I met Ryan Buell, the director of the Paranormal Research Society, a ghost-hunting team whose adventures are chronicled on A&E's hit series Paranormal State, at Univ-Con, a national paranormal convention held in State College, Pennsylvania, the home of PRS. I was at Univ-Con at the request of Eilfie Music, another member of the Paranormal Research Society. Eilfie is the team's occult expert and a practicing Pagan. She was familiar with some of my works, including The Psychic Vampire Codex. In the course of my time at Univ-Con that year, I had a chance to get to know Ryan, and he had a chance to learn about me. At the same time, I got the opportunity to talk at length with Eilfie, Serge, and many other members of the PRS team. Before we knew it, they weren't just people who had asked me to come and speak at their convention. They were friends.
This was before Paranormal State became a reality. When I learned that A&E was considering building a show around Ryan's team and his past experiences, I was thrilled for my friends. They were being offered a rare opportunity to present their ideas and beliefs to the world and to maybe make a difference in the field of paranormal investigation. At the time, I never dreamed that I would become a part of the show myself.
I didn't start off working as a psychic for the team, mainly because Ryan and the rest of them knew me more as an occult researcher. During first season, I received a couple of calls about on-going cases, mainly as a fact-checker. They knew I maintained an extensive library on paranormal and occult topics, so they would call to ask about Native American lore or obscure myths about spirits. All of this was behind-the-scenes, but I eventually found out that the crew was just waiting for the right case to come up so they could bring me on board.
That case was "The Messenger," in the second season. A couple in Oregon had a haunting in their home that might have been connected to the deaths of two previous owners. The producers brought me in on the case as a kind of research assistant to Eilfie. My arrival was plagued with all manner of set-backs. My flight was delayed, so I arrived a day late. I was worried about this, until I learned that nearly everyone else had been similarly delayed. One of the crew picked me up at the airport, then drove to pick up psychic Chip Coffey from a nearby hotel. Chip had been cooling his heels there until the three of us could head toward the filming location, which was several hours away from the airport.
It was a long drive, but it gave me a chance to get to know Chip Coffey, who had worked throughout the first season of the show as the team's main psychic. Chip was a delight to be around—warm and bubbly, with a great sense of humor. Chip's sense of humor may have been the only thing that kept me from going crazy when the GPS in the rented minivan took us through a long and treacherous detour on an old logging road. Bear Camp Road threads through the mountains of Oregon, winding up and up along steep slopes covered with pines. A one-lane road, covered mostly in gravel, it led through the middle of nowhere, with no cell phone reception and no other living souls for miles. We spent hours on Bear Camp Road, praying with each passing mile that we would get safely out of the mountains. Halfway through, we got a flat tire, and I couldn't help but wonder: with so many problems besetting me along my way, was I even meant to be a part of this investigation?
Eventually we got to the location—hours late, but in one piece. Somewhere along the line, the crew learned that not only was I an occult expert, I was also a psychic (I'm pretty sure Chip put in a good word for me. There's nothing like facing possible death high up in the mountains to help people bond). This came as news to everyone but Josh Light and Eilfie Music. Ben, the director, already had Chip for the psychic angle, but he offered me the chance to prove my own abilities. Chip and I were kept separate until we could both do walk-throughs of the house, and we were kept away from the clients so we could not overhear details about the case.
have to admit—it was a little nerve-racking that first time I did a walk-through. I had investigated haunted houses before, and I had been actively using my psychic abilities to read the energy of people, places, and things for at least fifteen years. But none of that had ever involved a camera! At first, it was a little hard to concentrate with at least two camera people standing around me, one following behind and one usually trying to stay a couple of steps ahead. But eventually, I was able to tune them out and tune into the impressions that lingered in the home.
I did pretty well my first time out, even if I do say so myself. I hit on an experience the female client often had of a shadowy male figure watching her as she showered, and I picked up on a couple of the other favorite haunts throughout the house. I think the hardest part was dealing with Ryan's poker face. He's become adept at leading a psychic around a home, asking very neutral questions, and then never showing any kind of emotional reaction to what the psychic says. Half of the time, from the bland look on his face, I was certain that I was wrong on every count, blathering nonsense due to exhaustion from the travel and nerves from the vigilant presence of the cameramen.
They still had me get involved in some of the research for that case, but pretty quickly, the director and producers decided that my talents were better served as a guest medium and psychic. It was in this capacity that I got called in on a case in Daisytown, Pennsylvania that they called "The Glove." In the Daisytown case, I learned exactly how careful Paranormal State is about its psychics. Every case since has been like this.
Typically, I get a call three or four days before the crew wants me out to a location. I am told the name of the largest major city closest to the site of the investigation. Typically, this is also the city where I'm flying in. A day or two before I catch that flight, I get an email with the name and address of the hotel that I'll be staying at. Frequently, this hotel is still forty to sixty minutes away from the location itself. This might seem like a lot of cloak-and-dagger, but it makes sense when you think about it. If I had the name of the town where the alleged haunting is occurring, I could feasibly do research on the Internet and learn some of the history of the town. If I happened to be really good at such research—or really lucky—I might even be able to find details pertaining to the haunting itself. In order to be certain that, as a psychic, I come in absolutely cold to the investigation, the actual address of the haunting is kept secret. Most of the time, I do not know this address until someone from the crew calls my hotel room an hour or two before I need to be there. Then and only then do I get to know where I am going.
I have to admit, I find it kind of exciting. I get on a plane from Cleveland, hardly knowing where I'll be sleeping later that night. When I arrive at the hotel, I'm not supposed to talk to anyone on the PRS team and only briefly do I talk to any of the crew. Everyone is forbidden from talking to me about any of the details of the case—even the town in which it's located. It's this huge mystery, and I simply wait until it's time for that mystery to unfold.
Even once I arrive on location, often I am asked to park several hundred yards away from where they are filming. This, too, is to prevent any possible chance that I might overhear or observe something that could tip me off about the haunting. I love it, because it means that I go in with no prior knowledge, no preconceived notions. When Ryan is finally ready for me, I can be a blank slate for my psychic impressions.
Sometimes, it's hard to tap into the energy of a place. There was one case in Shadyside, Maryland, where the family had been frightened out of their house. I had no way of knowing it at the time, but the house had stood empty for at least a month by the time I got to walk through and try to do my reading. This made things tricky for me, because the main thing I zero in on at first is generally the energy of the people who live in the house. I try to focus on their lingering emotions, following any sense of fear or anxiety to the places in the home where the most extreme experiences have occurred—kind of like a hound following a scent. In Shadyside, it was hard to pick up the scent. During the walk-through, I was worried that maybe I was simply failing to tune into things because everything seemed so faint at first. It was only afterward, when I learned how long the house had been empty, that the faded quality of those energetic residues made sense.
Once I've allowed the trails of emotional energy lead me to the hotspots, I tune into a deeper level, trying to pick up on the echoes of the experiences themselves. At the Daisytown case, this led me to view an experience through someone's eyes—it felt like a woman, standing at the kitchen sink. There was a window above the sink, and it felt as if she looked up, only to see a face hovering in that window—a face where there should be no face. After the walk-through, I learned that this experience had indeed happened, not just once, but on several occasions.
Of course, there can be drawbacks to this method of reading a home. When I tap into the residual energy of intensely emotional experiences, I only pick up what the person who left those residues was experiencing at the time. If it leads me to the echo of an experience, I perceive it as if through the person's eyes. And if the person was mistaken or misled, I may not realize it. This became abundantly clear at a remote cabin high in the Adirondacks. In an investigation called "Room and Board," I tapped into something utterly unrelated to the actual haunting in one of the upstairs rooms. I felt a woman, someone unused to the remote woods, along for a trip with a boyfriend or a husband. She wasn't very comfortable in the cabin. Alone in the room, she thought she saw something out of one of the windows. At first, the image that flickered across my mind's eye seemed to be the shape of a man with long hair. Then, it flickered again, and it seemed to be an animal—some great beast. I could feel the woman's terror mounting, but even as I experienced this, I questioned it. Had she seen Bigfoot? What the heck?
I reported the emotions and images as I experienced them, and even Ryan's poker face slipped a little. The impression I tapped into was crystal clear—but I had trouble accepting its validity. When I talked about it with the crew afterward, they were puzzled by my sudden fixation on Bigfoot as well. But I couldn't shake the powerful sensation of lingering fear, the sense that the woman, at least, had believed what she thought she was seeing.
It nagged at me. I even lost sleep over it at night, trying to figure out how the impression could feel so real and vivid, yet, apparently, be so off-base. I pestered Ryan about it the next day, asking him to inquire with the clients to see whether or not anyone had ever reported sightings of what they thought were Bigfoot. I had realized, at that point, that perhaps the woman whose experiences I felt I was tapping into had only believed that she was seeing this thing in the woods.
Imagine my surprise—and that of PRS and the rest of the crew—when we learned that one of the caretakers of the cabin had a Wookie costume and a penchant for playing practical jokes with it. He dug the costume out of his closet and the long brownish hair of the mask looked exactly like the hair I had seen from behind, trailing down the back of what, in the vision, had first seemed like a long-haired man and then, upon turning, seemed like a monster. Chewbacca! We all had a great laugh—but it was such an off-the-wall twist, it will most likely be edited out.
The crew films everything, but there is so much that gets cut from the investigations. Three solid days of filming, sometimes four, has to be boiled down to twenty-two minutes of television. I suppose that some people might feel bitter that so much is lost. In a couple of cases, I've been instrumental in helping the family learn to cope with their haunting, teaching them techniques of psychic self-defense. Not all of this makes it into the episodes, but I usually agree with the choices that are made to focus on one thing more than another. I find the finished episodes fascinating to watch, if only to see what decisions were made to make it both an accurate investigation and a gripping story.
Some days, as I'm driving or flying out to an investigation, I stop and marvel at the steps that led to this portion of my life. I never would have dreamed that I would become a returning guest on a popular television series. I certainly never expected to be running around in strange houses, reporting my psychic impressions with a camera hot on my heels. But I love it—not just because I get to mug for the camera, but because I get to put my talents to the test. How many other psychics get to walk into a house, sight unseen, rattle off their impressions, then have a whole team of investigators do research to prove those impressions wrong or right?
Working with Paranormal State is an amazing opportunity not only to test my skills, but to help other people. Originally, I only agreed to get involved as a favor to friends, but I admire the work that those friends are doing. It's work that has helped a great number of people, and it's work that has taught me several things. A lot of those things went into my book, The Ghost Hunter's Survival Guide, which I wrote while we were filming a great deal of third season. Although I recount the story of one of my own haunting investigations in that book, my experiences on several of Paranormal State's investigations helped shape some of the exercises in that book. It wouldn't be the same without Ryan and Eilfie, Taddy and Katrina, Serge, Josh, and everyone else.
A star on television's Paranormal State, Michelle Belanger wears many creative hats. Other media appearances include the History Channel's Vampire Secrets, Monsterquest, CNN Headline News, HBO's True Bloodlines, Fox, ...