Tuesday, 29 March 2016

‘Haunted’ Beaumaris Gaol and Courthouse

This Easter I visited Beaumaris Gaol on Anglesey. I’ve been a couple of times before and on a ghost hunt there. It was a dark, wet day so the atmosphere was eerie. The Gaol is said to be haunted by the ghosts of previous staff and residents…

It was built in 1829 to accommodate 30 inmates but closed 11 years later. It then became a police station until 1950 when its function changed to a childrens clinic. It finally became a museum in 1974. The Gaol housed the town’s air raid siren during WWII and was kept afterwards in case of nuclear attack. The furniture in the chapel is not native to the building and was sourced from another chapel. Could these objects have brought their own spirits? The gaol was a place of punishment and toil but not overly harsh by standards of the day. Although, modern audiences may wince at the chains, whippings, isolation cell and (functional) treadmill.

Two hangings took place there: William Griffith (1830) for the attempted murder of his first wife and Richard Rowlands (1862) for murdering his father in law. William did not go quietly to the gallows. On the morning of his execution he barricaded himself inside the cell. The door had to be forced open and he was dragged to his death. Richard protested his innocence and legend has it he cursed the church clock from the gallows, saying if he was innocent the four faces of the St Mary’s church clock would never show the same time. Both inmates were buried within the prison walls but the exact location is unknown.

Reported paranormal activity includes: dark shadows in the corridors, flashing lights, hair being pulled, stones thrown, doors opening and closing, sound of keys rattling, heavy footsteps and a figure of a man in the Governor's office. Some staff don’t like going alone to the first floor at closing time. 

Most Haunted visited the Gaol in 2007 and it was one of the few locations where parapsychologist Dr Ciaran O’Keeffe felt emotionally ‘affected’. I also went there on a ghost hunt in 2014 and caught an EVP in the punishment cell. I conducted EVP sessions in the Exhibition room and Chapel and it was interesting for me as the Welsh speakers ‘heard’ responses to their questions.

If you visit the Gaol you can get reduced entry to Beaumaris Courthouse. Whilst this isn’t haunted (as far as I know) it should be! It’s fascinating and well worth a visit. There’s also the coolest, macabre model I’ve ever seen – a ‘witch’ ducking stool diorama.

You can see photos of the Gaol and Courthouse below as well as links to my videos of the locations, EVPs and diorama. 




Thursday, 17 March 2016

Angel Visitation: Paranormal Belief & Mental Wellbeing

What do you see in this picture? What’s the child looking at? Do you see the body and wings of an angel?

This picture was taken nearly 15 years ago when I worked in a shoe shop. We used to take photos of the children’s first pair of shoes with a Polaroid camera for parents to keep. After the picture developed I could see what looked like angel wings and a torso. Two weeks earlier I had lost my Grandmother. For me this image was possible confirmation she was there and watching over me. 

Looking back with a sceptical eye, I think there was a malfunction with the camera or the developing. I seem to remember there was a problem with the mechanism. Despite that the picture is still special to me, whatever the explanation. 

I am a confirmed sceptic and atheist but many in the sceptical community don’t like to acknowledge the emotional comfort that belief in religion and the paranormal can bring. Some dismiss these as ‘delusions’ but they have real psychological benefits. For example, superstition can give someone a sense of empowerment over randomness, religion a moral framework and purpose in life and belief in an afterlife can help those who face death. This may explain why paranormal beliefs are so prevalent (see my earlier post: Sceptics vs Believers). 

If you take an evolutionary perspective these beliefs are adaptive. Having an existential outlook as I do – the world is full of random events, everything is meaningless, there’s nothing after death – is NOT. This worldwide is unlikely to inspire you to carry on in the face of adversity. But that’s enough about my teenage angst…

A recent study found that found that 6 out of 10 people had contact with a dead partner. It’s not difficult to see how this may happen. There’s an expectation to see someone who’s always been there and psychological comfort in maintaining that connection, even if that’s your mind playing tricks on you. 

Whilst we may argue about the legitimacy of certain beliefs and constructs, I don’t see a contradiction in acknowledging their positive effects. Who am I to tell someone what to believe? I am not able to see or experience the world as they do and I certainly don’t have a monopoly on ‘the truth’. 

Wednesday, 2 March 2016

Tricks of the Mind: My Experience of Migraines, Sleep Paralysis & Hallucinations

So I stood in front of the mirror pondering why my face looked like a Picasso painting and totally forgot to take painkillers. This is an occupational hazard for psychology students, we love thinking about thinking! Whenever something odd happens in my brain I think about that rather than my primary needs.

I had my first migraine in my teens then sporadically until my early 20’s when an acute period of stress made them frequent and debilitating. Thankfully, I no longer have them as bad. Over the years I’ve had some strange (paranormal) experiences in the prodrome phase:
  •  Alterations to vision, depth/face perception, light anomalies (between attacks), movement in peripheral vision
  •  An out of body experience. The sensation I was sitting to the right of myself
  • Not feeling in control of my arm(s)
  • Someone else’s voice coming out of my mouth
  • Talking gibberish when I thought I was talking normally
  • Ringing in my ears, voices in my head
  • Unable to control the recall of negative memories 
  • Music composition (which I can’t normally do)
  • Numbness in limbs 
Migraines are believed to be a neurovascular disorder but the precise mechanisms are unknown. Both genetics and environment play their role. As a woman with other family members with it (although not as severe) the environmental stress triggered the condition. For many years I regularly had visual light anomalies, sometimes up to 50 a day! Nothing will knock your faith in your own perception more than seeing things you know aren’t there. I have the less common ‘classic’ migraine with aura but it used to take a week before my vision got back to normal.

They have also been linked to sleep paralysis, which I have. I’ve only had true sleep paralysis twice – being fully conscious but unable to move. However, I do regularly have the more common hypnagogia (going to sleep) and hypnopompic (waking from sleep) hallucinations associated with moving between different stages of sleep, i.e. alpha wave activity associated with waking and paralysis of REM sleep. Here I ‘wake up’ and see things in my room only to wake properly a few seconds later.  I’ve had some unusual hallucinations:
  • Spiders (most common). I once woke up having jumped out of bed!
  • The rubber man from American Horror Story
  • A UFO covered in tinfoil
  • A ‘ghost’ woman floating above me
  • A severed head
  • Zombie face
  • Auditory hallucinations: buzzing, screams
It’s easy to see how some of the above could be interpreted as real paranormal phenomena. Particularly, if it was the first time you had the experience and were unaware of what was happening. In his excellent book on Migraine (1967) the late, great Oliver Sacks also linked the condition to the religious visions of Hildegarde of Bingen

So be wary… the mind can play tricks on you. What we perceive may not always be what is going on ‘out there’.  

*It is unusual for these conditions to suddenly appear or start later in life so please consult your doctor.
You can find out more about Migraine and Sleep Paralysis at the following links: