Loyd Auerbach , MS
More and more people seem to be interested in ghosthunting. There’s a lot of good and bad information out there on the Internet and on TV, which is where most people tend to get their education on the subject. Investigating reports of ghostly phenomena can be easy or hard, depending on the case and on what the goal of the investigation actually is.
Most amateur ghosthunters can actually be placed in the category of “thrill-seekers.” They’re out there with cameras, audio recorders and other gizmos to try to get an orb or vortex picture or a voice on tape. They head for spooky old buildings and cemeteries, and come back with all sorts of pictures and recordings. Unfortunately, that’s all they usually get, and their interpretations that they have captured “proof” of spirits are misguided, usually by paying attention to other misguided sources. Their photos and recordings are taken at face value, often with little understanding of all but the most obvious non-paranormal causes of what they’ve “gotten.” They also have gotten their “proof” at locations that often prove to have had no actual experiences or encounters with apparitions or hauntings. While there are a few ghost encounters on record in graveyards, they are extremely few and far between (if you were a ghost, would you hang out in a cemetery?).
Unfortunately, the thrill-seekers have missed the most exciting parts of such investigating: the experiences of witnesses (the ghost story) and the potential to have one’s own experience. That plus the often satisfying, sometimes frustrating, mystery that can come with the situation.
So, I thought I’d provide the readers of the Psychic Reader with some tips I’ve learned over the last quarter century of my own investigating and the more than 100 years of investigations by other parapsychologists and field researchers. These tips are adapted from my forthcoming book GHOST HUNTING: How to Investigate the Paranormal (Ronin Publishing, fall 2003). But first, a few basic definitions so we’re all on the same page.
Apparition: An apparition is our personality (or spirit, soul, consciousness, mind or whatever you want to call it) surviving the death of the body, and capable of interaction with the living (and presumably other apparitions). This is the true definition of a ghost.
Haunting: A location (or object) holds/records information about its history. Our own psychic abilities allow us to pick up certain play-backs of this history, including sightings of people. However, these are recordings, not conscious beings. Referred to as “place memory,” “psychic imprints” and “residual hauntings.”
Poltergeist: Physical effects, such as moving objects, in a situation caused by the subconscious mind of a living agent, generally someone in the household undergoing emotional and/or psychological stress. Effects are caused by psychokinesis (PK), or mind over matter.
GHOST HUNTING: TO DO
1. Do learn some basics of what parapsychologists and psychical researchers have learned about apparitions, hauntings and poltergeists. While some of the amateurs dismiss parapsychologists and their literature with a “well what have they learned with their methods over the last 100 years…it’s time to make a change” attitude, there is actually quite a lot to learn from the existing literature. If nothing else, one can read accounts of a variety of people’s experiences and the investigative techniques applied to the cases. There are good ghost stories here, but more than that, there are descriptions of techniques that can actually help resolve the problems people often have with such experiences.
2. Do learn about psychic experience and abilities. The very basic model of ghosts requires that some form of psychic communication and perception is happening. Hauntings may rely on some form of clairvoyance (besides some new explanations of how the human brain may pick up on imprints). Poltergeist cases (and any ghost cases involving physical effects) cry out for an understanding of psychokinesis.
Understanding ESP and PK means again going back to the research literature of parapsychologists. Ignoring what has been learned in Parapsychology can mean wasting time rediscovering what is already known or could mean heading down the path of misunderstanding of the phenomena.
3. Do learn about the concepts of physics if you’re going to buy into some amateur’s pronouncements that spirits exist in other dimensions or that Science has even proven parallel universes exist or there is proof that there are other dimensions where beings live who can cross into ours. It is speculation, since nothing of the sort’s been proven. Understanding physics (including quantum physics) can help sort through the morass of bad information presented as fact.
Speculation is fine, as long as it’s stated that’s what it is. Hypothetical models and theories are fine, as long as they’re not presented as facts. For example, the definitions presented above are a consensus accepted by most parapsychologists and paranormal investigators (and many psychics), but they’re only working definitions. They might change as we gain further understanding.
4. Do learn about what technology’s place in an investigation is. Learn how to actually use the technology ghosthunters so like to trot out these days (myself included). Learn what the devices are designed to detect (it’s not ghosts), and learn the limitations of the technology. Learn about false readings. Learn what sorts of things can give you unusual (non-paranormal) images on film and digital media when taking photos and video. Learn what sorts of things might cause unusual sounds on audiotape.
Also take the time to think through what the readings, photos and recordings actually represent. Because you have an anomalous “something” doesn’t lead to any sort of definite conclusion that it’s a spirit, or something from some other dimensional plane.
Remember that using Technology does not mean one is doing Science or even proceeding from a Scientific model. Technology is tools. Chimps can use tools, even be taught to take pictures (though maybe not good pictures, though what’s “good” is a quality judgment).
5. Do learn interviewing skills so you can question the witnesses appropriately. The very definition of apparitions and hauntings requires the experience and observation of the phenomena by a human being. Therefore, you need to focus your attention on the perceptions and experiences of the witnesses in the situation. Getting information out of people can require the best interviewing skills you can muster.
6. Do look for non-paranormal explanations for both the overall case you investigate and the individual events reported by the witnesses. Question everything. Look around carefully. Be observant. Keep in mind that cases are rarely so cut and dried that everything reported or experienced is either paranormal or normal. Often the witnesses get so freaked out by an encounter that they become suggestible or may misinterpret normally caused noises and movements in their homes that they simply didn’t notice or learned to ignore (like learning to ignore road noise).
Learn about how human perception works, and a bit about the psychology of suggestion and deception. Perhaps pick up a book on sleight of hand magic and stage illusions (and on optical illusions) to learn how people’s perceptions can be misled and their attention misdirected, leading to them making incorrect assumptions about what they experienced.
7. Do realize that some explanations can be rather bizarre without being paranormal. Look for unusual and rarely seen “normal” explanations. Of course, before being able to do that, you’ll need to read up on such unusual explanations. Parapsychological field and lab researchers have found old and uncovered new unusual explanations, such as the impact of magnetic fields on the brain (causing hallucinations) and the affect of low frequency sound (causing uneasy feelings and things seen out of the corner of the eye). The more you know about what it isn’t, the better skilled you are at determining what it might be.
8. Do take note of people’s experiences and perceptions. Consider working with psychics or sensitives, as long as they are “team players” and are willing to be questioned about what they experience. In other words, work with psychics who can admit they are not always right, and who are willing to discuss their perceptions. It doesn’t hurt to ask the psychics if they can perceive any non-paranormal causes for individual events or even for an overall case.
9. Do pay attention to what you experience yourself, but always look for alternative explanations. Once you start considering your own experiences, you also need to consider your expectations. If you get too lost in your own experience, especially if you desire to encounter something psychic or spiritual, you may find yourself misinterpreting what’s really going on. Take your perceptions apart, and don’t immediate label a perception or experience…take the time jot it down, and then go over it later in context with everything else going on.
10. Do take special note of instances when the technology AND the humans are perceiving something out of the ordinary at the same time. Technology can support the experiences of the witnesses (and psychics), as one looks for correlations between unusual readings, photos and recordings and the anomalous experiences of people.
11. Do combine all data from technology with the experiential reports of the witnesses and any perceptions of psychics/sensitives, your teammates and yourself before making a final judgment or pronouncement of what’s going on, and how much is/isn’t paranormal.
12. Do consider that cases can be mixed. In other words, a number of cases I’ve had included hauntings (imprints) and an apparition, sometimes related to each other. I’ve had poltergeist cases in which the stress that caused the PK was in turn caused by the experience of a haunting or an encounter with an apparition. I recently had a case with an apparition visiting in a house with a pretty strong imprint of a past inhabitant, causing lots of stress that led to PK (poltergeist) activity.In all cases where something paranormal is occurring, I find some misinterpreted normally-caused events (sometimes a lot).
13. Do ask lots of questions and be observant.
Do respect the people in the location you investigate. Most of the cases involving private homes revolve around the family need to “get rid” of the phenomena. If you are called in to help, do not leave without providing them some kind of help, even if only referrals to other qualified individuals or groups. Spend some time educating the family about psychic experience and apparitions, hauntings and poltergeists. Put their needs above your need to “get something.”
In public settings, while you are certainly freer to simply gather data and make assessments, do respect the owners and do respect the witnesses. Consider that while most people in such settings may have no fear, a few might have been affected adversely by what’s going on. Offer them information and referrals.
GHOST HUNTING: NOT TO DO
1. Don’t go to any location without full permission of the owner/person(s) leasing or renting and inhabitants. Don’t “investigate” a public location (restaurant, museum, or hotel, for example) without permission.
Don’t trespass in cemeteries (or anyplace else for that matter; you might get thrown in jail).
2. Don’t go alone. There are two factors here: Observations and Danger.
As for the first, having a second person (or more) with you will provide you with different viewpoints, perceptions and another set of eyes to look for causes of the experiences and phenomena.From the danger perspective, this has less to do with the paranormal or the dead than concerns about the living. There’s little the paranormal can do to someone in the physical world who doesn’t allow something to happen. We have our own psychic defense mechanisms, and ghosts or hauntings can’t affect us if we remember that – although one can still be affected emotionally by the experience. Poltergeist phenomena, while physical in nature, have so rarely been directed at people other than the agent (the agent often harms himself) that it’s almost not worth mentioning except for the following: Never duck into the path of a flying object.Remember, though, that your cases involve living people. Sometimes, while they may seem okay to begin with, they might turn out to be emotionally or psychologically disturbed. Remember that ghosts don’t carry guns and knives, but living people do!
Finally, consider the physical location and any dangers associated with it. Rats, snakes, rotting timbers, and the like may figure in to some investigations.
3. Don’t jump to conclusions. Always consider all possibilities, normal and paranormal, before coming to your conclusion about what’s happening.
4. Don’t believe technology over human perceptions (DO remember that none of the tech has been designed to detect “ghosts” or anything else paranormal). This may be repetitive, but it’s VERY important, given the heavy importance given to tech by so many amateur groups. Again, you may get something anomalous, but don’t jump to the conclusion that a reading or photo relates to a spirit simply because you can’t think of any other explanation.
5. Don’t scare people with pronouncements of ghosts unless a) you’re sure of what’s going on and b) they can handle such news. You could be exacerbating an already bad situation, leaving the folks to find someone else to help them, and leaving a more psychologically disturbed group for the next investigator.
6. Don’t leave the situation and the people without some kind of resolution or referral for further help. Don’t leave without giving them good information about psychic phenomena.
7. Don’t involve the Media without discussing all that encompasses with the people involved at the location. You don’t want to be at the center of a media situation that only causes the folks more stress.
8. Don’t tell them you can get “rid” of the ghost or haunting or poltergeist for sure. You can provide possible resolution, a likely understanding of what’s going on, and certainly referrals and information, but no one can guarantee the removal of paranormal phenomena.
I hope this has been helpful to potential investigators and to people who may consider bringing in a ghosthunter.
One last point for anyone seeking to consult with other paranormal investigators or parapsychologists:
Check their credentials, especially if they claim to have a Ph.D. in Parapsychology (only a couple of individuals with such degrees even exist from accredited universities).
Visit the website of the Parapsychological Association (www.parapsych.org) for their membership list and send off an email to them to check out anyone not on the list.
Also check with the Paranormal Research Organization (www.paranormal-research.org)
or with one of the other reputable research centers such as the Rhine Research Center (www.rhine.org), The American Institute of Parapsychology (www.parapscyhologylab.com) the Institute of Noetic Sciences (www.ions.org) or the Parapsychology Foundation (www.parapsychology.org).