Monthly Archives: March 2010

The Reality of Fiction

Possibly the most frequent question and source of discussion that I receive as a paranormal investigator, one on television especially, is whether or not what we experience and capture in terms of the supernatural is real. I’m approaching this from a unique perspective, not only from having started with the Ghost Hunters teams as an enthusiast and amateur investigator, but as a writer and poet.

But before I get into the topic, I need to clarify that first of all, I have never faked evidence nor been around such happenings. I can only speak to those cases and episodes I’ve been involved with, and to nothing that happened on any other shows nor episodes, and that as I further this discourse, my perspective on honesty is by no means a condonation.

The two different discussions I get into about the reality of my work come firstly from those skeptical about what may exist beyond the veil, and secondly from those who want to know if what they’ve seen on the television is true. To address the former, I personally cannot say for certain that I know there is something out there. I’ve never had the experience that has solidified my belief and might be able to encourage your own. I do not have the proof you want. But I do believe, and there are other people out there who have those stories and materials that might be more persuadable, but you won’t find them with me yet. It’s not yet my job to convince you.

Of course, the nature of the field is to deal with the question of whether or not these entities are real, and the shows maintain honesty. The drawbacks to dishonesty are easy. Obviously dishonesty is shameful and frowned upon. The paranormal field too is largely represented to the general populous through the television box with these reality shows, some of them hits, some of them immediate flops. Right now, I’m not afraid to call the popularity of the paranormal a fad.

Many people watch paranormal programming for one of two reasons; they’re either looking for persuasive evidence or they want to be frightened. If they’re looking for evidence it’s likely they’re just as on the fence as most, curious to have their own beliefs or experiences validated, or simply interested in this unknown (as I think we all are to varying degrees), eager for the persuasion that the nature of the show promises. For most, I feel safe to say that any belief they might carry may well be due in large part to what they’ve seen on television and if they find that their belief was built on lies, how easily it will crumble. In the same way that the “fad” of the paranormal was built upon trust in these television shows and now-famous teams, so easily can it come raining down. And to the truly passionate investigator, this can be a devastating consequence, for support is a wonderful thing, one that’s been altogether absent for years before now.

I’m a paranormal investigator. I’m passionate about the work. I want to have my beliefs validated as well, and it would be an equal devastation to me to have all credibility collapse. I’m all for honesty.

But there is another side of me that’s an artist and a writer. I’m a poet. I’m a novelist. I write short stories. I illustrate the truth with lies, and so I look at these programs from another perspective: that they’re entertainment – and not simply that, either, but as with many forms of entertainment, act as a vehicle for truth.

That alone can be more interesting than simply watching the shows for fact or truth, evidence or debunk. Watching television to compel you to reasons of faith isn’t a wonderfully solid idea to begin with, anyway. If you have a belief, if you have a drive toward something and you want justification, seek it out yourself. Make your validation come to you from the source, not a cable box. It’s much more moving when it happens. Of course, I think this philosophy is applicable for television in general, but that’s starting to get past my point.

You might suggest that there are no stories to be found in paranormal programming, that many of them are pseudo-scientific investigations and make a point to stay away from the story and focus on the technology, process, and results, and that sometimes even character-to-character drama is too distracting. I disagree. I think there’s lots of story. There’s very human elements, and a very compelling situation week after week that makes the entire premise very engaging. Real people walk into the darkness of night, sometimes into the unknown, the rotting, the ancient, and sometimes – even better – into our own homes, digging up this unknown right next to us, within what we think we know and hold safely.

Paranormal programming can keep us as engaged and challenged as an effective horror novel, or – if I may broaden my net to those who look down on the horror craft – a resonant drama or tragedy. It’s relatable, yes, but not only is it so, it goes after the same thing that true art or storytelling does: truth. It goes after the kind of truth that we’re all searching for, be it the secret of life (if I may be so trite), be it how to be happy, be it how to love better, be it how to help people, or darker; what happens to us after we die? what is on the other side? Is there another side and what is its nature? Are we alone? And equally as important, the implications that those suggest, morality issues and further, questions of God and faith. Of history and culture. Anthropology and science.

Perhaps that’s a bit much to put on a handful of cable reality shows, but I don’t think I’m out of line. A lot of these questions are relatively simple, they supply us motivation and enthusiasm, often they’re fuel. They don’t need to exist in complex storylines and dialogue.

These pursuits are given further fuel in that the characters and personalities on the episodes are chasing down the answers to the very same mysteries about which we wonder. They’re fueled by the same experiences, the same curiosities, and this makes it personal for the viewer. But what makes these shows unique and interesting are perhaps the only redeeming reason for dishonest evidence. It’s the same reason for the runaway success of fall 2009’s Paranormal Activity, the effect every author in history has strived for (popular fiction, literary fiction, and non-fiction alike), what turned Orson Welle’s Halloween radio play into a nationwide panic, where the producers’ motivations luckily intersect with the pursuit of truth: the very possibility that what you’re seeing could be real.

This brings it all home. It’s what makes you curl up in your seat, uncomfortable, afraid perhaps, or sit closer to the edge to see what might come next, or what will be the piece of evidence captured before the commercial break. You lean in to see when the unknown is probed, the likes to which you’ve never been exposed or have never seen; ancient castles across the ocean, up to ten times older than any location you’ve ever visited, ruins constructed by cultures incomprehensible, like the depths of the ocean where the sunlight can’t reach, there might just be something there – but what? You curl back in your seat because you’re introduced to the possibility that the same untouched darkness of the primordial could be closer than you ever imagined, that even in the warmth of what you’ve always known and trusted, holding fast to what you were raised to believe as a child, if you closed your eyes and reached out your hand, perhaps something might reach back. Fear puts in perspective those things which we cherish most. It boils us down to our most basic desire and faith. The reality is not the shadow on the television or the croaking inhuman voice from the speakers, it’s the possibility that the unknown may be right next to you in your living room. It forces you to consider what the presence of that darkness means to us, personally, as a society, as a part of history.

Producers are happy because their audiences are frightened. The audiences are happy because they’re engaged and thinking. It’s here, and likely only here, that the honesty of the episode doesn’t matter, because honest or not, they’ve taken something truly powerful and in its relation to your own life, made it speak directly to you and prompted you to ask questions.

Let me reiterate that of course I’m not making a case for the acceptability of presenting fraudulent evidence. At the end of the day, honest or not, you must remember it is still television. If you trust what you see, that’s wonderful, everything I know and likely far more indeed has been very honest. If you do not believe, that’s fine too, it is of course up to you. But one way or the other, despite your hesitation or faith, you can still reach deep and find a resounding and personal meaning and a call to truth within your own life.

There is still far too much unknown in our world to be content. As long as there is conflict there will be the pursuit of truth. I’m not suggesting that the implications of the possibility of ghosts will solve world peace, but I am suggesting that pursuing those things that ring true within, that spark thought and basic curiosity, will not only set you where you need to go but will send you in pursuit of something greater than yourself, and with that you cannot go wrong.

Copyright 2010 karl pfeiffer

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That Bastion of Calm –

So I’m finally home after two weeks on the road – half of which I feel like was getting back from England.


I can’t speak much about the details of working with GHI, you guys will just have to wait until round about June to catch it on the tv, and keep your eyes peeled for some little tidbits between now and then over at syfy.com. But what I can say was that it was truly a brilliant experience. The case was fantastic, the team was fantastic, the crew was fantastic, England was fantastic – the whole thing.

The entire experience has been a humbling one. I like to believe there’s Reasons for everything, and from day one when I sent in my email and picture and heard back with a request for a video, the process went out of my hands and beyond me. Out of some six thousand applicants during that first round, I was so lucky to have been picked. To have made it through the process to finally get the go-ahead phone call was a near-spiritual experience. Never moreso in my life have I so fully given myself up to exactly where I was supposed to go –

And now on the road, I’m doing my best to be aware of the why. Why me? Why here? Why now? Why has my life been propelled in this extreme direction? I’ve met some truly amazing people on the road, some of the finest people I’ve known. Some of which I’ve connected with on a deep, reverberating level that I don’t understand. Be they just very like souls or be there something deeper, something that speaks to past-lives, I don’t know. I’ll leave that up to your individual spiritual sensibilities. But something’s happening here. And not only was it interesting to watch and pay attention specifically to, but to embrace experience and new friends as fully as I could. Realization or not, that alone elevated the experience to something magical.

Getting home was not such a magical experience. When I wasn’t exhausted and longing for a bed, I surprised myself by staying in a decent mood. Anticipating the six to seven hour flight from England, I stayed up all night before (no difficult task, a last night in town, goodbyes to new friends and conversation until the dawn, I was scrambling to shower and pack by the time I hit the lobby to catch my ride). Three hour car ride and Heathrow like an ant colony, I managed to catch the flight just fine and we got off in time.

New York was experiencing wet weather. Thick clouds, strong wind, and heavy rain made the approach miserable. I felt like Jack Ryan trying to catch the USS Dallas. Next time I shoulda just sent a freakin’ memo. As soon as we broke into our descent the plane started hopping and rocking. One dip lasted about twice as long as expected and elicited some yelps from the passengers. Sitting in the furthest back row I knew we were in for it when the attendant grabbed the sides of his seat and said, “This is going to be a rough one.”

But I managed to smile through it. Perhaps some blend of sleepiness and a touch of Irish music a few tracks before, and I enjoyed the bumps, taking confidence that that day would not be my day, and if it was, well, that’d have been random.

Upon passing customs and immigration at JFK, my duffel in hand, I went to check in for my connecting to catch the suggestion that it was cancelled, only to wind up at a closed terminal, crossing the street in gusting wind that had me pressing down on my cap and bent 45 degrees. If that wasn’t enough indication, I hit terminal two, stood in line for thirty minutes, and got final confirmation that indeed my trip to Denver was cancelled, no, I said, I had no one to stay with in the New York area, and the soonest flight was Monday – nope, actually, Sunday has a connecting through Minneapolis. Book it, I said, and wandered into the grimy terminal to curl up on my bag and get some rest. Around eleven I stood in a much shorter line, made sure to smile and ask if the workers were rested and doing okay (they weren’t on both counts, but I made an effort to be easy and sympathetic – I thought I hated bitchy customers at a movie rental store, I could never do their job), got the okay and wandered through security to sleep at a gate. Woke up to bustling crowds and airport food too expensive for my hunger.

I finished the Sweedish novel Let the Right One In (a wonderful and brilliant novel. Everything I wanted it to be, and better than the film – which is fantastic in and of itself – it truly does the work of real horror literature, studying childhood, love, coming of age, playing with themes of light before a deep, rich darkness. I highly recommend it).

Twenty minutes before the flight I found I was at Gate 20, not B20, and ran for the shuttle to terminal 4, only to discover Delta had botched the seating assignments and had people just sit wherever. They wouldn’t check my bag and I had to stow it, the whole while waiting for a petite and perky woman with sticks in her hair to ask me to check it from my kung fu grip. Another half hour waiting on the tarmac, we finally hit the sky. Minneapolis was quiet and pleasant after the bustle of JFK, and after only two hours took off for a remarkably bump-less flight into Denver, where it was snowing thick flakes. But the landing was smooth (I recommend snowstorms to rainstorms tenfold). I managed to collect my bag at the claim (which I fully expected to be lost, considering all else that had happened, as the icing on the cake), spun through the doors and caught my lovely girlfriend, and we drove off into the snowy night.

A hottub and a full night’s rest on an actual bed again, and I’m human once again!

Edit to add: I should mention I flew Virgin Atlantic from England. They have a very pleasant way about them that I can’t complain about. The entrance was just bumpy as hell due to the weather. They were fine. It was as soon as I hit Delta for the connecting that I ran into my little problems…

Is there advice here? Yes, I think so. No, it’s not to avoid Delta at all costs (just rainstorms). Even if you’ve spent forty eight hours traveling home, it makes for a good story and odds are your fit at the people trying to rebook and reorganize is just one of thirty, and you’ll likely feel better to take it slow and be polite. Maybe I’m odd, but I like spreading a little peace and being the calm guy while around me the world spins in chaos.

Also, go with where you feel like you should be. Pay attention to what life has for you. It’s fun and enriching, and I can guarantee, no matter how rich and colorful already, will make the world around you even more so, perhaps adding even a touch of sparkle, like that sunlight on fresh snow as it melts on a spring Monday morning.

Striking the Natural

Over the last few months I’ve been growing discouraged about the paranormal. I found myself in doubt about one of my greatest passions I carry, and the two fronts that I’ve been a part of have been on the Ghost Hunters franchise and with my local group.

Paranormal television is entertainment. The shows exist to show people in supernatural situations, and people enjoy reacting to these things that are frightening along with the members on the television screen. At the end of the day the shows are always about entertainment and not the future of paranormal research. In many ways these television series have garnered and increased an interest in the field, and while this is not necessarily a good nor bad thing fully, the debate does rage about their effect.

On the other hand I’ve been witness and a part of the local front – As someone with a passion, encouraged by ghost hunting groups in popular media, I found a team locally and began work with them. Cases are small. The group began as a collection of people with different experience, levels of expertise, backgrounds, equipment, techniques and approaches. Since, in waves that ebb and flow but, I think at this point, are generally forward-moving, the group has come together and tried to solidify. But cases still are not in abundance. Residential emergencies are few, and in many cases succeed only in reassuring the homeowner that what they’re experiencing is in fact quite natural and that there is a normal explanation to the experience.

I’m not suggesting that this is a bad thing – these people are very scared and they do need help, and helping people in paranormal situations (potential as alike and important as a genuine happening) is one of the greatest things we as investigators are supposed to do.

But it’s not our only goal. Especially for a person like me. Where I see that there are two types of paranormal investigator, those looking for answers and those looking for verification. Most in the field are those who experienced something and want answers. It’s these people who also feel the drive most clearly to help others because of that kinship felt in shared history of need. The other group are the faithful, the ones drawn to the field, reasons unknown, searching for experience, drawn toward that dark. It resonates in most of us – 2.5 million people just watched the season premiere of Ghost Hunters, hundreds of thousands, millions even, turn out for horror movies in the theaters, they attend “haunted houses” when the leaves turn dark and fall from the trees, they ride roller coasters and drive fast, seeking thrills. And there is a thrill in the darkness, but where most are , thrilled, others are drawn. I’m one of these latter types, who are drawn without experience. From the start, it’s not the drive to forward the field – not from the very beginning, but to become a part of it, to experience, to validate that faith. Ant that’s where I am. Perhaps no longer an amateur of investigation, but certainly still an amateur of the dark.

So I’ve become discouraged. Local groups are pulling in cases to help people and are slogging their way to the more notorious haunted locations, gathering evidence with cheap equipment. Some groups pull down better and more frequent cases than others, some investigators have a larger budget to spend on better equipment, most following what they see on TV, fewer still going to conferences and learning what’s happening on the rest of the front, very few left with the creativity and accessibility to adapt and refine equipment to make better progress.

With this in mind, I wrote about what I knew. I tried to synthesize my information. The results, I decided, told that we were at a breaking point, a crossroads even. We are at a point where the field is almost at point of saturation, where our technology has reached a point that should be giving better results, and either will or won’t – the public will either have their eyes opened, or they’ll lose interest altogether and the field will fall back again into obscurity. (For the full article, see here.)

But this international travel and opportunity of a lifetime has paid off, even in the slightest, and it’s sparked realization that I haven’t been looking in quite the right direction. I’ve been studying it from the pop culture angle, and the public reaction to the entertainment. I haven’t seen what’s really been going on – I haven’t been privy to the real progress.

I’ve been so lucky to carry on an extensive conversation across a few hours with Barry Fitzgerald, who’s made investigating mysterious happenings a lifelong search. His stories and experience astounded me. I realized that there is a lot happening. Native to Europe, a full resume` across the world, evidence at hand, Barry opened to me that there are mysterious workings here more than doors closing, inaudible voices on recorders and bangs in the dark. Sometimes tables do life above your heads, sometimes spiritual workers in South America lay hands and work in the miraculous. He showed me evidence he’s gathered, shared stories about haunted locations, touched on theories and spoke of the world. We talked technology and details about equipment, focused investigation and study rather than satisfaction with popular tools. There’s a future here, I’ve seen. Our technology is not failing us. We’re not lighting up a hallway further down to see that there’s nothing there, we’re looking at what we’re using and how it effects the environment. We’re searching at the fringes to find ranges, to weed out what’s known. Instead of looking for the supernatural, we’re striking the natural to truly find the super. We are at a crossroads, not of debatable results or total failure, but at a fringe level of science between what is known and unknown, of furthering and breakthrough.

I’m still an amateur of experience, no ghost has made effort to say hello as yet. My beliefs have not been validated. But they’ve become encouraged again. The world is laid out before me and however fragile, offered to me, potential abound, progress made, the field has taken on new light and life for me and this is only the beginning. Barry shared his stories and struck up new light inside, but it’s time to find it for myself, it’s time to join in the fray, to catch up and chase down the breakthroughs, to see what’s next.

Come along?

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