Ghost Hunting; invariably cold, dark (usually), damp, uneventful and rarely yields anything by way of tangible evidence. In fact in my experience, the search for this most elusive of quarries has never yielded anything by way of tangible evidence. Having spent many hours in reputedly haunted locations in my not too distant past, I can assure you, ghost hunting is not all it’s cracked up to be. So why do so many people find it so fascinating and want to get involved?
I suppose the supernatural could best be described as a final frontier of sorts, a mystery begging to be investigated. It is unlikely that the vast majority of us will ever venture into outer space or dive the deepest oceans, but all of us can investigate the supernatural if we so desire and by whatever method we choose. Ghosts and hauntings have been reported for thousands of years but it is only recently, say over the last hundred years or so, that people have actively started to investigate the supernatural and specifically the existence of ghosts.
What follows are my tips for ghost hunting. How you decide to investigate ghosts and what methods you choose, will be entirely of your own choice, here goes.
Firstly, I think it essential to research as little about the location you are going to investigate as possible, a shed load of history regarding its haunted past is only going to set some folks imaginations on fire, the fact the place is reputedly haunted should be more than enough information. I will give you an example of too much information prior to a vigil that can become lodged in the minds of the investigative team before even erecting a tripod.
John Humphries, the owner of The Ram Inn in Wootton-Under-Edge, will allow you to stay at his 11th century home for a small donation and will include an in-depth and very informative tour of his home, complete with some bone-chilling stories. By the time he has finished his tour, you may well be forgiven if you decide to look for the door. There are some genuinely unpleasant ghosts reputed to haunt The Ram Inn and John’s stories will guarantee to send a chill down the spine of even the most sceptical amongst you, as they did with one or two members of my party who were genuinely quite disturbed by John‘s tales and took some persuading to stay the course. Make no mistake, The Ram Inn is a fantastic stage for a vigil, its dark brooding interiors, creaky stairs and of course its haunted history which include poltergeist activity, shadowy figures, unpleasant odours, incubus attacks, and a whole lot more just beg to be investigated. Should you decide to hold a vigil there, I strongly suggest you give the tour a miss to ensure a clear head.
Secondly, it is important not to go it alone (unlike one ridiculously staged U.K. TV show about hauntings I could mention) it's common sense really and I wont insult your intelligence by explaining why, other than several pairs of eyes and ears are better than one - just for confirmation. My party occasionally included a spirit medium, the tech crew, plus, and this is so important in my opinion, a couple of impartial observers, "waterproof sceptics" I like to call them. Essential to help keep the balance and ensure your party keeps its feet firmly on the ground, oh and to inject a modicum of humour to boot.
Okay, you have your team of intrepid investigators, you have obtained permission to do your first vigil, what equipment are you going to need? This is a tricky one and has been the bane of contention amongst ghost hunters for as long as I can remember. I am often bewildered when I see items on television, in magazines and books showing teams of ghost hunters with an array of impressive electronic gadgetry which would not look out of place on the flight deck of the Space Shuttle. They can include: magnetometers, used to measure the magnetic fields; sound and motion-detectors, set to trigger at the slightest disturbance of the air; all well and good assuming a ghost has substance I guess, I've even heard of folk taking Geiger Counters on vigils, hell's bells! does this mean spooks could be radioactive? An impressive assortment of thermometers to measure changes in temperature and identify those infamous 'cold spots,' and a host of other bits and bobs that some ghost hunters have in their arsenal and good luck to them. I do wonder with all this gadgetry, has there ever been a single reported case where a gizmo has confirmed conclusively the existence of a ghost? I guess not, as proof would surely have made global news.
The subject matter by its very nature is not, as far as I’m aware, something that can be measured by conventional electronic devices or any other gadget currently available. It can’t be quantified or measured or analysed in laboratory conditions, its very existence is pure conjecture; its very presence utterly elusive.
The late Peter Underwood, author of many books on the supernatural and former president of the Ghost Club of Great Britain, has written the book on ghost research. He used to take with him on vigils: torches and batteries, cameras, chalk dust, a reel of cotton, blu-tac and tennis balls. The torches and cameras, well they don’t need an explanation; the chalk dust was used to sprinkled about the base of objects in an attempt to see if the dust is disturbed by movement, this could suggest the presence of poltergeist activity. The cotton and blu-tac were used to secretly secure the foot of doors against their frames, effectively sealing a room. If the cotton remains unbroken, then it was safe to assume that nobody had entered that particular room. This practice was applied more for rumbling the hoaxer than catching any ghost. Finally, tennis balls, their purpose is similar to that of the chalk dust, to encourage interaction with a playful spirit.
Equip your party as you see fit, most items are common sense really. Ensure all batteries are fully charged, take plenty of pens and paper, a Dictaphone is always a handy gadget, as trying to make notes in half light can be difficult, especially if your eyesight is as bad as mine. Oh and don't forget something to eat and drink. The bottom line is, before you go out buying shed loads of equipment and bleeding your bank balance dry, I suggest Peter's frugal approach and start off using some of the items listed above. I have a feeling you might get similar results to those of the super-tech ghost hunters.
Now to the witness, the most important part of any investigation. Take things slowly, don't forget some people can often appear quite distressed by what they are going through. Take this into account and proceed with empathy and consideration, asking relevant generic questions, you may discover much by just listening.
It is important never to refute anything that the witness may tell you, try to be diplomatic with your responses and offer a plausible explanation where possible for what may be happening. It’s surprising, through discussion, how much can be discovered and explained with a little investigation of the immediate surroundings. If no explanation is forthcoming, then its time to set up your equipment with the minimum amount of fuss and disruption to the homeowner.
“You Don't Know What You're Doing!”
Finally, when you start researching and the news gets around, as it invariable will, be prepared at some point to attract the attention of certain individuals who will often vociferously insist you are meddling in 'things you know nothing about!' These pompous fools will claim to be 'in the know,' with regard to all matters paranormal and supernatural. They will appear cocksure and dogmatic, so much so, they will eagerly decry your methods and efforts to investigate the subject matter. I am not referring to fellow ghost hunters (though I have come across one or two who think they wrote the book...) oh no, I am referring to certain individuals who are convinced they are in commune with the dead and very often will charge the ingenuous to 'cleanse their homes,' a practice which carries no credentials and is highly dubious. How these individuals can live with themselves, how they can brazenly extract money from people who are lead to believe that by allowing these people to perform some phony ritual will free their homes from ghosts and spirits (if indeed ghosts and spirits are the problem) is, in my opinion, abhorrent. Should you come across these individuals, I strongly suggest you give them a wide berth.
If these individuals are so convinced they have got it right, then surely there would be no mystery, nothing to investigate and this blog would not exist. The bookshelves at your local library which currently weigh heavy under a wealth of tomes dedicated to the paranormal, the supernatural and for that matter the afterlife, would be considerably lighter and would instead hold a small collection of volumes penned by these individuals explaining the correct method to research, film, record and even capture your very own ghost, which you could then presumably take home and store in a jar on top of the mantelpiece - mystery solved folks!
Whichever method you adopt to investigate the ghost phenomena, I wish you every success. Remember, there is no rule book, no exams to pass, and no do's and don'ts, there is only a mystery just waiting to be explored.