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Skeptical Analysis of the Paranormal Society

"Le doute n'est pas une condition agréable, mais la certitude est absurde."

—Voltaire

Interview with Keith Johnson

So... you think SAPS can't be fair?

We recently had a chat with Keith Johnson of New England Anomalies Research about possession, demonology, and "Ghost Hunters". Visit NEAR at http://www.nearparanormal.com/.

* All information on demonology, possession, and exorcism mentioned in this article is according to Keith unless otherwise noted.*

"Demonology is very different in a lot of ways than just regular paranormal investigation," said Keith Johnson, co-founder of New England Anomalies Research.

Keith's experience in paranormal investigation goes back a long way - before founding NEAR, he was a member of The Atlantic Paranormal Society. Even now, he still occasionally appears on episodes of "Ghost Hunters," the television show chronicling the experiences of TAPS.

One of the focuses of the SAPS site, is, of course, the adventures of TAPS, and whether or not the paranormal footage shown on the television show "Ghost Hunters" is real. This was our first experience speaking with a member of the society, though it is true that Keith did not accompany TAPS on many of the more compelling cases.

We asked whether Keith was aware of any fakery on "Ghost Hunters."

"I myself have never faked anything. I have never been a part of anything that was faked," Keith said, "If I were called to testify in a court of law I could say that I've never personally been involved in anything that was faked."

However, Keith has noticed things on paranormal television shows that don't ring true with his experience.

After watching episodes of "Most Haunted," Keith became convinced that Derek Acorah faked the "possessions" he experienced on the show for the cameras.

"I've seen that in real life," Keith said, "Real possession is not like that."

In Keith's experience, possession isn't something that a person can go in and out of quickly, nor would anyone want to be possessed. It's a draining experience, and often feels like an invasion or assault.

Though Keith and his twin brother Carl are billed on "Ghost Hunters" as demonologists, they are more like "lay-demonologists" in that they have not been trained, and do not officially hold the title. Their experience comes from research, and from working closely with other paranormal investigators, like Ed and Lorraine Warren (of Amityville fame).

During their childhood, Keith and Carl experienced the paranormal in their own home. Because of this, they both decided to research demonology - a choice made in part because of their Christian upbringing.

Recently, SAPS conducted research into exorcism in the United States for SkepticReport.com. Because of Keith's experience in demonology, we hoped that he may be able to shed light on possession and exorcism from a non-Catholic standpoint.

Exorcisms (especially exorcisms conducted by the Catholic Church) are, according to Keith, very clandestine. Occasionally demonologists, such as Ed and Lorraine Warren have worked with the Catholic Church to decide whether or not an exorcism was needed during certain cases. Keith was called in to assist in an exorcism in the eighties, though it was of the non-Catholic variety.

Catholic exorcisms usually require psychiatric profiles in order to determine whether a demonic possession is real, or just a symptom of an underlying mental illness. Because of this, many individuals who seek help from the Church are turned away. Keith believes that though psychiatric treatment is often helpful and necessary, it does not necessarily invalidate the possession. An individual can be mentally ill as well as possessed, and he believes that demonic forces can manifest themselves even more easily in some mentally ill individuals.

Television and movies grossly exaggerate possession, which is very rarely that intense, according to Keith. There's an intelligence behind it, but it could still be very dangerous for anyone involved. That is why Keith finds it necessary to take precautions - preparing beforehand with prayer, keeping the right attitude, and holding closely to faith.

"In an unseen realm," Keith said, "a lot has to do with the matter of faith."

Keith has never been paid for his appearances on "Ghost Hunters," and NEAR performs all of their services for free. In this way, NEAR remains accessible to everyone, and the point is more helping people than creating a profit.

NEAR is called on, mostly, to perform cleansings - that is, to drive demonic forces out of individual's homes. These forces may have infested a residence due to the habits of the individuals who live there.

"We're not necessarily saying it's their fault this has happened," Keith explained, "but we are saying they will have to make changes if they really want this gotten rid of. If somebody's playing around with the occult, they might want to change that."

Demons fall into the category of "inhuman spirits," rather than ghosts, which are "human spirits." The difference is one that's difficult to quantify.

"I particularly have a sense of it," Keith said, "It is a feeling very difficult to describe to people who haven't experienced it. It's a feeling like being near an electrical plant or a landfill - almost like it's drawing energy from you."

NEAR representatives arrive at the home with the intention of educating the residents on why this has happened, what they plan to do about it, and how to permanently keep the forces from their homes. Through prayer, they ask for an intercession, and introduce positive energy into the home while banishing the negative. To only banish the negative would leave a vacuum in the home. It must be replaced with a positive.

In order to create this positive energy, Keith prays for angelic protection in each room, and asks for a positive spirit to be introduced there.

"I truly believe that there are angelic presences," Keith said.

Keith considers this cleansing ritual much like a regular house-cleaning - he goes from room to room, sweeping away the negative.

Though the potential for danger is definitely there in his line of work, Keith still continues. Upon leaving a residence, he prays that nothing of an unholy nature will follow him home, although he does occasionally receive what he considers to be warnings.

On Labor Day, Keith was up around midnight writing in his journal when he heard three even knocks on the front door. According to Keith, things that happen in threes are usually diabolic in nature. Because of this, he said a quick prayer of protection and rushed to the door. No one was there. Unsatisfied, he went outside and looked around. No one was in sight. No one seemed to be awake in nearby houses.

Can any of this be proven?

"It is very difficult, if not impossible, to prove to the public at large or the media," Keith said, "So much of this is patience."

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