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Haunted Hunting: Stalking Czech Ghosts

Haunted Hunting: Stalking Czech Ghosts

Posted: December 22, 1993

By Zivnustkova, Alena

Haunted Hunting: Stalking Czech Ghosts On a cold and moonless night, Lubos Safarik stood in the middle of a deserted Pilsen intersection and waited as his friend attempted to light a cigarette. He shifted impatiently as each match died out as it was struck. With his hands shoved deep into his pockets, he looked around at the vast, empty area. Then he saw her. She was moving toward him, silently. The long, dark coat she wore concealed her legs. She appeared to be floating. As she neared him he noticed her fine, sharp features. When she passed, he quickly turned his head to look after her. But no one was there. Safarik, a 31-year-old psychologist in Pilsen, is convinced that he saw a ghost on that still November night in 1979. Because of the location, the only place she could have slipped into was thin air, he says. The area was surrounded by sprawling villas, the nearest about 50 meters away. "I saw her with such clarity I could draw every detail of her. We ran after her to see where she was, but nothing." It was only later that he learned a young woman had been killed by a car at that exact spot five years earlier. Because of his experience, Safarik began immersing himself in the world of the paranormal and learned more about ghosts. Three years ago, he teamed up with another believer, Pavel Kalina, a nuclear power physicist who works as a guard in Pilsen. Together, they started to investigate supernatural phenomenon in the Czech Republic. "We are not ghostbusters," insists Kalina, whose ghostly interest was piqued 12 years ago in Moscow. "We just help people understand what they have seen." Helping people understand ghosts - if indeed they even exist - hasn't always been easy in this country. Ivan Mackerle, a Prague-based writer who investigates strange phenomena, says published material on ghost sightings didn't exist during the days of communism. For years, much of his work was thwarted because the Czech criminal police (official investigators of strange occurrences) sealed their records. The party line was clear. Parapsychology, the science of events that cannot be explained by natural law, might indicate the existence of God. Because God didn't exist under communist philosophy; neither did ghosts. After the Iron Curtain fell in 1989, parapsychology moved out of the shadows and became a legitimate science in the Czech Republic. Books were written on the subject, magazines produced, TV programs aired and clubs formed. The name of the science was changed to psychotronics, Safarik says, because of the sometimes negative stigma attached to parapsychology. Since their collaboration, Kalina and Safarik have investigated more than 100 hauntings in the Czech Republic. Based on their investigations, they believe they now understand ghosts and when, where and why certain people see them. Safarik paints a classic case of a haunting that he believes explains how ghosts step into the material world. In early 1992, a family in Karlovy Vary moved into a flat that had no history of strange occurrences, he says. One day the father hung a rope from a hook in the children's room for the kids to swing on. Each night the father removed the rope at 8 p.m. One night, however, he didn't take down the rope until 10 p.m. That evening the mother checked her sleeping children and saw a young man standing in the dimly-lit room. She screamed and he vanished. The young man continued to appear whenever the rope was left hanging past 9 p.m. Objects began moving on their own, sometimes flying across the room. The frightened family eventually fled from the flat. Kalina and Safarik researched the history of the home and discovered a young man had hung himself there 14 years earlier. Safarik explains that all the pieces of a puzzle must be in place before a ghost can appear. First, he says, an unnatural death must occur. When people die unnaturally, in sudden or violent ways, their "being" does not totally leave this world. Part of them remains trapped here and that is what some people see. But not everyone is gifted, or cursed, with the ability to see a ghost. In their research, Safarik and Kalina discovered a common denominator among ghost witnesses - all were difficult births. They theorize that people have a wall in their brain that separates the three-dimensional world with other dimensions that most humans cannot sense. But people who survive difficult births emerge with a small opening in this wall that allows them to glimpse other dimensions where ghosts can be seen. "Ghosts are always with us, but only certain people have the ability to witness them and then only at certain times," Kalina says. Time and ritual are the final important elements for the appearance of ghosts, according to the duo. In this case, the witching hour was 9 p.m. - the moment the teen died, Kalina says. The ghost only appeared when the rope was left hanging beyond that time. The rope was the ritual that bridged the two worlds. Without either of these two elements, the ghost would not have been seen. "Think of it this way: the event that took place several years ago [the hanging] is a battery," Safarik explains. "All the other factors [time, place, ritual and witness] are conductors and the ghost is a light bulb. When all the conductors are in place, the light goes on and the ghost appears." Of course, not everyone agrees with such theories. Dr. Michal Cernousek, a sociologist at Charles University, says ghosts don't exist and that they are the product of over-active imaginations. He is critical of so-called 'pseudo-scientists' who try to legitimize their beliefs in ghosts with scientific jargon. "[Parapsychologists] use the language of contemporary science to prove their own insane imaginations," Cernousek says. Dr. Zdenek Rejdak, head of the Psychotronics and Juvenile Research Institute in Prague, also doesn't believe in ghosts. But, after sifting through hundreds of reports of ghostly appearances over the past 43 years, Rejdak has arrived at his own unorthodox theory. He says unharnessed energy in people's brains is responsible for strange happenings sometimes attributed to ghosts. One of Rejdak's most fascinating cases occurred at a house near Ostrava in January 1982. Three generations lived in the home - grandparents, parents and an 11-year-old son. Rejdak was asked along with criminal police to investigate unexplainable events. The wallpaper had begun to peel away from the walls - not at the top, but in the center where no seams existed, he says. In one day, 21 spontaneous fires erupted, including: in the refrigerator, centers of cushions, on edges of curtains - even down to a 100 Kc note in the grandfather's pocket. Objects were hurled across the room, jars fell off shelves and furniture was tossed upside down. Rejdak insists, however, that this was not the work of a phantom or ghost. He says a combination of three principles was responsible - unharnessed energy, stress and a channel for them to pass through. In such instances, the channels are always children under three, youths who are in their teens or near-teens, or a woman going through menopause. The channel in the Ostrava case was the 11-year-old son. The unharnessed energy came from the mother, who had an unhappy marriage and who lived with unwelcoming in-laws. And the stress occurred from years of living under those conditions, he says. All three elements came together in the same setting and caused a series of unnatural events, Rejdak points out. While Cernousek and others consider such explanations to be nothing short of bizarre, they agree that reports of creepy occurrences in the Czech Republic are not unusual. Most witnesses want their names kept confidential. Telling people your house is haunted or that you have seen or heard strange events is often greeted with derision, Kalina says. "When people see a ghost, the first thing they do is tell friends and family and everybody says they're crazy," he says. "Naturally, people have a real fear about letting others know what they have seen." To prove that people aren't crazy, Mackerle attempts to record ghost sounds. On the trail of ghosts since 1980, he uses a tape recorder and compass to provide evidence they exist. "I believe in the phenomena of ghosts, though they are not so easy to discover. They don't always appear when you want them to," he says. For some time, Mackerle has received reports from the caretaker of Kasperk Castle, near the German border, of strange noises long after the castle is empty each night. With heavy circles under his eyes, Mackerle tells how late one night he slipped into the chapel where the sounds were heard. He brought state-of-the-art recording equipment to capture the noises on tape. But the spirits were against him. "Everything was turning, the tape was moving, but nothing was recorded. It was as if the tapes were being erased," he says. "Once we stepped outside of the chapel, the tape recorder started to work perfectly. It was only in the chapel that it froze." Ghosts may be elusive, shy and sometimes physical, but they rarely hurt people, Kalina says. The danger is how people respond to seeing ghosts, Kalina warns. Predicting people's reactions is impossible. Some have been known to go mad or even kill themselves after an encounter with a ghost, he says. His parting advice: "Whenever you see a ghost or phantom, always ask, 'What do you want?' If there is no response, everything is all right." Alena Zivnustkova and Zdena Vankova assisted with this article..

By Zivnustkova, Alena

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