Monthly Archives: March 2010

Haunts with a motive

*originally written for the Birmingham skeptics blog by request*

The one thing that has become more obvious as my time as a paranormal researcher has gone on is the fact that some people have a real need to be haunted. The team I helped to form in 2005 refer to these cases as ‘a haunting with a motive’ and they’re not that easy to separate from genuine cases where someone has really experienced something that they cannot explain, or something that scares them.

Ghosts and things that live under your bed have become more and more popular thanks to modern television shows like ‘Most Haunted’ and the offerings that came after it from other production companies. Anybody can call themselves a paranormal researcher and claim to have expert knowledge in the paranormal (despite the word ‘paranormal’ meaning ‘things that we cannot yet understand’) and this leads to the obvious problem that all skeptics face – the spread of misinformation. With self styled ghost-hunters the spread of misinformation isn’t always intentional but it is almost always because the pseudoscience behind the misinformation fits snugly into their belief system and that suits them.

Whether it be the idea that the EMF meter in your hand whining or lighting up means that a ghost is near you, or the notion that the noise caught on the Dictaphone in an empty, locked room is the voice of a ghost – people seem to grasp onto these unproven and sometimes illogical ideas because it suits them. I should know, I used to be one of the mass misinformed.

This is what I usually refer to as the first type of a haunting with a motive – the motive being to back up your own personal ideas, theories and beliefs in ghosts and an afterlife. Now obviously holding onto pseudoscientific ideas about ghosts, the afterlife and the dead is fine if it’s in your own home but the problem with ghost hunters is that they want to find ghosts in the well known ghostly hangouts and so end up conducting their “vigils” and their “paranormal investigations” in local haunted hotspots. These hotspots tend to be people’s homes or businesses – or both. This then poses some big, fat juicy ethical problems because suddenly the situation goes from being silly ghost people fooling themselves to silly ghost people misinforming the public and potentially scaring them silly.

I’m not over exaggerating either because people do get genuinely scared. Just this year I have visited two locations to research the apparent haunting to find that the owners or staff are petrified to be there when it gets dark because of what other paranormal teams have told them. One home owner for example, was told that a demon spirit was haunting her and that this demon spirit had been a rapist and murderer in his lifetime. Oh, and he liked her daughter’s bedroom which is exactly what a single mother wants to hear. The other case was a historic public house where the staff were told by a medium and a “sensitive” that a murderer lurked in their gloomy cellars; one team even went as far as to cut their “investigation” short because they were too scared by what their “sensitive” was picking up to stay. This is a really lovely thing to tell the person who lives on those premises. Not.

It took some serious talking on my part to try and convince these people that they weren’t in danger in their own homes and businesses and that they had been grossly misinformed. I’m not overly sure they believed me either, but at least I tried I guess.

However sorry you might feel for location owners across the UK who are harassed by ghost hunting teams it’s probably important that I point out that not all location owners are the victims because some locations have caught on to the fact that where there are supposed ghosts, there is money to be made from tours, ghost walks and even charging ghost hunting teams to ‘rent’ out the property to conduct their “investigations.”

There is no harm in this most of the time because as far as I am concerned if people are going to pay £100+ to rent a location so they can chase the alleged ghosts that roam there then that’s their choice. A lot of locations that do charge normally have charity funding or are listed buildings and the money goes to the upkeep of some of our country’s most historic monuments and buildings and I think that’s really grand.

However, a line is crossed when the alleged ghosts turn out to be landlords with a dark side to their humour trying to get one over on some silly ghost hunters.

Let me explain, you see, a few years ago our team were given permission to enter ‘The ghost train’ pub about an hour away from where we are based. The reports of activity were so amazing that we didn’t care about the distance. However, part way through our time at the location a group of researchers were in a two storey out –building on the upper floor when suddenly the sound of smashing glass came from the floor below them. Upon rushing down to investigate they found the drunken landlord wedged behind the door, trying to stay out of sight. He’d thought that perhaps we’d be so impressed with the apparent ‘poltergeist’ activity that we’d call Yvette Fielding and her camera crew into his pub and he’d get rich from it. We weren’t impressed and we didn’t call Yvette Fielding (I like the idea that all ghost research teams have her on speed-dial or something.)

Another location springs to mind that had featured on Most Haunted in the past that, upon being visited by our team, was revealed to us by the weary owner not to be haunted at all. Apparently the whole story had been made up by a local amateur historian and medium so that they could make money from ghost tours and renting the place out to teams like ours. Needless to say, we were not impressed considering we had just handed her £100. I think this story sums up another kind of motive for being haunted. Ker-ching!

Another motive is quite an obvious one, and it’s the one that is the most difficult to deal with because handled incorrectly it could really upset the people involved. We’ve all lost somebody we care for and we’ve all experienced the pain of mourning them. Some people go through the mourning process and, although never the same for their loss, they gradually develop the ability to carry on with their lives as normal. Some people can’t do this and start attributing the most random of occurrences to the idea that they are being haunted by their loved one. Normally these occurrences are glaringly obvious coincidences (when we are approached by somebody who believes they are haunted we insist they keep a diary of what is happening for at least two weeks and the patterns do start to emerge quite early on.) However, try to point out to the person involved that there’s nothing to the things that are happening and they won’t always agree because the idea that their loved one is with them, giving them signs that they’re still around is more comforting to them than the idea that they’re not.

I think it’s fair to say that if you are, like me, a paranormal researcher who has looked past the thrilling top layer of ghost hunting and has seen the swirling mass of confusion and problems that lies beneath it’s clear to see that ghost hunting isn’t just about ghosts, and getting scared in the dark. It’s about people and their emotions and how fragile they are; which is scary considering the field of paranormal research is completely unregulated. Scary, huh?


How not to be a ghost hunter

Recently The Sun newspaper ran a piece called ‘A Ghost Hunters Guide’

It touched upon the fact that “wanna-be” ghost hunters can pay to go on a course with Ciaran O’Keefe and Steve Parsons that will teach them how to investigate the paranormal. However, the article left me scratching my head a bit and wondering if the tips in the article had come from Ciaran and Steve, and if they had, why.

Lets take a look at the tips the paper provided, I’ve written them in bold with my thoughts in normal font beneath each one.

Tip #1 – Take warm clothes. Ever tried sitting outside all night? As ghosts usually turn up in the most obscure, inhospitable places, warm clothes, food and drink are key to getting through the night. Don’t warm up with whisky though – you don’t want to miss the action by passing out.
In my opinion, and from what I’ve witnessed and investigated over the years this isn’t true at all. Yes, you should wrap up warm and take food and drink if you’re going to be at a location for a long amount of time. However ghosts don’t usually “turn up in the most obscure, inhospitable places” at all. That’s where the ghost stories turn up because those sorts of places tend to look more spooky and scary.
Although I’ve visited such locations in the past, a majority of the locations that I have investigated have been modern buildings and homes that don’t fit the ‘haunted building’ cliche that thrill seekers tend to love.

Tip #2 – Take a torch. Fumbling around in the dark will not look good, and having a torch can offer some welcome reassurance should you get a little nervy.

Although some people do witness what they believe to be a ghost in the dark, a lot of ghosts are seen during daylight hours – or with the lights on. The idea that you have to sit in the dark to see a ghost is silly and simply deprives you of your senses. Sitting in the dark, you are more likely to interpret something quite mundane as spooky. One thing that has come to amuse me greatly over the years is the habit some investigation teams have of visiting locations at night time when the ghost they are supposed to be looking for has been seen during the day. That makes no sense at all unless you’re doing it purely for the thrill of the hunt.

Tip #3 – take a voice recorder. For all those baffling and unexplained noises. Ghost hunters often play back recordings at home, only to hear whispers or threats they didn’t hear at the time. Spooky stuff.
Yes, it can be spooky to play back a recording and hear a supposed voice that you didn’t hear at the time. However, any open minded investigator would know that it’s impossible to rule out every possible logical explanation for the recording and that it can’t be classed as paranormal because of this.
For more information about the logical causes of such recordings visit my research teams article on the topic by clicking here.
Tip #4 – Take a camera. Many an eerie figure has been snapped on camera.Plus you want something to take home and show your mates.

Tip #5 – Take something to do! Sitting staring into the same gloomy spot for hour after hour can be a pretty mind numbing experience.Stay awake by flicking through a magazine, a book or the newspaper.

If any member of my investigation team was caught doing this, they know how I would feel about it. Paranormal research is a very boring thing to take part in. It does involve sitting around in rooms and buildings for hours on end with nothing happening. However, a paranormal researcher should be alert at all times and should be aware of their surroundings and what is going on. By sitting down with a book or a magazine you’re going to be distracting yourself from what it is you are meant to be studying and you will be defeating your objectives. It does get boring at times, and this is why some teams schedule in breaks so that people can go and get something to eat or drink and take a break from the long, sometimes boring study sessions.
Final tip – Despite what Bruce Willis and The Exorcist may have taught you, a sixth sense and prayers are not essential.

This is probably the only piece of advice given in The Sun article that I fully agree with and funnily enough it’s the only piece they weren’t trying to be serious with. *sigh*

It’s probably pointless me trying to rationalise something that The Sun has written because they can be described as ‘an easy target.’ The fact is though that this newspaper and website is read by hundreds – if not thousands of people, and some of those people will accept the above tips as genuine. There are already a multitude of groups out there who use pseudoscientific techniques (and even completely barmy spirutual technqiues) to investigate apparent paranormal phenomena, we don’t need even more being created through the sharing of shoddy ghost hunting tips.