{mosimage}With a shake of her head and a slightly embarrassed shrug, a current member of the Spring Lake N.C. Ghosthunters commented, “I can honestly say that of all the hobbies that I ever imagined myself becoming involved with, ghost hunting never was one of them.” But she added with a shy, almost apologetic smile, “But now, I just love it!”
    Ghost hunting is becoming one of the nation’s fastest growing hobbies. Much of the credit for the emergence of ghost hunting’s gain in popularity and legitimacy is given to Jason Hawes and Grant Wilson, the founding members of The Atlantic Paranormal Society (TAPS). Several years ago, these two average men, who are plumbers by day, managed to get the SciFi Channel to film their team’s ghost hunting investigations as a regular, weekly TV show.
    This public exposure of how ghost hunting can be done using scientific and experimental methods, along with specialized equipment, took away much of the scary, and often comical, stigma that was once attached to intentionally encountering ghosts and the study of the paranormal. Other networks picked up on the theme and now have their own ghost hunting and/or paranormal shows. An offshoot of the popularity of the programs is that underground groups that secretly or privately investigate or that have existed quietly within the structure of many religious bodies and organizations, are now going public.
    Ghost hunting and studying the paranormal has gone mainstream.
    In our community, the Spring Lake N.C. Ghosthunters have been conducting paranormal investigations for years. The group, founded by two childhood friends, Mick Barraza and the late Dave Gilfillan, conducts scientific investigations and to help those who are experiencing — or seem to be experiencing — paranormal activity. Upon request, the current team performs free paranormal investigations of homes, businesses or sites on a regular basis.
    By using special equipment, experience and skill, Barraza said that one of his group’s main purposes is to attempt to “debunk” or to investigate and try to explain through logical and feasible means any occurrences that might appear to be paranormal in nature. He added that he and his team go into investigations with a healthy dose of skepticism — but also with the understanding, compassion, and knowledge that not everything can be logically explained.
    According to Barraza, the group is grounded in scientific theory. Members conduct their investigations with a professional demeanor and use equipment such as digital and regular cameras, video cameras, K-II meters, laser thermometers that measure temperature fluctuations, and several other experimental ghost hunting devices.
    Using this equipment, the team attempts to capture sometimes unseen images or record unheard human voices, or obtain other types of evidence of ghosts and of paranormal activity.
    So just who are these people who choose to investigate the existence of ghosts, spirits and unexplained phenomenon?
    Members of the group are an extremely diverse group of individuals. The team is made up of business professionals, blue-color workers, a few ministers, grandmothers, several mediums and retired individuals. Barraza noted that his team comes from a cornucopia of professional, social and religious backgrounds, but the members strive to respect one another’s differences and individual gifts. He said that he considers one of the group’s greatest strengths to be its multi-faceted membership.
    The broader answer to the question of why someone chooses to become a ghost hunter, however, is more complex. Some people become ghost hunters for the thrill, and maybe the fright factor of seeing or experiencing a ghost or something paranormal. Others join because ghost hunting is one aspect or expression of their religious or spiritual journey or personal belief system. Many join out of curiosity about the paranormal or because of personal experience with the paranormal.
    Though many people are becoming more open to the scientific examination of ghosts and hauntings, many people still do not approve or understand the nature of scientifically-based ghost hunting. They still have no idea about the practices, skills and knowledge required and involved in this emerging science, Barraza said. Some people even assume that ghost hunters are non-religious individuals, witches, Satanists or people who focus solely on the occult. Barraza said those stereotypical and prejudicial notions are not true of the vast majority of ghost hunting groups.
    Belonging to a ghost hunting group definitely does have an upside, according to Barraza. Not only does a member occasionally get to encounter a ghost, but one also may find a place of refuge and safety within the group. One of the key drawing points is the common and unifying element of members being able to share their personal stories about their own paranormal encounters and experiences with other individuals who have had similar experiences or who are open to hearing about these encounters. The group is a safe place to talk about this subject that many people avoid.
    Members also learn what could almost be considered a new language of paranormal, spiritual, supernatural, and technological terminology and subject matter: “Did anyone feel that cold spot?” “Look at this orb I caught on film. Do you think it is a water spot, or a dust particle, or since it glows, could it be an energy orb?” “Anyone know the best place to buy an EMF meter?” “Do you think that black shadows are a form of negative energy, intelligent dark matter or the manifestation of a human spirit?”
    When it comes to scientific ghost hunting, there is a lot to learn, and there’s more to it than running around in the graveyard at night.
    Well, maybe.
    Barraza admits that sometimes his team does actually run around in graveyards in the middle of the night — but with permission, with proper regard for the gravestones and the graveyard property, and most importantly, always with the utmost respect toward any spirit that may be encountered by the team.
    If you have a paranormal problem and want help from the Spring Lake N.C. Ghosthunters, please call 436-2337. Leave a message on the machine and the case manager of the team will call you back. On Halloween, Up & Coming Weekly staffers will accompany the team on an investigation. Check back next week for the outcome of that investigation.

 Rules for Ghost Hunting

Here are a few final words of wisdom from the members of the Spring Lake N.C. Ghosthunters:
•Ghost hunting might be fun and exciting, but understand that it can also be potentially dangerous.
•ALWAYS let someone know where you are going.
•Never ghost hunt alone.
•Always obtain permission before investigating a site because you can get charged with trespassing  —  or maybe even shot  —  if you investigate a site without permission.
•Find out beforehand what the visiting hours and policies are of graveyards that you might want to investigate, especially at night.
•If possible, give local law enforcement advance notice that you will be conducting an investigation in a certain area. They tend to get nervous and ask lots of questions when they unexpectedly encounter a group doing an investigation in the middle of the night.
•Be aware that not everything that goes bump in the night is friendly and sometimes what you investigate can be extremely frightening and even dangerous…and might even follow you home.
•Never use ouija boards because you may inadvertently open spiritual doorways that are often extremely hard to close.
•ALWAYS bring extra batteries.
•Wear appropriate clothing.
•Remember to check for ticks after ghost hunting outdoors.
•Never bring children along with you on a ghost hunt or investigation.
• ALWAYS be respectful of any spirit that you might encounter or are hoping to encounter.
•And finally, from the Spring Lake N.C. Ghosthunters, “Have a happy and most importantly safe ghost hunt!”

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