If you watch enough of those Paranormal Activity movies (or just the first 45 minutes of It Follows), chances are you'll start looking for otherworldly explanations for any weird shit going on in your life. (Or at the very least, have a sneaking sense of dread every time you look into a bathroom mirror late at night.) Depending on how intense these heebie-jeebies end up feeling, there are options, like a catch-your-own-ghost kit, or even consulting with a professional.
Edmonton-based Greg Pocha is a paranormal investigator and the Director of Paranormal, Parascience and Parapsychology Studies with the Eidolon Project Canada, the largest and most established paranormal research group in western Canada. We asked him to explain what the hell he does, what ghosts really want, and why he hates the term "ghost hunter."
VICE: How'd you get into paranormal investigations?
Greg Pocha: I had a lot of spare time on my hands. I ran a gym. I had a mild interest in things that were unknown and mysterious. I had time to read up on different things and I was particularly interested in ghosts and hauntings. So, after I started gaining more knowledge, people started asking me questions and then once in awhile I'd go out to a place to take a look around. Word got out and from there it just started gaining popularity and I became more and more well-known.
What are you trying to uncover with these investigations? What do people want you to do?
What they want us to uncover are mysterious things that are happening around their home—things moving, maybe they're seeing shadows, they're hearing things, feeling unknown presences—and they're wondering what's going on, whether they have a haunting or not. So we come in to investigate to see if it is a haunting to begin with or if there's a normal explanation to it. I'm always looking for the normal explanation first. From the client's point of view, were helping them out to discover what this is occurring in their home. From our point of view we're trying to not only help them through that but to help to gain some sort of evidence that an afterlife either does or does not exist. We're trying to find more proof that it does exist.
What sort of tools are you using to measure this?
A lot of it is secret. It's under development. Some are software and implements that we use that we're not telling anyone about. Otherwise, we'll use normal type stuff, such as electromagnetic field meters to see if there's a change in the electromagnetic field where we are. We'll use very sensitive temperature measurement, because ghosts are reported to change temperature when they come in—usually a cold spot but it can be a hot spot. We have instruments that measure wind velocity and whatnot to see if there's a draft around a window that could be causing this. We have highly sensitive microphones—some of these are secret, the way we use them. We are working with RVPs (which other people call EVP) and we can almost now pick up voices in real time.
It's a term by a man Konstantīns Raudive who was out recording bird calls (because he loved birds) as a hobby on an old fashioned tape recorder. And he was hearing voices back where there should be no voices on the tape. So from there it picked up that he was recording the voices of the dead. At the time he called it Electronic Voice Phenomena (EVP) and the name has stuck. But the name no longer applies. Because when you break it down, it's voice phenomena, it's not an electronic voice—that's Stephen Hawking. We call it RAP and RVP. RAP is a general term for Recorded Audio Phenomena. The fact that it was electronically recorded is moot. Then RVP is a subtitle which is Recorded Voice Phenomena. We're picking up voices with our equipment that shouldn't be there, in almost real time. Not well enough that we can have a conversation with them, but well enough that we know that something responds to a question that we ask. We still have to run it through our editing equipment to find out and clear it up and bring out the voices.
Are clients present during the investigation?
They have to be. We won't do an investigation without anybody on site. That's for everybody's protection—legally, they could come in and say, "you know I had a diamond ring sitting on the dresser." So for our sake, we want a client there at all times. Either the ghost is haunting the house or the client. If the client is in a hotel room halfway across the city, then they'll drag the ghost with them.
I didn't realize ghosts were attracted to certain people. Is that common?
We had a phenomena happen in Red Deer once. There were three girls. It's very much like the DuBois family from the television show Medium. The three girls are all blonde, they all had a medium ability to them. But one of them was very strongly attracted by a ghost. There was enough activity in the home that we were still able to record stuff. But she went off to babysit and as soon as she got there, she turned on the TV and the TV went off. So that's something with her, because the ghost was attracted to her. So we had to find out what she did. One of the things she did was volunteer at an Alzheimer's home. I had an idea. I said why don't you talk to this person, see if it's a patient, see if it's an Alzheimer's patient. See if we can get some kind of response. At the same time we were running an experiment with our walkies. It was the clearest IVP we've ever picked up. Czar Briones (our 1st Assistant Director) started asking a question; "are you lost? Do you know where you're going?" Something she would have asked one of her patients. And we get back as clear as a bell "I am not dead." Five people in the room heard that. And we have it recorded.
But some ghosts haunt places, right?
A person who really liked his house, or maybe died in the house, or had a tragedy happen in the house may remain in the house. We've investigated a place in Forestburg, Alberta, where the owner of the house did not want other people living in the house that he built. So he was trying to get everybody out. We picked up an RVP and we asked him, "Bill. Do you want this team—not the people who live here, but this team—to get out of your house?" We listened back and about 19 seconds in—we didn't hear at the time, but we rarely do—on the playback we get: "OUT!" Clear as a bell. And this wasn't a radio transmission we picked up because we were literally in the middle of nowhere. He just wanted us off his property.
Have you ever been unsuccessful in getting rid of a presence?
We can't tell. There's absolutely no way of knowing. The only way we know is whether the clients phones us up seven months later and say it's gotten worse, which has never happened. Or if we feel ourselves a second cleaning is necessary, we'll come back and do a second cleaning. Usually they work. If they don't work and the main reason for that is the client themselves—regardless of what they say—in their hearts, they want the ghost back. Ghosts aren't stupid, they'll say well, if you want me—voila! Here I am.
How many investigations have you done?
Hundreds. That's also helping people with All Experts, I answer questions on an expert website. I've done over 600 of those, alone.
How many physical investigations do you do each year?
We do about 12 a year. It really depends on the year. We do more, of course, in the fall and winter. In summer, people are out of their house more, either that or ghosts take vacations. We're not sure. But no, people are out of their house more, so they're not noticing as much, and nighttime falls at a later time, and they're out and active.
What's the most rewarding part?
When you're having your initial meeting with the client and you're talking to them as if they're not crazy. They realize there's someone willing to talk to me, and meet with me, and let me tell my story. And then when you say it sounds like you might have something there; we're willing to take on an investigation—it's like a load has been lifted off their shoulders. Their eyes sparkle a little bit more, their mood lightens, they can laugh more freely. That's the most rewarding part. Someone is listening that doesn't think they're nuts.
Is this a non-profit?
All expenses and equipment are out of pocket. People have offered money, we refuse it. If people feel they want to give something, we hint that they make a donation to the Northern Alberta Make A Wish foundation or the Stollery Children's Hospital in Edmonton. We demand that our name not be used at all.
What are some misconceptions surrounding your work?
We have a society now where people will get in contact with me over something that is obviously a psychological or medical issue, before they'll contact a doctor. And I find that's just strange.
I have a question waiting for me right now about someone's 16-year-old daughter who couldn't get up, she was paralyzed, she couldn't scream. Of course this goes back to what a lot of people feel; that they're being held down by a demon. What it is, is sleep paralysis with either a hypnagogic or hypnopompic hallucination. It's totally normal and all of us have them. Some people are more aware that they're having one. In a case like this, it's because they don't know that there's a physiological cause for what's happening. It's a chemical that's released from your brain, that causes your muscles to paralyze, so, if you dream that you're Rocky Balboa in the ring, you don't beat the snot out of your wife. Your muscles are paralyzed so you don't act out your dreams. There's some people who don't have that chemical and they act out their dreams.
Why don't you like the term "ghost hunter"?
This is why I don't like to be referred to as a ghost hunter: 99 percent of the time, no matter what happens, they say it's paranormal. I have studied psychology, psychiatry, I'm probably the only private person in Edmonton who has the DSM, which is the bible for psychiatrists. I own the Compendium of Pharmaceuticals and Specialties, which is the bible for pharmacists.
I ask people if they're on medication. If they say yes, I ask what. It's important for me to know if it's a hallucinogen or not. I've studied sleep, sleep behaviour, neurology. As it pertains to the paranormal, I have to know all of the stuff that is "normal" so I can tell the difference.
I've heard of cases—people in the states that run one of the largest paranormal groups out there—with one of their recorded EVPs, and they said it was a man—it was a "vuuppp" sound. As soon as I heard it, I knew what it was. It was a mosquito buzzing a mic! Because we have infrared light, we attract bugs when we're out in the dark, especially in summer. And they'll come flying towards the light. If it's a very sensitive microphone, it will pick up the buzz. We don't rely on gimmicks.
What do you say to people who are skeptical of this line of work?
The truth is that these people are not skeptics, paranormal investigators are the skeptics. In keeping with the original meaning of the idea, a skeptic was one who questions. So in all honesty, those who do not believe in non material things are not skeptics, as they don't question, they answer. They are pseudo-skeptics, they are cynics. As a paranormal investigator, and because I question, I research, I explore - I say, "I may be wrong, but I'm willing to take a ship to the edge of the horizon and discover the truth, not assume it."
Cynics say, "If ghosts exist, prove it." I counter with "If ghosts do not exist, prove it!" But cynics are butt-sitters, nay-sayers who wait until others have made advancements. Not a single one is doing any exploration to prove their belief, to prove it once and for all that an afterlife can not exist. But being materialistic, they can not think outside of their 3 dimensional box. To them consciousness ends at death, while there are those involved in theoretical quantum physics (scientists) who are brave enough to state that the universe could not exist without consciousness.
Do you ever get scared doing this job?
Scared, no. I'm so used to doing this. There's not much that scares me anymore. One time I was picking up a battery from a camera pack, I had been re-charging to replace it. So I wasn't exactly aware of where everybody was. I was in the dark, I was using the infrared light to guide my way around. I stood a few feet from our electrician who was sitting on the floor and another was in the other room asking questions. I had our camera on Liz and the hallway. I decided to scan. When I got to about 90 degrees, I pick up this very human face two inches from me. I didn't realize my client was standing there beside me. It scared the shit out of me!
This interview has been edited for length and style.
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