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.