GHOSTS and Ghostbusters Behaving Badly Bill Knell

So you say that your stuff is floating around the house and you don‘t live anywhere near the New Orleans flood zone? All your furniture has been moved to bizarre positions while you were out and you’re certain that nobody invited the Queer Eye decorating guys over? Your kids swear that unseen hands are touching them at night and they‘ve never been to Neverland? It must be ghosts! Who you gonna call? We‘ll, you know. But before you do, there are some things you should consider.

O.K. I got off to a bad start with the stupid jokes, but don’t hold that against me. Santa never brought me that EM Meter for ghost detecting when I was a kid, so I‘m mentally scarred for life. I really wanted to show up at the door of somebody’s haunted house with a van full of expensive ghost busting equipment and a camera crew when I got older. That way I could really freak out the people living there, get it all on camera and make myself look important at the same time. By the time I would get done hamming it up in front of the camera, they would be peeing their pants in fear for an audience of millions. Not really, but my poor choice of humor is not nearly as offensive as what I see being fed to the public as paranormal research.

“Look! Over there!!! Something moved. My meter is off the scale!!!!!!!” Off camera, the family cat meanders away from the ghost busting carnival to a quieter location. When the filming stops, a camera operator and engineering student reminds one of the ghost guys that EM fields fluctuate for many reasons in many places whether ghosts are present or not. Such fields can play havoc with a/v equipment and cause physical discomfort and unusual behavior in people and animals. Of course that information will never make it into the final cut. I would like to tell you that stuff like that doesn’t happen, but it does all the time.

Reality shows don’t make money if they’re boring. That’s why the producers of these programs go out of their way to fan any fires of jealousy, betrayal, distrust or confrontation that they can. While these emotions may not apply to reality shows built around the paranormal, others do. Unlike standard reality shows which count on competing participants to keep the audience watching, paranormal reality shows make their audience the participants and count on them to be afraid, amused and fascinated enough to tune in for every episode.

Placed under pressure to deliver a consistent flow of scary new episodes, the people on screen cannot afford to be credible or caring. They have product to deliver and that product had better scare the crap out of the audience or it‘s back to teaching sophomores, fixing toilets, hosting wet t-shirt contests or whatever else they do in the work a day world. Now don’t get me wrong. I’m all for good entertainment, as long as it doesn’t place paranormal witnesses and investigators in peril. It’s fine to take a bunch of people looking for a cheap thrill into an old insane asylum, strap body cams on them, let them scare each other silly and film it all for TV. That’s entertainment. However, invading the homes and workplaces of legitimately frightened people who have witnessed a supernatural event with a bunch of thrill seekers to create TV shows in the name of paranormal research is erroneous.

When I first became involved with paranormal investigations, I was not a scientist, university professor, engineer, electronic technician or ex-reality show contestant looking for my next gig. I was a high school junior. I wasn’t a thrill seeker looking to experience something, a skeptic trying to shape the world to my liking, an author trying to sell a book, a scientist trying to prove or disprove some theory or a publicity hound trying to get my face in the newspaper or on TV. I was just a guy who believed that people who had experienced a paranormal event deserved better than rolling eyes from their families, total dismissal by the vast majority of scientists and sarcasm from a jaded mass media.

My investigative philosophy was simple at that time and remains the same today: Listen to the witnesses, gather as much information and evidence as possible, look for commonality of experience, build an information database and share it. The database could be used to help people who had experienced something unusual and were traumatized by it. Witnesses could look at what others had experienced and know that they were not alone, crazy or misguided. My idea was to replace fear with knowledge. My investigative philosophy didn’t (and doesn’t) include exploiting witnesses, shoving TV Cameras into the faces of frightened people or allowing thrill seekers to ride along on investigations for an adrenaline rush.

Let’s take a quick look at the RIGHT and WRONG of investigating paranormal events. For the sake of comparison, most people wouldn’t think of bringing cameras, lights, meters, sound recording equipment and thrill seekers into a funeral home during a wake hoping that something supernatural would happen. And yet, that’s exactly what happens when Ghost Busters in training invade the residence or workplace of someone experiencing unusual phenomenon.

While no one is the absolute and final authority on how an investigation into the unexplained should be conducted, there are no gray areas when it comes to respect, proper conduct and safety. If an investigator respects themselves, they will respect the witnesses and phenomenon they’re investigating. They will conduct themselves in a manner that will inspire confidence and reflect well on others in the field. They will be concerned about their own safety and the safety of all involved in any investigation.

Paranormal investigation done right is a cautious process that reverently approaches the phenomenon, respects the witnesses, promotes the exchange of information, replaces fear with knowledge and seeks to protect all involved from any physical or mental injury. It’s not a night out for adrenaline junkies, a way for buffoons to make themselves look important on television, a paycheck for people who would do anything for a buck or a means to an end for reality show producers. The motivation of any paranormal researcher will govern their ethics and behavior. That behavior can have far reaching consequences when you consider how many people are looking for someone to provide leadership and sanity during the investigation of unexplained events.

I was extremely distressed when I recently read an interview [1] with one of the people who appears on Sci Fi Investigates [2], a new reality show airing on the Sci Fi Channel. All that person could talk about was hoping for a successful season and getting renewed. That leaves the public, news media and ever-doubting skeptics with the impression that paranormal investigators are for sale to the highest bidder. It says that we will do anything that makes for good entertainment if the price is right, irrespective of the consequences.

I recently spoke to a woman [3] who was to be the focus of a book about a particular area of the unexplained. She recalled how that when the person investigating her claims mentioned a book, she was initially upset. Being a responsible person with a job and family to support, that wasn’t the kind of exposure she wanted. Nevertheless, she felt that she owed something to the researcher who had spent so much time with her and helped her to understand what she had experienced.

While the investigation was ongoing, she liked the fact that she had access to others who had experienced the same phenomenon that she did. However, she also noticed that the researcher seemed to use that access as a means to get her to agree with his perception and theories about what happened to her. She agreed with him when it came to a basic description of her experiences, but had some real problems with his interpretation of many of the events surrounding them.

After initially promising her that she wouldn’t have to expose herself to any media attention as a result of the book‘s publication, he was now asking her to sign some papers agreeing to participate in radio interviews by phone to help promote it. While her name would be kept confidential, she was certain that neighbors and others would recognize her voice. She refused and immediately got the cold shoulder. Her contact with him and those he had introduced to her with similar experiences was gone.

Although the book about her was never published, it was upsetting to find that she had treated this way. I know enough successful authors to state that this is not the way everyone who has published a book about the paranormal behaves with those mentioned in it. And each case is different. There are those who want to tell the public about their experiences. More often than not, it’s the researcher who has to decide how good or bad for that person exposure to the public and media would be for their physical, spiritual and mental condition. If that decision has more to do with money or fame then it does with ethical considerations, it’s the witness and credibility of paranormal research that will suffer.

Part of understanding how important it is to properly investigate unexplained phenomenon is understanding what to expect from that phenomena. Since ghosts are the focus of this article, let’s take a look at some basic conclusions about ghostly activity and related subjects drawn from a vast pool of commonality of experience:

Types of Ghostly Activity:

Passive - The same scene is reenacted over and over again without any interaction or acknowledgement of those watching. In most cases there is no danger or threat to the living.

Active - Whether it’s a benign stare, movement of objects, a tap on the shoulder or much more, there is some interaction between the phenomena and the witness. Everyone involved in a situation like this one should proceed with great caution.

Active Personal - A spirit or entity is interacting with an individual, family or structure for a specific reason, known or unknown. Reasons for the actions are taken by the dead can be the same as those taken by the living: Love, Hate, Obsession, Revenge or Unfinished Business. Extreme caution must be exercised and a plan drawn up to separate the phenomenon from those experiencing it. The plan should be a consensus of opinions from as many reliable sources as a witness and investigator can assemble.

Active Impersonal - A spirit or entity is interacting with the living because they are confused or lost. Care must still be exercised because spirits can harm the living without necessarily meaning to do so. Again, a consensus plan can help the spirit to move on.

Psychic Phenomenon or A Ghost? - It’s not a new question. Some unexplained events may have more to do with an especially powerful mental ability, than ghosts. The movement of objects and viewing of past, present or future events or people in real time are good examples. The real time issue can be a troubling one. That’s because some people may have the ability to interact with the past or future they are viewing without explanation. Others can remotely view events happening in the present, but outside of their sight or hearing. They may also have the ability to project thoughts into physical actions. Care should be taken in these situations because we simply know so little about them.

Possession - It’s hard to explain this type of phenomenon, except to say that a person shares their body (voluntarily or involuntarily) with another consciousness. The ‘other’ self may have supernatural abilities. These can include the ability to move objects without touching them and knowledge that is unavailable to the possessed person. Cases of possession on any level can pose great risk to the person who is possessed and all that become involved with them.

The investigation of paranormal phenomena can involve risk to the investigator, the witness and the property. There is no way to know if what we do as part of the investigation will violate some physical, spiritual, temporal or other law, principle or tenet. The disrespect or under-estimation of supernatural events can bring unexpected results. Phenomenon that had been non-physical can suddenly become physical for the witnesses and investigators. People get touched, hit, slapped, burned, injured and worse.

Apart from physicality, there is the absolute nightmare of psychological or psychic torment. This can easily lead to mental illness and even suicide. Having seen how perfectly sane people can be mentally tormented by active phenomenon, I can say that it is not something I would want to experience.

In the late 1970s I was investigating some odd events occurring at a home in Michigan [4], in the suburbs of Detroit. A family of eight were seeing apparitions, experiencing cold spots and occasionally felt they were being touched by something they couldn’t see. The parents and four of their sixth children lived in the home, the other two had moved out. The two that moved out were very skeptical and disrespectful of the entire situation. Their names were Cathie and Janine.

While still living at home, both sisters would bring their friends over to ‘Say HI’ to the ghosts and mock them. They would look up spells and incantations designed to taunt or drive spirits from the house and then recite then during sleepovers to scare their friends and have some fun. Fed up with what she perceived as the family obsession, Janine once dug a mock grave in the backyard and told her family she was going to will the house ghost into it and bury him deep. Cathie was less abrasive on the subject, but equally annoyed by all the talk of ghosts in the house and mischievous about their presence. During high school she wrote stories about how bizarre murders had occurred in the house before her family lived there and how the victims and killers still haunted the place.

Cathie was twenty-one years of age, married and hadn’t lived in the home for a couple of years when I met her. She was the first to express her doubts to me. Although she had seen things she couldn’t explain while growing up the house, Cathie was certain that it had more to do with bad water then with spirits. While it was true that the town water supply had a bitter taste, it had been tested by a number of independent labs. They found no major problems. Located near an industrial sector, she also argued that pollution from all the nearby industry might be the cause.

One day Cathie and her husband Jim were visiting her parents at the house while I was there. They were just in the middle of expressing their doubts about all the supernatural activity, when Jim became ill and had to leave. A few days later the family called me with some upsetting news. Jim had died from an infected mosquito bite. He had been bitten some time during the previous week.

A day later, Cathie was on the phone with someone working at a funeral home when the line went dead. The funeral director had been shot and killed by an ex-girlfriend. Later that week her sister-in-law stopped by to see how she was doing. After leaving, her sister-in-law was killed when her car was hit by a drunk driver. Cathie developed a rash which was originally diagnosed as poison ivy, but it resisted all treatment. The rash lasted for three months and was thought to be an allergic reaction of some kind.

Not long after the death of Cathie‘s husband, Janine experienced some odd events of her own. The nineteen year old college student had been over the family house arguing with her parents about the alleged supernatural activity and how it had nothing to do with Cathie’s bad luck when the family experienced something strange. As if on cue, everyone’s hair suddenly stood straight up on end as if being blown that way by a hair dryer. At that point Janine left, but called later to say that one of her teachers told her it could have been caused by static electricity from a thunder storm that was going on nearby.

Two days after the hair incident, Janine was visiting her boyfriend. After she left, he was in a traffic accident and died a few days later. Having known each other for years, the event was devastating for Janine. She sought comfort from Betty, her best friend since the fifth grade. After spending a whole day with Betty, she left. While Betty was still standing in front of home checking her mail, she was hit by a delivery truck and died just a few minutes after Janine had left. Less than a week later, both of Janine’s dogs were killed when they got out of a locked yard and were hit by cars on a nearby busy street. The gate to their yard was still locked when Janine checked it and there was no other way out of the yard.

The family moved out of their troubled home and placed it up for sale. Happy in a brand new house without any supernatural occurrences, they were certain their luck had changed. However, a few days after they moved into their new home, their old house caught fire and burned to the ground while still up for sale. No actual cause of the fire was discovered, but since the home was older it was assumed that the fire might have been caused by antiquated wiring.

Although most of the family members led what could be considered normal lives after moving out of the house the last I heard, several developed psychological problems that required regular medication. Janine had the hardest time. She tried to commit suicide twice and was institutionalized several times. Cathie developed severe depression and went through a series of marriages and divorces. Coincidence? Bad luck? I don’t know, but I have seen things like this happen before.

Cathie and Janine were correct to point out the things they did about what seemed to be going on in the house. Most of what had been reported to me might have had conventional causes. It’s not wrong to question or criticize the unexplained. However, it’s a mistake to believe that you can disrespect, mock or antagonize something that may be real, conscious and exist on another plane without any consequences. Such forces may be influential or powerful in ways we cannot imagine.

What the family considered a haunting, might have been an attempt at communication with no bias. However, once confronted with mocking negativity, it’s also possible that the force behind the unusual events may have considered such behavior a threat and taken what actions it deemed appropriate. Without being able to see beyond our own physical, temporal and dimensional environment, it’s impossible to know what consequences we will bring on ourselves and others by irrespective behavior toward unknown phenomenon.

The lessons of this article are simple ones for both the paranormal witness and the investigator:

1. RESPECT what you cannot fully understand.

2. EXPECT physical, spiritual and psychological attacks during certain types of paranormal phenomenon.

3. BE OBJECTIVE regarding events, evidence and theories.

4. KEEP AN OPEN MIND and be willing to consider alternative views and investigative methods.

[1] Rochester Democrat and Chronicle, October 16, 2006, Local UFO expert gets a shot on the Sci Fi Channel by Mark Hare

[2] “From cryptozoology to government conspiracies, SCI FI Investigates will launch a new expedition every episode to aggressively investigate the unexplained phenomena, both old and new.” Website, About, SCI FI Investigates

[3] Personal notes and case files

[4] Personal notes and case files

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