Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Book Review: The Ghost Hunter's Survival Guide

The Ghost Hunter’s Survival Guide;

Protection Techniques for Encounters with the Paranormal

By Michelle Belanger

Llewellyn Publications, 2009
[Paperback, 271 pages, no illustrations]

Reviewed by The Ghost Reader

Just as firefighters would be foolish to enter a burning building without a helmet, breathing apparatus, and Kevlar suit, so, too, a ghost hunter would be ill-advised to enter a haunted house without proper protection.  That, at least, is the assertion of Michelle Belanger in her latest book, The Ghost Hunter’s Survival Guide.

Thus asserted, the question arises what type of protection should a ghost hunter use?  a) Dab on some garlic-scented cologne?  b) Strap on one of Egon Spengler’s proton packs to zap the paranasties before they can slime you?  Or, c) don a suit of psychic armor?  If you answered “c” you would be correct.  (Sorry, Ghostbuster fans.)  Psychic armor is what Survival Guide is all about, and Ms. Belanger is one of the leading seamstresses of this fashion in the paranormal field. She is an advisor to A & E’s series Paranormal State and lectures and writes extensively on many aspects of the paranormal, including ghosts, psychic energies, and vampires (what?).  She is a gifted, intelligent writer (not many can use words like “hypnopompic” and “disambiguation” with aplomb) who is deeply studied and expert in her field, which she treats here with great sensitivity.  Though thoroughly convinced of the merits of “energy work” and the psychic realm, Ms. Belanger still presents her material in a very objective manner, not using this book as a soapbox for preaching in behalf of New Age beliefs.

Survival Guide starts by relating how to lay the foundation of psychic protection via “grounding and centering.”  This process gets a ghost hunter in a position with eyes closed, feet slightly spread, hands clasped at the energy center inside his/her chest, and perhaps offering a simple mantra. (Hmm.  Sounds like a certain cowardly lion, clutching his tail to his sternum and repeating, “I do believe in spooks, I do believe in spooks. I do, I do, I do, I do, I do believe in spooks”) The ghost hunter then adds to this a psychic, egg-shaped shield surrounding the entire body, “made” of bright light, psychic mirrors, or imaginary fire.  (Careful with that last one.  Even psychic eyebrows don’t smell or look very good when singed.)  Protected through this process of ground, center, and shield, the ghost hunter will hopefully never have to stop, drop, and roll due to a psychic attack.

From this beginning, the book goes on to describe other psychic techniques that ghost hunters should find of value.  The book is divided into 9 chapters, with each loosely divided into three sections.  Ms. Belanger begins each chapter with a segment from one of her investigations, in this case a story of an aspiring musician living with a demented grandmother in an extremely cluttered house – which just happens to be infested with psychic vermin.  The chapters’ middle sections are devoted to full descriptions and teaching sessions of psychic techniques relating to what just transpired in the investigation.  And the final part of each chapter, called “The Least You Should Know,” is a simplified summary of the techniques described in the mid-section.  Sprinkled throughout the book are “Sidebars” (Thank you, O.J. Simpson trial, for popularizing this term.)  These are entitled either “Skeptic’s Corner” or “Beyond Belief.”  The former put forward scientific, psychological interpretations of some of the concepts raised in the body of the chapter, and the latter give interesting religious insights and snippets of cultural history related to other concepts.

The question arises when reading Survival Guide, just who is it written for?  The author herself states, early in the book, that it is for those “actively involved in paranormal investigation.”  That is probably true.  And despite the enormous popularity of, and interest in, ghost hunting today, that is not a very large number of people.  So the guide will probably not be a best seller. (The publishers at Llewellyn just winced.)  In order for other, non-investigator types to enjoy this book, they will need to be into New Age material and accept the basic psychic tenets that Ms. Belanger describes at length, some of which will strain the credulity of more strictly science-oriented readers.  Or, they will need to read the openings of the chapters and then skip to the summaries, since some of the detailed step-by-step instructions of “energy work” and psychic exercises get a bit tedious and repetitive.

Perhaps the best chapter in The Ghost Hunter’s Survival Guide is the last.  In it, Ms. Belanger recognizes and reflects on the misgivings some might have with her approach and how different people’s “energy types” affect their degrees of psychic ability.  She also warmly embraces the idea that, in a speculative area of study like paranormal investigating, many different approaches, including psychic and scientific, are all necessary.  She also deftly touches on the ethics of paranormal investigating.  And she does all of this in a thoughtful, intelligent, open-minded way, a way that cannot help but inspire a reader to respect her and the sincerity of her convictions.   

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Book Review: Seeking Spirits

They’re baaaaaaack!

America’s favorite ghost hunters, Jason Hawes and Grant Wilson, return to the print world with their second book, Seeking Spirits, a follow-up to their 2007 best-seller, Ghost Hunting. This new book, with the exact same number of pages as its predecessor, carries the somewhat curious sub-title, The Lost Cases of the Atlantic Paranormal Society. Lost? From whom? Certainly the authors had enough in their files to recount the early, pre-TV show adventures of the T.A.P.S. investigators in their local New England haunts. Lost? Seemingly these cases are lost only to exploitation by the SyFy Channel, which, in case you have been astral projecting to Venus for the last several years, broadcasts the popular TV series “Ghost Hunters”, which our boys Jason and Grant produce.

Anyway …

Seeking Spirits, like Ghost Hunting before it, is a collection of short (mainly 4 to 8 page) recountings of paranormal investigations. And, like Mama Gump’s observation about life, the book resembles the proverbial “box of chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna get.” Well, what you get here are 36 chocolates – er, chapters – and what’s inside each is often a surprise. There are tales of poltergeists, demons, an incubus or two, hallucinogenic drug combinations, a client suffering from dementia, ouija boards, a doppleganger, and, of course, your every day garden-variety ghosts. Strangest of all is a case involving peeping-Tom gray aliens. (The boys had to refer their client to an E.T. exterminator here, not wanting to cross union lines.) In a strange twist, perhaps the book’s scariest chapter has its fear generated by humans, with Jason and Grant escaping a pesky gang of Satan worshippers. (“Run, Forrest, run!”) The book derives strength from its variety, keeping you guessing what’s lurking, waiting for you in the shadows of the next chapter.

Grant Wilson, the “good cop”, of our paranormal pair, is a much more active participant in Seeking Spirits than he was in Ghost Hunting, and the book is much the better for it. He fully narrates half the stories here, as opposed to adding sporadic one or two sentence comments as he did in Ghost Hunting. He also recounts, in the book’s introduction, the extended experience he had as a youth that motivated his fascination with the paranormal. Interesting stuff.

Many of the chapters end with sub-sections entitled “Ghost Hunter’s Manual.” These give back-stories, histories, or explanatory information about ghost hunting techniques, devices, or definitions, and they’re usually quite informative. Topics range from the history of the “talking ouija board” (invented in 1890) to the onset of EVP (Electronic Voice Phenomenon), “discovered” in Sweden in 1959. (No wonder some EVPs are hard to understand … the ghosts are speaking Swedish!) Sophisticated, serious readers of books and articles on the paranormal and its investigative equipment may find the information basic, but others will find it enlightening.

Which brings us to the basic tone of the book. Ultimately, Seeking Spirits is conversational. It’s like sitting down at a table in a bar and, while chasing down some liquid spirits, listening to two regular guys talk about chasing spirits of the more ephemeral kind. There is no tightly controlled scientific research into the paranormal related here, with data and numbers and analyses leading to objective conclusions about the realm of ghosts. It’s two guys telling stories about helping clients with strange and very unwanted problems. That is exactly what they claim the goal of their investigations to be … and what this book is all about.

All in all … a very enjoyable read.

The Ghost Reader