In Season 5, Episode 2 of “Kindred Spirits”, investigators Amy Bruni and Adam Berry suspect that “zombie boy”–a supposed ghost that was ramping up activity and scaring investigators at a Massachusetts estate–is a creation of the very people who so fervently believe in him. Much like “Phillip”, the invented ghost from a series of seances in the 1970’s, “zombie boy” had started to appear to investigators and even possess one of them. The photos provided as evidence of his existence were unconvincing to Amy Bruni, and after a few frustrating attempts to figure out his identity, it is she who starts to wonder if “zombie boy” might be an “egregore”:
“Egregore is an occult concept representing a distinct non-physical entity that arises from a collective group of people. Historically, the concept referred to angelic beings, or watchers, and the specific rituals and practices associated with them, namely within Enochian traditions”
In contemporary, paranormal circles an ‘egregore’ has come to mean any entity that manifests as a result of the collective efforts to conjure or investigate it. Amy and Adam decide to test their theory by providing ‘zombie boy’ with a back story. They create a family tree and a Civil War tragedy, and lo and behold! The EVP sessions yield back exactly the names of zombie boy’s parents, and Chip Coffey picks up on his story remotely during the investigation into another area of the property.
Zombie boy is a multi-layered entity created first by paranormal investigators who believed in his existence based on others’ evidence, and rounded out by Amy and Adam who suspected that he was not an independent being, after all. Then, zombie boy comes to life and answers questions about his invented upbringing correctly, and a psychic hundreds of miles away picks up on the details of his fabricated story.
Amy, quite appropriately, expresses shock and awe, and wonders what this means for paranormal investigations and for our lives as humans on this planet. How much of what we experience is created by us? Are the ghosts we seek simply aspects of our collective consciousness responding to our desires, our needs, our assumptions, and our emotions? Are we, during paranormal investigations, simply hearing what we expect to hear? Is the Other us?
I have always objected to the idea that we create our own reality, because it seems to suggest that individuals are responsible in some way for grim realities such as cancer, poverty, domestic violence, genocide, and disastrous cultural and political situations that are beyond anyone’s control. We don’t ‘create’ those realities, but I suppose we are responsible for our reactions to them. However, if your child is murdered in a bloody and pointless war, HOW are you supposed to react? How do you create your own reality when reality itself is so overwhelming, violent, unjust and cruel? I don’t have answers for such enormous questions. Here is what I don’t understand: if we can create a being out of thin air and give him a story that he lives out according to our will, then why can’t we escape illness, poverty, and death? Perhaps because a will far greater than our own has created us and our back stories.
I suspect that we all possess powers far greater than we are aware of. At the heart of this conundrum is the concept of Self and Other. We assume, as investigators, that we are seeking the mysterious Other. And yet so often, we receive responses that seem tailored to our expectations, suggesting that something or someone is reading us and responding appropriately. I remember one investigation in particular where there was an absolute and clear dividing line between the spirit in the house and me. As soon as I crossed the threshold of that house, I knew that something completely dark and utterly draining was attempting to overtake my will and drive me to despair. That entire night was a battle between my sense of self and agency and the thing that wanted to destroy my light. I was sick for days afterwards, and all of my equipment either malfunctioned or broke, leaving me with no trace, no evidence, of what I had experienced.
Yet on other occasions, the voice on the recorder is simply repeating something I had said earlier, in a bizarre act of mimicry. Other times, the voices are nonsensical for the location and the history of the site, such as the little girl singing a strange, tuneless song in a mental hospital. Her odd voice followed me to Linda Vista and other locations, and it took me awhile to realize that this was no child’s voice. In fact, identifying the spirit in the box or recorder is nearly impossible, even if they provide you with excellent clues. There are liars, tricksters, and delinquents that frequent the inter dimensional spaces that we love to explore, and I wonder if we truly know when an entity is playing games with us, perhaps due to boredom or malice. And then, of course, there is the unsettling idea that we might have created them all for our own entertainment or other purposes, of which we are not entirely aware.
There is no way to answer the original question: are we, or are we not, creating the paranormal phenomena that we seek out? It’s not an either/or question, I suspect. I am wary of data that is too obvious, too easy, too easily responsive to our wishes and will. The best evidence is that which surprises you, shocks you, or seems utterly bizarre or incoherent at first. When you receive a message that you sincerely do not expect or even want, you might be on the right track. When your life feels different after an investigation, when you’re amazed and struggling to fit new knowledge into your existing paradigm, you’re probably heading in the right direction.
And what is the ‘right direction’? Simply where you find yourself struggling to incorporate new and perhaps contradictory information that forces personal growth and spiritual transformation. In that sense, the reality of the spirit you contacted might be less important than the new path it opened up for you. Maybe that is what the spirit world knows about us that we still don’t know about ourselves.
–Kirsten A. Thorne, PhD