There was a time in my life when I owned a smudge stick with the sole purpose of using it to banish any evil spirit I might come across. I saved it and saved it and saved it until the one time things would get so out of hand I’d have to use it.
I still have it, somewhere.
On the other occasions when mediums or psychics I was working with told me there was a negative energy in the building we were investigating I would simply say a protective chant such as “apage satanas” (Latin for “be gone Satan”) or I would ask for white light to protect us and banish the darkness.
I wore amulets with amethyst stones on them because amethyst is supposedly a spiritually protective stone – no harm would come to anyone wearing such an amulet, or so I was told. Whenever we conducted table tipping or seances we would always ‘open up’ the session by cloaking ourselves in a protective white light. You would have to picture yourself surrounded by an egg-shaped white light that would allow no evil in.
Silly right? Although it was naive I think I was actually quite brave because I truly believed in evil at that stage in my life and was willing to take it on with my silly chants and pseudo-knowledge. I can remember screaming at what I thought was a spirit possessing a then-friend of mine, telling it to leave her alone and fuck off. It scared me to do that, but I still did it and then lived in fear for weeks because the spirit might have followed me home. I thought I was doing the right thing and helping people.
I can remember often telling people who were investigating alongside me that the smell of sulphur meant a demon could be present but it was okay as I had a crucifix and a smudge stick (what sort of messed up belief system is that?!)
I was eighteen/nineteen and I had adults telling me that they had magic powers and that these things, this evil, the incantations – it was all real and true and possible and that I was at risk.
I’d never really been taught how the burden of proof worked or what counted as evidence – these are things I now know about, but then I just accepted the word of older people because they seemed to know what they were talking about.
Years later I look back and I can see how silly it was to have those beliefs, but the experiences I had felt real and caused real fear and that’s why I always worry when I see paranormal research teams claiming to have used the same techniques to banish ghosts from people’s businesses or homes. This behaviour can be very damaging and can cause more problems that it seeks to solve.
It’s important that those who have experiences odd things are told that somebody believes that they have honestly witnessed something they cannot explain, because being believed and not ridiculed helps people to know that they aren’t weird for speaking out about such experiences.
To bring ones personal beliefs into the situation is wrong, and for teams to tell location owners that they have ‘exorcised’ or ‘banished’ the ghost is not only closed-minded (i.e. the investigator has only considered the idea that a ghost is the cause of the weird experience) but it is also harmful to the mindset of the person who has had the scary or strange experience.
You often find that after a supposed exorcism/clearing has been conducted by amateur ghost hunters the reports of activity cease and the witness believes the exorcism is the cause of the lack of activity.
The activity witnessed (noises, movements, coldness, smells etc.) could have had a perfectly rational cause, but because a biased ghost hunter became involved in the situation the witness will have been made to believe that a ghost/demon is the cause of the activity.
By using pseudo-science to ‘prove’ a ghost is the cause of the activity witnessed, and by then conducting a clearing or exorcism of the alleged entity, the ghost hunter is cementing into the mind of the witness the idea that:
a) the experiences were caused by a paranormal entity, and
b) that entity is now gone
It may seem silly of the witness to so readily accept this, but many people have no knowledge of ghost hunting and its many flaws and will often accept the word of these self-styled ghost experts as fact, when it very clearly isn’t fact.
I’ve written numerous times about how and why ghost hunters used flawed methods to boost their confidence in their paranormal beliefs, and how bringing other people into that process is unethical. I have a problem with people who conduct clearings in people’s houses or businesses and I’ve often been asked at talks why. If it makes the person think the ghost has gone away and calms them down, then isn’t that a good thing?
It may seem like a solution to the problem – the person is no longer scared so all is well, but it’s not that simple. That person is now certain that those odd things they witnessed were caused by a paranormal entity which has now gone.
The next time one of those unexplained things happens they’re going to think the paranormal entity is back in their home or business and no rational investigation is going to convince them otherwise because they’ve already had it ‘proven’ to them that it’s a paranormal entity – why else did the activity stop after the clearing?
Had the ghost hunter taken an objective approach to the case they would have searched for natural causes of the activity witnessed before declaring there were no natural causes by labelling the incident as paranormal.
To tell somebody that the activity they witnessed is paranormal in nature but that it’s OK as you’ve removed the paranormal entity causing the activity is priming that person to be scared out of their wits the next time pipes make an odd noise, or a door slams, or they smell something odd.
This is why it is essential that a common sense approach to paranormal research is promoted through outreach. It’s also why it is important that skeptics don’t ridicule those who have seemingly unexplainable experiences, because when skeptics do that it pushes eyewitnesses into the path of ghost hunters who own smudge sticks and know a few Latin chants…