Ghost hunting with experts at Coombe Abbey: Here's how a 'spirit' tried to prove its existence

Using a Ouija board.
Using a Ouija board.

“Spirit,” our group leader said, “there is a sceptic in the room, would you be willing to do a test to help us prove you’re really here with us?” The woman in the centre of the ‘human pendulum’ lurches forward as if pushed – that means ‘yes’.

It was around midnight and I was at Coombe Abbey taking part in a paranormal investigation with some of the biggest names in the field.

Barrie John and Karen A. Dahlman speak about Ouija boards.

Barrie John and Karen A. Dahlman speak about Ouija boards.

The building’s commanding Gothic architecture and labyrinthine interior had taken on an other-wordly character in the dark and I was beginning to wonder if there really might be such things as ghosts.

Coombe Abbey has long been rumoured to be haunted, with the Advertiser previously publishing reader-submitted photographs which are purported to show apparitions.

The investigation, the first of its kind at Coombe Abbey, was part of Sage Paracon, a convention on all things paranormal that is in its third year.

Around 60 people attended on the night on November 8. We were split into groups of around eight before rotating around the abbey, taking it in turn to investigate with each celebrity guest.

Paranormal author and investigator Richard Estep was leading my group for the ‘human pendulum’ session.Four of us has formed a circle around a brave volunteer and she was rocking backwards and forwards, as if controlled by a ‘spirit’, to answer yes or no to questions.

To test the spirit, I was asked to hide my hand behind my back and hold up some fingers. I held up four.

“Am I holding up five fingers?” I asked. The answer was no. “Am I holding up one finger?” Again, the answer was no. “Am I holding up four fingers?” The response was yes.

This was impressive at first, but working out the probability of three correct answers, all the ‘spirit’ had to do was to get three 50:50 questions correct in a row – something blind chance can easily account for.

Other guests leading investigation groups included Katrina Weidman (from television series Paranormal State), Chris Fleming and Barry Ghai (from Help! My House is Haunted), Aaron Sagers (journalist, television presenter), medium Barrie John and Ouija board expert Karen A. Dahlman.

A lot of the sessions were centred around EVP, or electronic voice phenomena, whereby the investigator records themselves asking questions and then plays the recording back to listen for spirits speaking into the recording.

The investigators were careful to announce any noise interference as they were recording so as to avoid presuming it to be of supernatural origin later on.

I heard no clear words in the played-back recordings, but some noises sounded like muffled words spoken gruffly.

Another technique was the use of ‘ITC’ software, which scans through radio frequencies very quickly.

This seemed to be prone to false positives, because the software would mash together individual syllables from different voices – producing mostly nonsense but occasionally something that could be interpreted as a full word or phrase.

One session covered the infamous Ouija board. Branded dangerous by some religious leaders and dismissed as a Victorian parlour trick by some sceptics, its reputation certainly meant it was hard not to feel some trepidation over this part of the evening.

In the end, those people I was watching closely did not seem to garner anything impressive from the board.

Much of it was random letters and some sceptics argue that the movements on the board, which look impressive in person, are produced by involuntary, subconscious processes.

Other groups claimed to have insightful messages come through - but I did not see those messages ‘coming through’ so I would not want to say either way whether I believe they were of supernatural origin.

Organiser of the event, MJ Dickson, said she hopes Sage Paracon returns next year – so do I. There was not a dull moment. The celebrity group leaders were warm, friendly and full of fascinating stories.

Some attendees were convinced that what they had seen that night was more evidence for the existence of spirits. I did not feel the same way – but there was no denying that it was a well organised and thoroughly interesting evening.

There also seemed to be a great sense of community among those attending – some were experienced ghost hunters were curious about the whole thing. All were very welcoming, and happy to have a chat.

Some attendees were convinced that what they had seen that night was more evidence for the existence of spirits. Whether that is true or not, there was no denying it was a well organised and interesting night.