Yes, it's a somewhat haunted ghost story

Let's say that you have these Southern guys who are willing -- for $2,000 or so -- to show up at your house or camp out on your property and perform some kind of deep-fried mostly secular exorcism. The bottom line is that they smoke a few cigarettes, tell a few ghost stories, down a couple of cold ones, watch for "demonic orbs" and -- yes, you knew this was coming -- they say also a prayer or two.

Who are Gracy Carter and his associates and what are they doing in the hallowed pages of The New York Times?

Grady, 66, is the winner of three purple hearts in Vietnam; his son, Chris, 41, is a former long-haul trucker; and Andy, 46, is a former bodyguard. Now all three Carter men are Twisted Dixie, a team of paranormal investigators -- or, to use their less preferred term, ghostbusters. For fees upward of $2,000 per demonic possession, they camp out at night in clients’ houses, barns, businesses or woods and “document paranormal activity,” Andy explains, referring to “ghosts, demons, poltergeists.” Twisted Dixie grosses a little more than $50,000 a year, sometimes charging fees for long investigations and sometimes working on spec at famous sites like Fort Sumter and the Burt-Stark Mansion in Abbe­ville, S.C. -- often called the birthplace and the deathbed of the Confederacy, and the home of Twisted Dixie. No matter the job, they always work at night because, they say, that’s when ghosts tend to whisper.

On one level, it sounds like a reality show in the making, a franchise that will fit somewhere out there in cable TV land between the Bigfoot investigators, the UFO historians and the folks that wrestle with gators, giant snakes and fish.

Yet this ghost chasin' is taking place deep in Bible Belt country. You know religion is in here somewhere, haunting the proceedings. Right?

The goal on this night is to find out why the tortured souls of some dead slaves are so angry. You see, there's this cotton gin that mysteriously started running again, saith the owner, and she also heard screaming.

The cotton gin took up almost the entire barn. It was a monstrous machine, all gears, levers, belts, funnels, steam boilers and bits of cotton caught in its jagged teeth. At that point, the investigation officially began: Chris opened a cooler and passed out 24-ounce cans of beer; everyone lighted cigarettes; Andy unfolded aluminum deck chairs. Then we all stood around in a circle, heads bowed, while Chris recited a prayer to St. Michael the archangel, “to deliver us in battle from malice and the snares of the devil.” Chris explained that ghosts manifest themselves to mortals because they’re looking for help from their torment. “So we say the prayer so they won’t follow us home,” Chris said. “Sometimes they will, because let’s face it, if you were a ghost, would you rather hang out in an empty house with other ghosts, or with people and have a good time?”

And so forth and so on.

So, GetReligion readers, what are the questions that you are asking right now? I can think of several, right from the get go.

* The Catholic Church -- the folks who usually hang out with St. Michael the Archangel -- have real clergy who are trained as exorcists. I don't think that's who these folks are, based on the depth of the Times reporting.

* There are plenty of evangelicals and Pentecostal Christians who take "spiritual warfare" pretty seriously, these days. However, I have never heard of them taking money for this work. Come to think of it, they normally wouldn't show up with an ice chest full of beer and some cigarettes, either.

* Truth is, I'm having a hard time imagining Catholics or Protestants hiring these folks.

This brings us to some rather basic questions that need to be answered in an article of this kind.

Why are these guys, in terms of the religious claims they are making? Who are their supporters? What do the local religious authorities -- Catholic, Protestant and otherwise -- think of them?

Not a clue, after reading this story.

Who hires these guys and writes them checks to perform these freelance exorcisms?

Not a clue, after reading this story.

The basic impression is that this whole thing is a deep-fried joke. If this is the case, it would be nice if the story included enough basic facts for Times readers to be able to render that kind of judgment.

It's an interesting story. Where's the rest of it?

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