In the 1920’s he believed the months of September and August were the best times, and that either heavy rainfall or still calm conditions were ideal. Later he was to write:-

“I have found little seeming consistency in hauntings relative to the weather, but that may be due to my wrong classification of the phenomena… The idea that apparently ghostly manifestaions occur on still, moonlit nights is as fallacious as it is to believe that they invariably occur at midnight, and never in daylight. In my experience they occur in any weather, at any hour, and in all seasons.”

O’Donnell was one of the founding fathers of the spontaneous case investigation. Always witty and with an eye for a good story, he foreshadows Harry Price, yet in an odd way seems devoid of the occasional arrogance of the latter. His stories almost always are resolved by a coda or tail-piece, which tells us who the ghost was and why it haunted, and their construction is too neat for modern parapsychology. Yet just because his testimony is unreliable is no reason to forget O’Donnell, and I believe much could be learned by an examination of his works.

As information about Elliot is so scarce I would welcome any personal reminiscences or O’Donnell related material that readers could supply. Please write to the ‘Comments’ address at the end of this article

The Bell and The Ram: Ghosthunting with GSUK

Posted in Paranormal, Uninteresting to others whitterings about my life by Chris Jensen Romer on July 13, 2009

I said I’d write something about the weekend, and i guess I should, but for anyone hoping for fantastic proof of the paranormal, look elsewhere! What follows is a short account of a weekend ghost hunt that was notably devoid of actual spooky happenings.

About GSUK

GSUK is a small psychical research group set up by Becky Smith and I after we stopped working for Richard Felix at Derby Gaol. It’s every much a group of friends, and we have a forum where we chat, occasionally talk about the paranormal and plan our low cost little ghost-tourism jaunts, where we go to supposedly haunted locations and stay a night, a lovely way to see the country. I can’t recall exactly how many trips we have done, but we have ranged all over the Midlands and South West of England, and our regulars do try to attend every single event, for which we are very grateful. Perhaps the most interesting thing about GSUK is just how little of a paranormal nature ever seems to happen to us – in all our trips, only on one have I been really convinced something very odd was afoot! So unlike many ghosthunting groups, we are spectacularly unsuccessful in our endeavours.

Stuffed bird in Ancient Ram - photo by Tony

Stuffed bird in Ancient Ram - photo by Tony

Another peculiarity of GSUK is the wide range of beliefs that members hold. A year or two back Becky and I got our folks to fill in Michael Thalbourne’s Australian Sheep/Goat survey, an instrument for testing belief in the paranormal. The majority of our members were actually extremely sceptical compared with the British public, and i was the second LEAST sceptical member of the group. Only one member counts as a strong “paranormal believer”. Yet we are convinced that the phenomena are worth investigating, and even Balders (Tony Robinson), our most sceptical member by far, is open minded enough to drive all over the country checking out the evidence for himself.

Even in religious beliefs we are diverse, ranging from Natalie Evans, our Wiccan-Spiritualist believer, through to the passionate atheists and then David Carter Green, David Sivier, Dawn Bedwell and myself, all practicing Christians. No, we don’t burn psychic believers at the stake – though if I could get away with it a few New Agers might make for a great open air barbecue! We are a tolerant bunch, often amused by each others ideas but we are good friends through shared experience I guess, even if the experience is limited to talking on a forum, eating together in nice hotels and wandering around looking for spooks! Anyway a great group of people, and we always welcome new people, as long as they are not loonies. :)

The Plan

Anyway there was not even time to advertise this one on Facebook, where GSUK has 60+ fans – we just mentioned it on the forum, and it filled up immediately. We had to turn people away for once, almost unheard of!  The plan was simple – make our way to the Old Bell, Long Street, Dursley, and book in, have a meal – the food there is simply wonderful, huge meals very reasonably priced, then drive down to the Ancient Ram Inn, Wotton-Under-Edge, stake it out till the early hours then return to the hotel in Dursley where people could sleep or sit up and look for ghosts as the mood took them.  As the Old Bell is very reasonably priced, and we agreed we would give John Humphries owner of the Ram a sensible donation, the weekend was not too expensive, and I think it was worth every penny, even if I say so myself…

A Ram at the Ram - looks like something from a Dennis Wheatley novel! Photo by Tony

A Ram at the Ram - looks like something from a Dennis Wheatley novel! Photo by Tony

Getting There – an adventure in itself!

On Saturday Becky picked me up and we made our way to Dursley, where our intrepid investigators assembled form all over. Many arrived at Cam & Dursley station, or as Tracy calls it after an earlier visit, “Damn and Cursely”. Would be ghosthunters should note it is a few miles up a very steep hill from Dursley, and a couple of miles from that town and Cam. There is a bus route, but folks dropped of by train in what appears to be the middle of the countryside may feel a little hard done by, so arrange lifts or look at bus times in advance! Once we had all arrived at the Old Bell, we had the usual meeting and greeting, the aforementioned excellent meal, and as many of us had been to the Old Bell before, in my case many, many times, a cheerful social afternoon.  Any ghosthunters reading this may wish to check out the Old Bell Hotel, a wonderful place to investigate with a genuinely ghosthunter friendly staff (and I’m usually available to show you round with enough notice as well if you want to know my side of the story – I blog about my previous experiences investigating the Old Bell here), but be warned – the hotel rooms are directly above Capone’s Nightclub, which is open till 5am in the morning, and the exuberant youth of Gloucestershire and pounding music  are VERY audible all night.

More decor from the Ancient Ram  - photo by Tony

More decor from the Ancient Ram - photo by Tony

On a previous investigation we ended up parodying Most Haunted, with me shouting “Did You Hear That?” over the sound of dance music, and when an ashtray moved in the dining room on the first floor it was clearly the vibrations from the speakers. You would have thought we were disgruntled, but not a bit – it’s very comfortable and we all I think enjoyed a good nights sleep, except those disturbed by certain member’s almost legendary snoring! However if you are planning to investigate here, do choose a week night.

At seven pm we set off for the Ancient Ram – you need cars to get there across the hills from Dursley, it’s about thirteen miles I think. We set off in convoy but some cars quickly became detached, but most of us went the wrong way in Wotton itself, and when Becky and I took the lead we could find no where to turn round, so we drove some eight miles before we finally managed to turn back, and I managed to get us to the Ram. We arrived in darkness, and pouring rain. I know where it is, I have been many times over the years, most recently being filmed for a US show called Ghost Adventures (Travel Channel, showing this month) just a month or two back, but I can’t find the Ram’s postcode anywhere and so Sat Nav was useless – and owing to some fault Becky’s Sat Nav played up all day.

The Ancient Ram House

I have quite a long association with the Ancient Ram. Back in 1993/94 I conducted a lengthy investigation, including a 72 hour vigil with a team. On another occasion I investigated alongside a team from ASSAP, and with the CPRG made a number of other trips there. I believe Derek and Harry’s report will still be filed at the SPR offices in Marloes Road – I was not actually party to the report, and am not sure what was said therein, but I certainly personally formed the conclusion that there did seem to have been a series of poltergeist type events in the late 1980’s when John’s daughter was resident in a room at the top of the stairwell. My memory, which may be faulty, was at the time we investigated John lived in the area which is now called The Barn,  and was sole resident. I don’t actually recall the “ancient grave” which is in the main room downstairs, though I do know it was apparently uncovered in late 1968, so how I missed it I have no idea! The house itself is far more cluttered than it was then, and the upper storey and attic is now no longer reachable, after the staircase collapsed under the weight of some rather large ghosthunting ladies. This has led to some notoriety for John Humphries as he has signs up which inform the public that fat women are not welcome upstairs! If you are at all sensitive about your weight probably best give the Ram a miss – even if you are slim as Becky, who is positively thin, you might be worried the building might collapse about your ears.

with US TV show "Ghost Adventures" at the Ram

with US TV show "Ghost Adventures" at the Ram

The Ghost Adventures episode was not my first time with TV at the Ram – Most Haunted filmed there, though I was not present, in the period I was a researcher for them, and ditto Dave Barrett’s Y Files and of course the episode of Ghost Hunters Spectres of the Severn in which I feature quite prominently talking about fault lines and Gloucestershire hauntings in relation to the geology of the area. The building is definitely picturesque, with features of historical interest, and there has been considerable controversy about the council’s refusal to help the owner John Humphries preserve a grade 2 (star) listed building which is clearly in structural disarray, and at the time of his taking it on in 1968 was actually as I understand it condemned to demolition.  I do not really know the ins and outs of the court actions, and the loss of an adjacent area of land ot New Life Church Dursley following another court action, but it is clear that John is struggling to keep his home in a habitable condition and that the property requires massive capital investment if it is to be there for future generations to enjoy.  Ghosthunters are one of the ways, along with American tourists brought to the building by a Mayflower connection, that John is able to attempt to fund the restoration.

US TV show Ghost Adventures filming

US TV show Ghost Adventures filming

Arriving finally at the Ram it was already nighttime, and we managed to make John hear and gain admission. He has recently been hospitalised after local kids beat him up after breaking in (he is 82) and he is now very security conscious. He proved, despite many rumours, an excellent host, and we all felt sorry for the sweet old chap, who is little like the more vigorous and opinionated John Humphries of the 90’s.  He gave us a lengthy guided tour, in the course of which I noted several features I had not seen before, but mainly I was amazed by how much stuff he had accumulated – almost every room is filled with piles of stuff, from furniture to soft furnishings, stacked high. When Most Haunted was filmed they must have carefully filmed round this, unless the clutter is much more recent.

The barn, where Stuart was "attacked" in Most Haunted - or did he fall over?

The barn, where Stuart was "attacked" in Most Haunted - or did he fall over?

Back from the Devizes Ghosthunt

Posted in Paranormal, Uninteresting to others whitterings about my life by Chris Jensen Romer on May 31, 2009

All around, people looking half dead
Walking on the sidewalk, hotter than a match head -
Lovin’ Spoonful, Summer in the City.

It’s too damned hot! I’m sitting listening to the second side of Bowie’s Diamond Dogs, exhausted beyond belief but glad to be in the basement away from the heat. And I’m back from the ghost hunt in Devizes, at the Black Swan.  So how did it go? I’ll make a few notes, but as I collapsed at TESCO from heat on my return I am not entirely coherent — I’m pretty much out of it. Still, I’ll make a few passing comments, and then try to write it up properly another time.

Becky Smith drove Lorna Keen and I down, and we met the team there. It was nice to see Dawn come along for the first time, and I hope she enjoyed it. The first and probably single most important thing to note is that the management of the Black Swan has gone – former hosts Pam and Colin have departed, and the new managers are Yvonne and Mike. Yvonne is extremely friendly,.generous, and did all she could all night to make our trip a success. She gave us access to everything, and to my amazement despite only being in the pub ten weeks has kept very detailed notes on every investigation conducted there – quite a few. A local group of interested folks from Devizes had come down to hold a vigil, and we joined forces with them.

On a previous visit we had only got to see the rooms – this time we went everywhere Most Haunted did on their visit.Frankly I was amazed at how much more of the structure there was! I had never even seen Room 12 before,and the Conference Room would probably have kept us happy all night investigating. The basements are huge, high ceilinged and expansive – so much so that I wondered if they might actually refelct the undercroft of a much older structure. Bear in mind however that I was examining the structure in the dark, by torchlight, with lots of ghosthunters sensing things ot distract me!

As always we went out and had dinner as a group – David Carter-Green, Balders, Dawn, Katherine, Beast, Lorna, Ed, Wiccandelight and of course Becky! I note I automatically use peoples forum names not real names – oh well…  The Four Seasons I think was the place we ate, as the White Bear’s kitchen is temporarily closed – good food actually.  After that we returned to the hotel: Ed and Beast made detailed floor plans, and photographed everything, the girls and DCG walked round, and Becky and Balders did some baseline readings.

After Lorna and I went through the previous groups records – and some great records kept by Yvonne – we went upstairs ot the conference room, where the locals were conducting an experiment in to table tipping, something they had done on a previous visit in 2005. Nice people, but I did not see much movement? Then Dawn went to bed – it was pretty late by this time – but she was in the haunted room 4 where at 1.15am a woman is meant to walk in and sit in a chair. So Ed, I and the Devizes bunch all piled in, and made Dawn giggle by sitting around waiting for the ghost. Eventually we heard some faint knocks, but they could easily have been someone kicking the wall, or knocking on the windowsill.  Assuming the Devizes folks were not faking – ours were too far away from where the sound was coming from – and I have no reason to believe they were, they seemed perfectly lovely folks – then it could have been a ghostly communicant – or the building settling!

We wandered in to the cellars about this point with Yvonne, who showed us around and proved to have a wealth of knowledge. I had said I’d try to help out but I was absolutely exhausted.  While in the cellar Lorna had a very strange experience, a burning sensation in her arm, but Balders careful taking of temperature readings on his skin and Becky’s to compare showed it was not reflecting any objective increase in skin heat at least. Still Lorna seemed quite puzzled and intrigued, and i understand from Balders a similar sensation has been reported by other witnesses – I wondered if some limestone or something irritates the skin, but Yvonne told us the other experience of this sort was in the conference room several floors above.

Becky had set out some boxes as a poltergeist trap after the peculiar experience last time we went to the Bassa Villa – by which I mean she was hoping they would move when the room was locked, not that she hoped to snare a poltergeist in one. All were moved, but unfortunately by Wiccan who was looking for something in the room. Becky’s car keys moved again as well, but that could have been down to Wiccan or even me picking them up and dropping them on the bed when I found they were the wrong keys for the door (unlikely, as I know what Becky’s car keys look like, but not impossible given how tired I was.)

We woke up in the morning to a hearty breakfast, and set off home. It was a very enjoyable evening – my thanks to Yvonne and Mike as gracious, generous and supportive hosts, to all the GSUK gang, and of course to Becky for driving me there and putting up with me – and to Dawn who went on her very first (but hopefully not last) ghost hunt.  In the morning Balders and I discussed theory a bit – I’ll leave that for a future post, and then I returned home, was apparently very unpleasant to everyone and went to TESCO to collect a prescription for my neighbour where I finally succumbed to heat stroke. Bah! I feel much much better now though – but to lose all my senses, that is just so typically me! If I was  irritable or talked gibberish at you I apologize. :) Actually that might be me normally!

Anyway, if you have any questions or corrections do comment. The Black Swan, Devizes, Wiltshire is a lovely building, affordably priced and well worth a visit -0 and do tell Yvonne and Mike you saw it on my blog. Full details here – The Black Swan – do go stay!

cj x


How to Investigate a Haunting – Part Three

Posted in Dreadful attempts at humour, Paranormal by Chris Jensen Romer on May 27, 2009

Hints for Ghosthunters!

It often sounds rather glamorous to work in psychical research. Imagine the scene: a rainy day in downtown Bury St Edmunds. An office, neon light flashing behind the Venetian blinds, the whirr of an overhead fan. The author looks up, dressed in a whiskey soaked black raincoat and trilby, cigarette hanging from the corner of his mouth.

He speaks in a slow Suffolk drawl which is really nothing like Sam Spade…

“Hi there blue-eyes… I was working on a case. I’ve had to work on a case since the poltergeist threw the desk out of the window. A tall broad walked in, I wouldn’t have minded but she walked in through the wall. “Wass the name huuneybun?”, I snort. “Oulton” replies the broad, rolling her eyes at me. I picked them up and rolled them back… {Note for Non-East Anglian folks – Oulton Broad is a lake in Norfolk…]

Well luckily it’s absolutely nothing like that. To be honest there is actually very little point in ghost hunting. Whatever you are looking for won’t turn up, for as the old German proverb says “When the ghosthunter arrives the ghost flies out of the window.” Yes it really does; funny people those old Germans! And even if you do see something no-one will ever believe you but your dotty Aunt Mabel who’s been talking to the ghost of Uncle Sidney since the 1940’s. Still Uncle Sidney doesn’t mind, it gives him more time to potter around in the garden as she thinks he’s dead.

“Aha!”, I do not hear you cry, “What if I get a photo?” Then the “Sunday Sleaze” will print it with a ludicrously wrong account of how you took it, a wide variety of occult-orientated nutcases will arrive on your doorstep to worship you and your mates will never speak to you again. And the biggest mystery of all is while every expert in the land denounces it as a fake no-one will see fit to pay you a penny for your destroyed reputation or hard work.

Have I suceeded in putting you off? I feared not…

Oh well, here are ten commandments of Ghost Hunting.

1. Never trespass on private property, it’s a serious offense these days. Avoid cemeteries as they are frequently vandalized and you don’t want to take the blame. If you join one of the reputable parapsychological organizations you can get to witness cases as they develop. Join one, and save a lot of effort standing around Walberswick Common in the early hours freezing to death.

Remember that most of the houses mentioned in ghost books are someone’s home and they will not appreciate being asked to answer enquiries about ghosts, so leave them alone!

2. Never go alone. Not only would I hate to see you murdered, as you won’t then be able to buy my next book, but if you do see something you have another witness. Remain perfectly still, and observe. Do not talk about what you have seen until you have both written, signed and had witnessed your independent testimony. I had two friends who did this. One had written a page description of the white figure who floated across a field at him making a low groaning sound. His sharper eyed girlfriend wrote “Didn’t see any ghost. Did see Frisian cow which trotted over and mooed at us!”

3. Keep quiet, and maintain vigilance. Do not take drugs, alcohol or your really hot date as all will dramatically interfere with your perception. The latter is a really bad idea as haunted abbeys are never as romantic or cosy as they sound when you are safely inside, and if it rains they’ll never forgive you. Wear what you think is appropriate clothing and then dress warmer just in case. You can always take it off… (Note: CJ may have ignored part of this on some of his cases, and really hot ladies may apply at the usual address!)

4. Photographs can, as the illustrations in my book show, lie. Nonetheless a camera, camcorder or best of all a cine camera are invaluable. Why cine film of all things? Because it is hard to fake and can be examined frame by frame. Everyone should have a watch, a torch, notepad, pen and if possible a thermometer. Measure the temperature every 15 minutes. I was once on a case where the temperature dropped from 12C to -6C in less than a minute, and this was never satifactorily explained. Mind you, I didn’t catch cold…

5. While it is often a good idea to tell one responsible person such as a spouse or parent where you are off to just in case of accidents, do not spread the word too much, unless you enjoy being hoaxed all night by your mates dressed up in sheets.

6. If you join a group you will eventually get to investigate someone’s ghost. Be careful to abide by all the rules of that group, and try to fill in all paperwork however tedious that may be.

7. More profitable than just running around at night failing to see anything, delve into your local archive and research in detail the cases therein or new ones you uncover. Then share your knowledge with others who will be very happy to hear from you.

8. Theoretical and experimental work is fascinating and very easy to set up. For ideas subscribe to a reputable journal such as that published by the SPR. This is particularly useful on long winter evenings when the rain is lashing your windows, the wind rattles your chimney and your local library is closed. It is also an invaluable aid to insomniacs. Card guessing to calculate your psychic talent is a harmless family pastime.

9. Ouija boards are not a harmless family pastime, unless you are a very adept Spiritualist in which case you won’t dabble with anything so basic. Whether you believe they open paths to demonic entities or merely allow for exteriorisation of, or merely the surfacing of, unconscious material straight from the Id they are a generally bad idea! They are linked to a large number of tragedies. You’d probably be better off joining a Charismatic Christian Church or Witch Coven if you wish to see spiritual powers at work. Sermon over.

10. Whatever else you do try not to dwell too much on all this. It’s really not that important unless you really intend to spend your life seriously studying parapsychology. If so a good degree in Psychology, Cultural Studies, Anthropology, Literature, Medicine, Biochemistry, Religion, Electrical Engineering or almost any other discipline will provide you with the basics. Once you’ve got that, contact and join the SPR. I wish you the best of luck!

cj x

How to Investigate a Ghost – part two

Posted in Paranormal by Chris Jensen Romer on May 27, 2009

Investigating a Haunting

Investigating a ghost ultimately comes down to common sense.  Firstly, it is necessary to visit the site of the haunting and take detailed notes on the environment.  Are there any obvious factors that could be causing strange noises or smells, or even hallucinations?  Could the ghost have been nothing more than a reflection or trick of the light? Is there a secret door or panel through which the ‘ghost’ could have passed? Thoroughly scrutinize your surroundings, taking photos so you can later think it through and demonstrate to others what you have established.  Is a phosphorescent fungus emanating light after dark?  Could rats or mice in the walls be causing the odd scratching noises?  Check out the structural integrity and electrics of the house.  Examine all possibilities very, very carefully.

If you haven’t already interview every witness, taking careful notes.  Follow police procedure here, and interview witnesses separately, keeping them apart so they can not contaminate each others testimony.  Try to assess how honest they are being about their experiences, and try to avoid asking leading questions.  Feel free to use quick trick questions to try and see if their story changes. Any good website on interview technique for journalists can teach you a lot here!

Ideally, check the witnesses medical history, and check their current physical health (but bear in mind questions of ethics and confidentiality, as always).  Some apparitional experiences, especially those of hallucinatory smells, can be rooted in temporal lobe epilepsy, though the experience is also fairly common among the perfectly healthy.  Was the percipient very tired, or under the influence of drink, drugs or medication? Do they seem reliable? Many a case come in to doubt when you meet the witness face to face!

There is a mass of theoretical material which could be considered, such as the Persinger field fluctuation theory (that ghosts are associated with falls and poltergeists with increases in the Earth’s Magnetic Field readings which in turn is related to sun spot activity).  Or what about Serena Roney-Dougal’s fault hypothesis? (that quartz crystals in fault lines generate a piezoelectric field under seismic stress which causes neurochemical reactions which render you more psychically aware, or just prone to hallucinate). Or maybe you’d like to examine Albert Budden’s  electrical allergy hypothesis? (that some people have an allergy to electrical fields and therefore hallucinate aliens, ghosts, etc.)  Try to think of how you can create simple tests to falsify various hypotheses.  This is where ghosthunters tend ot be weakest – in their understanding of the theoretical frameworks and testing thereof. Many are just “collecting evidence”, trying to secure a conviction if you like, to prove the existence of the “paranormal”. Taht might catually be holding us back from making progress on understanding the actual causes of many “paranormal” events…

Information on current parapsychological theories can be discovered easily from the web.   Keeping up with the current research is sadly a full time commitment, but a LEXSCIEN sub can get you access to a lot of reading material.

Generally when investigating ghosts the vital thing is to establish what type of experience you are dealing with.  Did the “haunt” try to communicate, act intelligently, or show awareness of its environment?    The next question is the ghost of who?  You need as much information as possible on that person, their likes and dislikes, what happened to them, etc. Is it really a disincarnate person? How does that work? A demoin pretending to be one? A trickl of the light? Overactive imagination? :)

Sadly, ghosts will not materialize in front of your cameras.  No matter how good the evidence someone will say it is a fake, and you may as well resign yourself now to the fact that definite irrevocable proof will be forever beyond you.  You can’t change the world, but you can impress the parapsychological community.  Therefore gathering evidence and publishing reports is a vital part of being a parapsychologist.  Try to make your case as watertight as possible, write it up properly, and make your findings available!

Investigating an apparition can be even more frustrating.  At least a ghost interacts with you, and maybe even talks back (even if it is only hollow moans).  Imagine investigating the Royalston Ballroom that is haunted by the apparitional smell of violets!  How would you proceed?  The thing about apparitions is that they are supposed to replay when the conditions are right.  They have no motive, though they have an identity or origin that must be researched.  But ultimately, what really matters is ensuring you can work out what is needed to trigger a replay.  Once you have identified this, you may wish to gather all the equipment you can and attempt to make recordings, or possibly purchase the property and try to make money by taking tourists on ghost tours!  The only problem is that such manifestations may have a short life span, and that it may very well ‘run out’ halfway through the investigation, never to recur… or may just be totally fictitious. ;)

Crisis Apparitions and Phantasms are equally hard to investigate.  Firstly you must identify who the agent who ‘created’ the haunting is.  Then you must attempt to locate them, and in the case of crisis apparitions save them from whatever danger they are in if they are still alive, or deal with the problem if you are too late!  Another even worse possibility develops from the idea of the Phantasm – if the person who is inadvertently appearing as a ghost is alive and well how do you convince them of the situation and attempt to stop the haunting?

Despite all the difficulties ghosts are a fascinating field of study, and Investigators may expect many interesting possibilities and unique situations to arise out of any haunting case.

A few research questions to help you get started –

Who owned the property in the past?

What are the inhabitants personalities like?

What is the geology of the area?

Are there underground streams, sewers, subsidence etc?

What is the state of physical repair of the property?

What does local legend and folklore say about the area?

What is the local history of the area?

What records, floor plans, deed, wills etc, etc can be gained from City Hall?

What other paranormal events have occurred in the area in the past?

Is there any important material in the newspapers archives?

Can professionals – Doctors, Ministers, Social Services – help the family? Ask the family to contact them if you will, but never try to take on a job better suited to a highly trained professional. Keep your distance, act professionally, don’t take sides in family poiltics or try to play therapist…

What is the natural fauna and flora of the area?

Is the weather significant?

Are the graves of previous inhabitants local?

House Adverts in old newspapers may reveal significantly lower prices for a reputedly ‘haunted property’?

Is any major construction work occurring in the vicinity?

When and how has the structure been rebuilt or renovated?

Do animals react strangely in the property?

Have you prepared floor plans?

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