Peter Jordan is not someone anyone would confuse for the typical 9-to-5’er. An almost lifelong search for answers to the unexplained really doesn’t allow for it.
For more 40 years, Jordan, a writer and parapsychologist, has pursued plausible explanations to paranormal phenomena ranging from poltergeists and hauntings to phantom voices and demons. In that time he has accumulated hundreds of photographs and videos — among some of the rarest in the world — that provide frightening glimpses of the universe’s “alternate realities” and offer important clues to their dark, psychological origins.
On Wednesday, October 22, at 7:30 p.m., Jordan, a veteran field investigator for the Psychical Research Foundation near Duke University and a trained psychologist, will take students and the public on a multimedia journey through the disturbing world of ghostly phenomena. The event, which will be held in Bright Hall Lounge, is free and open to the public.
“I became interested in paranormal phenomena when I was very young. I was an amateur magician so, of course, I knew of Harry Houdini’s interest in psychic phenomena and unmasking fakes,” said Jordan, who holds a degree in psychology. “His scientific approach intrigued and inspired me, not necessarily to become a debunker but to make a sincere effort to search for evidence of psychic and paranormal phenomena.”
Throughout his career, Jordan has pursued a trail of ghostly phenomena stretching from the Amityville Horror in New York and the Bell Witch in Adams, Tennessee, to the Waverly Hills Sanatorium in Louisville, Kentucky, and the Devil’s Den right in Gettysburg.
Jordan began to discover that paranormal events often seem to “cluster” into certain locations, ghostly activity in particular.
“I started studying Native American myths about sacred sites and became particularly interested in geomagnetic forces. Where you have earthquake faults or high magnetic events, we’re not sure why, but it seems to create some form of energy for this type of phenomena,” Jordan said. “In many cases, paranormal phenomena also seems to center around specific people; certain kinds of personalities or psychological profiles. There are patterns of phenomena.”
Jordan attributed poltergeist activity — hauntings predominated by the physical movement of objects — to these types of “haunted people.”
“Poltergeists are disturbances in which there is evidence of interpersonal crisis within the family, and where there may even be indications of some form of abuse involving children,” he said. “The generally accepted theory is that such children, incapable of venting their anger and frustration, repress it until it is at the bursting point. An emotional hemorrhage results, which is then expressed psychically as psychokinesis, or mind over matter.”
One of the strangest cases Jordan personally investigated became known as “Rain Boy,” which aired as a segment on the television show Unsolved Mysteries. The incident involved a young man “who produced a viscous form of water, like ectoplasm, that he was actually able to exert some control over.”
“This was an incident that was witnessed by dozens of people, including members of the Stroudsburg, PA, police department. The investigation turned up quite a few interesting things tied to the boy’s past — there was childhood trauma,” he said. “There were people locally that believed he was possessed by the devil. In an investigation, I try to sidestep easy theorizing and sweeping generalizations.”
Jordan said he does believe in life after death, but always separates any personal beliefs from scientific research. He is also a firm supporter of the old Sherlock Holmes adage that once you eliminate all possibilities, then you have to start exploring the impossibilities.
“But there are always a lot of natural possibilities that have to be exhausted. The evidence often turns out not to support one belief or another,” he said. “You will have people that are adamant in their beliefs —‘I know what I saw’ or ‘I know this came from the devil.’ Subjectivity is one of the most powerful forms of conversion.”
Jordan is the first to admit that when dealing with the paranormal hard evidence is even harder to come by.
“It’s something I’ve wrestled with forever. Our equipment, though it is advanced, does not quite match up to the phenomena we’re examining,” he said. “It’s like footprints in the sand. You have knowledge that something has been there, through electromagnetic readings or photos, but it’s always through an indirect medium.”
And in the age of easy- to-use, photo manipulation software, it has become even harder to believe what you are seeing outright.
“Fortunately we do have photo experts that are able to thoroughly analyze every photo,” he said. “You will have situations where you’ll receive a photo and say ‘this is amazing,’ only to receive a call a week later from a researcher saying ‘guess what, I’ve figured out how this was done.’”
Then there are the highly publicized cases that turn out to be far less than factual — the Amityville Horror for example, which Jordan did investigate.
“I spent several days in the house. I spent a lot of time going over the book with a fine-toothed comb and talking to many of the people who said they experienced something out of the ordinary,” he said. “I discovered there wasn’t one claim that could be confirmed.”
Of course, there are the pieces of evidence that make you sit up and take notice.
“I’ve have done a lot of research at Gettysburg. During one trip, we came back and found that we had captured a (ghostly) image that was just wonderful — a full figure,” he said. “We’ve tried to analyze it, we’ve asked people to please help us debunk it, but so far we haven’t been able to. You’ll take 700 or 800 photos and maybe you’ll find one that is potentially interesting.”
The many explanations for the unexplained, Jordan said, “does point to the infinite variety and complexity of nature, God, and the universe.”
“There is no end of speculation. It’s so slippery, like an unruly child that you can’t quite get control of,” he said. “I think what it does do is help us reconsider, re-examine, and just look at the universe in new ways.”
For more information on Peter Jordan’s lecture, contact the Temple University Ambler Office of Student Life at 267-468-8425 or firstname.lastname@example.org.