Since my belief in the paranormal has changed and mutated based on the knowledge and experience I'm gaining all the time, this will essentially just be an overview of the thought processes behind it, and what provoked those realisations. As long as I don't waffle, I'll be fine.
NOTE: I failed. I waffled. If you made it through to the end, I salute your courage.
I've always been interested in the paranormal, the "unknown" if you like. I remember reading Greco-Roman myths as a child and then getting interested into the other beings and creatures they believed in - outside of gods that is. That interest then moved onto other cultures and civilisations - Celts, Vikings, Anglo-Saxons, Egyptians - so by the time I was a teenager, I was well and truly fascinated in reading anything I could get my hands on.
I've always had a voracious appetite for knowledge, for reading. I spent most of my first twenty years with my head buried in books about myths, legends, history, folklore, fantasy and stories and absolutely loved it. I learnt a huge amount about our past and cultures, continually striving to find out just what our beliefs were - and naturally, this included the ghosts, spirits and wraiths of those times. I started visiting places that I found interesting - local churches, ruins, chapels, derelict houses, tunnels, basically anywhere that had a documented history. In hindsight, some of the places I went to were dangerous in the extreme (think of them as places I would not set foot in now due to trespassing laws and no dynamic risk assessment or due to human behaviours) but when you're 16 you kind of think you're invincible and it never occurred to me to not be there.
I took no photos (no phone cameras then), met no other people but visited and absorbed the atmosphere of these places. Some were incredible even in ruin, nature taking over where man had failed, sunlight filtering through dappled leaves into secret and forgotten structures. An offset dirty wooden door allowing weak sunlight to permeate the room, a forlorn table rotting where it was left with an old rusty tin cup on top in a kitchen nobody had visited for years and the remnants of netting hanging abandoned above the fractured window smeared with the grime and dirt of uncountable days.
But I digress.
I believed in ghosts by then, believed in the dead spirits of people long since gone. Did I hear anything while in these places? No. Did I see anything out of the ordinary? No. Did I feel anything? Nothing. But I still believed. And still continued to look for them.
Life kind of intervened at that point and pulled my attention back to the real world and I stopped being interested, stopped being intrigued and stopped searching. I won't go into details of what happened but...it wasn't pretty. Fast forward to my late twenties, early thirties and I was once again able to focus on other things except...it was totally different.
No longer did I have to rely on just books, now I had the whole of the internet and social media and I truly expected things to have evolved somewhat from when I was younger. When my partner and I formed SPRO, we'd looked at other teams and saw what they were doing. Naturally, you'd assume (in our naiivety) that it was how you were supposed to do things. I believed that orbs were the spirits of people. We compiled a huge list of kit we needed to get, such as a Spirit Box, KII meters, cameras galore, thermal and full spectrum cameras. We watched video footage and thought the pale flecks dashing across the screen were spirits or ghosts. We'd joined another team prior to this, worked with other teams at that time too and since they all did investigations the same way - at night with all this kit - we followed their lead.
We joined Facebook eventually last year as an official page and you can see on there that we were liking and supporting other teams, promoting paranormal unity as we were firm believers in all teams were working together for the same goal. Gradually, over time, it felt...false. It felt wrong. It felt like we were starting to say one thing but those we spoke to were saying another. My frustration mounted and built and it seemed like there was no way forward. By this time, the website here was revamped. Gone were the non-scientific "theories" about how residual hauntings take place, the massive list of haunted/ghost-hunting/ghost-equipment websites, the thoughts on how a ouija board worked and instead, we really put effort into learning more about what we were looking for. We revamped how we worked, added risk assessments and safety briefs among other things. I rewrote and tweaked the data I'd collected for my hypotheses.
It still wasn't enough, and we seriously considered closing SPRO down as we couldn't find a way forward. We both still believed in the paranormal but seemed to be working against the mainstream. We couldn't figure out why all investigations were done in the dark when people experienced them during the day too. We were wondering about the kit we were supposed to be using and why we needed it. We stopped watching Ghost Adventures and stroking egos. Whenever I mentioned to anyone that their picture might be explainable, that their EVP sounded more like a sigh from someone else in the room, that they probably shouldn't be claiming to have psychic powers if they didn't, I found myself bitched at, blocked and deleted. And the frustration grew. I started reading more on scientific processes and where I was going wrong with my studies. Jason started reading more on psychology and orbs and collectively, slowly, we started to change our mindset.
And then I happened to see a friend of mine on facebook had commented on a photo from the I Am Kenny Biddle page, and clicked to have a look. After having a read through, I hit like and then sent him a message. Seems so long ago actually but I consider him a friend now and it's through him I found the Paranormal Bullies group. And my eyes were well and truly opened. HERE was a bunch of people who thought like I did but more formulated. I have grown a huge amount in both knowledge and experience since then, rewritten the hypotheses into conjectures (and yes, I'm rewriting them again since they still aren't where they need to be), learnt about cameras and how they work - and why there are no such things as orbs (so much more that if I did try to name everything, I'll be writing for a long, long time to come). I can never repay them what they've given to me without even knowing it. Through them, I've found the brilliant Worst Paranormal, the amazing Beyond Bullshit, the much-needed Paranormal and Supernatural Claims Review among others.
My belief in the paranormal is still there but I no longer see it as essential as it once was. It's changed beyond all recognition from "dead people trying to contact us" to what it should be: a healthy respect and recognition of our ancestors and what they believed. And no more than that.
My frustration with the paranormal community as a whole is still there but I have an outlet, I know the way forward. It will take time but we'll get there, and I have a lot of hope for what comes next for us. I'm now concentrating on getting my degree and working with the Cadets but SPRO will remain. I have no problem with people believing what they want but if they're conning, defrauding or manipulating innocent people out of money or taking advantage of them, we will now speak up. And for those in the same place I was, you are not alone. Forge your own path. You won't regret it.
And if you're one of those I mentioned above (Angela, Kenny, Larry, Tkay, Christopher in particular): Thank you. Small words, but the wealth of feeling behind it is beyond comprehension.