So... you want to get into ghost research?
A lot of people, especially during the warmer months, get the urge to track down and check out haunts. A lot of them, too, want to get into the real "cool" stuff or have "cool" experiences and you know what? That's *cool*...
We get a few e-mails each spring and summer asking for advice and, more often than not, addresses for the reports we have online. We also get a lot of e-mails from people that write and complain that they set up a website and don't get any submissions and people are not breaking down their door to ask them to come out and look at their haunt.
This article is a simple one... If you read it carefully, it will help you establish an excellent research group and it could be considered, more or less, the "secret of our success"!
First thing's first though... Simply putting a website up and stating "We're now looking for hauntings to investigate" will probably get you nowhere in a big hurry. People, like yourselves, surf websites for content. They want to see or read something. Information is key! So, start off by not just "announcing" your breaking into ghost hunting or, as we prefer, ghost research. (I avoid the term "hunting" because the Ontario Ministry of Game, Wildlife and Ghosts have limited the number of ghosts you can bag to four per season. Also, being caught without a license is a damnedably expensive fine!) but start off by thinking, and more importantly, writing (typing) down what you yourself want to do. Do you want to try and look for proof? Do you simply want to 'chronicle' (write about) experiences? Are you interested in speaking to witnesses? Figure all this out. It'll help.
About the above comments about "Ghost Licenses"... There is *NO* such thing and there are no certificates or other 'documents' necessary to do this! Heck, there isn't even an accredited, recognized course from any school, university, college or other educational resource that can make someone an "official" parapsychologist, psychic researcher or whatever in Canada. Also, needless to say, there is no government "ghost" office... of any sort. For "legitimate" courses offered worldwide for Parapsychology check this list:
The Rhine Research Center, the successor of J. B. Rhine's parapsychology lab at Duke University, NC. (USA) does offer an '8 Week Training Course'
Franklin Pierce College, NH. (USA) offers undergrad studies in Parapsychology
Goldsmith's College (part of the University of London) in England (UK) Parapsychology Doctorate Available
University of Hertfordshire, Hatfield, England (more appropriately, The Parrott-Warrick Research Unit of that institution) (UK) Parapsychology Doctorate Available
University of Edinburgh in Scotland has The Koestler Parapsychology Unit - Parapsychology Doctorate Available
Of course, there's the SPR and ASPR (Society for Psychical Research in England and the American Society for Psychical Research in the US) which are long running and, for the most part, accepted "expert" groups in the realm of parapsychology.
Next, give up a couple of notions. Ghost research is *not* like living out 'Buffy the Vampire Slayer' or 'The X-Files' in real life. Sorry, it's just not that exciting, but it can be very interesting. To this end, some ghost hunters/investigators/whatever like to issues themselves I.D. or "badges" to say that *they* are wonderfully qualified ghost people. Now, this is a personal thing but c'mon! As I said above, there's no government certificates or licenses and no courses or classes that are absolutely essential and most normal people out there can see through a phoney badge or I.D. card in a second... It also tells those of us in the field that you have a lot of time to design cards and badges and therefore have little time for actual study or work. Business cards, plain and simple, are far more effective. My suggestion is put your name on the card, your e-mail address and website (if you have one) address. Phone numbers and "snail mail" addresses can come back to haunt you (forgive the pun) if distributed... People who find them sometimes feel a 3am phone call or visit to your home is *not* a silly idea!
Sort of related to all of the above is "phony credentials". Some people think that in order to impress folks, you need a fancy title so, they go to those wonderful internet sites like The Universal Life Church which, online and for free, will grant you the title of "Reverend" in their church. Hey, they'll even sell you "doctorates" for about $50 USD! So, for about ten minutes of your time, no knowledge required and $50 American, you too can be a "Reverend Doctor" with ZERO effort and ZERO legitimate work! Problem with this is, if you get caught calling yourself a "Doctor" or even saying you've "studied" with the ULC, many people see right through this and as opposed to gaining credibility, you'll lose it instantly. *If* (and that's a big "if") you feel the need for titles, especially academic ones, EARN THEM the old fashioned way... Go to school (a REAL one... an accredited, non-profit, post-secondary institution) either that or just be honest! People, if they see your serious and working hard, won't care too much about the superfluous letters after your name. Most people are more impressed with knowledge and work ethic than with bogus credentials or, as stated, silly badges and certificates.
Okay, on to content... Like I said, people look for information online. They want to see something other than "Boy Are We Gonna Be Cool Ghost Hunters One Day" pages. How do you get good content without submissions?
It's easier than you think...
First of all, don't be afraid to look through websites (like our own) and get some ideas of places to visit and write about yourself. There's no harm in that. A great quote is "To steal work from one source is plagiarism. From many, it's research." This does not mean you copy verbatim someone else's work, but you find "x" place, read what that researcher/investigator/ghost hunter/whatever had to say about it. See if anyone else has done work on it. A websearch will help that. Next, *read*! Get some books on the site... ghost books are fine but histories of the place may help you get information that may be missing from the other website's pages. A library card is a "good" thing as is, occasionally, spending a few bucks at the good old bookstores.
Next, visit the place and if you can, take photos.
It is important to realise is that any place is *not* probably going to invite you in to visit "after dark when it's all cool and stuff" until you've established a working relationship with the site. That means, go in when it's okay. Talk to people and don't force your ghostly things at them. If the person you're speaking to downplays the "ghost stories", ask them why? What makes them think there's nothing to these stories? Don't be nasty, just ask! Tell them, if you're building a website, that you want to know their non-believer side of the story as well as the "ghostly" stuff. You want to set the record straight and allow everyone from believer to non-believer to have their thoughts conveyed.
Of course, as a good researcher, you have to be open to the fact that, occasionally, there ain't much to certain "ghostly" reports and it goes to your credibility to occasionally say "Nope, nuthin' there as far as I can tell and believe", but remember, back that statement up! To simply say "That place *is* or *isn't* haunted because I say so!" is not really a good argument and makes you seem like you're flogging (pushing) your own agenda in which case you might as well bill yourself as "My Own Ideas and Concepts - Screw Yours - About YOUR Ghost(s) And YOUR Experiences". Ooo, baby! Can't wait to read that site! It'll tell me a lot... about you. Too bad it ignores me or, worse yet, the witness that might be looking for help or information.
Next, remember the old adage... "The Living Must Come First". This means, be respectful of witness testimony and, if someone says "I don't want to talk about this.", remind them you will not report their name or personal information if they don't want and, if you're presenting their findings, you will not give out information that they are not comfortable with you using. You might read this last part and go "Oh man! Then what can I use?" Well, how about "We spoke to one person at 'x' place and they really do/don't believe in the stories." Good enough for most people! Next, remember if this is a private place, if you give out the address or name, you could be inviting bad researchers/hunters/investigators or whatever to "visit" the place. This is not you trying to suppress their right to investigate but there are those who, for the cheap thrill, will break and enter, vandalize or worse if they think it would be "fun". You must assume some responsibility for these folks and do your best to prevent, if it's a private residence or business, people being idiots based on your findings.
Also, if the witness you're interviewing really doesn't want to discuss things, keep in mind, they may have excellent reasons to not talk to you and you should respect their wishes and move on.
This is why, in all our editorials and "how to" documents, we strongly recommend starting in daytime with public places... museums, historic sites... that people may already know about, but maybe you can get an interview or talk to the staff for either new information or even, a new experience on the site. It's really the best place(s) to start your work.
One hopes we don't need to cover the concept of trespassing, but since people get confused between the differences of "paranormal investigation" and "urban exploration" which are, as proven chapter and verse, mutually exclusive pursuits, I'd like to touch on this here.
I ask anyone who thinks you need (to be looking for ghosts) to be a horses @ss and trespass or break into a site for a cheap thrill to examine their motives. (Let's face it... think of all the "ghost hunters" that go to cemeteries late at night to "find" ghosts even though they have no reports from there... They "justify" their acts as being "paranormal investigators" which is frankly incompetent and ridiculous. How about those that assume every abandoned home is "haunted" and smash through a window or even go through an unguarded door to get some pics? Are they really there for ghosts or for their own cheap thrill? Honestly, most of us realise that it's the latter.)
If you really want to look into ghosts, then go to haunted places! Not places that you think are cool and LOOK haunted.
Also, and I cannot stress this enough, BE SAFE and ASK PERMISSION to be there. The worst anyone can say to you is "no".
You see, you might say "Well, if I get caught, big deal! It's just ME that's getting busted!", but no it isn't. You see, to those that catch you, they say "Wow! Look! One of those ghost weirdos breaking in to this place!" because you CANNOT expect average folk to know the difference between you and some other group or person.
"Ghost Weirdos" are "Ghost Hunters" are "Ghost Researchers" to most people that are not in The Field. Therefore, if YOU get caught, that person will be much less likely to allow ANYONE else near the site who is interested in ghosts... and for those that read this and went "So what? We've got our stuff!"... did you? What if I was the one who screwed it up for you by getting into trouble? What if it's that kid you saw on the message board? What if that kid trespassed on the "cool spot", got caught and that blew it for you? Also consider, what if the management of that site also managed a few other sites thus closing them off too???
And for those that claim "Personal Responsibility"... okay fine...
St Clair, Taylor, Gill and Oester, Auerbach, Holzer, Didier, Price, Lechniak and Cumerlato, Fodor, The Warrens and finally The Owens.
Do you recognize these names? What did you say first when you read through them? Did YOU (who we hope, is someone interested in The Field) say "Hey! That's a list of people involved within the field of paranormal research who are all separate and diverse and do their own things and although a couple of them are related to each other, for the most part, they are separate and divergent people who are responsible for their own activities"?
.....or did you say "That's a list of names of people involved with the paranormal"?
...and some of you expect other people, who are NOT in the field to know that all these people are totally unique individuals too?
Like it or not, the "ghost research" and/or "paranormal research" fields are communities... a little dysfunctional at times but none the less, communities. When one neighbor makes too much trouble, it reflects on us all... and maybe, food for thought, someone's ignorant behavior is reflecting on you...
To also put to rest one of the stupidest arguments I've heard... "Well, there were no signs saying No Trespassing so it must have been okay to go there!"... this is POPPYCOCK! Does your home have a "No Trespassing" sign in the front window or lawn? Does your office or workplace? Do most suburban homes? Does your doctor's office? Are there signs that say "No Murdering" and if those signs are not around, is killing okay then? In the eyes of the law, ignorance is no excuse. All property is OWNED by someone (public land is "owned" by the crown in Canada). Chances are, those owners do not want you wandering about their space or, even with public spaces that can be visited, they want you to adhere to scheduled hours and rules. To not do that and/or to not get permission is against the law and is a criminal act.
Now, with all this in mind, I won't decry "urban explorers" (mostly because I don't want that battle on my hands and to be honest, I personally think it's kind of cool, but SHHHHH!!! I didn't really just say that!), but if you're going to do ghostly investigations or research, DO NOT trespass or break-and-enter. In doing this, you're committing a crime and you're messing up EVERYONE else's chances of working at some sites... and they could be messing up your chances if someone follows suit.
You wanna be an urban explorer, fine, but PLEASE, don't say you're a paranormal researcher or investigator because, honestly, if you're breaking the law, you're not... in our's and MANY other's humble opinions.
Once you have a *few* of these together, then and only then will people start to say "Hey! This person/group is trustworthy! I can contact them!"
Now, a lot of people want to become paranormal researchers so that they can be on TV and whatnot... problem is, they seem to think that little or no work and no study will still get them there. One of the key things I personally look at when seeing a new ghost website is if they have a "Contact Me for Media Appearances" link or something like that. My question to them, which I never really ask is, "What have you done that warrants media attention?"
I understand that sometimes, to get your name or your group's name out there, media is a help, but shouldn't you *have* something to show them and to talk about first?
Also, listing your media credits loud and large makes people wonder if that's all you're interested in. Think about it this way... I'm a witness and there's weird stuff going on but I'm a bit shy. I look for help and Voila! I find you, but I notice that you're *really* interested in being on TV, the newspapers and the like. Do I think I can count on you to keep my personal information private?
My only other minor complaint, and this is more a personal one, is that there's a plethora of ghost websites where the members or whoever feel that their photo is more important than most things. C'mon, I didn't come to the site to see a shrine to YOU, I came for information and ideas about ghosts and hauntings. I'd rather "respect" you as a thinker and a worker than see a silly picture of you. Photos of a group are fine... in moderation. Also, if you must post a photo of yourself(ves), if you post that "gothy-dark" photo, what does that say... Sure, you're cool, but are you reliable? Can I come to you for help? This is not saying that you need to cut your hair short, don a lab coat and whatnot, it means, don't play up the "drama" of the photo... Again, if I'm a witness, I want a serious person who works. Not a cool, back-lit goth. I don't care what they look like personally, but I will swing towards the one's that don't feel the need for a media-friendly drama-pose.
Speaking of perceptions, there's a slew of "haunts" most of the new ghost folk visit that are questionable... In many, many articles, we cover why abandoned buildings and cemeteries are not great bastions of 'ghostly stuff'. Most real researchers and investigators agree with this... and, think about it... You're "big story" is how you committed a break and enter or took photos of a family grave site who you probably don't know and you're wondering why the world isn't beating a path to your door? Also, are you looking into a place because it might be or is likely to be haunted or because you *want* it to be haunted or, as said, just think it's cool? I've seen more than a few places where faux histories are made up and questionable findings listed as "proof" not because the site was or is haunted, but because some 'ghost hunter' is validating looking into the spot. This, in my opinion is tantamount to hoaxing.
Now, a "baker's dozen" of generic tips to avoid the pitfalls of being a 'ghost researcher'...
#1: A good researcher will rarely give their feelings on what a ghost is or isn't without a lot of proof one way or the other. Most of the people in the field have a hypothesis or concept, but it's important to remember, there really is no hard proof that ghost even exist. You can believe, but as a good researcher, you must be willing to listen to and accept alternative theories and ideas. If not, you're not really a researcher, investigator or hunter, you're a preacher. When asked if I "believe in ghosts", I respond with "I believe in ghostly phenomena because I have experienced things that are considered that personally and I don't have a good 'logical' explanation for it." If you state that you believe something about ghosts without question, you might be alienating someone who was about to report something to you because they don't subscribe to the same belief. Also, as stated, occasionally you will (and must!) debunk yourself! As a ghost researcher, you may occasionally find that the truth isn't so spooky and you must, on a case-by-case basis, accept that. It's hard, but you must stay impartial and look at all the evidence and remember, your pet theories and ideas may not jive with the facts. That's all part of learning and finding out the real answers.
#2: Don't assume everything you find is of enormous significance. How many people of late are now re-assessing their proof because they are deciding that orb photos may not be ghostly? How many people get a voice on a tape to find that it's radio signal bleed-through? It happens and it's okay to admit "Y'know, I thought this was a big find but..." That tells people you are capable of admitting fault and your findings will be accurate when given.
#3: Don't hoax... EVER! Despite the urge some have of making things more interesting, it may come back HARD on you. Personally, I will never knowingly help or work with anyone that's done an intentional hoax. How can I trust any of their findings? How can you? How do we know that their "wonderful proof" or evidence isn't more hoaxery? Answer, we don't so, most of the real researchers will simply stay away from people like that as if they had a dreaded disease. It's not worth risking our own credibility.
#4: Stealing work and ideas is bad. Oddly enough, referencing them and giving proper credit where credit is due is good. If you're doing an article on your findings and wish to quote someone else, drop them an e-mail. I've *never* been told "No! You can't use that!" by anyone provided I've given proper credit and a link or whatever back to the originator.
#5: Stay open minded. This does not *only* mean be a believer of the unbelievable, but be a listener and a student of those that don't believe. Take in *all* sides and extract what works. Sceptics (or, more appropriately, sceptdebunkers) have as valid a point to make as true believers. Information from non-believers can and often is important but again, take everything on a case-to-case basis. Many good researchers have mentioned to me that they believe the vast number of witnesses and investigators not only do not want to "find" the truth, but in many ways, do not *want* the truth... because it may not jive with their belief system. A good researcher who is impartial will only be interested in the truth... regardless. An open mind is truly open to belief and disbelief... not just only one side of the equation.
#6: READ THOROUGHLY! If nothing else, you should seem intelligent and well rounded. Reading a headline or the first paragraph of something may not shed the light you need on a subject. For example, on that "final orb article" I wrote, at the bottom of it, it openly says that although these are my thoughts, I recognize that they may not be everyone's. Also, it says *don't* send me your orb photos unless they meet this criteria. Oddly enough, literally hundreds of people sent me "standard" orb photos or simply said "You're wrong! @sshole!" without addressing one point in the article. I'm pleased to say that many folks I wrote to and said "please, re-read and then respond" did and weren't as "upset" by the article. Also, a "glancing read" of something *can* tell people you're not doing a thorough job of *that* so how can you be doing a thorough job of *this*? It's important to understand as much as possible and never be afraid to ask someone for help getting through an idea or concept. Reading and understanding are vital!
#7: Be your own worst enemy and re-check and re-think anything you put out as a finding or an article. You will have people questioning and arguing with you so make sure you back it up well. If what you're putting out is an opinion... even an educated one... make sure you make that *very* clear. It will avoid arguments down the line. You can say "That wasn't a statement of fact, that was an opinion and you can certainly disagree with me, but please, can you back up your thoughts? I'd like to learn more."
#8: Don't feel the need to join a "big group" if you don't want to. Many people are very successful in small groups (or as individual researchers) and big groups always look at the findings of smaller groups for information puposes anyway. Also, what if the big group you joined suddenly swings towards a theory or belief that you don't subscribe to? What then? Only join a "big group" if you truly subscribe to their mission statement and doctrines and only then, if you feel you *might* benefit from it.
#9: Grow a thick skin and remember, it's a hobby. Ghost studies are based heavily on beliefs, but you as a trustworthy ace researcher try to see and understand all sides of the coin! People will be mean. They will argue and they will borderline threaten. It's always best to stay your course, do excellent work and keep a smile on your face. If someone disagrees, ask them why and what have they got to show *you* that their ideas are correct? One thing we have ALWAYS said is when confronted by a sceptdebunker or a too-true believer is to ask "How much study in the field have you done to come to this conclusion?" Don't ask this meanly, ask it with reverence... Maybe they do have something to teach you... or maybe they're just armchair critics.
Richard (Dick) Hall, a very respected UFOlogist and had this to say about sceptics (or "Sceptdebunkers" as I call them)...
I've edited a little… The square brackets… fill in the word UFO (or variations thereof)… It's just that the quote is still viable and works in ghostly terms too!
"...the trouble with CSICOP-type "skeptics" is that they give a bad name to a long and honorable tradition.
True skepticism about [paranormal] claims is entirely justified; knee-jerk rejection of [the paranormal] as a potentially very important scientific mystery is not. True skeptics, unfortunately, are a rarity. What we get instead is highly opinionated, ill-informed, data-deniers."
- Richard Hall
From UFO Updates and note, Mr. Hall is American hence sKeptic with a "K" and not the Canadian/British sCeptic with a "C".
#10: Always try to find the whole story. Don't simply rest on the ghost stories as they may not be perfectly sound. Also, when trying to gather phenomena evidence (EVPs, photos, videos, whatever...) take precautions as to how you're doing and let people know that you made a concerted effort to make any evidence as valid as possible. Remember to that no matter how "perfect" your evidence seems, people will argue with you. Again, ask them, "Well, what makes you think this?" and make sure that any protocols are covered to avoid anyone crying "hoax". If you can't or catch something "on the fly", it's okay to present it, but ensure that the people seeing your findings know that this was an "imperfect" capture and is for their interest only and *not* presented as absolute proof.
#11: There's no harm in quoting other people's work when arguing or discussing a point. Knowing what researchers have done before you and understanding their work can be a crucial thing in the pursuit of things in the field. I often "drop names" like Harry Price, the Society of Psychical Research, Hans Holzer, Nandor Fodor, Loyd Auerbach and even CSICOP and it's members to make points about what the conversational topics are. To learn from those that have done work before you is important. This is *not* a new study but you can bring new things into it. Knowing the work of others before you can assist and be a good knowledge base for your efforts and avoid repeating old mistakes. Heck, I don't agree with a lot of the things that Price, Auerbach and Holzer subscribe to, but I do make an effort to understand their work and how they have done (or do) things.
#12: No one is going to "hand you" anything. Just because you now have a good website or a good list of places you've looked into does not mean that people will now be begging you to come out and do things. You will often have to go out, shake hands, say "Hello!" and make your own contacts and, in many cases, make your own work. You must be active to stay active. When there's nothing going on, this is a good time to catch up on some studies or work on talking to people at that one place you've been dying to get into. Although this is a hobby for most, it's still work.
#13: This may require you to get that practical experience you need first, but take your notions of "ghost research" that you may have from the movies and TV and chuck them firmly out the window. Buffy, X-Files, PSI Factor, World's Scariest Places, MTV's Fear are *not* documentaries. Driving a converted hearse or ambulance or otherwise a "special" vehicle will have a great affect as for getting you on TV, but when someone asks for you to look at their home or their business, they probably will *not* want that *thing* parked in front of their place! Always think in terms of how your parents or boss would react before "suiting up" or driving a spazzed-out car to a site. It's best to try and be professional and courteous. Old saying, but it applies... You'll catch more flies with honey...
Now, having read these, DO NO GET US WRONG. This does not mean 99% of your spare time is going to be spent reading boring, stuffy old books or arguing the finer points of PKI phenomena, sleep paralysis and standing sound waves with Joe Nickell from CSICOP. It means that you must learn *as* you go.
Think of it like this...
You get an EVP on a tape recorder. You've followed protocols (read our article or, anyone else's but try to ensure some safeguards are in place) and you put it up for the world to see. Now, here's where the study part starts. Find out about EVPs origins. What have been other people's findings? What are going to be all the possible arguments *against* what you have found as being genuine? What are the good points of it? How does the tape recorder work and why did it record this EVP? In doing this study, you'll succeed in finding out about previous people's work, be able to back up your claims, admit if there was a possibility (or a likelihood) of a mistake and you'll be better prepared for the next time! Next, does this EVP factor into the reports of ghostly activity? Does the ghostly reports jive with the history of the site? Who has experienced "things" there? Is this a "normal-paranormal" thing for the site? Has this been experienced before?
See, learn by doing and all relevant!
Well, like I said, it may sound daunting and maybe even boring but honestly, it isn't and as opposed to a "self proclaimed" expert, you will, in time, just find that the information comes naturally and your understanding... and questions... come easier.
This is a fun hobby and honestly, provided that they're being legal and respectful, anyone can and should do it! I guarantee your understanding of science and history... maybe more... will greatly improve without trying!
As with all things, these thoughts and ways have worked for us, but no guarantees... This is more or less just some common sense stuff that might aid someone working towards being a good ghost researcher. Without being preachy, I hope.
So, you want to be a ghost researcher? Get to work! Do good work and most importantly, have fun learning! It will happen!
Suggested Articles on the Site For Beginners...
Our Online Course Long but worth it...
Research by Proclamation Not too long and helpful.
Our Glossary Yup, another glossary but useful.
Recommended Reading Books and things! Very useful!
Young Person's Guide Useful for those 16 years of age and younger...
Also, for folks starting out, you should really look over the Snopes website on Urban Legends at http://www.snopes.com because sometimes, urban legends can be reported at a different locations as "true" and it's best to be fore-armed with the facts. Snopes has a section devoted to ghosts and the parnormal at http://www.snopes.com/horrors/ghosts/
"It is important that students bring a certain ragamuffin, barefoot, irreverence to their studies; they are not here to worship what is known, but to question it."
- Jacob Chanowski
"The universe is full of magical things, patiently waiting for our wits to grow sharper."
- Eden Phillpotts
"You can tell whether a man is clever by his answers. You can tell whether a man is wise by his questions."
- Naguib Mahfouz
"...no one can come to any other conclusions. Instead of disputing the facts, we must try to explain them."
- Prof. Henry Habberley Price (About the existence of paranormal phenomena)
"If an elderly but distinguished scientist says that something is possible he is almost certainly right, but if he says that it is impossible he is very probably wrong."
- Arthur C. Clark
[Editor's Addition/Change... Ghost Research] "...is beset by True Believers ('They must be, therefore they are!') and True Unbelievers ('They can't be, therefore they aren't!') Rare are those who pursue evidence wherever it may lead, no matter how the results may square with their cherished hopes and dreams. Ironically, both the TBists and the TUists see themselves as champions of objective analysis and critical thinking, when in fact they are defenders of their respective faiths and, not incidentally, their egos."
- Karl Pflock