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.

Research for ghost hunters

A “real ghost story” is only as credible as the history that supports it.

When I hear a report of a significant haunting, I research the story before taking it seriously.

Here’s an overview of my research process:

1. Verify the age of the site.

castle-ruinsOften, in areas anticipating tourism, new buildings are designed to “old.”

I recently researched several Irish castles.  One of them is an old building, but it didn’t become a castle — complete with tower and “Medieval” embellishments — until about 20 years ago.

Likewise, Hollow Hill has received reports that seem appropriate for the apparent age of a building, but the building is a reproduction and has no significant ghostly history.

  • You can often trace a building’s history the same as title insurance is researched. Find out how that’s done in your area, and use the same records for your research.
  • Usually, the local city or town hall has ownership records and building permits to indicate the age of the site.
  • City directories — 19th-century listings, similar to phone books but before telephones — usually include a street-by-street directory. It lists each building, and who lived or worked there.

Use those kinds of resources to learn more about an address: Who was there, what the purpose of the site was, and more.

2. Verify the history of the site.

The most famous site I debunked  may be the supposed “Ocean-Born Mary” house.

The house was old enough, but something didn’t seem right. My  research revealed that Mary Wilson Wallace never lived in the house that she supposedly haunts. She only visited it once or twice, if at all.

Trace the homeowners’ histories.

  • Start with ownership records at the town or city hall. (You may need to check county or state records, as well.)
  • Also, examine historical diaries and other documents — especially civil court and probate records — to determine the reported ghost’s links to the site.

Likewise, if someone claims that an event took place at the site, check contemporary records. Look at newspaper reports from the time of the event, and verify the locations or addresses.

3. Verify the ghost’s personal history.

I often hear reports including the ghosts’ names and stories.

If a story sounds a little like an urban legend, it probably is one. However, whether the ghost story sounds real or not, homework is necessary.

First, be sure that the person really existed. Birth, marriage, and death records, as well as census records, should support the ghost story.

I routinely check the free and paid resources at Ancestry.com.

However, those same census and vital records are available to the public at no charge, especially if you live in the area of the reported haunting.

  • Your public library probably has census records that you can use.
  • Birth, marriage, and death records are generally kept at the town, county, and/or state levels, and may be free for you to examine.

Or, you can check online for helpful research materials. You’re doing genealogical research. The best single source for useful links is CyndisList.com.

For a quick search on ghosts from the early 20th century and before, I usually check FamilySearch.org. It may contain some errors, but it’s a fast way to gather information.

Before you share a “true ghost story,” be sure that there really is a ghost, and real history matches the tale.

Remember, the ghost may haunt because he (or she) had been forgotten, or he wants the story told the way it really happened.  Historical records can go a long way towards uncovering  the truth.

Identify Your Ghost

Sometimes you can find out who your ghost was, even if no one knows the ghost’s name.

It starts when you (or someone else) has seen the ghost, or received a fairly clear impression about the appearance of the ghost.

In addition to the obvious things (such as if the person wears a noose or has a weapon in hand), carefully observe the clothing if you can.  Usually, that tells you a lot about your ghost, including the era when the ghost lived, and his or her economic status.

With those insights, you may develop a “gut feeling” as you research, and soon conclude the most likely identity of your ghost.

Most ghosts respond to their names. They may act startled or angry, but you’ll almost always get a dramatic reaction to the correct name.

That’s your goal, whether you’re trying to confirm whether a place is haunted, or help the ghost to “cross over.”

Step 1: Start with the ghost’s clothing.

Fashions

You can guess the era when the ghost lived, based on the clothing he or she wears.

  • Researching a female ghost, you may narrow the time to a ten-year period, based on fashions.
  • Men’s styles vary less dramatically from year to year.
  • Children’s clothing can be more challenging. In most cases, only the upper class dressed their children fashionably.  Even then, little boys and girls were often dressed identically until around age four, and sometimes older.  So, “the little ghost in the dress” isn’t necessarily female.

A ghostly woman with a very large and extreme bustle extending over the back of her skirt (possibly a fairly narrow skirt to the floor), is probably from the 1880’s. Bright yellow was fashionable for both men and women — particularly for footwear — in the 1890’s.

Those are easy to date.  However, don’t seize stereotypes.

Here are a couple of examples:

  • A woman with sloped shoulders and large, poofy sleeves plus a full skirt, may be from the American Civil War era. However, affluent women of the 1620’s through 1640’s would match this profile, too.
  • High-waisted gowns are reminiscent of the “Titanic” era. (The ship sank in 1912.)  High-waisted gowns were also worn during England’s Regency period, in the early 19th century.

By contrast, some fashion cues are sure things.

For example, in America, a powdered wig will usually be seen prior to the Revolutionary War, and even then, only among the upper class or those who aspired to appear influential.

When you see a female apparition (or perceive her, psychically), it’s usually easy to notice dramatic fashion details.

If your ghost is male, try to look for specific details in his clothing.  Here are some examples:

  • For men, hats and lapels are key points. The length of the jacket is also helpful.
  • Tricorns, the three-cornered hat usually shown on Patriots in illustrations of American Revolution, were worn from the late 17th century through the late 18th century, but were soon replaced by hats with flat brims and taller crowns.
  • Likewise, longer pants, also called “Irish trousers,” replaced breeches after the American Revolution.
  • Men did not wear “top hats” with tall crowns until around the 1820’s.
  • Men’s suits, as we know them today, did not come into fashion until towards the end of the American Civil War.
  • Gaudy fabrics in suits, including brilliant colors and plaids, usually represent fashions after 1885.

For more information on costuming, check your public library. I recommend illustrated guides by John Peacock.

Step 2: Match people to that era, at that location.

If you can narrow the time period using clothing or some other means, you can then learn who lived in the house, or what company was in the building.

Site and residents’ history

For houses, go to city hall and search property records.

Or go to the public library (or a genealogy library) and use the census records which are generally listed by state, then town, and then neighborhood. All the houses on one street are usually grouped on one set of pages, in order.

Census records from the mid-19th century will usually tell you the names, ages, and professions of everyone in the house, and their relationships to each other.

City directories listed homes and businesses. Before phone books, city directories listed, street-by-street, every adult in each household. Most included where the person was employed, too.

Those directories also listed businesses by street address. Businesses advertised in city directories, providing additional information.

Once you enter the era of the telephone book, look for “reverse directories,” which list names and phone numbers by their addresses. If the house was at 123 Main Street, you can look up Main Street and then find who (or what business) was in number 123.

Step 3: Use genealogical records to learn more about the most likely people.

With the location, a name, and a time period, use genealogical resources — such as civil and church records — to learn what happened to the occupants of the house, or the owner of the business.

  • Civil records include birth, marriage, and death records.  They’re usually kept at city, county, and state offices.
  • Church records may be at the actual church, or at a broader office, such as Catholic Archdiocese archives.
  • Many older records are online, and some are indexed.
  • Historical societies, family history libraries, and the historical collection at the public library may be helpful.

Other resources

Many newspaper articles are indexed. Newspaper obituaries are, too. They can provide considerable information. Once you have names to work with, you can look for articles about their lives. You may find clues in those stories or reports.

Court records can be useful. For example, you may find a series of lawsuits disputing a property line. That was common when property and income were closely tied.  A running dispute could explain lingering residual energy, especially at a site that never had a house on it… or never had a house on it, until now.

After a person had died, their will and probate records can provide insights into family relations. These records are usually at the courthouse.  Most are open to the public once the will has been read, after the individual’s death.

siseTown and city histories can provide colorful (but often fictional) biographies of leading citizens. No matter how much the person’s background was embellished, you can find clues to their real lives.

This is a simplified explanation, but hopefully it will help you identify your ghost, or narrow the possibilities to just a few people.

Remember that some ghosts wander. One famous example is the ghost of Room 214 in the Sise Inn of Portsmouth, NH. The Sise Inn — shown at right — appears to have no violence in its long history. However, the ghost may be a visitor from a house two doors away, where a murder was committed many years ago.

You may not identify every ghost, but — in many cases — you can narrow the possibilities to just a few real people from the past.