Live-tweeting Most Haunted

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Most Haunted is back. Tonight. At 10pm on Really (Freeview 17 Sky 248 Virgin 267).

As much as I moan about paranormal reality television I have a secret love for Most Haunted because it is the show that prompted me to become a naive but hopeful ghost hunter when I was Eighteen. I get frustrated at the bullshit they spout as factual, but it also makes me laugh.

With this in mind I will be live-tweeting and countering any nonsense claims they make.

I’ll use #mosthaunted on my Twitter account here.

The problem with such shows develops when people think they are factual and treat them as training when they’re actually just for entertainment.

So… will you be watching?

I’m Giving Away Books To Help A Friend!

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I'm a bit excited but you can't tell...
I’m a bit excited but you can’t tell.

Above is a photo of me at the tomb of the McKenzie Poltergeist in Greyfriars, Edinburgh. I’ve always wanted to knock on the door of the tomb to see what would happen ever since I heard about the McKenzie Poltergeist when I was a little girl. Secretly I wanted to be punched just so I knew either way what was what. A few years ago I got to make that goal actually happen – no, I didn’t get punched, but I got to knock on the door and shout at the poltergeist. With me in that photo is Alex. He’s a friend of mine who is currently looking for help to make a life goal of his become true and I am here to ask you to help.

Alex has won a place on a Masters Acting program at Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Arts Educational Schools which is fantastic news. The course is based on the Meisner technique which trains actors to react to stimuli as a lived character rather than by accessing the actor’s emotions which is the best way to train if you have ADHD and Asperger’s.

When Alex graduates he is going to use his new skills to develop training to help other people with ADHD which is a fantastic cause but he needs to raise funds to make attending possible.

I have made a donation to his efforts as a friend but I want to do more, so I have a collection of books on various paranormal topics to give away and all that you have to do to win this bundle is donate at least £5 to Alex by midday on October 31st. I will then compose a list of all of the people who have made a donation and one of you will be drawn at random to receive the books.

>DONATE HERE<

How will I know that you qualify? When you make a donation Alex will get an email with your details. Simply add your name to your donation, mention ‘via Hayley is a Ghost’ in your donation comment and we will know that you need to be added to the draw. You will receive an email to let you know you’ve won once the draw has taken place.

Why donate? Fantastic books up for grabs obviously, plus I’ll throw in a mystery prize of my own… but also as Alex says himself

Fresh talent comes from all walks of life, but without funding only the very well off could afford to attend drama school and start a career in film and theatre. Helping an actor pay for drama school means you are ensuring actors come from all walks of life and succeed based purely on skill and talent and being really really really ridiculously good looking.

So please get donating! Alex is a talented guy who has worked really hard to achieve this opportunity and it’d be great if we can support him in his venture. Up for grabs from my personal book collection:

The Complete Book of UFOs by Peter Hough and Jenny Randles
Tracking the Chupacabra by Ben Radford
Where The Ghosts Walk by Peter Underwood
UFOs, Werewolves and the Pigman by Lee Brickley
The Skeptics Guide to the Paranormal by Lynne Kelly
The Outer Limits of the Twilight Zone selected writings of John A Keel, by Andrew Colvin
Paranormality by Richard Wiseman
A Mystery Prize from yours truly

>DONATE HERE<

Comment Policy: Clarified

Hear No Evil, See No Evil, Speak No Evil

I try really hard to encourage good debate and discussion in the comment section of my blog and, about 9 times out of 10, the comments left by my readers (you, you lovely people) actually add to the topic being discussed. I sometimes learn things from people who leave comments and I think that’s fantasic! Yay comments!

…but with all that greatness there has to be a badness some woe and that woe comes in the form of people who abuse my comments policy.

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Blog Comment Policy

  1. Comments deemed to be spam or questionable spam will be deleted. Including a link to relevant content is permitted, but comments should be relevant to the post topic.
  2. Comments including ad hominem and other attacks on individuals, and those comments that are long rants, or that do not keep the comment thread on topic will be deleted at my discretion.
  3. If your comment could be a blog post in itself (e.g. it’s very long, it goes off on tangents etc.) then I will not approve it, and recommend you to write a shorter comment that stays on topic.

There is my oppressive comment policy. Scary, huh?

I basically just ask that people are nice, stay on topic and don’t derail the conversation. Usually if someone writes a comment that I think is a little OTT I actually take time to email them and say ‘hey, your comment is a bit long/ranty/goes off on tangents, do you want to shorten it or write it elsewhere and link to your thoughts?’ because a) I’m not an asshole (no, really) and I like to hear what other people think and, b) I want people to have a say but I want them to say it in a way that doesn’t derail the comment section.

I’ve visited lots of blogs where long comments stop me from reading on and often the next comment gets ignored and I want to discourage that from happening on this blog where possible.

I totally understand that some of the topics on this blog are touchy subjects where feelings can run strong but I do not think that excuses abusive comments to myself or other people who leave comments. I accept that there are people who do not agree with what I write and I encourage people to share their thoughts but a difference of opinion on a subject does not give you the green light to be abusive.

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I recently asked some people who read my blog what they thought about abusive comments and one person said that their visit to a blog isenhanced by not reading useless hate. I much prefer a positive or at least respectful debate in the comments.’ That’s something that I can appreciate and that is why my comment policy is in place.

I also understand that I have people who lurk on my blog looking for an excuse to tell me what a horrible person I am and I think that’s very sad. I get that some people don’t like me and I’m not particularly hung up on that anymore, and lurking on my blog just to leave derogatory comments again and again and again… well, it’s just not a way to live really, is it?

…oh, and a word to the wise for those of you who write ‘I bet your don’t even approve this comment because you are a coward/are living in a fantasy world/are closed minded/don’t want people to know what people really think of you’, your comment didn’t get approved because it doesn’t comply with the comment policy and you know it. Challenging me to approve your rude, abusive or derailing comment really, really doesn’t work.

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A Depressing Conversation With A Times Journalist About Exorcisms

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“Do you know of anyone who thinks they or their house has been possessed by a demon?” a Sunday Times journalist asked me over the phone just the other day. Several names popped into my mind instantly but there was no chance that I was letting her have them. “We’ve got about 20 people on a list to speak to about a piece my colleague is doing about exorcisms” she pressed.

Despite explaining that I couldn’t put her in touch with anyone I’d worked with or advised over the years because it would be ethically questionable of me to do so she still didn’t get it, so I went into a detailed explanation.

People who think they’re possessed or think that there is an evil entity in their house disturbing them are usually exhibiting signs on an underlying mental or physical health problem. They’re usually disturbed, scared or hysterical. The last thing they need is my involvement.

“That isn’t to say that everyone who thinks they’re possessed is mentally ill” I explained “but there’s a good chance that they need the attention of a medical professional and not their local ghost hunter, demonologist or exorcist who will do them no good at all.”

To my surprise the journalist on the other end of the phone asked “do them no good how?”

I got the immediate impression that she had been talking to others who had suggested differently while humbly describing what spiritual superheroes they were – saving the general public from evil, and so on.

“Well, just an example… a percentage of people who have dissociative identity disorder report that their alternative identity is a demon, however those people do not need an exorcist, they need a psychologist to help them. Exorcists, demonologists, ghost hunters… they’re all the same, they’ll tell you what they want to be real and often they don’t consider how much their actions could harm you because really they just want to prove to themselves that they are right. That kind of approach stigmatises those with mental illness as evil and dangerous when they’re not, and it also denies them the access to the proper care that they require.”

There was a silence over the phone so I carried on,

“Imagine a different scenario – imagine that something is happening in your house that makes you think there’s something malicious or evil in your house but it turns out to actually have a pretty rational cause like, say, your cupboards weren’t hung on the wall properly and that’s why they’re always open when you come home from work, right?”,

“right…” she replied.

“Well, imagine that you get told by a ghost hunter that it’s an evil spirit that they’re going to banish from your house. They sound pretty convincing when they tell you that by doing a clearing ritual they’ll get it to leave, and for a few days afterwards you don’t notice the cupboards open so you think that it must be because there was an evil entity like the ghost hunters told you but it’s gone now just like they said it was. In reality this is just a sort-of placebo effect. The real problem isn’t gone because you haven’t had the cupboards adjusted, then one day you come home and the cupboards are open again and you’re 100% certain the evil entity has returned and nothing – absolutely nothing anyone says to you will convince you otherwise. That’s pretty harmful, right?”

“Right” the journalist responds – “do you know anyone that has happened to that I can talk to?”, “Well that was a case I worked on” I replied, “but I can’t give you their details…”

That was the second time she tried to get the names and contact details of people I’d just explained were potentially vulnerable. It wouldn’t be her last attempt.

“When someone contacts me I have to be pretty strict about whether I take on their case” I continued, “I cannot be the person who convinces someone that there’s a demon or evil entity with them. If they need medical help then I cannot be the person who gets in the way of that happening. It’s unlikely that I would take on a case today where someone thought they have a demon following them or possessing them because it would be unethical of me to do so-”

“So what do you do?” she asked. “I tend to work on a lot of public cases that have been in the press, or cases where the potential to harm someone is limited. If someone has a weird photo, for example, I can try and work out what it really is, or something like that.”

“Do any of the people you’ve worked with think they’ve been possessed? Can you give me some examples of places you’ve investigated?” “There are some listed on my website, but apart from those, no… I can’t give you details I’m afraid” I explained, for the third time.

“I’ll add you to the list and my colleague who is writing the piece may be in touch with you” the journalist explained. “Great” I replied, wondering if I will be mentioned in the piece at all, and which potentially vulnerable people the paper are going to go to town on without considering the damage their feature will cause to those mentioned and those who read it.

The stigma of possession is real and it is harmful to those in minority groups and those with mental illness. There is nothing mysterious or glamorous about it. What a depressing conversation.

The Dawkins Problem

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Richard Dawkins was right when he recently said that ‘Nothing should be off limits to discussion.’ It was a point he made in a recent blog post following the fallout that happened after he tweeted comments comparing different types of rape and paedophilia.

Yet it is also true that no comment made can ever be made away from the context it is made in and without the historic behaviour of the commenter being added to it. The hypothetical questions above would have touched many nerves regardless of who the author of it was- why use rape or child abuse as examples at all -the fact that it was Richard Dawkins saying it made all the difference here.

Dawkins has previously belittled the problems faced by Western women. He once wrote a fictional letter called Dear Muslima in which he compared one particular experience that Rebecca Watson had with the plight of Muslim women. ‘I know you aren’t allowed to drive a car, and you can’t leave the house without a male relative, and your husband is allowed to beat you, and you’ll be stoned to death if you commit adultery. But stop whining, will you. Think of the suffering your poor American sisters have to put up with ‘ he wrote. You can read it in full on the Skepchick website here but you get the idea from that quote.

Leaving aside the obvious issues with referring to ‘Muslim Women’ and ‘American Women’ as mutually exclusive groups that can be compared to one another, and the downplaying of the abuse that women in the Western world face (like being killed by abusive partners, being blamed for their rape or having their reproductive rights taken away by men in authority and more), these comments from Dawkins (unintentionally, I’m sure) gave other men and women the green light to further harass Rebecca Watson and other women within the skeptic and atheist communities for simply daring to speak out about experiences that had made them feel scared, unsafe or uncomfortable. In fact, the harassment that came as a result of what has been named “elevatorgate” is still ongoing and has seen many men and women who supported Rebecca Watson being harassed themselves.

This is why I find the joint statement by Ophelia Benson and Richard Dawkins condemning such abuse difficult to swallow, and it is why I felt really annoyed at QEDcon when Dawkins was interviewed on stage and was not questioned once about such comments and the impact they have had on the very community he was on stage in front of.

Are we supposed to just forget that this man has said terrible things just because he’s written some great books and speaks well about Evolution? How many evils can one get away with just by being a hero figure in the atheist or skeptic communities? Lots, it seems…

So, when I read the tweets from Richard Dawkins rating different types of rape and paedophilia in comparison to one another my instant reaction was ‘not again…’ and my mind went instantly to Dear Muslima. Dawkins may not have been saying that compared to those who have been violently raped those who have been raped by friends have nothing to complain about nor may he have been saying that those who have suffered ‘mild paedophilia’ have nothing to complain about compared to those who have suffered ‘violent paedophilia’ but it still made it difficult to not be annoyed by his audacity to assume that he has any authority on the experiences of other people.

In summary, although nothing should be off limits to discussion if you’ve a track record of being a bit of an insensitive ass about the traumatic experiences of others you’re probably going to be treated like an ass when you speak about a subject with an authority you do not have. Especially when the data shows that your presumptions are wrong.