Christine Hamlett’s Pendle Witch Photo: So Wrong It Hurts…

pendle photo
pendle photo
The Daily Mirror excel with their report of “FRERSH spooky pictures”…

I have a bit of a thing about the Pendle Witch Trials mainly because one of our family legends is that we have some very distant family link with one of the witches and, as a result, I have grown up with their story, it being my first taste of brutal injustice. One of my favourite stories comes from my mum who grew up in Nelson and could see Pendle Hill from her childhood home. As a child she was told stories that you could see the witches flying around the hill on their brooms on Halloween and one evening she was apprehensively looking at the hill through a window with this story in her mind when suddenly some birds flew past the window and sent her running terrified!

In early October various news outlets including The Mirror and The Daily Star wrote about a photo that a self-confessed psychic took that she claims shows the ghost of Jennet Device. Or Jennet Preston – the papers can’t quite decide which Jennet it’s supposed to be. I don’t often read paranormal related news items of this nature ever since I stopped creating the Weakly Ghost Bulletin for this blog. However because I’m soon to be creating The Spooktator I’ve started to read them again and this particular news report got so much wrong that it staggered me when I read it – so much so that I’ve simply got to write about it here and couldn’t wait until November 4th (when we broadcast our first live episode) to report on it.

The woman who took the photo, Christine Hamlett, has appeared on this blog before in Weakly Ghost Bulletin #4 after she claimed she had taken a photo of Slenderman in Cannock Chase and, before that, a “Black Eyed Kid” in the same area. Rubbish ghost photos of bad quality are her thing apparently.

The Daily Star reports that Hamlett is convinced her photo shows the ghost of Jennet Device, ‘She believes she saw nine-year-old Jennet Device, one of the ‘witches’ who was hanged in the famous 1612 trials.’

It isn’t just rubbish photos that are her thing because her information here is completely incorrect. Less than impressive for someone who claims to talk to the dead…

Jennet Device was nine-years-old at the time of the infamous Lancashire witch trials but she played a key role in the prosecution of the people of who were accused of witchcraft in 1612 and would become known as “The Pendle Witches.” Jennet Device may have eventually been tried and hanged as a witch at a later date because a woman of that name was listed in a group of twenty people tried for Witchcraft at Lancaster Assizes on 24 March 1634 but if that was the same person she would not have been nine when she died. She certainly was not tried as a witch in 1612. Jennet Preston was though, but she was not nine-years old.

If Jennet Device was hanged as a witch in adulthood she would not have been buried in what the papers refer to “the infamous Pendle graveyard” which is actually called Newchurch-in-Pendle graveyard as Pendle is a borough and not a hamlet, village or town, despite the Daily Star reporting that ‘the Lancashire town is in the top 10 spookiest places to live in the UK.’ Such a bastion of quality reporting…

In fact, the confusion here has probably arisen due to a local myth that Alice Nutter is buried up against the South wall of the church. Good old Wikipedia reports ‘The “eye of God” is built into the west side of the tower. To the east of the porch, up against the south wall, is the grave of a member of the Nutter family (carved with a skull and crossbones). Local legend has it that it’s the last resting place of Alice Nutter, one of the famous Pendle witches. However, executed witches were not normally buried in consecrated ground, and the skull and crossbones is a common memento mori device used to remind onlookers of their own mortality. So it can be fairly confidently asserted that the legend is in fact a myth.’

This came to mind when I read Hamlett’s claims because when I was a little girl I was told “some people say the eye of God was put on the church to keep watch over the witches who were buried outside of the graveyard.” No wonder I would grow up to be interested in the supernatural…

All in all Christine Hamlett would do well to google stuff before going to the newspapers. It’s embarrassing to get this sort of detail incorrect, but to do so when also claiming to have supernatural insight and the ability to photograph and communicate with the dead? Utter fail.

Hamlett said: “I invite the spirits to reveal themselves to me and take the photographs. My friends call me the psychic paparazzi.”

Yes, I bet they do…

How To Prove A Skeptic Wrong

wrong graphic

I am a skeptic and, believe it or not, underneath these scales that I wear as a skin I am a human being and human beings are typically silly creatures. We’ve got these things called confirmation biases and our brains confuse us into seeing meaning where there is none and as a result we make decisions and claims that are irrational or illogical. When we try to be rational about things as skeptics often do, we are working against our instincts and sometimes (believe it or not) people who identify as skeptics get things… wrong.

I am one of those skeptics who writes a blog. Often referred to as the “scum of the earth”, us bloggers tend to share our skeptical thoughts and opinions in written words on our carefully crafted spaces on the internet. See these colours on this page? I paid my money so that this writing is displayed in a way that I hope is pleasing to your eye and I try to make this website accessible to all people. I care about my blog space because I care about my readers and because I care about my readers I take seriously suggestions that I am incorrect about things, and if I accept the reasoning behind such a suggestion (or accusation because some people know nothing about tone) I will hold my scaly human hands up and say “oh shit, I was wrong”. Why? Well, because being a skeptic means having an open mind ‘but not so open that your brains fall out’ (Carl Sagan) and an open mind means that you will accept new information as it becomes available and change your opinion based upon the quality of that information.

So, really, when it comes down to it, it’s actually really very easy to prove a skeptic wrong because all you have to do is provide the evidence and, if they are really a skeptic (or a sceptic) they’ll accept it and change their minds and then you can all have a cup of tea and move on.

Of course, there are other ways in which you can try to prove a skeptic wrong that are less effective. As a skeptic blogger of quite some experience of this I have created an easy-to-follow guide below. You are welcome.

WAYS IN WHICH YOU WILL NOT PROVE ME WRONG

– being abusive
– writing sentences IN partial CAPITALISATION without realising you can use HTML coding in the comment section to make font bold (the code is <strong></strong> fyi)
– calling me names (often rude or sweary)
– pointing out my age
– pointing out my gender
– pointing out that I am British
– pretending you have lawyer and are going to sue me for defamation or slander or libel or some other law you know nothing about
– libelling me
– harassing me online
– threatening me
– threatening my friends
– threatening my relatives
– mocking my appearance
– phoning up my employers and trying to get me sacked
– mistaking me for someone who can be intimidated easily

WAYS IN WHICH YOU CAN PROVE ME WRONG

-Showing me evidence that I am wrong

Toowoomba Ghost Chasers: Turning Your Shitty Ghosts Into Clickbait

toowoomba composit

If you don’t carefully manage the paranormal-themed pages you ‘like’ on Facebook you could end up with a constant stream of rubbish ghost photos in your feed that anyone with an ounce of sense would recognise to be faked, photographic artefacts, camera faults, or misidentified objects within the photo causing illusions. Just five minutes spent on the Toowoomba Ghost Chasers Facebook page will provide you with enough of these to last you a lifetime.

Over a month ago I contacted the Toowoomba Ghost Chasers [TCG] to ask them what the deal was regarding the huge amount of alleged paranormal evidence they present to international news outlets on a regular basis (like here, and here, and here, and here, and here, and here…), despite at first seeming keen to speak to me they didn’t respond to any of my follow up emails trying to arrange a chat. This is disappointing because it means that I am still unable to work out if they really think every single photo and video they present as evidence is evidence, or if they’re just churning out crap to attract as much attention as possible.

I’m starting to think it is the latter. TCG use material sent to them by other Facebook users on an alarmingly regular basis, and they often strip photos from ghost-related media items not related to them to use gain ‘likes’ on their Facebook page without posting the source. Naturally the question I wanted to know the answer to was why they felt the need to do this and why they reach out to the media so often – something that sets them apart from your usual paranormal-focussed Facebook page. If you see an irrational media story about a ghost then there’s a really, really good chance that it can be traced back to TGC. When I produced the Weakly Ghost Bulletin feature on this blog for a while I noticed that more and more of the media stories about “ghost evidence” that I was writing about could be traced back to their Facebook page and I wanted to know what inspired them in their attempt to dominate paranormal headlines.

I wanted to ask them how they study the photos and videos they’re sent to determine possible other causes, whether they’re hoaxes and so on, but then I realised that this was a stupid line of questioning because they clearly don’t ask themselves any of these questions before posting material to their page.

I also wanted to know why the stories they present to the media often contain misinformation about how they obtained the material in the first place. As Joe Simiana noted, although Kylie Samuels of TGC stated in the media that a particular video was sent to them anonymously, what was written on their Facebook page showed a very different story – they had met the person who provided them with the video… a video which was actually hoaxed.


So what gives? Why try to distance yourself from a hoaxed video by claiming the source was anonymous when you’ve actually met them? Is it so that when it is discovered to be a hoaxed video you can use that distance as a defence? If you used a hoaxed video as a springboard into the limelight there would be some questionable ethics at play, after all, but I don’t know the answer to any of these because the TCG would not respond to any of my emails, and so I can only speculate (but I know what my gut instinct is telling me.)

It would be easy to posit that the TGC are simply doing this to drum up interest in their ghost tours and events and I believe this to be true to a point, but I also believe that a lot of this behaviour is done for attention because there’s only a fraction of the 34,000+ people who’ve ‘liked’ their Facebook page that could be customers for their events. The Toowoomba Ghost Chasers aren’t the first amateur ghost hunters who get off on the feeling of notoriety that sharing every spooky photo that comes their way will bring them and they won’t be the last, but the sheer amount of bullshit they churn out certainly sets them apart from others I’ve encountered.

The internet is where ghosts go to die and it’s people like the Toowoomba Ghost Chasers who kill them and turn them into clickbait. TCG, like the others who have come before them (Don Philips, Steve Huff, Erica Gregory and more) work against those studying paranormal experiences to discover their true causes, they are enemies of reason and logic, and it’s all a bit desperate and sad really.

The murder of Debbie Constantino & the distasteful reaction of the “Paranormal Community”

debbie

News broke yesterday that Mark and Debbie Constantino and a third unidentified man are dead after Mark Constantino killed Debby, her male roommate, and then himself. The Constantinos were known within the US ghost hunting community and were advocates of Electronic Voice Phenomena (EVP) which is the incorrect belief that voices of the dead can be captured on recording devices.

This domestic violence murder-suicide has sparked an interesting reaction in some parts of the wider online paranormal community and I was extremely disappointed to learn that Steve Huff (who has featured on this blog before) was already declaring the fact that he intended to try and communicate with Debbie Constantino through EVP and Ghostbox because he claims that the best time for communicating with the dead is within 24 hours after death. His claim has made some people quite angry and the ‘Exposing Paranormal Posers’ Facebook page posted the below image with this message:

‘…To publicly exclaim he is going to try to capitalize the murder of Debbie Constantino, when her body has not even been cold, to say he is going to try to “capture” her “EVP” is ghoulish. Huff, you are exposed, and should be run out on a rail out of the paranormal community. You are a total piece of shit. And we at EPP have been getting reports on this pile of feces, and now we should have something soon. Share this far and wide. Steve Huff is a joke, and he must be run out of the paranormal field.’

Steve Huff graphic

Nobody is in a position from which they can dictate who is and is not part of a community, or who can and cannot participate in paranormal research no matter how far-fetched, irrational, or “ghoulish” the claims being made are. However, I have an idea, and it may be a radical one… but if we are going to start kicking people out of the so-called community perhaps we can first start by rejecting from it the men who would murder a woman and a man because said woman might be romantically involved with someone who isn’t him? Or perhaps we could start by rejecting men who send lewd, unsolicited messages to women they do not know? Perhaps we could take a stand against men in the community who harass women they do not agree with because being debated is an affront to their masculinity?

Just throwing it out there.

1 in 4 women (24.3%) and 1 in 7 men (13.8%) aged 18 and older[1] in the United States- where this murder-suicide took place -have been the victim of severe physical violence by an intimate partner in their lifetime, and the majority of female victims of intimate partner violence were previously victimized by the same offender. [2] We know that Debbie fits this bracket because in in August Mark Constantino was charged with kidnapping, domestic battery by strangulation, and domestic battery against Debbie.[3]

So, the question is… do we care more about our own sensitivities than we do the fact that people within the paranormal “community” are suffering the same? Debbie Constantino and her roommate should be (and are) more than just statistics, they should be a catalyst that makes us say “this is not acceptable within our community or outside of our community.”

Or we could just spend our time getting angry at people we think are being distasteful and making memes for Facebook clicks…

[1] http://www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/pdf/nisvs_report2010-a.pdf
[2] http://www.bjs.gov/content/pub/pdf/ipv9310.pdf
[3] http://deadline.com/2015/09/ghost-adventures-guest-stars-dead-1201547175/

The Jersey Devil and the Big Problem with Paranormal Authors

jersey devil

jersey devil

Let’s start with North America’s Pine Barrens and its most infamous son—the Jersey Devil. This hybrid monster was supposedly an unwanted 13th child, cast to Satan by its witch mother and lurking amidst the trees ever since.

Over the summer, I began researching this story to assess whether I would want to include it in a new book. It’s a fascinating tale but I was soon reminded of the frustrations that often face those that delve into these old tales: plagiarism, embellishment and blind acceptance. These problems seem to affect this genre more than others but, puzzlingly, they are rarely written about.

To illustrate this, let’s look at the two most famous historical sightings of the Jersey Devil. The first tells that, in the early 1800s, a dashing naval hero by the name of Commodore Stephen Decatur spied the Devil “flying across the sky”. Luckily, at the time, Decatur was testing cannons at a range and he was able to fire a shot at the creature. Some stories say that he even managed to hit it, though with no discernible effect—proof surely that the Devil has supernatural powers for what mortal creature could shrug off a cannonball? Stephen Decatur was indeed a dynamic and much-loved naval officer and it’s not unlikely that he was in that area testing cannon and shot because this was the sort of thing he was involved in at various stages of his career. However, it is demonstrably unlikely that even a man as distinguished as Decatur could have hit a flying object with any cannon of the day. When you consider that these were not accurate firearms and all but the smallest were cumbersome, hitting a flying target at any range would be almost impossible. Also, the date of this event varies wildly with some sources stating it took place before Decatur was even born. Presented with such unconvincing elements, one naturally tries to find the earliest source (it eluded my brief hunt) but none of the modern writers allude to it whatsoever, they all just state with varying degrees of elaboration that Decatur shot a cannon at the Jersey Devil.

A second high profile witness of the Devil was none other than Joseph Bonaparte—brother to Napoleon. Apparently, Joseph saw the Jersey Devil while out hunting in the Pine Barrens. Most accounts of this event stop here, giving only these sparse details, but some elucidate further and this leads us to another problem. Here’s just such a passage:

“One snowy afternoon, the ex-King of Spain was hunting alone in the woods near his house when he spotted some strange tracks on the ground. They looked like the tracks of a two-footed donkey. Bonaparte noticed that one foot was slightly larger than the other. The tracks ended abruptly as if the creature had flown away. He stared at the tracks for a long moment, trying to figure out what the strange animal might be.

“At that moment, Bonaparte heard a strange hissing noise. Turning, he found himself face to face with a large winged creature with a horse-like head and bird-like legs. Astonished and frightened, he froze and stared at the beast, forgetting that he was carrying a rifle. For a moment, neither of them moved. Then the creature hissed at him, beat its wings, and flew away.

“When he reported the incident to a friend later that day, Bonaparte was told that he had just seen the famous Jersey Devil.”

This impressively detailed story is described by the author as a retelling. While it’s reasonable to expect embellishment from a retelling, the book it is taken from is listed as non-fiction by some of the retailers I found so, vexingly, this is just the sort of thing that might end up being quoted as an actual account and further obscure what meagre truths existed in the first place. I’ve been able to dig into the Bonaparte story myself but, sadly, I haven’t found anything like an original source online. Like the Decatur story, it’s all the same words regurgitated over and over by a succession of writers and, frankly, I suspect it didn’t happen at all.

There have been many more sightings of note, however, in particular the goings-on that took place in the January of 1909. Sightings here flew thick and fast from a variety of people from all over the area. Mysterious tracks appeared in the snow, going on for miles on end through backyards and over roads, even being spotted in “inaccessible places”. A police officer fired at a weird flying creature, firemen were ‘attacked’ by something similar after they trained a hose on it, and there were myriad reports of terrifying screeches and screams heard at night. Something like thirty towns were said to be affected. Yet, despite all these sightings happening so closely to each other, the descriptions of the beast change radically, with some saying it was a “large, flying kangaroo” and others an “ostrich-like creature”. Clearly, ostriches and kangaroos share little in terms of form. Other reports called it “a white cloud”, a “winged thing”, a “jabberwocky”, a thing “three feet high…long black hair over its entire body, arms and hands like a monkey, face like a dog, split hooves, and a tail a foot long.” Not only do many of these descriptions not tally, but they miss each other by a country mile—yet most authors are more than happy to attach them all to the Jersey Devil.

Since then, more people have come forward—a handful each decade—describing what they think were their own brushes with the Devil. These include such details as cars being attacked, family dogs found slain and gnawed upon, disembodied screaming—even a creature whose face dripped with blood and another with glowing red eyes. The only thing these reports have in common is that there doesn’t seem to be any evidence presented for any of them. No body parts to send to the lab, no photographs, no videos to analyse: as far as I can tell, nothing truly passable as evidence as the Devil’s work, yet it’s all happily accepted by many writers as being fact: according to them, Decatur certainly did hit the creature with that cannon shot, Bonaparte absolutely did encounter it while hunting and the Devil did terrorise towns in 1909; and it is this blind acceptance and lack of proper research that pervades so many of our books about the paranormal. If you want a cheap scare then that’s probably fine, but what if readers want more? What if readers want some meaningful knowledge?

And here’s a thing: you can present these stories in all their macabre and terrifying glories yet still wonder about them; you can debunk them entirely without totally diminishing what macabre fascinations they offer.

I suspect the problem of poor research is due to the time it takes to conduct. Sometimes you have to spend hours upon hours making sure the facts in a single sentence are correct. Sometimes you can dedicate days to scratching a legend’s surface for no result at all. I think many paranormal authors are unwilling to go through that and that’s why so many books regurgitate what previously has been written. I’d be willing to go out on a limb and bet that many of this genre’s authors’ research is limited to reading a handful of the best-known extant ghost books. Perhaps that’s harsh but, certainly, it’s even worse when trawling online sources. Try it yourself: pick a well-known case and pop it into a search engine. The chances are that a huge amount of the ‘copy’ you find written will be suspiciously similar from website to website. This is more about paraphrasing than the paranormal.

Let’s look for a moment at London and the haunting of 50 Berkeley Square. This is an old property in a prestigious area that is said to have a mysterious and grisly supernatural past. If you read any account it is often mentioned that there’s a sign inside the building put there by the police in the 1950s warning people not to use the top-most rooms (where most of the phenomena is said to have taken place—including supernaturally-induced deaths). This detail caught my eye; surely if the police put up such a thing it must prove that something serious was going on there. Also, almost everyone talks about this sign in articles and books, some as though they had seen it in person. Well they didn’t see it in person and the sign proves nothing because it’s actually an old air raid warning left over from the Second World War—nothing to do with ghosts, poltergeists, or other spooky things at all. How do I know? I contacted the house’s current occupiers, Maggs Brothers, and asked about it.

Now, of course, it is very difficult to not get something wrong when you’re dipping a toe into the world of non-fiction, especially if you don’t have proofreaders and editors on hand and, despite pointedly trying to be rigorous in my own research, I’ve done it myself. (Of course, I’m fully expecting problems with this piece to be pointed out.) After all, we’re only human and humans make mistakes. Not only that but deadlines and budgets often simply do not allow resources that true, in-depth research demands, so I’d like to be clear here—the authors I’m aiming this at are those that don’t seem to do any real research at all. No digging, no quotes or sources, no questions asked. For instance, one well-known author is almost on their thirtieth book regarding the ghost tales from a single city—how the vast majority of the stories contained within such a series are not transposed from elsewhere, unsubstantiated or simply made up on the spot is beyond me.

Research is good, research is your friend—it adds hidden details and tantalising exposition to these already colourful and emotive stories. And even if there is no source material or you aren’t in a position to find it what’s wrong with saying you just don’t know? What’s wrong with presenting what is known and asking the readers to make their own mind up?

I suspect too that the world of the paranormal contains a large amount of writers and readers that simply want to believe no matter what contradictory truths might lurk a one-minute-Google away. For them, I think Harry Leeds—supposed modern descendant of the Jersey Devil—should have the last say, as his words about exploring the Pine Barrens provide a rather fitting allegory:

“When you’re out there, your visibility is restricted and the trees seem to go on forever. The least little disturbance gets all your adrenaline flowing and gets you imagining things.”

Sources

  1. American Myths and Legends, Charles Skinner, 1903. J.B. Lippincott.
  2. Groundbreaking Scientific Experiments, Inventions, and Discoveries of the Ancient World, Robert E. Krebs, 2003. Greenwood.
  3. Phantom of the Pines: More Tales of the Jersey Devil, James F. McCloy and Ray Miller Jr, 1998. Middle Atlantic Press.
  4. Real Monsters, Gruesome Critters, and Beasts from the Darkside, Brad Steiger, 2010. Visible Ink Press.
  5. Eerie Britain, MB Forde, 2011. Amazon KDP.
  6. South Jersey Towns: History and Legend, William McMahon, 1973. Rutgers University Press.
  7. The Ultimate Urban Legends, 2008. Pinkmint Publications.
  8. Spooky New Jersey, S.E. Schlosser, 2006. Globe Pequot Press.
  9. Atlantic Monthly, In the Pines F. Mayer, May 1859.
  10. The Folk and Folklife of New Jersey, David Steven Cohen, 1983. Rutgers University Press.
  11. Tales of the Jersey Devil, Geoffrey Girard, 2004. Middle Atlantic Press.
  12. http://channel.nationalgeographic.com/wild/the-monster-project/articles/jersey-devil-facts/
  13. http://www.nytimes.com/1998/04/26/nyregion/jerseyana-once-upon-a-time-the-new-jersey-devil-meant-more-than-hockey.html
  14. http://www.academia.edu/9627222/DEBORAH_SMITH_LEEDS_Mother_of_the_Jersey_Devil_
  15. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jersey_Devil
  16. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jersey_Devil#mediaviewer/File:Jersey_Devil_Philadelphia_Post_1909.jpg
  17. http://theshadowlands.net/jd.htm
  18. http://www.livescience.com/28167-jersey-devil.html
  19. http://www.unexplained-mysteries.com/forum/index.php?app=blog&blogid=3158&showentry=28275
  20. http://www.underworldtales.com/jersey.htm
  21. http://www.pinelandsalliance.org/ecology/wildlife/
  22. http://www.conspiracyclub.co/2015/05/27/the-jersey-devil-truth-or-legend/
  23. http://blog.nj.com/njv_guest_blog/2013/08/the_forgotten_political_feud_t.html
  24. http://www.capitalcentury.com/1909.html
  25. http://www.phact.org/data/phactums/Phactum%202008-05.pdf
  26. http://www.epa.gov/greatlakes/ecopage/oak-savanna-conference-1994/proceedings/Hereford.html
  27. http://superstitiondictionary.com/story-of-the-jersey-devil-nj-folklore/
  28. http://weirdnj.com/stories/jersey-devil/
  29. http://www.e90post.com/forums/showthread.php?t=1109136
  30. http://query.nytimes.com/mem/archive-free/pdf?res=9803E6D81338E233A2575AC1A9609C94679ED7CF
  31. http://www.thinkaboutitdocs.com/1901-1909-reports/
  32. http://www.nytimes.com/1982/06/30/sports/scouting-jersey-devils-wins-name-poll.html
  33. http://query.nytimes.com/mem/archive-free/pdf?res=9803E6D81338E233A2575AC1A9609C94679ED7CF
  34. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jersey_Devil#/media/File:Jersey_Devil_Philadelphia_Post_1909.jpg