It’s October! There’s a beautiful sense of withdrawing as the nights become longer and the trees give up their green for gold. For thousands of years, this was celebrated as the time when the veil between the worlds was thinnest and communication with the dead was possible. We continue this tradition through the modern holiday of Halloween and with it, all that represents our dark affection for all things paranormal. Unfortunately, October is also the month that paranormal and ghost hunting shows are at their zenith, and a new crop of so-called ‘ghost hunters’ appear each year, parroting the awful techniques they see on television. For some, ghosts are something to be exploited for thrills and YouTube hits. Well, I think it’s time I finally put my two cents in about it.
I discovered ghost hunting long before cable television was filled with paranormal reality television shows. Digital cameras were still new on the market, and I was intrigued by the crop of orb pictures posted to the internet. A friend and I decided to try this new form of paranormal investigation, though we were too inexperienced and shy to ask anyone if we could investigate their houses. We often went to historical places: battlefields, old churches and the like.
We had a few hair-raising moments, such as when we went to a revolutionary war battlefield late at night and heard the very unmistakable sound of the military marching cadence on deep snare drums: RAP RAP RAP RAPPITY RAP RAP RAP RAPPITY RAP. We had brought a videographer that night with us and not only was he scared to pieces, but forgot to record anything.
For the most part, we collected a nice binder full of dust, bugs and moisture. We never graduated into more extensive investigations and after a few years, we moved on to other spiritual explorations. I bring up my own experiences with ghost hunting for contrast: we didn’t have a model on television to work from and so when we interacted with what we thought were ghosts, we intuitively presented ourselves as polite and considerate. We both distinctly felt that the spirits inhabiting these places were people who deserved respect. One more than one occasion, my friend brought her guitar and we sang folk songs to the spirits. We talked as we worked, always explaining what we were doing and asking permission to take pictures. At the end, we always thanked the spirits for their time.
When I came across the term ‘ghost hunter’, I immediately disliked it. You could make the argument that our method didn’t amount to a whole lot of evidence, but at the very least we didn’t feel as though spirits were prey.
Flash forward a year or two, and ‘ghost hunting’ became a popular new genre on television. When I tuned into the show, I was dismayed to see that these “ghost hunters” entered into homes and businesses acting more like exterminators than people who wanted to really communicate and gather evidence of spirits. They loudly tramped through rooms, dragging wires, setting up cameras and talked about the ghosts like they were vermin. It’s true that ghost hunters may come across some nasty spirits who probably deserve to be reproached, but most of the time spirits are just like you and me, just well.. dead. And yet, instead of speaking nicely to these spirits and ingratiating themselves, these ghost hunters seemed to want to ambush them.
The last time my friend and I went “ghost hunting” was on a trip to Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. We wanted to sit quietly in the wheat field, take in the energy and maybe snap a few pictures. After nightfall, we pulled up to the spot and saw at least a dozen flashes of light in the field. To our dismay, the field was filled with 20 or 30 amateur ghost hunters milling around like idiots shrieking and laughing while snapping picture after picture. With so many people in one area, I can’t imagine there was a ghost for a mile around.
We didn’t even get out of the car. Disgusted, we turned around, went back to our campsite and never went ghost hunting again. Five years later a ghost hunted us in the woods, but that’s a different tale for a different day.
Since that time, the pastime of ghost hunting has exploded in popularity. Suddenly, teenagers everywhere are running around with digital cameras in the woods and haunting cemeteries. On the other end of the spectrum, serious science and tech geeks are wiring up every known haunted location with every conceivable gadget. There are now birthday party ghost hunts, ghost tours, old asylums grant access for money to thrill-seekers, and pretty much anyone with a camera and an EM meter is calling themselves The Paranormal Society of [Insert Town Here] or something flashy like “The Night Warriors”. Warriors of what? No spirit in their right mind is going to hang around and deal with that bullshit.
I don’t want you to get me wrong; I am not lumping in those intrepid EVP/ITC researchers. I consider that legitimate spirit contact, so long as the person is respectful of the spirits in question. I am also not ragging on what I would consider real paranormal investigators; these are the experts that truly help people in need and further the scientific research of the paranormal. I have a lot of respect for what they do; these are hardened, serious people who get little sleep and zero publicity.
How to evolve from Ghost Hunter to Paranormal Investigator:
- The term ‘ghost hunting’ sounds violent and predatory; use paranormal investigator instead.
- Most paranormal shows on TV fake their evidence and model bad practices. It may make for exciting TV, but they should not be considered good models of behavior.
- Don’t exploit the haunting just to get evidence, treat both the spirit and the client with respect.
- Paranormal Investigators set up equipment and try to catch evidence so they can confirm a haunting. Explain to the spirit in question what is being done, and provide reassurance that it will not harm them.
- Don’t provoke spirits. Kindly spirits will be offended, confused spirits will get defensive or scared, and the rare nasty spirits might get violent.
- When you are on the investigation, don’t talk about the spirit as if they aren’t in the room. They can hear you.
- When you get the evidence you’ve been asking for, don’t scream and run away. I can understand getting startled, but why are you asking for signs if you can’t handle it when they comply?
- Learn about the spirit in question and talk to them. Be friendly, polite and quiet. Don’t invite 10 people on the investigation. Keep your energy as serene as possible.
- Do some afterlife research. Learn how some spirits become ghosts, and why.
Paranormal Investigators (The Real Deal)
Real paranormal investigators rarely become famous or get recognition for their work. They work long hours (mostly at night) in sometimes uncomfortable places. Little happens on an average investigation. The ‘evidence’ you see on television is mostly faked. Getting one class A EVP over a 10 hour investigation is a gold-star find. On many investigations they get nothing at all as most so-called ‘hauntings’ can be explained away as something utterly normal. Paranormal investigators deal with people who are unnerved, angry, delusional or obsessed as well as spirits who are unnerved, angry, delusional or obsessed. Equipment is expensive and requires study before use. Analyzing tape and video for the tiniest unexplained noise or image can be long, boring work.
On the other hand, when a PI can help a spirit move on and help a family find peace in their home, then the work can be highly satisfying. An interest in helping people and spirits as well as gaining that rare evidence is why paranormal investigators work in the field. Otherwise, it is a lot of legwork, time and money for little in return. People who are in it for the glory, money, bragging rights, or thrills will be quickly disappointed.
There’s more to paranormal investigating than just setting up equipment and finding evidence. Good teams also:
- Interview clients, neighbors, and local historians
- Research the history and area of the location
- Check for normal explanations for the haunting, such as high EM fields, leaky pipes, drafts, mental illness, attention-seekers, etc.
- Understand the psychology of the haunting and the client
- Consult mediums who can connect with the spirit
- Do follow-ups with clients to be sure their problems are resolved
- Connect clients with higher-level services such as ritual cleansing or exorcism
How to Start in the Field of Paranormal Investigations
If you would like to work in the field of paranormal investigations, then the best way to start is by contacting a local paranormal investigations team. It’s important that you assess their practices. Find out if they are serious, or just an amateur group looking for thrills. Ask about their portfolio of cases; review their evidence and read testimonials from clients they have worked with. The best groups work with a medium or a sensitive who can communicate with the spirits and psychologically assess the situation.
Once you’ve found a good, serious and experienced group, you can ask (very politely) if you can help out on an investigation. Be humble. Expect to help with the drudgery at first – pulling wires; reviewing tape. Don’t think you are going to be handed a thermal imagery camera and sent into an investigation on the first night. You’ll also want to study up as much as you can about current technologies and techniques so you have something to offer the group as well as learning more about the field itself.
Even if your goal is to create your own paranormal investigations group, I would still encourage you to work with a team first. You’ll get the on-the-ground experience you need before striking out on your own. If you put yourself out there as a paranormal investigator and you get in over your head, you’ll not only endanger yourself and your client, but you could be sued if you accept money and don’t actually provide the services or your client believes you are defrauding them. If you work with a team for a while and you do feel ready to start a group, then make sure you have at least one other person with you at all times. Don’t ever go investigating alone. Ever.
Not everyone is cut out to be a paranormal investigator. If you are easily excitable, nervous or prone to anxiety, depression or paranoia, then this is not the field for you. Paranormal investigators must be confident but humble, stable and grounded but open-minded and in good physical and mental health. Finally, investigators must be willing and able to deal with the risks involved with paranormal investigations, which takes a strong positive intention and a sincere lack of fear.
The Risks of Paranormal Investigations:
A rare but important risk of paranormal investigations are the possibility of attracting spirits who then haunt you and your house after you’ve excised them from the home you are investigating. This is one job where you definitely don’t want to bring your work home with you. While some people think its cute to live in a haunted house, or would welcome a spirit to live with them this is dangerously misguided thinking. Sure, there are spirits who do no harm but I would judge that the majority of the time spirits are walking on this earth plane because of a negative reason – confusion, anger, obsession, etc. Spirits who haven’t passed on aren’t always in their right mind, and they may take it out on you. I lived through this situation for two years and it was not at all cute. Although we have free will – here and in the afterlife – it is always best for the spirit to move on to their afterlife dimension where they will reconnect with friends, family and guides who can help them deal with unresolved issues from their life on earth.
Other more ‘earthly’ risks include:
- Respiratory illnesses from mold or particulates in older homes and buildings
- Injuries from dangerous, old or cluttered buildings
- The risk of meeting people with malicious or violent intentions
- Legal risks for performing services and exchanging money
The Last Word
People watch paranormal shows and feel excited and inspired to try it themselves. It looks both fun and easy, so many rush into it without really understanding the implications. I fell into this trap too, though thankfully we didn’t get into any trouble and we were always courteous to the spirits. We didn’t have paranormal reality shows to model after, and I consider this a blessing or in my youth and inexperience we might have gotten in over our head fast. If you are interested in getting involved with paranormal investigations, think long and hard about why you want to do it. Then, like anything else, prepare for hard work. For many paranormal investigators, they can’t see themselves doing anything else and find the work truly rewarding but it’s not for everyone and it shouldn’t be. Working with spirits isn’t for the faint of heart, or appropriate for the dabbler. When you start working with spirits, you may attract spirits into your life. If you aren’t prepared to handle it, keep your paranormal enjoyment to the television and let the pros deal with the rest.
For a great companion article, please go see Keith Clark’s post 7 Ways We Can Help Bring Life After Death into the 21st Century on iDigitalMedium.
So, what do you think? Have you ever gone on a ghost hunting or paranormal investigation? What was your experience and how do you think it can be improved?