I've had a request for a piece answering the question: how did you get into the paranormal? Also, as leader of the Strange Occurrences team and the person who does the website, it would seem reasonable and hopefully not too big-headed to have a profile page on the site somewhere. So here goes.
James Douglas Gilberd, b.1963, Wellington. Lives in Wellington with his wife, artist Denise Durkin, and cat Leo. Occupation: self-employed photographer. Owns and runs Photospace Gallery. Education: Onslow College 1977-81, Wellington Polytechnic (Cert. Professional Photography 1987) Victoria University (Bachelor of Design, photography major, 1997). Other main hobby: music, specifically, playing drums in various bands during most years since 1980. First band: Condemned Sector, current band Kosmo-0 More info: photospace.co.nz
Paranormal, pre Strange Occurrences
I've always had the bug, loving TV programmes like Arthur C. Clarke's Mysterious World and being interested in TV psychics Kreskin and Uri Geller in the 1970s. I saw the movies about Bigfoot and several Von Daniken ones, and was fairly skeptical about all of the above even as a kid. The first serious book on the paranormal I read was Lyall Watson's 'Supernature'. This seemed at the time to be a valid sort of blending of science and the mysterious, and I guess I still regard paranormal phenomena from that general perspective.
In my teens and twenties, I had a few personal experiences that made me think there was something to this ESP thing. It was so long ago I can't describe the events accurately, but one or two people close to me at the time were as astonished as I was by them. Trouble with this kind of thing happening at around that age is you start to worry about your own mental health, so I kept things mostly to myself. But I knew I wasn't alone in these matters; many people experience things they can't understand or explain, and some of those things can't adequately be explained by the various stock responses of hard skeptics of the paranormal. (Disclosure: I am a paid-up member of New Zealand Skeptics. It's annoying and disappointing that skeptics are so misunderstood, especially among those in the paranormal community; but they largely bring it on themselves. I hold that the skeptical approach is valid and important in investigating the paranormal, but many would disagree.)
The first unexplained experience I had that I was prepared to talk and write about was also shared by then partner, now wife, Denise. Frankly, it scared the absolute crap out of both of us. The incident occurred in a Whanganui hotel room during the first hours of 1997, at about 1.30am. We had not heard of paranormal investigation at the time, and not being religious, we knew of no one to discuss this experience with. I've since studied the paranormal, particularly ghost-like experiences, in great breadth and depth, including books by the world's leading skeptics, yet still, nothing quite explains this shared experience.
Rather than reiterate it here, you could read - for free - the prologue of the book I co-authored with fellow Strange Occurrences team member Dr Jo Davy - 'Spooked - Exploring the paranormal in New Zealand'. Then, if you feel like it, buy a print or Kindle version of the book and continue reading.
Prologue - Strange Beginnings
Strange Occurrences, 2005-present
To be honest, Strange Occurrences was not conceived as a serious paranormal investigation group, but more as a kind of living installation artwork. This sounds a bit pretentious and disingenuous, but Mark Marriott and I were too far into an espresso binge to be bothered about things like that. We press-ganged Denise and Karen into the fold, made up pseudonyms based on old family names, put up a website and began to collect together equipment that could conceivably be used for paranormal investigation. This kept us amused and distracted for some time. At least until the Dominion Post discovered us and ran a major feature about our group. We had to look legit, pronto. We'd had a few enquiries up till then, mostly about photographs, and we'd run a couple of investigations that could best be described as training exercises. But after the feature we started to get attention, from the public and from other, more recently-formed paranormal investigation teams wanting to work with us.
Of those, Phoen-X Paranormal Research & Investigation, based in Palmerston North and led by Clinton Lawson, proved to be great allies, and with Clinton's nose for finding investigations we were privileged to visit and investigate many fantastic locations in the lower North Island. Along with our own investigations around Wellington, this three-year period from 2007-2009 was when we 'cut our teeth' in the field of paranormal investigation.
Disappointingly, there was also quite a lot of rivalry in the field, as there is in most countries where paranormal investigation is a popular hobby. I think the interest was largely driven by the more popular TV shows at the time; TAPS, Most Haunted, then Ghost Adventures, Ghost Hunters International, et al. People emulated this stuff, including the less savory aspects of it. Phoen-X became a casualty of foul play by others, which ended a great period for us all. We met many new friends through our association with Clinton's team of paranormal investigators, and our own team grew in both number and experience during this time.
Afterwards, the Strange Occurrences Team continued to enjoy media attention, probably more than we deserved. Following a 24-hour investigation of the Wellington Town Hall, which made TV news, I received a phone call from a commissioning editor at Random House (now Penguin Random House) NZ. "We've been following your activities in the media for some time now, and we'd like you to write a book for us." I said, "Uh, yeah, OK" and then phoned Jo Davy, the 'proper writer' in the team. Working on the book was great fun - a 'career highlight'. We also had a paid-for trip down the South Island to get some geographical spread into our locations for the book. Visiting the Vulcan Hotel was a highlight, as was the Isaac Theatre Royal in Christchurch. (This was just a week before the terrible 2011 earthquake.)
Another 'career highlight' led from the publication of Spooked: Alex Cayas, organiser of Paracon Australia, invited me to be a speaker at the inaugural 2014 conference in Maitland, Sydney. This was a total blast, and it was great to meet American professionals Robert Murch, Jeff Belanger and Ben Hansen. I also spoke at the 2015 Paracon at Katoomba, NSW.
Now, from my perspective, the heyday of paranormal investigation in New Zealand is over. There are still quite a few investigation teams in the country (see Links), but from what I can gather most of them are inactive. Haunted Auckland is clearly the most active group, and some others are still doing the occasional investigation, but public interest in ghosts and hauntings has diminished significantly in the last couple of years. So what are we doing these days?
Well, my paranormal time is mostly spent analysing and giving opinions on photographs and videos sent in via email by people from all over the world. I find this fascinating work, and I'm able to combine my knowledge of photography (in which I think I can legitimately claim some actual expertise) with my interest in the paranormal (I've read a lot, and have some practical experience of investigation, but I claim no expertise at all). Some examples are here on this site, as well as elsewhere in this blog - see Blog Index.
Also, I've been enjoying myself greatly writing novels set in the world of paranormal investigation. Edwin J. Smith - Paranormal Investigator is finished, proudly self-published and out in the world: it's available in print and Kindle versions. I'm currently working on the sequel, but haven't thought of the title yet. There's some background info on the novels I'd like to talk about, but it can wait for its own blog.
What's next? Since it's near impossible to get access to investigate public buildings in Wellington these days (for which I blame, in no particular order, earthquake hysteria, OSH, and general risk-averseness), we may turn our attention to other aspects of the paranormal besides ghosts. The work of the Society for Psychical Research during the later 19th and early 20th centuries, during which they studied and investigated mediums, is an area of personal interest for me. This book by Deborah Blum is about the best read on it that I know of.
Maybe it's about time someone did a bit of follow-up research, as there are a lot of people now operating as psychic healers, spiritual mediums, and in associated fields. I'd be really interested to find out if there are individuals out there with genuine psychic abilities.
To be continued.
James Gilberd, 15th January, 2018.
I tried this text on the front page of the site but have moved it back here to the blog, as it's more representative of my personal position and does not fairly represent the NZSOS team overall.
We seem to have acquired a reputation for being skeptics of the paranormal. If that means we thoughtfully challenge extraordinary claims, weigh up the evidence carefully, favour the simpler, natural explanation over the inevitably more complex paranormal one, and avoid making claims that can't be strongly supported, well then, we are skeptics. But we have also individually experienced our own share of events that resist natural explanations. That's what keeps us interested and helps us understand what people who approach us for help may be going through. We're all still searching for answers.
We don't claim to be doing scientific research, at least in the sense of employing true Scientific Method to the study of paranormal phenomena. We've tried to, but it's more problematic than it sounds, maybe next to impossible; it comes out as being pseudoscience, or even looking 'scientifical'. We're just doing the best we can with the time and resources available to us.
More on pseudoscience.
Yes, we have all the standard instruments and do-hickeys that they use on TV; EMF meters, FLIR cameras, etc, but we don't think that any of the gear we use can actually detect ghosts. We use this stuff to understand the environment we're investigating, as it picks up stuff better than our human senses, as well as stuff we can't sense at all, and it records more accurately and objectively than memory. It's more useful for eliminating paranormal-based hypotheses than proving them to be true. More on investigation equipment.
We have never actually found a ghost! That is; we've never made a claim that anything we have experienced and/or recorded is actually paranormal. The farthest we've gone is, 'This thing happened and we haven't yet been able to find a natural explanation for it.' More
And we don't hold a set of beliefs that we're determined to prove is the truth.
If all that doesn't put you off, please feel free to contact us about your paranormal experience. We may actually be able to help!
James Gilberd, 6th January 2017.
It was a great pleasure to have a walk around in daylight, both in the main hospital and the old nurses' home buildings, with Mark Wallbank of Haunted Auckland and Roz of the Wellington SPCA -
- also a paranormal enthusiast. We had plenty of time to take photos, and enjoyed access to all areas. The place has no real menace during daylight (although the old Nurses' Home, which is currently a building site, full of hazards and so off-limits to the public, is still pretty eerie), but a few years ago, during each of the three occasions when Strange Occurrences conducted full paranormal investigations, some unexplained and rather unsettling stuff occurred after midnight - see The Wellington Fever Hospital Investigations 2010-2011
I was pleased that the Wellington SPCA took over this facility in 2013. Because of its haunted reputation, it had become a place to dare to enter and there were many break-ins. Luckily no one managed to set it on fire. Now the SPCA have made good use of this high-quality building in its scenic location, and the security of the site is substantially improved. A large section of the main hospital, most of the West Wing, is available for hire as a function and conference facility - a great place to escape the hubbub of the city and enjoy the unique surroundings. As to whether it's haunted; well, mostly when places are substantially renovated, as the Fever Hospital has been, reports of paranormal experiences die down. This is probably true, but the jury is still out!
PDF - Wellington SPCA Conference & Function Centre Information
Below: photos taken by James Gilberd of New Zealand Strange Occurrences Society, 9/12/2017.
This photo was sent to us for analysis by Rachel, from her recent trip to New Orleans. Taken in daylight by her sister with an iPhone 7, the photo contains an anomaly: she is apparently missing half her right hand, with which she was holding a medium-sized drink cup - also strangely invisible.
We initially thought this was due to subject movement, but none is apparent anywhere in the photo, which shows sharp detail throughout; and the Exif data (printed in full below) gives the shutter speed at 1/429th of a second - brief enough an exposure to freeze all but the most rapid movement.
The anomalous area is shown pixel-for-pixel in the detail photo below. It is unaltered from the original we received. We suspect this may be to do with the phone camera's image stabilization system but we don't have any way of exploring that possibility. An internet search did not reveal any similar faults with iPhone7 photos, other than complaints of a watercolour-like effect. The predominance of the bright red fabrics may also be a factor.
We don't know what is going on here. Can anyone explain?
We would like to hear from you if you know the cause of this anomaly, and/or if you know of similar effects occurring in photos taken using the Apple iPhone7 or any other cellphone camera.
New Zealand Strange Occurrences Society
Please note: the photos on this page are copyright. The owner has given us permission to publish them here but please do not copy or republish them without permission. Feel free to circulate the link to this page, though.
The following is the Exif data from the photo, as shown by Exif Reader.
The article, by Abigail Beall for Wired, "If ghosts were real, Brian Cox claims CERN would have found them by now", while somewhat interesting is typically shallow and rather a cheap shot.
I'm not anti-science - quite the opposite, actually - it's just that poor-quality, low-level science writing such as the article in question here get my goat.
For a start, it does not define what it means by 'ghosts'. Some kind of physical entity is assumed. As we know, there's more than one kind of phenomenon answering to the descriptor 'ghost'. Are we talking about the ghosts that mainly exist in the movies, such as in Peter Jackson's 'The Frighteners', where the comedy-ghosts don't even obey consistent laws of ghost-physics? Or the nastier type in the Paranormal Activity movie series that are able to physically interact with our environment, slamming doors and such, and with people, dragging them screaming out of bed and off to a grisly fate? No one believes that stuff, unless they've binge-watched too many scary movies and are seriously sleep-deprived.
Or are we talking about something more subtle, such as crisis apparitions - visions of family, friends or loved ones appearing at around the time of their death or other intense situation? (Telepathy, if it exists, could provide an explanation.) These occurrences are common and have been experienced by many reliable witnesses, testified to and corroborated in published accounts, such that crisis apparitions were held up as established fact by the SPR, whose research and findings are generally rigorous and skeptical.
And what about 'time slips'? The phantom Battle of Edge Hill was witnessed by many reliable people of good standing, but a couple of months after it happened!. Three military officers sent to the town to dispel the superstitious rumours all saw the apparitional soldiers and heard the fighting for themselves. There's the famous ghostly Roman soldiers, horses and all, seen by Harry Martindale and several other independent witnesses in the basement of the Treasurer's House in York, a case that has never been disproved. Poltergeists are something different again. So what, specifically, is claimed to be disproved by the scientists of CERN?
The so-called 'laws of physics', as with all scientific theories in other fields, are not set in concrete: scientific method dictates this; it is how science works. The vast majority of professional scientists are not engaged in searching for proof of any paranormal phenomena, so they are not going to find it. They mostly work within a career structure that does not permit research even on the fringes of the paranormal. The penalties for transgression may include loss of tenure, refusal of grants and funding applications, and severe ridiculing by peers.
Personally, I believe that explanations for many phenomena that are currently classed as paranormal will be found through scientific research and the resulting growth in the understanding of how nature and the cosmos behaves, and how human consciousness fits into this (once we have a better understanding of what consciousness actually is): but indirectly so. A holistic way of thinking will be needed to gain such an understanding. Most scientists are necessarily specialised, and it takes a genius mind with great powers of imagination to understand and bring together a range of specialised knowledge - perhaps from disparate fields - in such a way as to begin to understand the various paranormal phenomena, all of which are unique and highly complex.
The later part of the article dismisses ghosts as any kind of physical possibility but does not consider the idea of their occurring in a higher dimension and not having a presence in our familiar 3D spatial reality at all. For my part - and I have no way yet of proving this - it seems that ghosts are not part of this physical world in any sense but more likely are experienced only psychologically; that is, in the mind, be it telepathically or otherwise.
For this reason, it is unlikely there will ever be an undeniable photograph of a ghost, unless the camera can somehow capture that which is not physically present or a part of any objective reality. It may be that the human mind (and that of higher animals that can be thought of as possessing consciousness, or - if you prefer - a soul) as well as being the product of brain activity (the Materialists hold that it is nothing more than that) exists also in four-dimensional and perhaps higher-dimensional space, and therefore is not bound by time, at least in the linear way that we perceive it) but extends itself fore and aft of the present moment. The extent and strength of this projection may vary for a number of yet-unknown reasons, but it may be linked to the strength of a consciousness - willpower - and the emotional intensity of events it has experienced. (This is of course just speculation.)
So, once we start looking at ghosts not as theoretical, physical entities that can be filmed, weighed and measured, but as a range of phenomena which the human mind is somehow capable of perceiving, maybe in a space that is beyond the familiar three-spatial-dimensions-plus-time model that we're mostly intuitively comfortable with and struggle to think beyond, we may be onto something.
The Large Hadron Collider has only really been operating since 2010, and experimentation in particle physics began just in the 20th century, so it's all still pretty fresh territory. So who's to say what future discoveries will or will not be made by scientists using the LHC to explore nature and the cosmos? Probably not Brian Cox, and certainly the writer of the article in question, Abigail Beall.
Scientists, whether or not they're looking for an explanation of ghost experiences and other paranormal phenomena, will likely - eventually - provide us with the answers to the questions that have been around for centuries. We just need to keep up with new developments, not take an anti-science stance, and not be put off by articles such as Abigail Beall's that, if not actually pissing on the unwashed from a great height, are nothing more than negative and discouraging to those seeking explanations for unknown phenomena.
This isn't paranormal in itself, but it relates to thought processes for considering paranormal events.
Last weekend Wellington experienced a storm, with gale-force, cold southerly wind and a lot of driving rain. Venturing downstairs on Sunday morning, we found quite a bit of water on the floor of the laundry and downstairs room (my Man Cave). We mopped it up, put old towels around the doors, etc, to stop too much more water being driven in by the strong wind. The storm continued Sunday night, and Monday morning it was the same deal with the mopping and the towels. The storm slowly fizzled out and by Monday night it had become calm and dry outside.
Then on Tuesday morning, there was a whole lot more water downstairs. It was worse than the previous couple of days' inundation. So, wait a minute; the storm's over, but...
Investigation ensued. Not a paranormal investigation, but the same sort of detective work was needed. We looked under the house, on the roof, and up in the roof. Eventually the cause of the flooding was found to be a pressure tank in the ceiling (the cold water tank that provides pressure for the hot water cylinder), which was overflowing. The stopcock had failed and the tank was continuing to fill. Water from it was running along the ceiling and down the internal walls.
Up till that discovery, we'd been working under a false assumption: the driving rain from the storm (which was ferocious and hard to ignore) was the cause of the flooding. Although a little water had driven in under the back door and through the cat flap, we'd largely been fooled. The measures we'd taken over the last two days were ultimately ineffective. So once we'd discovered the true source of the water, we were able to do something effective about it: call a plumber!
The point of this is that for a long time we were labouring under a misconception. The storm had masked the true cause of the problem, leading us to a false assumption. Any action we took by following this assumption was ineffective. That the storm and the pressure tank fault happened at the same time was merely a coincidence. The result of our misconception was three days of water damage to the house that could've been much reduced. (We're still drying things out, a week later, and the damage inside the walls is probably permanent.) If the storm had not occurred, we would've traced the leak to its true source before it could do so much damage.
So, what has all this got to do with paranormal investigation? Well, the type of thinking that resulted in extra water damage is exactly the same as a lot of thinking (or lack of thinking) that goes on around paranormal investigations; before, during and afterwards. It was my own thinking that was wrong, and I've been in a few similar situations during paranormal investigations, where one apparent, major event masks a less obvious one. Or a false assumption about paranormal activity masks the true, natural reason for a set of events, maybe leading to someone's personal distress.
So, we shouldn't always settle on the most obvious conclusion without thinking around and beyond it. What if we're wrong because we're being misled?
This is one of the main reasons for working as a team. And, as in business, sports and elsewhere in life, a team formed of people who don't all think alike, a team where people are comfortable about questioning the assumptions of other team members, including the leader, is a stronger and more effective team. A team made up of paranormal believers will be more easily misled and thus less effective than one containing a people with a range of beliefs and views; from believer through agnostic through to skeptic. (It's fair to say, then, that a team comprising only skeptics and scientific thinkers would be equally ineffective in investigating the paranormal; they're more likely to miss stuff that people more open to the paranormal might more readily perceive.)
So, from this mundane plumbing issue, I have learned two lessons:
Please note: The photos in this blog and on this website are copyright and must not be downloaded, copied, printed and/or used elsewhere in any form.
We receive many possibly paranormal photographs for analysis. While some are easier to explain than others, all of them are fascinating, and whether paranormal or not, they possess a certain beauty. These two photos, taking during a camping trip in Redwood National Park in northern California, in 2015 and sent to us by Andrew Ewing in June, 2017 for analysis, are right up there in the mystery and beauty department. (Thank you again for permission to show and discuss them here.)
While many of the photos we receive are explainable by camera or photographic anomalies such as lens flare or dust orbs, these are a bit different. Here, it is the ability of the stills camera to capture a fleeting moment of time, something not perceptible by normal human eyesight. While there is lens flare in both images (caused by the brightness of the fire bouncing around inside the lens and resulting in the large pink-purple blob in the centre and extending out in a circular pattern), this has nothing to do with the flames that are the apparent size and shape of dancing human figures appearing on the right of the campfire.
There are two obvious natural - non-paranormal - explanations that immediately came to my mind:
- It's faked! Photoshopped!
Well, I personally don't think so. Other may disagree. I believe Andrew's statement that the photos have not been tampered with. I work daily with Photoshop in my profession as a photographer and have done so for almost 20 years; so while I'm not claiming that a real expert couldn't slip a fake past me, to my eyes these photo show no signs of being messed with.
Also, if you do an internet image search along the lines of 'ghostly flame figures dancing around fire', you'll get a variety of results, some obviously faked (for various reasons). All of the fakes appear quite different to these photos (and most of the natural photos are nowhere near as good!) And if I were going to fake a ghost photo, I'd make it pretty scary-looking and unambiguous as to what it was supposed to be.
This is the more likely explanation, the one I offered Andrew. Pareidolia is something hard-wired into all of our brains that causes us to see human-like faces and figures in what are essentially random patterns, such as rocks, clouds or tree bark. The man in the moon is one example. The smiley face emoji is another. : ) It's just a couple of dots next to a curve, yet (even sideways) we all immediately see it as a face.
Personally, I think it's probably pure coincidence that these tongues of flame, each of which existed for a brief moment and just happened to be caught on camera, appear a similar shape and size to dancing figures. More info on pareidolia - and the Wikipedia article is useful.
But then again, there are coincidences and coincidences. Most of us have experienced or heard about coincidences that are so uncanny that pure chance seems way too flimsy an explanation. There just has to be something more to it. Maybe these photos are entering into that area.
Though I'm in no way certain about this, just putting it out there: I think that it takes people's presence and personal mental energy (call it spiritual energy if you prefer) to trigger events that can be experienced as paranormal. Naturally, some people are much more inclined to do this than others (like how some people can mentally calculate square roots of large numbers, or have perfect pitch). Perhaps the combined energy and unified spiritual belief of the dancers around this campfire caused, or allowed, the flames to appear in this way. And to be captured photographically. Which begs the question: what if more photos were taken, and what (if anything) would they show?
At the end of the day, though, it comes down to personal choice and belief. We're free and encouraged to form our own opinions on these photos. It's important to give consideration to any rational, natural explanations that are available, and then decide for ourselves if we accept those explanations. Or maybe we can come up with another explanation of our own, perhaps based on a similar personal experience, or on particular historical knowledge of the site of the event, the circumstances surrounding it, the people involved.
If you have an opinion or theory about what these photographs show, we'd be very interested to hear it.
Wellington, New Zealand
I'm kinda pleased to see the venue change. While Katoomba is a really nice town and the Blue Mountains National Park surrounding it is fantastic, going there three years in a row might've lacked a little spark. The new venue will offer the opportunity to host the event in a different way, with a new structure for the talks.
I'm coming clean - I was one of the people who independently suggested the shorter talks, no repeats, no parallel sessions structure. It's something I've seen work very well in the world famous Webstock conference in Wellington and thought it might translate well to Paracon. So if it doesn't work out, you now have someone you can partially blame.
One problem with the previous structure of several talks running simultaneously is that you can't possibly take in all the talks, and even with the repeats you will miss some good stuff. Also, as a Paracon speaker of lesser fame, it ain't good to have your own talk under-attended while someone famous with their own TV series is speaking in another room. I've sat in on some great talks by international and local speakers but with barely a couple-dozen people in the room. This linear structure for the presentation schedule will fix these issues.
It may also be that the Carrington couldn't provide a large enough room to run the Paracon with this linear structure, which might have a little bit to do with the change of venue to the Western Sydney University in Parramatta, which will provide a larger theatre, and presumably also with better AV projection facilities - another problem with previous Paracon venues. Parramatta is an old centre with many historic sites, which should be good from an investigation viewpoint.
I was disappointed to see some Australian paranormal commentators attack the Paracon organisors mercilessly and ferociously (and on Christmas Eve to boot!) primarily because of the venue change. (I'm not going to provide a link to that podcast.) Obviously there's going to be a few hiccoughs around changing venues, but it was done 6 months out from the start of the conference, so in plenty of time to avoid most problems. I know that a few people had to cancel their hotel bookings, and good on them for booking early, but for most conference attendees it's not going to present a problem. And the conference's closer proximity to Sydney might open it up to a few more people.
James Gilberd's presentation and photography workshop.
Anyway, I'll be giving a talk on photography and the paranormal (again - I know) but with different content to my 2015 talk. I won't be talking about dust orbs this time as I think they've been well and truly laid to rest. Anyone who in 2017 still thinks a dust orb (an easily recognised and fully explainable photographic anomaly) is any kind of spirit manifestation is probably beyond rationality so a lost cause as far as scientific argument goes. But developments in camera design, and the shift of much photography to cellphone cameras, has presented some new challenges that need to be looked at.
I will also be running a workshop on the basics of photography as far as the paranormal is concerned - how to use stills photography more effectively in paranormal investigations. This will not include the use of cellphone cameras (which have their uses but are rather limited) or video cameras (which I don't know much about) but will concentrate on learning to use dedicated stills cameras in a more controlled manner for better evidence-gathering. Understanding and avoiding some of the common anomalies that can cause false positives by seeing how they are created is a big part of it. This workshop will be on Friday 26th May, so the day before the main conference weekend. More information will be posted here soon, but I advise booking early for this, as there will be a cap on numbers. (I don't know what the limit is yet, but I want to be able to get around people individually.) If one of your jobs in your paranormal team is taking still photos during and prior to investigations and you're not already an expert photographer, then this workshop will help you.
And if you are already an expert photographer, with a good understanding of the workings of a range of digital cameras (maybe you work in a photography store), then perhaps you can help me with the workshop. Some people will need help finding the various modes and functions on their camera and I may not be able to get around and help each person individually, so if you can assist with this and will be available on Friday at the conference, perhaps email me.
Kiwis - make a weekend of it.
Tickets for Paracon 2017 are one sale now - see website.
It would be cool to see a few more kiwis over there, as it's been in the low single digits for previous Paracons. The will never be anything like this event in New Zealand so Australia offers the best opportunity to experience a paranormal conference. Personally, I never have enough money and taking time out from my photography business is an issue, but still, last year I was able to get good, cheap plane tickets via Air NZ's Grabaseat. We also had a night in Sydney on the way, using Trivago to find a hotel room in Darlinghurst, which worked out really well. It was a nice holiday, and staying at The Carrington in Katoomba was a special experience. This time it will be different, which is great too. I'm really looking forward to it.
A novel project
I've been working on a side project - a novel about paranormal investigation, with the working title: Edwin J Smith, Paranormal Investigator. I think this will be part one of a trilogy, as there are ideas introduced that aren't fully explored but leave room to develop in future stories. I'm not going to give much away here, except that the novel will be launched at Paracon and it includes the venue of the last two Paracons - The Carrington Hotel, Katoomba - as the setting for the climax of the story. The Blue Mountains National Park also comes into it as a location.
So I was in a bit of a quandary after hearing of the Paracon venue change. I hadn't written the Katoomba part of the novel at that time, but decided to keep it as a location because I have no knowledge of the new Parramatta venue and couldn't justify a research trip there on the basis of projected long term sales of 30 or so copies! Maybe part two of the trilogy will be set there - who knows? Anyway, don't expect great literature - Eleanor Catton I ain't - but maybe just a lightweight, hopefully amusing story that explores some of the good and bad aspects of the world of paranormal investigation. More on this later. I plan to get maybe 20 copies printed and bring them over with me to sell on the Paracon bookstall, along with a couple of remaining copies of Spooked - Exploring the Paranormal in New Zealand.
I hope to see you at Paracon 2017 and get to have a natter about paranormal stuff. And I hope this venue has good coffee and snack food available nearby. Walking down to The Elephant Bean in Katoomba was nice, but it meant leaving the venue too often.
Mine's a long black (coffee).
A while ago, a friend sent me a link to this article in The Atlantic - The Broken Technology of Ghost Hunting - which got me thinking. The article raises some valid issues concerning 'ghost hunting' equipment - its uses and its users. The central argument is that ghost hunters are naturally attracted to equipment that is essentially faulty and so will tend to generate 'false positives' - readings that misleadingly point to the presence of spiritual activity. Examples of items repurposed from another field (such as the K2 and other EMF meters) as well as gadgets specifically designed and manufactured for paranormal investigators (like the ghost boxes) are discussed and all are regarded as unfit for the purpose of detecting ghosts.
Well, what - if anything - isn't? That is the question. Anyway, read the article for yourself first.
After ten years plus of paranormal investigation, and having accumulated a certain amount of equipment for doing it, I find myself largely in agreement with Colin Dickey's argument put forward in his article. Further, I now want to read his book 'Ghostland - An American history in haunted places', but that's a side issue.
If I have a criticism of the article, it's that Dickey's mostly picked the low hanging fruit - the K2 and the ghost box again - without taking the trouble to update himself and look at the way that the better informed, more sophisticated paranormal investigators operate these days. The items mentioned are really for the beginners and for entertainment. Although they may experiment with them, no paranormal investigators worth their salt use ghost boxes or K2 meters on investigations performed for clients. Dickey's opinions are not news to us: we already all know those things are trash.
Ghost boxes and similar devices based on the original Frank's Box, including phone apps designed to do the same sort of thing; that is, to throw up apparently random words that can appear to the over-enthusiastic, I-want-to-believe ghost hunter to be significant to their investigation. Whether this is achieved by sweeping the radio broadcast frequencies or using an array of memorised keywords is irrelevant: such devices are for entertainment, not paranormal investigation.
But a more sophisticated approach to paranormal investigation is not to use the various tools in the box to attempt to detect and record ghosts, but instead to gather information about the environment that is under investigation. A simple, compact camera, for example, is an excellent note taking tool for recording details of the environment at different times during an investigation - during the daytime, before the investigation proper, and throughout the night. The more photos from different sources, the better. The same can be said for video cameras, fixed or hand-held. Photographic evidence is general more useful for elimination of possibilities, for example, if movement of an object was caused by a person, accidentally or otherwise, rather than by, say, a poltergeist. Once, on a particularly creepy investigation, footage from our fixed cameras eliminated the possibility that an intruder caused a downstairs door to slam violently, as we'd first thought.
EMF meters? Well, we humans are (mostly) not sensitive to electro-magnetic radiation (except for heat, which we feel, and visible light) so the meters can tell us of something present that we can't otherwise detect with our own senses. An example: during one investigation, a resident said that when she went to the kitchen sink, it often felt like someone touched her hair and shoulders. Well, we noticed she wore house shoes with synthetic soles and we suspected she might be charging herself up with static electricity while walking on the carpet (causing her hair to rise and separate slightly) then earthing herself when touching the tap or steel sink bench, causing her hair to sink back and brush her shoulder and making her think it was being touched. Measuring around her with a Trifield Natural EM meter confirmed this. We measured ourselves as a comparison and the readings were much lower. Hypothesis confirmed, paranormal experience explained.
It is said that positive ions in the air can affect people's mood negatively, so the presence of positive ions in a particular room (perhaps caused by equipment such as a photocopier or printer) might make that room feel strange, somehow different. Well, one of these devices will detect ions, positive and negative, and give a rough count which then can be compared to other spaces. (Note: we don't yet have an air ion counter, but would love one and would put it to good use. But they're kinda expensive. Can anyone help?)
The same can be said for thermometers; ambient, laser (non contact) and heat cameras. 'It's cold in this room!' Well, how cold, exactly? 'I feel chilled?' Really? Physically, or is it more of a physiological reaction to fear? Thermometers are useful gadgets for paranormal investigation, as they give you readings, which can be compared to other readings.
The same could be said for other detectors, measuring tools and recording devices employed by paranormal investigators; and yes, they are all purloined from other fields of use, but they all help to understand an environment in which paranormal activity is purported to occur. And they all either give numbers and quantities to things we can sense and/or detect and record things beyond our ability to sense. This is all mainly useful for understanding the natural qualities of an environment that may be contributing to a sense that the paranormal is occurring. The equipment can also help to rule stuff out.
So, putting aside the purpose-built paranormal gadgets mentioned earlier, as well as phone apps, that are really all just for entertainment purposes, and to break the inevitable monotony of those paranormal investigations during which nothing paranormal occurs - that is; ninety-nine point something percent of them - the tools that serious, scientific-minded paranormal investigators use in their hobby or (for the lucky few) their profession, are not necessarily as daft as the article The Broken Technology of Ghost Hunting would have us believe. At least, in the right hands.
Today we received an email from the UK from a university student who's been sharing a house with other uni. students. They all moved in recently, and each has experienced strange things, such as hearing footsteps in a certain part of the house (several people have), feeling a presence in some of the bedrooms (2 people have), possibly hearing a disembodied voice (1 person has), and the feeling of being pinched while in bed (2 people have). The person who emailed is very worried about actually seeing a ghost. Being on the other side of the planet, we can't do the investigation, unfortunately, but I thought my email response was worth a blog anyway. Of course I've changed bits and added bits to it since sending the email. Here goes...
This is not something we have much to do with at Strange Occurrences - we don't want to get rid of ghosts, we want to study them - but I'll write the next blog post on it anyway.
James Gilberd of New Zealand Strange Occurrences Society investigating a private house in Karori, Wellington, with a Trifield EMF meter and a FLIR heat camera. I wasn't aware of the green orb on my chest. This is not a dust orb, but could be a flare image caused by the light bulb above and behind me.
is a blog by James Gilberd - leader and co-founder of Strange Occurrences. Views expressed here do not necessarily represent those of the Strange Occurrences team.