Hayley is a Ghost

Posts Tagged ‘paranormal

Back in February I was on a panel with Professor Chris French and Trystan Swale at the QED conference in Manchester. The panel was called ‘Ghost Investigations Today’ and that was exactly what we were talking about.

The QED team have made the talk available via Youtube and it can be watched below. I cannot watch myself talk so I have no idea what it’s like. I was great fun though and I just want to say thanks again to Mike, Marsh, Janis, Andy, Rick and the rest of the team for the chance to take part. I can’t wait until QED in March.

Photo credit: Gammy


After my blog post yesterday about how some ghost hunters were behaving irrationally over the recent discovery of a buried cottage at Pendle Hill I thought it only right to let those I mentioned by name know I had done so. I think it’s good blogging etiquette to do so.

In response, Don Philip has posted on his Facebook wall that I am

“A young lady trying to make a name for herself”

I would like to point out that if there is anything I have made a name for myself through, it is being open minded in my approach to paranormal research. I am willing to point out when I am wrong, and I learn new things all the time and change my beliefs and opinions as new facts become available. My main aim with my paranormal research is, and always has been, to learn more about the reality behind these experiences. This is something I have continued to achieve year after year. I have just enrolled on two courses with the Open University, with whom I am working towards a BSc Psychology degree in the hope that I can learn even more about the way in which people think, believe and perceive.

I am simply curious, and this curiosity has led me to experience the strange world of paranormal research through the eyes of a naïve believer who grew and evolved into a fact seeking, lesson learning skeptical researcher.

That’s why I am invited to speak at events all over the place. That could seem like an appeal to authority but it isn’t. Me speaking at events isn’t what makes me a good researcher – my constant research, fact checking and self questioning is what makes me a good researcher.

It’s also why I’m asked to contribute to research by others.

For example, I was once asked by Professor Chris French to review some footage that he’d been asked onto a UK television show to give a skeptical opinion on. He asked for my opinion because he isn’t a field based ex-ghost hunter. The footage was from an investigation conducted by a paranormal team called G.S.I – their founder, Don Philip.

The footage in question, as shown below, shows Don taking temperature readings in a room and asking a ghost to make the reading change. Over time it does. This is attributed to a spirit/ghost.

Watch from the 3 minute mark.

I was able to explain to Chris that the reason the temperature was changing is not because a ghost is present, but because Don was using the equipment incorrectly, or without knowing what the readings the thermometer takes mean. The model he uses is a laser thermometer that measures surface temperature. Don is waving it all around the room meaning that the device cannot measure on specific point as it is designed to do so.

I am able to offer such advice and spot such mistakes because I am open minded and I have learnt – and continue to learn, from those around me who conduct rational research into paranormal phenomena. It’s easy and lazy to apply a paranormal cause to something that looks a bit odd, especially when it only looks a bit odd because you simply haven’t bothered to work out how to use the device in question.

Dons accusation that I am trying to make a name by criticising him is wrong, it smacks of a diversion tactic because he doesn’t have an answer regarding the things I spoke of in the original blog post about illogical ghost chasing based on nothing but folklore stories. Prove me wrong though, Don. Defend your decisions and your methods… if you can.

A follow on to this post: Leave the ghosts alone part II

I don’t believe in ghosts because of the lack of supporting evidence. I also don’t know what a ghost is because of the lack of supporting evidence for any one particular definition (and there are many definitions.)

One thing I am certain of is that the majority of people who go ghost hunting believe they are communicating with the ‘spirits’ of the deceased. It’s evident in the apparent conversations they hold with what they think are spirits.

This raises numerous problems. The biggest problem being that most ghost hunters are being disrespectful and unethical with their intentions to communicate with the dead.

I have had this problem with ghost hunting for a long time, ever since I first realised in 2007 that I was acting unethically. I’m writing about it now because today an article over at The Guardian about the discovery of a buried cottage and entombed cat discovered in the Pendle Hill area has brought out the Yvette Fielding wannabe’s, who are drooling over the potential of chasing the ghost of a witch.

It’s strange behaviour considering that no paranormal activity has been reported at this discovery – and the only thing to link it to a ghost is outdated and inaccurate folklore. To investigate such a thing as a ‘paranormal researcher’ is illogical.

Pendle Hill has long been a focus for ghost hunting groups because of the folklore and the infamous witch trials and executions that took place there.

I don’t know how the two examples, Don Philip and Richard Case, operate and the ways in which they work – but the fact they’re investigating a ‘case’ where there’s nothing to investigate calls into question why they’re even bothering and is an excellent example of the eagerness of thrill seeking ghost hunters to jump on the potential of a spooky story simply because of associated folklore.

It’s not just that though. Many other teams and individuals (not necessarily the two mentioned above – I don’t know…), go crawling all over Pendle Hill trying to challenge the ghosts of the witches to do something to them in vain acts of ghost hunter bravado. It’s horrible, especially when you consider the fact that the majority of them truly believe they are speaking to the spirits of the deceased.

Even though they’re being illogical they’re also being extremely disrespectful and their behaviour borders on unethical, and that’s the bigger problem.

I used to behave in a similar manner… when I was 18 and 19. Then I grew up and stopped trying to be some sort of paranormal super hero. It’s not okay to behave this way, the potential thrill and confirmation bias is not worth more than some respect for the deceased and their surviving family. It is not worth more than the ethical behaviour a ghost hunter owes the location owner and those they are misleading through their behaviour.

I do not believe that the spirits of the so-called witches are still on Pendle Hill. I do not believe they do exist, I do not believe they can exist, but those who go looking for them do. I think there is something very wrong with this behaviour – to pursue what you genuinely believe is the earth-bound spirit of a person who was executed, or died in such horrendous circumstances for no real crime is horrid. To taunt them and challenge them is even worse. It doesn’t make you very special. In fact, I think it makes you a bit of a coward.

Not only that, but it makes potentially makes you a closed minded and illogical researcher. 

If you genuinely believe that the spirit of a deceased person is still here they should be left to rest in peace, or at least treated in a respectful manner.

Leave the ghosts alone. 

Today a Ghost Laser Grid pen arrived in the post and I have to admit it’s a pretty awesome little laser pen and quite fun to play with, however, as I’ve blogged before, this is really useless as a paranormal research gadget. Rather than turning the lights off and putting a ghost laser grid pen on in the room so that you might see some ghosts, just keep the lights on. It makes much more sense.

To see the video results click here.

So I conquered a castle. As you do. It felt like I did, or at least that a lot of energy was put into getting to the castle which I see as equal to conquering it – even though I wasn’t invading as such.

It was a 3 mile walk, okay? It took 1 hour and 15 minutes to get there and it was “enjoyable” (or so I’m told. I didn’t find that part enjoyable, but rather, painful due to a sore leg and heavy handbag.) I had been told by Ashley Pryce that there was a bus to the castle that we could jump on from the train station in North Berwick, but there wasn’t. Hmmph.

I was with Ash, Keir Liddle from Edinburgh Skeptics, and Adam Cuerdan whom I have often spoken to online, and although it was painful to walk the whole 3 miles along pavements, roads and grassy banks, it was pretty stunning to look out over the coast the whole way (except that bit where Keir took us on a detour around some tennis courts for some reason…). I also nearly wet myself at one point when Ash decided to leap into oncoming traffic to save his bottle of coca cola. That’s another story though.

Cake box

Thank you, Adam!

We soon arrived at the castle and all was forgiven as we sat down for a cake break (you all have those, right?). Adam had provided the most delicious cakes and we used them to replenish our energy and moods before descending on the castle to see if we could recreate the famous Tantallon Castle Ghost photo.

the original photo showing a figure looking down at the photographer from a higher up doorway

For those who don’t know, the Tantallon ghost photo was taken by a visitor to the castle who caught something in one of the upper exposed doorways that he hadn’t remembered seeing at the time. Unsure of what it was he asked for other opinions and this soon snowballed into a ghost story.

Tantallon castle is stunning, with stunning views of the sea and surrounding coast. As we arrived at the castle there were strong winds and a hint of rain and a sky that was growing moodier by the second – it was the perfect weather for visiting a castle to investigate a ghost.

The picture certainly captured the imagination of many and Professor Richard Wiseman has written a great piece here about his exploration into the ghost. Richard was able to recreate the photo by kneeling next to the safety rail/grating up there, but many say that this wasn’t a perfect recreation as he was kneeling when the original ‘thing’ wasn’t.

One hypothesis is that it’s a person who was walking past the doorway at the time the photo was taken, and another is that it’s exposed brickwork causing an illusion as the sunlight shines onto it from another light source – perhaps from behind or to the side.

A photo of the stone work present on the back wall of the landing area. Shows rough and smooth stones of different sizes with different textures that some claim caused an illusion in the original ghost photo.

A photo showing the view down from the landing area in which an apparent ghost was photographed. It shows the lower level of the castle from where the original photo was taken, with the metal safety grill in view.

Having explored the area in which the ‘ghost’ was photographed I can see the possibility that it could be the light hitting the stone work. There are two doorways that lead into that little landing area, and the staircase carries on up to the next level, and half way up these stairs is a window.

I couldn’t work out which stones could cause the illusion though, but I know that’s the problem with such illusions – it’s hard to work out what is causing them sometimes.

Anyway, we decided to explore the other hypothesis too and Adam climbed up to the level the ‘ghost’ was photographed on, as the rest of us stayed on the ground floor. As Adam was wearing a dark coat and hat he soon faded into the shadows and it was easy to see how someone could be mistaken for something odd had you not known they were there. The picture below shows Adam, it is blurred as it is a still from the video further down – and although not in the exact position the ‘ghost’ was in, in the original photo, I think there is a likeness.

A still from footage shot by the group at Tantallon castle. A grainy image, but it does show Adam on the landing above, looking similar to the alleged ghost.

Ash Pryce filmed the recreation and you can watch it below. I am recording audio on my Iphone throughout, in case you wondered why I’m holding on to it so much – I’m not showing it off, honest!

When Professor Wiseman conducted his recreation he knelt on the floor and people claimed that it wasn’t a true recreation of the ‘apparition’ which suggested it being a person was maybe not as likely. However, with the recreation we conducted while at the castle I think that it is likely that it was a person walking past that area. Had Wiseman stood further back on the landing it would have created the same effect.

I am not convinced that the original photo contains anything paranormal – and it appears that those from the castle and nearby are of a similar opinion – interestingly, talking to those who have studied the photo previously to my visit there, the person who took the original photo didn’t think it was a ghost either.

The pareidolia hypothesis is still valid, in my opinion, and cannot be ruled out unless the landing area is observed in various weather conditions throughout the day to see the sort of light being cast against those stones. However, after seeing Adam up on the landing I do think it is more likely that a tourist was passing through the landing area and out through the door to the left of the window, that leads to an outside area of the castle.

If you get to visit Tantallon castle then you should do so. It’s certainly a beautiful place with stunning views. I miss it already.

Thank you to the Edinburgh Skeptics for making the visit possible.

A photo taken by Hayley on her walk to Tantallon from the road. It shows the almost red castle in the distance, sitting in front of it is a large golden field of crops with a moody sky above.

Suddenly the countdown to Halloween is upon us and I’m vaguely aware of the fact that I’ve been planning for this month for a long time because of the various talks I have coming up. However this week is the week in which my first October talks take place and I’m all awash with excitement and pure terror.

I’ve planned for months to refresh my ‘skeptics in the pub’ talk to include newer content and to take feedback from past talks I’ve done and improve the whole thing. Yet, like always, I’ve left it to the last minute to actually implement the changes. I guess I must have known it would happen because I booked this whole week off of work so that I could ‘prep for halloween’ – it’s a good job my employers know about the paranormal research thing I do or they’d think I was a bit odd. Actually, they probably think that anyway but that’s swings and roundabouts…

On Wednesday I am travelling to Edinburgh as I am speaking for Edinburgh Skeptics in the Pub on Thursday – my talk is actually taking place inside the part of the vaults apparently, which has this ghost geek hugely excited. I’m then hanging around in Edinburgh until Saturday morning when I shall travel home again – there is a lot I want to see in the city and this is the perfect chance to do so.

Cork Skeptics PosterWhile I am there though, I will be giving another talk on Friday, this time for the Cork Skeptics via the wonder of Skype. Along with Ashley Pryce and Patrick Fisher the talk will cover all sorts of weird and wonderful things that sit under the term ‘paranormal’. The coolest part though is that we’re doing it via Skype while the attendees are sitting in a castle. They have frickin ‘Skeptics in the Pub’ not in a pub but in a frickin castle! Also, check out the poster. Just…. just check it out >>

Then I’ll be back at work, but the Halloween fun doesn’t stop there – oh gosh no, gosh no indeed! For on the 27th I will be zooming across to Bristol to deliver a talk to the lovely Bristol Skeptics in the Pub people. It will be the second talk I’ve done for them. They were the second group I ever spoke for so I figure I do owe them a talk in which I actually make sense and don’t look like a deer caught in headlights…

Oddly enough, they’ve completely sold out of their tickets already which makes me wonder if there is another Hayley Stevens involved in paranormal research who they’re expecting. Awesomely, their talks take place in a theatre! A THEATRE!

Okay, I’m pretty sure it’s in the bar area or greenroom area or something, but still, a theatre… how haunted is that place going to be?!*
Someone will be live tweeting the event – I don’t know the hashtag yet, but if you check my twitter feed on October 27th I’ll be sure to tweet what the hashtag is so that you can follow it.

Then comes the talk that I am REALLY LOOKING FORWARDS TO which will be taking place in Westminster for Westminster Skeptics in the Pub on October 31st – the night of all nights for any self respecting ghost geek. There are people attending the talk who I am really looking forwards to meeting – in some cases for the first time, in other cases, for the second time.

I have been told that my talk may be made available online shortly after it is finished on the evening of Halloween. This includes my slides – so if you’re one of those lovely people I talk to who aren’t from the UK, or are but have never seen my talk and are always telling me to come and talk for you, this is a great chance to watch and hear my talk on Halloween! how fun is that?! The good thing is that my talk is always changing – the talk I did for Oxford Skeptics was different than the one I did for Birmingham Skeptics, which was different for Newcastle and so on… so even if you’ve seen my talk before, you might still find it interesting!**

I don’t know the technicalities of how that’s going to work, or even if it is definitely happening – but I was asked if it would be okay and I thought it was an awesome idea. When I do find out I will blog about the details.

So, yes. Today I have locked myself in my room and set myself the task of finishing off my slides and working out if I’m allowed to take the Ghostbox on a flight or not.

In other news, the winner of the first Free QED ticket was Alex Gray. The others winners will be drawn on October 31st.

*not very, I expect…
** or you could go to the pub

Recently I was interviewed, amoung other things, about Project Barnum by the lovely Kylie Sturgess who I had the pleasure to meet briefly at QEDcon in Manchester earlier this year. Kylie is the host of the Token Skeptic Podcast and I can be heard on episode 79.

Also this week, the guys at Sceptici.ro released the interview they did with me during Denkfest in Zurich last month in which I talk about paranormal research, weird beliefs and more. I’ve embedded the video below and a transcribed (and translated) version will be available via their website here.

Watch their other interviews (including a two part interview with the Dr Eugenie Scott) here.

It’s just two weeks until I travel to Edinburgh to talk to Edinburgh Skeptics in the Pub. I’m hugely excited because in days gone by, when I used to be a Most Haunted fan and got spooked by my own shadow, Edinburgh was the one place I always wanted to visit because of its ghosts and folklore and I’M GOING! While there I hope to be able to visit some of the places that have always fascinated me, such as the Edinburgh vaults.

Following that I’ll be revisiting friends at Bristol Skeptics in the Pub on October 27th and then onto Westminster Skeptics in the Pub for Halloween.

For details of my upcoming October talks check out the ‘talks & things’ page on my website.

Apart from that, the only other thing I really have to say is please, please, please keep your donations coming in to me to go towards the cost of tickets to QEDcon next March for skeptics who are on low incomes and cannot afford to attend.

If you are interested in one of the free tickets I have already raised funds for (yay!) then please fill in your details below and you will be entered into a random name drawing in a couple of weeks time! This application round will close in one weeks time [October 13th at 22:00]

Don’t need a free ticket? Consider donating what you can to help others go. The next few people to donate over £10 win a Glow in the dark Placebo Band. 

Hayley is a ghost

Hayley Stevens is an advocate for science-based research into seemingly paranormal experiences and occurrences. With a background in the pseudo-scientific research into ghosts, Hayley offers a unique insight into the strange world of ghost hunting through her experience.

She describes herself as 'a ghost hunter who doesn't hunt for ghosts' and this is her personal blog where she writes about ghosts, people, and other interesting things. Read more here.

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