Hans Holzer died on April 26, 2009, at the age of 89. Dr. Holzer was a pioneer and trail-blazer in the paranormal community. He will be missed. Ghostvillage.com extends our condolences to his family and friends.
This past January, Dr. Hans Holzer turned 85 years old. He laughs when you mention retirement. “I retire every day,” he says with the hint of an Austrian accent. “Every night at midnight.”
After penning 138 books as well as several plays, musicals, films, and documentaries and hosting a television show, the only thing that slows him down today is a mishap from an operation on his leg three years ago. What does it slow him down from? “Swing dancing,” he said. I laughed. Then I realized he wasn’t kidding. “Not just swing dancing, any kind of dancing!”
Supernaturally speaking, Dr. Holzer has seen and heard it all. He’s worked with psychic legends like Sybil Leek, he’s investigated some of the most prominent haunted locations around the world, and he’s come as close as a living person can to touching the “other side of life” – a term he’s quick to point out that he invented.
I spoke to Dr. Holzer about his life and work from his office in New York City. “I have no secrets,” he said. “I mean, I have secrets, but I don’t make them secret. If anybody wants to hear them, they can hear them.”
I wanted to hear them.
Born January 26, 1920 in Vienna, Austria, Holzer embraced the supernatural from a young age. He had an uncle Henry who used to tell him about fairies. Uncle Henry had many interests in the field of the paranormal, and he certainly left an impression on young Hans. “I was in kindergarten,” Holzer said. “I was four years old – I see this as vividly today as when it happened – I see myself seated in a little yellow chair with all of the other kids around, and I was in the middle, pretending to read from an expired streetcar pass of my father’s. I couldn’t read at four, but I pretended. And I was ‘reading’ them ghost stories. Obviously fictional ghost stories, but the kids loved it. The only trouble was that they told their parents at home.”
“Did you get in trouble?” I asked.
“The next thing that happened was the mothers came in and said, ‘What kind of a kindergarten are we running here?’ And so my mother was brought in, and the teacher said, ‘Look, either he goes or I go.’ At that point, I stopped telling ghost stories.”
In 1938, 18-year-old Holzer saw a very big war coming to his region. He figured being that close to Nazi Germany while a World War was brewing wasn’t healthy, so he and his brother came to New York. He’s lived in New York City ever since.
“What was your first paranormal experience?” I asked.
“It’s not a question of whether I had experiences,” he said. “My interest has nothing to do with personal experiences. In other words, you don’t have to be an investigator to experience things first-hand.”
For Holzer, each case must withstand journalistic integrity, and journalism is just one of the many subjects he studied during his academic career. “I took ancient history and archaeology at the University of Vienna,” he said. “Then I spent another three-and-a-half years at Columbia University where I studied Japanese. In addition, I was a graduate of the Academy of Journalism in Vienna, which was a total waste of time. But I took it – it sounded nice. At the end, I studied at the London College of Applied Science which awarded me a master’s in comparative religion, and then a year later a Ph.D. with a specialty in parapsychology.”
By the time his schooling was finished, his reputation was sealed as an investigator of the paranormal.
“I’ve read you don’t like the term ‘supernatural’,” I said.
“I use the term because it is the one that people use,” Holzer said. “But nothing in my scientific view does not have an explanation. The question is, sooner we get it or later we get it, but there has to be an explanation. You can’t say nobody knows. I don’t accept that. And the paranormal is part of our experience – we just don’t always understand it as such.”
Eventually, we did get to speak about some of Holzer’s personal experiences. And while some people in this field of study have had personal experiences and believe that in itself makes them expert on knowing if a location is haunted, Holzer wants witnesses – several of them preferably, and the not-crazy kind. “That’s why I want to know my witness,” he said. “I ask them, ‘Who are you? What do you do for a living?’ I interview the witnesses. If there is a crazy in front of me, I’ll know it.
“My first visual experience was when I lived in New York City with my father in a penthouse apartment on Riverside Drive. I was asleep in bed, and I woke up and there was my mother dressed in a white nightgown, pushing my head back onto the pillow. My head had slipped off the pillow. At that time I was subject to migraines. Had I not had my head back on the pillow, I probably would’ve had one, and there would’ve been dizziness and I would’ve been out of business for a day. I said, ‘Oh, hello, Mama.’ And she disappeared.”
We talked about the difference between a ghost or a spirit – how a ghost is a residual entity, like a psychic imprint left in an area that some people can pick up, whereas a spirit is intelligent and interactive. Holzer also mentioned a third category I hadn’t heard about before: the “stay behinds.”
“‘Stay behinds’ are relatively common,” he said. “Somebody dies, and then they’re really surprised that all of a sudden they’re not dead. They’re alive like they were. They don’t understand it because they weren’t prepared for it. So they go back to what they knew most – their chair, their room, and they just sit there. Next, they want to let people know that they’re still ‘alive.’ So they’ll do little things like moving things, appear to relatives, pushing objects, poltergeist phenomena, and so on.”
Preparation for the after life is something most world religions devote their very existence to. Holzer believes all religions have some of it right in that they believe in a supreme power – a belief Holzer also holds. He considers himself an Evangelical Protestant and used to attend St. Bartholomew in Manhattan twice a year – on Christmas and Easter. But he has since stopped going – he’s been at odds with the minister. “My minister at St. Bart’s, I don’t like,” he said. “And it’s mutual.” He laughed.
“Why is that?” I asked.
“They were running a seminar on world religions – they had a rabbi there, they had an Imam there – it was a discussion group,” he said. “Since I’m a professional lecturer, I offered to add the view of parapsychology. And he [the minister] turned it down with a note saying, ‘How can you compare that with what we’re doing?’ And I didn’t think that was very nice. You have to understand, where I’m coming from, if it weren’t for parapsychology, religion wouldn’t have a leg to stand on. Because they have used what we call the facts of the paranormal to build their messages of faith. Religion works on faith and on belief and disbelief – you must do this and you must do that – that’s not where science comes from. Science gives the facts whether you like them or not, and you have to accept them or not accept them, but it’s not a question of belief or faith.”
Holzer’s own research has also led him away from his Christmas and Easter visits to St. Bart’s. “I am working on early Christianity as part of the research work, and I have come up with some very startling facts about early Christianity that differ markedly from what the Roman Catholic and even my own church are convinced of,” he said. “And while I’m working on this, I would feel like a fool going to church. For instance, I spent 15 years of research establishing that Jesus Christ, that is Jeshua, was born October the third, seven B.C., beyond the shadow of a doubt. We have the hard evidence from contemporary sources. So how could I possibly go and celebrate Christmas? The church at the Council of Nicea in 325, since they weren’t sure when Jesus was born either, decided to make it officially on a day which was already a holiday – this was Saturnalia of the Roman calendar – the 25th of December.
“October the third is the correct date. I wrote a book about this called A Star in the East.”
“Though the date might be wrong, is the message right?” I asked.
“I’m not condemning all religions,” he said. “I’m condemning certain portions of it as being man-made and used solely for selfish purposes. There are some wonderful concepts in religion – Buddhism has a lot of good things, for instance. I think that spirituality is a personal thing unique to you. It doesn’t cost anything and it doesn’t take any effort. We should all have a spiritual concept of life.”
I asked him what we can expect to find waiting for us on the other side. His reply came without hesitation, and very matter-of-fact. “We all pass out of the physical body and we are now on the other side of life. It’s a world just like this one – it has only two differences: there’s no sense of time, and if you’re ill when you die you’re now no longer ill. But other than that, you’ll find houses, trees, gardens, and your relatives, friends, and so on. It looks like a very real world. Maybe a little nicer, but still a normal, real world. And you are just the way you were before. Maybe a little bit younger-looking if you wish, but you’re still in a very real world.
“You’ll notice that the other side of life is a bureaucracy just like this one. You can’t just call Uncle Frank [who’s still living]. You have to get permission from a group of people who call themselves guides – spirit guides. They will say, ‘Why do you want to make contact? What’s your purpose?’ And if they approve of it, they’ll say, ‘Okay, find yourself a medium somewhere, speak with them, and they will make contact for you.’ Or if you’re that strong, you can try to make contact yourself.
“And if you don’t like where you are after a while — you may have a consciousness that you’ve been there a certain period and feel that you would rather be back on the other side with friends and loved ones. You’ll say, ‘I’d like to get reborn again.’ These are the words I got from them, they’re not my invention. They [the spirits] said you have to go to a line, and you have to register with the clerk. ‘Clerk’ is the word they used. So you get in line and register with the clerk that you want to go back. The clerk says, ‘Okay, I’ll let you know when I find an appropriate couple for you that will advance your development.’ They have no real sense of time, so they just stand there, and eventually the clerk will say, ‘I’ve got a couple for you.’
“There is a well and they [the spirit about to go back] must walk through that well. They call it ‘The Well of Forgetfulness.’ They are sprayed with this water – not 100%, it never quite covers everything. That’s why people have memories, dejá vu experiences, and recurrent dreams. And then they are a baby again.
“What I have learned in my investigations is that there are seven levels of consciousness on the other side of life that are concentric with our world. It’s not up or down, it’s just concentric. We can’t see it because it moves at a different rate of speed than we move.”
The idea is reincarnation. This concept has been a part of many religions and belief systems for millennia. Holzer continued with his ideas on how our physical and spirit bodies connect. “There’s three levels when you are born. You are born with a physical outer body, a duplicate inner body, and at the very moment of birth – that’s very important – the moment the child is supposed to see the light [during childbirth], that is when the soul or the spirit is inserted from the pool of available spirits from the other side. Therefore all this nonsense about abortion killing a child is pure lies, pure nonsense. The fetus, until the spirit of the child is inserted, is a physical part of the mother. It does not have any life – it’s not a separate entity.”
Holzer said he worked with several mediums to compile this information on how things work in the afterlife. Holzer believes a good medium is the most critical element to a good supernatural investigation. He believes the medium is the person who can speak for those on the other side and deliver clear messages.
“That’s putting a lot of faith in a person who is hopefully not a charlatan, but could be,” I said.
“That’s why you don’t ask questions of a psychic,” he said. “You just sit there and listen. I’ll give you an example. Philip Solomon, a British trancemedium, once called me out of the blue because I had written a rather harsh piece in a magazine. It was about psychics who didn’t deliver – not fakers – but incompetent psychics. So we talked on the phone and became friendly, and then he suddenly said, ‘Your uncle Henry is here.’ It became clear that he was talking about somebody who really is my uncle Henry. Weeks went on, and from time to time he would call me and give me messages from my parents and from Henry, which I found valid. Months went by, and he [Philip Solomon] said, ‘Yes, Uncle Henry is here again.’ So I said, ‘If it’s my uncle Henry, what does he want me to know?’ And Philip said, ‘Just a moment.’ And then he came back and said, ‘Your uncle Henry says the dog’s name was Rigo.’ Who the hell would know that? But it was Rigo.
“That’s what I call evidence. There was no way that he could have known that my uncle’s dog’s name was Rigo. No way he could have known that – that was years and years ago. The only explanation of that particular case was that this was my uncle Henry. That was his way of proving himself. That’s the kind of evidence I demand. It cannot be explained away.”
Paranormal investigative groups are popping up everywhere. More people are studying this field today than ever before, and Holzer has met many of them. “We are living in a technological age,” he said, “and they [paranormal investigators] think, or at least some of them that I’ve met, in all sincerity, that running around with geiger counters and cameras and instruments that can measure cold spots will be the way to investigate a haunting or a ghost. That’s bullshit. Because if you really are an investigator of the paranormal, and you’re dealing with ghosts or hauntings, you’re dealing with a human being – nothing more, nothing less. Therefore you should have with you a good trancemedium who can lend her body or his body temporarily for that entity to speak through so you can find out what the trouble is. That’s the way it works – not a geiger counter.”
“But certainly a geiger counter is more accessible than a good trancemedium for most people,” I said.
“And it looks more professional to them,” Holzer said. “But it really is bullshit.”
The one piece of equipment Holzer doesn’t completely dismiss is the camera. “I have worked with psychic photographers,” he said. “That’s a special form of mediumship. Psychic photography is a gift. Some have it. I’ve used these people in haunted places. When there was something there, they would photograph it.”
“Have you ever been afraid during an investigation?” I asked.
“Fear is the absence of information,” he said. “Fear is created by not understanding something. You bring on the fear. There is no object to fear. I’ve never been afraid during an investigation. I shouldn’t be in this business if I was.
“There’s nothing out there that isn’t one way or the other human. Hollywood notwithstanding, there are no monsters out there. There is no other supernatural race, no devils, no fellows in red underwear. It doesn’t exist.”
“What have you learned about yourself during all of these years of investigations?” I asked.
“My purpose is that I have a job. First of all, the other side, being a bureaucracy and being a well-ordered world, invests in people’s abilities. When the other side decides some individuals have very good minds and good hearts, then they are given talents with the proviso that they will use those talents for the betterment of the world and mankind. If you don’t, they won’t like it. So they make it very plain: you have a gift. Use it. I found out early enough that they had something in mind for me. I accepted that it’s an assignment. I noticed that what happened to me was kind of programmed – I met some people who were important for my career, or for my enlightenment – it was all arranged. So I finally said, ‘Friends, I noticed you’re running my life. It’s okay with me. I will do it.’ And I hear this in my right ear: ‘We will guide you, help you. Use your gifts. You have two separate paths, one has to do with science, parapsychology research, and the other has to be the entertainment business. But you combine them to let the world know what you find.’
“And that’s what I do.”
Holzer has been a vegetarian since age 11 and a vegan since age 40. “It makes a difference,” he said. “You may not like to hear this, but it does make a difference. The last cold I had was 15 years ago. I don’t take injections of any kind or prescription drugs. And I intend to be around a long time.”
“Do you have any vices at all?” I asked.
“Sure! I love to chase women,” he said, then laughed. “But chasing and catching them you know are two different things. I have many women friends and I have few men friends. That’s not my fault; it seems to be the way it is. Because women are much more sensitive to the psychic world. But I have many friends.
“I have a lot to do that needs to be done. A lot of it is not yet finished. I think retirement is a terrible mistake.”
Holzer is fortunate to be doing what he loves to do. So there is certainly no need to retire. “People can be unhappy for two reasons,” he said. “Because they have the wrong mate or because they have the wrong job. They can change both.”
“How do you want to be remembered?” I asked.
“As a man who told the truth. I won’t have a tombstone. Cemeteries are real estate wastes, and I don’t believe in funerals of any kind. The sooner you burn the body the better. It’s just a shell. Mankind has a lot to learn.
“I’m particularly concerned about mankind’s continuing preoccupation with violence, war, and crime. I think one of the problems with our generations is that there is no spirituality. And what I’m sort of selling if you wish – instead of religion – which means to relink with the deity, really – I sell something called the spiritual way of life. That is to say, instead of going to church at 11 on Sunday once a week, you live it seven days a week, 24 hours a day. Your conduct is spiritual no matter what you do; you follow a spiritual, moral concept. And that’s all you should do. Just live it.”
“What will you be doing on your 100th birthday?”
“Looking forward to my 101st,” he said. “I do what I’m meant to do. A man who takes himself too seriously, others won’t take seriously, so I’m very careful about that. I want to be factual and to be useful – and I try to help anybody who wants help.”
“And you want to keep swing dancing.” I said.
“Yes,” he said. “Not just swing, any form of dancing. When my daughter saw me at the wedding of my younger daughter, my older daughter saw all of us on the dance floor and said, ‘I didn’t know you had in you, Daddy.’ I said, ‘What do you think I do, the Govotte?’”
Dr. Hans Holzer has two daughters and five grandchildren. He was married once, but divorced after the birth of his second daughter. He’s committed to explaining the unexplained, to living a spiritual life, and to dancing.
In Joseph Campbell’s book, Myths to Live By, he describes a conference on religion that took place in Japan. A social philosopher approaches a Japanese Shinto Priest and says, “We’ve been now to a good many ceremonies and have seen quite a few of your shrines. But I don’t get your ideology. I don’t get your theology.” The Priest thinks about this for a moment and then responds, “I think we don’t have ideology. We don’t have theology. We dance.”
Thanks for dancing with me, Dr. Holzer.