July 20, 2011
Living Voices: Dr. Dave Oester, Father of the Online Paranormal Community (and the Orb Theory)By Deonna Kelli Sayed
From the Editor: Ghostvillage is pleased to announce Living Voices, a series dedicated to personalities who influenced paranormal research and investigation prior to paranormal reality TV. Living Voices seeks out individuals of all persuasions, from parapsychologists to amateur investigators, whose contributions are often unrealized among the large numbers of paranormal enthusiasts currently defining the contemporary ghost hunting field. This series hopes to celebrate the pioneers who made "ghost hunting" what it is today. Our second installment is Dr. Dave Oester, considered to be the founder of the first online community as well as the Orb Theory father. Thanks for reading!
Two components have defined the paranormal community from the early days of ghost hunting: technology and media culture. From Spiritualism's ghost photography to the contemporary focus on Electronic Voice Phenomena (EVP), equipment shores up fascinating documentation of ghostly goings-on, at least in minds of the believers.
Likewise, public interest in the supernatural is a longstanding component of American pop culture. To take that a step further, online communities significantly define the contemporary paranormal scene.
There is one individual who many feel launched discussion regarding digital technology and online community: Dr. Dave Oester.
Meet Dr. Dave Oester, the man many consider as founder of the first online paranormal community. He is also the "Orb Theory" father. Regardless of one's opinions on the matter, Dr. Dave and his wife, Sharon Oester, are investigators and authors dedicated to decades of research.
In 1990, he and Sharon moved into a cottage along the Oregon coast haunted by a prankster spirit, a little girl they named Dana. At that point, Dr. Dave explains, "We discovered that one in three people had personal experiences with ghosts or knew someone who had experience with ghosts. We decided to write a book [Twilight Stories] about the ghost stories along the Oregon coast. We put an ad in the local newspaper and shortly afterwards another newspaper reporter called for an interview. He came and interviewed us and then wrote a satirical article about the interview."
Satire aside, the article went on wire and appeared in newspapers across the country. That publicity garnered success for their first book. Their second book, Haunted Reality, captured the attention of ABC News Nightline, which sent a crew to film in their home.
The International Ghost Hunters Society
They eventually moved to Portland, and that is where Sharon captured what Dr. Dave describes as "her first orb in motion that left a shadow on the wall." They posted the picture online and explained how the image was captured. That first site, Ghostweb, as well as the photo, generated a great deal of positive public feedback.
This was the early 1990s when the World Wide Web was it its infancy. No online resources existed for paranormal enthusiasts save a few basic sights with what Dr. Dave calls "stale ghost photos." Spurred by public interest, they started the International Ghost Hunters Society (IGHS).
The formation of IGHS is historically significant as precursor to all the forums, websites, and Internet radio shows around today. "When we started the IGHS, we knew of no other ghost clubs on the Internet [providing ghost hunting information]. At that time everyone wanted to charge money for any information they gave out and we decided we would have a web site where the information was free to all" Dr. Dave recalls.
Critics point out that Dr. Dave was an early advocate of charging for ghost hunting classes (and one can still purchase homestudy courses through his site). Many feel it is unethical to do so, citing that there are no experts in the field. Others, however, suggest this is a mute point as there are dozens of bootcamps, webinars, and pararmal conferences today that require money for access to information or photo opportunities with paracelebrities.
He explains that he had an educational background that provided insight into the role of technology on investigation; he majored in Psychics and was a Ham Radio enthusiast. He understood that equipment was a useful tool but wanted to know more specifics. Initially, he looked across the pond to read up on how to ghost hunt.
Dr. Dave reports, "I read all I could get on how United Kingdom ghost hunters and other groups used equipment and determined that most of the tools being used were not effective in detecting ghosts. From my own experiences, I knew that ghosts affected electrical circuits so we started using electromagnetic field meters to measure the energy flow."
Paranormal investigation at that time "was closed lip and secretive, no one wanted to share anything that might teach others about what they knew," he remembers. Finally, old-fashioned marketing and education merged. The Oester's realized that they had to teach people about ghost hunting in order to get readers interested in their books. In a way, Dr. Dave and his wife had to virtually create a community. "I feel that I grandfathered the ghost hunting movement on the Internet. Yes, many other ghost hunters who had books and seminars long before, but none helped move the ghost hunting movement on the Internet," he says.
The biggest challenge was getting people to start their own "clubs." (Dr. Dave claims that over a hundred Internet ghost clubs popped up those first two years after IGHS was formed.) IGHS provided information on how to start and manage groups, as well as what equipment to use. Dr. Dave and Sharon answered all emails and took time to foster community in addition to conducting fieldwork. He asserts "we have never charged for any of our investigations, not for gas money or lodging. We have traveled across the USA eight times and have done over 1,500 investigations were we have recorded over 5,200 ghost voices. We still have members who joined back in 1996 with us today."
According to Dr. Dave, IGHS has had over six million visitors since June of 1996.
The Orb Theory
Today, the paranormal community seems divided between those who orb and those who do not. Many claim that Dr. Dave popularized the orbs-as-ghosts concept.
Here is a little background. The debate came at a time when, like the Internet, the popularity and availability of digital photography was entering mainstream society. Ghost hunters, always ready to try out new equipment, started experimenting with this new technology. (Early digital cameras were inferior to what most investigators now use out in the field.) These devices yielded more orb-like images than traditional film photography.
There are many versions regarding how the orb discussion developed. What is significant is that it was primarily an online discussion, thus marking a unique moment in investigative culture. This was the point where the Internet and emerging technology forced the paranormal community to publicly define "evidence."
Dr. Dave provides his side of the matter regarding orbs.
"I coined the term, 'orb' in 1994 to describe any round spherical shape, be it a rain drop, a dust particle, or a ghostly anomaly. I originally thought round orbs were ghost until I made a study of them by recording over 1,000 photographs of nothing but orbs, as in rain drops, snowflakes, pollen, dust, moisture and found that these orbs were exactly the same as those I originally thought were ghost orbs," he explains.
He continues. "Those who take these dust orbs have no experience in photography and have not 'policed' their own images. People would rather claim that any-and-all round spots they capture are ghosts and not the natural environmental orbs that are floating on the gentle air currents. Common sense seems to be a missing quality in the equation. Psychics call these dust orbs angels, UFO hunters call them aliens, and untrained ghost hunters call them ghost orbs, but in reality the orbs are nothing more than dust or pollen."
Many investigators today dismiss ALL ORBS while others insist EVERY ORB is metaphysical in nature. Dr. Dave suggests that his opponents "would rather claim they can capture ghost orbs then admit all they captured was dust orbs. True ghost orbs will emit an energy surrounding them or they will be leaving a long contrail behind them. Rain drops leave a small contrail at a forty-five degree angle."
The orb issue centered around the "newness" of digital photography, which was highly controversial at the time. Today, however, most paranormal investigators rely on digital technology (in photography and video) on investigation.
The IGHS, according to Dr. Dave, "promoted digital photography while all other groups condemned us, now those same groups now support and encourage digital photography. We were the first club to endorse the use of digital cameras on investigation."
Paranormal Reality TV
Many investigators from the 1990s often express dissatisfaction with paranormal reality TV. It is easy to suggest that community is forever altered because of media interest. "The paranormal reality shows have hurt us more than anything else," decries Dr. Dave. "So many shows faked their findings and suggest that fear, dread, and terror are the common experiences for ghost hunters. These shows teach that ghosts are demonic and evil and we have never found this to be valid or true. Too many young people think that carrying an axe for protection is okay since one reality show had the ghost hunter with an axe in his hands. The paranormal ghost shows," Dr Dave exclaims, "have become a comedy, not a documentary."
He elaborates a bit more. "There are two sides to the paranormal community. One side is the serious investigators who are out to gain insights into what lies beyond the grave. This is the true ghost researcher. The flipside is out to make money and fame from ghost hunting by stepping on anyone who gets in their way. This side is more interested in ego and pride then in helping others," he asserts.
Early investigators -- personalities from the 1990s -- express feeling sidelined and almost "erased" from investigative history due to paranormal reality TV. Dr. Dave shares his thoughts on this. "We turned down many TV opportunities because we felt it would take us away from ghost investigations as TV segments want action and ratings, they are not interested in understanding the spirits of the dead, just how they can sell their project for funding. We did over two-dozen TV segments and grew tired of all the wasted time it required," he says.
However, looking back, he realized that "because I did not go along with what existing ghost hunters were teaching and taught that ghosts were not evil and demonic, we alienated ourselves from the old paranormal community as we promoted a newer and more knowledgeable paranormal community."
Like many of his colleagues, he insists that real ghost hunting does not need the swag seen on the shows."I think that people have discovered that all of the expensive equipment used in theses reality shows are no better than a voice recorder and a compass...we teach that beginners do not have to go into debt for equipment when they start out," he suggests.
Dr. Dave's Impact
I asked Dr. Dave to list his contributions. He reminds me that he has long taught that ghosts are not evil or demonic. Likewise, he has always warned against psychic do-gooders. Dr. Dave's philosophy is that "ghosts are people without physical bodies. If they were good in life, they will be good as spirits. If they were mean SOBs in life, they will be same in death. I have taught that love survives the grave and our loved ones are never far from us." He has encountered ghosts with attitude issues but feels that "a ghost, a spirit, a soul are all the same, just a label we place on these spiritual beings."
Dr. Dave would like to be remembered as the father of the Orb Theory and the grandfather of the ghost hunting movement on the Internet. He suggest that "no one else can claim those titles. I want to be remembered as someone who cared for people and would help them any way that I could to understand about the spirits of the dead."
Today, he and his wife are still writing. They are working on their 26th nonfiction ghost hunting book and a third novel. He is also a Reiki Master who has trained over seventy-five other Reiki Masters from around the world. Dr. Dave is an ordained minister earning a Doctor of Divinity from the parent church organization who ordained him. (He can officiate your wedding if you want.) Some of his hobbies includes pastel landscape painting. He also does a monthly radio show with Jeff Rense.
Dr. Dave no longer travels around the United States on investigations but prefers to spend his time helping people understand about the spirits of the dead through Ghostweb. From those early days in the 1990s, he still has a large membership base and continues to answer email from around the world.
Dr. Dave's Ghostweb
Ghosts of Gettysburg: Walking on Hallowed Ground (other books found on Ghostweb)
Deonna Kelli Sayed is Ghostvillage editor and author of the forthcoming book, Paranormal Obsession: America's Fascination With Ghosts & Hauntings, Spooks & Spirits from Llewellyn. Visit her website, join her Facebook page, and follow her on Twitter. She's actually really cool.