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.

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. 

Death touches us all

For life and death are one, even as the river and the sea are one. – Khalil Gibran

Over the past few days we have been fortunate to have met with some wonderful people. Their generosity, at having given up part of their day to talk with us, is overwhelming.

As well as gathering great interview material for the documentary, we – on a personal level – are learning so much. Not only that, we are being captivated by this experience. Admittedly, I had expected to have gathered information via these interviews in a somewhat sterile manner: go in and extract the necessary information with pre-prepared questions. That, however, is just not how it works.

When discussing spirits, death and the afterlife, there has to be personal involvement. I have been somewhat taken aback by how deeply the subject is affecting me.

In particular, after a meeting with a spokesperson for the Spiritualist Church I was left bewildered. Not only had I learned so much about a religion which, until previously, I had thought of very rarely, if ever, my personal life had been drawn into the discussion. I do not wish to reveal too much (as the documentary is the time and place for that!), but I will say that this journey is much more profound than I ever thought it would be.

We are not merely researchers – we are human beings.

The following day – yesterday – I was once again reminded of this fact when meeting with a psychical researcher and author. As she discussed her own personal experience of the death of a loved one and possibly receiving a message from the ‘other side’, the rawness of her emotions were visible to me. Vicariously, I felt those emotions, and as such understood a little bit more about why what we are doing has to be so much more than a sterile examination.

Death touches us all – we cannot discuss it without giving over a piece of ourselves.

And so it begins…

Yesterday we travelled from our home in France to the port, across the English Channel to Portsmouth, and then up the country to near Sheffield. Today, we will continue our journey north to the Scottish border, where adventure (and hopefully a ghoul or two!) awaits!

After just one day of our journey, Erik and I are already exhausted! Travelling, including seemingly endless hours of driving into the night, is certainly tiring. However, we are full of excitement for this adventure, and cannot wait to meet with all those we have scheduled to meet with.

As I begin this journey, I am filled with a mixture of emotions: anxiety, excitement and a longing to be surprised. I want to experience something which will challenge my understand of the world around me. Yet, at the same time, I am having a hard time believing that I will experience such a moment. My sceptical, cynical mind, is expecting to be disappointed: to either encounter nothing that I would classify as paranormal, or to be able to explain away anything I do.

I sincerely hope that I will be proven wrong.

What is your starting opinion? Are you of the same mind as me? Or, do you need no convincing?

Encountering so many believers, as I invariably do as The Paranormal Scholar, as well as in my conversations with members of the public, can often make me feel unreasonable in my beliefs. That being said, I cannot abandon my stance of scepticism. Whilst I have an open-mind, and always try my best to be non-judgemental of what others have to tell me about their own beliefs, I need something more than stories. I need evidence. I need to see something with my own eyes. I need to experience something inexplicable for myself. Only then will I be convinced.

So, with that, let us go in search of the dead!