This Article has been featured in Old House Journal and in a variety of online sources in abbreviated versions! It's also been imitated and copied many times -- but this is the original article, updated by the author!
Thanks to the type of work that I do, I meet people on what seems an almost weekly basis who have (or claim to have) a ghost in their house. These otherworldly encounters may not be occurring at the present time, or may have happened in a house where they used to live, but they assure me that strange things did, or do, occur at the place they inhabit.
Perhaps even more
frequent than these chance, fact-to-face encounters are the phone calls
and email messages that I receive from people who also claim to be going
through the same predicament. All manner of strangeness may be reported
and on many occasions, the callers and correspondents will ask what they
should do about their uninvited and often spooky guests. Should they move out? Should they stay? Should they
talk to the specters or ignore them? What is the best thing to do in this
situation? And most of all, should they contact a ghost hunter to come in
an investigate? First of all, let me say that over the years that I
have been involved in ghosts and ghost research, the vast majority of the
cases that I have been involved in have perfectly natural explanations.
These explanations may not be immediately realized, but they can be
discovered. Of course, that is not to say that I have not been involved in
some cases that did puzzle me and which did leave me feeling that (based
on the witness accounts and my own research) the location really was
First of all, let me say that over the years that I have been involved in ghosts and ghost research, the vast majority of the cases that I have been involved in have perfectly natural explanations. These explanations may not be immediately realized, but they can be discovered. Of course, that is not to say that I have not been involved in some cases that did puzzle me and which did leave me feeling that (based on the witness accounts and my own research) the location really was haunted.
As the witness to a series of what could be ghostly events, you (the reader this article is aimed at) have to first determine whether or not you think the odd happenings in your house (or business, theater, etc.) are natural or supernatural. In order to do this, you should try and relax and be a good observer. Even if you are scared by what you have seen or heard (or what someone else has seen) you have to give the occurrences some rational thought. Could those “phantom footsteps” have been simply the house settling or the floorboards creaking? Could that “cold chill” have been merely a draft? Could the “ghost” that you saw out of the corner of the eye have been nothing more than a trick of the light?
Maybe the events have explanations, or maybe they don’t. Believe me, I know that it’s easy to let your imagination get away from you. All it might take are a few harmless comments to someone else in the house and before long, you have a “haunted house” made to order! Here’s how that works:
Let’s say that you and your family just moved into an old house in a neighborhood in your town. You don’t know anything about the history of the house but unknown to you, a family of mice lives quite comfortably in the cellar. One night, you wake up and hear strange noises coming from under the floor. Since you don’t know that the sounds are caused by the mice, you jump to the conclusion that the house is haunted. Of course, it’s not haunted... but that’s not the point. What is important is that you think the house is haunted! In fact, you get quite caught up in the idea and begin to think that every bump and creak that you hear is something ghostly. An odd reflection or a curtain moving in the wind might even look like a ghost. Combine all of these things together and you have a haunted house on your hands!
At this point, you have come to believe that you have a haunted house with bumps, rappings, ghostly footsteps and even apparitions that roam the hallways. It’s not long before your family begins to pick up on your fears, either consciously or unconsciously, and they also begin hearing the “unexplainable” sounds and seeing the resident “ghost”.
You can see why it might be easy to feed off one another’s fears and literally “invent” a haunted house. That’s why I try to ask the people who contact me to step back for a moment and try to look at the events they describe to me as a skeptic. I ask them to try and consider some other possibilities for the events besides supernatural ones. Sometimes this can be done and sometimes it can’t. I never tell the witness that their house cannot be haunted! Obviously, there is no way that I can know that and for several reasons:
1. I was not present at the time the reported events
What I am trying to do at this point is to simply assist the witness in looking at what they feel is a supernatural event in another manner. As a witness, you should not take offense at this. In fact, you should welcome the skepticism of the investigator. A legitimate investigator will not accuse you of lying but he will also not immediately accept your story as fact, based on the idea that he really has very little evidence to work from at this time. It is not that he doesn’t believe you, but only that he is keeping an open mind to everything, including the idea that the house may not be haunted. This is the sort of investigator that you should be looking for... not the one who immediately accepts your story at face value. This is a sure sign of inexperience with real cases and one best to be avoided.
However, at this point, I may have gotten ahead of myself a little bit. As mentioned already, it is best for the homeowner to try and determine for themselves if the possible ghostly activity has some natural cause. In many cases, if they do contact an investigator, that investigator may try and suggest some natural causes for the activity and it would be best to try and rule that out ahead of time. You might save yourself some embarrassment down the line, although a good investigator would never try to make you feel silly for some misidentified happenings.
Another thing that I recommend doing is to try and keep a log or a journal of any activity that occurs in the house. This will be extremely helpful and as a rule, I always suggest it to people who contact me about their possible haunting. It’s a great way to not only recall the events while they are fresh in your mind (so you don’t have to try and remember them for the first time in a later interview) but also to see if a pattern of activity exists. The determination of such a pattern would be extremely helpful to an investigator. It could show a natural cause for the activity (such as a furnace kicking on or a nearby fright train passing by) or might make it possible (if the activity turns out to be real) to decide when might be the best time for a paranormal investigation to take place. Obviously, if it looks like the ghostly events are occurring at a certain time (or day), then this would be the time the ghost hunter and his team would want to be present.
When you are compiling your journal or logbook, here are a few things that you want to be sure to include:
1. Note the exact time and date when the activity
The journal will be an invaluable piece of research if an investigator comes to call and it will go a long way in establishing evidence about the haunting in your home.
Now that you have been able to try and rule out natural explanations for the events in your house and perhaps have even kept a log of the weird things that occurred, you have to decide what you want to do next. Admittedly, many witnesses will not have gotten this far with their own research. Many people are frightened by what is going on and very few of them understand it. The fact that (if you think your house is haunted) you have gone as far as to read this article is something you should be commended for. People are frightened by the unknown and by things that they don’t understand. I should tell you though, that in all of the years that I have been involved in ghost research, I have never run across anything that I would consider to be “evil” or “demonic”. Yes, I have run across some cases that are outside of the norm, and were certainly strange, but they were not “demons” disguised as ghosts! Despite what some people would have you believe, the cases of people actually being hurt by ghosts are very, very rare. There is an extremely remote chance that you have anything at all to be afraid of, so try and relax and keep your eyes and ears open to any other developments.
At this point, you have a choice of what to do next. You can either learn to live with the novelty of a ghost in your house, or you can get in touch with a legitimate ghost researcher to help you understand it better. You may also decide that you can’t abide the idea of sharing your house with a ghost and we’ll talk about what you can do about that later. Even if you decide that you want to “get rid of” the ghost, it’s likely that an investigation team would need to determine the veracity and extent of the haunting first.
This leads up to you getting in touch with a qualified ghost hunter, who can come into your home and determine what sort of activity is taking place. This is not as easy as it sounds! There are literally hundreds of websites on the internet that claim to be affiliated with paranormal research and it would seem that you have scores of ghost hunters to choose from. Unfortunately, this is not the case. Once you discard the inactive groups who still have websites, the “wanna-be” ghost hunters who offer all sorts of services and yet have never actually done a real investigation and the ones who think that wandering around in cemeteries with cameras makes them “researchers”... you don’t have near as many to choose from as it first appeared!
Here’s some information though that may help when it comes to actually choosing a ghost hunter to do an investigation at your location:
1. Make sure they offer a phone number. While there is nothing wrong with making contact through email, make sure that the group or ghost hunter you are contacting offers a phone number where they can be reached. This does not insure credibility but it does at least rule out the wishful ghost hunters who are living in their parent’s basement! In many cases (as with the American Ghost Society), larger organizations may not offer the phone numbers of their area investigators but they should offer a main number where information can be given out.
2. Make sure that the contact information on the ghost hunter’s website lists a first and last name of the persons who are actually doing the investigations. If they are listed by their first names only, then it’s likely that they are not serious investigators but rather more wishful ghost hunters looking for thrills.
3. Try and determine from the website if the investigators are someone that you would like to have in your home. Remember, the website is the method of advertising that they chose to offer their services through and if the site is questionable, the ghost hunters are likely to be as well. Anyone can put up a website but the quality of the material on it will speak volumes about who is behind it.
4. Avoid ghost hunters who dabble in magic, the occult or offer “magical cleansings” of homes. All of these things are the ghost hunter’s own business ( and on their own time!) but should not in any way be a part of a legitimate investigation. If anything like this appears on the website, move on. And be sure to ask about this when you speak to the person on the phone because solid researchers will not employ these methods.
5. Legitimate ghost hunters will not charge for their services. If you are asked to pay for an investigation, then you should look for something else. Only services that produce concrete and tangible results are worthy of payment and paranormal research is too unpredictable for that. In most cases, very little may occur in an investigation and no one should be expected to pay for that. It should be noted however that if the ghost researcher is expected to travel (especially overnight) to reach your location, it should be expected for you to offer that person reimbursement for their expenses.
6. Remember that legitimate ghost hunters will come to your home by invitation. If you are contacted and are asked if an investigation can be conducted in your home, quickly decline. Trustworthy ghost hunters don’t go where they are not wanted! This may not be the case in public locations though, so if you are involved with a location that has a reputation for being haunted, you may be contacted by someone. At that point, you should simply judge the researcher on his merits.
7. Once you believe you have found an investigator that you are comfortable with, you need to check his qualifications for an investigation. Ask how long he has been involved in paranormal research and about investigations in the past, especially those involving private residences. If he claims to be some sort of “doctor”, ask where this certification may have come from. Just because he chooses to pay for a questionable “doctorate” from an internet university, does not make him qualified to interact with people. Believe it or not, many ghost hunters have never conducted an investigation in a home (no matter how experienced they seem) and you have to decide if you are comfortable with this person starting out in your house. They may turn out to be great investigators, but you have to decide if you want to be their first one!
8. Also ask the researcher if they are affiliated with a research group or a national organization. Just because they are not does not make them less legitimate, however being affiliated with a group that has a good reputation can help you make a decision about allowing the researcher into your home. You can also get in touch with the main number for the group and check this person out before working with him.
Just remember though, once you have decided on the person that you want to contact, you have to be patient when requesting help. Although there are people out there claiming to be legitimate and charging large sums of money to “bust your ghost”, genuine researchers do not charge for investigations, being more interested in collecting evidence. Because of this, there can be a shortage of funding for most people involved and witnesses are often asked to wait until the investigator can be freed from his “real job”.
Once you have a ghost hunter to work with, they will need to determine if an on-site investigation of your home is needed. They will do this by asking a lot of questions and by referring to information that I mentioned you should gather earlier in this article. They will need to know that you have already tried to rule out natural explanations for the phenomena and perhaps even that you have compiled dates and times for the reported events.
Should the researcher then decide that an investigation of the house is warranted, then prepare to be invaded! Even though legitimate research groups will consist of no more than 5-6 individuals, a good team can seem like many more. An investigation can be very invasive and there will be photographs taken of the house and hundreds of feet of video shot. The investigators will ask you to describe the events that occurred (perhaps several times) and your statement will be recorded. They will ask you dozens of questions and many of them will seem unconnected and perhaps even embarrassing. Bear with them however, because the questions do have a purpose and the investigators will be working to try and not only legitimize your story but also to try and determine if the reported activity is real.
Here are some things that you should be aware of when it comes to legitimate paranormal investigations:
1. The investigating team should be no more than 5-6 people in your home. If the group is larger than this, then they have no idea what they are doing and should be questioned by you.
2. The investigators should not be drinking or smoking at any time.
3. Remember that they should arrive at your home with healthy skepticism. No one is trying to debunk your reports but have to keep an open mind to all possibilities. Good investigators must remain non-committal until they have had a chance to gather their evidence.
4. Make sure that the investigators seem to know how to use all of their equipment. If there is anything that you don’t understand, be sure to ask them to explain what it is used for. If they cannot, you may have a problem.
5. Unless the investigation was set up through you with a local television station or newspaper, the investigators should not be accompanied to your home with a reporter or media person. This should never occur without your permission! The investigators are duty-bound to keep all aspects of your case confidential unless they have your permission to disclose anything.
6. As mentioned already, the investigators should be able to explain to you what they are doing and don’t be afraid to ask. If there is anything that you want to know or need to information to feel comfortable, a legitimate researcher will give it to you. Just remember that any natural explanations that are discovered that might show the “haunting” has nothing to do with ghosts should be properly explained. This is not an indictment against your honesty, so don’t be offended. You asked this person in to give you an honest opinion and you have to be prepared to accept it.
7. You can also help by making sure that everyone who experienced anything unusual is present on the night of the investigation and that you keep out friends and relatives who want to come over to watch the proceedings. This can be very distracting to you and the to the investigators and can interfere with an accurate investigation.
8. Also remember that if you become uncomfortable with what is going on at any point in the investigation, you have the absolute right to call a halt to everything. The investigators are present at your request and are “guests” in your home. They should be given the respect that such a title signifies, but they also have to respect your feelings and fears as well.
As the investigation continues in your home, the team members will divide up their duties and while you are being thoroughly interviewed, other investigators will be filming and mapping the house, taking photos and looking for any anomalies with their equipment. They will likely ask you to show them where any odd happenings took place and may ask you to recreate what you were doing when they occurred.
If the phenomena that you have reported occurs on a regular basis, or has a set pattern, the investigators may want to conduct a vigil or “ghost watch”. This means that they will set up themselves and their gear in hopes that the activity might occur again. This can be a long process and can be very boring for you and the investigators. At this point, you may want to consider going (quietly) about your activities and to let them work.
You may have noticed in this article that I mentioned several times that activity rarely occurs during the investigation. In some cases it does though, and this can be exciting for everyone involved. However, in most cases (if the investigator has determined that there seems to be a strong possibility that the reported phenomena is genuine) a follow-up investigation will be required. This usually means a return visit that will be much less “painless” than the first, as the initial groundwork has already been laid.
It should be stressed that a legitimate researcher will always follow up on a case. If you do not hear from him, and the phenomena persists, then call him yourself. Don’t be afraid to get in touch with him and ask him to come back.
The information that has come before has been mostly geared to the witness who has experienced something out of the ordinary and while not completely frightened by it, is curious enough to contact someone who can tell them more. Truthfully, I have worked more often with this type of person than any other. They aren’t necessarily afraid of the activity they have reported, but are bothered by it to the point that they decided to seek some help.
This is not always the case though. As a witness, you may call in a researcher to decide whether or not your house is truly haunted and once you realize that something is actually happening (and that others are seeing it too!), you may want to call the proceedings to a halt. This can happen when the witness is afraid of making the ghost “angry” and you may decide that you want to just leave well enough alone, who knows? Some witnesses also may decide that they want to get rid of the ghost and if this happens to you, the investigators that you have contacted have no choice but to go along with your wishes.
But unless the investigator is a psychic (and I don’t recommend contacting a psychic for your investigation unless they are accompanied by a legitimate team to back up their findings), they will not be equipped to get rid of the ghosts that may be haunting your house. Most ghost hunters are merely investigators. We do not talk to ghosts and we don’t see them around every corner. If we are going to be able to help you, we are going to have to contact an outside source.
Let me reassure you again though that ghosts are not present to hurt anyone and in almost every case, a family can peacefully coincide with a spirit. Obviously though, not everyone wants that and some even insist that the ghost itself would be better off passing on to wherever we go at the time of death. In this case, the ghost hunter should be proactive in helping you with your wishes.
If you have a family minister, the ghost hunter will likely suggest that you get in touch with this person and ask them to come to the house and to pray for the soul of the spirit that is present. This is not an “exorcism” but simply an attempt to get the ghost to leave in peace. It can be of great benefit to you and your family as well.
If a willing minister is not available, then the ghost hunter should be able to suggest or find an expert in getting rid of ghosts. They may not be a professional medium or psychic but someone who is sensitive to spirits and who has a good reputation. It should be someone the ghost hunter has either worked with before or someone who was referred through a legitimate source. There is usually a complete lack of ceremony with this type of person as they are not a phony psychic or exorcist. They are likely going to want to look over the location and sit down and talk with you before proceeding.
Remember though to beware of any medium that tries to pump you for too much information up front! It is obviously more legitimate if this person can gather impressions that match the information you already have. If they come up with weird things that you have not experienced and seem to be making things up out of thin air, they most likely are!
If an authentic medium detects a spirit that is present, they will try and convince it to move on. How effective is this? It’s hard to say. It has been my experience that sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t. It usually has a positive effect on the house though, no matter what else it does. I often get calls from people who ask for this service but in my years in the paranormal field, I have found very few people that I can recommend as someone trustworthy enough to be given this assignment. They are out there though and if you request it, the ghost hunter you work with should do all they can to get you in touch with them.
In closing, I hope that this article has been worthwhile for you and has provided you with some of the essential information that you need in order to find a legitimate ghost hunter. I always say that ghost hunting has several goals. Not only is the ghost hunter seeking evidence of ghosts, but he is also there to help the person who called him in to investigate the case. It is the ghost hunter’s main responsibility to alleviate the fears of the witness and to help them deal with the activity they are experiencing. The witness should never be shut out of the investigation but should be treated with the utmost respect .. for man always fears what he does not understand.
If you are experiencing a haunting and have been thinking of contacting a ghost hunter, then I hope that you now know what to expect from this experience. In some small way, I hope that this knowledge can contribute to the end of people being taken advantage of by the questionable and inexperienced ghost hunters who are out there. A little knowledge can go a long way and now that you know what to look for, you can avoid the problems that so many have encountered in the past. Good luck!
© Copyright 2008 by Troy Taylor. All Rights Reserved.