Thoughts on Most Haunted Live Halloween 2015

yvette

During the Most Haunted Live broadcast on Halloween night 2015 Karl Beattie was allegedly dragged up some stairs by an unseen entity which strangled him. This was caught on camera and some people have noticed that there seems to be a rope around his waist. In response to the accusations of trickery that this rope indicates both Karl Beattie and his wife Yvette Fielding say that the rope is actually just a camera cable.

Skeptics doubt it, fans and believers think it’s true…

…but who actually gives a shit?

Seriously. Who gives a flying fuck? Running around declaring Most Haunted to be fake… well done, clever clogs! Of course it’s not to be trusted… it’s television!

I watched the entire show last night while trying to play along with a drinking game and it was shoddy, over-dramatic, hilarious, entertaining… but it was nowhere near as entertaining as watching people react to the show on Facebook and Twitter. Some people were annoyed that “true ghost hunters” were being shown in a bad light. Other people were annoyed that such nonsense should be allowed to be broadcast…

…and yes, the Satanic chants were a bit over the fucking top and ethically questionable – but just as questionable as the ethics of any of your bog standard ghost hunting groups across the country. Sure, there was no scientific credibility to any of the claims being made on the show but, again, the same can be said of 99% of the people who call themselves paranormal researchers. Yet the mistake people are making when they moan about Most Haunted is to treat the show as comparable with real-life paranormal research.

Most Haunted is a television show that courts controversy – it wants to be loved and hated in equal parts and it succeeds – it always has. It plays up to expectations, it ticks boxes, it gets the viewing figures. It does its job.

Amateur paranormal researchers on the other hand want to be respected as researchers when they’re not deserving of respect, and what they do on their ghost hunts is hugely unethical, completely unscientific… and they don’t even have the excuse of being producers of an entertainment TV show to hide behind! If you’re a ghost hunter who feels that Most Haunted is to blame for making paranormal researchers look back I suggest you have a hard look in the mirror because you’re doing a good enough job of that yourselves. Get a fucking grip.

I’ll be talking about this and more on the first ever episode of The Spooktator vodcast/podcast coming to you live from Youtube on Wednesday. I’ll be joined by Paul Gannon, Alistair Coleman and Mike Gage – details can be found here.

Is This The Halloween Generation Of Ghost Research?

black eyed kids

TScience, you're doing it wronghe traditional approach to ghost research is long dead and here to replace it is the Halloween Generation; They’re always on the look out for the next opportunity to both indulgence their sense of being at one with themselves and their addiction to hedonistic thrill seeking. Overnight stays at haunted “mental asylums” and the plethora of the “Most haunted” places in the land, piles of ghost photos that show nothing of importance, gruesome looking puppets that it’s claimed are haunted by demons, theatrical claims of being attacked by demonic entities, endless lists of modern technology that both seek and disprove the existence of spooks while actually accomplishing neither, mirror scrying (with both regular and black mirrors), seances, working with psychics and spirit mediums, dowsin- wait. No. Those are traditional methods that can be traced right back to our Victorian and Edwardian ancestors. So what has changed?

In his delightful book A Natural History of Ghosts Roger Clarke writes that ‘watching a TV show like TAPS, with its extraordinary emphasis on detecting and surveillance technology, modern American ghost-belief is a mixture of Dan Aykroyd’s Ghostbusters, English Jacobean Protestant theology and a Halloween whizz or Irish Catholic and pagan tradition.’ 

Quite.

It’s tempting to look about today (both in America, the UK or elsewhere) and complain that the modern world of ghost research has lost the plot, that those seeking fame and fortune dominate the field, that dodgy methodologies and personalities claim all of the headlines and attention, and that people are being stupid with their ill-supported conclusions. In the next breath many then point out that they wish they could travel back in time to a world where ghost research was honourable, decent, respected… but that’s a world that did not exist.

We ghost researchers of today are all cut from the same cloth of our predecessors and their predecessors, and the future generations of ghost researchers will also be cut of this cloth, and those that follow them and so on and so forth. Our influenced as far reaching and muddled and sometimes hard to distinguish.

If recent surveys are to be believed more and more people believe in ghosts, but did society ever stop believing? I find it hard to believe that there was a sudden dip in ghost believers between the end of World War 2 and today. That seems odd. I would posit that we’ve always been a national of believers in ghosts and in a world that seems to be becoming less and less religious ghosts have become less taboo, and so has believing in them.

And although it wouldn’t be unreasonable to assume that the ghost stories from our ancestors would be thought of as dull and boring by today’s standards they’re actually as popular as ever, not to forget that the BBC have long breathed life into the ghosts that were born from the mind of M R James (more recently with the help of Mark Gatiss.) The adult generations of today grew up with stories of friendly ghosts – Casper, Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased), Rent-a-Ghost, Nearly Headless Nick… is it any wonder that ghosts are as popular as ever? Is it any surprise that the traditional and modern seen to entwine to create the modern idea of what ghosts are and do?

The only thing that has really changed is the way that we live now. Gone are the crossroads ghosts wailing a warning to passengers on the road and here to replace them are the Road Traffic Collision hot-spot apparitions. It isn’t often one hears of sightings of ghostly horse drawn carriages, but stories of people hitting people with their cars who had seconds before appeared from nowhere in the road are plentiful. An otherworldly reminder to be careful. 

It isn’t the ghosts that change, it isn’t the ghost researchers that change and it isn’t the ghost eye-witness who changes… it’s society.

Today we can talk to people from all around the world in real-time. We can share with them our experiences and our thoughts and, much like our societies, our ghost cultures have become multicultural. I’ve written before about Asian ghosts who seen on countryside tracks, creatures with fictional-internet origin that seen in the Midlands, beings with American folkloric roots haunting British families in their homes as they sleep.

If our ancestors had the internet their ghost stories would have been much the same as ours. If they had live television I think they’d watch a “live Exorcism” being broadcast (as you can this halloween), I think Harry Price would have been on This Morning with Holly and Phil on a regular basis…

‘…but today you have estate agents cashing in on haunted houses‘ you might argue, ‘so many places claim to be haunted to draw in customers‘ you might complain, and you’re right, but this isn’t new either and isn’t going to away any time soon. The “most haunted” brag pre-dates Yvette Fielding and her television crew, it pre-dates Harry Price and his “Most Haunted House” and it will continue to exist because ghosts are a human by-product and humans are going to be around for a very long time. Our frustrations with the modern world of ghost research are not new problems, the Halloween Generation has always existed, it’s never going away… it just has Twitter now.

#GhostsArentJustForHalloween #ISeeDeadPeople

That’s Miss Spoilsport To You! In Defence of Rational Inquiry Into Paranormal Claims

argumentative child

Quite often when I am being questioned about my involvement in ghost research people get really hung up on the fact that I stopped believing in ghosts. They sometimes really struggle to get their head around the idea that someone who actively hunted for evidence of ghosts, had weird experiences while doing so, believed in ghosts and psychics and all other sorts of jiggery-pokery could suddenly decide that she was wrong and shed those beliefs completely.

To some people it’s such a huge commitment to say “oops, I was wrong” about something so… so life and death.

But it wasn’t an “oops, I as wrong” moment. It was a long hard look at all of the hours I spent in dark buildings in the cold convincing myself there was more than life and death and admitting it was time wasted, a fruitless venture, a mistake…

So easy it would have been to allow that time (not to mention money) invested to convince me there was something to it, but maintaining an open mind is important to me and the decision I made that so shocks people today is simply the product of an open mind. That’s all. Once I knew I was barking up the wrong tree I couldn’t allow myself to be drawn in by the allure of ignoring protesting information. I believed in ghosts because at that point in my life that made the most sense to me but after two years spent actually looking for ghosts I started to notice that the explanations offered up by people who didn’t agree that ghosts were real made more sense and I couldn’t ignore that because my aim has always been to understand the world around me and my place in it.

Why am I telling you this?

I love a good urban legend, folk tale, ghost or monster story as much as the next person but I think it’s important to acknowledge where fantasy and reality meet and it’s important to share that information. Annoying then that a number of paranormal proponents would have you believe that anyone who offers a rational alternative to their paranormal explanation is a spoil sport and closed minded.

This is a claim that I wholeheartedly reject, and one I have seen too many so-called authorities in paranormal communities using as a scapegoat lately.

In my experience the antidote to a false claim of being open-minded is rational inquiry of the claims the person is making. “I’m open minded about Electronic Voice Phenomena” quickly becomes “I’m open minded about Electronic Voice Phenomena and fuck you for thinking otherwise!” Start poking around the ideas someone says are true with a reason stick and they’ll grab the stick from your hands and beat you over the head with it just as quickly. Usually while claiming to be open minded and not realising that they are, in fact, being closed minded and being intolerant of open-minded discourse.

Ouija boards, mirror scrying and seances are great examples of this issue – widely debunked and yet still very popular, these spirit communication methods often crop up in headlines and RSS feeds because people are superstitious and believe them to be real. Often because people who stand to profit from the belief in these ideas have told them they are real. People genuinely think these methods can bring them harm, that they can be possessed or that they can bring a demon or malevolent entity into their home if they’re not careful. I don’t think that countering this information makes one a spoilsport – I think it’s the right thing to do.

Yet I don’t even think you need to be able to justify the countering of a claim by how much harm the false claim can cause. Bad information should always be countered with good information. False claims with factual claims. A reader of my blog recently got in touch to say that ‘the tool-kit that skepticism has provided me has been less of a ‘candle in the dark’ and more of a ‘blowtorch to the bullshit” after what skeptics wrote and shared helped them to make sense of their own personal experiences. No longer fearful of sleep-related incidents they can now make sense of their hallucinations and this is why it’s important to have these conversations and to share our knowledge. We shouldn’t keep it to ourselves just because people happen to be affronted by it.

Describing yourself as open-minded is fashionable within paranormal research circles – always has been. But actually being open minded… eh, not so fashionable! Accepting a large number of fantastical ideas as plausible doesn’t necessarily mean that you have an open mind but could indicate that you are fantasy prone and if you can’t enjoy your ghost toys because some mean skeptic has a different opinion than you then perhaps you need to pack up your toys and go home until you’re grown up enough to play with the big kids?

That San Antonio Railway Tracks Video…

san antonio ghost tracks

Quite often old ghost-related photos, testimonies or videos do the rounds on social media sites, gaining attention and traction despite being long debunked and explained away. Oddly the rational explanations don’t follow around so quickly or at all. For all the good the internet does one of the downsides is the way in which it allows myth to persist (much like other forms of exchanging information that pre-date it.)

A video I’ve seen being shared around a lot in the last week or so is the video from about three years ago of a group of people in two cars driving onto the “haunted” railway tracks in San Antonio, Texas which I’ve shared above. This is just one of hundreds of videos of people doing this but this one is proving popular on Facebook right now. In this particular one two groups of people cover their cars with white powder and drive onto the tracks. The legend is that in the 1930s or 1940s a school bus was driving its way down the road and toward the intersection when it stalled on the tracks. A train smashed into the bus, killing twenty six children and the bus driver. However, the accident never actually happened in San Antonio but in Salt Lake City in Utah instead, but that doesn’t stop people from parking on the tracks and turning their engine off to see if the car will be pushed off of the tracks by the spirits of the people from the bus. The legend says that you won’t see them but you will see their hand prints on the car.

In the video they do find hand prints on their cards upon inspection… but they were likely to have been there before. When the powder was applied it probably just formed on top of the grease and dirt from hands previously placed on the car. Forensic investigators use similar tactics to find finger and hand prints in crime scenes but that doesn’t seem to occur to these folk. In fact, there’s even a child with the group and if you watch as they apply the powder to the second car that crosses the tracks you can see one of the men in the group patting their hand across the top of the car. He’s doing this to spread the powder, but I bet it left prints even if he didn’t think it did. Here’s a tip: If you’re putting powder on something to detect hand prints, don’t put your hand in the powder.

pat the car

As you can imagine people routinely drive onto the tracks and turn their engines off to see if the legend will come true for them which it sometimes does… but there’s a reason for that and we know what it is thanks to rational inquiry. The show Is It Real? found that there’s actually a two-foot incline in the road leading up to the tracks, you can see it being investigated in the video below along with the other elements of the legend:

Despite this people still drive onto the tracks, turn their engines off and wait, convincing themselves it is forces other than those of nature responsible for their cars moving. Kinda stupid really. If your default reaction to these sorts of legends isn’t skepticism then this is surely proof that you’re opening yourself up to all sorts of misinformation.

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

pendle photo

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…