Posted on January 27, 2011


By: Marcio & Demetrius (Co-Founders of the OCPRS Toronto Canada)

The word “Paranormal” has become, by contemporary standards, an umbrella term. The variety of phenomena falling under the label of the paranormal are made to appear diverse. This impression of the paranormal is due to the ambivalence of the word itself. However, the range of subjects to which the paranormal is associated is really not as diverse or distinct from one another. Nowhere else is this as strongly evident as it is with subjects concerning spirituality. Whether people believe in paranormal phenomena or not, most have been exposed to various spiritual ideas and beliefs – especially about ghosts and the afterlife. Unknown to most people is how much of what is understood about the paranormal today is owed to contributions made from the modern Spiritualist movement. The most prominent of all misguided views stemming from this movement are that ghosts are the spirits of dead people, and that the dead communicate with the living. Although modern Spiritualism did not create such ideas, it certainly developed them and promoted them with great success. In turn, the teachings found within Christianity, which address true spirituality, have become less accepted throughout Western societies. Today, people are much more familiar with the ideas developed out of modern Spiritualism – even if only indirectly – although they will certainly have little or no knowledge about modern Spiritualism itself. What must be understood here is that the modern Spiritualist movement is not entirely responsible for this problem. The very same ideas and beliefs developed through modern Spiritualism have served to become the foundations for many paranormal research societies today. Many paranormal societies and researchers today have not only taken up and further promoted misconceptions about ghosts and the afterlife, but are in many ways a practice of modern Spiritualism. While many issues will be addressed in this article, the purpose is to draw attention to the dangers of paranormal research.

Within the framework of most paranormal investigative groups and modern Spiritualists, the experience of connecting with the spiritual world serves to validate the belief in an afterlife existence. The issue here is not to question the existence of an afterlife, but how it is defined is important. The variety of practices belonging to modern Spiritualism are many, but the fundamental beliefs are the same. The same is true of paranormal societies and researchers. Through paranormal investigations, some people believe they can intermingle with the spirit world as a means of providing evidence for the paranormal, and therefore provide evidence of a spiritual world. In a similar fashion, this view exists within modern Spiritualism whereby contact with the spirit world provides a similar sense of validation to an afterlife.

Within modern Spiritualism, contact with the spirits of the dead is achieved through a medium or psychic. Many of the methods used by mediums and psychics are either directly associated with modern Spiritualism or are barrowed from the movement itself. Those who consider themselves to be mediums or psychic believe that they can sense spirits, and communicate with them. According to Fr. Seraphim Rose, although many such claims made by mediums and psychics are fraudulent, there are some instances where he believes something “spiritual” is occurring. However, he does not accept the explanations or beliefs promoted by modern Spiritualists. In his book Orthodoxy and the Religion of the Future, he explains: “A medium is a person with a certain psychic sensitivity which enables him to be the vehicle or means for the manifestations of unseen forces or beings […] these are always the fallen spirits whose realm this is, and not the ‘spirits of the dead’ imagined by spiritists.” This is a strong statement, but it is not without good reason. Despite the claims made by mediums and psychics, they are unable to prove that they are capable of discerning between demonic manifestations and the spirits of the dead. Many of these mediums and psychics claim that they can indeed discern between the two, and claim to be capable of recognizing “good spirits.” In some cases, they believe that “good spirits” are distinguishable as “beings of light.” These “beings of light” bring forth highly moral messages, and carry with them good and helpful intentions. Yet, in regards to malevolent spirits, the very same mediums and psychics often proclaim that these are the spirits of the dead who have died violently, such as a suicide. Murderers and other evil people are thought to become malevolent spirits. Demons also fall into the category of malevolent spirits. There are also other types of spirits of the dead who are troubled, and are thought to have died before their time, or who have not completed some important task. There are other circumstances applied to spirits of the dead, but in all cases the determining factor is whether good or evil accompanies any spirit manifestation. In other words, the only real determining factor utilized by mediums and psychics is a method of contrast between what is seemingly good and what is evil. In the Apostle Paul’s second letter to the Church of Corinth, he raises an issue concerning any such discernment where he wrote: “For Satan himself transforms himself into an angel of light” (2 Corinthians 11:14). This verse belongs to a set of instructions, and what the Apostle Paul is telling the Church of Corinth is not to acknowledge everything that is seemingly good. Instead, he instructs the Church of Corinth to examine the fruits of any labour derived from such sources, which in turn exposes whether it is good or evil. Throughout modern Spiritualism’s history, the fruits of the movement’s labour, by communicating with spirits, may on the surface provide messages that appear to be helpful or even loving. However, all that is provided through mediums and psychics are messages describing an ambivalent spiritual world, which in turn promote an equally ambivalent afterlife. In all such spirit messages, the truth found within Christianity is either non-existent, or something heretical is introduced (such as inter-faith ecumenism, the denial that Jesus is the Son of God or an entirely new false teaching). It is important to recognize that the issue is not necessarily if a spirit truly is good or evil. More importantly, those spirits thought to be good may actually not be. As for those spirits who manifest themselves explicitly as evil, they do not themselves present anything other than their malevolence. Therefore, in what way do mediums and psychics discern between demonic manifestations and the malevolent spirits of the dead? There is no way for a medium or psychic to make such discernments. In the first case, what remains is the uncertainty of any discernment between a “being of light” and a demonic manifestation masquerading as an angel of light. In the case of the spirits of the dead, malevolence does not allow demonic manifestations and the spirits of the dead to be distinguished from one another. The problem of discernment also exists among paranormal societies and researchers.

As an extension of modern Spiritualism, many paranormal societies and researchers make use of people claiming to be a medium or psychic. The medium or psychic associated to any such paranormal society serves to identify spiritual activity – regardless of any true discernment between the demonic or the spirits of the dead. The problem here is that what is seemingly validated through the medium or psychic is not an understanding of the spiritual world as it is recognized within the Church. Instead, what is occurring is the promotion of ideas and practices that come from modern Spiritualism. What is actually taking place between modern Spiritualism and paranormal societies/researchers is an informal partnership. This partnership is not limited to the use of mediums and psychics.

The majority of paranormal researchers do not identify themselves as followers of modern Spiritualism. As much as paranormal researchers try to remain neutral or objective in regards to religion, most have taken up many of the beliefs of modern Spiritualism. Unlike the medium or psychic, the paranormal researcher makes use of various forms of technology to engage in those beliefs belonging to modern Spiritualism.  The use of cameras amongst paranormal researchers is common place today. Photography is much older than modern Spiritualism, which was itself established in 1848. Before this time, the use of photography to document paranormal phenomena – such as ghosts – did not exist. Some believe it was due to the technology, and that the daguerreotype camera improved on the previous varieties of cameras and their flaws. This did not occur until 1837. It wasn’t until seven years after the emergence of modern Spiritualism that spirit photography first began to be reported among its followers. By this time, the daguerreotype camera was widely available. Numerous photographs depicting apparitions and other strange anomalies convinced many people of the existence of ghosts, and therefore an afterlife. Spirit photography and its relationship to modern Spiritualism becomes obvious. If photographs captured the images of the deceased, this would mean that the spirits of the dead did dwell among us as ghosts. There was, however, a problem with the legitimacy of spirit photography. Largely promoted by modern Spiritualists, many of the photos presented as evidence in order to support their beliefs were actually faked. The better known examples of fake spirit photography were produced by William H. Mumler (b.1832 – d.1884). Mumler was a self-professed medium who used photography as a means to communicate with spirits. He was not the only individual to do this, but there were others who also manipulated their spirit photos. This does not mean that all spirit photography was faked. In cases where legitimate photography occurred, the conclusions of modern Spiritualism monopolized how those photographs were used to define the spiritual world.

For those paranormal societies that emerged apart from modern Spiritualism, photography remained a technology that could permit the spirit world to communicate with the living. Regardless of how independent such paranormal societies claimed to be, most of these societies adopted – and continue to do so – the conclusions made by modern Spiritualists. Whenever a photograph reveals an apparition, the conclusion most often made is that the spirit of a dead person is depicted. Such conclusions were popularized by modern Spiritualists who made use of photography to promote their beliefs. Paranormal societies are simply carrying on with the same conclusions made by modern Spiritualists. In doing so, paranormal societies are not using photography to simply document any random paranormal activity, but to promote the belief that ghosts are the spirits of the dead.

Another form of technology that was used among modern Spiritualists, are sound recording devices. The use of sound recording devices became more prominent among paranormal researchers. Both the technology of sound recording and modern Spiritualism also shared an interesting relationship much like the camera/spirit photography did. The earliest known recording of spirit voices was unintentionally recorded in 1901 by the Russian ethnologist, Waldermar Bogoras (b.1865 – d.1936). Bogoras had no ties with people who were trying to use sound recording technology to communicate with spirits. Although the earliest sound recording of what is thought to be spirits had nothing to do with either modern Spiritualism or paranormal societies, sound recording technology was quickly adopted in various ways.

Thomas A. Edison (b.1847 – d.1931) was known for his great inventions such as the first phonograph capable of recording and reproducing sound. Attracted to modern Spiritualism, Edison also believed that science could document and eventually explain the paranormal phenomenon of spirits and the afterlife. In fact, in one of Edison’s essays entitled Spiritualism, he wrote: “I am inclined to believe that our personality hereafter will be able to affect matter. If this reasoning be correct, then, if we can evolve an instrument so delicate as to be affected, or moved, or manipulated – whichever term you want to use – by our personality as it survives in the next life, such an instrument, when made available, ought to record something.” Edison believed he could develop such a technology, which could communicate with the spirits of the dead. He never succeeded in developing such a technology, but this did not prevent the existing sound recording devices from improving and becoming readily available to others to use for such a purpose.

Born from the desires of modern Spiritualists, and people like Thomas Edison, sound recordings of spirit voices came to be known as Electronic Voice Phenomenon, or EVP. Today, there are a variety of ways to utilize EVP. What is not immediately recognized is how for most paranormal researchers EVP has become a substitute to using mediums. Consider how a medium is answered by a spirit through rapping sounds, objects moving, or actually has the spirit speak through him or her. Similarly, the paranormal researcher using EVP asks questions of a spirit, and rather than having the response manifest itself in a timely audible or visual fashion, the recording is where the response is provided. In all such cases, the voice(s) heard on the recording are thought to belong to the spirits of the dead, rather than to a demonic manifestation. Once again, the similarity between the practices and conclusions of modern Spiritualists and paranormal researchers is clear. What remains unclear, however, is how EVP can be justified without having to serve as a mediumistic alternative. Some Roman Catholic and Orthodox clergy have made recordings during exorcisms and have observed EVP. What is distinctly different here is that much like Waldermar Bogoras’ recording, the EVP was incidental and not used as a means to communicate with spirits. Sometimes, using this technology to document the paranormal may be acceptable. What may justify the use of EVP may be a matter of the conclusions made, which will determine whether or not EVP is a substitute to mediums.

Not all paranormal societies can be categorized as extensions of modern Spiritualism. The technology used by paranormal researchers to conduct their investigations does not always serve as a substitute to the practices of modern Spiritualism. Instead, it is the context in which the technology is used. If the technology is used according to ideas and practices belonging to modern Spiritualism, then the technology does serve as a substitute to mediums. Of course, most paranormal societies can be defined as extensions of modern Spiritualism if they utilize mediums or psychics. The use of technology does not always distinguish paranormal research apart from modern Spiritualism. Although briefly examined here in this article, technology has helped develop modern Spiritualism in its efforts to validate its belief system. The danger here is that some paranormal societies are merely extensions of modern Spiritualism and serve only to promote the same misguided beliefs leading people away from any serious and real understanding of spirits and the afterlife. Modern Spiritualism has deposited its beliefs and practices into mainstream society via paranormal societies. In turn, the beliefs and practices of modern Spiritualism have become much more recognizable to the masses. The same is no longer true for the teachings of the Church, which have largely been ignored or misrepresented – especially in regards to explaining paranormal phenomena.

Communication with the “spirit world” is recognized in the teachings of the Roman Catholic and Orthodox Church, although “spirit world” is not the proper expression used to identify God or His eternal Kingdom. The practices of modern Spiritualism are completely rejected, along with their interpretations and beliefs. The Church believes that the Lord is the God of the living, and not of the dead. The Gospel of Mark 12:27 clearly states: “He is not the God of the dead, but the God of the living.” When modern Spiritualists and paranormal researchers communicate with the spirits of the dead, they are certainly not communicating with those who are in heaven. There are no “beings of light” existing apart from God or His Church. Communication between the material and spiritual world does exist, and examples can be found in the Old and New Testaments, in the hagiographies of the saints, in liturgy, through prayers, and so on. All these examples belong to the Church.

The Church does not only exist in the present and material world. Those who have moved on from this life enter a new one in heaven. The body of Christ is the Church – the people. Here on earth, the Church is referred to as the Church Militant and is made-up of those who struggle against sin. There is also the Church Triumphant made-up of those who are in heaven – the saints. Through the grace of God, both the Church Militant and Triumphant are connected. The Church Militant and Triumphant make up the body of Christ – the Church is comprised of the living, and not the dead. The intercession of the saints, for example, represents this bond and demonstrates how any real communication does exist between the souls of the spiritual and physical world. Of course, prayer given onto the Lord serves as the best example. The angels are also included in this relationship between heaven and earth. However, there are also the fallen angels who continually attempt to hinder this relationship between mankind and God, and do this by presenting humanity with heretical teachings like those found in modern Spiritualism.

Individuals or groups who are presently engaged in paranormal research need to take care in their practices, and to examine their conclusions carefully. Otherwise, they may be doing greater harm than good. Christian paranormal researchers can make the same errors. This problem is not a new phenomenon, but existed in the early Church whereby mixed opinions occurred. Justin Martyr, in his first Apologies, holds to the belief that the spirits of the dead can be contacted, thereby proving the existence of an afterlife. However, there are other Church Fathers like Hippolytus of Rome who went to great lengths exposing the practices of those people claiming to contact the spirits of the dead, as frauds. The problem is an old one, and perhaps the line between a proper or improper approach to the nature of paranormal phenomena is hard to see. Paranormal phenomenon represents an opportunity for people to question and learn something about the spiritual reality. The attraction towards the paranormal stirs strong emotions and thoughts that can have a lasting impression on individuals. It is for this reason that demonic forces tend to manifest themselves greatly in such “paranormal” ways, and only to deceive those who seek spiritual experiences or answers.