Ghost Hunting Personalities – Entertainers… or Researchers?

In ghost hunting — and the paranormal field, in general — there are two very different approaches… and a broad overlap between them.

tv-remoteEntertainers appear in the media, and they’re paid guests at events and at “investigations.”

They are there to entertain you. They may be speaking from memorized scripts. If what they’re saying (or portraying on TV) is true, that’s nice… but not necessary, as they see it.

If you enjoy their performances, they’ve succeeded and their careers grow.  If they don’t, they fade away, reinvent themselves, or shift to another line of work.

They create an illusion so the audience suspends disbelief long enough to enjoy the performance.  That’s measured in TV ratings and tickets sold at events.

David Blaine is one of many entertainers who appear to be working mystical feats. He correctly describes himself as an illusionist.

clue-magnifierResearchers look for breakthroughs in paranormal studies.  Their standard is integrity.

Most don’t care if they entertain anyone.

What they discover — and the tools and techniques that they develop — may become far more famous than the developers’ names.

Bill Chappell is the inventor of many brilliant research tools (often featured on Ghost Adventures). More people recognize the name of his inventions (such as the Ovilus) than his own name.

I’m a researcher, not an entertainer.  I say, “Fiona Broome” and people may look confused.  I mention HollowHill.com, and they suddenly recognize me.  (It’s nice when people recognize my name, but I’d rather have them remember my discoveries.)

Few are both researchers and entertainers.

Some researchers have been cast in paranormal “reality shows.” Some actors in those shows — with no prior research experience — became brilliant investigators.

But, in general, how someone seems on TV may be very different from how they appear in person, and how much ghost hunting expertise they actually have.

I could list several “ghost hunting experts” from TV shows who, in real life, had little understanding of paranormal research.

I’ve also known several genuine experts who had more experience and integrity than viewers saw on related TV shows.

A couple of genuine researchers who’ve starred on TV shows

John Zaffis is a good example of someone who’s worked in both research and entertainment (The Haunted Collector).  He was a respected researcher and demonologist for many years before ghost hunting became popular. His joking manner can be entertaining… but he’s speaking from decades of genuine research.

Barry Fitzgerald is another researcher who’s bridged the gap between academic and scientific study, and the entertainment field (Ghost Hunters International).

They’re just two of many researcher/entertainers I’ve admired for their integrity and expertise in real life. (I mention them because wasn’t thrilled with how they were edited for their respected TV shows. They deserve more recognition as innovative investigators.)

Have low expectations and you won’t be disappointed.

Before attending an event or public “investigation,” it’s important to adjust your expectations.  For the past 15+ years, I’ve said in my Guidelines for ghost hunters, “…if someone is charging you money as if they’re providing a show… perhaps they are.”

Keep in mind that there’s a difference between a con artist and an entertainer.  In most cases, the entertainer separates his (or her) role, on stage, from what’s true in his personal life.  The lines may blur, but there’s no fraud involved.

 

Sure, an entertainer may disappoint you with a poor performance, but that’s different from being a fraud.

Likewise, a researcher’s results may be disproved by later studies.  That’s not a con, it’s a normal part of trial-and-error research… there will be errors!

The vast majority of entertainers and researchers are good, honest people. They have every reason to be proud of their work.

The biggest confusion is when a TV show or movie presents an entertainer as an expert when he (or she) isn’t one in real life.

Or, when people attend an event or public ghost hunt, and expect every expert to be chatty and entertaining.

“Reality shows” can blur the lines. When you meet stars or researchers in real life, keep your expectations in check so you’re not disappointed.

Do you have a question or opinion on this subject?  Let me know in the comments form, below.

Certified? What does it mean?

Certified ghost hunter? Licensed? Competent?  How do these terms affect us as ghost hunters?  The following include my answers to a reader’s questions on these topics.

The reader asked why my free Introduction to Ghost Hunting course issues a certificate.  Here’s my reply:

A certificate is just that… a certificate. It’s a piece of paper (or a digital certificate) that indicates something, usually that the person has completed a project or course of some kind.

Anyone can be “certified” if we’re talking about earning a certificate. That’s different from being licensed.

My courses include certificates of completion. If the person chooses to say that they’re “certified,” that’s is correct.  In fact, anyone can claim to be a “certified ghost hunter” if they have some training and earned a certificate.

Don’t confuse that with approval from any official board of licensing and certification… that doesn’t exist in the paranormal field.

Until paranormal expertise can be determined in a truly scientific setting, we can’t license or broadly certify someone’s skills as a ghost hunter.

In spiritual fields, dealing with subjects that — for the present — can’t be quantified.

Here’s an example: Legally speaking, someone is an “ordained minister,” whether they printed out their certificate from the Universal Life Church or graduated from Harvard Divinity School.

I’ve met devout spiritual people with certificates from the former, and nasty cynics who’ve abandoned their beliefs after graduating from Harvard.

In paranormal research, we don’t have annual licensing reviews. We’re not required to complete X number of hours of continuing education or in-service training.

However, the sooner we understand what people call “ghosts” and “hauntings,” the sooner some standardization might be possible.

Can someone be taught to find ghosts?

The reader asked if someone can be taught to find ghosts.

The answer is, no. At this point, no one can say with confidence that any ghost can be found, period.

However, we tend to use the word “ghost” when we actually mean “phenomena that many people believe may be caused by the spirit of someone who once lived.”

It’s just easier to say “ghost” so most people know what we’re talking about.

People can be taught to find and identify that kind of phenomena, but only charlatans will claim you’re actually finding ghosts.

Ghosts are different from demons

The reader asked who can tell a spirit to cross over, except experienced exorcists.

I replied:   Some exorcists may help a spirit “cross over.”I think that’s rare.

In most cases, exorcists are dealing with demons, not ghosts. They don’t care if the demon “crosses over” or crosses the street, as long as it leaves people alone.

I believe that many exorcists won’t say they’re qualified to banish ghosts or release them from this plane of existance.

Helping a “trapped” ghost involves empathy, patience, a strong sense of spirituality, and — above all — time. It involves education and a lot of experience in the paranormal field.

Do all ghost investigators want to help the ghosts?

Another reader commented about my introductory course, “I would hope that you are trying to help someone or help the ‘ghosts’.”

Not all ghost hunters are interested in actually helping clients. (From my experience, many teams are interested in studying ghostly phenomena. A few are thrill-seekers.)

Few teams pause to help ghosts, unless a team member insists on it.

hh-eastern_state_penitentiary3In a beginning ghost hunting course, your first step is to find a haunted place. Then, determine if you believe any of this, and what your specific interest are.

For many professionals, this is a scientific pursuit. It has nothing to do with “helping” ghosts.

For others, it may be entertaining. They’re playing “How many famous ghosts can you witness?”

My courses help people learn enough basics to determine if they’re truly interested in ghost hunting, after they’ve visited a few haunted places.

Should we always warn people not to trespass?

The reader suggested that I should put a warning about trespassing at the top of the first lesson.

I have a different outlook. In my course, I mention the private property issue.

A warning about trespassing appears on every page of this website, and in my ghost hunting rules/guidelines.

It’s also common sense and the law.

I’m not sure that repeating it will make much difference.Do you have an opinion about these issues? Leave a comment, below.

Scams and Con Artists in Ghost Hunting – What to Look for

Is that a real ghost hunter… or have they been pretending, perhaps for years?

It’s a legitimate question.

Some people look at ghost hunting, and they see gullible people. Con artists see an opportunity for financial gain, celebrity status, or power.

Sure, some people think they’re more skilled than they really are.

They’re not con artists… or they don’t start out that way.

When I talk about scammers and con artists, I mean the people who look you straight in the eye and tell you lies.

All they care about is personal or professional gain.

Here’s what to look for.

The Biggest Cons Are About Money

The first rule is: Never give or loan money to anyone without getting a signed, dated receipt. (It’s a good idea to have a long-time, trusted friend as a witness, as well.)

I don’t care how nice the person seems. If it’s a loan, also have the terms in writing before you give the person anything.

And, never give or loan money that you can’t afford to lose.

Keep your money safe. Then, look for other signs of a scam or a con artist.

Know the Warning Signs

  • Con artists are charming… sometimes too charming.
    They tell great stories, as if they’ve lived the kind of life you’d like to live. They seem to be successful or they look like rising stars. You feel like you have a connection with greatness.
  • Con artists collect friends as quickly as possible.
    This is partly because they’ll lose so many friends, as people become suspicious. The larger scammers apparent entourage or fan club, the more you’re likely to believe their extravagant claims.
  • Con artists seem to have dazzling credentials.
    Their friends include famous people. Their degrees (or titles) are impressive. They talk about their past experiences, pending TV shows, and celebrity events they’re planning. Their claims are so extravagant, you think, “Who’d make this up?”
  • Con artists separate people so they don’t swap notes.
    A con artist leads you to believe that you’re one of the only people he likes and trusts. He says he doesn’t trust this person… and then that one. Following his advice, you’ll stay away from them. The con artist knows: if you got together and exchanged stories, his lies might be exposed.

Lies Are Their Downfall

Con artists get a thrill – an adrenaline rush – each time they lie and get away with it.

They can’t stop lying for very long… and they’re often lying on a grand scale.

Check the person’s claims and credentials.

Check all of them, not just the first few that he or she mentions. (I’ll talk about the con artist as if the person is male, but there are no gender limits on scammers.)

Check These Types of Claims

Ministers

Let’s say that he claims a degree or a title, such as ‘doctor’ or ‘reverend’. Ask what kind of degree (or title) it is, and where it came from. Anyone can become a legally ordained minister, for little or no expense.

Here’s one resource: the Universal Life Church

Certified

As I mentioned in my article about certified ghost hunters, “certification” only means someone or some organization issued the person a certificate.

For example, students of my free Introduction to Ghost Hunting course offers a certificate on the honor system. Anyone can print that certificate and claim that it means something… but really, it’s only as good as their sense of integrity.

Higher Education and Degrees

Some mainstream universities give honorary degrees. I’ve been awarded a few of those, myself.

It’s flattering.

There’s nothing wrong with having that kind of title, and some do require actual work to achieve the degree.

However, it’s not really a formal, four-year+ degree.

If it’s a degree from a university, check the university’s alumni records office.

Ask if the person is a graduate of the school, college or program. (Many schools proudly post an online list of some of their former registered students and graduates. In some cases, you can also use classmates directories, online, for more information.)

Please note that many universities offer extension school courses, online study, and other legitimate educational opportunities that can lead to a degree.

However, to receive a degree from that institution, most (not all) students must be formally accepted to a degree program.  A paper trail usually exists.

Diploma Mills

Some “diploma mills” offer degrees (for a fee), too.

If you’re not sure about the college or university, research them. Even if they claim to be accredited, their accreditation may be fake.

Hereditary Titles

If someone claims a British (or other) hereditary title, check Wikipedia. It lists the qualified holders of hereditary titles, including their actual surnames, and when the title was created.

People in the U.S. – and other countries where formal titles aren’t awarded — can be dazzled by claims to a real title.

Always check the person’s credentials, no matter what their IDs say.  Fake IDs are available everywhere, and con artists know that a convincing fake ID is a smart investment.

If the person claims to have a title, look it up.

For example, here’s one page at Wikipedia, listing people who hold the British title of Marquess: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_marquessates_in_the_peerages_of_the_British_Isles

If the person’s title is vague but you know their legal surname, David Beamish maintains a list of members of the United Kingdom peerage from 1801 to the present day, and he has indexed it.

It’s at http://website.lineone.net/~david.beamish/peerages_az.htm and other pages at that website. You’ll also want to check Wikipedia’s list of the Peerage of England.

In many countries, someone can legally change his first name to “Lord” or “Baron,” and so on. So, don’t be too impressed if the person’s driver’s license, passport, or library card shows that kind of name.

You’ll find other legitimate lists of hereditary titles if you search using phrases like “list of [country] nobility.”  Here are a few:  French nobilityLists of French noble families (in French) –  Lists of nobility (at Wikipedia)

Celebrity Connections

If the person claims to have worked with or for a celebrity, confirm that. Find the official website of the celebrity, and contact the person’s manager or press agent. Ask if the celebrity has worked with the person who’s making the claim.

If the person claims to have been a paranormal investigator for many years, there should be clear evidence of that, online.

Even if the person didn’t have his own website, other people will have mentioned the person, at least in reference to a case, a “ghost story,” or an investigation.

You can see how long ago they registered their domain name by using a WhoIs lookup.

(I’m not being critical of people who are new to the field; many are excellent researchers.  This article is about lies that reveal a con artist.)

Cast Members and Media Appearances

If someone suggests that they’ve been on a TV or radio show, or appeared on stage, check that online. Go to the show’s official website and search for the person’s name.

(Remember that anyone can add a comment after an article or in a forum, making it appear that someone was in a show.  You’re looking for official cast lists and official lists of guest stars.)

A claim may seem harder to verify if the show was cancelled years ago.  It’s not that difficult.  In most cases, show information remains online for years, even decades after the show is all but forgotten.

The following are a few older ghost-related TV shows sometimes used as references. This kind of “reality” show became so popular, a complete list would be very long.

Some con artists prefer to claim they were on shows so old, it’s difficult to find a reliable list of cast, crew, and guest stars. The following links may help, and some shows include full cast lists at IMDb.

Every major ghost-related TV show and movie is represented by at least one webpage or website.  If all else fails, check IMDb and Wikipedia.

If You Find a Con Artist, Tell Others

Fortunately, few people in ghost hunting seek a shortcut to fame or fortune… or plain old control over others, aka a “power trip.”

Almost any person’s claims and credentials can be verified using independent sources.

Don’t assume that the person is “too nice” to lie to you, or their friends are too bright to be conned. The more impressive the person’s stories and claims, and the more convincingly they tell them… the more you must verify them, independently.

If the person is a con artist, it’s better to find out early. Thankfully, scams and con artists are a tiny minority. (To quote the movie, Grease, “They’re amoebas on fleas on rats.”)

Avoid them when you can. Report them to law enforcement if they may have committed crimes.

Though it’s important to be watchful for scams and con artists, it’s also important to keep things in perspective.

The vast majority of people who work in paranormal fields are just like you. They’re kind, sincere and genuine. You’ll meet many of them at events, investigations, and in the field. They deserve your friendship and admiration, and they make ghost hunting even more personally rewarding.

19th century divider - leaf

Yes, I Was Conned

A little over 10 years ago, I was conned. I wrote this article shortly after that painful truth came to light.

Even now, I’m not sure how many people were involved.

It was a clever ruse, and I fell for it.  At the time, the guys’ claims were so extravagant. They talked about money, celebrity connections, TV appearances, and more.

I thought no one would make that up.

Then, one of them went too far.

He mentioned a connection to a noted family and – instantly – I knew he was lying. (That family was associated with a couple of families from my hometown.)

I quizzed him further, expecting him to correct the obvious error.

He didn’t. In fact, he dug himself in, even deeper. That’s when I began looking into his other claims… and everything unraveled.

In fact, one associated con artist gave the most damning evidence against the guys who’d conned me (and too many others.)

I’m still sad about what happened, but I had to speak up.

Those of us who’d trusted them… we looked foolish.

Some had lost thousands of dollars. Charges were filed against the con artists.

The tragedy is, the highest-profile member of the team was a truly gifted psychic.

He made poor personal and business choices, and that brought him down, at least in ghost hunting. (He and his partner have since reinvented themselves… twice, as of 2020.)

Since then, I’ve also learned about convicted sex offenders (be careful around strangers in dark settings) and other criminals in the ghost hunting field.

And Other Ghost Hunting Professionals Were, Too

A few years ago, professionals revealed alarming financial issues with my former manager. Thank heavens I’d stopped working with him long before his problems came to light, but I feel so very sorry for friends who lost money to him.

Please be cautious, even when the individual or team seem bright, fun, and on the brink of becoming celebrities.

Be especially wary if your “gut feeling” tells you that something’s not quite right with that person.

Psychics – The Research Debate

Psychics - the Research DebateShould psychics learn a site’s history ahead of time, or not?  That seems to be an issue.

I think it’s important to know the history – and admit to it – but I may be different since I’ve been aware of my psychic abilities since earliest childhood.

Sure, it’s impressive when you think that a psychic couldn’t have known what he or she “senses”… but are you sure that the psychic wasn’t fed the information ahead of time?

This question was raised when a Most Haunted UK staff member set a trap for another cast member.  In my opinion, the issue wasn’t as simple – or as damning – as it may have seemed in the media.

And, to be honest, I thought it was poor form to try to embarrass the psychic in front of a global audience.

There were many other ways to explain what happened in Most Haunted case, and the choices weren’t binary. That is, I don’t think the only two explanations were “fraud” (on one side) and “envious researcher” (on the other).

Perhaps I’m biased. My instincts always suggested that Most Haunted (UK) featured genuine research. Even after the supposed exposé, I still think the show was authentic, within the scope of a show edited for entertainment purposes. And frankly, I like Yvette Fielding’s willingness to be honest about what she experiences.

(In this article, except for specific TV references, I’m talking about psychics in general.  If it seems that I’m describing someone someone in particular, I’m not.)

Here’s how I see it, as a psychic… with apologies to those who may be offended.

Can’t you tell the difference?

Let’s talk about a similar topic.  If I see a travel show on TV, and later visit that location, I may have a mild sensation of deja vu.

However, I never confuse my memories of the show with what I’m experiencing during my visit.  For me, first-person experiences are totally different from what I’ve learned from prior sources.

During my visit, I’ll say things such as, “Oh, this isn’t anything like it looked on TV.”  Or, “This is the exact same angle they showed in the TV coverage.”

Likewise, I don’t mix up psychic messages and my historical studies.

If anything, I’ll say, “Oh, the history books missed something important.”  Or, “This gives me wonderful insights into the history I’ve studied.”

If someone is a genuine and experienced psychic, I’m not sure why they’d confuse their sources.  But, as I said, I’ve been considered psychic since earliest childhood.  I’ve never doubted my “sixth sense,” thanks to a supportive mother who quickly recognized that I wasn’t making it up.

For me, the distinction between things I learn internally (through psychic channels) and those provided to me through normal research… those are two completely different. They’re like apples and oranges.

When a psychic gets it “wrong”

This subject becomes important when a psychic seems to make a huge mistake.

For example, if the psychic declares that an incident took place at one location… and it actually took place on the other side of town.

Or, if the psychic uses a name that’s fictional, or later revealed to be part of an earlier hoax.

That can look pretty bad.

However, like the unfortunate Most Haunted UK incident around 2005, it’s important to examine every side of the problem.

In my opinion, it’s simplest to do at least some research into the history of the site.   At least get a context, and understand what’s known and what’s controversial about that history.

Otherwise, if the psychic claims no prior knowledge of the area’s history, how can he or she answer questions of credibility?  If he or she has never heard or seen anything about the history – difficult, at most locations, as there are always some visual clues – the psychic’s replies can sound made-up, or even silly.

If someone is a fraud – or faking it for an audience – there’s no place to hide.

On the other hand, if the psychic is up-front about his or her earlier studies (or coaching), the possible responses could be:

  • “I may be sensing energy from someone who felt burdened by what happened somewhere else.  He or she brought that energy back to this location.”
  • “The energy from that event across town was so intense, it’s affected the entire area.”
  • “The history books got it wrong, or they overlooked what also happened here.  With my additional information, maybe we can clear this up.”
  • Or – if the psychic is honest – “My accuracy isn’t 100%.  This is one of those times when I misinterpreted the energy.”

However, those responses are most credible if the psychic has already established his or her integrity by honestly admitting prior study or coaching, if there was any.

When a psychic seems “too right”

Psychics have different talents.  Some provide great readings.  Others are excellent healers.  Some – like me – seem to sense past events and their emotional content.  The variations are endless.

Psychics also have different skill levels.  Those with greater accuracy may have a stronger natural gift, or they may have more practice.

However, when a psychic medium gets it “too right” at a location, it’s fair to raise an eyebrow.

clue-magnifierCritical thinking skills are important, even when – or especially when – the psychic is charming and likeable.

When we like someone, we want to believe that they’re honest.  That bias may reduce our critical thinking skills.

Look at how the psychic conducts him or herself.  Psychics talk differently than people who are faking it, or fooling themselves into thinking that they’re connecting with the other side.

We often look different from our usual appearance, as well.  The trance state may be evident.

Of course, the waters become murky when the psychic speaks mostly from a genuine spiritual connection… but “supplements” that with information that he or she was given ahead of time.

That’s very clever, and it can be difficult to detect that mix.  Even other psychics can be fooled.  (It’s happened to me, to my chagrin.)

If the psychic rattles off items that could be memorized – exact dates, for example – there’s even more reason to question what’s going on.

A quick online search will reveal how readily the psychic – or his or her coach – could have found that information and memorized it ahead of time.

(Of course, doubt is removed if it later turns out that the date or other information is incorrect and it had been widely misreported.)

Why raise this issue now?

I don’t want to sound like a raving skeptic.  As a psychic and paranormal investigator, I’m very conscious of our vulnerabilities.  It’s hard enough to prove to our detractors that we’re detecting or contacting ghostly energy.

Unfortunately, with the popularity – and income potential – of ghost-related events, I’m seeing more (and better) frauds enter this field.  That hurts all of us.

To put it bluntly, if you need a demonologist, who would you trust:  Someone like John Zaffis, who’s been in this field for years and provided help free of charge?

Or, would you hire someone with a great team tee-shirt who’s been in the field for a couple of months (no matter what his or her claims) and is clearly focused on fame, fortune, or both?

The telepathy question

Evidence supporting telepathy is far stronger than evidence for ghosts and hauntings.

Many psychics are telepathic.  We can’t rely on that ability, but it needs to be acknowledged in discussions like this.

There is always the possibility that the psychic is actually reading the mind of someone in the group, such as an historian or someone who read about the site before the event.

If the psychic has a “silent coach” in the audience – someone who is very aware of his or her importance to the psychic  – that coach may have studied the site’s history in detail.

The problem is, as psychics, the information either comes from an external source (a ghost, spirit, or through ESP) or an internal source (our own memories or studies).

It can be difficult to discern more than that. For many psychics, a ghost is as “alive” as the historian giving the tour.

Can preparations help?

I believe that historical research can prevent that problem, though it doesn’t entirely eliminate it.

Ancient bookWhen I have a frame of reference, such as my own historical research, I know how and where that information is coming from.  It’s a sharp contrast with information I receive from external sources such as residual energy impressions or a ghostly encounter.

If something is a “shade of gray” (no pun intended) – meaning: different in character than prior knowledge but different from intense residual energy – I’ll suspect that I’m picking it up telepathically from someone in the audience.

Personally, I’m more likely to lean in a skeptical direction… but that’s my personal choice. Others may differ.

It’s all about integrity and credibility

In lieu of clear, scientific evidence, our most important credential in this field is integrity.

Without that, it’s just a show… it’s entertainment.

There’s nothing wrong with putting on a good show.  I enjoy melodramatic “ghost tours” as much as anyone else, but they’re so over-the-top, I never confuse them with an actual ghost encounter.

Credibility comes into question when a psychic knows a site’s history but pretends that he or she doesn’t.

All it takes is one glaring mistake and the psychic’s reputation is in tatters, and that damage ripples into the community.

In most (but not all) cases, I do know the site’s history ahead of time.  When I don’t, I tell people.

That’s not just a point of credibility.  It also explains why my impressions may not be as clear or as rapid when I don’t know the history.  I may need time to scan my impressions, to fit them into the context of a time period or event.

I’m a better psychic when I already know the time period to focus on, or the history of the location.

(It’s like someone saying, “Oh, look at that car!”  It’s always easier and faster to spot the car if you know its color, vintage, or at least what makes it interesting.  In a similar manner, I more readily connect with ghostly energy when I know the time period or history that it resonates with.)

While I appreciate that some psychics feel that not knowing history gives them more credibility, I counter that missing knowledge can be a liability. At the very least, the investigation can take far longer.

I want to make use of every tool within my reach, to provide in-depth information at every haunted site.

Besides impressing the audience and “proving” myself as a psychic… is there some reason why I shouldn’t learn a site’s history before an investigation?

Recommended reading:

book-discoverpsychictypeDiscover Your Psychic Type

question-75What are your thoughts on how much a psychic should know ahead of time?  Share your opinions in the comment form, below.