In the past decade or so, an explosion of high tech has changed how paranormal investigations are conducted. Many investigators have spent thousands of dollars outfitting themselves with an array of gear such as motion detectors, thermal cameras, night vision goggles, electromagnetic field meters, electronic voice phenomena (EVP) devices and more. Does all this gear make a difference?
The answer is both yes and no. Sophisticated gear has the potential to capture anomalous data – but it is not foolproof and not guaranteed. Paranormal phenomena are elusive and not entirely of this dimension. The investigator who relies solely on equipment is likely to miss a lot of the action.
In fact, the very best tool for paranormal investigation is your own body. Your five senses and your skin can register far more than most pieces of expensive gear, and your own inborn sixth sense, or gut instinct, will give you more information than a readout from a meter.
Up to the late twentieth century, paranormal investigation techniques were heavily based on personal observation, witness interviews, photography, and simple measurements of physical properties, such as temperature, humidity, and so forth.
The Society for Psychical Research in London, founded in the late nineteenth century, established guidelines for investigations, with effects divided into five classifications: 1) unaccountable movement of objects; 2) unaccountable noises (including voices and music) and smells; 3) apparitions, mysterious lights and shadows; 4) unaccountable touches, pushes and feelings of heat and cold; and 5) feelings of fear, horror, disgust, and of unseen presences. These basics haven’t changed much. Note that two of the five depend on feelings, not equipment.
Paranormal activity registers most commonly on the senses with tactile sensations, smells and sounds that cannot be accounted for naturally. You may feel touched or have your clothing tugged by something unseen, or feel unusual cold spots or breezes. Smells and sounds may relate to a ghost of the past: a person who wore a distinctive perfume; the sounds of a battle; and so on.
Visual apparitions actually are the least likely paranormal experience, but nonetheless many people do see ghosts and spectral entities. Usually the vision is extremely short, though some ghosts look flesh-and-blood and are seen for minutes rather than seconds. If you have a visual impression, do not dismiss it right away as imagination. Instead, validate it when you can by comparing notes with others who may be present, or by researching what others have experienced at the site in the past.
Tip: You can train your “ghost vision” by practicing looking into space or the distance without focusing on any particular object. Pay attention to what comes into view in your peripheral vision. The same principle applies to looking at faint objects through a telescope. They disappear when you attempt to look directly at them, but pop out when vision is averted.
Mental impressions are not unusual in paranormal investigation. When you are tuned in to the haunted environment, you may “know” or “see” in your mind something related to the haunting.
If you have no high-tech gear, or find yourself in a haunted place without it, you can still gather a great deal of information with your own senses. In addition, the camera on your cell phone can be used to take photos; I have seen some remarkable unexplained images captured this way.
I have gotten in the habit of carrying two tools with me at all times: a digital recorder, and a pendulum for dowsing. The recorder can be used to collect EVP (electronic voice phenomena) evidence. Ask questions such as, “Is there anyone who can communicate with me?” “What is your name?” and so on. Leave about ten seconds of silence, then ask another question. On playback, you may hear unknown voices answering your questions.
The pendulum is a great tool for obtaining yes-no answers to questions, and for detecting active spots and zones, and the hidden locations of objects. Pendulums are easy to use and they never fail, unlike high tech-gear that can mysteriously quit working during investigations.
I am not against the use of high-tech gear in investigations. In fact, I have quite a bit of it myself. But sometimes low-tech works just as well, and sometimes it works better. The thorough paranormal investigator should rely on both.
Granted, information that comes through your own senses is only anecdotal. However, most of our accumulated evidence of the paranormal is subjective and anecdotal. Investigators should, of course, strive for the capture of hard data – but the soft data should not be ignored.
Here are some other considerations of good investigations:
Characteristics of investigation
The good investigator must be an open-minded skeptic, and look first for all possible natural causes. These fall into two classes, mechanical and personal. Mechanical causes include machinery vibrations and lights, road noises, electromagnetic and electrical sources, and the like. Personal causes are people. For example, someone might unwittingly cause floorboards to creak and ascribe them to a ghost. Some people purposefully create trick phenomena.
Eliminating potential causes requires a thorough investigation of a site. Investigators should make more than one visit during both day and night to determine natural lights, shadows and noises. Maps should be consulted to show fault lines, power lines and underground streams, mines, tunnels, etc. that might be responsible.
Investigators also should do historical research, such as events recorded in newspapers, periodicals and government documents; geological conditions; and construction activity.
Three basic investigative techniques are used: description, experimentation and detection.
Description involves personal observation and taking eyewitness accounts. Witnesses should be interviewed separately to avoid influence upon one another’s accounts. In addition to details of the experience, witnesses should be asked to provide information about their circumstances, health and states of mind; previous knowledge, if any, of similar experiences; and any previous paranormal experiences or occult activities. Investigators must keep in mind that in the reconstruction of an experience, every witness may see the same experience quite differently.
Experimention involves bringing in a psychic or medium to see if his or her impressions tally with those of the eyewitnesses, and to mark a floorplan of the house or building to show spots where hauntings occurred, based upon their sensations of cold spots and clairvoyant impressions. Opinions vary concerning the use of mediums. Some investigators consider them unreliable and prefer to base investigators solely upon equipment data. However, psychics and mediums can provide details and information that can be researched in records.
Detection technique involves such procedures as securing rooms and objects to test their disturbance, and setting up electronic surveillance equipment. Simpler detection methods are the spreading of flour, salt or powder on surfaces to see if they are disturbed. Equipment readings can help to validate anecdotal reports. For example, an extreme cold spot in a haunted room might be documented with hard data.