Do Ghosts Exist?
There is no scientific proof that ghosts exist. That being said, experience tells me otherwise. I've experienced more than my share of the weird, unusual and downright creepy in my years of paranormal investigation, but nothing prepared me for a face-to-face, midnight encounter I had in 2000. So much for the "there's no proof that ghosts exist" argument. Still, it's absolutely true; there is no proof. Unless, of course, you actually see one. That was proof enough for me.
Let's dismiss with all the talk of mistaken identity, fabrication and mental illness. I agree that all have played a part, at one time or another, in paranormal experiences and alleged encounters. Yes, I understand that. I 'get it', and certainly don't disagree. However, the problem arises when debunkers, hiding behind the title of 'skeptic', repeatedly trot out the above, tired reasons for every encounter. I'm very sorry they have never experienced something as dramatic as many of us, and maybe they never will. Yet, others definitely have, so what are we to make of it?
There are many sub-types of hauntings, and virtually endless reasons why a ghost may want to stick around. However, all ghostly mischief seems to fall in to one of two general categories:
intelligent hauntings and residual hauntings.
Intelligent hauntings exhibit intelligence and a level of interaction with the living and their environment on the part of the ghost. Moving objects (not attributable to poltergeist activity), touching people and ability to react in reaction to the living are all hallmarks of an intelligent haunting. These are the hauntings most depicted in the media, and what most think of when they think of a house that's reported to be haunted.
Residual hauntings are not really hauntings in the classic sense. They exhibit no signs of interaction with the living, and unwaveringly stick to a 'script', much like a film that you've watched over-and-over. These hauntings have also been called 'place memories', as they appear to be only a reenactment of a scene that previously unfolded at the location. Lack of interaction with the living and no change in routine are fairly good indicators that you are dealing with a residual haunting. Many times the participants in this paranormal play will appear to stand on a floor that is no longer there, or may appear to be supported by a floor that is higher or lower than the physical floor as you know it. They may seem to walk through doorways that have long been removed or reconfigured. As this type of haunting is merely a paranormal projection of a scene that had taken place decades or centuries before, much like an old home movie that had been taken years earlier, things will be as they were at that moment in time. Subsequent remodeling of a structure has no impact on a residual haunting.
"Ghosts Don't Know They're Dead"
This is a statement often thrown about by investigators, and an excellent example of how unsupported theory, repeated often enough, takes on the weight of fact in the paranormal community. Like much of what's being fed to the public, it's simply untrue, and has not been the case in my experience.
Just as a tragic event resulting in serious injury may cause the living to be temporarily unable to remember the incident, sudden and unexpected death may also confuse a ghost. The question is, for how long? If we are to believe in the existence of ghosts, we must believe that some type of 'soul' and intelligence survives. If you were suddenly able to move through solid objects and unable to get someone's attention, even when screaming in their ear (maybe with the possible exception of the dog), my guess is that it wouldn't take you long to think, "Hey, I can't put my finger on it, but something's not quite right". Granted, Nicole Kidman's character was a bit dense in the movie The Others, but I'd bet it wouldn't take three old, dead people knocking on your front door and saying, "So, you want the good news or bad news first? First, the good news: we're dead. Now the bad news: so are you, sweetie!" before you'd suspect the worst. After many years of dealing with the paranormal and patterns that have become evident, the following is what I've come to believe is going on. I promise not to get deeply philosophical or (worse!) metaphysical, but we must release ourselves from the religious concepts of Heaven and Hell. I'm sorry if, due to affiliation, you find that offensive, but it's completely bogus. We must accept there is nothing abnormal about the paranormal; we just don't yet understand it.
Okay, let's start with a clean slate and from that perspective. A person dies, their 'soul' (not in the religious context, but a 'life energy') moves on. Not to a place, per se, but another realm, another dimension. Think of it as a halfway house without physical restriction; you can be anywhere just by willing it, unencumbered by a physical body or the laws of classical physics. You can stay for as long as you like as time, in the way we understand it, is meaningless. Thoughts transcend boundaries, and someone in our physical world can bring the ghost near simply by thought and emotion. That is very likely why someone who is grieving often receives a sign or visit from the recently deceased. It's also a two-way street; the ghost may long for being in familiar surroundings and near the ones he/she loved in their physical life. If death occurred unexpectedly, there could be unfinished business. As odd as this may sound, the telephone has often been a conduit of contact from the deceased to the living. Yep, I know, very creepy, but it has been a factor in many investigations over the years. I first thought it was just a case of mistaken identity or wishful thinking on the part of the grieving client. However, when it starting happening on more and more unrelated cases, I realized there was more to it. The "voices" tend to have similar qualities; distant-sounding, somewhat garbled, and many times take on a metallic quality with static in the audio. They tend to be relatively brief, usually addressing the person by name.
Once the ghost has adjusted, he/she (it?) is encouraged to move on. Call it going 'towards the light' if you wish to use a cheesy movie cliché, to start a new adventure, and leave its physical life, memories and emotional attachments behind. You will not hear from them again. That 'person', as you knew them, ceases to exist, and is likely the reason most encounters people have with ghosts of loved ones occur relatively soon after their deaths. Their time in that halfway limbo is adjustment-dependent, not time-dependent. When all business is finished here and they feel comfortable to move on, they will. Now, for the fire and brimstone fans still hanging in here, perhaps that is where you can insert your beliefs? I, too, find it difficult to believe a serial killer would be afforded the VIP treatment of Mother Teresa. For the paranormal investigator, it is the point when things become much more murky, where our equipment cannot penetrate, when we lose contact and all bets are off. In any case, most homes aren't full of dead relatives, as they have long-departed.
The Art of Negotiation
In a field, by its very nature, overrun with gray areas and uncertainty, there is a singular, constant truth in paranormal investigation: if a ghost/spirit/entity adamantly refuses to leave a location, there is nothing you or anyone can do to make it leave. If any group or individual claims that they can make your unwelcome-but-unwilling spectral house guest hit the road, tell them to do the same. Anyone reputable will never make such a claim. There are some techniques, such as house blessings and the so-called 'cleansing' that may, temporarily, make things somewhat bearable in your home, but rarely do the results offer a permanent solution. Within months, or even days or weeks, the particularly negative ones determined to stick around will return and, when they do, the second wave is usually more intense than the first. That is why it is important to never allow some amateur ghost hunting group into your home when dealing with something decidedly cranky and miserable; they'll do their routine, leave, and then you're screwed. If you call them back, they'll be even less-effective the second go 'round. The best way to think of a malevolent entity is as a malignancy. Chemotherapy can put the cancer into remission and the patient will have a seemingly cancer-free period but, if the disease returns, it is often refractory to the first-line drug used to induce that remission. Recurrence is always an ominous sign; options then become more limited, the malignant cells more resistant, and the oncologist has to move on to another, often less-effective second-line drug for treating that particular type of cancer. It does not mean that it cannot be cured, but the chances of success do become lower and it does become more difficult. So, what does any of this have to do with what may be haunting your home? A parallel in paranormal investigation is that, as in oncology, the first attempt when dealing with the problem is often the most promising; it is your best opportunity. You may have a relatively ghost-free period but, if your haunting returns after the initial 'treatment', things then become much more complex and challenging. Keep in mind that in paranormal investigation, just as in medicine, you need to do your research and contact someone with the expertise to offer the most-favorable outcome. When dealing with a malevolent entity, an amateur ghost hunting group is not that "someone".
This is often where negotiation skills, along with knowledge of who/what the entity is and want it wants, come into play. As stated earlier, nothing can make a ghost vacate your premises if it is hellbent on staying. However, it is sometimes possible to convince it to leave. Negotiating with a benign entity, such as a deceased family member, often involves only talking and reasoning with them as you would if they were still with us in our physical world. Unfortunately, getting a negative, malevolent entity to 'take the bus' often requires intense negotiation, not unlike a hostage scenario. And that is precisely what is happening in your own home; you are, in reality, being held hostage by the entity.
Common Reasons for Hauntings
If you believe it's your house that's haunted, you may want to reconsider; it could be the land the structure is on. Many decades and centuries of people with lives, emotions, joys and sorrows could have been connected with your quaint little 1/2 acre of suburbia. We tend to think of things in terms "now" instead of all that's come before. Remodeling often causes things to start going bump in the night, and is almost always associated with an intelligent haunting. Even if they've remained quiet in the past, a former owner or tenant may not be too pleased with your decision to knock out that wall or remove that fireplace. If you suddenly notice unexplained occurrences happening in your home, think about the timeline; playing Builder Bob may have pissed someone off. It could be something as seemingly innocent as painting a room and, to be quite honest, if you decided to paint your bathroom fuchsia, can you really blame them? Used furniture and antiques are another culprit. You may be bringing home more than you bargained for with that old curio cabinet or canopy bed; it could be the former owner just can't let go. Jewelry is notorious for this, most likely because of the emotional or sentimental attachment the deceased had to the piece. If you start having unexplained situations in your home and never had problems previously, go through a mental checklist of anything used or old you've acquired.
Life Altering Events
If you've just welcomed a little rugrat into your home, you may suddenly notice that more is keeping you awake at night than nappy changes and puke on your shoulder. Yes, family loves to gather 'round when a new member arrives, and a minor inconvenience like no longer being alive doesn't seem to stand in their way.Relax, because these types of hauntings are almost always of the 'good' variety, and usually a deceased family member. Some are particularly excited and helpful, and may make their presence known even before the baby is born. If you feel a pat on your back while in the throes of morning sickness, or sense you are not alone in the bathroom each of the seventy-five times in one hour that you had to stop to pee while shopping for baby clothes, you're either extremely paranoid or family has come-a-callin'. No worries; it's very likely the latter.
What to do? First and foremost, you can do nothing. Another set of eyes and ears on the baby (even if Grandma no longer has, well...eyes or ears) can be comforting. Of course, you can never depend on her to watch over the little urchin, but she will alert you in some fashion if she thinks something's wrong. Now, if you're of a conservative nature and still feel that having dead people around Junior is a bad influence at such an impressionable age, ask Grandma to leave. Such cases are relatively easy to resolve, and usually don't require intervention by a paranormal investigator. Of course, many ghost hunting groups will be more than happy to swarm your place and create a circus. Then your neighbors will start to gossip. And they'll swear your kid has horns and a tail. And then the other mothers on your street won't let their kids play with little "Damien" when he gets older. And then accidents will start to happen involving tricycles and ladders, and local priests will meet untimely ends. And how could you have avoided all of this drama and self-fulfilling prophesy? By not calling some amateur ghost hunting group to begin with ;-)
Just like the living, non-resident ghosts need a doorway. Not to move through physical objects, but to shuttle between the here and the hereafter and from their dimension to ours. They're not necessarily accomplished interior designers, either, as their idea of where to put a doorway often would not be our first choice and is not limited by our physical bodies, such as ceilings, shower stalls, walls behind appliances and...closets! I hate to 'out' your spooks, but they really do seem to have a thing for closets. If you've always felt uncomfortable or have mysterious and sudden temperature fluctuations in one particular room of your home, chances are that's where the portal is located. And, if the room has a closet, guess whaaat? While this rule isn't set in gravestone, it's more likely than not, and a reputablepsychic medium or experienced paranormal investigator can usually pinpoint it. In fact, that's the easy part; the hard is closing it and keeping it closed.
So, how did this portal/doorway get there to begin with? Some have been open for years, decades or even centuries. If you're just the latest in a long line of tenants or owners of the property, the origin may never be uncovered. However, if you never had ghosts and now do, it may be something you've done; even an intense interest in the paranormal on the part of you or someone in your family can be enough to open some doors. Some people act as a beacon for those wanting to come through, and may have psychic abilities even though they're completely unaware. While I've never believed the Ouija board to be a conduit to the other side, be careful with practices that you may not fully understand, even if done in a party-like, "Let's have some fun and have a séance!" atmosphere. A good rule of thumb? Grey Goose and ghosts don't mix, nor does pot and the paranormal. But you don't do the latter, right? Yeah. Right.
This type of entity is so common, yet you'll read very little about them on other sites. Mimics are the parrots of the paranormal, simply repeating words or short phrases in the voice of a family member, and sometimes multiple family members. Depending on the hour, this auditory experience can be humorous, a minor nuisance, or completely unnerving. The 'voice' will sound exactly like that of your husband, wife, child or other family member, and can speak directly in your ear or come from another area of your home. The problem quickly becomes obvious: it's not really them! That person will sometimes not even be home at the time. Many times it will be something the real person will normally vocalize, such as calling your name or a phrase he or she often uses.
So, what are we to make of these trouble-making impostors? The truth is, no one knows. My best guess? Ghosts/spirits that just want to get our attention. Our friends the demonologists claim they are some form of evil entity, most likely demonic, as only demons can mimic the voices of the living. Did you know that exclusive and curious fact about demons? No? Neither did I, but it's obviously something taught in Demonology 101. In any event, since demons don't exist, I treat them as I would any other unwelcome visitor in your home.
I loved the movie Poltergeist (1982); a paranormal classic in every way. However, I've never understood the title, as the film goes way beyond anything attributable to poltergeist activity. Translated from German, poltergeist means "noisy ghost", not in the sense that they talk incessantly or sing Oktoberfest beer drinking songs (warm beer...uggghhh!) when you're trying to catch some zzzz's. Rather, their shtick is to throw dishes, knock on walls and generally be on a PMS-like terror in your humble abode. The particularly disagreeable ones have been known to bite, pinch, scratch and inflict other forms of nastiness. I've never known one to suck a kid into a circa 1980s Sony Trinitron or cover them in green Jell-O, but I'm still cool with the film's generous use of artistic license. And the scene where Beatrice Straight's character, Dr. Lesh, gives her late-night, nicotine-fueled views on what happens after we die should be required viewing for every aspiring paranormal investigator.
There has been wide-ranging speculation in the paranormal community as to what poltergeists actually are, and whether they are even ghosts at all. Some have suggested they are really a form of psychokinesis (moving physical objects with the mind), often associated with troubled children and adolescents. Others feel they are an "elemental", an Earth energy or spirit, and have no connection to a spirit of a formerly living person. I take the traditional road on this one (well, as traditional as anything involving the paranormal can be) and believe they are mischievous ghosts. In any event, they do seem to respond well to 'traditional' methods of getting ghosts to take a hike.
Elementals', My Dear Watson
Probably the closest to the mythical-but-moneymaking demon that we actually do come across occasionally during a paranormal investigation is a loosely-termed 'thing' known as an elemental. The original definition of an elemental was rooted in mythology and fantasy; gnomes (earth), undines (water), sylphs (air), salamanders (fire), and, yes, even the most famous sylph of them all, Tinkerbell, were all considered elementals; spirits, corresponding to the Classical elements of antiquity, that had never lived among us in human form. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, creator of Sherlock Holmes, was an avid believer in elementals such as the Cottingley Fairies. A poltergeist is thought by some to be a form of elemental. Now, you must be thinking, "Wow, this guy is really smart! He even knows about undines and sylphs!". Nope. Sorry. I'm not that bright. That's why there's Wikipedia. However, I did want to give you the 411 on the origins of the term elemental as it relates to the paranormal. Why, you ask? So I could talk about something I do know about: elementals as the term is currently used in paranormal investigation.
Unlike the definition of old, the term today is a catch-all for anything of non-human origin keeping you up at night. They tend to be anything from mischievous to evil, but rarely pleasant. Thinking of fairies happily dancing in a ring? That's the old definition. Your kid's stuffed toy clown talking to him at 3:00 am? Yup...new definition. A further example can be found on this page under the heading, Be Smart, Not a Smart Ass.
Many paranormal investigators and ghost hunting groups have truly bought into the Hollywood concept of demons, based on Roman Catholic teachings, when they are actually dealing with an elemental. Throw in a few scratches on a family member's body (three scratches to be precise, said to be the 'demon' mocking the Holy Trinity) or spooky activity beginning promptly at 3:00 in the morning (the hour said to be chosen by the 'demon' for the same reason), and you've got what seems to be a genuine, Omen-like, "Quick! Call the priest!"-type demonic infestation. Whoooaa there, T.A.P.S., R.I.P., U.N.D.E.A.D. or whatever the cheesy acronym of your amateur ghost hunting group. Not so fast! Guess what? Jewish homes have hauntings, too. Buddhist? Hindu? Yes and yes. Atheist? Sure do. And, guess what else? Their homes are not infested with Christian-inspired 'demons'. To believe so is a bit egocentric, don't you think? No religion has ownership or a lock on the paranormal.
The vast majority of hauntings are benign, even most intelligent hauntings. Nevertheless, as the title of Stephen King's short story suggests, Sometimes They Come Back and, yes, sometimes they do. I say elsewhere on these pages that ghosts don't 'scare' as much as 'startle' the living, but usually neither is their intent; they're just stopping by to say, "Hi".
It's important to remember that personalities don't necessarily change when someone crosses over. Were they kind when alive? They're the same on the other side. An asshole when breathing? Uh-huh, they still are. Will Donald Trump be just as pompous and obnoxious? Yup, you guessed it...
However, that doesn't mean that foul attitudes don't exist in the spirit world. I've never bought into the whole 'demonic possession/spinning head/projectile vomiting' thing, but truly evil entities, while rare, do pay us a visit from time-to-time. Bad intent, negative thoughts and volatile emotions are often what signal the 'bad guys' to head in your direction, even if you're as sweet as Mary Poppins (although it's been said that Julie Andrews has a vocabulary that can put a drunken rap artist to shame). How can that be? Because of all that may have transpired in your home or apartment before you were handed the keys or on your land before you signed on the dotted line. Atrocities such as murder, domestic violence and child abuse to name just a few, as well as any negative ritualistic ceremonies or beliefs, are a beacon for these entities. Neighbors are a wealth of information in these instances, especially if they've lived in the neighborhood for several years. Sure, there will always be baseless gossip, but if you begin to notice a pattern when asking around about former owners or tenants, there's probably a bit of truth to their stories. Public and police records are another source. For historical data and helpful gossip, you know those older men and women who you're certain have worked at the local library since the invention of the Gutenberg press? Bingo! They're a jackpot of information, and very likely know everything that has ever happened in your town. They can also refer you to the town's unofficial historian. Every town has one; usually another octogenarian who can break through the official public records and tell you the dirt that you really want to know, like who slept with whom in the house that you're now (hopefully) sleeping with whom you're supposed to be sleeping.
Negative spirits tend to focus on the person who is the 'weakest link' in your household. That does not mean that he or she is a weak person, only that they may be going through a rough emotional period. You no doubt have heard the old aphorism that someone has a "monkey on their back" when dealing with a negative problem or influence? In the origin of such adages there is usually literal truth; many of these negative entities do take on a non-human, animal-like form when captured on camera. Mental illness, substance abuse and emotional problems can make individuals vulnerable and a magnet for these entities, but one extremely important word of caution: First and foremost, the person in question needs professional medical and/or psychological intervention and counseling, not ghost hunters, paranormal investigators or psychic mediums. Many medical and psychological conditions can have a component that may seem to the layperson to be paranormal in nature, but most are not. If something of a paranormal nature isgoing on, the person's condition can be made much worse, even tragically worse, if we're there doing our hoodoo voodoo before the underlying condition that prompted the psychic attack in the first place has been, if not successfully treated, at least successfully managed. That is a serious danger posed by inexperienced, fly-by-night ghost hunters and groups, and one of the reasons why I believe they should stick to public ghost hunts and am so adamantly opposed to them entering private homes and private lives.
I knew it had to happen. Your average, garden-variety ghost just isn't interesting enough for some paranormal investigators anymore; they now have to have a new bogeyman. Ladies and gentlemen, introducing...shadow people! There has been much interest for the past few years in the paranormal community in this subject, whereas not too much was heard about the phenomenon previously. The term is used to describe featureless, shadowy, humanoid figures sometimes momentarily seen in one's peripheral vision, usually darting away at a high rate of speed. 'They' are often said to harbor sinister intent, and really not something you want hanging around your home. Some have proclaimed them a real entity, worthy of further study. If all of this sounds more like something from a movie or creepy novel, you're correct, as there are several common and equally probable explanations for the phenomenon, none of them paranormal. "Shadow people" should not be confused with the manifestation of a ghost or spirit energy as a shadowy figure which, by contrast, seems to be a very real and fairly common phenomenon. When an entity does manifest as such, it is never a good sign, and is almost always negative in nature.
When I first heard of the shadow people phenomenon, it immediately occurred to me that the experience sounded almost exactly like what a person would experience if the had a bubble in their tear film; the thin layer of fluid that lubricates and hydrates the cornea of the eye. These bubbles can form and dissipate with the blink of the eye, and dart quickly away from the center to the periphery of the cornea due to its curvature, giving the appearance of a moving object in the field of vision. Given the fact that the bubble is in the tear film, and its relative proximity to the lens inside the eye, the image would appear much larger than it actually is, much like if you placed a small object on the lens of a camera, and would appear as a shadow in lower light.
Many of us have thought we have quickly seen something "out of the corner of our eye", especially in darkened rooms and lower lighting conditions. In such scenarios, our brains assign shapes and identities to objects where none actually exist. If someone does believe their home may be haunted, they are even more likely to do so due to heightened awareness. This is also exaggerated by the physiology of the human visual system. The retina is the light gathering tissue located in the back of the eye, consisting of cones and rods. To use an approximate analogy to a digital camera, the retina would be the imaging sensor, and cones and rods the pixels. Cones are responsible for photopic (higher illumination) vision, color perception and higher acuity, and are concentrated towards the center of the retina. Rods are responsible for scotopic (lower illumination) vision, have much lower acuity, but are much more light-sensitive and numerous than cones. They are located on the periphery of the retina, therefore, our peripheral vision is much more sensitive in lower light as our pupils dilate to accommodate reduced illumination. Another peculiarity is that theperipheral vision of the eye is much more sensitive to moving objects, such as a bubble in the tear film. If you thought you sensed movement in a darkened room, it naturally would be out of the corner of your eye, in your peripheral vision.
While I believe this may be the explanation, the entire nature and description of shadow people is so vague that countless physical, psychological and medical conditions could be fingered as the culprit. The old adage, "When you hear the sound of hoofbeats, look for horses, not zebras" certainly applies in this instance. Some in the paranormal community are using everything from home-brewed pseudoscience to exotic quantum theory to explain the existence and reality of shadow people. Real entities? No. There are much more important things to do than to go chasing after shadows.
As with entities presenting themselves in shadow form mentioned above, those manifesting as hooded or monk-like figures are not stopping by to say "Hello", have a cup of coffee and gossip about the neighbors. These entities are invariably of the negative variety and, depending on the onset and timeline of their appearance, usually an indication of one of the following scenarios:
1) If you have seen such figures in your home or apartment since the beginning of your stay, it is likely that something very unpleasant happened in the structure or on the land on which the structure was built. Hooded entities tend to denote hauntings with origins in a religious or ritualistic incident or practice, such as the practice of Santería, which I will talk about in the next section. You may, or may not, be able to identify what that incident or practice was by researching records and combing old newspaper stories related to the property or address. As always, neighbors and your town's longtime residents can be invaluable in your quest to uncover the facts. And, as always, landlords will usually be tight-lipped and deny any knowledge.
2) If you have never noticed anything odd in your home, but are now being visited by 'hoodies', it is probable that you brought an item with a negative attachment into your home. There is also a variation of this scenario in which the "item" the negative entity attaches itself to is a person. If you or anyone you know is going through a particularly rough physical or emotional period, never knowingly visit a known or suspected haunted location. The rules are very simple and, like much in life, positive attracts positive and, unfortunately in this scenario, negative attracts negative. I cannot stress often enough that physical pain or emotional angst act as an irresistible magnet for negative entities.
Once again, a vital clue is the timeline; try to remember what you brought into your home or where you visited immediately before things started happening.
A Word of Caution About Santería
I will now wade into very treacherous waters and discuss a subject that most paranormal investigators will not go near, and no amateur ghost hunting group should ever go near: hauntings originating from the practice of Santería. Such religions spook many in the field of paranormal investigation, and not without reason. They should never be brushed-aside as superstitious nonsense. The reason? The negativity that is inherent in the customs and practices.
Santería is a religion of West African and Caribbean origin, mixing traditions, culture and beliefs of those regions with traditional Roman Catholic teachings. The result? A fairly potent and toxic paranormal soup. Similar in many respects to Haitian Voudu, the practice of Santería, along with its variants, has become increasingly prevalent in Australia. It should be noted that the vast majority do not practice Santería and the religion, in itself, is not considered a negative influence. Religious scholars have spoken and have declared it benign and, strictly speaking, perhaps they are correct. But please allow me to step off the always politically correct world in which we live and, as a paranormal investigator and former law enforcement officer in the real world, give them my real world reply: Bullshit! In practice, there is nothing benign about Santería.
I have never been very religious and, as my time as a paranormal investigator has progressed, have become even less so. As I have said elsewhere on these pages, I believe there is "nothing abnormal about the paranormal", only that we don't yet understand it. Traditional science doesn't apply and will never have the answer but, perhaps, theoretical physics someday will. Belief in such things as a Voudu curse is ridiculous, and the Santería practice of animal sacrifice would almost be laughable were it not so extremely cruel. Chickens are the animal of choice, but anything convenient with fur or feathers will do. If you believe this freak show has moved into your neighborhood, keep a watchful eye on your pets, as sudden disappearances are not unheard of in connection with Santería. Never attempt to confront these individuals, and always keep in mind that it is their religion, and they have every right to practice it. However, what they do not have is the right to break the law and, if you feel that laws have been broken, notify the authorities. They have experience in dealing with these sensitive situations; there is a fine legal line between religious freedom and the law.
I have found that hauntings tend to be contextually perceived and closely parallel the religious beliefs of those being haunted. If you are Roman Catholic, your perception of your haunting will be influenced by those teachings, and perceived as more 'demonic' in nature. Hollywood has certainly milked the 'demonic possession/exorcism' theme for decades. Sometimes successfully. Sometimes...not so much. Go to a Methodist or Presbyterian church? Rather tame and reserved by comparison and, if there are such things as generic hauntings by plain vanilla ghosts dressed in khakis and button-down Ralph Lauren shirts, those are the households where they will likely be found. But Santería? Here is where we wander into a truly nasty paranormal cesspool, not because of some imaginary curse, but due to the negativity produced by animal sacrifice, mutilation and the practitioner's intent. I'm sorry, but there is nothing spiritually uplifting or positive about chopping off a live chicken's head in your apartment, sticking it with pins, and leaving it at your neighbor's doorstep because you're pissed at them. I am not an expert on world religions and make no such claim, but have dealt with a fair number of paranormal problems connected with the practice of Santería, usually caused byformer tenants of a home or apartment. Those tenants may leave, but the negativity remains for the unsuspecting new tenants to deal with. A fresh coat of paint may cover the animal blood, but does nothing to suppress the haunting by negative entities drawn to that type of activity.
It is not possible to connect any individual or group with the practice of Santería simply by their country of origin, and I make no such implication. Most, even from countries where the practice of Santería is fairly common, do not, or no longer, practice the religion. Still, if you are now encountering problems and hear talk among your neighbors of the former tenant or owner's ritualistic religious practices, especially if involving animals, your place may have housed such activity. Landlords will, once again, be virtually useless in your quest to uncover the source of your haunting; privacy concerns and their general unwillingness to discuss anything to do with the paranormal will lead you nowhere.
Have you gotten the impression that I have little patience for this 'religion'? You are absolutely correct. There is nothing benign about any belief system that condones harm to animals and manifests such negativity. Is that the politically correct thing for me to say? No, but it is the reality. And to those who will undoubtedly be offended by what I have said, a reminder that I prefer chicken heads be left at my front doorstep, not the back. Thank you.
Can Children and Pets See Ghosts?
"Well, you know...they can see things that we can't..."
Almost universally accepted as fact even by those not quite convinced that ghosts exist, nearly everyone has a story or experience to relay concerning a child seeing an otherwise invisible person. I am certainly a member of that group.
Skepticism is an excellent quality for a paranormal investigator; those who are not will believe almost anything is paranormal, even if there's a very rational explanation. However, debunkers will adamantly state that Emma must have "met Phil at one time" or "heard adults talking about him" and, in this instance, they would be dead wrong. Phil had been ill and housebound for most of her life; they had no chance for interaction, especially without a adult being present and remembering. Emma was only visiting, and didn't live at the house and, in any event, Phil would not have been a topic of conversation. How, then, can this be explained? It can't, unless you accept that Phil was still standing guard over his property. I don't have to tell you that incidents such as these involving kids are far from unusual; you've probably had your own. It's a common component and staple in paranormal investigations of family homes. Perhaps your child's 'imaginary friend' isn't so imaginary after all? Some in the paranormal field have suggested that children have not yet "learned" to block this ability; as we get older and less innocent we lose our connection to whatever it is that allows us to "see dead people". Unfortunately, there's not a ounce of valid science to back that theory and, from a neurological perspective, it really is the opposite of what we would expect.
An important topic to broach at this juncture is the age of your child, and how paranormal activity in your home may affect him/her at that age. On first thought, it may seem logical to assume that the younger your child, the more impact, but that is not always the case. While you should be concerned for all family members, including pets, younger children (up to 4 or 5 years of age) often have an ability to 'roll' with such activity, provided that activity is not intense or mean-spirited. The not-so-imaginary 'imaginary friend' scenario mentioned above is a perfect example. Short attention spans and memories, as well as an incomplete sense of what the world is supposed to be, often act as a buffer. Older children and 'tweens, however, are another issue. Being old enough to know what is happening, yet not old enough to emotionally process, understand and deal with a haunting, is a terrifying mix. While it may be nothing more than an overly-active imagination, do not dismiss their concerns. Many times they are the first contact and focus of an entity due to emotional turmoil inherent at that age, and are often the first in the household to realize that things are not as they should be. Listen to what they have to say.
So, what about the family cat or dog? For obvious reasons, this one is even more difficult to decipher but, in many ways, could actually make more sense. Science tells us that visual systems of most animals have very different spectral sensitivities than those of humans, usually unique evolutionary adaptations to ensure the survival of each given species. Their height notwithstanding, Morris and Max really do see the world differently than Mary and Mike, and we have a fairly good, but not exact, idea of what that world looks like. Since we cannot connect our optic nerves to their eyes (sounds like a shlocky tagline from a 50s "B" horror film..."Half Man. Half Canine. All Terror!", obviously the result of a government nuclear test in the Nevada desert) but can only examine the physiology, rods and cones of their eyes, our idea of their world is only an educated guess. Their brains are even more of a mystery; yeah, we can examine them, but how do they work? Do they "think"? Contrary to some science, any pet owner can accurately tell you, "Yes, they do think". Do dogs and cats have a form of ESP? Can they sense things and have abilities that humans don't? ESP? Most of us suspect as much but don't know for certain; it could be that they are just very good observers. As for the latter, absolutely. Consider your dog's sense of smell or cat's night vision. What does catnip do for you? Unless you smoke it (not recommended), probably nothing. However, Morris goes gaga over it. And Max sniffs the ground when you take him out to do his morning business for the same reason we read a newspaper; to gather information from the past 24-hours. The bottom line: It's entirely possible they can see things in your home that you can't.
As with children, sometimes a family pet is the focus of an entity, especially those entities with not-so-pleasant intentions. If your pet starts to become uncharacteristically frightened, it is best to arrange for a friend, neighbor or relative to keep him/her until the issue in your home is resolved. If your pet becomes ill, schedule a visit with a veterinarian immediately. If the vet can find nothing physically wrong, or if what he/she says just doesn't add up in your mind, get your pet out of the house. It is much better to be safe than sorry, as once an entity sets its focus on your pet, it will usually escalate, sometimes with tragic consequences. In all cases, continue to follow your vet's medical advice and any prescribed medication for your pet, but keep in mind that the veterinarian is looking for medical conditions that are physical in origin, and a possible paranormal cause is not even on his/her radar.
What's the Deal with Attics and Basements?
Nearly all spooky haunted house movies have the prerequisite attic or basement scene. Midway through the story, the new homeowner is eerily drawn either north or south, alone and with only a flashlight in hand, to discover clues that will eventually unravel the ghostly mystery. Now, if you decided to search alone for something unknown lurking in the extremities of your home, wouldn't you be armed with something a bit more scary than a flashlight? Perhaps a gun? A baseball bat? Attics and basements are perfect to add a creepy atmosphere to a film, but that's only in the movies, right? There's nothing really in the shadows when I'm down there at night, alone, to get the laundry I forgot in the dryer, right? I'm perfectly safe when I'm up there at night, alone, to put the Halloween decorations away, right? Well, it's certainly not my intention to frighten you, but you may not be as alone as you believe...
Just like the living, ghosts like their space and alone time, even more so if they were never that social to begin with. If you suspect the old, cranky former owner of your house has never moved out, chances are he's not too thrilled to share the place with you, your crying infant, and a minivan with a "Baby on Board" sign parked in his driveway. Your brood has invaded his bedroom, living room, kitchen and, if you have teenage daughters, even his bathroom is now occupied 99.9% of the time. Almost every nook and cranny of his home has been overrun. Almost, that is, except for the attic and basement.
Those two areas of the home have figured prominently in most paranormal investigations. Why? Because they are the only areas the deceased can call their own and get away from you. Attics and basements are usually the least occupied area of any home; you go there only when you have a reason. Once you do whatever it is you went there to do, you leave. Homeowners often report a feeling of unease or being watched, with footsteps, talking, bangs, thuds and general ghostly activity taking place there. A reputable psychic medium will often be drawn to the attic or basement during an investigation, or see the spirit go to its 'safe' area if discovered in another room of the home.
No, it's not my intention to frighten you. But on second thought, maybe that laundry can wait until morning...
Can a Ghost Follow Me If I Move?
Contrary to how most think of a haunting, and probably influenced by centuries of literature and decades of films, not all ghosts want you to leave. Yes, dead people get lonely, too! Sometimes it's not a house, land or object, but a person or family to which the spirit becomes attached. Child ghosts, in particular, tend to gravitate towards a family or individual member. Your family may have taken the place of the one they once had, or they may have become attached to one of your children who is close in age to the child when he/she passed. In such hauntings, even moving to a new home does not solve the problem, as the spirit will often move with you. No matter that you didn't leave extra space in the U-Haul, they'll find you, and may even be waiting at your new home. Time and distance are meaningless on the other side, so don't be under the mistaken belief that you've outwitted your 5-year old's "imaginary" friend with your move . And if you've made the decision to move your family to Adelaide, a good argument could be made that you deserve to be haunted.
One frequent question I'm asked is, "Will the ghost follow me when I move?". While there are no guarantees in the paranormal, there are four patterns that I've come to recognize over the years. What follows are general rules of thumb:
1) If you have an intelligent haunting that is location-specific, meaning that it is connected to the structure or land, but not a person, family or object, it will not follow you. It has chosen to haunt that specific house or land for a reason, and very likely had an emotional attachment or connection when alive. That is where it lives and will stay. If it likes having you around and doesn't want you to leave, it will make its displeasure known while you are in the process of moving out. Activity will increase, and it may throw a hissy fit. That is usually another indication that it is not willing to make the move with you; if it were, it would not be so hurt. By contrast, residual hauntings can never follow you; they are always tied to the structure or location.
2) If a ghost seems attached to a family or individual member but not the structure or land, if it has followed you from a previous residence, or previous owners or tenants report nothing unusual, (do not go by what your landlord tells you; he/she will almost invariably plead ignorance) it may follow you. Get the guest bedroom ready.
3) If you have done your paranormal detective work and believe the haunting may be connected to an object that you have brought into your home, it is likely to continue following that object. A somewhat nasty but always fun thing to do? Before you move, give the object as a gift to someone you truly dislike. Not to be taken lightly, the "gifting" trick should be reserved only for the deserved, such as your 25-year old 'stepmother' who married your wealthy 85-year old father. Yes, it's true; it really is so much more satisfying to give than to receive.
4) If the ghost has never been a social butterfly and you have always felt that it just wanted you out, it will not follow you. Like unannounced relatives, your crew invaded its space and overstayed your welcome. Actually, you were never welcome to begin with, and it will be more than happy to part ways. Activity will usually decrease while you are in the process of moving, as the ghost got its way and has better things to do; like celebrate!
A word of caution while we're on the subject: never give a so-called 'psychic' money to remove a ghost or spirit that he/she claims is attached to or following you. It's incredible that people still fall victim to this old scam but, unfortunately, they do. If you insist on going to one, only consider someone recommended by a trusted friend or relative, not from Craigslist or an online advertisement. Considering a tarot card reader with a neon sign in their window? Then you're a lost cause, and nothing I say on these pages could possibly help you.
Be Smart, Not a Smart Ass
It's 3:00 am. You're tired. You're cranky. You're scheduled for your annual colonoscopy at 8:00. And, to make your life even more sunshine and gumdrops, you can't sleep because something unseen is making a racket downstairs, hell-bent on rearranging your bottles of Beer in the fridge. What do you do? Well, you may be inclined to yell, "You like beer? I'll shove that beer up your ass if you don't quiet down!". However, keep in mind that your spectral visitor 1) Doesn't have that orifice, but 2) You do, a fact of which your physician will make you well-aware in just a few hours.
Angry, empty threats, while they may temporarily make you feel like a tough guy, will not scare nor deter your ghost. Much to the contrary, it will only be perceived as a challenge, and it will be 'game on!' for Casper. Depending on his/her/its demeanor and disposition, this game can run the gamut from amusing to terrifying, with "its" (non-human entities) usually preferring the latter. In any event, this will be a game that you'll lose, with your invisible house guest inevitably getting the last laugh.
What should you do? Be smart. Reason with and address the entity as you would with anyone in your home.Never challenge a ghost. Ask it to stop, and state the reason(s) why. And, guess what? He/she usually will. "Its", however, probably won't, preferring that last laugh. So, if in your sedative-induced fog you should hear the doctor and nurses giggling around the video monitor as the words "Anheuser-Busch, St. Louis, Missouri" appear, guess what? "It" got it.
It's Time to Play...Religious Match Game!
It's amazing how quickly an individual will 'find religion' when faced with a paranormal problem, even if they had previously never been particularly devout, and that's fine. If Hollywood does get one thing correct with its forays into the supernatural, it's that a religious figure is usually the first person contacted when someone suspects their house is haunted, and that's fine. However, there are a few pearls of wisdom to keep in mind when seeking such help. So, without further adieu, here we go...
Most 'hauntings' are very normal, not paranormal, and have mundane, rational explanations. If your priest, minister, pastor, rabbi or other religious figure agrees to a house call, that is how he/she will likely approach the situation. And that is how he/she should approach the situation. However, keep in mind that if your house really is haunted, and you're dealing with a particularly disagreeable entity, the quick, one-size-fits-all, sage 'n smoke, McDonald's drive-thru-type house blessing usually does little more than put a temporary Band-Aid on your paranormal problem, and many times does nothing at all. When its effect does wear off and your ghost no longer feels sidelined, you may find your recurring problem worse. Much worse. I am certainly not suggesting that you not contact the religious authority of your choosing, only that you understand the reality and limitations in doing so. Religious house blessings are great for keeping a 'clean' house spook-free, provided, of course, that you do nothing to invite them into your home at a later date, but often do little to rid your home of an existing entity. A good (albeit overly-simplified) analogy would be that of the common cold. If you're particularly germ-phobic, you could wear a surgical mask in public to prevent catching a cold but, once the rhinovirus has entered your body, that mask is of little use.
One of my favorite mantras has always been, "Knowledge is power", which holds very true in the context of hauntings. To rid your home of an entity, it's always preferable to know who or what that entity is. Do some research, methods of which can be found elsewhere on these pages. With knowledge of the "who" or "what", you can often determine the "why", which can do wonders for the process of resolving your paranormal dilemma. Getting back to religious intervention for a moment, that knowledge will allow you to match the religious figure to the entity, a mismatch of which may often be the cause of unsuccessful interventions. For example, if your haunting is caused by an Aboriginal spirit (which are usually attached to the land your home is on, not the structure itself), having a Roman Catholic priest come to your home to do a blessing will be of little value, regardless of your personal religious affiliation or beliefs. However, if you choose an Aboriginal or medicine man (ideally a member of the same tribe as the entity, but not always a necessity), you will likely have much more success in getting the entity to move on. Here's a trick that is sometimes successful if, even after research, you cannot determine the "who", "what" or "why": contact a religious figure from your local Catholic Church. While Christian in origin and belief, it encompasses a broader scope, and is a bit more open-minded to the possibility and reality of ghosts moving into your two-story condo. In short, due to their history, they simply tend to be more in-tune with this subject.
At all costs, avoid the mail order, self-ordained-types; you will find them under every rock and around every corner. These men and women usually charge a fee, catering mainly to ethnic communities through local community newspapers, as well as advertising in restaurants and other public locales. With loose roots in the old Spiritualist and current Evangelical movements, they mix religion with superstition and pronounce themselves ministers, pastors or reverends of this-or-that 'religion' once they hit our shores. And that's not to imply they all come from distant lands; we have an equal number of the home-grown variety, more than willing to take advantage of your paranormal situation and have you part with your money in the name of religion.
Let's Do The Time Warp Again
Campy, gender-bending movie musicals aside, time warps or, as we prefer to call them in the paranormal field, timeslips, do happen on rare occasion. They are not really a haunting in the classic sense, but are believed to be a hiccup in the time/space continuum. Yes, I know that sounds very much like some bad science fiction movie jargon, but it really does have its basis in theoretical physics, a field well-beyond my expertise, but a subject I talk a bit about in the section below. Let's strip-away all of the esoteric theories and fifty-dollar words and just say that a time slip occurs when two points in time collide.
Linear time is a human concept and perception. We are aware of and measure it by our sun rising and setting, our seasons changing, our calendar pages being ripped away and other cues. If you're anything like me, you also measure time through lines and wrinkles, real or imagined, and knowing that one day when you look in the mirror you'll see a Shar-Pei staring back. Woof!
Theoretical physics tells us that time and its passing may be nothing more than an illusion, a way for our brains to make sense and order of the world around us. There may be alternate dimensions, worlds and timelines. Think of it as a multiplex with several theaters, each totally immersive like a Star Trek holodeck, with each simultaneously playing all events that happened in a particular year to every person in the theater. Let's say one is playing 1918, another 1962 and so on, and you're in the theater playing the timeline that is your life and time, which is your current and perceivedreality. You're watching your movie of your realty, completely unaware of the theater next door, where people are watching their timeline, their current and perceived reality of 1962. The individual theaters, although part of a whole, are completely discrete and independent, and those in their theaters are completely oblivious to the others. And so things proceed in your theater, as well as to those in the other theaters, in a perceived linear direction. All is well, until there's a small hiccup, such as when the volume of the 'movie', the timeline in the theater next to yours, momentarily peaks. You may then notice something out of place in your timeline, something that does not correspond or belong in your reality, however faint. Did I just hear a ghost? Like most of us, you would probably shrug it off and continue on your merry way, happily living in your perceived reality.
But what happens if it's not just a hiccup, but a warp in your timeline and perceived reality or theirs, causing a sudden collision between the two? What happens if the wall between your theater and the theater next door, the theater that you were completely oblivious to as were the people in their theater to yours, momentarily comes crashing down? The timelines, the perceived realities of those in both theaters briefly intersect. Bingo! You've got yourself a time slip! Your time, your year, and your perceived reality just smacked into 1962 and those living in that time and in their perceivedreality.
How often does this happen? While 'hiccups' may be fairly common, actual collisions between two timelines seem be extremely rare, but there have been a few well-documented cases. The so-called Moberly-Jourdain Incident at Versailles in 1901, the incident of a vanishing hotel in France in 1979, and the eerie time slip in Pennsylvania Hall on the grounds of Gettysburg College are among the most well-known. In such instances, individuals in each timeline andperceived reality appear to be aware of the other, at least briefly, and often acknowledge that fact.
And what of those hiccups? Could they really be much more common? Could a hiccup in a timeline be the mechanism responsible for bringing your grandmother, the grandmother who is dead and buried in your timeline, in your perceivedreality, back for an encore? Grandma was alive and well in 1962. Could a hiccup in her timeline, in her perceived reality of 1962, cause her to gently brush against and fleetingly appear in your timeline, your perceived reality of 2015?
Can Ghosts Be Explained by Science?
All of this leads us to another avenue entirely, well beyond the scope of this site, involving theoretical physics, quantum physics and string theory. In short, everything we believe to be true may, in fact, not be. Parallel dimensions. No 'time' as we know it. Past, present and future all unfolding in unison. In regard to the paranormal, it may mean that when someone is dead, they may still be just as alive as we believe ourselves to be, and may explain what we perceive as a ghost. Wild stuff, and a fascinating read if you have some free time and get the chance to do a web search.
There are several investigators calling on their websites for scientific research to be conducted in an attempt to explain the paranormal, as the past decade has seen paranormal investigation turn from a serious endeavor to spooky entertainment. As I explain elsewhere on this site, what you see on television bears little resemblance to real paranormal investigation, but many of the ubiquitous amateur ghost hunting groups inspired by what they have seen on the tube honestly do believe they are conducting 'research'. While those calling for a return to the serious, scientific approach are on the right track, they either have very short memories or just don't have the years under their belts in the paranormal field. Why do I say that? Because the traditional scientific approach had been tried for decades, with one undeniable problem: it didn't work. The result? The pseudoscience and nonsense that permeates the field today. The traditional scientific establishment abandoned its quest for a paranormal answer, which left a void. A void that the 'fringe' and frauds, who have always been lurking on the sidelines, were more than happy to fill.
Throughout the 1960s, 70s and 80s, parapsychology departments were established in several prestigious universities, and remained very active during those decades. Before academia took an interest, private scientists and researchers were looking for answers, many behind the scenes to avoid the ridicule of their peers. Still, traditional science has brought us no closer to the answer. Years have turned to decades, and those decades now span well over a century. And here we are, still asking the same questions others have asked for generations. That, however, does not let the traditional scientific establishment off the hook, as abandoning the field of paranormal research has left it with no link to legitimacy. Ironically, that lack of scientific validation is the same accusation the same community now hurls back at us.Traditional science did not lose interest because it could disprove the paranormal, it did so because it could not prove the paranormal. Why? Because traditional science cannot provide the answer; the rules do not apply. Nearly every day, astrophysicists are finding distant bodies with properties that cannot be explained via traditional science and physics. Why, then, is there such resistance in the scientific community to the idea that the paranormal may, indeed, fall into the same realm? Time and time again, we hear the mantra, "Prove it!", not only by debunkers, but even by other paranormal researchers. And they are absolutely correct; claims of ghosts, EVP, and everything that goes 'bump in the night' should stand up to scientific scrutiny. Yes, it should. That is, of course, unless the rules do not apply.
The paranormal, as it relates to anything connected with the 'other side', presents a unique scientific challenge. Claims of Bigfoot or other cryptid? Sure, traditional science can handle that; just hand over a body, tuft of fur, or even produce a pile of poop for DNA analysis, and you're good to go. Aliens and UFOs? Abduct a 'grey' (see how they like it!) or nab a saucer; if they're real, they're tangible. But ghosts? What are you going to produce? A photograph? A video? If that were 'proof', their existence would have already been established a zillion times over just by logging on to YouTube. Unless, of course, you can convince your dead grandfather to walk onto the MIT campus with you or, even better, into debunker James "The Amazing" Randi's living room. Nah, on second thought, don't bother. You'd probably give the old fart a heart attack and he still wouldn't believe it, so forget pocketing that million in reward money from his infamous "challenge". He's offered it in one form or another since 1964, which means the challenge is as old as dirt. And Randi himself is older than dirt. Yes, even older than Cher. And since Cher is as old as dirt, and Randi is older than dirt, that means Randi is older than Cher. And who knew anything could be older than Cher?
So, let's wrap this up with the CliffsNotes version: Traditional science does not have the answer. Theoretical physicsmay have the answer. Those who want traditional science to provide the answer are either forgetful or young.
Please don't hesitate to contact me if you have questions or if I can be of assistance. I strive to respond to all inquiries within 24 hours