What’s The Deal With Self-Styled Exorcists?

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Ghost Hunters claiming to clear spirits from a property is nothing new and yet many people who offer this nonsense service brand themselves as exorcists and they seem to be as popular as ever. So, what’s the deal?

A survey conducted in 2012 found that 57% of Americans believe in demonic possession. A survey in 2013 showed that 18% of Brits did too. In October 2013 the Pope commended exorcist priests for their fight against “the Devil’s works” and said that the Church needed to help “those possessed by evil.” The Catholic church responded by training more priests to perform exorcisms with a conference last year seeing at least 160 priests in attendance.

It seems that the “cool” new Pope that many people (atheists included) praise for being a more modern version of his predecessors is actually a bit obsessed with the fictional devil. When this man is praised by atheists it makes my skin itch, but that’s another blog post for another day.

“Pope Francis talks about the Devil all the time and that has certainly raised awareness about exorcisms,” Father Cesare Truqui  told The Telegraph, “but all Latin Americans have this sensibility – for them, the existence of the Devil is part of their faith.”

Traditionally people associated ill luck with demonic entities, and as the media modernises and we see news reports from all around the world 24/7 it is easy to see why people may turn to the more traditional aspects of their religion and believe in the work of the devil when they did not before. The world seems like such a darker place when you are constantly bombarded with news of terrorism, war, humanitarian crises, poverty and natural disasters.

Suddenly the darkness that was thousands of miles away is in your living room, invading your house. You can’t quite escape it.

The risk is, of course, that exorcisms often replace what should be a trip to see a health professional, and this is alarming given the number of people being killed or grievously harmed while being exorcised because friends or family members believe they are possessed.

People who are thought to be possessed are usually displaying symptoms of underlying mental or physical health conditions, but this isn’t always the case. Sometimes you could have a lifestyle that is not approved of by relatives and they’ll consider this sin to be the result of evil in your life.

This is why I find it concerning that ghost hunters present themselves as people who conduct exorcisms when ridding homes of a ghost. This is probably done because it makes you sound important and mysterious –  an appeal to authority, if you will. Yet to do this adds a sinister layer to a haunting that could actually make the situation worse because of the negative connotation that the use of the word ‘exorcism’ drums up. Suddenly your traditional ghost is something much more scary because a ghost hunter is stroking their ego. It’s all quite vulgar really.

 

London Accountant Claims Business Partners Ghost Changed Life

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Here is the story that we discussed in the Christmas Special of The Spooktator podcast which you can listen to below

 

Originally reported in The Spooktator by Chuck Dickens

London based accountant claims business partners ghost changed life

PLAGUED BY STRANGE APPARITIONS that warned him of impending doom London-based accountant claims that his brush with the afterlife has turned his life around.

THREE apparitions brought Ebennezer Scrooge warnings of his doom in the days that led up to Christmas, prompting in him a change that his family, neighbours and colleagues just cannot believe. “He’s so generous now and before we were scared to even ask if we could turn the office heating on” one employee told The Spooktator.

Scrooge claims that he was visited by his business partner Jacob Marley who died on Christmas Eve seven years ago. The ghost was swamped with heavy chains which, as punishment for his greedy and self-serving life, his spirit has been condemned to wander the Earth with.

The shocked accountant recalled that Marley informed him that three spirits would visit him during each of the next three nights to stop him meeting the same fate. “I thought I was hallucinating but I know what I saw.”

Mr Scrooge, 56, who has no history of mental health awoke from a heavy sleep to find a child with a GLOWING HEAD at his bedside which whisked him off through time into his past. The accountant, who has a seat on the London Stock Exchange, claims to have watched Christmases from his earlier years replay in front of him. “Nobody could see me, but I could see them and the memories brought up great emotions in me.”

He claims to have visiting the school he attended as a child, the merchants at which he apprenticed in his youth and even saw the tragic ruin of the relationship with his past fiancée, Belle.

The apparitions kept coming. Scrooge, whose nephew Fred is his only living family, claims he was next visited by a JOLLY GREEN GIANT which took him through London to unveil Christmas as it would happen in the days to come. Scrooge claims to have watched the impoverished family of his employee Bob Cratchit living in poverty before zipping through London to his nephew’s house to witness a Christmas party. Was this an other-worldly protest at the London housing problem forcing hundreds to live in unsuitable accommodation? Things took a macabre turn when this ghost revealed two starved children under his coat called Ignorance and Want before vanishing. It was then, Scrooge claims, that he noticed a dark, hooded figure coming toward him.

The accountant claims he was led to his grave. But not before being shown businessmen discussing his riches, vagabonds trading his personal effects for cash, and a poor couple living in a bedsit expressing relief at the death of their unforgiving landlord.

“I didn’t realise at first that I was being shown my own legacy” he claims, “I begged the ghost to tell me the name of the dead man. The next thing I know I’m in a churchyard and the ghost is pointing me towards a grave. Mine. Sent chills right up my spine, that did.”

The Londoner claims that this shock to his system make him renounce his insensitive, uncaring ways and to honour Christmas with all his heart and he found himself back in his bed.

Neighbours claim that they saw Mr Scrooge rushing into the street the next morning. One neighbour told our reporter “he was shouting something about a turkey. It was really odd and I thought he’d gone mad to be honest.” The turkey was purchased with sweetmeats from Fortnum and Mason and sent to the house of his employee Bob Cratchit whose family rely on hand outs from the local food bank despite having a income. Cratchit told The Spooktator “my son, Tim has been very unwell and finances have been tight. It was a huge surprise to find Mr Scrooge on the doorstep with the food. He’s turned over a new leaf.” His son Tim added “God bless us, everyone!”

The city is rife with the talk of the ruthless businessman who has changed seemingly overnight into a kind hearted philanthropist like something out of a Victorian ghost story, but is this a real-life ghost story that proves that christmas really is the season of peace and goodwill, or is there more than meets the eye to these spectral apparitions?

Professor Chris French of the Anomalistic Psychology Unit who studies paranormal claims at Goldsmiths University believes that this could all be a product of Sleep Paralysis – a disorder which affects around one in twenty people. ‘Our research confirms the results of previous studies in showing that sleep paralysis in its most basic form is surprisingly common, associated symptoms include a strong sense of a presence, difficulty breathing due to pressure on the chest, intense fear, and a wide range of hallucinations.’

When asked if he thought this could account for his experiences Mr Scrooge looked doubtful and said ‘Bah, Humbug!

That San Antonio Railway Tracks Video…

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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…

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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…

Toowoomba Ghost Chasers: Turning Your Shitty Ghosts Into Clickbait

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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.