Ghosthunters

Yvette Fielding and Ciaran O’Keeffe. Ghost Hunters: A Guide to Investigating the Paranormal Hodder and Stoughton, 2006.

This book is a spin off from a TV series called Most Haunted which is on one of those ghastly satellite TV stations aimed at those who clearly do not feel that the five terrestrial channels are downmarket enough for them. Their appear to be quite a glut of these programmes recently, and the few I have seen seem to be little more than advertisements for one self-proclaimed psychic or another.

Most of the spin off books seem to be in the same fashion, however this one is quite a bit better in that it is not written as a promo by a medium, and one of the authors, Chris O’Keeffe seems to have a reasonable critical faculty.

The first part of the book is just a not very original or critical round up of the background to the subject, with overindulgent accounts of the Enfield poltergeist, the Cardiff polt and Borley Rectory. These stories actually demonstrate the role of charismatic investigators and how the stories answer their needs. The authors seem impressed by the Cardiff case simply because of the academic qualifications of the investigator, perhaps they would have been less impressed had they looked at his involvement with the Scole saga, or indeed with the long history of impressively credentialed academics being fooled by a variety of frauds, some of which would have sent any reasonably intelligent 10 year old into gales of laughter.

Of more interest are the cases investigated by the authors themselves. These show both the ambivalent nature of the “evidence” (impressive to believers, less so to sceptics), which the authors do bring out, and also the psychological back stories, for which the reader definitely has to read between the lines. I noted for example at least one case has features very similar to the background of several controversial UFO cases (dominant female, physically or psychologically absent fathers, child with various vague ‘problems’ etc). These complex psychosocial factors make turning these stories into entertainment very dubious indeed

In other cases simpler types of suggestion, and various environmental factors may coincide to create a decidedly spooky atmosphere. There may be other factors: a pub being gentrified after being a druggies dive, may not exactly please some of the living ex-customers, and one can’t help feeling that the largely deserted ex-Camell-Laird shipyard in Birkenhead, might not be a haunt of feral kids, vandals, druggies, drunks, dossers, prostitutes and their clients and etc., rather than boggarts! However much alleged security was put in place, the sighting of strange figures and the hearing of strange voices and noises in such a place can hardly be a surprise.

As with some many of so called ghost investigations, no one actually does much investigating. A ‘Haunted House Detective’ series which featured structural, heating, gas and electrical engineers rather than mediums might actually be entertaining as well as instructive, but we are unlikely ever to see anything of the kind.

Alan Brown. Ghost Hunters of the South. University Press Of Mississippi, 2006.

Alan Brown, a professor of English at the University of West Alabama has undertaken a survey of the various small ghost hunting groups in the southern states of the USA as of 2003; conducting interviews with their leaders/founders by telephone. 44 out of 76 groups responded.

There is no great analysis attempted, or grand sociological vision presented, what we get is the views of these 44 groups, or at least their, usually self-appointed, leaders. They mostly are really small, I suspect that none have more than twenty members, most seem to have memberships in single figures, and one had a membership of just one - its leader of course.

Their approach varied from at least the quasiscientific to what Brown calls the metaphysical groups which operate from a semi-Spiritualist ideology and use psychics, dowsing and the like. None of the groups here really follow the patterns of classical psychical research, and I suspect that many academic parapsychologists would stick their noses up at most of them.

Nearly all these groups, even the quasi scientific, tend to be very much influenced by modern ghostlore, e.g. their investigations in cemeteries, and the obsession with orbs and electronic voice phenomena, whether for or against. Cemeteries, I note, rarely feature in traditional English ghost lore, I wonder if that is because the old churchyards were set in the heart of the living communities, whereas old US graveyards, like most modern UK civic cemeteries are set apart. There is a mixture of old folklore (haunted mansions and the like) along with the modern lore of orbs, EVPs electromagnetic energies and the sort. Clearly many of these groups go in for a variety of impressive sounding gadgets.

It has to be said that only a handful of the groups looked at here could be called truly open minded, if by that you mean taking the view that you do not know what is generating peoples odd experiences and are in the business of finding out. I suspect few would consider the possibility that something genuinely anomalous is going on, but that it bears no relationship to the folk answers of psychical researchers or spiritualists. For the majority, although they may be open minded or even sceptical of individual cases, the big answer - spirits (or in a few cases demons - is taken for granted. So the question becomes less “what is going on here” but “is this particular location the scene of spirit activity”. Magonia readers will be aware that these presuppositions litter the whole field of anomalistic, which is perhaps why they make so little progress. – Peter Rogerson.

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