A Ghostly Review

February 1999, December 1998 & August 2000
“Psychic Frontiers” by Loyd Auerbach

In light of the growing interest in amateur paranormal investigation and the mountains of “ghost” photos appearing on the Internet and elsewhere (see below), I thought it was time to review some basics definitions and concepts of ghostly happenings.

There are three basic categories of experiences/phenomena that have become grouped as “ghosts” in the past: apparitions, hauntings and poltergeists. The three are different conceptually, but events around each can appear similar and can even indicate unique combinations of phenomena.

Poltergeist, while it literally means “noisy ghost,” has come to represent a different model altogether from a parapsychological perspective. In poltergeist cases, physical effects are the central theme. These effects can run from movements and levitations and appearances/disappearances of objects to unusual behavior of electrical appliances, from unexplained knockings and other sounds to temperature changes, with all combinations possible as well. Rarely are ghostly figures or voices seen or heard (though not out of the question).

The poltergeist model is that of a situation caused by the subconscious mind of a living agent, generally someone in the household undergoing emotional and/or psychological stress. The agents are people who typically have no method of dealing with the stress on any normal level, so the subconscious takes advantage of the psychokinetic (mind over matter) ability we all have to blow off steam. In other words, you can think of the poltergeist scenario as a telekinetic temper tantrum.

Often the physical things affected in a poltergeist case can be used as clues to determine what’s bothering the poltergeist agent (who can be divined, typically, by looking at who is around during all the events). The objects affected may belong to one particular individual in the household, or representative of a role of one of the family. For example, if a husband doesn’t want his wife to work, instead asking her to stay home with the new baby (and effectively “in the kitchen”), kitchen appliances may act strangely when the subject is brought up in discussion. Water bursts may be representative of pent-up guilt.

Poltergeist cases have, on rare occasion, also provided visual apparitions, though these are generally distorted, archetypal or even monstrous. In other words, you don’t get a basic human ghost, but some other projection of stress, guilt, anger, fear or frustration from the subconscious, a projection that is telepathically sent out to others in the household. (Note: For an ultimate expression of a “monster from the Id” rent or buy the fantastic science fiction film FORBIDDEN PLANET; it stars Leslie Nielson before he was funny).
In poltergeist cases, unlike hauntings and apparitions, we don’t typically get unusual photos or effects on a magnetic field detector (magnetometer). However, because we are dealing with psychokinesis, and because PK works on many levels, it would not be unlikely for the agent’s PK to affect film (like the photo-psychic abilities of Ted Serios) or the magnetometers themselves.

Like the Poltergeist, a Haunting relies on the living. Unlike a poltergeist case, where the phenomena are caused by the agent, a haunting is received by the experient (witness who has the experience). Hauntings actually show that we are all psychic receivers (clairvoyant) to some degree.

Ever walk into a house and get a feel for the “vibes” (the house feels “good” or “bad”)? Of course, that feeling could be because of normal perceptions, the décor is nice or “off,” but you may also psychically perceive emotions and events embedded in the environment. There are other possibilities besides psi, which I’ll get to in a moment.

One ability proffered by many psychics over the ages is psychometry: the ability to “read” the history of an object by holding or touching it. Objects, we’re told, “record” their entire history, and some can decipher that with psi.

But what is a house if not a big object?

In haunting cases, people report seeing (or hearing or feeling or even smelling) a presence (or several) typically engaged in some sort of activity. It could be a man’s figure walking up and down the hallway, or footsteps heard from the attic, or a man and woman physically fighting until one is dead, or even the sounds of two people making love coming from an adjoining room (for this one, see my October 1994 column for the story of “The Sexorcist”).

The events and figures witnessed in hauntings tend to be repetitive both in what’s experienced and when they occur (at approximately the same time). Speaking with the “ghosts” tends to do no good, because they just continue to go about their business, as though you’re not even there.

Some claim this is because the ghosts are “stuck” in some sort of cursed time loop. However, hauntings have occurred on many occasions where the “entities” are representative of living people, so there’s certainly no one to be “stuck.”

What does appear to be stuck is some kind of environmental recording of events and people. Like the small object “read” in psychometry, the house or building or land somehow records its history, with the more emotion-laden events and experiences coming through “louder” and “stronger.” That people mostly report negative events and emotions (around suicide, murder or other violent crimes, or emotional fights) is likely due to a reporting artifact rather than any unbalanced ration of negative to positive events.

If you experienced a haunting in which generally good feelings are picked up and one in which you sense something bad happened in the house, which would you report? Which would lead you to ask for help?

You might think of a haunting as a loop of video or audiotape playing itself over and over for you to watch. Trying to interact with it would be akin to trying to interact with a show on your TV (sure you can turn it off or change the channel, but I wouldn’t expect the actors to suddenly stop and talk to you directly).

In haunting cases, researchers have found that people oblivious of the phenomena when they first walk in will very likely pick up something in the same spots in the house as the primary experients. This indicates that something in the environment at those spots exists on some level, physical or psychic.

Using magnetometers, others and I have found a consistency from haunting to haunting. The magnetometers measure magnetic fields that are given off by a variety of sources, including technology in the house. There is a general background reading in the location, and readings will increase when you bring the magnetometer near anything from a VCR to digital alarm clock to electrical outlets. So, investigators must look at both where the technology is (or turn off all power in the house) and the background magnetic field readings.

Considering that, what’s so interesting in haunting cases is that the spots where people experience the phenomena tend to have higher than background (sometimes much higher) magnetic readings, even with all household power turned off.

Is the magnetic field indicative of the “recording” itself? We’re not sure yet, since the use of magnetometers in haunting cases is still fairly new. Is the magnetic field an indication of something that causes an individual to be more psychic, and so pick up the “recording”? Again, we’re not sure, but research by Michael Persinger and others around the connections between the Earth’s magnetic field and psi abilities, as well as the use of such fields to cause people to have hallucinations, are particularly promising.

One important thing to consider in haunting cases is whether the content of the “replay” is related to what’s gone on in the house on the land. It is often possible to track the “story” back to events in the current or past inhabitants’ lives.

But there are other factors that may cause haunting experiences with no tie to history. One is the possibility of fluctuations in the geomagnetic field causing hallucinations that are interpreted as ghosts. Other environmentally present conditions, including standing infrasonic (low frequency sound) waves affecting the eyes (see my column in the October 1998 FATE). Natural plasma effects such as ball lightning and earthlights can lead to conclusions of hauntings (and apparitions). I had a case a number of years ago in which a number of environmental conditions, from slightly angled doorways and floors to leaking methane gas from a landfill behind a hillside, caused all sorts of havoc with a family’s perceptions, making them think their newly rented house was haunted.

In some haunting cases, after a time physical objects may begin to move. How can a “recording” move things? In these cases, it would appear that the PK of the experients’ subconscious starts acting in play. In other words, your subconscious mind, undoubtedly picking up even more than your conscious mind is, begins to help the story along because of your expectation of what occurs in ghost cases. By expecting more to happen, more happens.

What about ghost photos in such cases? Can you take a photo of a haunt?

The same rules apply in hauntings as in poltergeist cases. Your expectation of getting something on film may allow your subconscious to use PK to put something on film.

Finally, we come to actual spirits: Apparitions of the dead (though there are thousands of reported cases of apparitions of the living). 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).

What separates an apparition from a haunting ghost is that idea of interaction. If a haunting is a replaying videotape, an apparition is a video conference call. While speaking to the videotape brings no response, the conference call allows for two-way communication.

Apparitions would appear to have no particular form other than what they themselves conjure up as their own self-image. In other words, the how the entity thinks of/visualizes him/her is how the rest of us “see” the ghost. Try this: close your eyes and get a picture of yourself in your mind’s eye. That’s probably how the living would see you if you were a ghost (and by the way, did you visualize yourself with clothing? That’s why ghosts don’t appear in the nude: their self-images include clothing).

The apparition communicates on a telepathic basis, our psi processes picking up this self-image and adding it to the information received by our “normal” senses. Some of us can process this telepathic input better on a visual basis, others auditory, through feeling or even on a more olfactory basis (smell). Many can experience a ghost on more than one sensory level (seeing and hearing the apparition).

The number of good apparition cases is far surpassed by the number of haunting cases, and it would appear that several things are true about apparitions.

The sheer majority of apparitions are seen once by a relative or friend or loved one within 48 hours of that person’s death, as if the person is coming to say goodbye.

Most don’t stick around as a ghost for more than a day or two. Longer-term apparitions tend to have a psychological/emotional need or strong desire to stay here. Such needs or desires include a denial of death, fear of “what’s next”, a strong desire to stay with one’s loved ones, or even anger and a life cut short.

Not everyone with such strong desires or needs sticks around as an apparition.

There are likely some environmental factors that allow people with such strong desires or needs to stick around when the conditions and the psychology coincide. These factors, I personally suspect, include both geomagnetic conditions and an as yet identified factor in the physical environment.

Ghosts hang around with people in homes, offices, and restaurants and bars (gee, that’s where most living people hang around).

Most apparitions are seen without any associated unusual object movement, at least for a time. It would appear that the some of the long-term apparitional inhabitants of our world, over time, learn to move objects. In other words, learning that they are but consciousness without body, they learn to use their minds to move/affect the physical world (PK), much the way Patrick Swayze’s character in the film GHOST had to learn to move objects.

Magnetometers and other detectors in apparition cases are next to useless unless, apparently, the ghost is present (and generally “felt” or “seen” by someone around during the investigation). At that point, provided one has the detectors in the physical vicinity of the apparition, extremely high (and often mobile) magnetic fields are detected. In a few of my cases, we’ve also gotten (at the same time) high microwave readings and some unusual effects on an infrared thermal-vision camera, and even what looks like energy patterns on Polaroid film.

What was happening? We’re not sure if the ghost actually gave off these energies or purposely caused the detectors to detect something (that would be PK again). Or was it the PK of the investigators or experients expecting to detect something?

Can ghosts be photographed? We’re back to the PK question. If ghosts can move objects through PK, they can probably affect film.


Note: For a more recent article on Ghosts & Orbs, click HERE

An unusual photo (or a magnetometer reading) by itself is not an indication of a ghost or haunting. One needs the very thing we use to define and study these phenomena: the experience of a human witness to even categorize a location as “haunted” or having an “apparition.”

Otherwise, besides photographic flaws and flukes, it’s just as likely (or, to my mind, more likely) that the expectations of the paranormal photographer have affected the film as a ghost has.

Many of these ghost photos are being taken in cemeteries (because a couple of ghost hunters have stated that ghosts hang out in cemeteries), even though no ghosts were ever reported in those places. Here is expectation at its height.

After all, if you were dead, would you hang around where your body was buried, or where you lived, worked and played?

GHOST PHOTOS ON THE INTERNET ITEM: The “explosion” of ghost photos and discussion of “proof” on various web sites and in Internet discussion groups. More and more people are getting into the paranormal proof biz; more photos and sound bites of ghostly and other paranormal happenings, supposed energy orbs, entities, and more. People accepting these pieces and making them available often do so with commentary that would seem to indicate that new advances in photo and sound technology was all that was needed to reveal all the spirits around us.

Loyd’s View: Beware of ghost-hunters bearing pictures! All these new advances also make it easier than ever to fake things (manipulate the image and sound) and to be mistaken about what one ends up with. No matter what one does, not all factors can be accounted for or controlled when taking any kind of photo, whether infrared, “normal film” or even digital (which I’m told —- by a friend who’s been taking digital photos for a couple of years now — has some recurring problems such as balls of light appearing mysteriously).

By “factors” I mean anything from problems with film (or the developing process) or the camera or the photographer or unseen influences in the environment. I’ve seen way too many photos with “mysterious” streaks of light that can be tracked back to point sources of light at the fringes of the camera frame (a little shaking of the photographer’s hand is all it takes).

Now of course, “unseen influences” can be sources of light (or heat in the case of infrared) that aren’t noticed by the photographer, but they could also be a “paranormal” source. By the latter I mean anything “on the side of normal”, said category including apparitions or other currently unexplained energy sources.

Finally, photos are subject to manipulation (just a people might embellish or elaborate or downright lie, so can photos). Digital photos are even more easily “edited” thanks to the ease of use of photo manipulation programs in computers.

What it all boils down to is this: photos are evidence, NOT proof of the existence of ghosts or hauntings. Researchers would weigh the photos against and along with other evidence (including the subjective paranormal experiences of witnesses and other “readings” picked up by environmental sensors such as EMF meters).

Ultimately, because psychic phenomena is by definition “of the mind” (even if one of the minds is a deceased individual), without some experience or perception by a living person, we might as well accept all the non-ghost theories of these photo anomalies, such as dimensional vortexes, alien influence, extra-dimensional visitations, time travelers, etc. Part of what defines an apparition is his/her interaction with living people. Part of what defines a haunting is the perception/experience of living beings of past events and people that occurred/lived in the locations.

So, an unusual photo taken in a location where people have perceived/experienced something that could be categorized as an apparitional/haunting/psychic experience has more evidential weight to it than an unusual photo taken in a “non-haunted” spot. An unusual photo taken while a person (or persons) is having an experience of a ghost or haunting has even more weight.

Add to that any environmental anomalies at the same time, and you have even more evidence to support a conclusion that the human experience of a ghost is a valid perception of something that we class (depending on the actual experience) as an apparition or haunting.

Without long-term study of the conditions of the local environment at the time the anomalous photos were taken (or the anomalous readings), looking for some common factors, the only consistency seems to be the human perception/experience of the location.

Back in April (2000), I was interviewed by TV Producer/Director Bob Kiviat for a special called “GHOSTS Caught on Tape: Fact or Fiction” (which aired on FOX-TV April 27th). I was shown several video clips of ostensible ghosts, glowing orbs, a demonic clock, morphing statues and moving objects. I was asked to comment on each of them, what I thought they might be.

While only a couple of the comments made it to the final cut of the show, my general feeling of such evidence did come across.

As many readers of FATE might have gotten from past columns of mine, I have a problem accepting photos — and now video — as evidence of the existence of ghosts.

Thanks to technology, there are more and more photos of supposed spirits appearing all over, from the Web to TV and magazines. With the widespread use of video cameras, it was inevitable that unusual videos of such things would also show up.

There are two problems I have with photographic and video evidence. Both problems arise from our own concepts of ghosts and psi functioning.

Ghosts, or the more appropriate term apparitions, are ostensibly the spirits — or soul or consciousness — of once living people. If they exist, their existence is likely to be a form of energy. Their ability to communicate or be “seen,” “heard,” “felt,” or even “smelled” has to do with telepathy. That is, the apparition communicates with and projects information into the minds of us living folks.

When one “sees” a ghost, that person is receiving information from the apparition, which gets translated into visual data in the perceptual process. It gets “added” to the data already coming through the eyes (think superimposed, like on TV). If ghosts had a physical form that could reflect light (and therefore be easily photographed), everyone in a room where an apparition was being seen would see it, and all cameras would photograph it.

Some would say only those psychic enough to see the ghost actually can. But does this mean the camera that takes a picture is also “psychic”? If so, how?

How could the ghost be photographed or videotaped? Perhaps the ghost, in some cases, is able to psychokinetically affect the film or videotape. In effect, the apparition wills something to appear on tape/film, just as in some ghost cases, apparitions are sometimes able to move objects — with their minds, of course, since they have no physical body.

So, the problems I have with filmed or videotaped evidence are related to apparitions being a mental, psychic phenomenon. We define such apparitions based on the human experience of them, rather that any physical signs, and we’ve always done so.

Problem #1: If a photo or videotape of a “ghost” is taken in a location where no one is seeing or sensing the ghost at the time, there’s nothing to connect the anomaly on the film or tape with an actual ghost. One must at least give equal (if not greater) weight to other possible explanations for the anomaly on the film/tape.

If the photo or videotape is taken in a place that has at least had past ghost sightings, there’s some greater weight that can be given to the possibility that the film/tape relates to a ghost. If there’s no history of apparitional encounters, much less weight should be afforded the ghost hypothesis.

Problem #2: If we allow for ghosts to affect film and tape via psychokinesis, why can’t we allow for the possibility that the photographer/cameraperson is actually the one affecting the film/tape? After all, we have direct observable evidence that living people can do this, but little direct experience with ghosts doing so — the ghosts don’t confirm or deny that they’re doing it.

Past work in Parapsychology has shown that living people can affect film and videotape. The best documented case of psychic photography was that of Ted Serios, studied by the late Jule Eisenbud, M.D., who wrote up his studies in the book THE WORLD OF TED SERIOS: “Thoughtographic” Studies of an Extraordinary Mind” (New York: William Morrow & Company, 1967). A film is in the works about Serios, helmed by THE X-FILES creator Chris Carter.

In most recent photo and video cases, there is that lack of human experience of a ghost or spirit at the time of the photo/video being shot. Therefore, it may be more likely that a living mind is responsible. At least we know the living person is there.

My feeling is that most of the footage and photos I have seen over the past several years fall into a few categories.

There are those photos/videotapes taken that show some anomalies that are the result of photographic problems such as lens flares, reflections, unnoticed lighted/reflective objects in the environment, and the like.

There are those that might be of natural, though unusual, phenomena such as earthlights and ball lightning.

There are those that may be the result of psychic projection by the photographer or other living person in the environment. Either the expectations of the photographer causes something odd to appear on film/tape or the photographic anomaly is just another way for the subconscious to blow off steam (of stress), as with poltergeist effects.

There are those that might actually relate to the same environmental anomaly that appears to allow us living folks to pick up on the history of a location. Place memory, or haunting phenomena, is often linked mainly to human perceptions, but if a magnetometer can pick up unusual physical readings why not a camera?

Then there are those that might actually be a result of an unseen apparition “playing” with the camera.

Finally, there’s always the chance of photographic and video manipulation. Unfortunately, the same growth in technology that has led to widespread availability of digital cameras and video cameras has also led to the availability of computer programs that allow for enhancement, morphing, and other manipulation of photographic and video images.

Each must be looked at carefully. While one cannot ever rule out the possibility of a “spirit,” unless there’s some connection to current (preferable) or past (acceptable) human experience with said “spirit,” the other explanations are more likely.

On the psi front, without that ghostly experience, we can’t even downplay the possibility that the photographer was responsible with his/her own PK.

So, when I am often heard to say that “photographic evidence by itself is worthless,” what I mean is that without a human witness to define the phenomenon as a “ghost” we have too many other possibilities, including the psychic one, to ever say a piece of film or video shows a ghost.

That is, until an apparition appears and volunteers to be part of a photo and video test program.

Leave a Reply