Oh No, A Poltergoost!

The Hell?! I’m sitting here minding my own business and I hear a scraping, sliding sound and then a Scattergories game box lands on my head. Owie.

This incident reminded me of two things.

One: the “Young Ones” episode where neil Weedon Watkins Pye (yes, that’s a lowercase “neil”), the hippy, keeps attributing bizarre events happening ’round the dodgy student flat as being the work of a “poltergoost”–too bad I can’t recall exactly what the real cause was. I haven’t seen episodes of “The Young Ones” since 1986.

Two: There’s a stupid show on the Discovery Channel called “A Haunting” which take incidents that happened a minimum of 20 years ago and retell them with cheesy sound effects and nerve-wracking jump cuts and draaaaahmaaaaaah. Anyway, one episode featured this house near a stagecoach route where angry spirits of murdered travelers plagued the family who moved into the place. The son (Mike, I think), is asleep in bed and gets beaned by game boxes of Chess and Checkers that apparently shot out from underneath a pile of magazines. All were stored on a shelf over his headboard.

I don’t think I have a poltergeist. I think that the box worked itself to the edge after a year or so of me typing and printing crap out and so on and just counterbalanced and tipped over. Too bad my head was in the way. Scared the bejabbers out of me, though. I thought a new Squatter Rat In The Ceiling was coming to get me.

I kind of like the ghost shows. I’m noticing more and more of them on the telly. One of my online friends is apparently a member of a ghost hunting group being approached to do a show, which is nifty keen. I wish her luck and hope that the less-convincing shows on the air don’t ruin her chances by convincing the powers that be that there are “too many ghost shows” on the air. Because they aren’t all the same.

“Ghost Hunters” follows members of the Atlantic Paranormal Society (or TAPS) around as they investigate things. They tend to approach supposed hauntings from a very skeptical point of view, which I prefer. It may be a psychological gimmick, but I’m more impressed if people who set out to actively debunk various causes of hauntings come away from a site thinking that maybe, just maybe, something paranormal happened. My main criticism is that they don’t spend more than a day (or night) at a site, especially if the group is apparently hearing and seeing (but not actively recording) as-of-yet unexplained noises and mists and shapes and stuff. I suspect that ghosts, if they exist, don’t haunt on cue. If you’re getting something odd, why not make plans to leave the cameras and recorders up a little longer. Overall, an interesting show, though the interpersonal dynamics between the various TAPS people get boring. Leave your personal drama at home.

“Most Haunted” is a U.K. import (I assume) that relies heavily on dramatic interpretations of subjective impressions and lots of infrared night cam recording. I’m rarely impressed by the evidence they collect, but I enjoy having a peep inside these old English, Scottish, Irish (et cetera) buildings, especially those that are extremely old (by American standards, anyway). Oddly enough, they never fail to capture a rapping or thumping, which reminds me of anecdotes about table-rapping fake mediums finding all sorts of ways to hoax the gullible around the turn of the century. Crew members report all kinds of personal experiences and cry and cuss and gasp and so forth, none of which convinces me that they aren’t having me on about the veracity of the hauntings. Mainly good for seeing very old buildings and seeing if the Travel Channel forgets to bleep out some of the peculiarly British cusswords.

“Ghost Moms” was one of these shows. I’m not even sure what channel it was on. A&E, maybe? It follows PITT (Paranormal Investigations something-something Tulsa) and other than catching some unimpressive dust ball orbs, the show mainly dealt with the lives of the two single moms that head up the group, a slacker crew member showing off his geek toys collection, some drama about a pregnant 16-year-old daughter and very little about the actual supposedly-haunted site. You know how you can make ghost pictures? Sit near a smoker smoking or tromp through an old dusty house for a while. Miraculously, your pictures will show all sorts of orbs and “ectoplasmic” blobs. Spooky!

VH1 had a program that dumps five pseudo-celebrities into a haunted place and has them get all freaked out. I firmly suspect there were people manufacturing a lot of the activity just to see how scared the celebrities become. Balls rolling around, unexplainable sounds, you name it. My skeptic’s antennae were twitching even more when they covered a haunted site already explored by another paranormal team earlier and the stories told to the celebrities were exaggerated for dramatic effect. Facts got ballooned into soap opera-like scenarios. Past experiences were exaggerated. And, of course, the viewer was rewarded by watching Gary Busey being weird (nothing new there), Donna D’Erico crying and Hal Sparks delivering a deadpan monologue on how freakin’ spooky the place was, really truly. They other two girls I didn’t recognize, so they are probably from some reality show or teen movie I’d rather eat bugs than actually watch. (Yup. Would rather eat bugs than tune into “Fear Factor” to watch other people eat bugs. Well, almost. )

There was another “haunted places” show on the Travel Channel, but it perpetuated the bunkum about The Amityville Horror and pissed me off. Stop lying about that damn house. Nothing happened there (other than the Ronald DeFeo murder spree). No flying pigs, no pit-to-Hell in the basement. It’s been debunked thoroughly and repeatedly. The only people who still try to milk it are Lorraine and Earl Warren. Or whatever their names are. They enmeshed themselves too thoroughly in The House to back away from their claims and now have to perpetuate them until death or look like big fakes. Ahem. This show also tries to cover about twenty sites in one hour, and that means the program jumps back and forth across the country giving each “haunted place” about two minutes of build-up and one of tabloid-esque reportage. Yuck.

Savannah is supposedly one of (if not “the”) most haunted places in the United States. No self-respecting ha’nt is going to hang around with all these tourists milling about, chattering and gawking for decades. That said, I’ve had an experience (in a house no one would expect to be haunted; odder still, the ghost was, if it was a ghost, someone I knew in life: my old pediatrician) and several classmates and teachers at my school when I was growing up lived in houses considered to be haunted. One particularly active ghost was “interactive” and “intelligent” and pestered the family so thoroughly they finally submitted to an exorcism. Others moved things around (like marbles and pine cones) but were, reportedly, benign. When some of these ghosts get to be too invasive or mischievous, the families often addressed them and asked them to tone it down and were obeyed. Still others appeared to be unintelligent “recordings” of past events somehow “imprinted” on particular houses.

My experience, if it was a ghost, was not an “intelligent presence” but a type of repetitive activity “recorded” on a certain spot. Though I didn’t know it at the time, my pediatrician had a routine where he got up early in the morning, went down to the kitchen, fixed his children breakfast in bed (because he worked so frequently, this was one of the ways he stayed involved in parenting) and delivered the meals to them. I woke up at around 5AM because I heard what sounded like a man puttering about in the kitchen. I assumed this was my friend’s dad, as I was spending the night at a friend’s house. My pediatrician had owned it before they moved into it. I heard kitchen noise, then someone coming up the wooden steps, pausing in the hall, et cetera. The doorknob turned and the door opened and no one was there. I called out to my friend’s dad, assuming he was checking on us. Just as I convinced myself I was imagining everything, the door shut itself, the knob turned again, and the footsteps continued down the hall and into the next room. When I mentioned the incident over breakfast, my friend’s dad denied that he had checked on me. In truth, there was enough ambient light from streetlamps, night lights and the moonlight to see there was no one in the hallway, but I asked anyway. I was then told how Dr. Pete had a breakfast in bed routine for his children. I’m still not sure what to think about it all, but it wasn’t scary or anything. Could it have been my imagination? Perhaps, but I wasn’t really thinking about spirits or hauntings. It wasn’t a case of having ghosts on the brain or looking for an experience. So, who knows?

I am primarily a skeptic. I can’t explain my experience, but I’m willing to hear that it was a case of overactive imagination…even though I remember quite clearly that, at the time, I dismissed it as such until I tried to thank my friend’s dad for checking on us and the family told me about the good doctor’s breakfast in bed routine and that no one had been wandering about at 5AM. Hmm.

I’m not totally closed off to the unexplainable. I’ve read and collected Tarot cards since I was eleven years old, and conducted an experiment a few years ago where I asked strangers on AOL Instant Messenger in a Tarot chat room to ask me a question but not to tell me what it was. I also asked them not to tell me where they were from, their age, their gender or anything else (though some had screennames that implied some of these things, and it was fair to say that if I’d tried, I might have guessed). The most important thing was that I didn’t want them to tell me their question. I read the cards for about 100 strangers and each one said that I nailed the issue and that what the cards indicated made sense to them. Sometimes I closed one of these sessions wondering what the question was, but overall I could get the gist from how the cards came up in the spreads. Freaky stuff. I still have over 75 decks but rarely have time to read them. I have no burning questions at the moment, really. I suspect it’s a way to jump-start my intuition and subconscious more than any magical tool.

I also am Reiki Second Degree and have done the odd bit of energy work here and there. I’m good at making headaches go away and finding the exact spots on someone’s body where they are experiencing pain or discomfort without touching them. Sometimes I find muscle knots and similar spots that correspond to acupuncture and acupressure points and can make a quick ‘n’ dirty diagnosis of certain issues. Supposedly I can do long-distance healing, but I haven’t practiced that and can’t report on whether it works. In some cases, it may be mind over matter at play, or the natural comfort people get from being paid attention to.

When I do touch people during Reiki sessions, my hands apparently get noticeably hotter. Even when I don’t make contact and just have my hands a few inches above someone, they can often pinpoint where my hands are hovering, even with their eyes closed. Sometimes my hands will heat up around one of my friends and I’ll find out that they are experiencing some kind of discomfort, even when they haven’t mentioned it. Can I explain it? No. But I can’t explain acupuncture either, and have experienced it and been cured (at least temporarily) of a very bad back problem, and Western doctors are starting to accept it as a viable medical discipline.

So, what’s going on with Reiki? It’s just energy work. The human body is a complex thing. I’m more interested in IF and WHEN it works, not HOW or WHY. I’ve fixed enough “owies” over enough years, and have folks out there who will say “yeah, dunno how it worked, but I felt better” to accept that I have “Reiki hands.” And it helps when I give backrubs, too, apparently! People feel better, and their backs (or heads) stop hurting, and they often report feeling comforted and loved afterwards. Again, I suspect that half of the benefit is that they are getting pleasant human contact out of the deal. It’s the other half that remains a bit of a mystery.

An interesting addenda: the same friend I spent the night with (that I talked about earlier, in my dead pediatrician’s house) reported a bad experience messing about with a Ouija board in the same house. Personally, I’d never touch one of the things. Bad juju. But they were messing about with it, and it started to storm outside, and loud noises and branches banging on windows and howls and moans and lights flickering scared the hell out of them. Of course, these noises could be attributed to the fact it was raining heavily outside and they were actively trying to stir up some spooks. Supposedly some questions were asked and they received answers and, naturally, SWORE they weren’t pushing the planchette around. It still, according to them, went beyond what they thought was normal for a summer shower and they managed to piss themselves with fright, so that was the end of the Ouija board play time.

Have you ever had a paranormal experience? What, if anything, do you think “ghosts” are? Is there a “haunted house” in your hometown?

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