Demons among us? Errr, nope…

In early 2005, a number of ‘interesting’ photographs were taken at a private investigation location in Tyne and Wear that in time came to be labelled as evidence of demons by many North East psychics and mediums.

Naturally, this wasn’t the case at all, but it proved to be a really interesting, albeit simple experiment into suggestion, folks’ need to believe, the ever encroaching rise of Demonology in paranormal circles and of course the validity of psychic readings from photographs. Now at the time of writing this article, some 11 years after taking the photographs, I’ve seen a number of changes in the psychological backgrounds to ghost hunters’ beliefs, and the interpretation of these photographs by many highlights these changes nicely.

When I first started my official investigations into ghostly phenomena back in 2003, I entered a field that had suddenly rocketed to popularity with TV’s Most Haunted launching a year earlier. Investigations and research by organisations such as the SPR were largely unknown by most of the the new breed of ghost hunter, who were inspired by the Most Haunted series in both outlook and methodology. While I say I started official investigations in 2003, my actual investigatory experience started in 1991 down in Dorset but that had been very much on an ad-hoc basis and primarily dealt with the relationship between folklore and ghost myth, and well as logging the alleged ghostly activity in a Bournemouth B&B for three years. In 2003, with my first foray into post-Most Haunted investigations, everything had changed. Investigations were now medium-led, where the medium or mediums worked their way around a location followed by those furiously scribbling down notes as they spoke. With the development of affordable digital photography (in 2003 my first digital camera was a whopping 2 megapixel spec), orbs were seen as evidence of the floating dead and gaussmaster EMF meters shrieked in every corner as evidence of ghosts. Most Haunted met Ghostbusters and the noughties’ paranormal investigator was born. However, it was ghosts and spirits (especially the bad ones, heaven help the investigators who found a bad one), and ‘demons’ were still for the most part only referred to in their religious context.

At the time, I showed the photographs demonstrated here to many of the North East’s investigative community. Now, while I hid the actual origin of the effects from those viewing the photographs, I told the truth about the circumstances in which they were taken: the investigations team experienced a lot of unusual occurrences at the time the photographs were taken: disembodied whispering heard by all present, footsteps and an incredibly uncomfortable feeling of having someone standing breathing over your shoulder. Its what we all experienced, and acted in this case as a suggestive boost. Every alleged psychic/medium who looked at the photographs (some weren’t even told the background) identified the misty presences as those of an evil, horrible man who was of course a murderer in life, and as such the investigating team needed to be really careful.

Now, jump forward to 2008 and the rise of more US paranormal shows such as Ghost Adventures. WB’s series Supernatural had been running for three years by this time, and brought the US’s interest in demons to the fore. Suddenly, where evil spirits were usually cited in many hauntings, the term demon and demonic was now getting thrown around. Otherworld North East continued in our investigations, and began to work with other local teams more, and I continued to show the pictures when the opportunity arose.

The photos weren’t tagged demonic in origin until April 2010, when I was acting as site security/guide at a heritage site on the Cumbrian border which had one of the North East’s leading entertainment ghost hunting groups in. As per usual, I was asked if I had any interesting images to show, so I popped the laptop on and showed them the photos above. Almost immediately, two of their psychic mediums came across and looked at the images gravely, shaking their heads and passing knowing looks between themselves. “Demon” one of them said and the other nodded agreement. “Its a really dark energy that – murderous and demonic. No doubt at all a demon.”

That seemed to be the trigger. Presumably word got around, and in each case of showing the photographs from then on, the result was ‘murderous demon’.

As an exercise in alleged psychics and mediums undertaking photographic readings, these photographs showed one clear thing. Those who regard themselves as having the ability to communicate with the dead, sense demons, the otherworld or whatever you wish to call it cannot truly see their way foreward to seeing anything other than what is expected of them. The mundane is simply too… mundane. As an exercise in how the perception of those ‘gifted’ individuals also changes over time, influenced by the popular media, these photographs have also proven invaluable.

Don’t get me wrong: while I haven’t mentioned the names of the innumerable groups and individuals that shouted ‘evil ghost’ or ‘demon’ due to the obvious legal ramifications, I have no issue in saying that members of both Northern Ghost Investigations and Dead Zone Paranormal Adventures saw the images immediately for what they are: a true investigator’s eye and a keen mind (or even just common sense) go a long way to identifying the true source.

So what caused these interesting apparitions to form on the photographs? Spirits of evil murderers? Blood curdling demons?

There was no electricity in the investigation location, it was underground with no natural light sources. It was also very cold and damp, so batteries in lamps and torches didn’t last long. So simply put, candles were used to light the areas needed to be flagged for health and safety… the wonderful vaporous apparitions are nothing more than the candle smoke interacting with the cold damp air in a confined space, where the movement of the investigators present caused the smoke to swirl in intricate patterns.

In the world of paranormal investigation, nothing should ever be taken at face value unless there is sold proof behind a statement. Mediumistic/psychic readings from looking at photographs? Well, over 30 individuals with alleged psychic abilities identified candle smoke as ectoplasm (well, not literally, but you know what I mean)… the connotations of that I shall leave to you, the reader to decide…


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Tony is the founder of Otherworld North East. He is an archaeologist by trade and classes himself as a sceptic.


Tony is the founder of Otherworld North East. He is an archaeologist by trade and classes himself as a sceptic.