Category Archives: Death

Moral Issues in Ghost Hunting

New Vlog this week! This one is a bit more casual, with me just talking to the camera about some of these ghost hunting topics, including the ethics of investigating a place of tragedy and the problems with charging for investigations.

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The Afterlife?

So Hallowtide is about Will’s journey through his personal hell. Since I’ve read the book, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about the afterlife and ghosts… Do you believe that everyone has their own personal afterlife tailored specifically for them? Or does everyone have the same afterlife (according to their religion or beliefs)? Or maybe some elements are the same in everyone’s afterlife. I can’t help but think that maybe some ghosts are just living their afterlife and that’s why they haunt specific places. For example, heaven for them would be a particular place that made them the most happy and hell would be a particular place that gave them a horrible experience (where they died, where they were abused, etc.) -Kelly G

This is a great question, and one that I thought would make a good blog post to reply to. Without giving too much away, my novel Hallowtide is indeed about a young man and his journey to Hell. This journey seems to, at the most superficial, be taking place within his dreams. Dreams are a space of subconscious interaction, and many psychologists believe that this dream state is a good place to manifest the mind’s invisible. But the questions are raised within the book when it comes to the “truth” within these dreams, the “truth” of the subconscious, and the doors that opens to much of psychologist Carl Jung’s philosophy, in which there is a deeper layer of unconscious space, the Collective Unconscious, where the collective subtleties of a culture pool. Joseph Campbell took this idea and ran with it toward his search in finding universal consistencies within mythic hero stories. I bring this back in the novel to discussions about then what might be spiritually real happening within Will’s dreams.

The research and study that I did in college and my personal life while working on the novel has definitely melted into my own thoughts on the nature of the afterlife too. Obviously this is a popular topic of reflection too with my job as a ghost hunter.

While I’m actually quite taken with Jung’s mythology, I also find a certain foundation in the theory of Mystical Experiences. Much of mysticism (a broad, broad category in its own right) suggests that there are at least two levels of worlds (more often a spectrum between the two), one of which is this physical world in which we operate (the one of empiricism, the five senses, sciences, and that which we can document) and then the more Platonic world of ideals, ideas, the abstract, a space where perhaps morality and good and evil and intention are as tangible as here, the flesh. This is the spiritual world. This is the non-physical. It seems to me that the act of death is a shedding of the physical, and that whatever is at the core of our experience, this consciousness (soul, spirit, what have you) is then in this inherently non-physical, ineffable place beyond this world we know.

But it seems that these worlds intercross (a spectrum, as many mystics believe). Indeed, if we ourselves are physical and spiritual beings both, most pertinently then, within ourselves.

Emotions play an interesting role here that I haven’t come to a conclusion on. Emotions, I’ve always felt, are what help us to transcend this place. My inner romantic believes that emotions like true love, that deep, world-shaking (indeed, breaking) feelings of compassion, or utter selflessness (even hatred perhaps) transcends this world and puts us on the level of spiritual creatures. But we also find that with emotion is often material attachment. We often find ourselves most emotionally attached to things: temporary, physical, stuff. Whether that’s a person, a place, or a thing, all of which will fade in time.

Emotions then have this kind of two-fold place, where on the one hand I think that they can help us transcend to the non-physical, on the other they tie us to the physical. And I’ve found that with spirits, with these ghosts that we interact with, there always seems to be some kind of lingering attachment. And also, as might be an inherent part of this transition to the non-physical, their emotions and attachments often seem amplified.

There’s a story I like to share, the source of which has gotten fuzzy in my memory (but I think it was from Andy Coppock), of this spirit in an old run down California hospital. Creepy place. This spirit was apparently violent and angry down in the lower levels. But this team went down there, dispensed with the bull, said ‘stop yelling at us, and instead tell us why you’re so upset.’ And what they got from this spirit was that he’d been killed accidentally on the operating table when he was a patient at this hospital in the 60s. Being so upset about this, he made it his goal to try to scare everyone away from this hospital so that the same thing didn’t happen to them. But he was still seeing this hospital as functioning and running as it was the day he died.

This to me suggests a kind of correlation to the old cliches, the Sixth Sense and Casper ghosts who have unfinished business and who see what they want to see. It seems to me though that these emotions that become so pure after death, that surround these various focuses and objects of attachment, do align with a distortion of this physical reality, and the changes in ways of interaction that so go along with it.

But most importantly it suggests to me that the individual spiritual experience is a very powerful and oftentimes unique one.

And that oftentimes it’s layered with attachments, illusions (though who is to say what’s “real” when you’re operating beyond the real), and struggles.

Buddhists, in focusing around the elimination of dukha, (suffering or dis-ease) are focused–you could say–in the study of happiness. And they don’t believe that true happiness is found in material objects because they are temporary. Every single thing in this world will break down. You. Me. Your loved ones. And so finding happiness within them is not true happiness because it will eventually turn to sadness. It’s dependent. True happiness should be independent, and stand on its own. So even, I expect, for a spirit finding happiness–its own kind of Heaven–in something of the material world (a loved one, a home, an object), is not, under this kind of thinking, truly happy. It’s a kind of false happiness. One that, the Buddhists would suggest, is bested by the peace of inner-happiness and of acceptance. Or, as the mystics might suggest, the kind of peace found in transcendence, in moving on, in letting go, in embracing the spiritual, the divine–whatever that indescribable non-physical pinnacle is of such a world.

I think letting go of this pure physical reality is difficult for many of us and that it’s a lifetime(s) of learning what we’re here to learn and then trying to overcome the intoxication of the pleasures (and pain) of the physical that is a real challenge, but a necessary and natural one. Why we don’t see many spirits from the past few hundred years alone suggests that there’s something to move on to. Whether that’s reincarnation or a more pure form of non-physical spirituality (divinity, as some mystics would suggest) (or both), I think that isn’t not nearly so absolute a process of life and death as we think here in our physical world.

Beyond that, to suggest what people see then in their afterlife experiences, I think can be a bit messy. If they’re “seeing” something, there’s an inherent suggestion that there’s still something physical happening there. They have eyes to ‘see’ and that there is something to “be seen.” All of these would suggest that in such a setting there is a still some tie to the physical. So I think if someone is seeing something that can be described, it might be again, some kind of focus or attachment that’s overwhelming the pure experience that is the afterlife. Whether that’s guilt, or whether that’s a kind of excitement for something specific, I think it could become hard to trust.

While researching mysticism, we find this idea of people accessing the divine, the spiritual. Indeed, this is the foundation of many of the religions that surround the globe, especially the theistic ones. A person has an experience of something beyond the physical. They want to share this experience and they want to share how they discovered it (setting grounds for a belief and a set of practices, the foundational cornerstones of any ideology). Of course they try to describe it in words. But the experience is beyond the physical world. And words are a limited construction of the physical. You cannot describe the indescribable. You can only point at it). The mystic also describes it in terms of their culture, which can also be very limited. The culture picks and chooses which elements fit their framework for viewing the world, the experience is repeated, doctrine is described, and in its sharing with thousands of people, is often changed. And so, it’s no surprise to me that we get wildly differing accounts of religious experiences across the world.

So by putting any one religious theory of the afterlife over another, or even trying to describe it in words at all, is to muddy the waters. But I hope that this gives some idea of my perspectives on it all. Certainly I come from a very mystical perspective, one that has lead to a much more pluralistic religious perspective, but one that sustains a lot of respect to all religions and belief systems.

But I certainly don’t know. Many far smarter than I have written many books on the subject. Some of which are quite good, many of which I haven’t gotten to yet. But this framework is what at the moment makes the most kind of sense to me, and ultimately, as structured the question, what found its way into the story of my first novel, Hallowtide. 

Any more questions? Disagreements? Furthering thoughts? Dive into a conversation below. But keep it cool. Religion is touchy. Death is frightening. And we’re all just trying to figure it out.

Karl Pfeiffer is the author of the novel Hallowtide. After winning the first season of the pilot reality series Ghost Hunters Academy, he went on to work with the Ghost Hunters International team on the same network. Since then he’s graduated Colorado State University with a degree in Creative Writing and an emphasis on Religious Studies. He works at the Stanley Hotel leading the weekend public ghost hunts and writes for the TAPS Paramagazine. More can be found at www.KarlPfeiffer.com

Immortality Project

By now I hope you’ve heard about the upcoming Immortality Project. It’s not a movie with a catchy name, but it’s the new project the University of California, Riverside will take on studying topics of the afterlife thanks to a five million dollar grant. If you haven’t read about it, there’s a solid article from Huffington Post LA, here.

The money will fund research into heaven, hell, purgatory, karma, and other topics, according to the university’s web site.

Which is brilliant. If you’re going to do a study of the afterlife, absolutely do it academically. We in the ghost-hunting field have been pushing for “scientific” documentation of these experiences of the supernatural, which is still needed. But taking an approach to the afterlife in general on a level of theology, culture, philosophy, and biology is a solid approach. If you’re going to explore the afterlife, regardless of conclusion, there are questions that need exploring along the way. “Are we immortal beings? Would we even want to be immortal? What would immortality even look like?” An approach that considers both the fact of the issue and the philosophy is absolutely the right thinking.

“We will be very careful in documenting near-death experiences and other phenomena, trying to figure out if these offer plausible glimpses of an afterlife or are biologically induced illusions,” Fischer said in a statement. “Our approach will be uncompromisingly scientifically rigorous. We’re not going to spend money to study alien-abduction reports.”

So not all the bias toward the supernatural has been thrown out with this step forward. All in due time I suppose. Alien abductions might not be trendy like ghosts or the more PC, less-restrictive term, “the afterlife,” and their supporters still seem crazy (really, the same as ghosts fifteen years ago). But the deeper you look into alien abduction reports, the more similarities you find between them and “Old Hag Syndrome,” or sleep paralysis, or classical mythology and religions. Indeed, alien reports carry remarkable tie-ins with much of religious mythology and lore. John Keel’s Our Haunted Planet is a fine resource for these connections and, according to him, inconsistencies.

Though not so much correlative to the near-death experience, close encounters of the fourth kind do resemble religious or mystical experiences. Though this study is focusing, at least for the moment, on experiences occurring around the time of death, it’s not a far stone’s throw to the mystical experiences of higher (or different) consciousness. See (bright lights appearing in the sky, terrifying beings who appear on earth and supply prophesies, strange chariots appearing in the air).

The question then: is this exactly what we need right now? Not just the “we” who are paranormally inclined. But the “we” of the human race, in a science-worshipping world tearing itself apart over religion and ideology.

Or will this divide us further? If we find indication that there may be something after, something further, will this only increase the hostilities between two parties to be more “right” than the other? If you suggest that the soul does exist, what does that say of God? If God exists, what does that say of these fighting religions? If we live on after we die, what does that say toward the morality of homicide?

Either way, it’s a fascinating project, and I’ll be first in line for the book in five years.

 

Exhaustion

Emotionally and physically exhausted.

Days spent teaching gifted students art. Expression. The meaning and value of true art. What lies beneath. Their work astounds me.

Nights and evenings entertaining and giving it all so that they can be filled. Filled with whatever they call it. The “Glow,” love, friendship, acceptance. Magic.

Last night, fist pumping excitement all day and hourly countdowns. Sitting in the theater with my hands clenched in fists for two and a half hours while a theater sixty miles south sat with hands clenched in fists for the rest of the night. Some, the rest of their

And this morning with my dear friend while she taught, worries clenching and unclenching with every passing

Second.

The end

Of this camp tonight. My tenth graders finish their stay with tears in their eyes and on cheeks and with hugs and sobs.

Two days ago I draw the death card and the reaper against red sky and scythe, that butterfly curling against his cocoon, and I say “This is not a bad card. This is hope.”

Yesterday evening walking behind fifty kids leaving our end of session banquet and seeing the street lamps flicker on as darkness fell

While beneath they wandered through the trees unknowing.

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The October Collection (bleeding autumn leaves)

This year’s project was to take a photo as close to every day as I could, so that over the course of September and October, I could capture the slow spread of the leaves turning orange, slowly dying. I’m not utterly satisfied with the results yet, but next year, wherever I might be, I definitely want to try again. Feel free to join me!

Games Children Play Excerpt

1.

 Don’t tell my mom this. Don’t let her read it.

Sometimes I hear my Aunt Ella. She calls my name at night and keeps me awake. I think that’s because I killed her.

 

2.

 Ariel, please. Sweetie?  I screamed.

Like she could even hear me anymore.

 

3.

My name is Ariel. My teacher asked me to write this. She wanted to know about if I am afraid of the dark. I told her that I wasn’t when she asked but I fibbed some. My Aunt Ella calls that a little white lie.

I am only scared of the dark sometimes. Sometimes my room gets really scary while I am trying to sleep. Mom says that is only because I’m still getting used to it.

Sometimes my closet is what bothers me. I can’t tell you why. I guess it just feels like there is something in there and it watches me try to sleep. People shouldn’t watch others sleep. That’s private. Unless they’re babies. But that’s because babies need protected.

 

4.

It’s ironic, looking back, in our dialogue and conversation, how much blurring there was between boundaries so carefully established by time and culture. Your childhood is there, behind you. Your present is here before you, and you’re required to act your age, else the good respectable people of society — your bosses, your fathers, your friends, your girlfriend’s family — will shun you, will supply you those pitying looks only reserved for single fathers with wild children at the stores and kids at restaurants who can’t stay in their seats, the ones who talk and cry during the movies. The paining hypocrisy, or fitting irony, of these looks is that even in the cases of those without offspring of their own is the insistence through and through that they were not children. That they did not see the world as a place of magic. That they did not look without care or worry at proprieties established to keep the cogs of civilization running. There was only romance and darkness and it was only in the deepest parts of the night that they pulled tight their blinding masks. Eventually whatever it was, bullies or violent movies or late night news broadcasts or the death of their Grans and Pappys made them pull tight these masks permanently deciding instead it was easier to leave them there forever.

Ariel, please. Take off the mask, look back to the places you’re always looked, and turn to me. Don’t grow up. Don’t stop playing these games because there is a dead body on the floor. Please.

 

We were drunk when it started.

No big surprise. It was my final year of college and I was taking easy semesters to drag out my stay. I didn’t want to hit the real world. I didn’t want to find a job and worry about getting off my parents’ insurance policies and cell phone plans and file dependent tax returns and worry about fully supporting myself, falling into that river of souls that stank of asphalt and thirty second American dreams with car logos and exclamation points at their ends.

Being drunk felt like being a kid again. There were no cares. You didn’t worry what stupid shit you did or said. Confessions of love or hate or dancing in the sprinklers on late night walks — none of it mattered. Better still, there was a kind of freedom behind it all. Where as a kid, society pushed those rules on you. Bedtimes at nine. No PG-13 movies. A boundary of only the neighborhood roads. No sugar unless the parents said it was okay. As an adult masquerading as a child, there were no rules at all. So long as you avoided the cops, the world was your oyster.

So I got drunk a lot that year. My friends, those still in college, felt the same way. Those out of college weren’t long being frightened of the way things worked and retreated into the lawless college shell that was still warm from use and packed not so far into the closet.

We didn’t host rager parties or go to the bars much. We’d grown up to a different kind of drunk. There was a sadness in our conversations and a nostalgic glee in our play.

That night we were walking along the neighborhood sidewalk toward the ball fields and playground. The sprinklers were on, watering the small lawns in front of small townhome apartments and the tops of our flip-flopped feet, were we wearing any shoes at all. The ball fields were hardly a block from our house. Cut through the neighborhood and they were only on the other side of the street. At night they turned to more of a black hole in the landscape. The features disappeared into one another. The streetlamps stayed away as if avoiding the place in favor of somewhere more homey.

They scared me a little. Dark ball parks always have. Maybe it’s just that they’re too different at night, there’s too much of a discord. During the day we’d always used to go to watch my brother’s games. We’d sit in the stands and dad would eat his peanuts and drop the shells on the concrete below us and the other teammates’ families would smoke or spit seeds. Sure, the environment of the place was utterly polluted. Hot dog smells co-mingled with the reek of the cigarettes. It was no wonder why my mother never came. My father made me, mostly so he could have some company. Mostly I only agreed so that I could get the ice cream he always promised me and my brother after the trips. I was on a middle school kick back then anyway. Rebelling without actually rebelling, calling out the problems I saw with my parents’ and brother’s lifestyle habits as if to demonstrate some superiority.

The ballpark was dirty, yes, but now looking back on it, it makes a kind of sense. That was the essence of the local baseball fields. It wouldn’t be a ball game without those things. They were a part of the moment. I never saw my father eat those shelled peanuts anywhere else in his life (though after bar-hopping enough in the first few months after twenty-one, I imagine he’d had his fair share at a fair number of bars). He was participating with the place.

At night though? At night it lost all that.

 

Download the entire story Tuesday October 18 at smashwords.com

A Conversation with the Dead

This weekend on one of the public ghost hunts at the Stanley Hotel, with fifteen guests and only myself leading it (no Callea), we had a truly remarkable interaction with a spirit named Lucy in the lower bathroom of the Concert Hall. Watch the vlog here;

Wanted more of the evidence and conversation back and forth through the cell sensor? Check out the follow up video too!

And stay tuned for further info on my present level of concern over whether it’s legitimate, what it means if it is real, possibly more audio if I can secure the track of the first hour, and a transcript of all the answers that she gave me!

Have thoughts or opinions on it yourself? Chime in, in the comments section below! (And tell your friends?)

For Perfection – a review of Black Swan

Finally got around to seeing Black Swan last night – all by my lonesome, surrounded by gigglers and murmurers but thankfully no laughers or talkers or hecklers. And the teenage couple with all lusty eyes and smooches actually watched the movie, so I can say that the movie-going experience itself was mostly a success.

Though I will always remember The Dark Knight at eleven in the morning after opening night, the silence thick as butter, when one child began to cry in the opening production studio titles and a lone voice from the front yelled “shut that kid up.” A bit much, but with no less a feel of reverence rare to find these days.

My name is Karl Pfeiffer and I don’t condone yelling at children in movie theaters.

Of course, neither do I condone bringing them to the Dark Knight.

Respect. That’s what I ask.

So, Black Swan.

Brilliant writing. Not too much. Not too subtle. Brought together at the end, and brutally, elegantly honest. Brilliant acting. I found myself smiling with Natalie Portman, as if encouraging or sharing or participating in her struggles and victories. Her tears are real, her character is real. Her swan is real. Especially in a story of a girl losing herself in a role, acting in this movie is everything, and it is genius. Brilliant directing. Confession, my first Aronofsky film. But I’m impressed. His eye and feel for the story is inherent in every aspect, with a kind of permeance in each nevertheless individually fantastic component, from acting to sound to photography to score to feel.

This movie did it right. Like putting the pieces of a 4D puzzle together, spatially, temporally; this was a prime time for Aronofsky to make this movie. Following the visceral psychological Requiem and the intensely human “sport” film Wrestler, Darren has not only been building to a supernaturally inclined psychological thriller, but a – key point – critically respected psychological supernatural twisted horrific film.

Thank god.

I’m a huge proponent of the intellectual horror genre. I believe that the depths of consciousness (and equally) the heights, and where those meet at the veil are places intimidating, scary, far beyond us in ways that our own small psyches can’t process in our own small bodies. Lovecraftian. Celestian. Of a fear found looking into the eye of a great squid. Human emotion and the richness of things like love and loss and fear and joy intertwines so elegantly with the unseen world, and that’s really at the heart of my own work, my own passion, and most directly at the heart of this movie.

Early on there’s discussion of losing one’s self in a part, of transcendence through passion, perfection by passion and not technique, of a kind of living beyond the ballet and the form and the dance, blurring a line between expression and the thing itself. For Portman’s Nina Sayers, she must fulfill the role by becoming the Black Swan herself, a seductive, sexy, rebellious character. Everything she herself is not. She plays the White Swan perfectly already, Thomas Leroy, her instructor tells her, timid, reluctant, afraid. Oh, and she’s a little bit nuts. (I would be too with a mother like that.)

And so the premise is laid for the tale to intertwine, to study, to rise above. Psychologies and realities, justifications and unions, masturbation and sex, between two, between one, between selves and something higher, about sacrifice.

There aren’t a lot of answers in the film, but by the end they become clear. There’s ambiguity, but a comfortable one. What’s in her head, what’s not, what’s supernatural, what’s insanity, what’s art and what’s performance and what’s perfection.

The story is the hows.

Truly a study, paralleling the story of Swan Lake, of loss, of gain. This movie is a dance of themes itself, and they’re my themes.

In my short story, Dreamland Crocotta, I play with many very similar issues. A man comes into contact with the darkness as he loses himself and his grips on this material, horizontal world. Things get hard then; the world stops making sense, there’s reality and then there’s unreality and then there’s what’s real beyond these things we touch and feel and call real and we start to see a plane and as we reach for emotion and we touch teardrops and speak to spirits, there comes something more. Can we call it perfection? Can we strive? Can we make art perfect without losing ourselves? Is it blasphemous to ask what it is that we really have lost?

Yes, this movie was tailor-made for me.

Yes, it’s immediately become one of my favorites and deals with those issues that I think each of us as artists, as spiritual investigators, as human beings, should be studying.

And for that alone, yes, you need to see it. And I hope you can appreciate it as much as I did.

The October Collection (part 4)

The children are excited for the night. There is some rush that gives their bloodstream a special energy and they stare eagerly through the windows at the dusk. Vampires wearing gym shorts without cloaks stare through blank window panes at the gray of the twilight. Their hearts race. Their feet dance on the ground with impatience.

Doorbells ring, interrupting toasted cheese and soup dinners, early tricksters arriving on doorsteps. Children strain their necks to see who is there. Parents dish out candy. Anticipation building, they eat their food all the faster in order to journey into the shadows.

Screams and laughter echo through the neighborhoods. The smell of smoke accents the air.

From Hallowtide


Copyright 2010 Karl Pfeiffer