09 January 2015

Book Review: Confessions of a Reluctant Ghost Hunter

The other day I was looking through book reviews in back issues of The Cauldron and saw one that caught my eye.  Confessions of a Reluctant Ghost Hunter: A Cautionary Tale of Encounters with Malevolent Entities and Other Disembodied Spirits by Von Braschler was the book.  The title sounded like it was right up my alley and The Cauldron rarely steers me in the wrong way.  I wasn't disappointed.

The problem I have with most books about ghosts, hauntings, and ghost hunting in general is that they either make all ghosts seem as friendly as Casper (Oh, all ghosts want is to be loved and acknowledged.  Please, feel free to go and try to hug the angry elemental.)  or they make ghost hunters look like white knights fiercely laying to rest malevolent monsters that lurk in every corner (An evil demon, fear not! My mighty flashlight and salt shaker shall save you!).  I was delighted to find that this book did neither of those things.

This is, quite possibly, the most realistic book I've ever read on what encountering spirits and other metaphysical beings is actually like.  At first I was skeptical.  Braschler explains that his "training" to "de-ghost" houses consisted of two meetings with a cheerful new-ager who said to talk to the spirits and get them to move on, and to simply "stake and salt*" the house if it didn't want to go.  As you might imagine, this did not inspire my confidence in the tales to come.  However, Braschler then details just how insufficient that information was and how problematic it made his later encounters. 

The encounters described in this book will be instantly recognizable to anyone experienced with the paranormal as residual hauntings, intelligent hauntings, spirit flight, and non-human hauntings - though Braschler never describes them as such.  The details of the hauntings Braschler experiences are incredibly authentic in their sheer banality.  Most hauntings that you read about in books are fairly spectacular (books flying off shelves, screaming in the night, scratches on the unwary etc.), but the average haunting is just not that interesting.  Real hauntings are made of fleeting images out of the corner of your eye, odd chills at unexpected times in unexpected places, and utterly unverifiable "coincidences" that make you think you're losing your mind. These are the hauntings Braschler describes, with a few exceptions.  

The thing that most struck me about Braschler's tale that make me actually believe him is the way he describes his experience of the paranormal.  He doesn't talk about glowing lights or strange writing, he talks about having to ground and center himself and deliberately open his mind to the frequency where the paranormal can be perceived.  He doesn't describe it as easy or natural, but as a skill that requires practice and effort.  He talks about freaking himself out when going into a building that he's been told is haunted, but never really perceiving anything there that can make him confidently say the place is or isn't haunted.  He doubts his perceptions and he doubts his ability to do anything about what he perceived.  That is the reality of dealing with the paranormal: thinking you probably understand what's going on but always doubting and always needing more proof.

 There are, of course, exceptions to the normally dubious veracity of the paranormal.  I've come across the undeniably paranormal (think demons trying to eat your head) two or three times.  Braschler deals with it twice.  This is totally believable, unlike those ghost hunters who claim to banish demons every damned day.  In the last encounter described in the book Braschler gets called in by a friend to de-ghost their trailer and ends up facing down a dark non-human entity that he's woefully unprepared to deal with.  It doesn't go well. This should surprise no one.  It takes a trained and experienced practitioner to deal with the nastier dark entities. 

If you're interested in dabbling in the paranormal I highly recommend you read this book first.  Read about what actual encounters are like before you go into that purportedly haunted house.  If you recognize yourself in the stories then do yourself a favor and get some solid defensive training before you hurt yourself.

Experienced practitioners that enjoy tales of the paranormal will enjoy this too.  I know I did.

*Braschler describes the process of staking and salting a property as driving four large iron spikes (think railroad size nails) into the ground at the cardinal points of the property and calling the watchtowers to guard the property, then to create a line of salt as a perimeter to keep the spirits out.  Yes, these actions can be a part of a successful banishing but alone they're not going to do much against something that really wants to stick around.