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Monday, March 19, 2018

What Dreams Might Come: Ghosts and Dreaming

The following is an excerpt from the book Anatomy of a Ghost; A Guide to Analyzing the Dead pgs. 93-97

by Robin M. Strom-Mackey

I include this story not because I'm fully certain whether the event was normal (and just weird) or paranormal, but because it demonstrates how widely opinions can vary between expert paranormal investigators.  On the one hand, look how very far out on a limb one investigator goes in order to explain the situation in rational terms.  Then again, another seems to accept it as paranormal out of hand.  My husband and I who experienced it have never been able to make up our minds about the event one way or another.  For me, honestly, it remains an unsolved mystery.


 I was getting ready for an investigation. I’d done the phone interview with the client, and then did an initial walk through.  It’s a fairly mundane procedure, done during daylight hours when I determine whether there is enough reported activity to actually warrant a full investigation.  It also allows me to figure out where the activity is occurring and where I will need to have my team set up equipment. I was comfortable with the client, Lindsey, who honestly seemed more curious than frightened.
The Thursday night after the walk-through was serene, I did the walk-through after work. There were no problems that night.  Friday was a normal workday with no untoward stress. Friday night, however, was one of the most bizarre of my career.    When I woke the next morning, while memories were still sharp I recorded what had happened. Here is what I wrote:

October 10, 2014: Around nine pm we were putting my son to sleep. He has a small sugar bear [glider] named Hiccup. We had Hiccup out and we were playing with him. Sugar gliders are like tiny flying squirrels. He’ll run up your arm or leg and then leap to another person and land on their head or back, run around, jump to someone else... My husband, son and I were all in on the little adventure. Eventually we put Hiccup back in his cage, tucked my son into bed, and went to bed ourselves.

It was around 11:30 – midnight. I had been sleeping, but then I noticed that my husband had come up to the foot of the bed. We were talking about something, but as soon as we stopped talking about it I seemed to forget what the conversation had been. I thought this odd at the time.  I wondered to myself, “Why can’t I remember what we were just talking about?” I didn’t have time for further reflection because I realized that my husband, had brought Hiccup in with him. The little creature leaped off Gene and was running around on the bed. I followed his movements, because I didn’t want him to get loose and lost. Hiccup ran up the furrow in the covers close to me and I cupped my hands around him in preparation of gently lifting him up and containing him. As I was cupping him my husband put his headlamp on [he keeps a small flashlight, head-lamp by the bed at all times]. As the light beamed down on my hands Hiccup seemed to disappear. I thought he had burrowed deeper into the sheets so I was ruffling the covers trying desperately to find him when my husband asked me in a very bewildered voice, “What are you doing?”

Slightly exasperated I replied, “What do you mean what am I doing? I’m trying to find Hiccup.”

“Hiccup isn’t in here. He’s in his cage,” Gene said.

“No he’s not, he’s right here. I just had him in my hands,” I explained starting to get confused and still talking to my husband at the foot of the bed. “You were the one that let him loose. Help me find him.”

“What are you talking about? I’ve been here asleep the whole time, I haven’t been playing with Hiccup.”

At this point I may have been struggling to wake up fully, because it slowly dawned on me that Gene was in fact beside me in bed, and that I was playing with an imaginary Hiccup, and sitting up in bed conversing with…no one. “If you’ve been asleep the whole time, then who was I talking to?” I asked.
“ That was your son, he got up to go to the bathroom,” my husband explained. “I just saw the bathroom light turn on.”

“It was not our son. He’s not been out of his bed.”  How I knew this fact so adamantly I cannot explain. After all I'd just been playing with an imaginary critter. But somehow I felt absolutely sure that our son was tucked up in his bed fast asleep.

My husband didn’t agree. “I’m pretty sure it was your son. I saw a dark figure at the foot of the bed when I woke up, and saw him turn around and head down the hall to the bathroom.”

We discussed this possibility a little further, until my husband finally got out of bed and went to my son’s room. Our son was predictably in his bed sound asleep, and no one was in the bathroom. Gene did note that the light was still on in the bathroom.   Not an alarmist, he came back to bed wryly pointing out, “I think you brought something home from your walk-through.” With that said, he turned over and went back to sleep.  Gene is not easily rattled, as you can see.

It was hot in the room, however, and I realized that I was too warm to sleep comfortably without opening a window.  In order to open the window, I needed to get up and turn my back to the bed and doorway. There are two reasons I didn't want to do this. The first I just mentioned; the idea of turning my back to whatever might be in the house was unnerving. The second was because we have a large four-poster bed that stands about 2 feet off the ground. It’s easily high enough for an adult to crawl under. Eventually I realized that I was being paranoid, and opened the window.

The cool air helped, and I fell back asleep. But this time I had a distinct dream that the blanket I was sleeping under was slowly being pulled off me by a force from underneath my bed. I jerked awake. I’m now realized, quite vividly, that whatever was playing with me was reading my thoughts. Somehow, I’d conveyed my worries about what could be under the bed, and it had used that information, just as it had fabricated the incident with the imaginary sugar glider.

I managed to go to back to sleep again.  Once again, I had a very vivid dream that felt like it was being manipulated from outside myself. This time I got the cliché’ haunting experience, the feeling of being held down in bed. I know it to be a dream and I also recognize my own sleep paralysis as something separate from the sensation. Groggily I finally woke up enough and told the entity verbally to, “Get off, get off me.” I was no longer panicked so much as exasperated at that point.  I was annoyed because I had started to understand that something was toying with me, perhaps trying to scare me, but that the creature was a bit of a buffoon.

That was the third time I’d been awoken that night by crazily vivid dreams. I was annoyed, worried and wide awake. As I was  lying in bed I heard the creaky step outside in the hall squeak as if someone was on the step. Then I heard another small noise I couldn't identify. I nudged my husband awake again, and asked him if he had his handgun with him [lest we had a human invader]. He assured me he did.  This was the final experience I had that evening. Each successive incident seemed like it was losing energy.

We did ask my son in the morning if he had heard or seen anything, or been out of bed that night. He said no to all three. He did remind me of the time he himself had a dream that Hiccup was loose on his bed. His calls had awoken me and I had gone into his room and woke him up. He, like I, had been adamant that Hiccup was loose.  I had forgotten that incident.

*** End of Account ***

Being a paranormal investigator, I find this story extraordinary on so many levels.  And I can say that I can pick it apart now, only because of the amount of time that has gone by, without any further re-occurences. It’s much easier to be critical when you’re not actually emotionally involved.  But let me start with the easier answers.

The third occurrence, when I felt like an entity was holding me down on my chest and arms is probably the most easily answered. Indeed, I answered it at the time I wrote it, chalking it down to sleep paralysis.  Sleep paralysis is something that occurs naturally in mammals. It’s a type of protective tendency that sets in when an organism is in its deepest sleep, causing a temporary paralysis of the limbs.  In this way if I dream I’m fleeing from an assailant, I don’t actually start flailing in bed. In the same vein if my poodle, Uther, is dreaming that he is chasing a squirrel he doesn’t actually take off running and throw himself inadvertently off the balcony.  Its nature’s way of keeping our bodies safe when we’re in our deepest, most vulnerable stages of sleep.

Sleep paralysis (SP) is a physiological response, quite natural. Coupled with this I apparently had the “Old Hag” syndrome experience – old hag meaning a witch. The Old Hag was known for visiting victims at night and sitting on their chest.  What actually happens is that because my chest and arms were paralyzed it felt as if something was holding me down. Because I was only partially awake, my body was still not responding, instead feeling like it was under spectral attack.  SP is a fairly common phenomenon. I might also have experienced a hypnogogic or hypnopompic hallucination which are also common with SP.  Such acute episodes can be caused by stress, fear, being overtired.  They also occur more regularly if someone is sleeping on their back or on their stomach.

The second dream as well is easily dismissed as a nightmare. I was already emotionally distressed, and probably had a bad dream because of it.  I didn’t for instance actually see the sheets being pulled down.

That leaves the first incident.  Obviously, the night left me bewildered and I sought the advice of two experts I knew in the field.  Greg Pocha, Director of Parapsychology, Afterlife and Paranormal Studies for the Eidolon Project Canada ( theorized that I had experienced a somewhat rare sleep anomaly called a False Awakening (FA).  An FA is the polar opposite of an SP in that the person is not paralyzed but moving about freely, acting out their dream.  They feel like they’re awake, but they’re sound asleep.  In my FA I was sitting up in bed, conversing with my husband and chasing an imaginary critter.   I didn’t actually wake up until my husband turned on his headlamp and started asking me questions.

Pocha speculated that I had a Type 2 FA which is accompanied by sensations of confusion, tension, stress, apprehension, feelings of foreboding, feelings of heightened expectancy and feelings of ominous oppression.  Apparently Type 2 FA’s can also produce hallucinations, such as seeing people that are not there; husbands standing at the foot of the bed, for example, or imaginary sugar
gliders running around on the covers.  FA’s are more common in lucid dreamers as are SP’s.  Until that night I’d never experienced either an SP or an FA.

Pocha pointed out that I likely have a telepathic connection with my son, which he speculated was common among mothers and their children.  Note that my son had had a similar dream about his sugar glider getting out.  This is one of his first pets, and required specialized care.  Hence, especially when the animal was new to the house, my son would often suffer bouts of anxiety. I’ve always considered myself about as sensitive as a rock, so this suggestion surprised me.   And then he spent a night away at a friend’s house.  He left me to take care of his pet, which I did. However, I awoke in the middle of the night in a panic over whether I had fed Hiccup his nightly apple slice.  I was so concerned that I went down stairs and got him another, just in case. Hiccup ate well that night.  When my son came home the next day I asked him how his night away had been.  He said it had been fine, except in the middle of the night he had awoke in a panic, thinking he’d forgotten to get Hiccup his apple. Had his panic over his pet radiated to me?

Pocha’s answer seemed to tie up the experiences I had in a nice, neat scientific bundle.  I might have been subconsciously anxious about the upcoming investigation and that anxiety created not one, not two, but three lucid dreams resulting in an SP and an FA experience – all in one wild ride of a night.  I didn’t know I was feeling terribly worried about the investigation, but that’s why we call it subconscious or below consciousness.

For skeptics this appears explanation enough, except for two minor details…. First my husband saw a similar dark figure at the foot of the bed, which in a stretch we might say was a shared telepathic hallucination.  Second, the dark figure we saw at the foot of the bed turned around, walked out of the room, down the hall and tripped the motion sensor night light in the bathroom.  Pocha’s response, “I will have to agree with your husband’s first, and most logical conclusion, that it was indeed your son that was seen at the foot of the bed. Why? It must be fairly obvious that you were suffering from episodes of sleepwalking. Thanks to chromosome 20 (the exact gene is still unknown) there is a genetic link passed down, so the likelihood of your son suffering the same noctambulistic fate is better than average.  I can safely surmise that the chances are excellent that your son was indeed sleepwalking, being silhouetted from the light of the motion detector that he had just set off. In your words the figure turned around and headed back down the hall. Apparitions tend to take the easy route and just fade out. As well you state that you were struggling to wake up, apparently your husband was in the same state, as apparently you woke him up. This gave plenty of time for a sleepwalking boy to return to his bed and be asleep - because he was never awake.”

This is not to say that Pocha dismissed the idea that a spirit could follow someone home. In fact he vehemently warned me to take some precautions against such a fate.  He just felt it unlikely that on an initial walk-through I would have caught the attention of something that would be so interested in me as to follow me home.  I wasn’t doing anything provocative enough to garner attention. Incidentally, I also asked another acquaintance who had studied parapsychology about this particular incident.  His explanation was more to the point. Heck, he could have tweeted it to me. “Yup,” he said, “it sounds like something followed you home. “

Post Script

Before this incident neither my husband or I had ever witnessed our son sleep walking. However, sometime after the incident my husband decided to check on our son late one night and found him  standing behind the door of his room, fully asleep.

Saturday, March 17, 2018

Lilburn Manor; Another Chapter in a Haunted Past

By Robin M. Strom-Mackey
Author of Anatomy of a Ghost: A Guide to Analyzing the Dead

"But it was five years later that I just started having this gnawing feeling that I just had to get there.”

Overlooking historic Ellicott City, Maryland is the stately Lilburn Mansion.  Already notorious for its haunts, the aging mansion built in the likeness of a castle has a tragic past of loss and sadness.  Enter a young, impressionable woman with a love of history and you have a recipe for a ghostly obsession that lasted years.  
In my collection of interviews I came across a case where a person became an unwitting mouth piece for an entity.   This case doesn’t appear to be a case of the more sinister form of possession, but a case of spiritual obsession.  Obsession by a spirit is somewhat different from possession. In this case a living person can become obsessed, or fixated on an idea or behavior that is obviously out of character and sometimes self-destructive. They can be urged to do compulsive acts, but they don’t lose sight of themselves. In other words they may feel the need to do something, but they don’t black out or lose control. They realize what they’re doing, and understand that the compulsion comes from without and not within themselves.  In Judy’s case she remained aware of what she was doing, and understood that the compulsions she was experiencing were not of her own choosing. 
Now retired and living near the beach in Maryland, Judy had been a hardworking career woman all her life. She ran a restaurant and a catering service for many years before giving up the long days and nights in the kitchen for semi-retirement as a book keeper. She recounted for me an episode in her life in which she seemed to be obsessed by the tragic spirit of a woman and the stately remains of an edifice of tragedy.
In an interview I conducted with her, Judy recounted how it began. “I was between eighteen and twenty-five at the time when this happened, and it was really what started my interest in the paranormal. But you know you grow up, you raise kids, you have a job and you just don’t have the time to pursue it. I know this is going to sound weird, maybe not to you because you deal with this, but it certainly sounded weird to all my friends at the time. I used to live in Clarksville at my brother’s. I used to love to walk in Ellicott City. There used to be a place called the Phoenix which was right on the corner of Cranberry Avenue and Market Street. My girlfriends and I used to go down there and have lunch all the time. One day we just decided to go riding around and seeing what the houses were like. So we drove up there and that’s when it started. This house looked like a Castle, it was up on Cranberry Avenue, up where the railroad used to be. You’d have to go up a hill to get there.”
“We were up there and I thought, wow, what a cool house. At the time it wasn’t inhabited but there were no trespassing signs everywhere. And we thought, we can’t go in here. So we took a couple of pictures of the outside of the house which is really cool. Around six months later we saw an ad in the paper that the house was for sale. They were asking a million –three at that time and that was 1980 to 1982 maybe. I certainly didn’t have that. Not too long after that it sold to a person, I don’t remember who but I have it on my timeline. Then after that it sold to the doctor who owned it for a long time. So we took a couple pictures of it, as I said, and then we drove back down to Ellicott City, and I said I want to go back to the Phoenix and ask about that house.”
And I did, and they said, 'Ooh. That’s the haunted house in Ellicott City. So I asked, ‘well what happened up there?’ They said, ‘oh, well there’s someone up in the tower. There was a fire there and children had died, and it’s had many owners. But everyone stays away from that house because it’s supposedly haunted.’”
So captivated by the house did Judy become, that over the course of the next couple of years she would research the property extensively. The following are from the notes that she made and kept all these years later.
The building is not a house in actuality, but a mansion of some 7000 square feet. Built in the 9th century Gothic and Romanesque Revival style with stone and granite, it boasts twenty rooms, a four story medieval style tower, twelve foot ceilings and seven fireplaces with marble mantels and surrounds. The property also boasts a three-story carriage house and the only three-story smoke house ever built in Howard County.
It was built in 1857 by Henry Richard Hazelhurst. Originally from Abington, Berkshire England, who moved to Ellicott City after making a fortune in iron works. Henry had lost his first wife in 1848, but remarried a second time to Elizabeth Virginia McKim. The family moved to the area around 1857 with their two children, Maria and George. Soon after the mansion was finished a third child, Catherine, was born. Soon after Catherine’s birth, however, tragedy struck the family. Maria, aged three years, died of a childhood illness. Throughout the course of the next five years Elizabeth delivered three more daughters, Margaret, Julia and Elizabeth.
During the Civil War the Hazelhurst’s allowed the mansion to be used as a hospital for wounded soldiers. Following the war, the family’s financial interests may have taken a down-turn, as Henry apparently was forced to sell off several acres of land surrounding the mansion, which was distressing to the family. The original plot of land was 2500 acres, eventually it was whittled down to eight.
Elizabeth reportedly suffered bouts of depression for twenty some years. Judy’s notes suggested that the depression was brought on by the loss of daughter Maria. The loss of a child is a tragedy beyond words, even in an era when such losses were common. The birth of later children apparently did nothing to assuage the loss. Elizabeth passed away in 1887. She was fifty-nine years old when she died of an unspecified illness.
Her daughters would be even less fortunate. Indeed, none of Elizabeth’s daughters would live to reach the age of forty.
Catherine the third child, and the first to be born in the mansion, was reportedly very close to her mother. She died only four years after her mother’s death. She was thirty-three when she passed in 1891.
Only two years into her marriage, Julia died in childbirth in 1893, at the age of thirty-one. She was laboring in the tower of the mansion trying to deliver her first and only child when she died.
Not much is known about Margaret, only that she died in 1895 at the age of thirty-six. Henry, who was losing his family one by one is quoted as saying that the mansion was “A place of tragic memories.” Still Henry lived to old age. Accounts vary, but he either died in 1890 or 1900, either at the age of seventy-five or eighty five. He was laid to rest at St John’s Cemetery of Howard County next to wife Elizabeth. The last and final daughter, Elizabeth, followed her father to the grave five years later in 1905.
The first born, and only surviving child, George sold the mansion in 1906. He moved to Catonsville, Maryland and died in 1919.
A waspish man by the name of Wells bought the mansion next, and inhabited the mansion with his family into the early 1920’s. Apparently a bit of a character, Wells earned a reputation with the town’s folk for his petulant demeanor. He was known to snap at anyone that attempted to speak with him. One who valued his privacy, Wells had a seven foot hedge planted around the front of the property. The Wells family stayed mainly in the house, emerging only on Sunday mornings to attend church. Wells was found dead one day in the mansion’s library.
John McGinnis and family were in residence in the mansion by 1923, when a devastating fire destroyed much of the interior. The family managed to escape the blaze, but were forced to rebuild. During the renovation they added the medieval style battlements to the roof of the tower, replacing the steeple gothic roof that had been the original design.
Apparently the mansion earned its haunted reputation with the town around that time. According to Judy’s research, activity in the mansion included the sounds of a small child crying in an upstairs bedroom, and an apparition of a young girl wearing a chiffon dress who was reported as playing in several rooms of the mansion. There were also reports of an apparition of a man and a small child walking hand-in-hand down the hallway. A male apparition was also reported standing in a doorway. The aroma of cigar smoke, a habit not uncommon in Hazelhurst’s era, was smelled and sometimes witnessed in the library, a curling cloud of smoke wafting toward the ceiling in an otherwise empty room. The chandelier in the dining room was said to swing with vigor at times, once during a family gathering. Footsteps, sometimes heavy footsteps, were at times heard around the building, and on the tower stairs. And once, a vase full of flowers was said to elevate off its stand, pouring water and flowers out onto the floor.
Windows in the manse appeared to be uncooperative, refusing to stay closed. This was especially true in the tower. One owner attempted to tie the errant windows down with rope. By the time he got outside to inspect his handiwork, however, the windows of the tower were open again, the ropes lying on the floor beneath.
Judy commenced her story, upon learning that the mansion was up for sale. “Right then I thought I want to buy that house. But I couldn’t.”  The one-million dollar asking price was inconceivable to a woman who waited tables.  Her dream mansion was such that, she had to concede, just a dream.
“And then years later, I think it was five years later when I lived with my brother, that’s when that started happening to me. I had taken other friends around and we would look at it and just ride around the streets. But it was five years later that I just started having this gnawing feeling that I just had to get there.”
“I thought at the time, this is weird, but I’ve got to go [to the house]. And I would go, and I would sit and I would bawl my eyes out.” She admitted that she had no idea why she was crying, but that she was simply overwhelmed with, “complete sadness.”
In her research she had found accounts of tragedies, any one of which she might be tapping into. The house had burned down. A lady that had lived in the house had lost three children. Owners of the property had come and gone with great regularity. For all its grandeur it hadn’t been a house of joy for its inhabitants.
“I’ve got loads of stuff, I went to Ellicott City, the historical society and I gathered so much information. I always wanted to explore this home. Years ago in the early 2000’s a couple were trying to make the house into a bed and breakfast, but Ellicott City wouldn’t allow them to do that. But it’s still, it’s lived in, but there are many, many stories about it.”
“For some reason I connected with a woman in the house, who was very, very sad. I could be at my brother’s and it could be any time. Every two or three months, it could be three o’clock in the morning or it could be noon. If I was asleep I would wake up and I’d have this insatiable desire, I had to get to the house. I’m surprised no one ever called the cops on me. Because I’d go and I’d sit outside the house in my little car and I’d bawl my eyes out for  an hour. And then it was done, and I went home. But it was reoccurring and it would happen every two or three months with regularity for three years, and then it absolutely stopped.” Judy admitted that she probably repeated the ritual a dozen times over the three year period while she shared a grief so terrible with an unknown woman that it communicated beyond the veil.
“I did, I thought I was cracking up, but the feeling was just so strong in me, and I went, and I would have this experience and I would go home, and then I was so relieved. And then it wouldn’t happen again until a couple of months later. It was weird, but it was cool. So I decided that I needed to find out more about this house, and the owners, and the timeline. The stack of papers [she accumulated] is probably this thick [around two inches] and I wrote down a timeline of when the fire was, who owned it, who built it, how many acres it was. That was so interesting for me to go and do that kind of research.”
“So that was why I did so much research on the home. I don’t even recall now the name of the woman that lost the three children, but I always felt a connection that maybe she was the one that did that. I don’t know.”
“I knocked on the door one day, there was a doctor living there, a lady, and I kind of introduced myself and I told her my story and I asked her if I could come in. But she didn’t know me, and I don’t blame her for saying no. It was just so fascinating.”
“My brother thought I was crazy, my friends thought I was crazy. So I really didn’t [share it with anyone] because it was personal to me. It felt very personal that someone was reaching out to do that. I just went with it. When it stopped, I was kind of sad that it stopped. I realized it had been six months or so and I realized, wow, I haven’t been to that house in a long time. And it never happened again.”
What is fascinating to me about this account is the fact that Judy never actually entered the dwelling, and had no knowledge of its history at the onset. She apparently made an immediate connection to the property, though, obvious by the fact that she took pictures of it on the first encounter and went downtown to inquire about it immediately.

Final Analysis
Why was she the one of the whole band of friends that was affected in this way? Can we assume that she was the only one with the empathic ability to tap into the tragic energy? I wonder also if the energy, the sadness she apparently was in tune with, was actually a consciousness or just a type of residual sadness that lingered about the property.
The episodes Judy underwent certainly didn’t seem to have had any purpose beyond the sheer expression of pain. This energy appeared to require nothing but expression. The expression of sadness, expiation, all those years after. The death of a child, three children, a woman in childbirth…Judy would go on to become a mother herself.  Did the spirit sense a bond? Was it Elizabeth still mourning the loss of Maria? Was it one of the later residents who also experienced tragedy in the mansion? We will never know, beyond the fact that death and loss left an imprint on a place that transcended the passage of time.

Saturday, October 7, 2017

Foiled by a Field Mouse, Ousted by an Owl; Sounds of the Night (Normal versus the Abnormal)

by Robin M. Strom-Mackey

This post is intended for paranormal investigators, performing evidence review. I post this because I was getting ready to pull the evidence from our last investigation together, and I was sitting soundly on the fence about one clip.

In the clip you see our two investigators discussing an odd smell. Then at 00:35 you hear an odd wailing noise.  We don't appear to hear it, because we make no mention of it. However, it's clearly on the sound recording.

I was confused as to whether the sound was human or animal?  I've been fooled by owls before. Their otherworldly calls can sound very like a wail or a moan, especially when filtered through walls.  The area around the building we were investigating was  heavily wooded, making the owl theory even more likely.

So I did some digging on YouTube, because I didn't want to come away, once again, foiled by a critter of the night.  Below are video recordings of both foxes and the great horned owl, the owl I felt most closely matched this particular wailing sound.

Fox calls: Pay attention especially to the section entitled Bark and Scream which begins at 1:38

Great Horned Owl:   Note Mr. Owl hoots at around 2:28 in the clip, and if you listen a little before and after you hear a distant owl that appears to be answering him.  Notice how close the wailing in the video sounds to the more distant owl.

As I gather evidence, obviously I want all of our time and effort to amount to something, I want it very much. . But obviously that something doesn't matter at all if I start labeling owls as paranormal. Paranormal Investigators, please weigh in.  What is your opinion?

Monday, September 25, 2017

What Are Ghosts: A Tri Philosophical Discussion

What Are Ghosts
By Robin M. Strom-Mackey

I attended a speaking event one evening with a Parapsychologist.  I remember distinctly that a woman in the audience asked him if ghosts were the souls of a dead people.  He hedged from admitting that bold statement.  Then the woman became combative, basically halting the presentation so that she could pepper the speaker with questions.  She believed ghosts were the souls of the dead and why wouldn’t he confirm that? Why? Why? Why wouldn’t he just say it? It amazed me just how emotionally invested she was in the belief, that if anyone dissented, especially if a subject matter expert on the subject disagreed, that she would get that upset. 

As rude as she was, I wondered if she hadn’t lost someone close to her.  When this happens this question becomes far less academic, and far more personal. Because if ghosts exist (A), and they’re the soul of a dead person (B), then my loved one might come back to me as a ghost (C). And there you have the spiritual ABC’s.  People often believe in this premise simply because they want so strongly to believe.

I was taking a course in Psychology, while working on my latest degree. The professor had all of the students stand up and introduce themselves, tell the class what your major was and a little about yourself etc.  I was one of only three older adults in a large class of essentially teenagers.  When my turn came I did the requisite, “hi, I’m Robin and I’m studying…and in my spare time I’m a ghost hunter.”  You would have thought I had said my made my living pole dancing, by the sea of shocked and disgusted faces I had looking back at me.  One young man was even so bold as to announce to the class that there is “no such thing as ghosts.”  Old, slow, and now apparently a freak as well, I didn’t find my classmates overly friendly throughout the rest of the course. (However, the professor, was fascinated and we would often converse about our experiences.)  I learned more than just psychology in that course. I learned to pick and choose carefully who I told about my passion.

I share these two stories to demonstrate either extreme of the spectrum, between those are completely closed to the idea that anything paranormal could ever be real versus those who so vehemently wish to believe that ghosts are proof that we survive death that they resist any other theories.

For the true skeptics the question of the paranormal is absurd, because there are no such things as ghosts. Not surprisingly, most staunch non-believers never have a paranormal experience, because they’re vehemently closed to the very idea.  I’ve often attributed this to the sheep-goat theory.

Very briefly, Professor of Psychology at City University of New York, Gertrude Schmeidler first coined the phrase in 1942. She was trying to explain the disparity in psi test results between people who believed in psi (formerly extra-sensory perception or ESP) or were at least open to the idea versus those who denied the very possibility of psi. The subjects that believed in psi she called sheep.  The sheep, when given an ESP card test tended to score statistically above chance by a significant margin. Goats, who said they did not believe in psi tended to score statistically below the level of chance, again by a significant margin.

When it comes to belief in the paranormal adamant non-believers (goats) of psychic experiences rarely have such an experience. They deny or block their otherwise natural psi abilities. I’m talking about psychic abilities now because researchers have suggested that when someone experiences something paranormal they’re actually experiencing it via their sixth sense – their psi ability which parapsychology researchers believe we all possess to some degree or another.  Thus if you see an apparition of a woman in white, you’re not actually seeing it with your eyes, but with your mind. This helps explain the anomaly where not everyone in a group sees a ghost, but only one or two do. 

This also accounts for the fact that children, especially small children, appear to have more experiences with the paranormal than older adults. I.e. that imaginary friend may be more than simply imaginary. Children have psychic experiences because they haven’t yet been conditioned to the idea that they can’t have them. (Also, it is believed that psi abilities are stronger in the young, and decrease as we age.) Thus young Caiden in Chapter Five playing Peek-a-boo with his grandfather is not uncommon - despite the fact that Grandpa is deceased.

One learned psychologist, a skeptic, suggested that ghosts existed only in one place, a person’s mind.  He speculated that we made up ghosts to fill a need within ourselves.  In one of his cases he met with a young married couple who felt their house was haunted. The wife kept seeing a child apparition in the home. It turned out the young woman was desirous of having children of her own, and when she became pregnant the child apparition disappeared. Poof. How neat and tidy is that explanation?

Of course psychologists have also suggested that when we get caught and punished for a crime, it’s because we wanted to be caught. Hence, when I get stopped by a cop and handed a very expensive speeding ticket I make sure to always thank him for fulfilling my unspoken need.  (By the way it hasn’t escaped my notice that I got far more warnings when I was in my twenties, and far more tickets when I was in my forties, despite my vast pole dancing fame.)

I digress. Back to the learned psychologist that suggested that ghosts were purely a figment of our imagination created to fill a need.  I have met people that want so very much to have an experience that they grasp at anything and everything as evidence.  Whether they just crave the thrill or have lost a loved one with whom they wish to connect.  But while this may be true in some cases, I disagree that it’s true in all cases. Just as I don’t honestly need another speeding ticket, not all of my clients desire a haunting. The sometimes panicked voices I’ve heard on the phone imploring me to, “please come as soon as you can. I’m afraid to stay in my own house!”  These are people, not seeking attention, but relief.

For many Christians a ghost is a demon. All souls get dispersed of course, upon death, and either take the escalator up or down, you either get household goods or women’s lingerie depending on your proclivities.  Hence anything of a paranormal nature gets labeled as evil. I once had such a person request membership in the group. He made it through two investigations before having a major melt down. I felt bad for him. How could you have that belief system and ever knowingly walk into a building that you believe was haunted? It would have to be terrifying.

Ghosts may also be a series of misinterpretations of natural phenomenon.  One of my investigators, Maya, often recalls moving into a new house, where when the wood floors made a crazy popping sound every time the temperature changed.  It took a couple of sleepless nights before she and her husband figured out that it was the floors and not an interloper in their house.  The banging of pipes, loose windows that rattle, things that fall over because of gravity and not a ghost, all these can be labeled a ghost. I have a haunted house theory which suggests a snow ball effect. Many people, once they think a building is haunted, henceforward believe that everything that happens is because of the ghost. And of course each new bit of evidence gets weighed in with the old as the mound of misinterpretation mounts. I once had a woman ask me to do an investigation because she’d seen an orb in a picture, and a small child in the home would walk up to the staircase and put his hands out like he wanted to be carried up the stairs. Now that’s a mole hill and not a mound of evidence. Of course she started the conversation by telling me when such and such family member passed. So I guessed we were talking about a combination of soul of the dead guy and misinterpretation.

So what is a ghost?
a)     A figment of our imagination
b)     A figment of our imagination created by our imagination to fulfill a need
c)      The soul of a dead guy who somehow became earthbound
d)     A demon
e)     Misinterpretation of natural phenomenon
f)       Other

Let’s consider F for a moment.  In my own studies, readings and writings, I’ve found a strong correlation between what the ancients believed about ghosts, (in particular the Egyptians who as we all know made the afterlife their main area of focus) what parapsychologists suggest about ghosts, and what those in the magical studies propose a ghost to be.  It was a revelation I had one day, that these three disparate groups, while labeling them with different names, were essentially all saying the same thing.  After more than a decade of study, debate and writing I found that while the terms vary greatly, the ideas at their basest elements were very similar.

The Dead of Egypt
No one can deny that one of the most supernaturally predisposed culture was that of the ancient Egyptians with their elaborate traditions of mummification and their monolithic pyramids filled with treasure built to shelter the pharaohs in their never ending afterlife. 
For the Egyptian’s no human was merely physical, but consisted of several elements. Each human had a body or physical presence as well as a shadow, a double, a soul, a heart, a spirit, a name, a power and a spiritual body. After death the shadow departed, and could only be brought back with a mystical ceremony.  There were subtleties to the different entities that are hard to describe with our western terms such as soul.

The double or ka (the double or image or character) of the deceased lived with the body in the tomb, or didn’t if ceremonies were not performed properly.  So it was the ka that was the immortal dweller of the tomb, and was believed to be the one to inhabit the statue of the deceased.  A statue closely resembling the deceased was thoughtfully left for that purpose. So important to keeping the double satisfied that special priests, called priests of the ka were called in to minister to the ka, and there was a special room of the tomb set aside for the ka, called the house of the ka (3). 

It was the ka, who if not properly maintained became a wandering spirit after death.   Apparently the ka had an insatiable appetite and needed to be fed with offerings of meat and drink.  Should the offerings not be performed, the ka might depart the tomb in search of food.  Apparently the ka did not have a refined palette and would consume any dung or filthy water it came across.

The ba (or soul) resided in heaven with Osiris or Ra.  It was capable of returning to the tomb at will, however, and could also partake of the offerings of food and drink that were left for the ka.  It could assume a material or semi-material form sometimes.

 At times the ba and ka might become united, into a being that was called the Akh or khu or akhu, which was an enlightened being.  Earlier Egyptians believed that only Pharaoh could achieve this union, but later interpretations declared that people of higher moral character could as well.  To become an akh or enlightened spirit one must be judged just.  These souls were allowed to live among the gods or among the pole stars which never set.  However, the akh spirit could interact with the living as well, and it was the akh that returned as an unhappy spirit to harass the living.  If proper burial rites had been neglected or if someone close to the akh had sinned against him or her, then the akh could return briefly to the Earth to seek restitution. 

Notice the disparity between the ka and the ba.  The ka, while sharing some of the characteristics of the deceased, served more as a kind of caricature of the deceased.  It really didn’t exhibit sound critical thinking skills, choosing to drink fetid water and eat poo. The ba, which did go to a type of heaven, could come back briefly only to redress issues, and then had to return.  Most ancient cultures believed that the soul of a person departed to some other plane of existence after death, especially if the burial rites were performed properly.   

Magical Disciplines
Students of the magical disciplines are taught as well that a human is an entity comprised of several elements or levels. 

Physical Level
On the lowest level is our physical being. The body is the densest and lowest of the levels of existence. We perceive it with our five senses: sight, smell, hearing, touching or tasting, although I wouldn’t suggest you start licking people, nor eating poo for that matter. (And you thought you’d get no sage advice from reading this book!)

Etheric Level
The etheric level is our life force, that energy that animates the clay of our bodies. Often associated with the breath, it is also the organ of subtle energies. It is our aura the mediums often talk about, that energy that surrounds us and emanates from us. The etheric plane is limited to time and space as the body in the physical plane. Entities in the etheric plane are tied to the body while the body lives and cannot have an independent existence outside the physical body, but occupy the same space and are the same shape as the body. Sometimes the etheric body can be spotted by those sensitive and/or trained in the art. When they do appear, away from the body, they look like gray shadowy figures in the form of the person they represent.

Astral Level
At this level is our concrete consciousness. It is the realm of our dreams, our imagination, our creativity, but also our ordinary mental activity. This level of existence is bound to space and time, but not limited by them.  Everything that exists on the physical plane, every rock, tree, frog or person has a corresponding astral body as well. But the astral level is more malleable. The power of willful thinking can reshape the astral body, though it eventually returns to its natural appearance. Now this is starkly in line with some quantum theories, which suggest that the mind and willful consciousness can shape reality, or our perceptions of reality.

Mental Level
This is the level of abstract consciousness, a dimension which is both timeless and space less. Such fundamentals such as the laws of math and the fundamental pattern of the cosmos exist on this level. For a human, this level is where our fundamental and immortal pattern of ourselves exists.  One this plane one can view the past and also view possible futures.  The building material in the mental plane is fluid and changeable; shaped by mental will.

Spiritual Level
This is the level of primal unity, from which everything in the universe emanates and to which they return.  At this level is our monad or spiritual body, which sheds its individuality to become one with the universe, the transcendent core of the self.

In order to keep this brief we will content ourselves with a quick discussion of the etheric level.  The etheric level being the closest to the physical level, it is a level of existence that is limited by time and space. It is close to the material world, matter, and can affect matter. The energy of the etheric realm can be focused and directed and shaped for that matter by conscious will. They can also be focused or diffused by different methods. When in concentration these energies can take on almost a physical solidity. They can be felt, for example, by the nerve endings of human skin. Hence the hair raising heebie jeebies we sometimes feel when in a haunted location. They may coalesce into a visible shape that appears solid or nearly solid. They can exert energy on matter, affect physical objects, and appear to have mass and inertia. When diffused, however, the energies become intangible and difficult to detect.

Magical teachings also talk about the three levels of death. The first of course being the death of the physical body, separating the etheric body and the attached other levels. Slower deaths can cause a gradual separation of the etheric body from the physical that last weeks or even months. Abrupt or violent death causes an abrupt separation and confusion.  The second death normally takes from one to three days, before the etheric body disintegrates allowing the other levels to disperse.  It can be delayed however, depending on the strength of the etheric body and the attitude of the dying person.  The third death involves the disintegration of the etheric body and the release of the astral body to the astral plane.

The etheric body is mortal and weak. Sunlight causes further disintegration. Often within three days the etheric body will decay, the astral body will separate from it and return to the astral plane. Now the etheric body is a shell without real intelligence (think ka again) but with a desire towards preserving itself.  It is a ghost, in effect.  Sometimes it will remain near its physical remains, where it tries to glean energy for survival from the body that housed it and fed it in the past. Other times it will return to a favored place, attempting to reassert itself, and gleaning energy from the people that now live in the space – trying to prolong its existence.  Eventually it disintegrates fully.

This may seem a bit extraordinary to someone not of the magical sphere. However, studies of Near Death Experiences indicate a similar progression.  When a person dies, the etheric body, like the ka, is separated permanently from the physical body. In accounts of Near Death Experiences (NDE’s), one of the first things reported by respondents is seeing their body from another location. They almost always report looking down at their lifeless bodies from somewhere near the ceiling.  What’s even more remarkable is that many of them accurately recall events that were going on around them when they were clinically dead (I.e. they had no detectable brain functioning).   The magical disciplines also speak of this, noting that the etheric body will stay awhile near the physical body. 

Those that recall a deeper NDE experience, report going through a dark tunnel, and arriving at another plane of existence, just as magical philosophy teaches that we ascend to a higher level of existence, the astral plane.

But what happens when all does not goes as planned?  Apparently an entity can stall out between the first and second deaths, according to magical teachings. And this is when ghostly activity occurs. Most of the time the etheric body is in a kind of dream state, and doesn’t interact with the living.  Sometimes, however, the sleep state is disrupted.  If the etheric body feels it has tasks yet to accomplish, messages to impart, it may linger to perform them.  Messages delivered it then departs.  This accounts for the number of people that report having their departed loved one make one final appearance to say goodbye.

But sometimes the etheric body gets trapped for a longer period between the second and third deaths.  Sudden or violent death, especially if the deceased is feeling strong negative emotions, causes the etheric body to be torn from the body while it’s unadulterated.  A dying person who is experiencing very strong emotions such as fear, anger, extreme pain, sadness can also, unwittingly forge a link with etheric ally receptive objects in the environment. Similarly if they spend a long period of time in one location and they’re fixated on negative emotions the bond between etheric body and object can be made. In effect the dying person becomes anchored in the material world.

Finally, sometimes only the emotions, usually strong emotions, can imprint on the environment, long after the person or persons have died. This then is a residual haunting, which is merely a replaying of past events recorded into the environment. The events never change, never deviate, the apparition if one appears never interacts with the living. Many former battlefields and hospitals, mental institutions, places where people have suffered therefore are often imprinted in this manner.

What Parapsychologists Suggest
You may be wondering what a parapsychologist is, and why I keep bandying about the term. Parapsychology is actually a branch of psychology which attempts to scientifically study paranormal and psychic phenomena. Begun during the Spiritualist Movement in the 1880’s, parapsychologists originally investigated hauntings, tested psychics and studied such things as clairvoyance, psychokinesis, Near-death experiences and the like.  In the 1900’s they turned their attention primarily to the study of psi abilities, because these could be studied in a laboratory setting under careful scrutiny.  Remember Dr. Peter Venkman (played by Bill Murray) in Ghost Busters? In the first scene of the movie Murray is performing a test for psychic abilities by holding up cards (called Rhine cards after J.P. Rhine who invented them) and having the students try to guess the symbol.  Venkman and the boys were parapsychologists.  Under constant disdain and ridicule from the rest of the scientific world, which considers anything that can’t touched, seen or tasted as a fabrication of the imagination, sadly, parapsychology appears to be a dying breed, with the youngest parapsychologist in his 40’s.  (Don’t start licking scientists either, though they might have it coming.)

The hypothesis of Psi Projection has been suggested by many in the parapsychology field using various terms but basically suggesting the same end. The hypothesis suggests that strong emotions may cause an imprint in the environment and that an aspect or aspects of a personality may be able to imbed themselves as a form of replication at a location.  If enough of a person’s personality is able to imprint on a location after the person dies or perhaps remains after the person leaves, it may have enough personality to actually behave in a seemingly intelligent manner.  Incidentally, death may not even be a contributing factor to the copying that occurs. 

The theory reminds me of my computer has this pesky idiosyncrasy when I try to delete photos. I’ll highlight the photos to delete them and it will make copies of them instead, and where I had one bad photo to delete, now I have two – the original and the replica.  This theory is also reminiscent of the Egyptian belief described in Chapter One of the ka.  The ka wasn’t actually the soul of the person (the soul going onto Auru, the Egyptian heaven), but a replica of the person’s personality – the ghost – that stayed with the body. It is also starkly similar to the etheric body described by those involved in magical studies, the etheric body being basically a lower level, unintelligent being, who can get imbedded in an environment or stalled between the second and third death cycle.

In the “psi projection theory” the personality replica would be able, on a limited basis to interact with people.  It might be able to answer simple questions such as what is your name, or did you live here? Quite possibly it would be able to make auditory sounds or even manifest visually upon request.  And in some limited capacity it might even be able to effect matter, move an object etc.  But not being the actual soul of a living person, it would not be able to change, or understand the changes going on around it.  It would probably not have a memory and not be able to learn new things such as the year it is now.  It might be able to interact, but never to remember new experiences.  One can again we see the similarities to the poo eating Ka, and the semi-sleep state of the disembodied etheric entity.

So how might such an imprint or copy be made?  Quantum physics offers an explanation.  If you know nothing about Quantum Physics, it is an area of study that is an offshoot of Physics, which is a study of the natural, material world. Hence Quantum Physics is to physics what parapsychology is to psychology, only quantum physicists get far more respect (probably because they never mention ghosts.)  Quantum physics as a research study really began with the discovery that light acts both as a particle and a wave. As such sometimes it flows as a wave does, but its flow can be staunched until light dribbles out through a blockage one particle at a time.  This was a miraculous discovery at the time with two heated factions claiming that light was either a wave or a particle.

Within the brain human thought appears to move as waves as well, with electrical impulses flowing across neurons at lightning speed and varying frequencies.  We know this to be true because we can test brainwaves with an electroencephalograph or EEG machine.   We might speculate that thought like light might move as both a particle and a wave.  And if this were true we could theorize that our bodies would be constantly surrounded by a sea of thought particles, think the multi-colored auras reported by mediums who may not have been too far off.  This idea of a psi field has been accepted for decades by parapsychologists, and is further suggested by consciousness studies.  Think Carl Jung and our old friend William James for theories on a collective and an ever present stream of consciousness.

The psi field extends beyond the organism and saturates the environment around it. It is capable of interacting with the psi fields of other organisms and perhaps even objects.  Consider your childhood science experiment with the metal shavings and the magnet for a moment. Remember how the magnetic shavings would immediately line up in the direction of the magnet.  The molecules of a magnet are aligned or distributed in one organized direction. Therefore, if a magnet is introduced into an electromagnetic field the field will realign to this new magnet.  Accordingly, if a strong emotion or emotions is interjected into the environment it will act as a magnet, and reorganize or realign the thought particles.  Do recall that all thought patterns in the brain are fueled by a low level of electro-magnetic energy.

Parapsychologists use the analogy of tapes, although this metaphor is somewhat dated with the new technologies emerging.  Audio or video tape depended on a coating of easily magnetized particles to make recordings. The tape itself moved through a device which produced magnetic impulses. These magnetic impulses caused the particles on the tape to realign into a pattern that matched the magnetic impulses, which resulted in a recorded image or sound – or both.

Supposedly a very strong emotion, or many strong emotions, sent out into the environment over time could cause the thought particles in the environment to realign in patterns that matched the original thoughts, and that could be perceived by someone with a suitably developed psychic ability.  

Psychic ability seems to be easily equated with the strength of an individual’s antenna.  Some may only be equipped with the stupid rabbit ear antennas that sat atop televisions until recently, and needed constant readjustment. Other people may be equipped with the large, roof top antennas that brought in far more channels, while still others were receiving images from satellites in space and could receive all the channels – all for free. Lucky dogs.  
But what does the antenna actually detect? It may be that individuals with heightened psi abilities may be sensitive or hyper sensitive to electromagnetic fields.  Thus if they enter an area with unusual amount of electromagnetic fields they will feel uneasy, or watched.  They may even have physiological reactions such as becoming nauseous or ill.  This hypersensitivity may allow them to pick up on electromagnetic resonance or anomalies in the area more readily than a person without this sensitivity.   Anomalous electromagnetic fields can be natural, as in areas with seismic activity, or manmade such as buildings located near power lines.  They may also pick up on electromagnetic resonance which is one theory as to how a spirit may communicate with us.

Traumatic events would cause stronger imprinting upon the environment, thus sites where murders, suicides or battle occurred would have stronger impacting projections.  Think of the most haunted sites you remember, mental hospitals, prisons and battlefields always surface at the top of the list.  Sites with unusual electromagnetic or geomagnetic properties are more likely to be regarded as haunted. 

Such sites with seismic faults or underground water sources may further create a “containment zone” for activity that holds paranormal activity for longer periods of time.  Water in particular appears to have an ability to record or retain information.  Although haunting phenomena does tend to decrease in both regularity and intensity over time, when the particles are eventually scattered.

These hypothetical thought-particle imprints might carry either a telepathic or psychokinetic charge – meaning they might be perceived more subjectively or objectively as thoughts or impressions or as physical disturbances.  Telepathic imprints would result in more subjective phenomena, such as seeing an apparition, feeling cold spots, hearing sounds of footsteps or voices or merely sensing a feeling of being watched.

The psychokinetic impulses would result in more objective phenomena such as recordable sounds like footsteps or knocking, objects actually being moved or manipulated such as in poltergeist cases.  Poltergeist activity could be explained by the dynamic changeability of a human agent who is present and constantly changing the psychic thought patterns.  Residual haunts could be explained by a type of “psychic residue,” phenomena that is repetitive and non-interactive, left over from a former resident. And these random thought-energy particles may hold the essence of consciousness – or as I have suggested – a copy of the personality of an agent.  Remember my computer making a copy of my photo as I try to delete it, this would be more like copying the entire hard drive of the computer.

In the End
I think in the end we can see the similarities between the three, very disparate, fields of study concur.  While the terminology is different, the effects appear to be the same. At the most basic level of haunting, a residual, and the paranormal activity is merely an imprint, a recording of past events that does not interact with the human world.  At the other end of the spectrum, the intelligent haunt will and can interact with its environment and the inhabitants therein, but, and I apologize to the rude lady, they’re still not the soul of our dearly departed, but just a more complex or more completed copy of the departed’s personality. Having said that, hauntings are still enormously fascinating to investigate. Best case scenario, the careful investigation of hauntings may lead us to a better understanding of the human condition, consciousness, and the extension of life after death.