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.
THE STRESS VALVE
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.
THE “DEAD GUYS”
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.