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Wednesday, June 13, 2012

High Tech Ghost Hunting - The D.E.A.D. System

By Robin Strom-Mackey
Since the beginning of the spiritualist movement, ghost hunters have sought the best combination of tools with which to search out the elusive phenomenon. With the development of high tech equipment, various instruments have been pressed into service with researchers divided on which is the best to use and when. The problem appears to be that no one device has ever been proven to work in all situations, while different equipment has worked on occasion with startling results, not to work again on another. The list of equipment pressed into service over time, by different researchers includes radiation detectors (Geiger counters), different types of temperature and humidity gauges, ion counters, EMF detectors such as Trifield Natural EM detector (designed to measure the low, natural, electric signals of the earth, DC power - changes below 0 Hz but not at 0 Hz.),EMF detectors designed to pick up household currents, (AC currents - 60 Hz), geomagnetic detectors and a whole host of audio and video and photographic devices.
One obvious problem with equipment is that it was designed for another use in mind. EMF detectors are a perfect example. EMF detectors that are designed to detect household currents for example, may register fluctuations in EMF levels when a paranormal experience is occurring, or they might be picking up the microwave oven or the walkie talkie in your pocket. And even the much vaunted Trifield Natural EMF detectors are not flawless. In a 2006 study by Schumacher and Carter, it was determined that the Trifield Natural EMF detectors, while not picking up household current, were picking up certain weak signals given off by electrical devices about the house. According to Schumacher, household electrical devices do often produce low frequency fields that are detectable by the Trifield. The transformers in televisions and other devices charge and drain, which can produce a change in the magnetic field then detectable. Relays contain electromagnets. When these devices are turned on and power flows through the device, a change in the static field occurs, which again can be picked up. Furnaces, air conditioners, washing machines and vacuum cleaners all contain a magnet in their motors which when rotating, gives off a spark caused by the brushes meeting the commutator, which then can be picked up. Malfunctioning equipment and field leaks from electrical equipment to water pipes were also detectable as was taking an electrical device and turning it off and on several times (2006 Schumacher, Carter). 
 
Another flaw is that equipment designed for another purpose is often narrow in its range of pickup. For example EMF detectors pick up only in the 60 Hz range, but don’t necessarily do well in the higher ranges, while DC natural EMF detectors pick up in the low ranges, leaving an investigator wishing they could get something that could pick up in all the ranges, or according to Schumacher, “a meter that could sample AC and DC fields at a high rate on a multi-axis basis (X,Y,Z and SUM)“ a meter that, “has a fast sample rate of up to 250 samples per second; measures field strength; measure changes down to 0.005 nG; and measures the field strength at any given frequency. Not only can we determine changes in the field BUT we can also determine the frequency (Schumacher, Lauer pg 101).” Schumacher is boasting about the Fluxgate Magnometer - with data sampling PC interface. Those with some understanding of electricity and gadgetry are now drooling. The rest of us have our eyes rolled up in the back of their heads about now, hoping the lesson on EMF detectors will soon be over. It’s over.

Needless to say, according to Schumacher, the Fluxgate Magnometer is the baby to get (if one can afford this $1500 gadget). His research group, the P.R.G. then takes this mother of all EMF detectors, cables it to a laptop, and adds a few other flourishes to create the D.E.A.D. system.
D.E.A.D. System
The Direct Environmental Acquisition Data Logging D.E.A.D. System (got to love a witty acronym) is a data collection system designed and used by Schumacher’s Paranormal Research Group (P.R.G.) Schumacher admits that the idea of developing a data logging system is not unique to his group. (Other systems include the MESA, GEIST, ARCADIA AND MADS - if you‘re looking to do a little light reading.) The D.E.A.D. system is unique in the quality and type of data it can collect, especially in the area of electromagnetic fluctuation.

As I mentioned before, the group started with the Fluxgate Magnometer and a laptop and then added variety of other equipment that is also sampled directly into the laptop giving them a system that reads and records a number of different environmental data simultaneously to give a full picture of what is going on at a location at any given time during an investigation. The D.E.A.D. system also includes:
  • Triaxial ELF magnetic field meter
  • Fluxgate Magnetometer
  • HOBO Temperature date logger
  • Trifield Natural EMF meter modified to be data logged by the HOBO Data Logger
  • GM-10 Radiation Detector (Geiger Counter)
  • Laptop computer - they’re using a Panasonic Toughbook Laptop
Logging data directly into the laptop allows the group to Date and Time Stamp the data, which means that they can look for correlations of two or more environmental changes at a given time. It also allows them to check the data at a location when an investigator reports having an experience. They know exactly what the EMF, temperature and radiation was at any given time, which will allow them to examine the data from one or several situations, looking for correlations, not only at one investigation but across the scope of investigations. Investigators that don’t have this technology are swooning at the moment. How often have you walked into what feels like a cold spot at an investigation, for example, only to be fumbling about looking for your thermometer while the cold spot dissipates.

Schumacher concludes, “Being able to correlate at least two pieces of data (i.e. EMF and a personal experience, radiation drops and an anomaly on a photo, radiation spike and a recorded E.V.P.) provides more credible evidence AND allows us to discover what the correlations might be between paranormal phenomena and environmental changes. Ultimately, this type of quality information may help us determine how a haunting affects the environment, what is normal and what is paranormal, if environmental changes cause people to have subjective paranormal experiences, and what type of information is needed to determine what a haunting is and is not. This is the type of information that is needed in order to advance the field of paranormal investigation (Schumacher, Lauer, pg. 100).”
 
So what have they found with this wonderful system? While the authors don’t belabor their findings, they do point out two distinct situations with “cold spots.” In both the cases sited the “cold spots” weren’t cold. In fact, in both cases mentioned there was absolutely no changes in the room temperature, but there were changes in the radiation and EMF fields. The group includes pictures of the graphs where clear dips (radiation) and spikes (EMF) are quite obvious. Obviously I’ll be keeping a keen eye on the P.R.G. for more developments (their website is listed below) and asking Santa for some hefty presents next year.

Resources
Lauer, Jennifer, Schumacher, Dave. Investigating The Haunted; Ghost Hunting Taken to the Next Level. Printed by Lauer and Schumacher. 2007.
Southern Wisconsin Paranormal Research Group www.SWPRG.com

Teach Yourself Automatic Writing

by Robin M. Strom-Mackey
In the article How to Practice Automatic Writing, the author, Stephen Wagner explains how anyone can practice automatic writing. You’ll need 15 minutes to an hour for the experiment, and it may take several sessions before you have success. Don’t be frustrated if you produce nothing at first.

Find a quiet spot without distractions. Turn off the TV, the radio, the computer (yes, even the cell phone) and put the kids to bed. You may want to dim the lights to help create a somnolent mood.

Sit at a desk or table where you can be write comfortably. Bring along a paper and pens or pencils.

Take a few minutes to meditate, clearing your mind of any distractions. Automatic writing usually works best when the mind is in a semi-trance or hypnotic state

Put the paper out, place the pen in your hand and wait…The point is not to consciously write anything. Keep your mind as clear as possible and let your hand write freely. Try not to look at what is being written, you may even wish to close your eyes.

Again, this may take some time, and several attempts so do not get frustrated if nothing happens at first.

When (and if) the writing seems to be done, check out what’s been written there, carefully. Wagner says that the writing may appear to be nonsense or scribbles, but try to decipher it to the best of your ability. Look also for pictures or symbols as well.

If you start to achieve success you can direct the sessions by starting to ask direct questions and see if you receive answers.

Resources
Anonymous (2006) “Automatic Writing” The 1911 Classic Encyclopedia. Retrieved June 12, 2012 from http://www.1911encyclopedia.org/Automatic_writing

Blum, Deborah (2006) Ghost Hunters: William James and the Search for Scientific Proof of Life After Death. Penguin Books. New York, New York.

Taylor, Troy (2002-2008) “The Mystery of Patience Worth”
A St. Louis Housewife & One of the Greatest Unsolved Mysteries of All Time”

The Haunted Museum; The Historic & Haunted Guide to the Supernatural.
Retrieved June13, 2012 from
Taylor, Troy (2003-2008) “Automatic Writing; Communication from Spirits” The Haunted Museum; The Historic & Haunted Guide to the Supernatural.
Retrieved June13, 2012 from

Wagner, Stephen. “How to Practice Automatic Writing.” About.com Retrieved June 12, 2012 from http://paranormal.about.com/cs/automaticwriting/ht/auto_writing.htm

 

Spirit Communication through Automatic Writing

By Robin M. Strom-Mackey

Automatic Writing also known as spirit writing or slate writing came into vogue during the early, American, spiritualist movement (c. 1850-1860). The Fox sisters first began the effort of communication with the dead, using a crude system of knocks and rapping’s. Like a spiritual Morse code, a language was worked out and messages slowly thumped out to be interpreted via the sisters.
It became clear that this form of communication, however, was laborious and thus spiritualists experimented with other forms in an effort to make communication faster and easier. As it evolved automatic writing took several forms. During the early period a planchette was used, a pointer on wheels, that spelled out a spirit message. Other mediums would use a small chalkboard and chalk. They would place the empty chalkboard and chalk under a table. When the scratching on the board was heard, the medium would extract the board, and read the message.
This form of spirit writing was, of course, easy to fake. A board full of markings could be placed under the table, and replaced with the empty board. The “spirit message” on the board could then be brought forth for the amazement and entertainment of the sitters (Blum, 2006).
In a highly publicized case, the British Zoologist, Ray Lankester, denounced the self-styled, American medium Henry Slade. Disgusted by such reports of slate writing, Lankester attended a sitting with Slade. When Slade placed the empty slate below the table, Lankester snatched it out - even before the chalk could be heard making noises. In his letter to the Times, Lankester described finding the board already filled with cryptic messages, obviously written ahead of time. So disgusted with the fraud, Lankester literally had Slade prosecuted. (Blum, 2006).

The simplest form of automatic writing uses a paper and pencil or pen, or even a typewriter. The writer attempts to enter a trance like state, and writes down unconsciously whatever “comes through.” Whether a device for spirit communication or a means to tap one’s subconscious mind remains the debate. One author even suggested that perhaps what was tapped was the writer’s alter-ego which had extra-sensory perception. Leonora Piper, famous medium of her day, proposed this as an explanation of her abilities at automatic writing.
Several trance mediums using automatic writing claimed that they were in contact historical figures including famous authors, composer or politicians. Complete articles, poems, songs and even novels were written and later published, using automatic writing. The wife of the poet William Butler Yeats claimed to be capable of automatic writing, her scribbling becoming the inspiration for Yeats’ poetry.
Automatic Writing isn’t always about the written word. In some cases people with no artistic ability have produced works of professional quality art during automatic writing sessions. And one notable amateur musician has performed original compositions that she claims are channeled through Liszt and Debussy, among others.


Pearl Curran and Automatic Writing
Perhaps the most famous experiment with automatic writing, was the case of Pearl Curran, a St. Louis housewife who produced several novels, one full play, 5000 poems and several short works that were published with critical acclaim, over the course of 25 years. By her own account, Curran had little education, played the piano and never read. Yet she produced materials that were beyond her scope of knowledge, using archaic language and making references to historical events.
The explanation? Curran claimed she was channeling an entity whose name was Patience Worth, born (so she claimed) in Dorset shire, England in either 1694 or 1649 (both years were dictated). (No historical documentation has been found confirming the existence of Patience Worth.) The entity, who was edgy about giving personal details, told Curran that she had come to America but had been murdered by Indians. But Patience said she didn’t really want to talk about her past, saying,
"About me ye would know much. Yesterday is dead. Let thy mind rest as to the past (Taylor, 2002)."
The relationship began with the Ouija board, but Curran finally realized that this method of communication was too cumbersome for the amount of information that Patience was sending through. Noting that whole sentences were forming in her head while the planchette scratched out slow, cumbersome messages, Curran eventually began writing the material out with a paper and pen, and eventually a typewriter (Taylor, 2002).
Curran, unlike other mediums, never entered a trance while dictating. She was by all accounts aware of and even spoke with other people in the room and was known to smoke or eat in the midst of dictation. Not only did she hear Pearl’s words, but Curran was also privy to seeing the scenes enacted. She described a pressure in her head as Pearl’s words began to flow, and then suddenly Curran would see the scenery, the trees, the birds the speakers and the objects. If characters were speaking a foreign language she would hear the language at the same time that Pearl was interpreting. And often Curran literally saw herself in the scene, moving about the characters as an onlooker.
The relationship continued for several years, but eventually became strained. Patience, while tolerant of her secretary, began making condescending remarks about Curran’s intelligence, often becoming exasperated with her lack of knowledge. At the age of 39, Curran became pregnant for the first time, at which time Patience began drifting away; their conversations becoming fewer and farther between, at the same time that public interest waned (Taylor, 2002).


Marguerite Du Pont Lee and the Spirit Photographs

In the early 1900’s, society icon Marguerite Du Pont Lee (of the Delaware Du Pont’s) began experimenting with automatic writing. After the death of her friend, the Episcopal priest, Kemper Babcock, Lee reported having “episodes” of automatic writing which she contended came from Bocock. The messages told her to take photographs which she did, setting a picture of herself or Bocock on a chair and snapping a shot. Once developed, the photos sometimes revealed wispy, spectral faces and unexplainable balls of light. Some of the faces looked like Bocock himself.
Feeling she was on to something, Lee contacted William Keeler, an alleged spirit photographer. Keeler began taking photos of Lee and imprinting them with fake images of the deceased Bocock, amassing some 4000 fakes. Lee, perhaps sensing she’d been duped, contacted an investigator for the Society of Psychical Research, Walter F. Prince. Prince noted that in all the photos Bocock was always seen in profile either looking left or right, and that while the body changed greatly the heads of Bocock always looked the same. Prince deduced that Keeler was using two photographs of Bocock, the only two taken of him during his life, to create the fake images. Having discredited Keeler, the ordeal receded. What became of Lee’s photographs, which may indeed have revealed real phenomena, no one knows (Taylor, 2003).


Society for Psychical Research Experiments with Automatic Writing

With all the attention to automatic writing, the Society of Psychical Research (SPR) decided they needed to do some research into the phenomena. Edmund Gurney, author of Phantasms of the Living, demonstrated that subjects in a trance state could communicate information given to them, and be induced to write it out, even while the subject was speaking or reading aloud; similarly a mathematical problem could be worked out without the subject knowing they were doing it.
In the book Ghost Hunters; William James and the Search for Scientific Proof of Life After Death author Deborah Blum describes an experiment in automatic writing that spanned two continents and three sitters; including Leonora Piper, the celebrated medium of her day. The experiment began with Newnham College Classics Lecturer, Margaret Verrall. Verrall had been friends with the late Frederick Myers (one of the founders of the SPR). After Myers passed, Verrall decided to try to reach him from beyond, as she felt he would have desired. In order to do so, she decided to teach herself automatic writing.
For three months the tireless Verrall set aside an hour in the afternoon, when she would sit with paper and pencil at the ready, and wait, willing Myers to channel through her. Nothing happened. Finally she began to use the time to daydream, thinking of other things like her garden, her family, household chores, and she would come to only to find that the paper was covered in simplistic messages in Greek and Latin, and that they were signed at the bottom - “Myers (Blum, 2006).”
In Boston, medium Leonora Piper, through her medium guide Rector, started reporting having conversations with Myers as well. And what was striking was that the messages being reported through Piper’s séances were very similar to the messages showing up on Verrall’s paper. Even more interesting was the fact that the messages that came through to Piper were in the same Greek and Latin. Piper didn’t know either language.
Verrall taught her daughter Helen the trick of automatic writing, and Verrall, her daughter and Piper at their various locations began to receive similar messages which when compared were strikingly similar. Eventually the SPR decided to conduct an experiment in which messages would be given to Piper in Latin. The experimenters knew that Piper did know Latin, but that Myers had. So Myers would receive the message in Latin, translate it and send the translation and the reply to Verrall. They also experimented with sending anagrams Verrall would send the anagram rats, and Piper would receive the message- star - at the other end.
Whether automatic writing is truly communication with the other side or the tapping of a subconscious mind or alter ego remains debatable. But certainly the long history of automatic writing is an interesting chapter in the history of paranormal research.



Resources

Anonymous (2006) “Automatic Writing” The 1911 Classic Encyclopedia. Retrieved June 12, 2012 from http://www.1911encyclopedia.org/Automatic_writing
Blum, Deborah (2006) Ghost Hunters: William James and the Search for Scientific Proof of Life After Death. Penguin Books. New York, New York.
Taylor, Troy (2002-2008) “The Mystery of Patience Worth”
A St. Louis Housewife & One of the Greatest Unsolved Mysteries of All Time”


The Haunted Museum; The Historic & Haunted Guide to the Supernatural

Retrieved June13, 2012 from
Taylor, Troy (2003-2008) “Automatic Writing; Communication from Spirits” The Haunted Museum; The Historic & Haunted Guide to the Supernatural. Retrieved June13, 2012 from


Wagner, Stephen. “How to Practice Automatic Writing.” About.com Retrieved June 12, 2012 from http://paranormal.about.com/cs/automaticwriting/ht/auto_writing.htm



Sunday, June 10, 2012

Experimentation with Table Tilting

By Robin M. Strom-Mackey




In the near complete darkness the sitters circle the table in anticipation; speaking in hushed tones, holding their breath. The minutes tick by. Nothing happens. And then…a series of three quick raps are heard. Someone knocking at the house next door, perhaps? But as they come to this decision they feel it; at first a small shudder skittering across the table top. Then the legs of the table seem to jump and move. A collective gasp from the group, and suddenly the table literally seems to lurch below their hands….

This past-time, popularized during the spiritualist movement of the 1850’s, is referred to as table tipping (or table talking). This phenomenon, was popularized by mediums during the period, many of them charlatans who manipulated the table themselves for a paying audience. However, amateur groups soon discovered that no medium need be in attendance. Often groups of ordinary people would assemble for an evening of free entertainment; invitations sent out for a night of “tea and table tipping (Blum, 2006).“

Essentially table tilting, involved a small table that could be made to move, sliding, shuddering and in some cases levitating or moving across a space. Unexplained sounds such as knocking or rapping were sometimes heard. Table talking sessions were conducted in the near darkness of a séance type of environment, usually involving a small number of individuals who would sit around a table each resting their hands on the table - much the same way as a Ouija board planchette. The sitters were instructed to keep both hands visible on the table top and to move them as little as possible. Sessions might or might not involve a medium.

Experimenting with Table Tilting According to Troy Taylor, author and founder of the American Ghost Society, table tipping has been enjoying a resurgence of late. He notes that a tipping session can be held in a location that is not considered haunted and sitters can still experience phenomenon (Taylor, 2007). That’s because the phenomenon is considered to be an effect of RSPK and not the workings of a spirit. The dramatic effects of table tipping are a collective combining of RSPK. RSPK or Recurrent Spontaneous Psycho Kinesis is an ability to effect the material world with the mind. It is what is theorized to be behind poltergeist (noisy ghost) hauntings, which are created through RSPK of a living agent, usually unconsciously, and not a ghost or spirit. (SPI, 2012).

British psychologist and member of the SPR, Kenneth J. Batchehelder was the first to suggest RSPK as the agent behind table tipping phenomenon. He designed an experiment using table tipping to measure RSPK. Batchelder believed that the heightened sense of expectation, an atmosphere conducive to table tilting, and the group’s collective belief in the success of the experiment created an energy sufficient to effect an agent - in this case directed at a table - creating anomalous noises and movements (Karl, 2007).

Click the link to watch a short video of Kenneth Batcheder demonstrate and explain table tipping. Sadly this historic clip has been poorly preserved
Taylor suggests that groups of individuals can experiment with table tipping with a reasonable assurance of success. The optimum size for a table-tipping group is four to five individuals. Table tipping rarely occurs at the first session, so make sure that the location and the group members will be available for multiple sessions. The group should plan to meet often and regularly - Taylor suggests one to two times a week. The group needs to be dedicated enough to sit through possibly several sessions where nothing occurs.

In the spirit of scientific investigation, the variables should be kept the same at table tipping sessions. Therefore, all the sessions should be held in the same location and with the same individuals present for each session. Do not invite onlookers, at least at the beginning. The group needs to be alone with each other in order to learn to direct their collective RSPK.
Select a table that is small and lightweight. You can usually find a cheap, small table at a second-hand store. But if you’re using Mom’s huge oak dining room table for your table tipping sessions, you’re not likely to see results any time soon! Again, the same table should be used for all sessions.

Sessions should be free of distractions. Turn off televisions, radios, put the kids to bed, turn off the ringer on the phone etc. Dim the lights to near darkness. Table tipping tends to work better in a séance like environment, probably because the mind and body are free of other distractions. A dim environment also has the added bonus of creating a rather creepy mood, which is also beneficial.

Sitting down to begin your sessions keep a calm, relaxed atmosphere. Talk normally, make jokes and try to relax. Taylor suggests that if a member or members are too uptight about making something happen, the less likely activity is likely to occur (Taylor, 2007). Make sure all members keep their hands relaxed, and in sight, on the table top at all times. When activity does begin to occur, it is easy for members to move their hands unconsciously.
Invariably someone in the group may become bored or over-anxious and may desire to shake things up a bit by experimenting. Taylor suggests that only one variable be changed at any one session (Taylor, 2007). For example, if you desire to bring in a new member, don’t also change the location. If you try a different location keep the same table and all the same members.

Video taping all the sessions is suggested. Use a video camera with an IR setting. If you don’t have such a camera available, IR adapters can be purchased from many electronics stores for very little money. Make sure the video camera is set on the widest shot available, use a tripod or other stable device. It is best, of course, to have all of the group members and the table is in the shot at all times, so that any cheating (i.e. members moving the table on their own) is detectable. It will also provide proof of any occurring phenomenon. You can also track the increase or changes in phenomenon over time. You may also want to keep an audio track recording on the session as well.
That is not to say that cheating is altogether a bad thing. Taylor notes that often faking something can induce real activity to begin. “In one experiment, a sitter experimented with this and found that he was able to induce real rapping’s after he faked rapping noises or moved the table. He was never seen doing this as the sessions were held in near darkness (Taylor, 2007).” Taylor speculates that the reason faking can help is because most people have an inherent disbelief in the existence of psi. This disbelief may be buried deeply within the unconscious, but he admits it is almost always there. “Faking it” seems to trick the conscience into believing that it can happen, and then the mind is free to channel without the block of disbelief.

Even though table tipping sessions are an experiment of RSPK versus actually trying to contact a spirit, still such experiments can be beneficial for paranormal investigators. Taylor notes, experimenting with table tipping can give paranormal investigators a better understanding of what to expect should they come across an investigation involving poltergeist style activity.
Table Tipping at a Ghost Hunt
Obviously table tipping can be attempted at locations that are thought to have paranormal activity. Taylor suggests if a group attempts a table tipping session at a suspected haunted location that the group use the parameters above with some additional caveats.
The group may elect to include a medium into the session as well. If so, only use one as a control for the group. Also, when selecting group members avoid those who are openly or brazenly skeptical. Those “goats” in the group can block the activity with their disbelief.
For an investigation session the group will want to monitor with more devices than simply a video camera. Taylor suggests setting up at least two video cameras, an audio recorder, at least one if not several EMF detectors (Trifield Natural EMF detectors suggested) which can be set up around the outside of the circle to monitor changes. Stationary temperature gauges and humidity gauges should also be set up and monitored. In addition Taylor suggests having one to two individuals take photographs throughout the session and another take notes of anything that occurs during the session. This is in addition to the 4 or 5 individuals needed for the circle.
The session itself may be conducted differently. The group may elect to hold a type of EVP session with questions asked and answers encouraged. Or, if a medium is present, a type of medium-type contact may be used. This type of experiment, Taylor notes, makes any solid, verifiable evidence difficult. However, all the equipment should be monitored closely during the session and any changes notated carefully.

Resources

Blum, Deborah (2006) Ghost Hunters: William James and the Search for Scientific Proof of Life After Death. Penguin Books. New York, New York.
Karl, Jason (2007) An Illustrated History of the Haunted World. Barnes and Noble, New York, New York.
Society for Paranormal Investigation (SPI) Retrieved via world wide web June 10, 2012 at
http://www.paranormalghost.com/rspk.htm

Taylor, Troy (2007) Ghost Hunter’s Guidebook: The Essential Guide to Investigating Ghosts and Hauntings. Whitechapel Press. Decatur, Illinois.