Los Angeles: Mystic healers, UFO hunters, spirit mediums: people claiming psychic powers turn up everywhere. But in Hollywood, where dreams are made, the spiritual realm meets show business.
Drive down a typical boulevard in Los Angeles, and within minutes you will spot a “psychic” sign with offers to sort out your problems. Cults and gurus abound, as well as a galaxy of sects and “churches”.
“LA is a total vortex,” says Maja D'Aoust, who calls herself the White Witch of LA, receiving AFP in a white dress, silver high-heeled shoes, white feathers as earrings and long blond hair to her waist.
“You know, (Indian yogi Paramahansa) Yogananda came here, the Evangelical movement started here, the Pentecostal movement, we have all kinds of UFO cults, yoga groups, you name it,” she told AFP.
She describes herself as an expert in exorcism, levitation, demonology, shamanism and astrology, among other subjects. “There is a giant conglomeration of any religion you can think of.” Mark Edward, member of the Independent Investigations Group (IIG), is skeptical. He presents himself as a magician and psychic, but is transparent about the tricks of the trade.
“It's not so much in LA, it's Hollywood. Because everybody wants to make it in Hollywood, it attracts a lot of people from all over the world who come here,” he told AFP.
“It's a known fact that actors and people who are involved in the arts, a lot of them are very superstitious. They carry lucky charms, they believe their luck is going to change... it's been that way since the '20s and '30s.” Sure enough, of the 50 “haunted” buildings registered by the Los Angeles Paranormal Association, more than half are in fact concentrated in Hollywood http://www.losangelesparanormalassociation.wordpress.com/haunted-los-angeles-map/
Further east, however, in a mostly Hispanic-populated district is the former Linda Vista Community Hospital, reputedly one of LA's most haunted buildings, and used as the set for countless horror movies.
“It's a hotspot,” said D'Aoust. “I can feel it in my physical body,” she said in one of the drab hospital rooms, adding that she had cured four men of prostate cancer here.
– 'No evidence of anything' –
The hospital was abandoned 21 years ago, but has since then been used as a movie shoot location, as well as for real-life “ghost-busters”.
“We actually had a 6 to 7 foot (around two meters) tall shadow walking inside the main lobby,” said Richard Berni, head of the Boyle Heights Paranormal Project, a research group in east LA.
“We've established that that's happened a lot,” he added.
The makers of a new horror film, “The Devil Inside”, arranged a tour for the press –almost exactly the same as a $20 dollar tour offered to the public, including a blessing for visitors as they leave, to remove “bad energy.” Berni said his group had made recordings in the building which, when played back, turned out to include Electronic Voice Phenomena (EVP), supposedly of paranormal origin, namely voices of the dead.
Again, Edward is skeptical. “If there was a real ghost over there, they wouldn't have to charge anything (20 dollars), they would have the greatest scientific achievement in history,” he said.
“There's no evidence of anything. Basically it's audio pareidolia,” he said, referring to a psychological phenomenon involving a vague sound stimulus being perceived as significant.
“The visual version of pareidolia is when you look at a cloud and it looks like a dragon or it looks like a face, you see a face in a tree and you think it is Jesus.
“Audio pareidolia is the same thing. In our investigation, if you don't know what the words being said are, you won't hear anything.” If the “ghostbusters” could prove they really have recorded voices from beyond the grave, they could win not only a Nobel medicine or physics prize, but $1 million offered by the James Randi Foundation.
The prize was created in 1964 by Randi, a Canadian stage magician. Several other bodies have offered similar enticements for anyone who can come up with scientific, physical proof of paranormal activity.
Edward's group, IIG, has a standing offer of $50,000 for anyone who can. Hundreds of people have taken up the challenge over the last 20 years, but none has succeeded.
“Of course not. Because what we do is we sit down and we put together a testable protocol with the claimer. “I mean, the person who's making the claim sits down with us and we say 'ok what is your claim' and we do it mutually so everybody agrees. And so far we haven't had anybody passed.
“Of course, once you pass, you would change science, you wouldn't need any money anyway.”