Gamers and Ghost-hunters

What gaming I do has been on computers rather than consoles, so this is a development I missed—using the new Xbox for ghost-hunting.

Ever since the release of the Kinect motion sensor controllers in 2010, gamers have been posting videos of “Kinect Ghosts” detected by their Xbox 360. The Kinect prompts you when a new person is in the room, a phenomena dismissed as a glitch by most users if they’re alone. However there are hundreds of videos on youtube of not only ‘someone not there’ being detected, but these ‘ghosts’ also using the motion controller to operate the system.

It makes sense, really. Ever since the invention of the flash camera and the tape recorder, not to mention other instruments, people have been trying to record photos, audio, temperature anomalies, and other “hard” evidence of ghosts.

The blog posts links to this YouTube video of a “Kinect Ghost,” and from its links you can find others.

Have you tried it?

When Hitler Spoke Latvian

A BBC piece examines EVP —  Electronic Voice Projection — or the alleged recording of spirit voices on tape or digital recorders.

The simplest explanation is that EVP voices are just stray radio transmissions. Usually they are so faint and masked by static interference that it’s hard to make out what they are saying, and the EVP investigator has to “interpret” them for you.

That might seem like a weakness but that’s also their power. As Joe Banks, a sound artist, points out, a dead person speaking in studio quality wouldn’t be nearly so convincing as a voice you must strain to hear.

Banks has an ongoing project called Rorschach Audio. He suggests that the voices are the aural equivalent of inkblot tests devised by Swiss psychologist Hermann Rorschach. He argues that while the EVP experimenters think they are doing parapsychology, they are actually unwittingly carrying out psychology experiments.

Also, dogs speaking English.

Sex with Ghosts, Vengeful Mummies, etc.

At The Hairpin, A Q&A with author, photographer, and ossuary expert Paul Koudounaris.

Two quotes:

Back in grad school I was known as the Fox Mulder of the art history department. Everyone else was working on Rembrandt and I was looking at woodblock prints of witches. . . .

If you consider Psycho, the one thing that makes Norman Bates absolutely unfit to be a member of human society is that he has his mother mummified and dresses her in clothes. That what marked him as a lunatic. But back in 1700 in Sicily that would have marked him as the paradigm of a loving son. At that point death was not a boundary, it was just a transition and the dead still had a roll to play.

I have my own ossuary on the mantel, but it is for birds and small mammals. It started with the discovery of a sharp-shinned hawk “in kit form” by the driveway when M. and I moved into this house.

The Daily Grail.

Just a Small Town Ghost Story

An old house in a small town in eastern North Dakota.

The house was once a boarding house for railroad workers, so I am told, as well a private home through the second half of the twentieth century and so far in the twenty-first.

When I go grouse and duck-hunting with my friend G., who has lived there for the decade past, I usually sleep in the enclosed front porch, which is about 8 x 12 feet in size. That room contains a single bed, a desk and chair, a lamp, and a disassembled bookcase — nothing more. (I like that room because I can take my dog outside easily.)

In 2011, I left for the 1,000-mile drive home, went about five miles down North Dakota 200, and wondered where my cell phone was. I stopped the truck and looked — no phone. I went back and with G.’s help searched the 8 x 12 room and the lawn between the front door and where I parked.

“Clarence must have taken it,” he said.

Once home, I went through the truck like a drug agent looking for contraband. No telephone. Nor did it ever appear at G.’s house.

This year, my fifth visit to the house, I kept a close watch on my telephone, and it came home with me safely.

But then I walked into my temporary bedroom and smelled cigarette smoke—a strong smell, as though someone had just finished their cigarette in the little room.

I asked G. about it. He was blasé. He had smelled it, his wife had smelled it, his teenage stepkids had smelled it. (No one in the family smoked cigarettes.)

And I smelled it four or five times more, at odd intervals, not connected with time of day or humidity or anything like that.

G. attributes it to one Clarence Bolz, who owned the house a couple of decades ago. Mostly he haunts the workshop attached to the garage, G. said. Small items sometimes disappear, and now and again G. smells Clarence’s cigarettes.

Such a ghost story would be too minor even for Fate magazine’s reader-submissions column. But it was the first smell-linked haunting that I had encountered.

The Wizard and the “Reality” Ghosthunters

Oberon Zell, co-founder of the Church of All Worlds and headmaster of the Grey School of Wizardry, looks to have a bit part in a reality TV series, Ghost Girls. Its Facebook page calls it “an off-beat Supernatural/Reality Based TV show pilot about three ‘Real’ claravoyant [sic], beautiful women, who also happen to be divas of the supernatural. They and thier [sic] unusual friends commune with ghosts, and seek the unusual and unexplained mysteries.”

“Uncle Oberon” hopes to see some product placement for some of his Mythic Images Collection as well. And why not? They might as well decorate the set with real Pagan art, instead of something just “faked up” (to use Gerald Gardner’s phrase) for the filming.

Ghost Tales of Cripple Creek, &c

At my other blog, a recollection of my one venture into collecting ghost stories.

And a couple of incidents that did not make it into the book, mainly because they were “too personal”  and not connected with other people’s experience.

And a CNN story on how for “growing ranks of pagans [sic], October 31 means a lot more than Halloween.” Y’think?

The Revenants’ Tales and What They Tell Us

A few key ideas hold the promise of keeping Pagan religions distinct from the people who go around claiming the “all Truth is one” etc. (When I hear that, I also hear “You will be assimilated.”)

An obvious one is polytheism.

Another is the concept of the multiple soul, which wends its way through Claude Lecouteux’s The Return of the Dead: Ghosts, Ancestors, and the Transparent Veil of the Pagan Mind, published by Inner Traditions.

Focused mainly on Indo-European traditions, this attempts to illuminate a “complex belief system at whose heart reside the fundamental beliefs touching upon the soul, the beyond, and ancestor worship” (vii).

Lecouteux, a retired French medievalist, relies heavily on old stories and sagas and a little bit on archaeology  to seek the premodern “Pagan” experience of ghosts, the virtuous dead, the unquiet dead, and other revenants—those who return from the dead for whatever reason.

Not surprisingly, the increasing influence of Christianity led to changed attitudes, with a little top-down guidance:

The notion of suffrages [prayers, petitions] helpful to the dead gave birth to the directives serving to eliminate worship of the dead, a core feature of paganism. It was adulterated and recuperated with great subtlety and wherever possible, the saints replaced the good ancestors—the objects of a cult connection to the [Indo-European] third function (fecundity/fertility)—and liturgical feasts replaced the pagan festivals (50).

Naturally, the concept of multiple souls familiar to more shamanic cultures had to be dampened down to the Christian norm, although some ideas of “the double” lingered.

Nonetheless, both these early-medieval  European Christians and their Pagan ancestors shared a pre-modern world view that was more alike than ours with theirs. In the author’s words, they participated in “a divine cosmogony: [where] perpetual motion animated the world, pulling men and things; everything fit inside a perfect circle encompassing the visible and the invisible; human beings and gods; the real and the possible; past, present, and future” (153).

We try to return to what we imagine that pre-modern “wholeness” felt like. Indeed, such a return has been a theme of art and religion for several centuries. Through ritual, magic, entheogens, or extreme experience we cross the divide going backwards, but it is very very difficult to stay.

Perhaps that longing for the “perfect circle” is why one colleague argues that in contemporary Paganism, the calendar—the wheel of the year—is more important than the gods.

One digression: through reading The Return of the Dead, I understand better why people being executed are often given hoods or blindfolds. It is not to spare their feelings, nor even is it just to depersonalize them and make the the executioners’ job easier. It is to prevent the dying person from casting the Evil Eye upon the living.

I am keeping this book at hand for reading on winter nights.

(For the grammarians reading this: The vague pronoun reference in the post’s title is deliberate.)

When You Meet the Buddha in the Road, Bite Him

We have a best-selling series of romance novels about vampires written by a Mormon.

But we also have a popular, if not so huge, series of romance novels about people in Amish communities, by a writer who grew up around Amish people but is not herself Amish.

Is this a great country or not? That’s one way to learn about religion. Or you can wait for the English translation of Saint Young Men. Jesus and the Buddha, roommates! The “odd couple” formula works in manga too, evidently.

But wait, you say. Vampires? Religion? Consider that NYU Press has published Paranormal America: Ghost Encounters, UFO Sightings, Bigfoot hunts, and Other Curiosities in Religion and Culture.

Jeffrey Kripal, whose book Authors of the Impossible: The Paranormal and the Sacred I am just starting to read, not surprisingly tells the New York Times that scholars of religion should take “the paranormal” seriously.

Is that the “paranormal” as opposed to the “supernatural”?

According to Dr. Kripal, [four famous paranormal researchers’] omission [from scholarly investigation]  is evidence of a persistent bias among religion scholars, happy to consider the inexplicable, like miracles, as long as they fit a familiar narrative, like Judaism or Christianity.

Meanwhile, someone needs to write a novel: Ghost-hunting single Amish girl falls in love with a vampire and discovered Buddhism. Quick!

The Infrared Signature of Ghosts

Over at my other blog,  I have been posting examples of wildlife photos taken with game cameras (a/k/a scout cameras or camera traps).

Seeking to learn more about how their passive infrared (PIR) detectors work, I was browsing the Web and ended up with South Jersey Ghost Research.

Apparently, PIR motion sensors can be used for ghost-hunting. Here is a tutorial, using the term loosely.

For instance, their diagram makes no sense. An animal as small as a mouse can trip a camera. I have seen it happen. Squirrels definitely will do so. And as for cats, what is in the lower right corner of the PIR-activated camera photo on this page at the Ghosthunter Store site?

Nevertheless, the Ghosthunter Store site confidently proclaims, “When a PIR Motion Sensor detects movement in an area where there isn’t anything visible moving, you have a major unexplainable paranormal event.”

(Unless something did move but was not captured due to digital shutter lag, which happens all the time, particularly in less-fancy cameras.)

Except … I thought that ghosts traditionally were associated with unexplained cold spots in buildings. When did they start emitting infrared radiation?

Clearly, I am not up-to-date on twenty-first century ghost-hunting.