Interview with Shawn Butler

Author’s Note: This is a Halloween 2022 repost from an earlier version of Dunebat Country.

I’ve always been fascinated by paranormal investigations ever since I first saw Ghostbusters II in theaters at age seven. I recently found out that an online friend is none other than Shawn Butler, a ten-year veteran paranormal investigator and owner/certified lead investigator of Para-NC Paranormal Research & Investigations out of Central North Carolina, I just had to pester him about his work.

Fortunately, Shawn was gracious enough to oblige.

DUNEBAT: What first sparked your interest in the paranormal?

I met my ex-wife when we were both working for Walmart, we had a coworker who was moving to Pennsylvania and offered to pay us to help them move, so we looked up things to do on the long road trip finding the Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum in Weston, West Virginia.

So, we figured doing one of the ghost tours there, figured that would be fun. Ended up meeting a spiritual healer and paranormal investigator who ended up teaching us how dowsing rods work. I thought the things were total nonsense until she had me try them for myself. Still wasn’t convinced, being naturally skeptical.

What ultimately convinced you?

So, we ended up touring the lower level, west wing with a tour guide named Copperhead. The west wing was the only portion built when the Civil War broke out. Kitchen’s here, and according to Copperhead, there was a larger older spirit there who seemed to protect a younger, weaker one, especially from someone he called “Tom”.

We went up to Tom’s room and he called this guy out. Apparently, Tom can’t stand Copperhead. And Copperhead is using his dowsing rods, 100% copper. Hold your hands forward like you’re gonna shake hands, but your thumbs straight up. Makes an “L”, yes? The fleshy part of your pointer finger before the first knuckle. That’s where these things are touching Copperhead’s hands, and those are THE ONLY point of contact between the rods and his hands. It’s literally impossible that he was using his fingertips or something to manipulate these dowsing rods and make them move. They’re just sitting there, and if he angled his hands to make them move, that’d be blatantly obvious.

As I watch with him angering Tom, I see these dowsing rods bend into a complete “U” shape, completely defying the laws of physics. And I thought to myself, “Uh… Okay. Maybe I was wrong. Maybe there’s something to this.”

How do these dowsing rods work as an instrument of paranormal investigation?

They provide a conduit through which spirits can more easily channel their energy. You can ask them to move the rods in different ways to indicate answers to “yes” or “no” questions. All the way to the left, or to the right, or to cross them, or uncross them, so on.

It takes spirits a LOT of energy to manipulate things in the physical world. You can give permission for them to use the energy in your body, or you can block them, as some may try it without permission and drain you. And you could go from being wide awake to falling asleep on your feet. Or suddenly find your camera has died and didn’t catch anything for the past half hour. Even though you JUST put fresh batteries in it. I had to learn to connect my equipment to a hard-line power source where possible.

So, what happened with Copperhead and Tom?

SHAWN: They have an ongoing antagonism to this day, as far as I know.

So, that visit to the asylum first sparked your interest. How did you go from “interested newbie” to “seasoned licensed investigator”?

SHAWN: I found the IMHS, the Institute of Metaphysical Humanistic Science, which offers a comprehensive course on paranormal investigation. They have a full series of college-level courses, and to become licensed and certified as a Leading Investigator I had to score nearly perfect. Thanks to them, I know much more than I would have had I tried to educate myself over the internet.

What led you to the IMHS?

SHAWN: Realizing how little I knew at the time, and Google.

How comprehensive are their courses?

SHAWN: They really teach you so you know what the hell you’re doing. They use evidence from actual paranormal investigations that you have to discern and debunk what’s real and what’s not.

So, you learn more than just parapsychology?

SHAWN: You can go all the way up to getting your doctorate. If you choose to invest that far.

How long were the courses you took?

SHAWN: Took a while, they are full college courses as opposed to a set of YouTube videos.

So, how long did you study before you took to the field, or were you investigating while studying?

SHAWN: It was probably around a year from the time we got back from the Asylum until taking our first client.

What was that first investigation like? You don’t have to give details; I know you’re probably under client confidentiality. What were your impressions of that first time in the field?

SHAWN: Well, my wife used to work in the county tax office, so she was brilliant with paperwork and had drawn up all the forms you could possibly think we’d need to protect ourselves legally, along with being very intelligent in confidentiality paperwork, processes and interview questions, the whole nine yards.

So, what was that first investigation like? How did you investigate the alleged phenomena? Did anything frightening or out of the ordinary occur during?

SHAWN: Spent a good amount of time doing everything by the book, got all my baseline readings done while she was interviewing the client and getting all the paperwork in order, that way I could compare any odd readings later and make sure I’m not just scanning stationary features of the house, like power lines or wall studs.

Are most investigations fairly routine like that?

SHAWN: Pretty much. Usually, it’s people that watch way too much TV or have overactive imaginations but want the peace of mind of knowing they’re not crazy. My job’s to go in, use my knowledge and my equipment, and debunk everything I possibly can. If I get something I truly couldn’t explain and could then cross-reference it with my wife’s psychic sensitivity… then we might really have something.

U.S.S. North Carolina

Have you ever had any truly frightening or unsettling supernatural experiences in the field?

SHAWN: Absolutely.

So, we see that there’s going to be a celebrity ghost-hunting event at the Battleship U.S.S. North Carolina, the most highly decorated warship of World War 2 and now a museum ship an hour and a half away in Wilmington. I’d been going since I was a kid. Would be a good chance to meet people that’d been doing it a lot longer, get some experience and ask some questions. I remember Brett and Joe from Ghost Hunters International were there, so was Chip Coffey from [Psychic Kids: Children of the Paranormal]. Some other people were there whose names I don’t remember, one of them a filmmaker on paranormal things. We get there, get seated in front of everyone and they do all their introductions, et cetera, they ask if anyone has any questions. I stand and say not a question, but that I thought we should have a round of applause for all of the first timers that were there, because it’s not easy stepping out of your comfort zone like this.

I’m sure the celebrities were like “Who in the world is this dude?”

So, we go through, divided in four different groups and going to different parts of the ship with different celebrities, they talk about their experiences, take questions, so on and so forth. When we were in the engine room with the paranormal filmmaker, L keeps getting this odd look on her face and looking around like she’s distracted, I make a point to ask her about it later.

Later when everyone’s given free roam of the ship, we’re going past Sickbay and help out some people who were having trouble figuring out how to use some of their equipment and answer some questions. People start realizing this, and twenty minutes later we’ve got like forty people following us around like we’re one of the celebrities.

Wife’s telling me she really wants to go back to the engine room, so later once we get away from the crowd and everyone’s starting to leave for the night around 3:00 AM, we take that opportunity.

Now as we’re retracing our steps toward the engine room, I start feeling sick, like really freaking sick. I’m doubled over holding my stomach, like “What on earth?”. It wasn’t something I ate unless I suddenly got an allergy to crackers and cheese. I power through cause I know this is important to her, and I’m feeling worse and worse the further we get down in the ship towards the engine room. I’m fighting nausea like I’m gonna legitimately throw up.

Finally get down there and she’s walking around starting an EVP session, and I’m just feeling straight-up dread. Not stomach sick, though that’s still there. This is completely different.

And then I have the biggest sensation of “fight or flight” that I’ve ever felt in my life. And you can’t understand what I mean unless you’ve felt it personally. It’s a literal instinct of “If you don’t move your ass, you’re about to die right now.” And it hit me so hard that before I knew it, I was shoving L back up the ladder out of the engine room telling her to move her ass.

It takes quite a long time to go from the bowels to the top deck of a ship that size. Once we finally get up to the top again, she is… not right. She is stumbling, delirious like she’s drunk.

Now, earlier in the day before we arrived, they’d have some kinda book signing on the aft deck, and there were still guide ropes set up. She is stumbling backwards navigating around these guide ropes without being able to see where she’s going.

And when I finally get her physically off the ship and into the gift shop she’s like she’s waking up from a dream and didn’t remember that whole episode. It’s my belief that a team investigated the ship, opened a spiritual portal, let something VERY dark out and did not know how to close it, then cut and run.

In your opinion, do any of the ghost-hunting shows or paranormal films and series get anything right about the business? If so, what?

SHAWN: I know some people from some of the shows. Tango from GH and Chip Coffey were both very pleasant and patient, giving me as much of their time and attention as I needed.

I can say the original The Conjuring was about as spot on as you could possibly be as far as the tools and techniques that we use (adapted for the era it was portraying), particularly because of how closely the filmmakers worked with Lorraine Warren. As close as it could be, and still be a movie, not a documentary.

What do the films and series usually get wrong?

SHAWN: Everything, basically. From having absolute total amateurs sneaking into abandoned buildings (No-no, that’s a good way to get arrested, and you will), to antagonizing spirits in an attempt to get a response (Don’t do that!) to stupid jump scares and things that makes no sense (Like, “Oh my god, it’s a demon!” The character proceeds to rack a Glock). Your reputation and your word will get you into places that the general public may not have access to, so don’t ruin them by breaking the law or trespassing.

Any films or series you’d say were the worst offenders?

SHAWN: Any Conjuring movie after the first is pretty bad. They threw out any pretense at accuracy. Like Annabelle.

Here’s the ridiculous movie prop.

And the actual possessed Annabelle doll in Lorraine Warren’s [now closed] paranormal museum.

It’s just a regular Raggedy Ann doll. Which, I think, is infinitely scarier.

For the most part, I avoid the horror genre these days. There’s no creativity, it’s just… “Let’s see how many people we can slice up in an hour and a half runtime.” That’s not scary.

My ideal horror movie? The Thing. Evil hiding in plain sight. It’s psychological.

Would you say COVID-19 had any effect on the paranormal investigations business, and how so?

SHAWN: I’d say, probably. Everyone went nuts with the social distancing and masking and all other sorts of nonsense that didn’t actually help anyone, which would lead to a distrust of other people, consciously or not, and therefore people are not as keen to let you in their home. Likewise, the paranormal TV show bubble has sort of crashed, and there’s not nearly as much interest as there was ten years ago.

Once you have a taste of it though, it’s hard to stop. There are things in the world that are unexplained, and the only way to find out is to get out there and experience it. Which isn’t to say it’s not dangerous, and it takes a certain kind of person that can accept that and put themselves in harm’s way anyway.

What do you think caused the TV paranormal investigations bubble to burst, anyway?

SHAWN: Oversaturation. There were so many shows out there.

What kind of equipment is best in the field?

SHAWN: The simplest. You don’t need a $400 laser grid, spirit box, or motion sensor pod. Some of the best evidence I’ve ever captured was from a $20 Panasonic voice recorder.

Use an A/C adapter for equipment power, if possible. I lost four hours of recording in a defunct prison because my camera’s batteries had died, and I didn’t realize it.

Is there any specific equipment you’d recommend taking?

SHAWN: A solid, reliable voice recorder won’t break the bank, is one of my most-used tools, and one with USB makes it much easier to upload to a computer.

What advice would you pass along to would-be paranormal investigators hoping to break into the business?

SHAWN: Always follow local laws and do not attempt to enter and investigate buildings you don’t have permission for. Nothing will put a damper on your night like getting arrested. Being open and honest will open a lot of doors.

The two most important pieces of equipment you can carry… coffee and extra batteries. I’d often have an investigation that night after working a 12-hour shift and come 2:00 or 3:00 AM, I was a zombie.

And always, always be respectful of any spirits that might be in the location. Many times, these are spirits that used to be what you are now, a living and breathing human being. Only difference is, they no longer have a physical body.
Debunk and disprove everything you’re able to, because it’s when you can’t that you might really have something.

I think that’s all the questions I have. Is there anything else you’d like to say to the readers?

SHAWN: This is a fascinating field and one about which we know frighteningly little. The only way to get these answers about the exact nature of the spiritual realm and what exactly happens after we die is to go out and find them. Be safe, be knowledgeable, be inquisitive.

About Dunebat

Sole specimen: Desmodus desertus. Judeo-Christian anchorite/scribe/scribbler. Lover of nerds, Goths, creatives, & outcasts.

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