I Spoke To The Woman Who Filmed A Haunted Puppet Moving In Her Basement

jayne harris puppet

Jayne Harris believes that she has caught on camera the moment an allegedly haunted puppet moves on its own. The previous owner of the puppet claimed the spirit attached to it tried to harm him which is why Harris has been observing the puppet for the last three months in her usually-disused basement with a camcorder. After observing the footage in the news reports I read about this there were several questions that came to my mind. Could it be fraud via the use of wires or magnets? Could it just be falling over as things often do? Why was it only making headlines now, months after being filmed?

Rather than speculate about the motives of those involved I decided to try and contact Harris directly with my questions. Harris kindly agreed to me sharing our conversation here.

Me: As you probably know most people think that has been staged and I wondered if you might answer a few questions about it?

Jayne: Of course. I’m aware that no evidence will ever be enough to convince some people, however in sharing my footage I’m not trying to convince anyone. Believers believe, skeptics don’t. I know how long I had the goosebumps on the morning on 13th July when I reviewed the footage! Of course I’d be happy to talk about it.

Me: I am a paranormal researcher but don’t believe in the paranormal. I consider myself to have an open mind but always try to rule out possible causes for things like this. I think the most obvious cause here is fraud which I know you’ve denied. Was there anybody else that had access to the puppet? Oh gosh, that sounded wrong. What I meant was how certain can you be that nobody else tampered with it?

Jayne: I’ll explain something. I have been studying the field of Spirit Attachment for 17 years. In that time I’ve captured orbs (which I discount as I personally do not believe them to be connected to anything paranormal), shadows… the usual. However, at no point have I found anything (other than the 2 occasions in 2004 when I witnessed an apparition) to completely wipe doubt from my mind. Although not for want of trying. This footage was taken using a standard (pretty old!) Sony camcorder set to night vision. We leave the camera running as part of our investigations for up to 3 hours each night while we have a specific object under study. We use controlled conditions as suggested by ASSAP of which I’m a member. Our study area is on the basement as that is the only place in our home where we can keep conditions controlled.

I frequently set up trigger object experiments too with the use of motion detection. Even I wasn’t present at the time of the recording. We set up at 11.30pm and the tape runs using long play until roughly 3am. The Daily Mail unfortunately cropped the footage to exclude the time long and date. It was taken at 2.05am. As you can imagine reviewing up to 3 hours of night vision footage is quite a task. Usually I’m listening out for sounds, or watching for shadows/something around the object. What I did not expect was to see the object itself moving. Although I have always believed in some way that spirits not only exist but can manipulate physical objects.

Me: So do you believe this is a ghost moving the puppet?

Jayne: I believe in both residual and intelligent hauntings. I believe energy can be absorbed by objects as it can by buildings. The case of the puppet I believe is not residual. After seeing the footage and speaking at length with its previous owner I believe there is a spirit around it/associated to it/haunting it (choice of words varies from person to person!) I believe ghosts are residual energy being replayed. Unaware of the living. I believe spirits are something different and in this case unless someone can prove to me categorically that I’m wrong, I believe we have a spirit making themselves known.

Me: What do you think about the suggestion that perhaps it just moved due to gravity – like, it wasn’t quite balanced right and just toppled over on itself? I just wonder how much context plays a part here. If you see what I mean.

Jayne: As for gravity, personally I discount it. Gravity could make something fall but it couldn’t lift, pause and then slowly lower before dropping. I watched that footage over 30 times on the day I first saw it and tried every possible explanation. I even examined the cabinet incase a mouse had got in! I have tried to recreate it since bit can’t. We’ve created vibrations in the rooms above by walking heavily, moving furniture etc. Believe me I don’t share my evidence lightly. I have to be sure. I know I leave myself open to criticism but who doesn’t. My view is that those with an interest in and some knowledge of the paranormal will feel it worth seeing.

Me: I’m just watching it now, was the cross originally on the puppet?

Jayne: Yes its the wooden operating cross that controls the puppet. It connects the strings to the puppet via metal loops

Me: is there a copy of the video that hasn’t been edited by the press?

Jayne: I originally uploaded it to youtube (which is how the journalist found it) that shows the footage. As part of our research we have various psychic mediums study any objects we investigate (although of course the opinion of psychics can be open to interpretation). It all helps us build a picture. In this line of work a good 90% of objects we study are found to have no notable activity or signs of anything paranormal.

A/N: Here is the original video

Me: I’ve just watched the video again and I notice that just before the cross falls there’s a “tink” noise, do you recognise that noise? Like. literally before the cross falls into the glass?

Jayne: There is yes. We think it may be the other side of the operating cross touching the back of the cabinet before the fall. Or possibly one of the puppets porcelain feet/hands.

Me: have you been able to recreate the noise?

Jayne: We got a similar sound on a couple of occasions more so when the back of the cross caught the back of the cabinet

Me: Do you have that on tape? The recreations?

Jayne: We don’t film our attempts to recreate activity or replicate environments no. It’s part of what we do day to day.

Me: what the control conditions are that you use?

Jayne: by controlled, I mean that we look to minimise external interference when conducting experiments, and if we gather any data i.e. the video footage, we try to recreate the exact same environment for future experiments to see if we get the same responses or results. In all in the name of accurate data collection (notoriously difficult in the paranormal field!) We use the basement as it in unused for any other purpose, so no one goes there unless they are checking for results. We measure the temperature of the area at the beginning of each session, set up camera in the exact same position (using makers on the floor, shelves etc) and do as much as we can to ensure everything remains untouched.

Me: Oh, you said it was controls suggested by ASSAP?

Jayne: Controlled conditions also means not relying on witness testimonies too heavily as these are obviously open to interpretation and not measurable.

Me: do you not think the videos are open to interpretation too?

Jayne: Oh of course, as is anything, but it’s far closer to evidence than me simply telling you I saw the puppet move don’t you think.

Me: Sure, but I think it still requires a reliance on your word that this is what we’re seeing in the video. I think a lot of people will wonder why the lights weren’t on, why you didn’t also film from other angles, or why you didn’t film the replications.

Jayne: yes of course, as do most things. Unless someone experiences something for themselves, they will never believe

Me: Even experiencing things for yourself is open to interpretation and biases though? And you didn’t experience this for yourself…?

Jayne: Exactly, no one will ever have cast iron guaranteed proof of the afterlife, thats a fact. At the end of the day I’m not looking to convince anyone, I know what I captured and in sharing it with others I am sharing what I consider to be my best capture to date. People can take it however they see fit. I respect and appreciate the thoughts and opinions of any who approaches it in a mature way.

Jayne: I think when you are approached by the media, you have to accept that there will be those out there who think you’ve agree to an article because you have an ulterior motive. I suppose that happens a lot. [A/N: yes, it does]. I’m not looking convince anyone as I say, but I know there are genuine paranormal enthusiasts out there who will be as excited as I am by this.

Edit (14.08.2015): I have summarised my thoughts on this in a reply to a comment left below. Click here to go directly to my response.

Free Speech Is Bittersweet And That’s The Whole Point

404 freedom of speech

When I started Project Barnum (the now defunct online resource into how to spot psychic trickery) I did so with a petition that urged theatres and performance venues to not host psychic stage shows. At the time there was some controversy with people suggesting that the petition was calling for the censorship of psychics (something Deborah Hyde suggested in an interview at the time) but that wasn’t the case.

With the petition I wanted to show that people were concerned about these sorts of shows but I look back now and can see that putting obstacles in the way of people getting a psychic reading isn’t going to stop them from getting a psychic reading, just as banning books won’t stop people reading those books. The best thing to do is to provide people with the knowledge that’ll help them understand the situation and ideas they encounter, and to meet misleading speech with accurate speech. The petition was a valid form of protest though and it did garner a response from one of the biggest theatre chains in the UK.

I’ve always tried to champion freedom of speech and freedom of expression and I was shocked when people started talking about censorship. I changed my approach with Project Barnum and instead made it something that people could use in their own best interests if they wanted or needed to and as a result several people managed to get their money back after seeing dodgy psychics and mediums. Win!

Why am I writing about this? Well, I wanted to give some insight into how my perspective of free speech has shifted over the years. I am very much of the opinion that if you want free speech then it has to come with no clauses. “I believe in free speech but not for them” just doesn’t cut it but it’s really easy to fall into the trap of justifying the silencing of a particular group or individual because of your personal biases.

In recent years there have been a spate of concerning censorship incidents at UK universities in which non-religious students have been censored because they offended religious students and women have been no-platformed because their opinions are deemed to be offensive and it’s unacceptable. You’ve a right to be offended but you’ve absolutely no right to have your offence catered to. Obviously there are times when a hate crime might be committed and that’s a legal issue, but these particular cases did not class as hate crimes and yet the offended students have their offence treated as though it was a priority. A priority over the freedom of speech and expression of the non-religious students.

Then, more recently, came the horrendous incidents in Paris and the on-going brutal murders of secular bloggers in Bangladesh.

Now, I’ve already taken a bit of a leap with this post. Censorship of psychics is hardly on the same level as the censorship (and murder) of atheists, right? True, but it’s still problematic and the moral of the story is there throughout. You can’t think it’s okay to censor one group of people and not okay for another group to be censored. Such a standpoint lacks consistency.

Anyway, I digress.

The whole reason for writing this post was because of my experiences in the last few weeks on Twitter. I made this following retweet in late July:

and I added the following comment to my Retweet:

At the time of the retweet I didn’t know about the drama in which author Ophelia Benson has been accused of being a TERF (Trans-Exclusionary Radical Feminist.) The retweet was made as a note of observations of an issue I have seen arising for a while now with friends and acquaintances of mine being added to the Blockbot along with racists, misogynists and homophobes for simply having a dissenting point of view, or for asking questions. My use of the phrase “scummy biology” was a nod to the number of times I’ve seen people called “cis scum” for just sharing an opinion.

Almost immediately I was called out for supporting TERFs and for “finding the suffering of trans people hilarious.” At this point all I had done was point out that the Blockbot is used by some to punish women for holding dissenting p.o.v’s but somehow I was guilty of a bigger crime. Then, a while later, I retweeted a series of tweets from Becca Reily-Cooper in which she discussed the treatment of Ophelia Benson as the accusation of her being a TERF grew into quite an ugly series of online attacks.

I don’t know the technical details of the whole Benson situation but I know enough to say that when asked if a trans-woman was a woman she didn’t offer a yes or no answer immediately and has apparently shared links to content that is considered by some to be “Trans-Exclusionary” in nature. Guilt by association, some might posit and I was about to become guilty of the same crime. After retweeting Becca I received several comments about supporting TERFs, defending the oppression of the “most marginalised LGBT group”, that such opinions were akin to racism, to people telling me that it’s okay for women to be silenced because they’re being offensive to marginalised people.

Earlier this year Peter Thatchell co-signed a letter in the Observer expressing ‘alarm at attempts by some trans activists to ban their feminist critics from speaking at universities and other institutions’. For this he was attacked online and received threats of violence and worse. He wrote of his experience in the IB Times ‘For me, free speech is one of the most precious of all human rights. It is the foundation of a democratic, open society. It should be defended without exception, unless it involves threats, harassment or incitements to violence … I have not endorsed any anti-trans opinions. I simply defended free speech for feminists who I disagree with, which is what genuine freedom of expression is all about. ‘

This is what my objections boil down to, too. For some people, just questioning the status-quo makes you an enemy and that isn’t a healthy approach to discourse. A lot of women I follow online have raised questions about biological definitions of being a woman and being female. Now, I personally don’t think it’s an issue to say that you were born female if  you were born with male genitals or vice versa. I don’t think it helps to be too caught up on technicalities about these subjects at all. I also have differences of opinions with a lot of women I know online and in-real-life about sex workers too (I think that many people accidentally objectify women while fighting against the objectification of women) but I don’t think people deserve to be silenced if they think otherwise.

Pointing out something you disagree with is great and I’d never suggest protest isn’t a valid form of expressing disapproval – but protest shouldn’t be a form of shutting people up. Having emotional reactions to things we do not like is fine because we are humans and it’s what we’re good at but using those emotional reactions as a basis for making decisions doesn’t always work out so well though, especially when those decisions come in the form of 140 characters on social media where you don’t even have to think twice about something before it’s out there for the world to see.

I think that half of the people who are accused of being TERFs or transphobic probably aren’t and it sometimes seems that the accusation of “TERF!” or “TERF Supporter!” is used to silence people who hold dissenting opinions or question what is being said. Paint someone as a TERF and nobody will listen to them and then you do not have to answer their criticisms, questions or their points. It’s one of the oldest tricks in the book – in my particular field of research the same can be said of the accusation of being “a closed-minded skeptic!” or “a cynic!”

I understand that for people who have to deal with discrimination because of their gender identity having to deal with numerous criticisms or questions online can be exhausting, upsetting and overwhelming (with Twitter being particularly difficult because it is constant) but I still don’t think this justifies the way in which people are shot down for speaking out. You can disagree with people and what they say about gender, you can find them offensive and you can block them on your account if you want to, but to chase them off of a public platform (or to support those who do) can’t be justified.

If you have to engage with those you disagree with meet speech with speech, educate and debate. If something becomes a hate crime take the appropriate action, but to remove public spaces of any speech that you happen to find offensive or happen to disagree with cannot be justified as anything other than devious. To then accuse those who highlight this as TERFs or transphobic is disingenuous.

note: edits were made post-publishing to the paragraphs about Project Barnum

2002 Called. It Wants Its Most Haunted Concept Back.

Past hunters

Night vision camcorders, Wide eyed team members staring off into the distance and gasping at noises and shadows, Derek Acorah… no, this isn’t Most Haunted that I’m describing. It’s Past Hunters.

You know, Past Hunters… those guys who are going to ‘change the paranormal for the better’ by… er, doing the same as everyone else. You may know of them because of the number of recent news articles about them capturing a ghost on film at Tutbury Castle… you know, that odd shadow they caught that looks like it’s wearing cargo pants and a hoodie? The shadow ghost that’s on the wall when most reported sightings of shadow ghosts suggests they move around independently? Yeah.

I’ve known of them since January when they started to claim they were going to change the world of the paranormal…

‘Out with the old’ and Derek Acorah are as incompatible as it comes, and I’m not 100% sure what they were referring to when they say ‘the paranormal’ because the only way that you can actually change something that is described as paranormal is by explaining it as either not paranormal (in which case it is changed from paranormal to not paranormal), or by proving that something paranormal exists (and we’re still waiting for that to happen.) I do know, however, that they’re probably coming to your television set soon which is original of them, don’t you think? Nobody has ever filmed themselves running around in buildings with night vision camcorders, lots of pseudo-scientific technology and Derek fucking Acorah before. The image below is a good indicator of how much ‘change’ Past Hunters will be bringing to the mix.

Taken from Past Hunters Facebook Page

 

No. Electro-Magnetic fields are produced by electrically charged objects. Often described as being static fields that does not change but they actually do – just very slowly. When fluctuations in the EMF are detected at locations that are reputed to be haunted it is more likely and probable that the fluctuation is caused by items in the building that are electronic or things that are electrically or magnetically charged – rather than the spirits of the deceased. Let’s not even get started on how holding an EMF meter isn’t a good methodology and a K2 meter is as basic as it comes and will not provide a decent and accurate reading.

The Most Haunted influence doesn’t just stop with the way in which they conduct themselves, either. It can also be seen in the numerous photo-shoots of theirs. Yvette Fielding must be feeling very flattered. Time and time again I see television producers claiming they’re going to make a revolutionary paranormal television show only to revert back to the tried and tested method of scared people in night-vision with spooky background music. That’s not progress. It’s not even dignified…

The sad fact is that if all you do is chase glory by hunting the past you’re never going to be part of the present or the future and that is where the real progress is happening. Researchers are routinely discovering more and more about the things that cause people to have strange experiences – whether that’s strange brain activity, toxic spores or issues with human memories. You’re either with those making progress or you’re with those playing Most Haunted just like the children who play Superheroes in the playground.

Sure you’ve got a television show, but so has Katie Hopkins…

A Recent Investigation Into British Psychics Revealed Something Shocking

psychic

Volunteers from the Merseyside Skeptics Society (MSS) recently worked with the Good Thinking Society (GTS) with their investigation into psychics. The volunteers visited different “psychics” and filmed their readings and the results are, quite frankly, appalling.

The first investigation involved a GTS volunteer visiting a psychic in Blackpool and paying £30 for a 5 minute reading. The GTS outline the concerns with this first reading, point out that it ‘was inaccurate, vague and included 22 questions in under 5 minutes. The palmist showed no sign of the supernatural insight she claimed to be able to provide, and left us concerned that a vulnerable customer could be exploited.’

It seems this prompted further investigation and GTS teamed up with the MSS to go undercover with more psychics. Worryingly, one volunteer called Alice suffers from Hypermobility Syndrome (a chronic and highly-painful disability) and was given irresponsible information from the psychic.

The GTS say on their site ‘[Alice] responds to the palmist as she would have done prior to receiving her diagnosis. Everything Alice tells the palmist about her symptoms is true … [Alice] was told that her chronic, highly-painful disability was ‘nothing serious’ and that she would make a full recovery in a few months – and that she alone was responsible for how she felt. In fact, hypermobility is a genetic disorder which cannot be cured.’

I… just… what the…

Another volunteer posed as somebody with a gambling habit and the psychic encouraged them to continue their gambling. The GTS report ‘The palm reader directly encouraged a client with financial troubles to continue gambling, to expect a big win and to ‘do nothing different’.’

Then, in the final part of this undercover investigation three volunteers visited the same psychic for separate readings and the psychic practically gives them the same reading. When a fourth volunteer visits another psychic in the next booth (who happens to be the daughter of the first psychic) she too delivers an spookily similar reading.

What has been recorded in these videos is cause for alarm. The psychic industry attracts people out to make a quick buck from the general public who don’t seem to care about the welfare of the people they come into contact with. This has the potential for disastrous results.

Imagine for a moment that Alice didn’t know her condition and didn’t consult a GP as a result of this reading? Imagine if the volunteer pretending to have a gambling habit didn’t seek help and carried on, potentially getting themselves into further trouble which could result in homelessness or worse?

When I still believed in psychics I visited a stage show during which one of the guys on stage told a mother with a grown child who had some sort of developmental disability that her dead husband was telling her that her concerns about the medication for their son were correct and she should stop using those medications.

When I confronted the psychic about this online after the show he denied he’d said this and I wish I had recorded the show. With all of this in mind here are some steps that you can take to minimise the risk of being ripped off by a charlatan:

1 – Film your reading (and walk away if you’re told not to)
2 – Check reviews online before
3 – Ask for a receipt (and don’t pay and walk away if denied)
4 – Don’t answer questions with anything more than a “yes” or “no”
5 – Count the misses as well as the hits
6 – Count the number of questions asked and how many names you are given.

Yet even if you follow these tips the chances that you’re going to be ripped off is still pretty high. Last year I visited a local psychic fair with my mum out of curiosity and I was amazed at how flattering the psychics were during their readings. Nobody is going to disagree with an encouraging statement about themselves, are they?

Is it worth the risk? I don’t think so…

People can believe in what they wish and they can visit a psychic if that’s what they want to do, but investigations of this nature are important and should not be seen as non-believers/skeptics attacking believers. In my opinion, this is people working to help other people – in this case those who seek guidance from psychics.

I can only take my hat off to the MSS and GTS for this work. I hope it will open a few eyes.

Skepkon Presentation: A Skeptics Guide to Ghost Hunting

skepkon still shot

Earlier this year I travelled to Frankfurt to deliver my talk ‘A Skeptics Guide To Ghost Hunting’ at Skepkon which took place at Goethe University Frankfurt (an amazing place). The talk was filmed and the is now available to view online.

There were some technical glitches as a cable that connected the laptop to the projector wasn’t working as it had previously been and I can only assume this was paranormal forces at work. At 23 minutes in you will actually see a ghost vandalise the stage.

As the video has been made public I’d like to take this chance to thank the lovely people at Skepkon for the invitation to speak – in particular Jochen who was kneeling on the floor physically holding the faulty cable in place throughout the whole of my talk.

Notes:

The “stiched together picture” method I spoke of referred to panoramic photos but I could not recall the name at the moment of the talk.

In the talk I say that 99% of photos and videos can be explained as caused by the Orb Zone effect that I demonstrate but should have said ‘a large number of’ instead.

After this talk I spoke to someone about the cash register incident with the Birmingham Skeptics and it seems I had an embellished memory of what had happened. Nobody screamed and there was no money in the till. I totally remember it differently which is just weird!

I also state that “immigration is not the cause” of ghosts from other cultures being reported more regularly in the UK and meant this in the context of a joke about ghost immigration. People coming to live in the UK from other cultures bring with them traditional beliefs and folklore that certainly will contribute to the way in which people describe ghost experiences.