Flashy lights and bits of gear


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A very common response we seem to be getting from people who join us for P.I.E. nights is a reaction of nerves; not just towards the Historic Site, but also towards the gear we use!

It’s all high tech and fancy and can look pretty intimidating to someone who’s never had the chance to play with it all before, but for the most part it’s all pretty straight forward and certainly nothing to be scared of.

We use so much gear because we want to track as many variables as possible during an investigation.  Because no one can define exactly what paranormal activity is, we need to cover as much ground as we possibly can, including some things that we as human beings can’t detect without gear to show us.

What does some of the equipment look for?

  • Fluctuations in atmospheric conditions such as temperature, humidity and air pressure.
  • Fluctuations in the electro-magnetic field (outside of visible light and audible sound etc.)
  • Anomalous sounds and sights (both those perceived at the time and those missed until evidence review)
  • Fluctuations in positive air ions.

So basically all of the equipment you get to use is not necessarily designed to prove the presence of the paranormal (with the exception of video cameras/sound recorders), so much as it is designed to rule out external influences which might contribute to paranormal experiences.

So what does this all mean for investigating?

If you’re wandering through an old house with an EMF meter and it lights up, chances are you’ve stumbled across a field produced by faulty wiring or a security system.  If it’s in a location where people are prone to experiencing odd sensations, there could be a correlation between the EMF and the effect it has on humans.  It makes you wonder about places like the Parsonage and the Commandant’s House, where we have long documented histories about people experiencing the paranormal, and have since discovered substantial EMF leaks from the respective security systems in the buildings.  Is there a link there?  Or are people truly experiencing ghostly apparitions and the like?

Likewise, a sudden drop in temperature doesn’t mean you just walked through Casper, but might be linked to pockets of air in the building.  Or you might feel a sudden drop in ambient temperature, but a thermometer might show that nothing’s happened.

This is why so much flashy gear!

 

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Paranormal Phenomen-huh?


What is Paranormal Phenomena?

It’s a good question.  There are many and varied theories in the Paranormal Investigation field as to what exactly the paranormal is.  It’s hard to define any one leading theory, so here at Port Arthur we’re exploring four of them in our investigations.

THEORY #1 – “Ghosts are Dead People”

It is a belief held by many cultures right throughout the world – that the body and spirit are separate, and that when a person dies their spirit comes away from the body.  In some beliefs the spirit moves on to a different plane of existence, for others the spirit continues to walk the earth as a ghostly entity.
We tend to base our ghost tours on this theory, but a few nights ago I decided to find out what my ghost tour group thought about ghosts, so I asked them!  I had a school group of 13-14 year old kids from a remote region of Tasmania, who all came up with ideas of what they thought ghosts were:

“I think they’re dead people’s souls”

“When you die you might have unfinished things to do so you hang around”

“It’s dead people”

“When i was little my pop used to talk to me.  He died before i was born”

“It’s like, your spirit”

Inevitably, these kids’ theories all revolved around the idea of ghosts being dead people. 

THEORY #2 – “Parallel Universes”

The thought of parallel universes existing can be a thought that makes your brain hurt if you dwell on it for too long.  But it’s an interesting thought at the same time!
Imagine the world as a sheet hanging on a clothesline, alongside possibly one or more other sheets/worlds.  They exist side by side, but separate from one another.  Now picture what happens when the wind blows – the sheets connect every now and then for brief but significant moments.  (This is not to suggest that paranormal phenomena will happen only on windy days)

We have a ghost story from the 1870s at Port Arthur that makes you stop and wonder about the possible legitimacy of this theory.
In the Parsonage (Port Arthur’s historically haunted house) there lived a family by the name of Hayward.  They had experienced many odd things in the house, but one story talks of a servant walking into a front room of the house only to find a figure at the window in ‘strange garb’ holding a raised object like a dagger ‘as though to strike’.
This would be a terrifying experience, no doubt.  Reverend Hayward was said to have had to ‘box her ears’ to bring sense to the servant after the episode.  But here’s a thought: What if what that servant saw was a ghost tour guide in present time, holding a torch and peering in to the house?  (Brain explodes!)

THEORY #3 – “The Power of Suggestion” 

The human mind is incredible.  Scientists are only just beginning to understand the limitations and possibilities of the human brain.  There is still so much that is unknown about our capabilities!

I’ve seen (as I’m sure most of my fellow guides have too) just how strong the power of suggestion can be.  Without giving away too many tricks of the trade, in the job of tour guide where your tour group are expecting to be scared you soon learn to develop a few subtle skills in creating atmosphere.  Many’s the time I’ve had people ‘experience’ the paranormal on tour, though about 75% of the time when asked to describe exactly what’s happened to them they will regurgitate something they’ve already been told on tour.  In many cases this is a ploy for attention, however there are cases where visitors are completely convinced that they have experienced something, and will even have physiological reactions to the event.

THEORY #4 – “This is All a Pile of Poo”

A very valid theory that can’t be discounted.  There are studies being done in parts of the world on various external influences on the human experience.  Factors such as Electro Magnetic Fields and Infrasound are being tested for their potential to create a “haunted” atmosphere.  There are suggestions that various external factors can produce hallucinations, feelings of unease, and even that wonderful and comforting sensation of seeing movement out of the corner of your eye.

So these are the theories we’re working with at Port Arthur, and by concentrating on all of these different possibilities it’s helping us to remain open-minded about the various experiences reported on site.  It also helps bring us back to the importance of always asking questions.

Just because someone talks to their Pop as a kid, doesn’t necessarily mean that they are talking to a dead person’s spirit.  Maybe they are talking to their Pop from another world (after all, having never known their Pop, they would be unaware of how any behaviour might differ from their actual Pop).  Maybe, having never met their Pop, this kid wanted to talk to him and was convinced by their own mind that it was really happening.  Or maybe the location of the home combined with any number of external factors created the illusion that Pop was indeed present and chatty.  Oh the possibilities!

‘Til next time, the P.I.E. team.

The importance of being logical


Having spent my fair share of time in dark and creepy places in the last 5 years, and more so than ever since we started the Paranormal Experience, I have first hand experience in how easy it is to jump when things go bump in the night.  Rest assured that most people, regardless of how sceptical they are, will jump a mile if they’re sitting in pitch black dark in a haunted location and something grabs them or crashes around nearby.  It’s very easy to jump to the wrong conclusions!

For example:

On the July Investigation this year, participants from my group may well remember we heard footsteps in the Commandants House the minute i flicked out the lights.  Straight away i can honestly admit that i jumped along with everyone else, in fact i jumped across the hallway to land safely in the middle of my group!  At the time it was adrenaline inducing and scary, but looking back with a logical viewpoint there is no way to rule out the possible logical causes of what went on.  The first thing that springs to mind for me is animal noise.  Wallabies notoriously cause some very convincingly bipedal noises when leaping around, and at the end of the hallway was a door leading out onto a wooden walkway.  I can’t rule out the possibility that a wallaby chose the exact moment that i turned out the lights to take a little walk (or jump) on the board walk right outside the house.  Or a possum on the roof, perhaps.  But it’s not the first thing to cross your mind when it’s dark and you’re investigating the paranormal!  And that’s just what we need to train our brains to do.

It certainly makes for an exciting evening when things are going bang/crash in the dark, but the challenge is to not let yourself leap about and shriek “Ghost!” at the top of your lungs, and instead to go take a closer look with all the right gear.  As such we are trying hard to push the message across to the groups that come out on the Investigation with us: Don’t take anything at face value out here.  This is an investigation, so when anomalous events occur – go investigate!  (And pretty please take a camera/sound recorder/EMF detector with you!)  Because anecdotal evidence is not evidence, it’s a personal account of things that happened with nothing to back up your tale.  It’s a bit like going fishing and coming back with nothing but being able to talk about the one that got away (That fish was THIS BIG!).

In conclusion for today’s rant – come along, have fun, be prepared to get a little creeped out in the dark, but do it all from a sceptical viewpoint!  After all if you’re going to get evidence of the paranormal you want it to be the real thing, not just a cruisy wallaby out for a midnight snack in the Commandant’s garden!

The grand and controversial ‘Orb’


If you were to take every Paranormal Researcher and Investigator in the world, put them in a room, draw a line down the middle and ask them to choose a side based on their opinion of “Orbs” it would probably be a pretty even split. 

One side would be the group who believe that these mysterious glowing spheres of light are spirits breaking through from the ether, trying to manifest and impart their message from the world beyond. “(sigh!) look at the wee ghostie!  manifesting all over my pictures, isn’t it incredible?”

The rest of us would be looking at those people like they’re just a little bit odd, knowing that in 99% of cases “Orbs” are dust, pollen or even water droplets in the air also known as “rain”.  As Caitlin said just a week or so ago “If you were going to come back as a ghost, why bother coming back as a little speck of light?”  Yet there are groups of investigators who so passionately declare that these MUST be ghosts based on various different very weak reasons. See the link below for a lot of explanations.

For the official record:  Port Arthur Paranormal Investigation Experience look for the logical reasons first.  We will not automatically squeal with glee when we get an “orb” photo, nor will we encourage others to assume that these are anomalous photos.  While we respect that people have differing personal beliefs when it comes to this sort of phenomena, beliefs actually have no place in any kind of rational investigation.

Back in 2010, Caitlin and I were lucky enough to get a few hours on our own in the Villisca Axe Murder House in Iowa, which is meant to be one of the most disturbingly haunted buildings in the world.  Whilst we felt a little uncomfortable in the building and spent a great deal of time investigating in there, we unfortunately didn’t have anything at all happen to us.  We got to the point where we decided to try provoking a response, and still got nothing.  So we created our very own Villisca “Orb” photos.  How?  I picked up some dust and threw it in the air, Cait snapped a photo and voila! Ghosts!

We sometimes like to demonstrate this to groups on our ghost tours.  Walking along a gravel path, all it takes is a little shoe scuffing in the dirt and suddenly the orbs appear, as though by magic! 

So I guess the moral to this story is – it’s going to take a lot more than an “Orb” in a photo to convince us of ghosts.

And here is the link for the amusingly written page on the debunking of “orbs”:

http://ssprstn.tripod.com/id65.html