Thursday, August 29, 2019

'Ghost Psychology': A Fundamental Oversight

The premise of the 'traditional' understanding of a haunting often goes as follows:

Person X has passed away. Person X lived in this house for a long while. Person X also died a rather sudden, perhaps even violent, death; or, perhaps, losing them was more anticipated. Whatever the case, observations of 'strange' things happening in the environment lead one to believe that Person X continues to sustain themselves, somehow, in that place. In fact, at times, Person X (or, the 'ghost' of Person X) seems to act intelligently, giving signs, or answering questions in a way. Or, maybe they're still there doing what they always did (rocking in a favorite chair, opening a drawer looking for their cigarettes, etc). Person X has chosen, for one reason or another, to do the things they do now, in the 'afterlife', for reasons known only to them.

In come the paranormal investigators (like us), asking their questions. "Why are you still here?" "Are you angry at Person Y?" "Are you sad about (insert particular situation)?" "What would you like to tell so-and-so?"

But, how in vain might these traditional procedures, based on a potentially outmoded theory, really be?

Human Psychology is the Result of Human Biology


We, the living, breathing, Netflix-watching, don't do anything just for the sake of doing it. We either keep doing something because we are reinforced in some way by doing it, or, we change what we are doing because we are punished for a particular behavior. Although these reinforcements and punishments come in many shapes and sizes, at the end of the day, they both boil down to one thing: biological input.

Most of us don't keep eating because we have to constantly remind ourselves that we're living organisms that require energy and nutrients from food. Rather, we get a biological signal that we hunger. Then, when we eat, we are internally reward again--reinforced--by the release of neurotransmitters like Serotonin. In essence, these neurotransmitters dictate a lot of what we do and how we do it--not by telling us what to do, but by making it either more or less likely that we will engage in a particular behavior.

Herein lies the issue. Although it is a simple, easy error to perpetuate, we cannot equate something that ostensibly lacks anything approaching biology with human biology. That is to say, we can't truly begin to assume that entities or energies responsible for paranormal phenomena in an environment are acting on what we think of as human motivations. Where, then, does that leave us?

We must wipe the preconceptions from the canvas of our minds. We must start with only observing.

Examining Paranormal Behavior to Understand Paranormal Psychology (Parapsychology)


Naturalistic observation is the absolute foundation of paranormal investigation. That is to say, to do it 'correctly', we do not enter a situation expecting particular behaviors from particular entities (deceased Person X) to occur. Rather, we watch. We listen. We use multiple lines of questioning and stimulation. And then, we wait. We wait a lot.

Of course, before any of that happens, we question the living. They are the ones who have been beholden to the behavior of this strange phenomena, after all, especially by the time they've emailed, messaged, or called us. They've experienced these things over the longest baseline, and that information becomes critical. That person may have their own ideas of 'who' this entity or entities might be--but the most important aspect is what they've observed.

"I've found one of the cabinets in the kitchen open twice," someone may relay to us. "I heard a loud knock on my door one day, and when I checked it, no one was there. It happened again just recently," might come another report. "The light in the bathroom turns on by itself. I wasn't startled by it at first, but then it kept happening."



These repetitious behaviors are, at least in my opinion, fairly important. From a psychology standpoint, it poses this question: what is reinforcing that behavior? That is, what is this entity, energy, or presence getting from turning on that light switch? "Well, they're trying to get my attention, I think." And there, we would lapse into the fundamental error again: we are assuming for human psychology--that is, we are putting biological expectations on something without biology (that we know of, anyway).

There is plenty of precedent in nature itself for repetition without biological influence. Consider crystals, which form elegant patterns through repetition. The crystal does not know, or think, or feel biological influence in any way--it is simply a piece of our universe programmed at a very base level to operate in this manner. Our solar system operates off of repetition through the force of gravity (at least, that's our last best understanding). Does repetition, then, just naturally 'occur' without further explanation or causal factors? That is, does that light switch turn on because of the simple universal principle of repetition itself?

Nonbiological Entities


When it comes to hauntings, the evidence argues against the notion of repetition happening for repetition's sake. The most immediate counterargument are electronic voice phenomenon.

EVPs very well could, if recorded often enough in an environment, be proven to be on a loop of sorts as well. But our group, as well as countless others, have recorded some demonstratively intelligent EVPs--that is, the voice or sound recorded is fairly obviously in response to something we've said or done in an immediate time frame. So, how do we resolve this with the fact of the lack of biology on the part of the 'respondee'?

The truth is, at this point any theory is as good as another. (I have my own, but that may well be another blog.) We will keep our eyes and ears open, in the meantime. More importantly, we will keep trying to keep our very human assumptions in check.





Saturday, July 27, 2019

The Inbetween: Alternative Explanations to That Strange Voice

The bumps in the night that haunt us aren't always the product of the paranormal--but they're also not simply a 'crazy mind believing crazy things.' Alternative explanations to purported activity come up often in what we do; in a sense, we have a duty to approach any claim with a critical eye. Within the context of my professional life in psychology, knowledge of the field becomes invaluable at times. With that being said, here are the most common explanations for happenings that seem either paranormal or 'crazy', but are really neither.

(A disclaimer, as well: the following is not psychological advice. This blog will not take the place of actual psychiatric treatment. This should be sought with a professional in person.)


Anticipatory Hallucinations
Believe it or not, anyone can be susceptible to auditory hallucinations--that is, hearing things that aren't there.

I can't count the number of times I've had clients I was treating mention these episodes, usually in a very guarded fashion when first asked about the symptom, and not fall into the category of suffering from psychosis in the classic sense. In fact, stress, depression, and anxiety are very often causes of these strange aberrations in perception.

Take for example what is perhaps the most common situation in which an individual experiences an out-of-the-blue auditory hallucination: a mother hearing a baby cry when, in fact, one isn't crying. This is what I refer to as an anticipatory hallucination. These mothers are often on-guard, especially if they are first-time mothers, and their sleep has already been negatively affected by the adjustment in their life. In some cases, the mother may suffer from general anxiety in their every-day life. They are ready to hear a baby cry--so ready, that their mind perceives a baby crying without sensing it. This can prove especially true in cases of post-partum depression.

Depression itself can also lead to episodes of auditory hallucinations. In fact, one the of diagnoses we cite from the DSM V (our diagnostic 'bible') is termed Major Depressive Disorder, recurrent (or single episode), severe, with psychosis. A lot of words, but they all serve as identifying modifiers of the diagnosis. The 'with psychosis' part, again, doesn't mean that the individual suffers from Schizophrenia, Schizoaffective Disorder, or any other long-term psychotic disorder. Rather, the depths of this person's depression can be so substantial that it can infringe upon their sense of perception.



This is where things can become tricky for us diagnosis-wise. If a daughter lost her father five years ago, but says at times that she can still hear him talking to her at night, then how do we approach this? A diagnostic mind will almost immediately go the idea of depressive symptoms as an influence. The spiritual mind says that the daughter's father is trying to communicate messages to her. The difference will require more assessment (questioning) of what's being reported. No assumption tops the further acquisition of pertinent information.

And what about when you're sitting all by yourself, only to hear your name called? Here, I've found stressed-out anxiety suffers are the usual complainants of this phenomenon. These individuals are usually perpetually 'on edge', so ready to have to respond to something that they often 'hear' themselves being beckoned before it happens.

Remember: we've explored one symptom here in auditory hallucinations. A disorder requires several symptoms to be reported in order to begin to be diagnosed. Most people at some point on their lives will experience something that can be categorized or seen as a symptom of mental illness. Frequency and other coinciding symptoms are what separates isolated incidents from ongoing disorders.


Stimulant Abuse
O7S responded to a case last year in a very small northern Louisiana town. A man was reporting that he was being constantly harassed by a dark force. He reported seeing it walk past his windows, shaking his home, and generally causing disconcerting issues. This man had been so bothered by what was happening, that he had moved repeatedly from one camper trailer to another--three total--in trying to elude this entity.

What our group found when we arrived on the scene made things abundantly clear to me what was going on from the get-go. The foil over the windows was an obvious tip, but when the claimant admitted to a history of substance abuse during our interview, my skepticism on this case was cemented. We conducted the investigation despite my read on things. We'll always give the people asking for our help the benefit of a doubt.

Later, during the evidence review, we did recover something in our audio that might have been considered paranormal by some in our group. Of course, I had already fallen prey to my own bias. There wasn't a lot of the evidence, and I disagreed with what I was told was captured (and offered an alternative explanation). I stand by my interpretation.

This claimant had a history of methamphetamine abuse, which he had stated had stopped some time ago. I personally doubted this, but even that is a moot point. Meth abuse, whether still not being used or not, often leads to Stimulant-induced Psychotic Disorder. The most common symptoms of this are heightened paranoia (the feeling of being followed, stalked, or conspired against), auditory hallucinations not unlike the ones mentioned in the previous section, visual hallucinations (almost always fleeting shadows seen at the corners of one's vision), and emotional lability (shifting moods, especially evident in disproportionate irritability).

All of that can make anyone feel like they're being targeted by a demonic entity.

All we could do in this case was urge the claimant to consider substance abuse treatment. He was not satisfied with this conclusion, unfortunately. Hopefully one day he'll consider our suggestion.

The Unexplained

And then, sometimes neither of these categories fit. Remember: try to debunk a perceived strange phenomenon on your own first. It's human nature to want to jump to conclusions, to be able to readily explain something even if through spiritual means or whatever one's belief system may be. Once all of the above has been ruled out, then it's time to really start arching that eyebrow.

Then it's time to contact us.

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Interview: Lyle Blackburn on What Lurks in Louisiana Woods


Lyle at Twelve Mile Bayou

Whether you've seen him on Monsters & Mysteries in America, heard him on Coast to Coast AM, or read one of his previous books on the subject, odds are you've ran across cryptid hunter Lyle Blackburn. We asked Lyle what he thinks may be going unseen in southwest Louisiana.



O7: First of all, Lyle, you're a Texas native, correct?

LB: Correct.  I was born in Fort Worth and I’ve lived in the Fort Worth or Dallas areas all my life.  My father’s family is from a town in far East Texas, so we often had family reunions near Louisiana.  I was also fortunate to have a family that like hunting and camping so I was able to experience much of the outdoors in Texas, Arkansas, Oklahoma, and Louisiana.

O7: We are always interested in takes on cryptids in southwest Louisiana from the vantage point of cryptid researchers. Have you had the opportunity to investigate this kind of phenomena in our area? Do any Louisiana sightings make it into your new book, Beyond Boggy Creek?

LB: I have several sections in the book which cover the history and modern sightings of bigfoot-like creatures in Louisiana.  Some of the more prominent areas include the eastern portion along the Sabine River, eastern Caddo Lake, bayous near Alexandria, Zwolle, St. Martin and Rapides Parishes, Atchafalaya Swamp, and Honey Island Swamp, among others.  The reports come from a variety of people such as average citizens, loggers, truckers, hunters, and even a police officer.  With the vast amount of wooded areas, boggy bottoms, rivers, and inland swamps, Louisiana seems to be a perfect place to hide unknown creatures, and not surprisingly, there’s lots of credible reports coming from there.

I’ve personally investigated parts of Louisiana myself, such as the southern Sabine River, Caddo Lake, Twelve Mile Bayou, and Honey Island Swamp.  In these cases I’ve interviewed witnesses and gone into the deep bayous or remote woods to have a look for myself.  The Honey Island Swamp Monster is perhaps the most famous of cryptid tales from Louisiana, but there’s many other dramatic creature sightings which have taken place in the Bayou State over the years.

O7: A couple years ago, we had a gentleman in Vernon Parish send us a picture of what he described as a Sasquatch ducking out of sight as he was hunting along a pipeline. Do the majority of your reports seem to come from hunters, campers, or people simply carrying out their lives at the peripheral of the woods?

LB: Reports generally come from people who are driving through rural areas, working or living in rural areas, along with hunters, hikers, and campers.  In other words, people who are closest to the areas where creatures such as these would presumably live.

O7: We've talked to researchers in the past (Ken Gerhard, Chester Moore, and Michael Mayes, another native Texan about to put out a book on mysterious big cat populations) who believe that Sasquatch is, for the most part, an undiscovered biological creature that has found a way to elude study. Over time, have you come to this same conclusion? Or do you believe Sasquatch is something else entirely (something interdimensional or possibly extraterrestrial)?

LB: Like my colleagues you mention here, I also operate under the premise that these are flesh and blood creatures who have thus far managed to remain elusive.

O7: In the past, we've published old articles and stories we've found related to what appears to be reptilian creature sightings associated with the Sabine River area between Texas and Louisiana. Have you had a chance to look into any sort of high strangeness occurring at our border?

LB: I’ve heard a few reports of reptilian humanoids - or “lizardmen” as they’re often referred to - in the Sabine River area.  I recall one from the 1980s in which a witness reportedly saw a creature like this in a swamp between Phoenix Lake and the Sabine.  I wrote a book about the famous Bishopville Lizard Man case of South Carolina, so I’ve looked into these sort of cases at length.  To me, they are even more difficult to rectify due to the bizarre nature of a humanoid with reptilian features.  I’m not quite sure what these creatures are, but there’s no doubt people believe to have seen such things.  The lizardmen type cryptids are really fascinating to me, maybe because I’m such a big fan of the movie Creature From the Black Lagoon.  It’s like a real life version of the monster stalking the swamps of modern day America.
Beyond Boggy Creek

O7: Finally, Beyond Boggy Creek is available at Amazon and other online retailers, including your site, lyleblackburn.com. Is there anything else the southwest Louisiana audience needs to know about your work?

LB: I think anyone who’s interested in sightings of unknown creatures in the South will appreciate Beyond Boggy Creek.  It takes in-depth look at the history of bigfoot sightings all across the Southern U.S., with sightings that date back to the 1800s all the way up to modern day.  I think people in Southwest Louisiana will find the sections on the “Sabine Thing” and “Monster Central” particularly intriguing since those deal with that exact area.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

The Sulphur 'Mystery Boom' of 2014: What We Found

February 22, 2014: Sulphur, Louisiana, and a portion of the surrounding area, was literally left shaken.

The area had already been primed for alarm (so to speak). Less than a month beforehand, on January 26, a rattling series of sirens in Lake Charles had gone off in the middle of the night for no immediately discernible reason. Residents were startled, and on top of that, baffled. Little clear explanation was given in the way of what would cause the alarms to sound. Local and federal agencies were denying it was their alarms. When on the morning of February 1 the sirens blared to life once more, SWLA residents were more demanding about wanting answers. The most concrete one they were given amounted to 'mechanical malfunction.'

So when an unexplained explosion shakes your house after nine o'clock at night just a few weeks after the Lake Charles siren debacle, you want better answers. Especially since this wasn't SWLA's first run-in with 'mystery booms': just a couple months back in December, another powerful detonation was felt emanating from Houston River Road between Westlake and Sulphur. As they did with the sirens, people took to Facebook attempting to gather information. And of course, they turned to local media.

KPLC did their piece on it, of course. But many residents were disappointed with the lack of clarity. There was speculation as to a cause, but no real detail or solid leads to go on. As far as some could tell, the explosion seemed to come from the area of a local steel industry building and Kap Electric off of the east end of Fairview Avenue. What was happening in our area? What did these booms and alarms mean?



In an effort to answer this, The Old No. 7 Society filed a FOIA (Freedom of Information Act) request with the Sulphur Police Department a few months ago. Sulphur PD was more than cooperative, and for the first time, we present you with facts from responding officer reports on the night of February 22, 2014.                                             
                                                                                                                 (Kap Electric)


There was a cloud over the area thought to be the source of the explosion.
According to the report, smoke had risen '40 feet in the air.'




There had been a smaller explosion the day before.
A Superior Steel employee, from the business next door, had said that this had already happened.


Evidence of Tannerite was actually spotted by officers at the scene.
Per the report, a responding unit claimed to have spotted the remains of a tannerite target.


Looking at the facts presented, it would seem near conclusive at this point that the Sulphur event was likely the result of someone shooting Tannerite within city limits. The real question begged here is: why didn't local media more thoroughly cover the story? Did it have too much of a 'spooky' aspect to it? If that is the case, how many other stories have they chosen to turn their back on?

But, that's why The Old No. 7 Society exists. We ask those 'spooky' questions--and sometimes, we get answers.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Interview: Mike Mayes, Texas Cryptid Hunter



What typically stalks the woods of southeast Texas typically stalks the woods of southwest Louisiana as well. Because of that, we wanted to get the lay of the cryptid landscape with the Texas Cryptid Hunter. You can follow his blog (Texascryptidhunter.blogspot.com) and his Facebook feed of the same name. 



O7S: Maybe tell us about who you are and your background. What got you into hunting cryptids?



TCH: My name is Michael Mayes. I am a member of the North American Wood Ape Conservancy and the owner and writer of the Texas Cryptid Hunter blog site. I have always been interested in a good mystery and there are not many things more intriguing than sightings of cryptid creatures across the globe. I grew up in sort of a golden age of bigfoot (documentaries, television shows, books, etc.) and my interest in animals that might, or might not, exist took off from there.



O7S: In our research on sightings, including those reported to us, we know southeast Texas and southwest Louisiana seemingly share a hot spot for cryptids along the banks of the Sabine River. We've found multiple reports of a lizard-type creature associated with the river directly, and a plethora of sasquatch sightings in the surrounding forests. Have you personally ever gotten to follow up anything reported around that area, or have you found/received any other interesting accounts from there?



TCH: Yes, I am aware of a lot of the strangeness associated with that part of the state. I split my time growing up between deep east Texas (Piney Woods) and southeast Texas (Big Thicket) and have a lot of family on the other side of the river in western Louisiana. I am not familiar with the reptilian reports but am very familiar with bigfoot, or wood ape, reports from the area. I have investigated numerous sightings in the region and am convinced there is a small population of these animals living there. I, myself, had a visual of what I believe to have been a wood ape in the Sam Houston National Forest in southeast Texas back in 2005. In addition, I have found numerous tracks, a knuckle print, and heard some pretty crazy stuff at night in the area.



O7S: Have you done any research, investigation, or follow-up in Louisiana?



TCH: I have not done much “boots on the ground” work in Louisiana. I now live in central Texas and it is tough to get away and drive that far due to that darn day job of mine. I have done a LOT of work in east Texas thought and, in my opinion, it is all the same region. After all, these animals do not know where Louisiana stops and Texas begins.



O7S: We've come across a theory that chupacabras are potentially the descendants of thylacines (Tasmanian tigers) that were transported to Texas to be kept in a private collection between the late 1800s and early 1900s. Have you ever run across this theory, and what do you make of it? What do you believe the chupacabra is, if it exists?



TCH: It seems like I did hear something about that a while back but do not really know what to think about it. In Texas, folks are starting to call these hairless critters “blue dogs” due to their grayish-blue skin. I have seen one of these blue dogs/chupacabras myself and am absolutely positive that it was nothing more than a coyote or fox with sarcoptic mange. Pretty pitiful looking guy.



The chupacabras legend is interesting. It started in Latin America and the creature described was a fanged, reptilian-looking beast. Now that it is immigrated to the U.S. the chupacabras is most often described as some sort of mutant canine. I think we are talking about two different creatures here.



O7S: In southwest Louisiana, sightings of the mythic black panther are long embedded into our history and culture. We've seen where you've followed up on these sightings in Texas. How likely do you think it is that these cats exist, and how plausible would you find it that they made homes in SETX and SWLA?



TCH: I think it is very likely these cats exist. I have done extensive research on the topic and am finishing up a book on it right now. There is plenty of suitable habitat and resources in not only Texas and Louisiana for a large cat to exist but, also, across the American South.


O7S: What do you believe sasquatch is--a rare cryptid, something other-dimensional, or 'other'?



TCH: Well, that is the million dollar question isn’t it? I do not put much stock in the paranormal theories regarding wood apes. I consider myself an open-minded person but have never experienced anything that could remotely be described as paranormal while out looking for and investigating these animals. I KNOW that I have been very close to these animals on at least a half a dozen occasions and never got “zapped,” “was spoken to telepathically,” or any such thing. I can only judge based on my experiences. My opinion is that the most likely candidate in the wood ape mystery is Gigantopithecus. This was a giant ape (8-10 feet tall) that we know lived in what is now Asia at the time that mass migration occurred from that continent to North America via the Bering land bridge. Contemporaries of Gigantopithecus migrated so I feel it is possible, likely even, that this ape did as well. Some scientists, Grover Krantz is probably the most noteable, believe Gigantopithecus was likely bipedal. If so, this ape was a dead ringer for what most witnesses who claim to have seen a sasquatch describe.



TCH: Have you ever received or followed up on reports of 'goat man'?



O7S: Yes and no. The “goat man” term has sometimes been used by witnesses I have spoken to but their description has always turned out to be of an ape-like creature (no horns, etc.). I am aware of some reports where witnesses describe something more “goat-like” but have never investigated one myself.



TCH: Finally, because we follow your Facebook feed, we know you've been writing a book. Can you tell us about it, and when it may be coming out?



O7S: First, thanks for following the feed. You can also follow the blog at Texascryptidhunter.blogspot.com (shameless plug, sorry). I am finishing up the book right now. It is going to be called Shadow Cats: The Black Panthers of Texas and the American South. I admit to being very excited about it. It was a much larger undertaking than I thought it would be when I started. As the title implies, it is an investigation into the black panther mystery. I examine historical sightings, contemporary sightings, the genetics behind melanism, possible suspects in the mystery, habitat, where you are most likely to be able to catch a glimpse of one, share a survey that several big cat experts filled out, examine photos, and more. I hope it will be out within the next  few months but do not have a release date as I have not yet secured a publisher. I have one publisher who has expressed interest but has not given me a firm commitment yet so, we will see.