The Shady Side of Ghost Hunting
As I have covered thoroughly in my article Getting Started Ghost Hunting or Paranormal Investigating, there are a multitude of groups in operation with all manner of different perspectives toward the paranormal. Over the last several years I have had the privilege to work with a few organizations before I found one that I felt most closely fit my own investigation objectives. Of all the groups I worked with there was one in particular that left me with a very bad taste. Here I will keep the anonymity of the subjects I have worked with, and to be fair I would like to clarify that this particular group of which I mention, was one of many. My intent is not to generalize, or demonize, but to educate others of some of the things to look out for. If any of the following signs present themselves I would recommend finding a new group. Ethical behavior is not just for big business.
Ghost Hunting 101
In my early days beginning to explore paranormal investigating a very wise long time Ghost Hunter in my area, of whom I have the utmost respect, referred me to another high profile ghost hunter whom was teaching classes at the time. I was referred to this new individual whom I will call, Bingo when referencing in this article, because he was using more technology in his investigation techniques, since this was something that interested me I thought it would be a great next step.
I signed up for the class and at first it seemed that I was in the right place. The class began with instructor introduction, and a presentation of photos & EVP that Bingo had collected on investigations with his group. Some oddities showed up in that first class which I wrote off as quirkiness at the time but in hindsight I can see it was part of the overall character of Bingo showing up. In his presentation Bingo went over some standard guidelines of legitimate investigation groups like;
- You should not have to pay to be part of an investigation aside from fees that may be involved in having access to a location.
- A group should never charge a client to investigate.
- It is beneficial to have respect for, and cooperate with other groups in the paranormal community.
- Always make sure you have permission to get into a location from the appropriate people.
- Present yourself in a professional manner.
All of the rules seemed to be fair legitimate and upstanding, not in opposition to anything I had previously learned. OK, I was listening.
Bingo went on to tell us about some of the general social norms of being part of an investigation group, one item he highlighted was that he never left a group no matter what. He would make sure that he stayed with them at all costs, much like the analogy of the captain who goes down with the ship.
He also made some statements about swearing which certainly got my attention, as I have a tendency to pop in the occasional expletive here and there. He said that he would kick any investigator off a hunt if he heard them swearing... Strangely just moments before when he was presenting his EVP's he swore a number of times, and he proudly repeated one of those swears that I, even as a very practiced user of the profane, did not and do not use, (I'll bet if you think about it you can guess which one) keep in mind this was a community class presented through the school district. (This was one of those quirky things of which I mentioned earlier).
More noted quirkiness; Bingo brought up religion with great enthusiasm several times, he would present himself as being highly devout within the local predominant religion, and then two statements later he would say something incredibly opposing of the religious beliefs he had mentioned. The items of quirkiness did not have much bearing on the ghost hunting itself but I believe were some red flags on character that I should have put a little more stock into at the time.
In that class proper use of common ghost hunting instruments was also covered.
- Voice recorders were covered extensively, reiterating many of the same guidelines that I highlight in Best Way to Conduct an EVP Session. Keeping the group small, knowing where everyone is, no whispering etc. And quite a bit on recommended recorders and audio software for review.
- K-2 meters were discussed in length, particularly the fact that when a K-2 is used it should never be used as a hand held device.
- Using cameras was covered, many of the guidelines similar to those of using the voice recorder.
- EMF meters, when and how to use them.
- The use of different Tools for temperature measurement.
All of this seemed very on the level approaching the end of the class.
Setting out the bait.
In the closing of the first class Bingo mentioned that his organization did not have any open spots for new members but they did offer special guest memberships of different levels. He let us know that if we wanted to we could be one of these guest members, level 1, 2, or 3. Each level allowed for different amounts of participation with his group, I can no longer remember what constituted each level but I do know that I wanted more than anything to participate, and the level 3 membership sounded like it was right up my alley. Level 3 would be able to participate in 3 investigations with Bingo's group and go on one exclusive small residential investigation with his core group all for a mere $80.00. It was stated that the $80.00 went toward the equipment that the group would provide and covering any costs associated with the location, and you would also get and official T-shirt with his group logo. I was not too excited about the T-shirt, and I did wonder about the cost for a minute, but based on what how he explained and justified his costs as covering equipment and essential fees, I talked myself into becoming a Level 3 member for the small fee of $80.00.
After all Bingo had just presented guidelines for legitimate ghost hunting, backed by his many years of expert experience who was I to question.
Back to Class
The class I was attending had a total of three hunts included in it. they were short 2 or 3 hour jaunts but none the I expected they would less provide valuable experience. The following week we were supposed to go on the first of these three hunts at a local cemetery, I found my way to the location, and recognized that it was a cold winter's evening but I knew going into this that the elements were going to be one of the hazards to recon with. I made sure to dress properly for the occasion and I knew it was only a couple hours so we should be fine.
As the group arrived it was noted that several of the classmates that had attended the 1st class had already opted out. It ended up being myself and one other couple left in the class along with Bingo our fearless leader. Bingo arrived and walked us through history, and reports of the location. He then told us that we were free to explore and conduct EVP, take pictures, take readings, and the like. So we began to do so. Bingo walked around for about 5 minutes or so and then came to us and said that he needed to leave because he was not feeling well. He promptly did just that, leaving 3 fresh faced ghost hunters alone in a cemetery in the cold.
Wait a minute! Wasn't the leader supposed to stick with the group, no matter what?
Well maybe he really was sick, it's hard to stand around out in the cold if your not feeling well. Ok, I guess I can let this go, or so I thought...
The Next Location
The next location was another cemetery, but one that was much more remote. It was a historical site and no longer an active cemetery. This one was really cool and the outside conditions were great with great lighting from the moon and fair weather for the time of year. Bingo stuck this one out completely too, he actually walked us around to some areas where he claimed there had been previous activity. There was a stories about his past experiences that were quite fascinating, and considerable mention of a book that was in progress. There was also a significant amount of extreme political and religious opinions randomly, inserted into almost every discussion (more quirkiness) followed by some disclaimer about Bingo just being Bingo. To top it off there was great mention of other local paranormal groups, and how they were trying to make Bingo look bad.
What of cooperating with local groups? Hmmm... Was this more quirkiness or was something wrong here?
The last class hunt had to be cancelled due to dangerous weather conditions, so Bingo offered that all of us could go on a hunt with his group and it would not count against those included in our memberships (my classmates bought in too). Bingo invited us to subscribe to his group's social networking site to receive updates and keep in communication.
Taking Bingo up on this I soon found that keeping in communication meant dozens of daily posted rants about politics, religion, people that were picking on Bingo, and updates on upcoming hunts. It was a lot of Bingo all day.
Back to the gratis hunt that was offered in place of our cancelled last class; that ended up coming to pass. It was held at an old run down warehouse. As everyone gathered to prepare for the evening Bingo began to announce that he had voice recorders available, TO RENT at $10.00, for the evening.
What happened to covering equipment costs with membership fees and such?
It ended up that here were soooo many people there at least 50 or so. There were people running around outside living it up taking pics, war hooping, it was like Mardi Gras. In spite of it all Bingo took a few of us at a time to do a "serious" EVP session in a designated area. Interestingly during the EVP session Bingo sat in the center of us with his K-2 meter, IN HIS HAND... He was astonishingly getting flashes of light in, on cue, in response to everyone's questions.
I may be a little bit of a dummy, but with this K-2 business I was clearly witnessing a blatant violation, I could even hear the button clicking as he pressed it down on top of the device. I did not say anything because suddenly the one of the women in our group started having a highly emotional reaction to what was going on, I did however take critical note of what I saw. This was turning from quirky to downright deceptive.
What is really on the Video?
The Final Straws.
After that night at the warehouse I had some serious doubts about Bingo, but always being one to avoid jumping to conclusion I tried everything possible to make sure that I was not seeing or hearing things, again I just added this to the mounting Bingo list that I had been compiling at the back of my mind.
Then an announcement came up for another hunt amidst the social network opinion column by Bingo. The location was cool and I still had my entirely unused Level 3 membership. Well I emailed Bingo immediately that I wished to used my paid membership to attend this hunt, and then I waited... and waited... and waited... Maybe there was a malfunction with my message. I checked and double checked, it all appeared to have worked. I sent another message letting him know that I had previously sent one but had not heard anything back. Bingo then replied, and said he had not received the last message, but I would only be able to go on the hunt in question if I paid another $45.00 because this location had additional charges associated with it. Needless to say, I was not going for that, so I declined the fabulous opportunity. After that there were several more potential hunts posted, and several more times I had similar mysterious communication problems when trying to contact Bingo, and several times more I was told that my membership did not apply to the hunt in which I was interested.
One day a hunt was posted that I was able to use my membership for, it was the same historical cemetery I had previously been with the class. I had a couple of friends that were also interested in going and I figured maybe I could use all of my membership hunts for them since they were no good for anything else, and be done with the whole thing. Well you may have guessed that my membership was only good for me and my friends would have to pay to attend. Since my freinds really wanted to go they paid.
I attended this hunt being now more experienced, Having found others to hunt with outside of Bingo's questionable circle. I now had my own equipment, a K-2, EMF, voice recorder, and camera. I knew how to use all of these devices properly as well and knew what they were capable of in the case that I did not. The K-2 in particular is a device that I knew would light up when the button was pushed, or if it was bumped around, this is exactly why it should never be used as a handheld device during and investigation.
Anyhow I took my group of friends to this location having paid to play, and was basically left to be the tour guide and teacher as Bingo planted his great self upon a lawn chair to noisily crack wise, and preach his head spinning opinionated philosophy to anybody willing to listen. I had heard more than my share by that time and had no interest in the world according to Bingo. To top it all off I was ever so appreciative of having the ever present peanut gallery in the background of any attempts at EVP.
At some point Bingo made an attempt to mingle, and approached my group of friends and I standing around a hole in the ground that had caught our attention. Bingo approached and told us some story about the hole, which I am fairly sure was fabricated, he then pulled out his K-2 and suggested we start an EVP session. We did so and just like the evening at the warehouse Bingo's K-2 started speaking from the beyond. Since I had waited for countless hours to see my K-2 respond to anything (which Bingo did not know I had) I walked over next to him and set my K-2 down right next to him, and pointed out how strange it was that his was responding but my meter had no reaction. The EVP session ended fairly abruptly after that and Bingo went back to his human parking spot for the remainder of the evening. As soon as he was out of ear shot my friends commented about how it was ever so obvious that Bingo was pressing the button of the K-2 to give the impression of a reaction to questions.
In spite of it all my friends and I enjoyed the rest of our evening, and I was now completely convinced that Bingo was faking evidence.
Ethics in Ghost Hunting according to Thoughthole
After having dealt with Bingo's bi polar circus of deception for as long as I could stand, I finally just gave up and let him have the unused portion of my $80.00 that I had so willingly handed off amidst my over exuberance to take part in the paranormal. Bingo had obviously keyed into the power of peoples personal desires to take part in investigations, I have since encountered several people that had nearly identical experiences with Bingo, they too eagerly took the bait.
I learned a great deal from this interaction. From this experience I am able to clearly see why there are guidelines for ghost hunting, even though Bingo took those guidelines to a whole new hypocritical level.
After later having the good fortune to investigate with groups that have a great deal more integrity, and myself organizing investigations I have an even better view of just how deceitful Bingo was.
- The historical cemetery, and most cemeteries for that matter, have no cost whatsoever associated with visiting. Some may require getting permission to be there after hours but that is about it. What was Bingo charging us for?
- Paranormal investigators fund their own habit! Most investigators I know myself included buy our own equipment. On occasion a group might invest in a more expensive piece of equipment, but for the most part we take care of ourselves. Cost's associated with equipment are bogus. What was Bingo charging for? Don't forget he was also charging people to rent recorders, to boot.
- The most knowledgeable people who give tours and history of a location are employees, or caretakers of that location. These people are very helpful and go out of their way to stay with investigators after hours. These people deserve reasonable compensation for their efforts. Fellow investigators are just that, they donate their time and effort to their own interests voluntarily, investigators should not be paid anything, the payment is taking part. What was Bingo charging for?
It appears in hindsight that Bingo was charging to grace people with his majestic presence. He produced feeble attempts to manufacture an experience in order to make it all more valuable. Was this a business? If so it had some seriously shoddy customer service.
It could be that what Bingo was selling entertainment and he was just not very good at it . I am all for entertainment, but my point is this: If you are shtick is paranormal entertainment then it should be marketed as exactly that. Presenting yourself as a legitimate researcher of the paranormal, and citing credentials, experience, and evidence that put you in that position purposefully create an impression that you are on the level, you respect the field you are in, you respect the subject, and you respect those with similar interests. Faking evidence under the cloak of being a trustworthy expert only serves to damage the entire community, pushing back the progress of all of those who really do put their hearts into what their doing, and casting a great shadow of doubt upon us all.
It is unethical to charge for investigations toward financial gain, and it is despicable to fake evidence.
To all of the aspiring investigators out there: Be sure to keep your head about you at all times. Take my example as a lesson to avoid excitement from overriding logic.
And finally to Bingo: Where's my dahm T-shirt?