Liverpool-based guest writer STEVE PARSONS tells us why he’s proud to call himself a ghost hunter and how he developed his career in paranormal research…
It almost seems an essential part of creating a personal bio to link your interest to some childhood experience, encountering a ghost almost as soon as one popped out of the womb or spending your formative years being terrified by a shadowy demon. But for me I have no such recollections, although as I discovered a few years ago that doesn’t mean that I apparently had my share of experiences.
I think everyone loves to read about ghosts or watch a scary movie and I grew up with Rent-A-Ghost, Scooby Doo and of course the Charles Dickens Classic The Muppet’s Christmas Carol. But for me, the real interest started around the age of eleven or twelve in the first year of secondary school. We were given a project on religion, firstly choose a religion and then write about it. I didn’t want to do the usual mainstream religions so after looking around at the different religions, I discovered something called Spiritualism which was a genuine religion and which claimed that they could communicate directly with the dead. That sounded cool and at the same time subversive enough to irritate the teacher.
Spiritualism lead me to Harry Price and Borley
I started reading about Spiritualism and the more I read, the more I became intrigued and began seeking more books about spiritualism. Some of the books I read also mentioned ghosts and haunted houses, which sounded even more interesting. Around the time, Santa brought me a copy of The Guinness Book of World Records and in amongst the tallest, shortest, fastest and deepest there was a brief mention of ‘The Most Haunted House in England’ and the name of the man who investigated it – Harry Price. The article was only brief and contained a small black and white picture of the rectory to accompany it.
I enquired at the library about Harry Price and discovered that they had a copy of Price’s book The Most Haunted House in England in another branch which I ordered and read.
I was fascinated by the account of his investigation and over the next few months I found and read the second book The End of Borley Rectory along with books by Elliot O’Donnell and Andrew Green. In fact I still have my original paperback of Green’s Ghost Hunting, A Practical Guide.
Reading was one thing but I wanted to see a ghost for myself. I knew of several local places that had ghost stories attached to them haunted out that around where I lived.
Most were off limits but one or two were open to visitors, at least during the daytime, so I would periodically spend time hanging around waiting and hoping to see the ghost appear.
So that is how I became attracted to hunting ghosts. Or rather, that is how I remember becoming interested in ghosts.
A few years ago my parents reached that age when they began to share amusing tales from my childhood with my wife and friends – in fact, anyone who would listen.
“I remember the time when you broke your arm playing at being Superman” and “Your teacher had to call us into the school when you got caught…” etc .
It was during one of these ‘embarrassing Steve’ sessions my Mum suddenly revealed that as a youngster of about 5 or 6 whenever we were on holiday I would frequently ask to be taken to castles etc and ‘look for the ghost’. They said that on several occasions I would even become upset if I wasn’t allowed to go looking for the ghosts. Much surprised, I asked if there was anything else I didn’t remember. She described that as a very young child, I would often sit and talk to someone in my bedroom and that several times whilst I was still in primary school they found me sitting with my friends in the garage around a home made Ouija board which I had made by writing letters on pieces of paper.
I still have no recollection of those events – none whatsoever, I believed that I hadn’t even known what a Ouija board was until I was about twelve years old. I suppose I could sex it up here by saying that obviously I had some horrific experience as a child which erased my memory, perhaps whoever I was speaking to in my bedroom as a toddler was a demon or that Captain Howdy came through the homemade Ouija board but I’d be lying.
Ghosts fascinated me longer than I can remember!
Up until my parents revelations, I’d always thought that as a child my first passion was aircraft and flying but ghosts and séances, not a clue! So obviously whatever attracted me to ghosts began much earlier than I remember, what that was I have no idea.
I don’t think hunting for ghosts played a significant part of my adolescent years. I was always reading ghost books, preferring non-fictional accounts to fictional ghost stories.
I also continued visiting haunted places periodically, but I had learned by then that seeing a ghost was going to be no simple matter. I started to become interested in photography whilst at school and spent a lot of time hanging around airports and RAF stations photographing aircraft. Later on music also became important and I probably spent far too much time attending concerts and staying out late.
Although it had taken a back seat, the interest in ghosts never really went away and whenever I was in a different town or city following my musical heroes or out and about with camera in hand, I would usually try to find out something about the ghosts that haunted the locale. It is surprising just how many RAF stations, airports and concert venues have ghost stories attached to them.
After leaving school I trained to become an Instrument Technician in the Petrochemical industry and learned the value and the importance of measuring stuff to a very high degree of accuracy. The petrochemical refining process requires precise measurements of many variables, temperature, pressure, volume, flow-rates, etc. I was also fortunate that the job was relatively well paid job which funded my growing interest in photography and allowed me to travel around the country.
I can’t really remember when it occurred to me that perhaps I could use my camera as a potential tool for ghost hunting. I began by taking pictures of haunted places that I visited, more as records of my visit than in any real hope of capturing the ghost. Of course, I was aware of famous pictures like the Brown Lady of Raynham Hall so I suppose I always secretly hoped I would be lucky. Eventually, I bought some additional lenses and a powerful flash to take with me to haunted locations. Later on, I also taught myself to use and develop infrared film too, I blame Harry Price for that, I had read that he also used infrared photography in his own investigations.
I think it was during a holiday stay at a haunted Welsh farmhouse that I decided to use the recording feature on my Walkman cassette to try to capture the ghostly footsteps that had been reported. I remember heading into Caernarfon to buy some C-120 cassettes and a microphone with a plan to set up the recorder in the hallway of the house at night.
After leaving the petrochemical industry I spent some time learning photography at art school before commencing Nursing. Nursing taught me a great deal about people and the way that the human body works. It also reinforced the lessons I had learned in industry about being precise and careful when making observations and measurements.
I continued the ghost hunting visits, usually alone as it wasn’t exactly the popular pursuit it is today and most friends were either unaware of my interest in ghosts and hauntings or thought I was mad and wasting my time. But in time, I happened across a local paranormal group. Back in the 90’s such groups were few and far between and rarely promoted themselves. I made contact and became a member.
By then I had also contracted a severe case of gadgetitis. I had quite a collection of cameras and was at the head of the queue when portable camcorders became available. It wasn’t just photography and video either, I had upgraded the Walkman several times and had a fairly good portable sound recording set-up. All of which was put to good use as a member of Wirral Paranormal Investigations (WPI). It was there that I met Ann Winsper with whom I was to later form Para.Science, Ann and I shared a passion for photography and gadgets and a desire to develop our techniques and the methods we used for ghost hunting. That was the when our problems began.
Ann and I were nicknamed the ‘evidence team’ within WPI as we could be relied upon to fill investigation locations with assorted items of equipment in support of the investigations. Whilst we rarely captured anything that was unexplained, we began to realise that we were capturing a great deal of evidence that was questionable. We began to become more covert about the placement and use of equipment as we had begun to suspect that certain members of the team were the likely cause of many of the events that were occurring and being attributed to the paranormal.
In time, proof of human intervention was obtained which led to Ann and I together with a handful of others within the team being unceremoniously asked to leave – apparently the equipment which had previously been welcomed was disruptive to the investigations and disliked by the spirits… according to those members more spiritually inclined !
After our ‘sacking’ Ann and I realised that if we were ever going to understand more about the nature of ghosts and hauntings then we would have to adopt a more concise and methodical approach. The scientific method was and remains the best means available for gaining knowledge and understanding and so we decided that it represented the only viable way to undertake our interest. Taking that as our cue “Paranormal Science” or in it’s shortened form Para.Science was formed.
Ann and I both appreciated that in order to investigate the subject, it required more than just staking out a building armed with tech. There were people involved and it was just as important to consider why people saw ghosts, perhaps more so than any attempt to capture a ghost on camera or on a sound recorder. Ann took the lead in developing our knowledge about human experiences and in addition to documenting the witness accounts she led our study of the psychology and experiences of the team members. Meanwhile, I concentrated on developing our ability to accurately monitor and observe the environment of the places we investigated.
We were I suppose fortunate in that all this was taking place before the internet had become popular and social media was a notice board in the local supermarket. We were under no pressure to jump on Facebook every time we went to an investigation or put every picture online the following day. We took our time and would carefully work through each case we investigated. At the end of which we would write up a report for the home or building owner and for our own records then move on to the next. Over the next decade we developed and honed our abilities, studying avidly and periodically attending ASSAP study days to meet peers and learn new things.
What have I learned since starting paranormal research?
It is a vast question. I have learned so much, mostly about people and the nature of the experiences they have. I have learned to question everything and accept that what a person claimed they experienced is usually a true account of what they perceived at the time. I have learned to leave my own beliefs and expectations at the door whenever I enter a haunted location. Not allowing personal beliefs to enter the investigation is vital, it is also an incredibly difficult thing to learn. As humans we learn from an early age to trust our judgement and our own senses. It is hard to set those prejudices aside and learn to be impartial and objective.
Of course, I have also learned that sometimes, not very often but sometimes stuff happens that it really ought not to have done. I can probably count on the fingers of both hands the number of times over the past 40 years that I have been in a position of complete puzzlement and lacking any plausible explanation for what I experienced. As William James said, ‘in order to disprove the assertion that all crows are black, it is enough to find a single white crow’ so those few times are more than sufficient to keep me interested in discovering more about this fascinating human experience.
I have learned that ghosts exist.
That is not a claim that ghosts exist in the sense that they are separate entities (although they might be), it reflects the reality of human experience. Every day people report seeing ghosts, hearing ghosts, smelling ghosts and even interacting with ghosts, so in the sense that ghosts are a real human experience, they absolutely exist.
The role of the ghost hunter in reality, is not to hunt for ghosts in the sense of tracking them down and documenting their existence like some unknown animal. The role of the ghost hunter is to study the entire human experience that people label as ghosts and hauntings and to seek an understanding and where possible a realistic and plausible explanation. The role of a ghost hunter is to accept that there will be times when stuff happens that defies explanation but also that just because you cannot explain something doesn’t mean it cannot be explained or that it was paranormal.
STEVE PARSONS is a co-founder of Para.Science, which in 2018 celebrates 25 years of independent research and investigation. Throughout that time the team has worked alongside many leading parapsychologists and university parapsychology departments. They have conducted hundreds of investigations, from simple short visits to others requiring tens of thousands of hours.
Alongside his role with Para.Science, Steve is an Investigation Committee Member of the prestigious Society for Psychical Research (founded in 1882) and is an Advisor to the World’s oldest ghost group The Ghost Club (founded in 1862).
Author of two highly regarded books “Ghostology, The Art of the Ghost Hunter” & “Paracoustics, Sound and the Paranormal” Steve is also a regular contributor to the media. His prolific work has featured or has been cited in many books, peer reviewed journals as well as popular magazines and newspapers. A third book has recently been commissioned and is due to be published in 2018.
You can order Steve Parsons books on the paranormal from Amazon here.