Are ghosts real?

It’s a simple yes or no question, but no one can absolutely answer one way or the other. Even if you believe in them, or if you claim to have seen one, the question still lingers: was that real? Or just something fabricated by the mind in order to fit the context of a situation? Shaky evidence of ghosts and personal accounts abound, but, they aren’t quite enough to definitively answer the question once and for all.

It’s kind of something you have to figure out on your own. And the only way to do it, is to track down a ghost yourself.

That’s exactly what I’m doing when I join a paranormal investigation group called S.P.I.R.I.T. Paranormal for a spirit session at The Irving Theatre. A haunted locale in my hometown of Irvington, Indiana, the theater has a long-storied history of ghost encounters in its 100-plus years of existence.

I’ve always had a bad feeling about The Irving. It changed owners all too frequently — they’d often leave it abandoned, a gloomy old building that left me with a ball of dread in my stomach. There was just something about its constant emptiness that told me it was unsafe.

But, if I was going to prove or disprove the existence of ghosts, The Irving was the place to do it.

Tim Poynter of S.P.I.R.I.T. meets me at The Irving, along with two of his fellow mediums, Christy and Jill. The group’s goal is to identify spirit and energy activity, then find its source. Ultimately, they hope to clear the living subject of any pestering spirits, but Poynter explains that paranormal investigation isn’t all demonic possession, begrudging Native American burial remains, and bloodthirsty poltergeists.

“More often than not, the spirit activity is a confused spirit who needs help, usually with crossing over,” Poynter says. “Sometimes it’s a spirit familiar with the human, trying to communicate. Those spirits want to be here with their loved ones for whatever reason.”

We sit down in a circle — Christy, Jill, Tim, and Christy’s two sons Colin and Christian surround me, but I suddenly feel out of place. For I moment, I wonder if I should pretend I just got my period and leave because, let’s be honest, I can’t talk to ghosts. I can barely talk to people who are alive. I ask myself if all this is stupid, if it’s all fake, if I’m being an idiot even attempting this nonsense. Despite my doubts, goosebumps cascade down my arms, and my neck prickles as if I’m being watched. Like always, the eerie Irving has me on edge.

It’s too late to reconsider though, because Christy has begun the lesson.

We start by using our third eyes to find ghosts. Located in the forehead, the third eye is a mystical concept considered to be the seat of the soul.

“The third eye is connected to the pineal gland with rods and cones, just like our real eyes, but instead of seeing things literally, it sees things like energy, specifically in the form of light,” Christy explains.

According to a study published in the scientific journal Science, the pineal gland is essentially an eye within the brain. What stuns scientists is that it is able to respond to light and stimuli without the retinal photoreceptors of a standard eye.

The intuitive community, as Christy says, believes that this third eye can see things our traditional eyes cannot, although it uses the same mechanism as a traditional eye to do so. Mediums utilize the third eye through visualization of a purple light in the front of your skull, and use that purple light to “see” or sense things around you.

During this exercise, my eyes were closed, and I did my best to imagine pushing the purple rays of light in front of me, to the right, behind me, and to the left.

Christy asks me what I see.

Nothing. My eyes are closed. Thank God.

There are unexplained creaks and drafts I want to ignore, and it’s easier to do so if I keep my eyes shut.

I consider what I feel while “pushing” out my third eye, and what that could potentially mean. Trying not to let my scared mind block this exercise in Medium 101 Training, I speak honestly.

“My head started hurting when I pushed it to my right. I felt … annoyed, intimidated. Maybe there’s a man there?” I blurt out.

Christy tells me that yes, there is a tall, slender man-ghost in that direction. My goosebumps howl in unison, and I can almost see him creeping in the shadows.

Christy encourages me to go on.

“To my left …” I hesitate.

I did see something, but it could have been a memory, a recreation of something I saw once. Perhaps I was creating a happy image to distract myself from the lump of fear in my throat?

“To my left I see a little girl. She has a white dress on. Short brown hair. She’s kneeling, playing with something on the ground, maybe a ball?”

“Her hair is auburn to me, and she’s more in that direction,” Tim says, pointing to my right instead of my left.

“She was over there for me, too,” Colin adds. The young boy is extra-sensitive, a common occurrence in children, according to Children are more likely to believe in a wide range of things, and as such are more susceptible to receive stimuli from spirits. Their energy is also more “readily available for spirits,” as it tends to be at a different level than adults.

At this point, I’m unsure if they’re just placating me. Telling me everything I say is correct to make me believe I’m doing it, I’m “seeing” ghosts. Or maybe I’m just too unwilling to believe that any of this is real because, if it is real, that’s pretty fucking terrifying.

Wanting to forget about the strange girl I “saw,” we move on to the throat chakra.

The throat chakra is a “blue ball of light” located in our vocal chords. Christy explains that this is the fifth of six chakras in our body, and it is the primary one used for communication. Spirits can use its energy to communicate because it’s centered around the expression of words and ideas.

For the throat chakra, I imagine a light blue orb in my neck. Christy asks me a question. “How many spirits are with us today?” I try to keep my mind blank. In the swirling blue light I’m imagining, I see a three. Maybe because I like the number three, maybe because I had three cupcakes for lunch, maybe because it would only take me three seconds to run to the door and get the hell out of here …

But, I stay seated. Are ghosts real? I wanted to know for myself. I was still uncertain, so I’m in it for the long haul.

As it turns out, both Christy and Jill also saw three spirits. Again, I wonder if they’re just agreeing with everything I say. Maybe they’re just trying to spook me? If that’s the goal, my sweaty palms are testament that it’s working.

For the final part of our spirit session, Tim gets out a pair of bronze divining rods.

Divining rods, or dowsing rods, are associated with the process of finding groundwater. But mediums use them for a very different purpose. These L-shaped brass rods with wooden handles (one in each hand) are used to not only detect energy areas, often associated with spirits, but can also be used to communicate with that energy, should it be intelligent.

Christy holds the rods first, and when they cross to form an “X,” she is certain a spirit is in our presence. She asks yes or no questions of it, ascertaining that the spirit is a 44-year-old woman. While questioning if Christy is crossing the rods herself, I have a sudden urge to reach out and grab Colin’s hand. This is weird, considering I don’t even grab the hands of children I know, let alone strangers.

“I think she’s a mother.” I blurt out. I associate my urge to hold Colin’s hand with a maternal instinct, and I connect it to the supposed woman spirit, because I sure as hell don’t want to hold that kid’s hand.

My skepticism about whether ghosts exists is rapidly turning to not-skepticism.

Tim nods at my outburst, acknowledging that I’m correct. He asks me how many children she has. I say four, my voice catching on my fright. Why I go with four, I don’t know, but it seems right. Jill and Tim say they also got four. Christy hands me the rods and I grip them in my sweaty hands. She encourages me to ask questions of the mother of four.

I can feel the panic rising in my throat. There is a toxic mix of curiosity and terror that make for a powerful rush of adrenaline, and suddenly I am asking questions.

“Are you a mother?” The rods are still. Then they struggle … then they ever so slightly cross.

“Do you have four children?” Again the rods move toward each other and cross. I know I did not consciously move the rods, although-a part of me wanted to be wrong. A part of me wanted the rods not to cross, to prove that this spirit wasn’t a mother, she didn’t have four kids, that my predictions were just me blabbering.

But another part of me wondered if this was enough proof to answer the question, are ghosts real?

I left The Irving that night feeling less certain than ever. I had shocked myself by seeing what I thought were spirits, but my rational mind overflowed with logical, real-world explanations for what I saw.

Unfortunately, while my experience was odd and at times frightening, it wasn’t enough to sway myself toward a definitive answer.  As much as I wanted to believe in ghosts and the things that were happening to me, it was so difficult, especially as a skeptical adult. The whole thing could have been staged. The children in the group could have been playing to the same kind of suggestibility that causes people in religious groups to “talk to God.” The sheer context, and what I’ve been programmed by media to expect out of it, could have colored in what I saw. Also, my fear throughout the whole session could have played into the outcome.

I still have questions. A lot of them. But the sheer fact that I'm less sure now that they aren't fake feels like a push in an unexpected direction for me. I'm not sure what I saw, but I saw something.

But that shouldn’t stop anyone else from going and out and answering the question for themselves: are ghosts real?