That's the problem with Halloween. It's gotten so, you know, commercial.
Just ask Jayson Saffer, 25, a Warrenton native who heads an outfit called Virginia's Supernatural Investigators and its counterpart, Maryland Paranormal Investigators.
Saffer said the groups, which were started three years ago and have about a dozen members between them in the Washington suburbs, will investigate no claim of paranormal activity during the Halloween season because that's the time of year when people who make light of the spirit world often make bogus claims of hauntings.
Likewise, he said, there are groups of paranormal investigators that exploit the season, which has both a pagan feast and a Roman Catholic holy day at its roots, to turn a profit.
"I'm finding an alarming amount of people that have turned this into a business," said Saffer, whose services have been in demand recently by media chroniclers of American popular culture, which is celebrating supernatural themes in such hit movies as "The Sixth Sense," "Stir of Echoes," "Stigmata" and "The Blair Witch Project."
Indeed, in this high time for those claiming expertise in things supernatural, Saffer, whose day job is in the travel industry, frets openly about those groups that charge people exorbitant sums to fend off what he calls "spirit problems."
Saffer's organization recently did an "investigation" of Warrenton's Old Jail, dating to the 1700s, at the behest of a local newspaper, which wanted to witness a paranormal investigation. The group does not charge for its visits or sell interviews or its stories.
"I feel that it's a gift. And if God gave you a gift for something, you should use it to help people.
"Using it for profits, that's just bad karma in my mind," said Saffer, a Fauquier High School graduate.
This is not so for other organizations, such as the International Ghost Hunters Society, based in rural Oregon. The founder of that group, Dave Oester, said in an interview that the fee he charges for the use of its World Wide Web site ($12 a year) is used only for its upkeep. But the Web site also sells various trinkets, such as ghost earrings.
"The money goes for investigation costs," Oester said.
Denice Jones, a Connecticut woman who said she thinks that her son was possessed and that the 11-year-old boy still "sees ghosts" a la "The Sixth Sense," had an unpleasant experience with paranormal investigators. She said they invaded her home life, performed their research and then tried to sell the story.
"We were very vulnerable at that point," said Jones, who founded a group called the L.I.F.E. Foundation, the acronym standing for "Living in Fear Ends." It is a clearinghouse of sorts for people seeking help for their paranormal burdens. Some of the people listed on the Web site charge for their services; others do not.
Jones conceded that, unlike other professions that have boards of accreditation and state agencies to look after ethics, there is no watchdog group that vets backgrounds and establishes credibility for these paranormal investigators.
Saffer said that any pedigree can come only from experience.
He learned about the group he now heads through the Internet and through discussions with other self-described psychics.
Saffer, who lives in Crystal City, said he was born about the time the Pentagon was conducting research into psychic warfare, suggesting that may have something to do with his abilities, which he started by "sensing spirits."
His parents, who still live in Warrenton, dispute the psychic warfare claims and, Saffer said, "are pretty embarrassed by this. They joke that they're going to have to move."
Saffer uses his free time to handle "cases" in which people call and complain of hauntings and other weird phenomena. He would not disclose the names of any of his dozen or so clients--they are wary of media attention, he said--but he said bad spirits can be driven away using a kind of "New Age" ceremony.
"It's usually done with a lot of meditating," he said. "It involves white sage."
On a recent investigation, the group went to a Virginia home where residents believed spirits were making noises and moving furniture. Through meditation, Saffer said, they were able to expel the rowdy spirits.
At the Old Jail recently, Saffer described the findings of another psychic involved in the group during the investigation there a few months ago. In the maximum security cell, Saffer said, the psychic became physically overwhelmed by the negative energy in the room.
"She became very sick in here," Saffer said. "Some very bad things happened in here."
Out in the exercise yard, bounded by high fieldstone walls, was an area where a gallows once stood. Saffer said one psychic from the group detected two bodies buried there and conjured up memories of the children who would peek over the wall to watch the hangings.
"It's not something you can prove or disprove," he said. "Some people don't believe in anything."
What troubles detractors of psychic investigations is that some mentally unstable people, who need professional psychological help, attribute their woes to spirits and turn to paranormal investigators. That is one of the worries of Victoria, who would not agree to having her last name published, who is the self-appointed skeptic of Saffer's group.
Victoria, who calls herself the "wet blanket" of the paranormal investigations, said she bothers caring because she is fascinated by ghost stories and enjoys the company of other people who are fascinated, too.
Maxwell Harway, president of the Fauquier Historical Society, which operates the Old Jail Museum, said he doesn't believe in a haunted jail. "I'm not spiritually inclined," he said.
But the jail's modern-day keeper, the Fauquier County Sheriff's Department, has some members who put stock, to a point, in the powers of psychics.
Capt. Fred Pfeiff said that, during his career spanning three decades of criminal investigations, he has "about four or five times" turned to psychics for investigative help. Although they did not help solve the cases, they did give credible information, he said.
"If you're an investigator, and that's one resource that's available to you . . . that can't be overlooked," Pfeiff said. "I'm as skeptical as the next person.
"But I also believe that there are people with unique and unusual abilities, something that I can't define, with a proven track record in resolutions of cases."
CAPTION: Saffer stands outside Warrenton's Old Jail, which dates back to the 1700s. "Some very bad things happened in here," he said.
CAPTION: Jayson Saffer inside the Old Jail in Warrenton. His organization recently did an "investigation" of the jail at the behest of a local newspaper.