Debunking Paranormal Evidence

My blood boiled as I saw the photo being passed around social media. It came with a caption, “My friends were taking pictures of their house that they just bought  – look what ghost appwas captured in the picture….” In the picture is the figure of a ghost. It’s so obviously a fake, I was surprised anyone would fall for it. When I clicked on the photo, I was flabbergasted at the plethora of comments, most of them congratulating the photographer for the capture.

As technology increases, so does the capacity to provide false information. As a paranormal investigator, I see it time and time again in photos. With the invention of “ghost apps” anyone with a cell phone can create a seemingly paranormal photo in minutes.

Beyond the obvious faked photos are the photos that aren’t altered, but probably aren’t paranormal either. Many people fall for these as well.

As humans, we are programmed to find faces. We see them in clouds and in reflections on windows. The truth is: some people want to find something in a photo. Every time I post a picture of the Haunted Victorian Mansion online, someone finds a face in the window. Chances are, it’s just a reflection. Clouds and bushes have a tendency to look like faces. Everything isn’t a ghost. In fact, most things aren’t paranormal. If you look hard enough, you’ll find the explanation.

Another huge topic regarding ghost photos is the subject of orbs. Are they true ghost pictures or just dust or moisture? This is quite a controversial topic that I plan to handle as gingerly as possible. People are either “orb believers” or they aren’t. There truly isn’t much grey area when it comes to people’s opinion about orbs.

My opinion is that the majority of the orb pictures you see are nothing more than dust or moisture that is catching the light from the flash and making it reflective. The bigger the orb, the closer it was to the camera when the photo was taken. If the orb is a different color, it’s reflecting something nearby that is the same shade. All you need to do to test this yourself is to walk across a room and then snap a picture with the flash on. You’ll see all the orbs you care to capture.

My first experience with orb photography came during a haunted walking tour in Nashville, Tennessee. The guide guaranteed that we would capture a ghost on film. It was even printed in the brochure.

I was intrigued by this, being a brand new investigator. I wasn’t sure how they could guarantee I’d get a paranormal picture, but I was willing to give them the benefit of the doubt to see what happened.

They brought us to the street across from the haunted State House building. The guide waited until the light turned red and then instructed everybody to start snapping pictures. Even as a newbie, this was enough to make me roll my eyes. You could see the dust swirling in the air, kicked up from all the traffic. As it settled, people were getting hundreds of orbs in every picture. The guide congratulated them and they walked away thinking they actually captured something paranormal.

It does make sense that a ghost would take the most conservative shape, which would be an orb-shape. It’s aerodynamic and can move easily around the room. As someone who is sensitive to ghostly energy, I can tell you that ghosts don’t simply walk through the doorway and stand in a corner. They move around the room rapidly, something my cats track as they watch them zipping around. However, with that said, the only way I will believe that an orb photo might be a legitimate ghost is if the photo is taken without use of a flash or if it is captured on video maneuvering around in a manner that separates it from dust and moisture.

mosquito

I have dozens of photos that look ghostly. Case in point is the photograph above. I once investigated with a team who had a similar photo. They proudly displayed it on their website as proof of fairies. I nearly laughed when I saw it, because it is clearly a mosquito caught in the flash.

Don’t believe it because you want to believe it. Only believe it after you’ve ruled out everything else it could be.

Vortex_Column_in_Bedroom_-_small_version

The photo shown above was taken in at the Haunted Victorian Mansion, the subject of my 2014 book Bones in the Basement – Surviving the S.K. Pierce Haunted Victorian Mansion. It was snapped by an investigator from Conscious Spirit Paranormal. I know these ladies personally and know they wouldn’t fudge a photo, which gives it more validity in my eyes.

The photo supposedly shows a portal in the Copper Room. I’ve been in this room many times. In fact, I’ve slept there several times. I can assure you, there’s nothing physical at the foot of the bed that would cause a photo to look like that.

My first thought about the photo was that it was a camera strap hanging down into the photo. Below is a photo of a camera strap in a photo. You can see the ridges of the straps. The images, while not exactly the same, are similar. The only real difference is the fact that the Victorian photo’s vortex image ends before the top of the photo. If it were a camera strap, it would continue through the top of the photo. Just always bear in mind that photos can be misleading. Always take a series of three photos when you’re in a haunted location. That way you can rule out a reasonable explanation.

camera strap

I think most of us want to find something paranormal in our photos from investigations. After all, that’s the primary reason why we’re taking them, besides to document the investigation. In the photo below, a fellow investigator, Pam Howell, took this photo of us standing near my car during a break. There appears to be a strange mist above us. I was quite excited when I saw it, until I realized that I was holding my E-cigarette in the picture. Many argued that an E-cigarette couldn’t produce enough smoke to create that mist, but I still had to throw it out as possible evidence. If there is a possible explanation, then it can’t be used.

Pam's picture of me

Paranormal audio captures, also known as EVPs also have room for debunking, as well. Modern digital recorders are very sensitive. Even the smallest of noises will be recorded and could be misconstrued as a ghostly response.

When I conduct an EVP session, I employ the utmost care. I keep the group small (under 5 people, if possible) and everyone remains seated. I can be quite a dictator during these sessions, but it’s important to monitor the session as closely as possible. No one is allowed to drink beverages, chew gum, snap photos or, God forbid, whisper during one my sessions. If someone’s stomach inadvertently growls or a car drives past, one of us always says aloud “stomach” or “car” so we’ll know later when we review the audio. If you aren’t careful during a session, you might come across something that seems to be paranormal but isn’t. Below is a good example of someone whispering during a session.

https://soundcloud.com/jonimayhan/kitchenette-example-of-whispering

When you listen to it, you’ll hear the faint sound of a voice speaking over mine. What you won’t hear is me saying “whispering” afterwards, while giving the investigator a hard look.

I have a rule that I always follow: when in doubt, throw it out.

I believe that we owe it to the field to only submit the most valid evidence possible. This means keeping the EVPs that might or might not be another investigator burping, and the photos of smudged mirrors to ourselves. We don’t grasp for straws, we just keep trying until we find something worth sharing. I truly wish all investigators followed this rule as well.

For more information about EVPs, please check out my new book Ghost Voices, available on Amazon.com for Kindle or paperback.

Ghost Voices cover

Joni Mayhan is a paranormal investigator and the author of 13 books. Click on any of the covers to learn more about each book.

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Paranormal Debunking

ImageOrbs or dust?

Clouds reflected in the window or ghostly apparitions?

I have a rule that I always follow: when in doubt, throw it out.

I believe that we owe it to the field to only submit the most valid evidence possible. This means keeping the Class C EVPs that may or may not be another investigator burping, and the photos of smudged mirrors to ourselves.  We don’t grasp for straws, we just keep trying until we find something worth sharing. I truly wish all investigators followed this rule as well.

Lately, I’ve been seeing a lot of questionable photos and audio recordings being shared on Facebook. One look and it’s clear to me that, while it looks like a good catch on the surface, there are far too many variables to consider it true evidence. When in doubt, throw it out.

I have dozens of photos that look ghostly.  Case in point is the photograph above. I once investigated with a team who had a similar photo. They proudly displayed it on their website as proof of fairies. I nearly laughed when I saw it, because it is clearly a mosquito caught in the flash.

Orb photos? I have hundreds of them, but you’ll never see them presented as evidence. While it truly makes sense that the most practical shape for a ghost to take is a round circle, most of what you see is dust and moisture reflected against the flash. The bigger the orb, the closer it was to the camera when the photo was taken. The only exception I will make is if I actually saw the orb, or light anomaly, with my own eyes. Below is an example of this.

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I captured this photo at the Haunted Victorian Mansion, my favorite haunted house. In 2012 I brought my sister and her kids for a quick tour when they were in town visiting. My niece, Lily, sat on the stairs for a photo. Right before I snapped the photo, I saw a ball of light move across the front of her. Considering this location is highly active, I would consider this interesting, but I still wouldn’t consider it evidence. There are too many variables that could come into play. Could it have been a flash of light coming through the window? Could it have been a glare from someone’s flashlight? I don’t think so, but it’s still possible.

The photo below isn’t one of mine. I found it on Google images. Is it an apparition, reaching through the frame to touch this young man’s heart? No. It’s a camera strap. You can determine this by the weaved pattern of the object. Stray hairs have a similar appearance in photos.

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Do you see a face in the window in the photo below? Our eyes are programmed to look for faces. It’s called pareidolia, or more commonly known as “matrixing.” This is the same phenomenon that causes us to see faces in clouds, or the man on the moon. It’s also very popular with amateur ghost hunters. Many times, the face will be circled so it can be easily seen.

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The same theory should go for EVPs as well. We are always careful during EVP sessions. If someone’s stomach growls, one of us will say “stomach” out loud, so we’ll understand later and not confuse the sound with a demon roar. Whispers are also marked, as are traffic noises, and chair squeaks.

While we were at Rose Island Lighthouse investigating, we recorded the sounds of seagulls in nearly every session. If you listen closely, it sounds like a person crying or a baby saying “mama”. And yes, that was a deliberate dig to a popular ghost hunting show who presented that very sound as evidence.

If a door is known to slam on its own, test it. When we investigated the Concord Colonial Inn, it was reported that the door in Room 24 often closed on its own. The same ghost hunting show also presented it as evidence. We quickly found out that the doors are actually hinged to close on their own for security reasons.

Using your EMF detectors, scan the location for high electromagnetic spikes. Common household appliances, such as microwaves, alarm clocks, and ceiling fans have been known to throw a ton of electromagnetic energy into the immediate vicinity. If someone spends ample time there, they will probably feel the effects, which include paranoia, the feeling of being watched, and hallucinations.

As a field, we owe it to the world and to each other to be as accurate as possible. When we post things that are questionable, we cast a shady light on everyone else who investigates the paranormal.  We aren’t in this to get the most “likes” on Facebook or to have our stories told on a television show. We are here to find answers, to help people, and to help the ghosts as well.

My second rule of thumb? Do no harm.

Joni Mayhan

Joni Mayhan is a paranormal investigator, as well as a free-lance writer. Please check out her paranormal thrillers on Amazon.com and BarnesandNobles.com. For more information about the author, please see her website: Jonimayhan.com

The Soul Collector – The true story of one paranormal investigator’s worst nightmare

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Angels of Ember trilogy – After a devastating virus nearly wipes the world clean of people, 16 year-old Ember Pain grows tired of running and hiding from the bad men who hunt her and her younger sister, Elizabeth. Fighting back becomes a necessity, even if it threatens her very life.

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 Lightning Strikes

Ember Rain

Angel Storm