Interest in the paranormal and supernatural has been a part of the human experience and culture to the furthermost reaches of human history – there is evidence of ritual burials and supernatural symbolic art goes back almost one-hundred-thousand years. Some scholars in evolutionary psychology believe that trance states and shamanic communication with spirits, animals, and plants is the foundation of supernatural belief and religion, and is an essential part of our evolution and is still very much with us.1
There is a large interest in the paranormal – according to a Gallup poll over 1/3rd of all Americans believe in ghosts.2
The people who pursue paranormal investigation come from all backgrounds and professions. Most have a deep love of history and have had personal experiences in the paranormal. Some are skeptics or “de-bunkers” who seek to disprove all phenomenon, and many have a bedrock belief and they want to get evidence to “prove” that life exists after death. The majority do this as a fun social activity and love to get access to historic places and to share experiences.
Who doesn’t love a good ghost story?
The “Paranormal” is formally defined as, “events or phenomena that are beyond the scope of normal scientific understanding.” This term arose in the first quarter of the 20th century when there were serious scientists of the time that were studying unexplained phenomenon such as telepathy, psychokinesis, and medium-ship. In current times the paranormal can cover everything from ESP and telepathy to ghosts, UFO’s, Cryptids (Big Foot and the Loch Ness Monster), Time slips, interdimensionals, and parallel dimensions, and more.3
Although there have always been a few scientific investigations of the paranormal – most notably the research of parapsychology in academic settings from the 1950’s – 1990’s4 and government funded psychic research such as project Stargate, etc.5 the majority of research has been in the hands of lay people who use scientific instruments who they believe document paranormal activity. This has exploded in recent years with the advent of numerous media stories and television programs that show average people ghost hunting with various devices in the dark with spooky IR cameras (the use of IR cameras actually came from the TV shows in the 1970’s who wanted a dramatic and creepy feel in low light).
The most that science can say to this point is that there are some good scientific studies that suggest above the statistical norm that there may be an inherent human
“sixth sense” where we can sometimes acquire knowledge outside of our other senses or direct experience – most notably ESP, telepathy, and psychokinesis .6
The majority of people who investigate the paranormal document various environmental readings that show related patterns to paranormal experiences such as temperature and barometric changes, fluctuations in the EMF (Electromagnetic field), audio (electronic voice phenomenon), and visual media such as photography and video. These approaches do not meet the criteria for the scientific method or “proof” but they can be considered more forensic or journalistic approaches.
There is a long history of belief – this spans religions and spiritual movements – it is cultural, social, and very personal. Many of these beliefs have very explicit statements on spirits and entities and rules and guidelines for interactions and protections from them. From wearing a cross and using holy water to talismans to protect from the Evil Eye, to the New Age use of sage and crystals, many people possess deep belief systems that are very much at the core of who they are. So just be aware that this topic can go very deep with many of us.
Theories of the Paranormal
Theories of the paranormal range from religious and spiritual beliefs to pseudo-scientific theories based on modern physics – quantum mechanics, parallel dimensions, etc to new age concepts of energy vortexes and portals, ley lines, and energy imprinting. Most of the ghost hunters or paranormal teams tend to see fluctuations in the Electromagnetic field as evidence of spirits, and some of their instruments are sold as “Ghost Meters”.
Based on the work of pioneers of paranormal investigation such as Han Holzer7 a theory emerged that categorizes hauntings into the following:
A residual haunting is when the material fabric of a building or the inherent energy of a location absorbs the energy from the emotions and events from human lives. So if there is a report of a woman in white who walks the same path each time, and who does not take note of anyone or anything around them in the current time – that is a residual haunting. It is analogous to a music CD skipping and looping from a scratch on it’s surface.8
An intelligent haunting is one in which the ghost or spirit is aware of the current time and people and things. They react to what we say and do, they can interact verbally or physically (e.g. touching, moving objects).9
A time loop haunting is one is which a person is suddenly transported into a full scene from the past – and observes it in detail and can sometimes be noticed by the people or ghosts from the scene. Famous examples include reports of seeing a make-shift Civil War Hospital in Gettysburg in the basement of an historic house.10
The word poltergeist comes from German meaning “Noisy Ghost”. It most often refers to paranormal phenomenon where objects and moved or thrown. But more specifically research into this has shown patterns where teenage children are in the house and have repressed anger or emotion issues. Often the teenager is the center of the reported activity. So the theory on this is that this is a form of psychokinesis – or the ability of a person to manipulate or move objects with their thoughts.11
Thought forms (Tulpas) are paranormal manifestations created by the human mind – either unconsciously or intentionally. Thought forms can manifest as shadow forms, spirits, or animal forms. They can be generated through spells and curses and it is a well known technique in magik to manifest an entity to give it a task or purpose. This was validated in the famous experiment in Canada in the 1970’s where a group of parapsychologists made up a fictional ghost named Phillip and they created his story. When they conducted seances they received communications from the fictional character they had created .12
A paranormal investigation is when an individual or team goes to a location and uses their experiences, recordings on video and audio, and readings on various instruments to document and collect evidence. This may or may not involve more spiritual methods such as using a psychic or medium to get their impressions or to have a group conduct a séance.
Often paranormal investigators will conduct their investigations in the dark – although this is a more recent method that derives from TV programs from the 1960’s and 1970’s which used darkness and infrared cameras to create a creepy or spooky look and feeling to the programs. Another reason to investigate at night is that the location can be quieter and there is less visual and audio contamination than in the daytime from people, traffic, etc. During investigations many report rapid draining of batteries, encountering localized cold spots, hearing voices or footsteps that are unaccounted for, seeing shadow forms, encountering moving objects, and sometimes seeing apparitions.
The main methods of investigations include:
For all of recorded history people have reported paranormal experiences with spirits who speak. When recording devices were invented and became available people started getting unexplained voices that were unaccounted for from the people in the room. These spirit voices can be in the form of disembodied voices (people hear them at the time and the recorder also picks it up). They can also be voices only picked up by the recorder but not heard at the time by the people in the location (EVP’s or Electronic Voice Phenomenon). And then there are voices that come over instruments, such as modified radios, where anomalous voices are heard (Instrumental Trans-communication).
Often paranormal investigators will use video IR cameras to monitor a location – looking for anomalous shadows, apparitions, or objects that move on their own. The cameras can range from battery powered handheld camcorders to complex DVR systems with multiple cameras in different rooms on tripods, cables, and a home base with montiors and a DVR recorder. While visual documentation is always suspect due to external things such as car headlights, flashlights from investigators, or just the movement of people in the location there are good examples of video capturing phenomenon that are unexplained.
Photography has always been a part of investigating the paranormal going back into the Spirit photography in the 19th century. Many investigators use digital cameras today and use flash. Belief in orbs (usually seen moderate to small white glowing balls in the air) and mists (foggy or smoky appearing forms in photos) as human spirits or energies is widespread – although many of these can be easily explained from humidity and dust, to insects, hair, fingers, or reflections.
The popularity of the use of meters to monitor EMF (Electromagnetic Fields) has skyrocketed after their use on the popular ghost investigation shows in the past ten years. These meters measure fluctuations in the electromagnetic field and range from apps on cell phones and tablets to small hand-held devices to the more expensive calibrated Tri-field meters. In the past couple of years the Mel-Meters have become popular with is a cross-platform device that reads EMF and temperature at the same time. Most of the cheaper EMF meters read only AC (Alternating Current) sources of EMF and so they will easily pick up readings from electrical power sources, lights and appliances, and cell phones. Devices such as the Tri-field meter can also read DC (Direct Current) sources from natural sources and magnetic things such as cast iron pipes and heavily reinforced concrete. There is are also off-shoot devices such as the Ovilus that read the EMF and assigns those readings randomly to a dictionary of words so that the investigator will see or hear words from the device. So this uses the EMF meter as an instrument of spirit communication.
Since one of the main experiences in the paranormal is the feeling of localized cold spots investigators use various hand-held devices to monitor temperature. The most popular devices are the inexpensive ones that use a weak laser to read contact temperature. These only read the temperature of the surface where the red dot is seen, they do not measure the temperature in the air between the device and the surface. Other temperature meters, especially the Mel—Meter, reads the ambient temperature in the proximity of the small thermocouple on the device and thus measures the ambient temperature in the air.
Many investigators have compact thermal imagers that capture still and video images based on the IR (infrared) spectrum. These imagers can view in grayscale and also false-color images where gradations of tone or color will correlate to the temperature of surfaces and animals and people – so that hot objects will appear to be glowing white or yellow and cold objects black or blue. In there use in the paranormal the images have to be interpreted carefully as there is a tendency for “shine” or thermal reflection from hard surfaces such as stone, tile, concrete, metal, and glass. In preservation these imagers are very useful in both architectural and art conservation to document everything from repairs to damp/wet areas in buildings to under-paintings and drawings and previous restoration in art and objects.
Many paranormal investigators use so-called “Trigger Objects” in investigations. These can range from toys or a ball for spirits to move and play with to historic objects with an association with the people of places of the past that relate to the location. Spirits are directed to interact with these objects or the objects are used to provoke a reaction that many manifest into experiences and evidence.
Almost all paranormal investigators use verbal interrogation or questions to attempt to communicate or get reactions from spirits. This can range from very thorough questions from investigators who have researched the history of the location to simple questions (e.g. “What is your name? How old are you? Etc.). A form of this, inspired by many of the TV shows, is provoking – where someone verbally acts in a rude or accusatory style to provoke reactions. This can also include challenging spirits to push or hit someone. Although some investigators practice this I do not believe in acting in a rude or disrespectful way to anyone, living or dead. And why would you ever challenge anyone who is invisible to hit you?
Paranormal investigators easily spend twice to sometimes four times the hours spent on the investigation on the review of evidence collected at the location. The majority of this involves the careful review of the audio, video, thermal, and photographs alongside of any notes taken at the time. The notes can be casual write-ups of each person’s experiences to meticulous notes and sketches of each room, notations of temperature and EMF readings, and careful observations matched to the logged audio, video, thermal, and photography. Many teams write formal reports – many don’t. Those who do investigations for fun often just come for the experience and for any audio, video, or photographs they make have caught. Many individuals and teams post some of their evidence and interpretations of the investigation online.
2*For those interested I can send you a PDF with the paper on this: Stone, V.E. (2009). Evolutionary psychology and the potential universality of shamanic practices, Part 2: The adaptiveness of trance and self-organized criticality in neural networks. Proceedings of the 26th International Conference of the Society for the Study of Shamanism: Shamanism in the 21st Century. San Rafael, CA: Society for the Study of Shamanism.)