Saturday, December 24, 2016

Where the Imaginary Ends and the Dark Begins; Children and their Unseen Friends

By Robin M. Strom Mackey

If you’ve ever been around a small child you’ll probably recall that they chatter all the time.  They chatter to their toys, they chatter to their parents, they make strange noises over and over and over again.  It’s necessary to language development of course, though it may drive you crazy after awhile!  But when and if they start chattering to a friend that only they can see, a parent may start to become uncomfortable.

There are some theories to suggest that children are more open to paranormal experiences than their often more cynical parents.   Some believe that children may be more telepathically astute. The mere fact that they haven’t been told that there is no such thing as telepathy might make them more open to the experiencing of it.
They may also be more telepathically  attune because of their dependence on their parents.  The mere survival of a youngster is contingent on the adult caregiver, and thus a telepathic bond with a parent evolves, which may dissipate as the child develops skills and becomes more independent.
It is believed that telepathy is stronger in the young, dimming with age.  This has been suggested in the study of psychokinesis or poltergeists cases, where the human conduit is usually an adolescent or young adult, an age when the mix of swirling hormones and adolescent angst help spur their already innate abilities. Along those same lines of thinking, does being telepathically more attune also make children more susceptible to spirit communication?   The fact that many children have wonderfully active imaginations creates another problem. As a parent one begins to wonder, where does the imaginary end and the dark begin?   
In an email recently I received an inquiry that intrigued me.  Lindsey wrote:

I have resided in my home for a little over a year now. I have a two-year old [daughter] and a one-year old [son].  Since we have moved here my daughter has acted a little off. Since she has grown older she is now carrying on conversations with something only she can see….

Two weeks ago it [my emphasis] gained a name - Jesse. No one we know or interact with has this name. One of my brothers is named Jesse, but he does not even live in Delaware, and she has never had a relationship with him.” His name rarely comes up, so it’s odd that she just randomly started saying that name.

“I have asked her who Jesse is and where he/she is, and within seconds of me acknowledging its [my emphasis] name my dog started growling at something, which has never happened before. My dog does not have a mean bone in her body.”  She growls only at strangers, and usually only at male strangers.

My son who is one has now started pointing at things that I believe they see, and I do not. Toys will go off; singing in their bedroom when no one is in there. It doesn't seem to be anything violent, but it is becoming more frequent.

And as any mother would be I am getting a little worried about the intentions of whatever this spirit may want. I'm just wondering if you have any advice as to how I can maybe make a connection of this name with someone who may have lived here in the past or what steps I could take to do so. The property has been in my family as a rental house for a long time.  However my grandmother does not believe in the paranormal.” She is not open to listening to me or helping in any way (used with permission).

My first question was, would a child of two be too young to have developed an imaginary friend?  Consulting child development experts suggests that it was young, but not impossible. According to one source, typically children develop such friends from three to eight years of age. Yet another source suggested that children are becoming conscious beings, alert to their own identity, from the time that they can recognize themselves in a mirror.  Further, from the first time onward that a child makes a Choo Choo noise while playing with a toy train, or holds a doll and babbles out dialogue it can be assumed that the child has now developed the ability at abstract play (Turgeon, 2009).

Without any further background knowledge or an investigation into the property I wrote Lindsey back suggesting she could consider the situation in two ways, believer or skeptic:

1. Skeptic:  From a skeptic's point of view we might assume that your daughter has an active imagination and has created a friend for herself.  We may have only heard you mention your brother Jessie in a telephone call. Or maybe she heard the name on a TV program.  Perhaps she seized onto the name because she liked it. I remember doing the same when I was a little girl.  I had the names of my sons picked out by the time I was five.   Maybe she's created her make-believe friend because she's lonely?  In which case maybe some play dates with other kids could be tried, something that would let her socialize with kids her own age more and creating fictional friends less.

My son when he was younger had a lot of electronic toys.  I found they would often start by themselves in his closet, especially when the batteries were low. Try replacing batteries, or taking them out entirely if the toy is not used often.

2. Believer: From the standpoint that you might have an entity trying to speak with her.  Again I would suggest that the same thing. Try to get her out of her room more and playing with other kids

I wouldn't forbid her talking about her friend Jessie, but I wouldn't actively encourage the behavior either. In other words, don’t greet her every morning with the words, “what did the ghost say to you last night?” I’ve seen parents do this to children, thereby encouraging their children in the belief that there is a ghost and only they can communicate with it.  Or worse yet, in the case of children who are easily frightened, scaring the children by making them believe that there actually is a ghost in the house, and it’s trying to communicate with them despite the fact that they want nothing to do with it.   

But I also wouldn't take the hard-core stance that there's “no such thing as ghosts”. This suggests that whatever the child might have experienced is all in their imagination, and worst case scenario might suggest to the child that they may be punished or rebuked for admitting so. It also effectively shuts down the lines of communication.  I’ve read accounts by adults who experienced truly frightening phenomena in their houses as children.  When they tried to tell their parents they were shunned.  In some cases these same children had to endure often terrifying activity in silence.  It’s terrible to imagine a child being victimized in this manner, and even worse to imagine them doing so in isolation.

In-home Investigation

On the market now are all types of nifty surveillance cameras and equipment.  Many standalone cameras can connect to a smart phone.  I would definitely get one that also has audio.  I would suggest that you set one up in her room so that you could see and hear what's going on for yourself. That would hopefully give you some piece of mind. 

Motion sensor night lights in hallways and public spaces might also help you feel a bit more secure. They are available in both plug-in or battery operated. I've placed them all over my house.

To find out more about a property and its history I would start at a local library or historical society - if you have one in the area. Don't be surprised if you find no mention of a Jessie, however. I think that's simply the name your daughter gave her friend. These things rarely work out that neatly.

Paranormal Hypochondria

A parapsychologist acquaintance admits that with all the attention the paranormal has gotten in the media of late that many of us now have developed what he calls paranormal hypochondria.  In every odd situation we now experience we are programmed to read in paranormal.  Lost a loved one, the need becomes even greater.  I once had a conversation with a woman who wanted me to perform an investigation for her.  The conversation started with I lost Dad in 200X and my brother in 200X. She continued, I saw an orb on my surveillance camera and my toddler walked up the stairs and held his arms up asking something that I couldn’t see to pick him up and carry him up the stairs.  (First of all, don’t get me started on orbs!) All in all, I told her this was pretty slim pickings in the way of evidence.

The Third Route

Instead of actively encouraging or discouraging, I would try the third route.  If the child wants to discuss what they experienced try to calmly and openly listen to her.  Listen attentively when she talks to you about her new friend, but don’t bring the subject up with her yourself.  That's just giving her the green light that any such imaginings are just fine with you.  Young children are very in tune with their parent's opinions and will take their cue from your attitude as to how to feel about the situation. You want to be open to listening and remain calm. Ask questions and try to make no formal pronouncements.

Lyndsey’s Experiment

A client of mine, also named Lyndsey, came up with her own solution to a sticky problem. Lyndsey’s home is quite active.  Our team has actually investigated the site three times with another investigation tentatively scheduled for next summer.  Every time we investigate Lyndsey’s house we come away with multiple EVP’s, most often by a speaker who seems to be a woman.  This corresponds with what Lyndsey has told us.  She has confided that she often feels a matronly personality in the home, one that appears to be attached in particular with their very young son.  They have a baby monitor in the child’s room and they often hear the little boy communicating with someone or something that they cannot see. And they often detect strange sounds through the monitor. The activity had always been harmonious.  However, right after our third investigation in early November I got a disturbing email from Lyndsey. 

She said that the activity in the boy’s room had taken a turn for the worse.  He had awoken one night screaming that he had seen a ghost, and demanding to be let out of the room.  For long nights afterward he insisted on sleeping with them in the master bedroom and refused to enter his own room even during the day.  What was she to do?  I gave her the same advice that I’ve written about in this article, suggesting she find some way to speak with the boy calmly so as not to scare the absolute bejesus out of the tyke.  What she did next I thought was brilliant.  She made it into a game.

Using one of the pool soakers – the kind that have the noodle bodies and suck up the water only to shoot it out in a long stream – she told her son that they were going to play ghostbusters.  Walking through the house he was to tell her where he had seen ghosts and she would suck them up.  He dutifully showed her where he had seen entities and she sucked them up and took care of them.  Incidentally, the boy indicated the same spots that we had determined to be active in our investigations.

This activity did a number of things worth noting.  First, it pointed out to a concerned mother where her son was seeing apparitions.  The fact that it appeared to correspond with her experiences and with investigation results is validating.  Second, she took her son seriously neither encouraging him to make things up nor discouraging him from communicating with her. But third, and I think this is the most important, is that it gave mother and son the power back. I’m sure they both felt like they were much more in control after the activity.

Fourth, although some experts in the paranormal community disagree with me, I think Lyndsey’s exercise was a good way to communicate with the spirit.  I have always felt that if a spirit is in some way an essence of a deceased human, than they are bound by the same upbringing and courtesies with which we were raised.  In other words, you can communicate and attempt to set parameters with an unseen house guest.  I think Lyndsey’s game also went a long way toward doing that, indicating to the spirit that she had been seen, that she had overstepped the boundaries by frightening the boy and that such behavior was not acceptable.   

It wasn’t immediate, but Lyndsey eventually got the little tyke sleeping in his own room again, and as far as I know, peacefully.

Final Thoughts – Imaginary Friend or Other

Obviously without a lengthy interview and investigation I can’t say, or even speculate, as to whether Lindsey’s daughter is simply a very precocious and imaginative two-year old, or whether something is truly communicating with the child.   As I said earlier, it has been theorized that very young children are more open to telepathic communication with the spirit world. They may see spirits because they don't know they shouldn't be able to. The ability decreases with age

This is also an age when children are developing the ability of imaginative play.  And this is not something to be discouraged.  The same child development sources suggested that imaginative play has some very positive outcomes. Recent studies have indicated that children who developed imaginary friends weren’t, as had been speculated, lonely and isolated children, but highly creative.  Those that developed these “friends” were both more creative and socially adept than other children. In language studies such children were found to use complex sentence structures and developed advanced vocabularies. Overall, they were more socially adept at getting along with their classmates. The explanation seems to be that children with a developed imaginary friend got a chance at role playing both sides of a conversation. They developed better abstract thinking skills and were better at creating original ideas. The recently released book, Nurture Shock even cites research that seems to indicate that children who spent extended time in abstract play often demonstrated leaps in school achievement (Turgeon, 2009).


Turgeon, Heather (2009).  Imaginary Friends. (A subsidiary of Disney Inc.) Retrieved November, 27, 2016 from

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Joining a Ghost Group; Notes from H.R.

by Robin M. Strom-Mackey

It’s officially fall this week. The kids are starting back to school and the stores are displaying Halloween decorations. We’re putting away our summer pursuits and beginning to think about other things, like…ghosts and haunted houses.  This is the season when the SPCA stops adopting out black cats (I got mine in the spring).  It’s the Christmas season for paranormal investigators, and the season when I become deluged with applications from would be ghost hunters.  I usually get at least one a week, most of whom a mismatch to what my group is actually looking for in the way of applicants.  So if you’ve found that you’ve got a spooky itch to join a paranormal group this season, please read this article first.

Joining a Ghost Hunting Group; Notes from HR

The first group I joined I filled out the online application and then hovered over the SEND button. I think I filled out the application three times, on three successive nights. I asked myself repeatedly, “do I have the time for this commitment? Can I actually fulfill the tasks they’ll ask me to do? Am I really committed? When I actually hit the send button I still had a gulp moment when I thought to myself “What did I just do?” And then I waited, and waited, and waited without hearing back.  I got no word at all that my application had gotten received let alone accepted. So then I emailed the director, and I emailed him again. Then I wrote and laid out a plan as to how I could produce a weekly podcast for the group. I was a broadcaster and a broadcast instructor and I figured that a podcast would go a long way toward promoting the group and thus my skillset was unique and valuable. In other words I laid out for the director just what it was I could do for them.  It wasn’t long before I heard back.

 Fast forward ten years, and now I’m a director of my own group. And I have to admit one of the worst parts of the job is finding and recruiting new members.  There’s no lack of applicants.  There are roughly twice as many people seeking membership in my group as requests for actual investigations. However, I’m often left scratching my head at the strange applications I receive.  So I’d like to propose that if you’re serious about submitting an application for membership with a paranormal investigation group – any group mind you – that you think of it in the same way as you would if you were applying for a job. Follow These Steps:

 1.      Do Some Soul Searching – Do you Really Want to be a Paranormal Investigator?

I got on the phone recently with a potential applicant. It was a name and number supplied by one of the members of the group. Supposedly this gentleman was very interested in applying for membership but I just had to give him a call.  I was looking to fill a couple of positions on the group and looking to schedule some interviews to do that, so I eventually called the man in question, despite the fact that we do have an application process.

  “Oh, hello,” he said, “thank you for calling.  I went to your website to fill out your application but I couldn’t figure it out.” 

 “O.K.” I conceded, wondering just how difficult it could possibly be to fill out an online application, but playing along. “Would you like me to send you an application?” I asked.

  “Oh, yes,” he said.  While grabbing a pen and paper to take the man’s information I asked off hand, “Why do you think you want to join a paranormal group?”

 “Oh,” he stalled, “I don’t really know if I do want to join a group. I was just thinking about coming out and seeing if I’m interested in that sort of stuff.”

 The interview process was finished at this point. Not only could the gentleman not be bothered to go through the simple procedure of filling out an online application, but he didn’t even know if he was actually interested in being in a paranormal research group.  Apparently he was looking for some cheap entertainment and hoping I would be kind enough to provide it for him for free.

 2.     If You’re Not Sure, Try This First: Paranormal Entertainment

 If you would like to experience the paranormal to see if you are interested in the subject there is a whole tourist industry available to you.  I strongly suggest you try one of these venues first.  There are haunted hotels, haunted tours and even ghost hunts for the avid novice.  In my own state there are ghost hunts at the local Civil War era fort every Halloween season and walking tours in our historic downtowns.  Halloween is the season of all seasons for those interested in all things ghostly, but historic locations such as Gettysburg for instance, don’t limit themselves to just one month a year.   If you want to experience your own thrill, it’s available to you for the price of admission. Book a stay and talk a walk and find out for yourself if the paranormal is something you’re interested in pursuing.  For the vast majority of people who have an interest in the paranormal this will be enough to scratch the itch.

3.     If You’re Still Interested: Research the Organization

Any Human Resources person can tell you that if you apply for a job, and especially if granted the ability to interview for the position it’s important to know something about the organization.  What type of an organization is it, and do your interests and skills fit the mix? Every group website I know has some type of mission statement. Usually short, and to the point, they spell out quickly the group’s methodology.

On our homepage it reads:

DPRG is dedicated to using scientific methods to collect empirical evidence to either support or refute paranormal activity at a location.  Knowledge is power, and it’s empowering for people to know whether they are experiencing something with a natural explanation or something in the paranormal realm….Being scientifically bound, DPRG does not perform house cleansings, blessings or smudging. We do not, “send things into the light.”  However, we can offer suggestions or issue referrals should the situation warrant.
The first sentence is the give me. Using scientific methods means that we use equipment (most of it some type of electronic recording or measurement system) and documentation to collect evidence, and that we try to find natural and rational explanations first. We don’t hold séances or wander around a location talking about our feelings. We don’t assume a location haunted, simply because someone has told us it is.

And when applicants fill out an applications telling me they want to ghost hunt because they want to know how to perform exorcisms and help “the lost souls go into the light” it’s obvious to me that they haven’t read the mission statement.
I actually got one application from a self-proclaimed psychic who explained that I should consider her for membership because she’d been born with a caul over her face (an old superstition - people born with part of the birth sac over their face were destined to have psychic abilities).  I was profoundly perplexed as to how she felt this in line with scientific methodology.

4.     Ask not what the Group Can do for You: What do You have to Offer?

As a director of a group do bear in mind that we have a few things to do besides peruse applications.  Aside from setting up investigations, performing investigations, reviewing evidence, and presenting evidence (as well as work full-time etc.) there are also group maintenance issues, marketing tasks, meetings to set up… in other words we’re busy people.  I knew one director that likened the task of running a group to having a second full-time job. So if you’re seriously thinking about applying for a ghost hunting group I have a few tips for you; do’s and don’ts from someone who actually looks at the applications and calls potential members.
Remember my story at the beginning of the article. I wrote to the director and explained what I could offer him.  I receive far too many applications curtailing what I can do for the applicant. What skills, what expertise or what knowledge do you bring to the mix? Like any job application, we’re looking for skill sets. Do you have knowledge of electronic equipment? Do you mind pouring through dusty documents in search of the history of a property? Do you have the time to sit through the mind-numbing process of watching six hours of video of an empty room?  Are you a social-media aficionado? Do you have experience with home construction and are able to explain to us if the banging in the walls is due to the heating pipes or plumbing system?  These are things we can use, and need desperately.
 5.     Know the Grind: Be Realistic

 Most would-be ghost hunters burn out within the first year.  You should know the grind right up front.  Investigations are usually exceedingly boring – you’re usually in an abandoned building to all hours of the night talking to the walls with nothing happening.  You’re tired and bored, and you’ve got to break down all the equipment and ride home in the dark.

 And then when you get home you’ve got hours of video and audio to go through.  It is literally mind-numbing work listening to hours of audio or video. You can’t miss a moment for fear of missing something and yet…there’s so much to peruse. 

 Simple Math

 Case in point, we have a 4-camera surveillance system that we run at investigations. If we do a 2-hour investigation with all 4 cameras running that is 8 hours of video that needs to be watched; with 8 hours of audio that needs to be listened to and evaluated. Then I usually run 2 handheld cameras, and my team member also has a small handheld camera as well. So that’s an additional 6 hours of video.  For a two hour investigation that equals 22 hours of butt-busting review.  Add in any photos or other documentation that we might have to peruse, and then consider in that those hours of painstaking boredom may yield absolutely no useable results.  It’s really no wonder most team members don’t make it past the first year.  In truth, it usually takes my team 1 ½ - 2 months to fully sort through all the evidence.

 6.     Consider Logistics

 I recently got an application from a would-be team member that lived in Wilmington and didn’t drive or own a car. Needless to say it was a short application process.   I operate down-state, in Dover, yet most of my applicants are upstate. There’s an hour to a 1 ½ hour distance between us.  That means if we rap an investigation up at 1am, those investigators still have an hour to 1 ½ hours of travel time in the dark and the dead of night to go home. I dutifully warn every applicant about this, and yet I always get arguments.  Know where your group operates and assess, honestly, whether you have transportation to get you there.  If not, find a group that operates in your area and apply to them.

 7.     Psychics: Everyone Knows One

 I get more applicants claiming to be psychics than from any other group.  My group is more liberal than most groups in that we actually bring on some members who claim to be psychic.  However, we still require our members, even the psychic ones, to buy the necessary equipment and pull their weight in evidence review.  Someone who proclaims to be psychic may or may not have those abilities.  It takes careful testing to determine if a person’s abilities are genuinely telepathic, and I find that most who claim this talent are resistant to testing. Overtime, I’ve realized that I don’t really care. What I need most are people that pull their weight, suspend judgement, consider rational explanations and act like good teammates. What I don’t need are the notoriety seekers, the rock star wannabes, who want to make my group their spring-board to fame.

One further note about psychics, while I listen to what my psychic members tell me, I don't present anything to a client unless I have strong evidence to back up their claims.  For example, on a recent investigation I had an audio recording of one of our investigators claiming that she had felt a chill.  A few seconds later the other investigator reported a .2 jump on the EMF gauge they were using. And then a few seconds after that the recorder captures an apparent EVP - another voice saying something that neither had heard at the time.  Now that's a neat little package of events that I can present to a client.

 The Application that Wasn’t

 I’ve seen groups that require applicants to jump through incredible hoops to join.  One group in particular required members to be at weekly Tuesday night meetings that started at 10pm and ended at 1am or some such nonsense. Others that require elaborate disclosure requirements, meaning that any and all recordings you make on your equipment becomes their property, under pain of death undoubtedly.  Still others have elaborate hierarchal positions of power, with each position given its own fancy name.  You would be astounded how people will fight over a meaningless title as if their very existence depended on it.

 I’ve realized as I’ve gotten older that simple is usually better. So I make my applicants fill out an application.  This simple procedure usually tells me volumes. It tells me what information they are willing to share and unwilling to share.  In the case of the gentleman who couldn’t figure out how to fill out an application, it told me he’d probably be lost with the electronic equipment. Then there was the guy who filled out an application but left me no address, phone number or email. Not only was I confused as to how to get back to him, but I had to wonder, where's the trust? 
I very often get these strident email messages that say something like, “hey, I want to join your group. Lot’s of experience. Here’s my number.”  I email them back with the link to the application form and I never hear from them again. Case closed.  If you can’t fill out a simple application what else will you be unable to do? Again, what I really need in an applicant are people that pull their weight, suspend judgement, consider rational explanations and act like good teammates.  You should also have an analytical mind, a tolerance for minutiae and an iron butt. 

Friday, February 26, 2016

The Spiritualist Movement; D. D. Home

The following is an excerpt from a book discussing the more famous of the spiritualist mediums of the 1800's.

D.D. Home

At the height of the spiritualist movement emerged the era's most talented physical medium, Daniel Douglas Home.  A few things separated Home from his medium colleagues.  For one thing he never insisted on holding his séances in the dark, he never balked at skeptics that would examine his sessions for fraud, he was never publicly caught or denounced for fraud, and he never accepted payment for his séances. The last point is astounding, as Home was the invited guest of the most of the royalty of Europe at one time or another. 
He reportedly conducted séances for the Czar of Russia, the king of France, the king of Naples, the queen of Holland, the king of Bavaria and the German emperor, just to name a few!  He met and married his first wife, Alexandrina de Kroll, the sister-in-law to Count Koucheleff-Besborodka while in Rome. He had Alexandre Dumas as a groomsman, and Count Alexis Tolstoy the writer and Count Bobrinsky, a chamberlain to the emperor, as invited guests to the affair.  And yet he lived most of his life on the brink of poverty, relying on the largesse of devotees, roaming from one country to another as his welcome wore out. 

Daniel Douglas Home (pronounced Hume) was of rather questionable descent.  According to a footnote in Home’s own autobiographical book Incidents in My Life (1863) his father was the “natural son” of Alexander, the tenth earl of Home, and his mother, a lass of the Highlands,  claimed to be descended from the Brahan clan descendants of Kenneth MacKenzie.  From birth, Home was said to have special powers, being able to rock his own cradle.  During his childhood, Home was considered to be of nervous disposition and poor health, and was at times not expected to live to adulthood (19).
He passed his early childhood in Portobello, Scotland, but moved at the age of nine to the U.S. when he was adopted by a childless aunt, a Mrs. McNeill Cook. He lived for a time in Greeneville, Connecticut and Troy, New York.  Reportedly he was a sensitive child with a keen memory and strong observation skills.  He had his first vision at the age of 13, when a deceased school mate named Edwin visited him in his home in Troy.  Four years would pass before his second vision when Home predicted to the hour, his mother’s death.  When strange rappings and tappings started occurring around the house, his aunt first attempted to have Home exorcised and then finally evicted from her home (19, 20). 
Aside from being able to speak with spirits via a spirit guide, he was able to produce rapping sounds on command, strange lights and spectral hands.  One ghostly hand appeared at a séance with Napolean III which was able to sign his name on a piece of paper producing the signature of Napolean I (20). Home was able to call forth music on ghostly guitars and move objects about the room.  Later he was able to elongate his body as much as 11 inches to a height of 6 ½ feet, and then to shrink to five feet while onlookers saw his shoes disappear under his trousers.  He often had onlookers hold his frame to prove that he wasn’t faking it, and he allowed those present to measure the differences, all again in a lighted room to disprove fakery (19). 
At the age of 19 he developed the ability to levitate, at first bobbing up and down a few feet off the ground before gently floating up the ceiling (21).  He later was able to hone his skills and onlookers swore that he could fly. Home swore his abilities were made possible with the aid of friendly spirits, the most frequent of which was Bryan (19). 
Home was as much loved as despised.  He was criticized as being tempermental, with bouts of anxiety and depression, and to have homosexual leanings.  He was also described as vain and somewhat simple. He disdained contact with other mediums with whom he felt he had nothing to learn.  The only medium with whom he had a friendship, ironically, was Kate Fox. His gifts were at times considered sinister.  The Italian populace found him particularly loathsome, accusing him of witch craft and sorcery.
When Alexandrina de Kroll died in 1862, the family attempted to withhold Home’s inheritance. Home was forced to wage a long legal battle, during which time he had no steady income.  He tried to become a student of sculpture, going to Rome for a time to study.  He was forced to leave the city after a somewhat extended scuffle with the Papacy who accused Home of sorcery. He them emigrated briefly to the U.S. to attempt his hand as stage orator. It is said that his recitations of Howard Brownell’s poems were well received by audiences, but he left before long to return to Europe.  Throughout his career there were at least two attempts on his life, and he took knife wounds to the abdomen and the hand.  Certainly it is hard to imagine a psychic that was as famous as infamous, as punished as rewarded for his gifts (20). 
Ill health eventually forced Home to retire. He married a second time, to a wealthy Russian widow, Julie de Gloumeline and declined public séances thereafter. He traveled for the rest of his life, dying of tuberculosis while in Auteuil ,France in 1886 (19).
During a time when skeptics were actively attempting to disprove psychic mediums, there was never any substantial evidence revealed to prove Home a fraud.  Certainly skeptics suggested trickery, often after his death when fraud could not proven one way or another, and yet some of the sharpest minds couldn’t figure out how he produced his great feats.  

He even cooperated with psychical researcher Sir William Crookes in an experiment.  Crookes could detect no foul play and announced Home’s abilities as true.  The skeptical Frank Podmore grudgingly admitted that, “Home was never publicly exposed as an imposter; there is no evidence of any weight that he was even privately detected in trickery.”  Although Podmore did not concede that Home had mediumistic abilities, he neither refuted his abilities either.  Even the great Houdini couldn’t figure out how he produced the results he did.  Whether truly a medium of outstanding abilities or a very clever conjurer is still disputed.  He remains therefore, the greatest medium of the age (19, 20).


19. Cheung, Theresa (2008). The Element Encyclopedia of Ghosts and Hauntings. Barnes and Noble, Inc. in cooperation with Harper Collins Publishers. pps 211-214.

20. Melton, Gordon, Editor (2001).  Encyclopedia of Occultism and Parapsychology; Fifth Edition. Gale Group, Inc. Farmington Hills, MI Volume 1 A-L pps 737-740.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Ghost Hunting 101: Conducting the Session

Teachable Moment

By Robin M. Strom-Mackey
When I started with my first group there was very little training.  We all just kind of bungled around in the dark and tried to pick up tips and tricks from one another. I learned my favorite thermometer technique from one of the directors (two brothers) who I realize in retrospect, were more knowledgeable in investigating than training.  I really wanted someone to tell me how to do it properly, but learned most of what I know in self-study, research and trial and error.  Listening to the audio from the last investigation, I realized that our team still needs to address some very fundamental issues.  A session the team did recently became the perfect teachable moment, a recorded segment to dissect and discuss.
Honestly, a lot of what good investigators do is just common sense – once you think about it. However, you’ve got to run your finger over the microphone a couple of times before you stop causing yourself sudden deafness while  wearing headphones (did it) and not claim someone whispering “flash” is actually an EVP instead of someone taking a photo and announcing it quietly to the team members (also me).  In other words, we learn from the mistakes, and therein lies the teachable moment.

This article is intended to be interactive with links to the soundbites discussed throughout the article.  If the links do not work for whatever reason, all the soundbites with their associated file names are available on - search under Delaware Paranormal Research Group

Evidence Contamination

Let me start by saying one of the biggest obstacles in investigations is obtaining access to a building with little or no outside contamination.  I once went on an investigation to a house whose owners had decided they’d use the opportunity to throw a party – a boo-irthday, as the female homeowner called it, complete with birthday cake and snacks. Children and adults waltzed into and out of the house at will, and ran around the yard with cameras taking flash photographs.  I’m quite sure that at one point I was literally frothing at the mouth.
In a best-case scenario the team would set up the command station outside the building, allowing only 1 team of two or three individuals into a building at a time.  Some investigators will set up recording equipment and environmental monitoring equipment and then vacate the property entirely, at least for a portion of the investigation. I read an account by one investigator that was so determined to catch the “company ghost” on video that he set up surveillance cameras and ran them all night, every night, with a feed at his home,  while no one was in the building. He ran the experiment for a month or so  until he finally caught the apparition on film.  That’s blasted determination. (Lesson one; have patience grasshopper.)

The investigation

So in the situation I’m writing about the team was honored to have the entire building to ourselves for as long as we desired.  It being winter, we were forced to setup the surveillance monitor/command station in one room of the house, with one person left behind to monitor cameras while the two other investigators were performing a session.  All in all, aside from the outside neighborhood noise, we had a fairly pristine environment. 
Two investigators, M. and R., did a session together while I stayed behind at the command post and monitored cameras. Below is an audio segment of the session.
Soundbite 1: Triad of Doom
The team was excited to be collecting evidence, so excited that I don't think they considered the contamination situation they were creating for themselves..   There are at least three areas of contamination in this scenario a veritable chaotic cacophony (I can't resist an opportunity for alliteration, please forgive).

First, the person setting up the audio recorder, not wanting to place it on the dusty floor (understandable) placed it instead on a window sill. The unfortunate part is that the audio recorder picked up street noises (dogs barking, people talking, cars and motor cycles driving by, etc. etc.) Sadly, we can’t really be sure what might be actual paranormal activity and what is contamination.
Soundbite 2: EVP or Contamination
A better alternative would be to set the audio recorder somewhere in the center of the room, perhaps on a box. An even better idea would be to set the recorder up on a box somewhere in front of the surveillance camera.  Entities have been known to move or manipulate objects.  If it’s on a window sill no one can see what might be happening to the machine.  Also most investigators insist that you not use the recorder inboard mic, but mic the recorder with an external mic, as many of the cheaper recorders produce a lot of machine noise that further distorts sounds.

The Toys We Love

Second, there is a ghost box running, performing its endless amount of white noise, which is basically what the device is designed to do, as it scans the radio waves in the area. Honestly, I have to admit, I don’t have a lot of faith in this piece of equipment.  I think anything that purposely scans radio frequencies (i.e. radio stations) is prone to produce false positives by its very design.  

The author on an investigation using her dousing rods.
Now, I use dousing rods during investigations, though I know many investigators don’t approve of their use. I like to think of it as ghost hunting for those with ADD. The rods give me something to do with my hands during long hours of talking to empty rooms.  I do feel they help me find hot spots, which I can then probe with more reliable pieces of equipment. For example the rods may be active in an area, so I move in an EMF detector and voice recorder or snap off some photos… But I never go to a client or homeowner and tell them I think a place is haunted or not because of what the rods told me.  So, while I understand wanting to experiment with the Ghost Box, I wouldn’t call its burblings reliable evidence.  For that to happen it would have to be shockingly clear, like a ghost saying, “Hey, I’m a ghost and I’m talking to you through this device. Believe it B^%#!.” So while I understand wanting to experiment with such a device, I wouldn’t suggest using it for long sessions and consider it as collecting reliable evidence.

Soundbite 3: Workmen Clear As Day

Third, one of the team members decides to play music loudly, and for a really long time. The entire music/ghost box/EMF session goes on for over 30 minutes.  And during this time one of the members decides to attempt to dance with the entity while holding onto an EMF detector.  Now, here’s one of those teachable moments, the idea of playing music is a good one.   Trigger objects such as a toy car or doll, old coins from the time when the building was erected, revelry calls on a battle field, and music of a certain era, any of these might help to fuel paranormal activity. 
However, the playing of the trigger object shouldn't become the focus of the session.  If you’re going to play music at an investigation, choose a segment of a song, or one whole song and then go quiet. We use these objects as a starter to the paranormal conversation, not the conversation itself.  Do realize that the sound you’re broadcasting might be destroying your evidence. After the song is over, shut down and go quiet. Scan the room with eyes and ears to see if your trigger has caused any reaction. 
 t may not be a good idea to "dance" with a spirit while holding an EMF meter either, and here is why.  Holding this instrument and moving it vigorously around the room can cause false positives as you inadvertently move close to and then away from electrical sources.  Honestly, we need to reconsider our absolute faith in these devices.  They were designed to detect either natural electromagnetic fields that the Earth produces or man-made electromagnetic fields such as our toaster uses.  The Trifield Gauss meter which is a natural EMF detector is actually so sensitive it can detect thunderstorms several miles away.  
Remember, one stray EMF spike does not a ghostly encounter prove.  During set-up the EMF meters should be used to determine areas in a room which are giving off EMF so as to avoid putting meters in locations that will give off readings. Then during a session it’s a better practice to set the meter down in a location away from these sources and invite something to interact with the meter. If necessary, an investigator can hold a meter in their hand and slowly sweep an area for hot spots.  Also keep in mind your other senses, if you’re staring constantly at the EMF meter in the center of the room, you’ll possibly miss the dark shadow moving on its own down the stairs.  It’s a tool, but it’s not the only tool in the arsenal.

The Spirit Arrives

When the team finally did go quiet, things got really interesting!
EMF Soundbite4: EMF Conversation 12-15
I almost feel like this spirit may have been jumping up and down trying to get some attention.  The detector is going off quite consistently. This is the perfect opportunity for a yes/no question and response session.  For example, M. asks, “Do you have a favorite color?”  M. notes she sees the color red.  R. says she thinks yellow, but that’s because it’s her favorite color.  Neither ever ask the spirit.
This is how the question/response might have gone. The team members come up with their color choices and then one of the team members puts it to the spirit, “Is your favorite color red?”  Wait 10 to 15 seconds for a response. Then ask, “Is your favorite color yellow?”  Wait 10-15 seconds for a response.   If a response is noted, it’s always a good idea to ask for confirmation, such as, “We think you said your favorite color is red. If that’s true can you make the meter go off again?”  If you get no response to either red or yellow try other colors like blue or purple. 
Joni Mayhan, author of Ghost Voices also suggests designating someone as session leader (Mayhan, 2015).  This person would designate who would be asking the questions for a period of time.  When that person had asked their questions they would "pass" the questioning to the next person.  This system would alleviate the problem of team members talking over one another.  During the controlled Q and A, she also suggests team members find a place to sit down, as people standing will inadvertently make shuffling noises and other sounds which might during review be interpreted as being of a paranormal nature. It's a good idea to also put the EMF detector down also, often a few feet away from investigators, lest a spirit be disinclined to come too close.  If there is an extra voice recorder or other type of sensing device it can be placed next to, or near, the detector.   Now you've hedged your bets. If you get an EMF spike that's one small piece of evidence. Get an EMF spike and an EVP that's two pieces of evidence. Get an EMF spike, an EVP and note a temperature fluctuation or a change in barometric pressure, now you've got 3 sources of evidence and your case is stronger yet.
Some topics during a session will elicit a greater response, probably because it’s a subject that’s important to the entity.  In this Q and A the members got a quick and vehement response on the subject of her fine Sunday clothes, but no response to the question of hats. 

The engaged investigator will follow the Sunday clothes line of inquiry, as it appears to be of interest to the entity.   And if you are a self-proclaimed medium, please remember; even the very best sensitives are only accurate around 50% of the time, according to Parapsychologist and author Vince Wilson (Wilson, 2012).  An impression, feeling or sensation is only that unless it’s tested and verified.  M. said she visualized red, but she never seeks confirmation that her visualization is correct. 
The clothing questions were on the surface fairly shallow questions.  When the team gets to the question about who else might be in the building – now I’m on the edge of my seat…and the team drops the subject almost immediately.  ¡Ay, caramba! This portion of the session might have gone something like this…
”Is there another entity that lives in the basement?” Wait 10-15 seconds.
“Is it male?” Wait 10-15 seconds.
“Is it female?” Wait 10-15 seconds.
“Did she or he live here?” Wait 10-15 seconds.
“Is she/he hiding in the basement?” Wait 10-15 seconds.
“Is she/he angry?” Wait 10-15 seconds.
“Is she/he confused? Wait 10-15 seconds.
“Lost?” Wait 10-15 seconds.
“Does she/he ever come up from the basement?” Wait 10-15 seconds.
“Is that the shadow figure that the workmen reported seeing?” Wait 10-15 seconds.
“Let me confirm that there is a male that is living in the basement because he’s hiding from someone.” Wait 10-15 seconds.
Oh, and also, make sure to entreat the entity to also speak into the recorder by saying their name, tell you the year etc. 
I think you get the point. When you’ve got an entity actively engaged, you need to dig, dig, and dig. Rack your brain for questions. Have the patience and persistence to really communicate.  And ride that pony till it bucks ya! In other words don’t stop the session and walk away until you’re sure you’re not getting any more responses.  Remember Minerva's words in Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, "If you're going to understand the living you have to commune with the Dead (Berendt, 1994)."  By all means, please commune.
Teachable Moment Positive
On the positive side one of my members had the brilliant idea of comparing sounds in the building.  She found a segment of audio recorded in a room where the investigators were present and banging on a wall. Then she found the same segment on another recorder that was actually stationed in the attic of the building.  She edited both segments so the team could compare the sounds, i.e. figure out what banging on the walls in the bedroom sounded like when recorded in the attic.  In this way the team had a much better idea of what sounds were made by the team, and which sounds might actually be paranormal.  I intend to work this into our setup protocol in the future.  During set-up when we’re taking readings we’ll also bang on walls and stomp on floors and walk up and down the stairs meanwhile verbally tagging the audio as to our movements and then compare the sounds during evidence review, contrasting them to any sounds that don’t appear to fit.  Now that's good investigating.  
Soundbite 5 and6: Renne short audio knocking, and,  Renne knock attic audio

So here is R. knocking in the room.

And this is what the same knock sounded like on the other side of the building in the attic.
Mayhan, Joni (2015) Ghost Voices.  Available on

Wilson, Vince (2012). Ultimate Ghost Tech; The Science, History and Technology of Ghost Hunting.  Cosmic Pantheon Press.