The great bump in the road

For the past couple of months we have been rather quiet regarding In Search of the Dead. Far from purposefully leaving you all in the dark, we have been navigating great stress and upset.

In early March a Windows Update forced itself onto our computer, right in the middle of our working day. We were in the process of backing our work up onto an external hard drive at the time. When the computer restarted it was immediately clear that something was not right. The computer was sluggish and slow to response. Yet, the extent of the damage was not yet apparent. After wrestling to restore it to normal speed by uninstalling the update, we realised that much more had been damaged. Our files – both on the computer and on the external hard drive – had been damaged. All our In Search of the Dead files (and strangely, nothing else) were completely inaccessible.

Since that time, technicians have been working hard to restore the files. Yesterday, we received the salvaged files. All of our raw files have been either partially or entirely damaged. Our project files are entirely gone. Our post-production work has to be restarted, using whatever remains of our footage.

However, we will still be able to make In Search of the Dead.

At times over the last few weeks we thought that everything we had been working on for the past year was lost. Figuring out how to tell you all was the hardest part. So, we are so very happy to be able to share this with you. It is still bad news, but not as bad as we were preparing ourselves for.

We cannot wait to get this project finished and present In Search of the Dead to you. It has been the most incredible and challenging venture we have ever embarked upon – far in excess of what we imagined.

Thank you all for your support and patience. We read every kind comment left on our videos and websites, and are always especially touched by those expressing enthusiasm for this project.

Gallery of screenshots: Our vision for In Search of the Dead

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Post-production and composing a soundtrack

Now that we are back home (and finally at the end of our filming!) we have a lot of work to do.

Post-production for a two-person team is proving challenging, time-consuming but also greatly rewarding. Being able to watch back through over 30 hours of footage, and consolidating everything we have done, is overwhelming. Did we really begin this journey just a few months ago? It seems worlds away now.

We cannot wait to share the finished product with you, but before then we have a long road to trek.

One of the most exciting aspects of the next few weeks for us is the production of an original soundtrack for the documentary. We are honoured to have the chance to work with a hugely talented, aspiring composer. From the beginning we knew that we wanted the music for In Search of the Dead to be different and well-thought out. A welcomed change, you might say, from the ‘make do’ approach we normally have to adopt. Now that we have greater resources available to us, we hope that we can deliver something spectacular – something ethereal.

So, keep your eyes peeled as we enter 2018. The wait is almost over.

Imagination is a vehicle

Throughout this trip we have encountered the notion that imagination plays a fundamental role in our ability to interpret the world around us. Indeed, humans are creative creatures, and so it makes some measure of sense that since perception is subjective, an individual’s imagination must shape interpretation.

As this documentary is a personal experiment of sorts, I have decided to test my own ability to use imagination as a vehicle to interpret the world. Now in the final stages of this journey, I have been doing stream of consciousness writing to help guide our archival research.

Akin to the methods which a medium may use to channel spirit, I have been using a combination of meditation and loosely channelled imagination in an attempt to retrieve pieces of information. Whatever words or phrases first come into my emptied mind are written down. Thus is the hypothesis: raw imagination can provide the truest insights. In this case, the truest insights into our search for the dead. In short, this is an experimental approach to test the validity of mediums using imagination as a tool for spiritual communication.

Undoubtedly, this is difficult to explain!

Our ability to keep an open-mind has been a point of consideration from the very start of this journey. Just as we can adopt a rigorously scientific mindset, we have to at least attempt to take up a spiritual mindset also.

Somewhat surprisingly, perhaps, this method has actually yielded some form of result so far.

What I may ultimately produce using this method is as of yet unknown. However, the experiment is not over. I will continue to keep an open mind and search for answers using whatever methods are at my disposal, and imagination, it seems, is a limitless pool.

A most unhappy castle

Since our last trip to the UK, we felt like we had unfinished business in regards to witnessing mediumship in action.

At the start of this project, our intention had been for a broad observation of belief in ghosts, spirits and the afterlife. However, as we have progressed we have come to realise the essential and central role which mediumship plays in these beliefs. The Spiritualists’ National Union (who enshrine “The Continuous Existence of the human soul” as one of their seven principles) provides accreditation for those who demonstrate a good level of mediumistic ability. The academia also takes an interest, with many studies, past and ongoing, focusing on the anomalous abilities demonstrated by those who identify as mediums. And indeed, the existence of a group in society who not only believes in survival but possesses the abilities to prove it is an inticing concept to believers and sceptics alike.

Last night we were fortunate to be able to enhance our insight into mediumship by meeting, once again, with Paranormal Now of Wales. Previously when we met with them our understanding of life and death was fundamentally challenged. Even now I am still struggling to integrate the experiences of our last meeting. Left with more questions than answers, we returned with a series of interview questions which we hoped would clarify certain aspects of mediumship. We also arranged to visit a supposedly haunted location, to once again witness them in the field.

The choice of location had been motivated by two concerns: our legal ability to film, and my own personal bewitchment. A ruined 14th century castle, seemingly entirely unbeloved by modern society, captivated my sentimental, historian heart. Yet, the location, it would seem, had more to tell. Once we arrived, the night quickly revealed itself as one which I would not easily forget. We all – medium or otherwise – experienced anomalous phenomena, ranging from intense feelings of presence, to the hearing of disembodied voices, to the witnessing of full-bodied apparitions. Whatever its true history, it felt like a most unhappy castle.

At the time of leaving, concern for safety had overtaken desire for documenting the paranormal.

I mentioned previously the sense of spiritual awakening that I have been feeling on this journey. This sensitivity was at its highest last night. Whilst I could feel the heaviness and tension of that location, I also felt extremely grounded, calm and – perhaps much to the counter of my teammates last night – safe. Whatever entities lurked at that castle, worldly or otherworldly, I felt a connectivity to and surety of my spiritual self unlike any other time in my life. All of this has left me seriously contemplating how it may indeed be the case that there is is a medium in all of us, and that with the right exposure and discipline we can attune ourselves to this most misunderstood of paranormal phenomena.

Without a doubt there will be more to follow.

Back to where it began

The end is within sight.

After weeks of preparation, filming in various countries, preliminary editing, and the release of In Search of the Dead‘s first trailer, we are ready to complete our final round of filming, back where it all began, in the UK.

From the 28th of September to the 8th of October we will be travelling across the country for yet more interviews and investigations. Not only that, we will make an attempt to find our own proof of life after death, by digging through local archives using information given to us by psychic mediums. It is our hope that we can not only find something spectacular for the documentary, but also for ourselves. Undoubtedly, our level of personal involvement in this project has far exceeded what we had expected. Now we want to find closure.

In keeping with our previous trip to the UK, we will once again be meeting with the academia also. This time we hope that we will have a chance to discuss the practical, as well as theoretical, side of researching life after death. We are honoured to say that our interviewee is greatly experienced in conducting experiments around survival, in particular in partnership with mediums. We are hoping to have our minds boggled!

This project is our baby. When all is said and done, we will be able to say that we gave it our best. What happens after that is down to all of you, our audience. We hope that this can be the start of a wonderful career for us. But, more than that, we hope we can bring something fresh to the paranormal genre: something serious, yet personal and emotive. We want to make you think. Whether or not you choose to believe at the end of it, is, as always, in your hands.

Until next time.

 

The most haunted forest in the world

The Hoia-Baciu Forest of Romania is globally recognised as the most haunted forest in the world.

The origins of its infamy are obscure and a catalyst for contention. From the legendary disappearance of a shepherd and his flock of 200 sheep, to UFO sightings in the forest’s bizarre Poiana Rotundă (Round Meadow), to the manifestation of ghostly apparitions and disembodied voices, the phenomena attributed to Hoia-Baciu Forest covers the full breadth of the paranormal.

Naturally, such a place was bound to draw our attention.

When organising our schedule for In Search of the Dead, a trip to Romania was almost immediately suggested. We were fortunate to have had the advice and guidance of Radiana Piț, a Romania witch, during the planning stages. However, once we arrived at the forest, Erik and I were very much alone. The air itself seemed to exacerbate that fact, so still and silent was “the world’s most haunted forest”.

The forest exudes two very different atmospheres during the day and nighttime. The primal fear associated with darkness no doubt plays a part in this. However, far from being someone who is susceptible to nighttime spookiness, I was surprised at myself when I described the uneasiness which I felt as we approached the treeline at night.

It was so very dark.

Once inside, the two of us trekked in complete darkness, with only torchlight and GPS to guide us. Luckily, the technical disruption often reported by visitors to Hoia-Baciu did not affect us that night.

It was our intention to reach the Round Meadow – the area of the forest so often reported as the epicentre of its paranormal phenomena. It was only a short walk from the entrance, but the darkness made it feel much longer. Eventually, starlight reappeared as we made it to the clearing.

Within just a few moments of entering the Round Meadow, my attention was captured by a break in the trees on my left side. Whilst there was no visual catalyst for this feeling, I could not escape the sensation that I should be cautious around that area of the clearing. After having a few days of reflection, the feeling is still difficult to describe. I was conflicted: I desired above all else to look away from that area, yet, felt like I had to keep my eyes on the opening for my own protection. I have never felt anything like this before.

It was an instinctive, gut feeling of dread.

Erik and I stood in silence for a short while, keeping the camera fixed on the opening. Nothing happened. Thinking that my imagination was getting the better of me, we decided to leave. Before we did, I took one last photograph (with camera flash) of the break in the trees which so disturbed me. The photo revealed a white-gold orb of light in the opening. Immediately after this, two white dogs – eyes shinning bright in our torchlight – entered the clearing from behind us. We took this as a signal to leave.

Under the light of the blood moon, the walk back to the car was marred by unshakeable anxiety. I could not forget the feeling that the opening had given me, and Erik was certain he could hear footsteps behind us. Every sound in the forest was now sinister.

Both of us felt like those dogs had appeared at that moment to encourage us to leave before something else happened.

Orbs have a strange reputation in the paranormal community. Relatively frequently encountered, they are easy to dismiss and even easier to ridicule. To a large degree, they are boring and overdone. Yet, this is the second time that the photographing of an orb of light has proceeded dramatic events for us on this journey. The first time the consequences were much worse than merely the feeling of dread, which is why we took the second orb as a signal for us to leave – should something else have happened.

We are not experts. We are on this journey to learn. We can only report our experiences and interactions with others as they happen. For now, we cannot draw a conclusion as to what happened in Hoia-Baciu Forest that night. After all, the power of imagination is strong, and can affect even the most sceptical. Neither of us would describe ourselves as believers. Instead, we are open-minded sceptics. However, this journey has, and continues to, test our beliefs to their limits. 

Orb in Hoia-Baciu
After a strong and instinctual feeling of dread in relation to one of the openings in the clearing, I captured this white-gold orb of light on camera. (It was not raining, and there were no reflective objects or anyone else nearby.)

The witch in all of us

Yesterday I had the pleasure of interviewing Radiana Piț, our point of contact here in Romania; artist and translator of Yearning for Spiritand, witch. Undoubtedly, she is the most inspiring person I have encountered so far during this journey.

Far from the broomstick-ridding hags of myth and fairytale, the witches of Radiana’s world are empathetic, intuitive souls who are consciously aware of and connected to their environment. Setting aside all paranormal links for one moment, there is no denying that the philosophy which Radiana adheres to encourages mental, emotional and spiritual well-being.

To be a witch is not to cackle over cauldrons and cast spells, but rather to feel a deep connectivity to oneself and one’s habitat.

Indeed, there is something of a witch in all of us.

It is this mental outlook which shapes Radiana’s beliefs in relation to death and the afterlife. Using the term “death positive” to describe her stance, her belief is that we should not fear death, but instead regard it as a natural part of existence. That is not to say that one should approach the matter light-heartedly: Radiana seems to be the last person to trivialise death. Rather, Radiana exudes as position of sincere surety. In her mind, finding and being true to your own soul’s potential is what matters.

Radiana interview still
Radiana Piț, a Romanian witch, being interviewed for In Search of the Dead.

Without a doubt, death positivity is an unusual position to encounter, not just in Anglo-American culture, but in Romania as well. A country of deep superstition and religiosity, pre-occupation with ‘where one will end up’ after death is commonplace. One’s reputation and position in society – in both life and death – are also hugely important. As such, the fear of making a mistake in life that would inhibit one’s ability to be reunited with loved ones after death haunts most people. Whilst I can only begin to understand a culture which is still alien to me (indeed, how many of us can accurately describe the culture of our own birth, even?), the widespread belief in spirits of the dead in Romania makes sense within this context. Death is an ever-present part of life.

Maybe we should all, therefore, think more of the witch inside of us. Surely the world can only benefit from people less afraid, people who are instead more in tune with themselves, their environment and, ultimately, death. 

Onwards to Romania

Unfortunately, our contact in Budapest, Hungary was unable to meet with us after unforeseen family illness. Tight as our schedule is, we had only planned to be in the city for two days. A sad turn of events, but unavoidable nonetheless. As such, we have spent the last day and a half stationary and recharging our batteries for what is to come.

Budapest is, without a doubt, a beautiful city. With our car parked at the hotel, we spent yesterday exploring on foot (a welcomed respite after what already seems like endless days in the car!). Each and every single building here seems to be adorned with decoration. For Erik especially the city stirred remembrances of his time living in Prague. Indeed, the similarities in architecture and atmosphere are palpable everywhere you look.

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Today we will be crossing yet another national border, this time into Romania. Here, we hope, our journey will truly begin!

If you haven’t read my previous post explaining this trip, you can do so here.

 

The Scholar and the Physical Medium

After experiencing our first German-style hotel breakfast (at which sparkling wine and chicken nuggets were served alongside each other!), I thought I would share an update on our trip.

On Friday we arrived in Germany, speeding along their famous autobahn towards our first destination – a town in the region of Hesse. Yesterday, Saturday, we met with Germany’s premier physical medium, Kai Muegge. This was a first for us, having only really learned of physical mediums as rare paranormal practitioners who lived their lives behind the heavy curtain of the 20th century. Luckily for us, Kai and his wife, Julia, welcomed us into their home, and openly explained physical mediumship and its different facets.

When we started this journey, we knew very little (if anything at all!) about physical mediumship. By far, mental mediumship is the more common and well-known form of mediumistic ability. However, as we have met with various people, we have unintentionally bumped into the physical form more than we had expected. In the end, one of our previous interviewees directed us towards Kai, suggesting that he was The Person to speak to in regards to physical mediumship in the modern day. Certainly, his séance group, the Felix Circle, is said to be the only practising  group which allows observation by outsiders, including academics.

During the interview, we learned some very interesting things. As usual, we were left with more questions than answers!

Séance room phenomena is something which we are still yet to experience for ourselves. Indeed, one cannot force oneself into these things: relationships need to be cultivated and trust built. With this in mind, we very much hope that our meeting with Kai will be the first of many, through which we can begin to understand this bizarre, yet fascinating, facet of the so-called paranormal.

One dilemma which we are faced with, however, is how to use all of the footage which we have thus far collected over the course of the past few months. Our intention is for In Search of the Dead to be around two hours long. We already have well in excess of this. Inexperienced as we currently are in post-production editing of a documentary of this nature, it breaks our hearts to think of all the footage which will invariably be left out. Physical mediumship alone demands such a large proportion of time dedicated to its understanding and exploration. Yet, it is not the only subject we are dealing with in our documentary. As such, we are already contemplating making a follow-up documentary of sorts on physical mediumship. Your thoughts on this matter would be appreciated!

Until next time!