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Ghost Hunting for the Beginner



This piece was recently re-worked and greatly expanded for a monthly newsletter appearing at Gaia Online's Pagan guild. The articles will be posted here after a three month delay each - if you'd like to read them as they appear, contact me to learn how. As soon as the first article is posted here, the rest of this page will be gone.



So – you’ve felt a draught in a closed room, or your child’s favorite doll is levitating. For one reason or another, you think your home is haunted and want to find out for sure. However, like most people, you’d like to do a little poking around before you call your local paranormal investigator and learn you have a rodent problem. Also like most people, you don’t have all the nifty tools and gadgets available. The general populace doesn’t have a Gauss meter in the junk drawer, or an infrared thermometer lying around.

Fortunately, you probably have the tools to do a basic investigation… enough to determine, at least, whether the draught is a ghost or poor seals on your windows.

Let’s take this by type of phenomena.

Draughts and Stationary Cold Spots:

Where do you notice the draught or cold spot most often? Is it confined to a single room, or all over the house? One small location, like the north corner of the downstairs bathroom? Does it seem to follow an object? It may help to keep a small logbook – for draughts or any other unusual happenings. Note date, time (if you can,) exact location, duration, and the most detailed description you can give.

Eventually, you may be able to pinpoint the cold spot or draught’s most frequent location. When you do, the investigation starts.

First, rule out non-supernatural explanations. Wet your finger and hold it up to the draught, try to follow it. Check for leakage around any windows in the area, and don’t forget to check doors. Every hole in your walls can pass air… heating/cooling vents, phone jacks, electrical outlets… check them all.

If, after plugging any holes in your wall, you still experience draughts – or you couldn’t find any natural explanation for the breeze – you may have a ghost. The next thing you should do is locate two mercury porch thermometers. The cheap ones that go for a dollar are fine for this, as long as they function well. Hang one in the area where you notice the most activity, and the other as close to the first as you can without placing it within the area of the draught or cold spot. Check on these thermometers often, and note any difference in temperature as well as date and time.

Next step - clean the room well, using window cleaners on any glass and a sticky oil cleanser (such as pledge) everywhere else. This helps to rid the area of dust, and the oil helps to keep motes from floating around. Vacuum well, remove any cobwebs from corners and ceiling fans, and leave the room undisturbed for at least an hour. Make sure any fans are off, as well as air vents. The point of this exercise is to keep dust from floating around the room while you take photographs, which could lead to false “orbs” and such. Absolutely no smoking in the room! Even better if you and any others in the house refrain from smoking indoors.

For photography, you should use every type of camera available to you. Digital, film, movie camera, cell phone camera, webcams… anything you can get your hands on. Turn on as many lights as you can, and do not use your flash. With your digital cameras, take as many pictures as you like… at least ten per hour. Mount your movie camera on a tripod focused on the area of the most activity, and leave it running. With your film camera, unless you feel like spending tons of money on film and development, take only two or three pictures per hour. Note the time of each photo session in your logbook, how many pictures you took with each camera, and what each camera was pointed at when you took the shot.

When reviewing your pictures, look for anything that wasn’t in the frame when you took it. Orbs, flashes, haze, giant men in dark clothing coming at you with an axe… anything out of the ordinary.

For the next activity, turn off any music in the house. No radios, no TV, no frat parties… you want your home as quiet as possible. Place some kind of recording device in the area, leave it on, and leave it alone for as long as the recording medium holds out. You can use anything, but obviously the higher quality device you use, the better your chances of catching an EVP.

EVP stands for Electronic Voice Phenomenon… or, as I like to call it, Creepy-Ass Voices From Beyond The Grave. CAVFBTG just isn’t catchy, though. The voices caught on tape, when not from living humans, do some very interesting things… they cycle from 100 Hz to 1400 Hz, while the human voice is stuck with the 300 to 1000 Hz range.

Using a digital voice recorder makes it much easier to find EVPs for this reason. You can load your recordings into the computer using the software provided with the device, and search for anything that spikes below or above the human range. Much easier than sifting though five hours of nothing.

There are other odd things associated with EVPs, which is handy if you’re using an old tape recorder. There is often a popping noise just before a ghost speaks, generally three short “thwock” sounds. The voices of the ghosts themselves are often described as either very mechanical, or extremely sibilant. Of course, any voice at all in an empty house is cause for concern.

These three methods – temperature, photography, and voice recording – are the basic investigative methods all ghost hunters use. There are plenty of other high tech toys, but anyone can do the basics on a budget.

However, after all this, you may not find anything pointing to ghosts… even if you have one! If the best a ghost can do is create a draught or a small chill, it may simply be unable to manifest in any other way. In this case, you don’t have a thing to worry about. It can’t hurt you, and once you know the extent of its strength it’s hardly scary.

If you do get evidence of some kind, it may mean that your ghost isn’t as weak as it seems. It may be conserving its strength, or it may simply not care about you and your prancing around with cameras.

In general, a draught or cold spot is nothing to worry about. It is, at best, a one trick pony you can use as a conversation starter.

Eerie Feelings:

This type of activity is by far the most common. Nearly everyone has had a run in with this, such as hating to walk through a particular room, studiously avoiding a corner of the basement, or just getting a spooked feeling while walking down the stairs. This doesn’t necessarily mean your home is haunted.

First of all, get out your trusty logbook. Pinpoint the area where you get this eerie feeling, and try to determine if you always feel spooked here, or if it’s only at certain times.

Be completely honest with yourself as to why you might not like this area. If it’s the basement corner, perhaps that corner is a little darker than the others. Try adding a lamp to that area, and see if the extra light helps. If it’s a certain room, how is that room decorated? Try changing the predominant colors, or adding lights, or simply rearranging the furniture. People can react negatively to something as small as a crooked picture frame, and this may be the case in your “haunted” room.

Stairs are much easier to dismiss… do you only get that odd feeling while walking down the stair, but not up? Nearly everyone experiences a slight touch of vertigo when walking down stairs or ladders. If you’re fine going up, then it’s vertigo and not a ghost.

The eerie feelings may not come from an area of you home, but instead an object. Is there a photograph that draws your eye, or a painting you have come to hate? It may not be haunted, such things rarely are. However, the human form inspires the most fear when it is slightly off. A poorly done painting hasn’t captured a ghost, but the perspective is skewed and the eyes are just a touch too large or too small. The nose is three degrees too long, and the mouth is just a hint too big. Small things, hardly noticeable, but enough to ping your awareness and make your nerves scream “inhuman”. In a photograph, it’s just as easy to fool the eyes with a strange pose that slightly distorts the face or arms. Anything that mimics humanity without actually being human fires off warnings in our subconscious. This is why so many people have aversions to dolls and clowns.

After you’ve examined your eerie feelings and any mundane causes, it’s time to whip out the three basic tools again. Take temperature reading, pictures, and voice recordings… if you find nothing supernatural, go back to any natural explanations you may have overlooked. Invite others to examine the areas or objects, and ask them if anything seems off. You may have overlooked something obvious, simply by being too close to the situation.

If you do pick up readings with your tools, continue to monitor the area for any fluctuations. Try to establish what the “normal” readings are for your ghost, and note how often the signals increase or decrease. Hang on to any EVPs you might pick up… if you later decide to call a paranormal investigation team, these will be invaluable. You can also use EVPs as a question and answer session… stand in the area with your recorder and ask questions, pausing to give your ghost a chance to answer on tape. If you’re curious, ask who the ghost is, why they’re there, why they’re so angry (or whatever emotion they’re projecting), and so on. If you just want to get rid of it, ask why they’re still there. After listening to the tape, try to find out if the ghost knows it’s dead. Most often, they don’t. A simple “Hey, you’re dead and need to move on” will usually do the trick.

Of course, “eerie feelings” ghosts are similar to draughts and cold spots… one hit wonders incapable of anything but spooky feelings. They are also good for conversation topics and scaring away pesky solicitors.

Audible Voices:

This type of haunting the most common “strong” phenomenon. It happens more often than apparitions or poltergeists (which aren’t technically ghosts, but you know what I mean).

Audible voices are not EVPs… you can hear them without any kind of recording device or amplifier. Common examples include babies crying, children singing, people arguing, and even footsteps.

If you hear something you shouldn’t be hearing, your first step is the same as always – check for mundane sources. Apartment dwellers, you’re probably hearing your neighbors or their TV, either through your paper-thin walls, or heating ducts. Sometimes apartments are so poorly constructed, that you can hear the next building’s inhabitants through the vent hood of your stove. Of course, if you hear a baby crying and you know for a fact that no one around you for a block has young children, there may be ghosts about. Although, it still could be a TV or radio.

If you aren’t in an apartment, you may still be hearing your neighbors. Check to see just how close their homes are to yours. If you’re feeling slick, tell a neighbor you heard a baby crying last night, and ask who has the bundle of joy. Or who argued. Or who has the child you heard singing last night. If you heard footsteps, ask if they saw anyone suspicious hanging around last night. After all, it may not have been a ghost, but someone stealing Grandma’s jewelry.

If you heard the voice right next to your head, look around for air vents or windows. Even if the window is closed, sound can carry quite well.

No vents, no windows, no neighbors? Haul out those three basic tools and your logbooks. If your audible voice is chatty, perhaps they never shut up. EVPs might catch the rest of their conversation.

The problem with audible voice hauntings is that it’s difficult (if not impossible) to get them to pay any attention to you. If you’re trying to get rid of them (after you’ve taken readings, and were kind enough to give local investigators a shot at it), telling them they’re dead won’t work. They’re so wrapped up in themselves they don’t hear you, or it’s a “psychic recording”, also called a residual haunting. This is the name we’ve come up with to describe the hauntings that seem to be just a small moment that plays over and over again. Kind of like a boring movie clip. There’s no real intelligence behind the voices, nothing to talk to. In that case, you might try having your house blessed.

A note on blessings and banishments… it isn’t for your benefit, really, so why do people always go with their own religion’s method? It never made sense to me to bring in a Catholic priest to get rid of a Native American ghost… whatever the priest says won’t make any sense to the Indian. And why bring in a Witch to get rid of some old Protestant schoolteacher? You’ll just frighten the old dead woman (if she’s paying attention). I’ve noticed that when you don’t match the religion with your ghost, the blessing/banishment/whatever doesn’t work very well. Of course, most ghosts in America are Catholic, Protestant, or Native American, so it’s easy to find the appropriate religious figure. Have some pity – your ghost is scared, confused, and dead. If you’re uncomfortable with another religion, just have your house blessed appropriately afterwards.

If you have a psychic recording as your haunting, then it doesn’t really matter who you use. Go with whatever works.

Apparitions:

Cool!

These are extremely rare, so if you find you have one, please be kind and invite in some paranormal investigators! As many teams as you can contact… apparitions are what we need to prove the existence of ghosts.

Of course, before you call James Randi, you need to make sure you have a ghost. Pull out that battered logbook, grab your tools, and start amassing evidence.

Make sure this isn’t a shadow on your wall caused by lumpy furniture and coats, obviously, and double check with your neighbors that someone hasn’t been sneaking into your home. If you live with other people, make sure they aren’t playing tricks on you, and ask them if they’ve seen anything odd. Give everyone logbooks, and ask them to record anything unusual, then compare notes after a month or so. Try recording in your logbooks for two weeks, without telling the others what you’ve seen, and see how well everyone’s accounts match. If they’re all similar, you’ve got something!

There really isn’t much to say about apparitions… they’re kind of in your face. If seemingly solid people start walking through walls and evaporating in front of your eyes, either you’re going crazy or you have a ghost. If you live with other people and they honestly haven’t seen anything, look into that crazy option.

Poltergeist:

As most people have read, poltergeists aren’t really ghosts, but psychic/telekinetic oddness caused by children just starting puberty… most commonly young girls. This doesn’t necessarily mean that little Carrie is a telekinetic, just that her hormones are so insanely crazy that for a brief period she can do nifty stuff. This isn’t usually controllable by the person experiencing it, and often happens when he or she is extremely emotional. So, puberty. Yikes.

Actually, it seems that poltergeist activity calms down after about 10-18 months from it’s start, so it probably won’t last the twelve years it takes to get your body under control. Hardly comforting for the young teenager who dreads being different in any way, but still not too horrible.

Poltergeist activity is pretty rare, so very few studies have been done. However, it seems likely that emotional training, such as anger management, yoga and meditation, and classes on self-confidence boosting may be helpful. Also, some knowledge of aromatherapy, simple color tricks, and other tools can help even a teenager remain in control of their emotional state.

There are theories that say those who experienced poltergeist activity as a teenager may grow into some psychic talent later in life. While telekinesis and telepathy hardly ever happens (some say never, but die-hard skeptics who refuse the color blue are stupid), telempathy, clairaudience, clairvoyance and psychometry happen fairly often.

Of course, what seems to be poltergeists may actually be a ghost, or possibly someone playing tricks. If the activity doesn’t center on one person, happens when the person is away, doesn’t correspond with that person’s emotional state, then likely you have a strong ghost capable of lifting objects. Pull out those logbooks and tools again, and get to work.

These are the most widely-known haunting types. Sometimes, a person can find a spirit, rather than a ghost, or even something we haven’t named yet. Ghosts are those people who were once alive, spirits are those who were never alive, and anything else you might see… well, I’d run away. But I’m a coward.

If at some point you decide to call in some “experts”, you should do a little research first. Many paranormal investigation groups are on the web, so it won’t be too hard to find the local groups. Read through their case files to make sure they know what they’re doing, and are on the up-and-up. Here are a few things you should look for:

A reputable group will never charge for their investigations.

A reputable group will never reveal names, addresses, or other specific details about a private property without explicit permission.

A reputable group will have previous case files for you to look over.

A reputable group will willingly give you their phone numbers, mailing address, and real names.

A reputable group will give references – you should be able to talk with those involved with previous investigations and property owners.

There are a few exceptions, though – if the group you’ve decided to contact has to drive an hour or more to reach you, asking for reimbursement for gas isn’t unreasonable. Gas is expensive!

If an investigation was conducted on property that wasn’t a private home, the group may name it freely and give an address. Examples include hotels, office buildings, old schools and churches. Some public properties may ask not to be identified, so it never hurts to call any properties fully listed in case files and make sure they gave permission to the investigators. You could also use that time to ask what the investigators did, how they behaved, and if those property owners recommend the investigating group.

On their website, or when you’ve contacted them, they should tell you exactly what to expect from their group. Commonly, this involves a team of three to five members coming to your home, asking you tons of questions, asking to see any evidence you might have (which should be plenty, if you’ve done what you’re supposed to!), and setting up their equipment.

Some of their equipment will be very familiar to you – logbooks, thermometers, cameras, and voice recorders. They will probably have niftier equipment than you do, but that’s kind of the point of bringing in a team. All those toys.

A well-equipped team will have a laser thermometer, and hopefully an infrared camera (or one with night vision.) They will have Gauss meters, or some type of EMF device. EMF means ElectroMagnetic Field, and it just measures… well… electromagnetic emissions. Electrical appliances put off a crapload, but ghosts put some off as well. When the team gets there, ask to use their Gauss meter for a bit, it’s kinda fun. Use it around your refrigerator, then near a lamp, then try it by an electrical outlet. After those three, hold it in the center of a room with no appliances, away from walls, and see what happens. Then slowly move it from near the floor to near the ceiling. Another way to make sure your team isn’t shamming – watch them use their Gauss meters. If they keep holding it near an outlet or high above their heads, and claiming it’s a ghost, they’re full of it.

A few teams may have motion sensors, although due to the expense, it’s rare.

Some teams use psychics, which can be fun whether you believe they’re truthful or not. Remember that anyone can claim to be psychic, so have a few grains of salt handy.

Many psychics use tools, too, which can be a blast. Ask to try out their tools, as well… most psychics don’t care if you touch their dowsing rods or pendulums, but many get touchy if you paw more personal items like tarot cards or crystals.

At some point in the investigation, the team will likely have a sit down. This is where they start comparing impressions and any activity they may have experienced while in your home. You should be present for this, but they may ask you to just listen.

After about a week, sometimes two, they may contact you either to tell you they found nothing, or that they would like to do a follow-up investigation. This is entirely up to you… do you want these people in your house again? Were they well behaved? If you allow a follow-up, after another week or two they should send you a copy of their report, stating explicitly what happened and when, what they think it is, and what your options are in their opinion. If they found nothing, you should still get a copy of their report.

You can have as many or as few investigation teams as you like, nothing’s stopping you. However, I suggest three different teams. If all three teams find nothing, perhaps you should investigate on your own again, and triple check your equipment. If all three teams report similar occurrences, then it may be time to contact the big guys (if you want the attention, that is). Talk to solicitors for ghost hunting television shows, and show them the reports from your three teams, as well as your own evidence. Talk to any interested professors at your local university… some of them are extremely interested in the paranormal, and may want to write a paper on your home. You might also look into the Randi prize.

Or, after all the teams you care to allow have gaped at your ghost, maybe it’s time to send the poor thing on to the afterlife.

If your ghost isn’t hurting anything, and you think you can live with it, there’s nothing wrong with having a ghost in your home. Many people co-exist with ghosts – after all, it’s a great conversation starter.