Merging the Skeptics and Faithful

How can everyone work together to understand Ghosts?

This is Part Three of a Three part series

Part One: Faith in Paranormal

Part Two: Science and Skepticism in the Paranormal

“All you need is one experience and you’ll be a believer.”

Can you think of how many times you’ve been told this?

The belief that you only need one paranormal experience to finally believe in ghosts is a bit of a misnomer. I’m guilty of this, and I suspect that’s because I came face-to-face with one (anyone hearing the Ghost Adventures theme intro after that?) when I was only seven-or-so years old.

In truth, I can paint the portrait of the figure I saw then for you even now, almost twenty years later. I can’t remember the first time he appeared, but his hollowed face remains etched in my mind still. He was tall, dressed in an early twentieth-century suit the color of puce, or to clarify, vomit green. Brass buttons lined down the front of his jacket, and all were buttoned but the top two near the collar of his crisp white shirt. On his head he wore a top that reminded me of Abe Lincoln’s even then. But his face . . . his features were what instilled the fear in me.

A sharp, bladed nose, and thin, thin lips. His cheekbones were stark points in his face, as if he were grossly underweight. I can remember nothing of his eyes but that they were black–soulless, some might say–and always trained on me.

This spirit, whoever he was, always stood on the threshold of my childhood bedroom. He never stepped closer, never moved back. But he appeared every night, and I grew so accustomed to sleeping on my left side so that I did not have to seem him, that I continue to sleep exactly the same way today.

He stopped showing up sometime when I was around the age of eleven or twelve, and he has never appeared in my life again (thank God). But my fate was sealed: I was a believer in ghosts, and I soaked up every bit of the paranormal that I could find: psychic Sylvia Browne every Wednesday on the Montel Williams Show. Ghost-hunting TV shows every Friday night on the Travel Channel. Ghost tours when traveling.

Some might say I was obsessed. I’d prefer to think I was merely intrigued. For me that “one” ghostly experience was all I’d needed, and it’s what led me all the way to working for Ghost City Tours.

But the question remains: what does it mean to be a believer in the paranormal?

Leading the Way: Skepticism and Spirituality on TV

Over the last few weeks we’ve delved into what it means to be a believer in the paranormal. We’ve covered skepticism and using “science” as a gauge as to whether spirits exist, and, on the other end of the spectrum, we’ve also looked at what it means to have “faith” in the paranormal.

Unsurprisingly, there is no right or wrong way to think about or explore paranormal phenomena. (Did you think I’d pick sides?) The truth of the matter is that there should be a blend, a balance among the various ideologies. Or there should be, at least, within the professional paranormal world. Although there have been paranormal investigators exploring the darker side of America’s cities for decades, it was not until TV snatched up on the idea of “ghost-hunting” that the paranormal became less of a taboo among the general public.

For example, if you’ve ever watched a ghost-hunting TV show like Ghost Hunters, you’ll have seen that there has been a recent effort to debunk all recorded “activity” before ultimately deciding on whether the captured evidence was the consequence of ghostly energy. In TV’s earlier broadcasted programs, there was less of an effort to disprove any supernatural phenomena. A creak in the stairs and the slightest dip in temperature were all ruled “paranormal.” (The Most Haunted team led their investigations this way, and I always worried that poor Yvette Fielding’s wide-eyed glance might become a permanent fixture on her face if she heard one more unexplainable sound).

In the last ten years or so, though, many ghost-hunting TV shows have veered away from the belief that everything is paranormal. In fact, the mid-2000s saw a switch in which nothing was deemed paranormal. Now, there seems to be a blend of the two.

But through it all, there has always been a large-scale attempt to merge skepticism and spirituality. Most Haunted, for example, had two different psychics that were main cast members on the show. Sure, the first tended to become more possessed by the spirits than not–and I have a feeling this is why he was replaced–but there was a genuine attempt to show that investigating ghosts was not just a matter of spirit box or EVPs.

Although Most Haunted might be the earliest example of this blended cocktail, the best example of bridging skepticism and spirituality has probably been the Travel Channel’s The Dead Files. The show consists of a two-person team investigative group: a retired NYPD homicide detective and a medium. The premise, admittedly, is relatively the same as other shows: a house is haunted and the owners have contacted the show’s producers for help. But unlike other paranormal shows, the detective and the medium go their separate ways for the entirety of the investigation and do not meet up again until the very end. The detective hits the archives, talking with the owners of the property, neighbors and local historians. Meanwhile, the medium conducts an overnight walk-through of the haunted location in order to connect with the spirits on the property.

As with all TV ghost-hunting shows, there is always uncertainty if what the viewer is being shown is wholly accurate. But, if we were to say that it is was, then The Dead Files could be viewed as a show that is centered around the debate between skepticism vs. spirituality that we have been looking at closely over the last few weeks. One method might require research through the physical (records, ghost-hunting equipment), but the other still requires research, only it is through a higher energy (spirits, God). Both, however, will deliver you to the same destination.

Finding out if a location is haunted or not.

Closing the Gap on Ghost Tours

Though ghost-hunting TV shows are perhaps the most visible source for the general public to see the difference between skepticism, science and the spiritual when it comes to connecting with the dead, ghost tours also are a great way to do.

Ever wondered what your ghost tour guide thinks of ghost tours in general?

Having been a full-time tour guide in the past, it wasn’t out of the norm that I’d sometimes overhear a guide discuss how they didn’t believe in ghosts. Not that they were a skeptic, and therefore sought out more information, but that they did not believe in the paranormal at all.

While I’m sure these folks give some awesome tours, it strikes me as a little deceiving to regale guests with a story that you yourself think is complete nonsense. Case in point: there’s a reason why Ghost City Tours does not offer vampire tours in any of its operating cities. When the company launched in 2012, there was a decision made to stay historically accurate. Are we anti-Count Dracula over here? Not at all, but a mission was put in place to discover America through its viable ghost stories and hauntings. Made up tales (about vampires or even legends) have no place on our particular tours, unless there has been an attempt to debunk the well-established urban legend.

Bridging Skepticism, Science and Spirituality at Ghost City Tours

For the employees of Ghost City Tours, all are believers in the paranormal:

To avoid spirits following her home, our Customer Service Supervisor, Tonja, burns incense in her house.

Michael Bill, one of our leaders on our ghost tours and ghost hunts, is a Voodoo practitioner who connects with and sees the dead on a daily basis.

Another of our tour guides, Elaine, believes in the paranormal but always strives to eliminate any external plausibilities before concluding evidence as paranormal.

Tim Nealon, Ghost City Tours’ owner, has simply said: “I believe. There is no way that I couldn’t. I’ve had too many experiences for [the paranormal] to all be nothing.”

But perhaps our General Manager, Gretchen Upshaw, put it best: “I believe that everyone deserves the right to form their own thoughts, opinions and beliefs according to their own experiences and perceptions. I don’t think that any way of thinking is the right way, pertaining to the paranormal.”

To put it another–albeit somewhat cheesy–way: we at Ghost City Tours are all various coloring crayons that form a single set with a single purpose.

Taking a Ghost Tour or Ghost Hunt with Ghost City Tours

What can you expect, then, upon taking a ghost tour or ghost hunt with us?

Though all of our guides strive to be neutral, inevitably traces of their personal beliefs show through. For example, when Michael Bill conducts our New Orleans Ghost Hunt at 1022 Royal, he often asks Legba (the Voodoo “Saint” of the Spirits) to open the gates to the spirits themselves before the hunt begins. And if one guest really wants an experience, he sometimes asks the ghosts of the property to amp up their game. Don’t worry, though, as both Michael Bill and Elaine reward their ghostly co-workers for their hard work: candy for the young spirit Chloe, and lighters for the male spirit Johnny who died on the front steps of the building over a century ago.

The employees of Ghost City Tours come with various backgrounds: religious or non-religious, skeptics or those who actually have the ability to speak to the dead. In that way, the company is simply a reflection of the general public’s own perception of the paranormal, composed of people with different beliefs that all ultimately believe that ghosts do exist. Moreover, they (and by that, I mean we) are all firm believers that is no right way to explore the paranormal.

(If there was a concrete understanding of ghosts, then paranormal investigators wouldn’t even exist, and ghost tours would serve no purpose.)

As a tour company, Ghost City offers a bridge between the skeptics and the faithful, both among our own staff and for our guests.

After all, it’s the sense of mystery and the unknown that sets off the intrigue, only further heightened after experiencing that very first paranormal phenomenon. After that? Well, you’re as hooked as the rest of us.

Will you allow Ghost City Tours to be your guide in discovering the restless spirits of America’s Most Haunted cities?

Happy Haunting, y’all, and remember: there is no right way to believe in the ghostly world, only whichever way or belief works for you.