At the age of 13, I lost my faith. Completely and irrevocably. I went from being a bit of a Christian, not really sure what it was all about with hazy ideas of Heaven and Hell, to somebody who did not believe in anything at all. At that time, the Nuclear Clock stood at a couple of minutes to midnight and I was totally and by totally I mean 100% convinced that I was going to die in a nuclear holocaust within the next few months. I was shit-scared and, suddenly, there was no room for religion. None at all.
The fear has receded (although finding the webpage for the link above gave me the creeps) but religion never found its way back into my life. For the past 33 years or so, I have looked to science for explanations for why I am here, how the world was formed and why it is populated by such diverse life forms. Science has done a very good job. It doesn’t claim to have all the answers but then that’s what science is all about: looking for them.
I have also had a few experiences that I might call spiritual, although I always class myself as Atheist: without a god. There is something about wild places that appeals to me. Hazy sunshine during Lakeland Walks or a mist filled landscape early in the morning that awake something very deep-rooted in me but it is much, much older than Christianity. I can so easily imagine Pan, just out of sight, at such times. This is the “Old Magic” mentioned in The Weirdstone of Brisingamen by Alan Garner and the intensely spiritual experiences described in Paul Hawken’s The Magic of Findhorn. I have these experiences and then return to the mundane world of work, living on an income a tiny fraction of Sir Fred Goodwin’s and all the extremely unspiritual experiences I have, such as punk gigs, shopping, holidays, friends and family.
This the sort of person that I am. Most of the time I see things in an intensely mundane way, favouring Quantum Physics and Darwin’s Theory of Evolution over a Creator God or even a number of creator gods. A tiny fraction of the time I think that there is the thinnest of veils between this world and another and that all it will take is the slightest movement or effort and I will be able to see or experience something quite different or, possibly, quite similar.
I had hoped that maybe the veil would drawn aside during the overnight investigation at The Winter Gardens in Blackpool that I went to a couple of weeks ago. I have watched Most Haunted once or twice and Whines and Spirits and Screaming Banshees a few times. I find these programmes highly amusing, although I remain sceptical about what is going on. I don’t necessarily doubt the sincerity of the people on the shows but it all seems a bit daft to me. However, actually being there could be a completely different matter and it would have been nice, even to a non-believer, to have experienced something there.
It started at 11pm, when we were let in through a side door and we had to sign a visitors’ book (just in case any of us disappeared during the night). We then went through into one of the bars and waited to be taken upstairs to begin the investigation.
We started in the Renaissance Room, where our hosts from Supernatural Events explained what the night held in store for us, divided us into three groups and handed out the equipment. The equipment was standard equipment for such events: crystal pendulums, EMF (electro-magnetic force) meters, digital thermometers, divining rods, motion sensors, glasses and 2 Ouija Boards. The glasses and Ouija Boards were kept back for later and we were advised not to use the Ouija Boards without an experienced person to hand.
I got handed a crystal and Darcy was handed a bewildering array of equipment, including an EMF meter, divining rods and motion sensors. He could have done with a couple of spare arms at that point. Two of the groups went off to other areas and our group remained in the Renaissance Hall. One of our number had a crystal, which within seconds was spinning wildly as she asked an invisible somebody loads of questions, all with yes or no answers. Mine refused to move. If there were any spirits there, they were avoiding me like the plague, thus confirming my suspicions that most people wouldn’t be seen dead talking to me.
Darcy had brought his camera and had been busy snapping in the Spanish Hall, Baronial Hall and the Renaissance Room. He had already captured a fantastic display of orbs, which are either ghostly apparitions or dust.
He put down all of the equipment that had been handed to him and had a go with the divining rods with what he felt was indifferent success. With my crystal still refusing to budge, I decided to have a go with the rods and he wandered off with the EMF meter and his trusty camera to do some more investigating and to snap more orbs. The divining rods were prepared to move for me but in an extremely anarchic way, which had me thinking I must be holding them wrong. Our host had demonstrated how to use them but I had no faith in my ability to do anything that would show there was anybody there.
It was at this point that the organiser, Steve, showed up and I told him of my complete lack of success. He reassured me with regard to the crystal and told me how to energise it, with the help of Darcy, who already has had experience of such things, as was evident to Steve. Suddenly, the bloody thing started to move, so I asked it questions so I could establish what was a yes and what was a no. Questions like “Is my name Punky Rennie?” (“Yes”) and “Is my mother still alive?” (“No”). After that, I asked it more difficult questions, “Is Darcy a woman?” “Yes,” it answered to my hilarity. Darcy was not amused. Then “Is Bobbie drunk?” “Yes” again (actually, she wasn’t). “Should Darcy have an Onion Bhaji?” The answer was a definite no and was correct, as later he had stomach pains. Silly Darcy!
I have a theory about crystals now, after this experience. I think if I am able to completely empty my mind, if and when I next use one, I can use it a bit like the alethiometer in the Dark Materials Trilogy. I think it can be used to find out what I am thinking or feeling at the deepest level and I might get some answers to questions that bother me from time to time. I do want to try it again.
After a while, all three groups were brought back together in the Renaissance Room. Some had clearly had experiences and some had been crying. Apart from my question and answer session with the crystal, I had had nothing. There was talk of two children, one of whom was not allowed to run about and play and another who was and the emotions associated with them. We were now encouraged to wander off into various side rooms, staircases and corridors. We were pointed towards certain areas but nothing was explained to us, to hopefully keep the experiences as genuine as possible.
By now, it had become evident that one of our number was a complete sceptic and non-believer and had possibly not wanted to come at all. She was not prepared to accept that anything from any other world or place could be present. Darcy and I were sent to a corridor where we experienced nothing at all; he didn’t even manage to photograph any orbs. While we were sitting there, feeling absolutely nothing, three people came in, including the sceptic. I told Darcy that she was going to frighten all the ghosts away and we made our excuses and left.
After wandering around a bit more and eating a few more Onion Bhajis, we returned to the corridor and sat down. The sceptic returned too after about five minutes. To our delight, it turned out she had experienced something. She had been stood on the stairs and, in her own words, it had felt like Hillsborough. She had nearly fallen down the stairs and nearly did so again in front of us. That, to me, is more proof that the veil to which I referred earlier exists than my complete lack of sensations etc proves that it doesn’t.
We spent the rest of the night wandering about, seeing the bits of the Winter Gardens that you never normally see and which are absolutely beautiful and took my breath away and finally doing some glass work (like Ouija but with Yes/No answers only) with a medium, when we spoke to a gay ghost (yes, really!)
At 4am, we all departed and, yes, we ALL departed; nobody had been lost or spirited away. I was knackered but delighted to find my car had not been clamped, issued with a parking ticket (a constant worry to me throughout the night) or trashed by drunken Blackpoolians (still very much in evidence). It had certainly been an interesting night and Darcy had a wonderful selection of photographs of the least camera shy of paranormal phenomena, orbs.
There may be scientific explanations for everything that happened; the orbs may be dust, the glass may have been pushed or pulled and people’s emotions are probably heightened at such times, thus explaining the tears of some of our party. I’m sure everything that happened and was experienced can be explained away as dust or mass hysteria, coincidence or our imagination (or lack thereof in my case) but I think a paranormal, spiritual or ghostly explanation is so much more interesting and entertaining.
So I remain a paradox: an Atheist who does NOT believe in a God or gods but who looks for another world, close to but apart from this world. I am glad that our sceptic co-investigator had her experience and I hope she didn’t decide to explain it away in the cold light of day. I hope to try my luck with a crystal again and Darcy already has his instructions in this regard, with my birthday getting closer. Finally, and I decided to save this until last. I thought it would nice to share the mother of orbs; well, the mother of orbs on Darcy’s camera, anyway. There it is, hovering just above the floor in the middle of the Renaissance Room.