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The Love Song of Ardis J. Stembridge

No! I am not Prince Hamlet, nor was meant to be;
Am an attendant lord, one that will do
To swell a progress, start a scene or two...

--T.S. Eliot, The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock, Prufrock and Other Observations, 1917

I have ghost hunting on the brain lately. In my last Medusa's Ladder piece, I reflected on the element of evil, specifically the devil, hell and demons within the paranormal and ghostly realm. Regan Lee followed suit with her own take on these ideas in her column. And since then, I've been noticing how pervasive it all is. Not only is traditional religion historically, and now, modernly interwoven into the fabric of the ghost tapestry--the entire ghost hunting tableaux is most definitely in the process of developing its own independent religious-style mythos.

In the past, I have written articles about the developing mythos and trickster qualities of the Ouija Board--that black sheep, that sacrificial son of the paranormal world. A simple internet search on Ouija will turn up hundreds of similar (many exact) canned, rehashings warning of the dangers and evil of the dastardly board: it's not a toy; it opens an uncontrollable portal for lower elementals; the planchette may move around by itself; etc. After reading a dozen or so of these web pages, it's clear the standard Ouija Board story is firmly in place.

And now, after several years in the popcult limelight, the story of the current darling of the paranormal--ghost hunting--seems to likewise be stuck in its final limbo. Just a few of its story features: some spirits are trapped on the earth plane because of unfinished business, or an unwillingness to go into the light, “sensitives” or psychics can be utilized to help the spirits, there are several possible ypes of entities linked to hauntings (poltergeists, demons, spirits, etc.,) some places contain portals or vortexes linked with the spirit world, sage wands cleanse negative energies, etc.

It goes on and on, and it is apparently information gathered and reported, promoted by investigators, psychics, and writers. Whatever the case, and regardless of its truth or fictive qualities, it seems to be the commonly agreed upon ghost hunting mythos. I look upon it as pure text, and for my interests, I'm not so concerned with its tangible truth. But what of those who are--believers? Is this not the end to investigation--with all this knowledge and explanation, even remedy at hand?

So, if one comes to ghost hunting with such assumptions and preconceived beliefs, is the effort really much more than adventure-seeking, or pure amusement or thrill? The story is set, so what is there to prove, and to whom? Discovering, seeing, or sensing a ghost would seem to be the point. Not that there's anything wrong with that. Maybe not, that is.

Every now and then, a "ghost hunter manifesto" type of article emerges in a prominent forum. I'm always eager to read it, thinking it may address some of my own personal issues and problems with the subject. Rarely, if ever, does it. They are usually on the order of calls for professionalism, unity, protocol, and so forth. I'm not a ghost hunter, so I cannot change my ghost hunting ways.

Enter Ardis J. Stembridge and his excellent article, The Paranormal Paradigm Shift in the May edition of FATE magazine. I came across it while flipping through the magazine; I found sections of it with heading such as "orbs," "psychics," and "ectoplasmic mists." The same old song, I thought. It's a wonder I even gave it another glance, but the article's subtitle hooked me in: A Letter to Paranormal Researchers Everywhere. I'm no paranormal researcher, but this is the article (perhaps that manifesto, even) that I've been hoping for.

Stembridge manages to articulate precisely the problem I have sensed all along in one sentence. In addressing the role of "sensitives" or psychics within a ghost investigation, he argues, "What sense does it make to use one unproven theory to prove another unproven theory?" Rock on, Ardis J. Stembridge; that's it exactly. And although he's referring here to sensitives and psychics, many other tools and assumptions associated with ghost hunting would be subject to this same reasoning.

The undoing and rankling of many ghost hunting aficionados and investigators is palatable here--it's the great subtext of the article. Stembridge can taste it too; in fact, he actually addresses it and states he hopes to cause a rift in the paranormal community. His central effort seems to be to stop hobby and amateur ghost hunter groups from messing it all up for the "real" investigators. So, this rift would assumingly be betwixt hobbyists and professionals. But, are those lines so clear?

I see the real rift forming between those who have a personal investment in those "unproven theories" Stembridge has waylaid, and those who don't. Ghost hunting has become sacred territory; a forum in which people can partake of the mythos and deliver and receive spiritual knowledge, partake of an interesting subculture, and simply belong to something. Identity and meaning are wrapped up in it.

Belief abouds in the haunted arena; it is akin to religion. Perhaps it is a religion now. So once again, and quite unsurprisingly, the chasm forms between religion and science, faith and logic, subjectivity and objectivity, and on and on, and we have a familiar battle. And students of esoterica may recognize the most interesting things may be found between the opposing sides, in that forming chasm itself.


The Paranormal Paradigm Shift, FATE Magazine, May 2008

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