In numerology, 2+0+1+6= 9. This has been a 9 year, a time of endings, completion, closing doors. We are to tie up loose ends, forgive, release dead weight and release the past in order to accommodate new beginnings. We saw the ending of a presidential term. We lost faith. We lost several wonderful minds and performers this year. I lost my father, my grandfather, and a man I considered a brother. I have seen many endings in the way friends and family have left jobs, relationships, homes. I walked away from a friendship of 26 years. It was necessary. It was time.
2016 also marked 10 years in the paranormal field for James and I, collectively known since 2006 as The SpiritChasers. This year their journey ends. In the latest ( sixth ) season of American Horror Story ( AHS: Roanoke ), the final episode ( Chapter 10 ) featured a fictional program starring a paranormal investigation team known as Spirit Chasers. This mockumentary-style episode captured to perfection the sort of typecasting common with ghost hunters today. There was an overreliance on technology / tools, a bromance between aggressive male team members, an eclectic, plucky medium, and a general fear-based attitude and scenario. The show was peppered with a lot of running, screaming and "WHAT WAS THAT?!"
Granted, it was entirely fictional, but could have successfully passed for any ghost hunting show on television today. Watching it caused some degree of embarrassment, although we have never run down hallways screaming ( which actually looks like fun ). It was simply a fitting commentary on the state of paranormal television and paranormal teams at present. If this is what we've been reduced to, we no longer find it appealing. AHS is simply another show, though we'd hate for others to think this is where we took the inspiration for our name, a mockery of a mockery, however avant-garde that might seem.
Originally James and I called ourselves The Othersiders, until Cartoon Network premiered their own paranormal reality series with the same name. By that time hordes of ghost hunting teams had popped up, many of them using abbreviated, scientific-sounding names or simply just any name with the word "paranormal" attached to it. I remember once meeting someone from S.I.O.U.X. Paranormal ( now defunct - many of these D.I.Y. teams lacked longevity ). As an Ogala Sioux, I asked what her group was all about. She explained the meaning behind the abbreviation, which was almost comical. I don't remember what the "X" stood for. It wasn't "X-file", but might just as well have stood for "Xanadu". We stuck with The SpiritChasers, mostly because the name was not in use anywhere else. Now there are several different chapters of the Spirit Chasers all throughout the world, none affiliated with us. Our name was never taken very seriously, and who's to say the next one will, but as so many things have burned this year, we are symbolically offering The SpiritChasers to Pele.
I've never felt comfortable having to use the term paranormal. Supernatural I didn't mind, because that was a term I grew up with, but paranormal evolved into something else. It became a circus, a group of muscle shirts, vanity projects filmed with FLIR, duck-lipped night-vision selfies. I've hated describing our collection of spirit photography, footage and audio recordings as "evidence". Evidence of the presence of spirit in our lives, perhaps, though it suggests we had something to prove. All along we have done what we have for our own personal enjoyment. When I moved in with James, he lived down the street from a park where a tragic 737 plane crash had occurred. We had visited several times and took many photos before sharing our experience with anyone. We didn't do it to be on TV, to make money off tours, to gain any sort of notoriety. We did it because we found it entirely stimulating, coming alive in a way we hadn't since the Halloweens of our youth.
We are children of the 80's. We grew up watching Poltergeist and Ghostbusters, In Search Of, Unsolved Mysteries and Arthur C. Clarke's Mysterious World. We became fully alive every Halloween, reading ghost stories and experiencing all manner of the supernatural in our homes. We read about Ed and Lorraine Warren, Hans Holzer and other legendary figures, aspiring to be just like them when we grew up. I remember the first time we saw a spirit photo of the Brown Lady of Raynham Hall, and the ghost of the Tulip Staircase. I sat transfixed on both occasions, knowing immediately that when I was old enough and financially able, I would dedicate my life to chasing these spirits, unravelling urban legends and myths. I would become a hunter, like my uncle.
For some time now, we have been thinking about something more conceptual than the standard model of ghost hunter, something which could evolve. When my father passed away on Day Of The Dead, I realized that something I used to celebrate now became something I would mourn. My grandfather, who gave me my Indian name, crossed over just one month later. My thoughts about the afterlife would thus evolve. We would evolve. The night before my dad's funeral, I sat with my uncle, who lives on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. He was to do the Native part of the service as he still spoke the original Sioux dialect. We talked for a long time. I learned a lot of new words and heard a lot of old stories. We eventually spoke about the paranormal, the supernatural, which for the Lakota wasn't anything extraordinary as we believe we coexist with many different life forms, both seen and unseen. I shared with him a number of pictures from our SpiritChasers photo gallery. While he enjoyed them, he seemed mildly amused. He and his family witnessed many strange things on sacred ground over the years. Regardless, he believed in only two kinds of spirits, those who walked the Milky Way back home and found peace, and those who returned for a special mission. You did not interfere with them. Sasquatches had been seen at sundances, miraculous abilities were witnessed by medicine men, there was actually a Sioux word for aliens, or "the ones who live up there", and even petroglyphs there told stories about humanity's relationship with the interdimensional.
I met Travis Walton this past summer, the abductee from whom the movie Fire In The Sky was based, who instructed me not to adhere to the perception of the world of those who do not believe in it, do not truly see or understand it. They will strive only to define the one little corner they can. No amount of "evidence" will ever satisfy them. They will always seek to prove how it didn't happen first, shooting down the miraculous before it ever has a chance to spread its wings. But also, when meeting with the Great Mystery, we shouldn't ask it to prove itself to us. Instead, we must prove we are already aware. Prove we can walk with one foot in both worlds, balancing the spirits of both. An offering of faith is necessary. Expect the miraculous and the miraculous will occur.
Every year I have a thought that it might be our last in the field. After 10 years as paranormal investigators, we have seen a myriad of both wonderful highs and stagnant lows. In 10 years, one can come across a tremendous amount of territorialism and competition, ego and insecurity. This year, we caught two different paranormal teams using our photos as their own. One of them even tried spinning a tour out of it. And yet all over Facebook, said teams are promoting "paraunity". Fortunately, however, one can make some very dear friends, and find a better appreciation for community. We have met several more wonderful souls than we have met divas, and for that we are grateful. We have been able to participate in many supernaturally stimulating events with many fantastic colleagues and we wouldn't trade those experiences for anything.
In the paranormal field, there can often be a tendency to simply copy what one sees on television. As they will apply science, so will we, though oftentimes we will place science before imagination. So many of us are so much more supportive now of what we don't believe in than what we do. Debunking, for instance, was applied to narrow down the possible causes of paranormal claims. Some might debunk to offer a rational voice. Some might do it simply to take a mystical experience away from another. And in our field there are so many so determined to puncture, to disprove, to remove, to sanitize. One local ghost hunter was once heard to say that he could debunk anyone's photos ( especially ours ), and if he couldn't, he knew someone who could. So what was the point? Is ghost hunting not at its base the study of energetics? Energy, frequency, vibration - a cosmic template. After viewing a random paranormal show ( in horror ), my uncle asked if people had completely forgotten their cosmic nature, regardless of what the physical world said was or wasn't possible. Exposed to the concept of a spirit world from as early as we could remember, we were often reminded that mystical law is the governing authority of our world. People want miracles, and there are miracles happening every day, but too many are hell bent on explaining how something could not happen or did happen according to them than how it could.
Once, during a paranormal convention, a woman was sharing her collection of paranormal photography. She was very proud of her work and passionate about the field. After looking through a few of the photos which featured what she described as "divine fire", I quickly noticed that strands of her hair had simply blown in front of the camera lens and were illuminated by the flash. My cousin was with me and we were perfectly able to duplicate this. Did we immediately run up to her and burn her livelihood to a cinder? We did not, we remained polite and kept silent, but there were some "paraunity" enthusiasts who were nearly heckling her, taking it upon themselves to debunk her work in front of others. Later, during their own event, they were showing guests what the paranormal was NOT. This reduced the woman to tears, and she left the convention early. She no longer takes photos and never attended another convention afterward. That is why we don't take anything away from anyone. It's their experience, their lens, their perception. It's not our business to sanitize it for them. We stand by all of our photos, regardless of what others might think. Paraunity is about respect, and we have always been respectful of our colleagues' work.
When we are energetically invested in a tribe, we will therefore embrace only those ideas that they do, will defend who they defend, will learn as slowly as it takes the entire tribe to learn and grasp new concepts. If that tribe is paranormal TV, we can assume that every scripted episode on a major network will be done so for increased viewership, the sale of product and entertainment value. What and who is really moving everything forward? Despite advancements in technology, ghost hunting tools can end up becoming little more than Victorian novelties. We have paid for several "ghost hunts" that consisted of no more than sitting in a dark room while our hosts set flashlights about and put a Spirit Box in the center. We'd have to sit through an endless series of questions, watching little lights blink on and off, listening to badly distorted audio. "I heard, cure thee." "No, I heard Shirley!" Far from the ghost hunts we used to fantasize about, we were expected to be content watching blinking lights and things bobbing up and down while listening to AM radio. It says a lot about this day and age, where people - seated people - feel they are experiencing life through Facebook, their phone, or bingewatching Netflix.
"Those who do not move, do not notice their chains." - Rose Luxemburg
Such "ghost hunts" can be a very lazy and irresponsible way of taking advantage of another's wonder. We have reached another golden age of spirituality and awareness, one which is being completely wasted.
Because we grew up reading ghost stories and because we came from a race of storytellers, we wanted to remain in that realm. The first time I saw footage of Bigfoot, pictures of the Loch Ness Monster, ancient artistry depicting lost, ancient technology, I didn't have anyone standing over my shoulder telling me it wasn't true, that it was just dust and insects, swamp gas, the planet Venus, or a camera strap. The more we experienced a part of the divine in our adult lives, the more we saw it necessary to preserve mystery, wonder and myth. Those elements were crucial to the alchemy of our childhood and where our imagination could lead us. When I was a boy I made treasure maps so my friends and I could play Goonies. Imagine our elation when one day we actually dug up an antique. Imagination and hope had led us there. My first official ghost hunt occurred when I was 12. I had only a Polaroid camera and a ghettoblaster. I took notes, interviews, and sprinkled flour around the area where the table and chairs were reported to move. From this I got my first EVP of a grandfather clock the occupants didn't own. I was already aware of fault lines and how subtle vibrations could move things about. Regardless, I gave the unknown a wide berth and I expected the unexpected.
I often wish I could go back to that time, when Halloweens were almost palpably magic, when every popular television show had to have their own "haunted" episode, from Charlie's Angels to The Bionic Woman, from The Incredible Hulk to The Greatest American Hero. Back then all it took to suggest something supernatural was happening was a swaying chandelier, flickering candles, a lightning storm, eerily-lit oil paintings, billowing curtains and creaking doors, perhaps some moaning and some chains. Every show had these things. It didn't take much to get one in the mood. I miss that innocence, romanticism, simplicity and storybook mystery.
I think we will be going back to an extent, with our intent and with our image. A yin / yang of spirits. One pulled backward to the past and one moving into the future. I knew we would have to put future somewhere in the title to suggest there actually is a future for those in our field of study once the programs go into hibernation again. Yet every year I think the shows will die out, they become more popular than ever. Still, I miss the programs of the past, the way they saw the present and the way they saw the future. Tapping into a retroactive current, embracing the past while moving into tomorrow. I always wanted to be more than just the cookie-cutter team of 5.5 plus one medium, operating only within the empirical. We never joined any branches of Ghost Hunters or Ghost Adventures. We did our own thing, recruited who we wanted to suit the needs of the "investigation". Perhaps just changing the vocabulary from investigation to exploration, from evidence to something more evocative, more stimulating than a standard judicial term. Something encompassing more than just the paranormal, an umbrella term for a team of adventurers willing to apply full consciousness to all of their encounters.
Once, hours after a ghost hunt we hosted at the Williams Stables in Central City, I had to return to put some chairs back on the upper floor. I was upstairs, all the way at the back of the building when I realized I hadn't switched the lights on. I was so used to moving about in the dark with our FLIRS and full spectrum cameras that I simply forgot to turn on the lights. I had found my way in the dark, alone, feeling perfectly fine, without any fear or hesitation. Everything already seemed illuminated and when I think back on that experience I don't remember the darkness at all. I was willing to not attach any negative connotations to something I couldn't see. My primary animal totem is the bat, and I truly understood the symbology behind echolocation then. I had gone with the intention of hunting ghosts, but found illumination instead. Many times we come away from explorations with spiritual insights. Our most successful spirit photography sessions included a brief meditation beforehand, setting our intention before reaching for any gizmos. Native Americans believe there is a spirit in everything - the water, the wind, the fire, the earth. In a way you could call everything haunted. We have always tapped into the spirit of a location first and as such our name was always fitting. It is an essential element to what we do - the recognition of spirit, and just after finishing this paragraph, an old friend stopped by to gift me an owl feather, another confirmation of seeing in the dark, intuition and underworld associations.
From one of Northern Exposure's Chris In The Morning radio broadcasts regarding the recognition of death:
"We saw death, and we did what no other animal had done before. We dealt with it. We hit on the idea that death wasn't an end. It was a passage. Trying to make sense of the unknowable - what Joseph Campbell calls the "awakening of awe".
"That awakening to the mystery of death, and therewith of life, which, more than physical transformation, elevated man above the level of beasts."
Time to turn our flashlights off.
My uncle reminded me that there is no word for goodbye in Sioux, so we simply wish you well as we move into a new era - of leadership, of thought, of action - as we christen ourselves FUTURE GHOST, and look forward to sharing all that we experience with you.
Thank you for reading.
- Christopher Allen Brewer, December 2016
AHS Roanoke Season Finale Video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JIMsIBp80kI