>Hands up all those who don’t believe in Orbs


It was one of those minor, pleasant moments that make life worthwhile. I was half-heartedly excavating a pile of ever-increasing junk in my living room when I uncovered, face down, the latest copy of Fortean Times, forgotten and unread. I must have elbowed it off my settee just after bringing it home and it had been forgotten in the – ahem! – exciting milieu of my life.

Well, anyway, it was a good excuse to give up tidying and settle down with a cup of coffee instead. Afer a quick run through of the roster of intriguing items on the contents page, I turned immediately to the article about ‘orbs’. Orbs fascinate me. They are an entirely new phenomenon. But a social one, rather than a paranormal one.

Those (like me) who believe in ghosts and the existence of various other supernatural phenomena seem to be split into two camps: those who believe that orbs are photographic evidence of something supernatural and those (like me again) who believe they are entirely natural in origin and frankly boring. The Canadian author of the FT feature, one Randy de Kleine-Stimpson, was entirely dismissive of these fuzzy blobs.

The FT editors themselves were more succinct on their letters page: ‘Neither drifting souls nor sentient extraterrestrial ball bearings,’ they wrote, ‘the orbs are nothing more exciting than airborne particles, which might include dust, pollen, moisture, rain, snow, or dandruff – anything that is airborne and between the photographers and their subjects. These particles, usually out of focus, show up when a flash is used, reflecting its light back into the lens and vary in apparent size according to their shape and distance from the camera.’ So there!

The image on this blog was taken by a friend, Alan, when he and I were exploring Disserth church in Mid Wales. According to legend, a fearsome phantom in the form of a huge bull once charged down the aisle of this church during Sunday service and had to be laid in an impromtu exorcism by the preacher. I don’t believe that the small fuzzy blob you can see bottom right is the spirit of this irate animal or indeed any other spirit.

What I don’t understand, and what the FT article didn’t explore, is why people started believing these blobs were anything supernatural. Who the hell decided they were images of spirits or ‘proto-ghosts’, as I’ve heard them called? I suppose it’s due to the understandable hunger for evidence. The trouble with anomalies which show up on film is that they can usually be explained by faults in the processing. Digital cameras, of course, removed such problems, so when unexplained images started appearing on digital photos taken by ghost hunters in allegedly haunted places, it was all too tempting to pronounce them ‘hard evidence’.

Now, like crop circles, orbs have become a social phenomenon: a hobby, almost. Television programmes like ‘Most Haunted’ couldn’t survive without orbs, they are just about the only things they can show, other than pronouncements by ‘clairvoyants’ that can’t be proved or disproved. I guess this relates to the reason I don’t go on ‘vigils’. A bunch of people overnighting in a creepy dark house are bound to imagine things, especially if they are really desperate to experience something spooky.

And, of course, that would include me. I don’t doubt I’d imagine things, too. Perhaps the real reason is that I’m a coward. Or genuinely respect the dangers that may be inherent in supernatural manifestations. When I was a child I was the focus of poltergeist activity. It didn’t harm me physically but it frightened and upset me. So, I have reason to believe in the supernatural. I just don’t need a bunch of fuzzy blobs to convince me.

Please don’t forget to check out my other blog at http://hauntedwales.blogspot.com . And if you haven’t already done so, do visit www.forteantimes.com for lots of top notch weirdness.

About UncannyUK

I am the editor of Uncanny UK (www.uncannyuk.com), a website devoted to British ghosts and folklore. I am the former editor of Paranormal Magazine and the author five books on Welsh folklore. Just launched Apparition Developments, first product of which is Ghost Finder London - an app plotting 300 haunted sites in London for iPhone. I'm a highly experienced journalist and corporate copywriter. I'm an enthusiast on the subjects of UK folklore, the supernatural and antiquities and am fond of old horror and sci-fi movies, cult TV such as Dr Who and I collect Victorian/Edwardian magazines. I also enjoy weird art and macabre literature by the likes of M R James, E F Benson, Algernon Blackwood, W Hope-Hodgson, H P Lovecraft etc. I live in North Wales, which is a very spooky place.
This entry was posted in Orbs spirits ghosts photography poltergeists haunted churches haunted wales. Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to >Hands up all those who don’t believe in Orbs

  1. >Hi Richard,On a recent visit to an holistic fair at Theatre Clwyd, I took a couple of photographs. On viewing them, I noticed that there was an orb over the same place in the 2 different pictures. I’m not a sceptic or a believer. I just would like some clarity regarding the occurence of these.RegardsDuncan Farmer

  2. >Unfortunately, Duncan, as you may have gathered from my debunking article, I just believe that what you got there was a bit of dust, although I admit it’s slightly peculiar to have the same anomaly appear in the same place on two separate pictures. Perhaps it was a hovering insect! Maybe it WAS a spirit… but as I ask above (paraphrased), ‘Who decided that these blobs on photographs are ghosts, anyway?’

  3. mr bear says:

    >ah: the stuff one uncovers when Googling one’s name.. I should like to point out that I mentioned in my article that I have a strong desire to believe that there are other-worldly explanations for these anomalies, but I’ve yet to encounter any ethereal reasoning, merely common-place bad housekeeping.. I’m summarily impressed – and will parrot your observation – with your view on the phenomenon being ‘..social, rather than paranormal..’ While at a glance one might consider the orbs’ origin to be – essentially – photographic, what the masses have DONE with the orbs is fascinating, to say the least. For those who may’ve missed it, find attached the (unabridged) Fortean Times article.. I welcome any and all responses, and look forward to reading and seeing more on the subject..Cheers, all..Randy deKleine-Stimpson http://www.feedthebeardesign.comShe smelled faintly of rosewater and Strepsils, like anyone and everyone’s grandmother. She and her wrinkled gaggle of equally grandmotherly types approached the counter of the camera shop where I work, as excited as one might ever think a host of septuagenarians could be. The source of their collective excitement was a series of images she’d captured on her digital camera while at church that morning (yes, we’re open Sundays: it’s a paycheque, thank you). Proof, she said, of the “existence of God’s divine presence among us”. This ‘proof’ was a collection of small, translucent spots of various sizes, number and location in the images. The setting for the pictures, on the whole, was a dimly lit church – old wood, stained glass and hymnals – lit by the flash of her point-and-shoot style digital camera (“..a gift from the grandkids out West”, she beamed), featuring posed groups shots of herself and the rest of her blue-haired flock.Now, dear readers, is the moment in my life when I can pinpoint the reason for any extended stay in Purgatory, when I single-handedly dashed this poor woman’s dreams of the gentle hand of the Holy Spirit resting on her shoulder, or of wee, fat cherubs flitting playfully in and out of phase with this, our mortal plain:”Yeah: that’s dust, ma’am.”The reason for my delayed entry to Heaven (or slightly more burny climes)? A significant portion of my being enjoyed telling her.The resulting wailing and gnashing of teeth was Dante-esque in both volume and exuberance, their bespectacled eyes flashing with accusations of my lack of faith, and ‘what-did-I-know-anyway’s. Demands that I explain myself followed soon after, whereupon I stated that, simply, these were particles of dust suspended between the camera’s flash and the subjects, giving said particles an ethereal quality and exaggerating their size so that they might appear as ‘Spirit Orbs’.When Paul Sieveking asked me to pen (should the verb ‘pen’ be replaced by ‘keyboard’, one ponders..) a short article on spirit orb phenomena, I was very excited indeed to have the opportunity to contribute to a publication that has confounded my friends and co-workers for so long (they’ve called it the Weekly World News, glossy edition). I realized shortly after beginning the outline that I couldn’t restrict myself to that narrow subject alone, so I did a little research on other photography-based anomalies. Items such as vortexes and mysterious red fogs come up far more often than one might expect, especially when one uses the power of Internet (bless you, Google) to track down such oddities. As it turns out, many of the oddities are not the mystery images, rather the people who took the photos in the first place.Ranging from technique problems in the execution of the photo to simple tunnel-vision, photographers are capable of some strange habits. An example of a combination of both, a mother taking photos on her darkened front porch of her children dressed for Hallowe’en. When she picks up her photos from the store, she sees an eerie red glow on the left side of the pictures taken Hallowe’en night, and a foreboding grey shadow of the same size and shape in shots taken inside earlier that evening. Fearing something sinister afoot, she doesn’t bother to consider that her finger is lying across the flash, causing both the red glow on the porch and the shadowy feature inside.’Ghost hunters’ – while I don’t wish to paint them all with the same brush – are a prime example of tunnel vision where photographic anomalies are concerned. Various samples found online document hunts where spirit orbs and vortexes occur in so-called ‘other-worldly hot-spots’, often with no thought given to what other potential explanation might be available. I particularly enjoy the great degree of insistence with which they declare that no: it WASN’T a neck strap in front of the lens. When one ventures forth to find the paranormal, what else would one expect to find?It should be noted that I consider myself a hopeful sceptic, and that the last thing I want to do (with the specific exception of the matron saint of dusty pews cited earlier) is to say, outright, this is NOT paranormal in any way, shape or form. I’d very much like to be the one who’s unable to explain what’s in front of him, and desperately want frame 352 from the Patterson film to NOT be a man in a monkey-suit. I’m merely a realist with a modicum of photographic experience to whom people come to have certain questions answered, be it for good or for ill. Basically, if I hear hoof beats I think horses, not zebras (or, perhaps in this case, unicorns..?)Which is why I was saddened when I had to turn the local newspaper’s story on an historic point of interest Old Fort Henry – which dates back to the War of 1812, and is touted by those in the know to be very haunted – from a piece on the unexplained (cue creepy music) to an article about camera technique and the proper use of flash. I’d been asked to look at an image that had stumped the photo editors, a shot of an antique dealer’s stall which had been set up in the heart of the Fort. In the top right corner of the image could be seen a foggy concentration of bright white light, through which the wall behind could be seen. There were eyes in the light, one person said, another seeing a hand, and yet another a discorporated head, a look of loss and sorrow on its misty face. What they failed to see was the reflection of the camera’s flash off the Plexiglass display case in the bottom of the picture, projected upwards onto the rough, whitewashed wall behind.Upon consideration, I’d trace the source of my instinctive doubt to an evening in college in the late 1980s. A group of us, graphic designers-in-training, had heard of a phantom which appeared in a movie, and just HAD to get together to see this spectre for ourselves. Yes: the Three Men and a Baby myth.We gathered at my modest apartment, seven or eight intrepid explorers into the unknown. A group of modest means, mine was the only place with a VCR, and it seems to me we actually had to pool our funds to afford the rental on the vhs tape, which strikes me as odd since the refrigerator was always fully stocked with beer. Hm. But I digress.We fast-forwarded to the approximate place in the film where the dark figure of a boy was said to be seen through the window of a set of French doors, his fists thrust downwards in a menacing fashion matched only by the scowl on his horrid little face. When the group was ready, we pressed play. The tension in the room was palpable, the fear delicious. When the apparition appeared, there was a great clamour in that small apartment, grabbing at one another’s hands, clambering further into one’s seat for security, and a piercing, girlish scream over everything else. I was later informed that the scream was actually mine, but that is neither here nor there.Now in those days – days of full heads of hair and skipped early Friday morning lectures due to late Thursday nights at the pub – we had no global research tool like the Internet, which seems instantaneously to update the hive-mind of user groups from potters guilds to astro-physicists, no way to quickly learn what others had gleaned from the same situation. Because of this, it was several weeks before one of our group found out that the phantom was more corrugated than ectoplasmic in origin.The story goes the ghostly figure is that of a small boy who was killed in the house in which the scene was filmed. In some variations, the boy’s parents are said to have sued the movie studio, or the owners of the “house”, for letting their boy’s name be released to the press. There are also tales of other eerie objects being seen throughout the movie, most notably a rifle pointing at the head of the “ghost boy”. That is the story. These are the facts: the scene in question was not shot in a house, but on a sound stage in a Hollywood studio. The “ghost boy” is, in fact, a life-sized cardboard cutout of Ted Danson, one of the stars in the film, which had been left in the background, presumably by accident, by a crew member. This cutout is seen in full view in another scene in the film. There is no ghost boy. No boy ever died on the set, and no one involved with the movie was ever sued by the mythical parents of said ghost boy. No one appears to know how the legend started. Some have suggested it was a promotional scheme perpetrated by the producers of the film to get people to buy/rent/go see it. Most likely the flub was simply noticed by one or more innocent movie goers, who told a friend, or perhaps a newspaper.What I was left with was both sides of a phenomenon: the one side that is excited by the potential to witness the paranormal, the other that is more apt to seek a less fantastic explanation.I am not here to dispel all hopes of the afterlife evident in your gran’s snapshots, nor to say that the ghost hunters AREN’T catching ectoplasmic evidence in their tireless quest for contact with the other side. I eagerly await the opportunity to see the photo depicting the baptism of a small child, and featuring the looming figure of an angel with feet for hands – said to be a portent of a violent death – which my wife was told of as a teenager, and of which, legend has it, ‘The Church’ vehemently denies the existence. But that run-on sentence is an article unto itself, and for someone else.–RRandy deKleine-Stimpson, of Verona, Ontario, Canada, has been a studying and practicing photographer since the mid 1980s, whose fondest desire in the early 1990s was an ‘I WANT TO BELIEVE’ poster for his office, but who sided more often than not with Scully.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s