Spectre seekers become study subjects in B.C. paranormal project

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John Adams conducts the ‘Ghostly Walks’ in downtown Victoria on Friday, February 8, 2013. (Chad Hipolito/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

VANCOUVER — It isn’t ghosts that Paul Kingsbury’s after this Halloween as he prepares to accompany a troop of supernatural investigators on a soul-searching expedition at a Vancouver-area heritage building. He’s on a hunt for the hunters themselves.

The Simon Fraser University geography professor is embarking on a four-year research project to better understand what makes paranormal researchers tick.

“The project is not to prove or disprove paranormal phenomena,” Kingsbury said. “It is to hunt the UFO, Big Foot and ghost hunters and find out what they’re doing with the paranormal in … everyday spaces.”

His research involves an undisclosed site.

While the bulk of the study is still to come, Kingsbury’s preliminary research has already shed some light on some of the motivations behind would-be spectre seekers.

“What we’re finding so far is that people join paranormal-investigation groups because they’ve had profound paranormal experiences,” he said.

Such groups are often include skeptics looking to provide people with closure or peace of mind, he said. A successful investigation isn’t necessarily to prove the existence of a ghost, he added.

“There’s a great deal of altruism in these groups. … I think there’s a therapeutic dimension with their clients.”

Funding for such an esoteric area of study is traditionally unusual, Kingsbury noted. He sees the social-science research dollars being dedicated to his project as an indicator of just how mainstream the topic has become.

“There’s been a sort of paranormal turn in popular culture,” he said, describing what he called the “re-enchantment of the West.”

“Although we live in a secular, modern, rational, post-enlightenment society, researchers have observed ΓǪ in the past decade or so a sort of paranormalization of the everyday.”

Kingsbury pointed to a growing number of activities such as reiki, a form of channelled energy therapy, and healing crystals as further evidence of the popularization of the paranormal.

“It’s no longer taboo,” he said. “It’s no longer crackpot to talk about paranormal experiences.”

About 10 years ago, there were about 250 ghost-hunter groups in the United Kingdom but that number has since grown ten-fold, to 2,500, he said.

Kingsbury said he knows of one instance where a church called up a crew of paranormal investigators to look into some onsite goings-on.

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