Mediums on vigils
Many vigils are conducted with mediums or psychics forming part of the team. ASSAP does not do this because there is great uncertainty about how mediums work and where they get their information. Indeed, mediumship is a paranormal phenomenon in itself.
If you use mediums to investigate hauntings, you are researching something unknown (ghosts) using something else which is unknown (mediumship). While it is certainly appropriate to study mediumship in controlled circumstances, relying on it in ghost research is unhelpful.
Suppose, for the sake of argument, you assume that mediums can obtain accurate information about a haunted place. You may be able to verify this from historical research. For instance, you might show that a certain person really did once inhabit the haunted house. This might seem like good evidence.
However, you do not know where that information came from. Even if the information did indeed come from paranormal sources, there is no way to demonstrate scientifically that it came from a 'spirit' allegedly present at the time of the vigil. The information may have been obtained in some other way (either conventionally or possibly even paranormally). It could, for instance, be cryptomnesia (or latent memory) where the medium actually knew something about the haunted place but could not consciously remember it. This is a problem in hypnotic regression research.
Another problem is one of accuracy. As anyone who has been to a reading with a medium will know, not everything they tell you is correct. So if the medium on a ghost vigil tells you some information that you cannot verify, how do you know if it is correct or not?
Is my house haunted?
If you are not an investigator and suspect your house is haunted, try checking against the typical 'symptoms' here . Better still, get ASSAP to investigate. Also, see here for more on ghosts. To decide if you've seen a ghost see here.
There are many buildings that claim to be the 'most haunted' in Britain (or whatever country they are in). Strangely, it is possible that some of these places may not even be haunted at all!
It all depends on your criteria for deciding whether somewhere is 'haunted'. This might seem an esoteric point but it is vitally important. Many researchers are comparing haunted and not-haunted locations to identify environmental differences that may be related to the haunting phenomenon. If they are using inappropriate criteria their research may be useless, or worse, misleading.
So, how can a building which is not haunted gain a 'most haunted' status? It helps if the building looks spooky. Such buildings naturally attract odd reports (for psychological and cultural reasons). Crucially, however, such reports may not be consistent.
If just one such odd report about a building is reported widely (eg. in a local paper) then it is well on the way to 'most haunted' status. More reports will inevitably appear. They will almost inevitably show a consistency to 'fit in' with the original report. People will know what they are 'supposed' to experience (through a process of suggestion) and, inevitably, they will. It is often not long before someone suggests the identity of the 'ghost' (see right) even if no apparition has been seen!
Once a building has a reputation for being haunted, it will inevitably attract 'ghost hunters'. Some of these may be serious researchers while others are just looking for a special experience.
The way vigils are run has a big influence on their results. A well-run research vigil conducted by serious researchers can be a mind-numbingly boring experience. A group of people looking for a 'thrill' are almost certain to get their wish. Wandering around a 'haunted' house (inevitably, in the dark) with an air of expectancy, maybe with psychics present (see left), is much more likely to produce exciting incidents.
Accounts of such vigils inevitably find their way onto the web these days. Early vigils play a big part in what is subsequently reported by following groups. Everyone then 'knows' that there is the 'spirit' of a soldier in the basement, a cold spot in the hall and a door that opens by itself in the kitchen. The fact that these alleged phenomena may have natural explanations rarely reaches the web reports. Effectively, a building may become reputedly 'haunted' by a process similar to Chinese Whispers.
What about orbs?
When people get orbs on their photos taken at home, they may wonder if their house could be haunted. Orbs can, in fact, occur anywhere, not just at haunted locations. For more on orbs, try the Orbs Gallery and Orb FAQ.
What about EVP?
Some people record apparent voices in their houses when there is no one around. Usually the voices are not heard at the time of the recording. See paranormal sounds, haunting noises and analysing sound recordings (including EVP).
Who is that ghost?
One of the things that gives particular hauntings credibility is when the ghost is identified. It sounds more credible if Mary Queen of Scots is said to haunt a building rather than some unknown phantom. One might assume that Mary has been definitely identified by witnesses who are in a position to know.
The way ghosts are actually 'identified' is a murky subject. One would like to think that witnesses are shown pictures of similar-looking people, like a police identity parade, and asked to pick out the one they saw. If this happens, it doesn't seem to have been reported (unless anyone knows different - please do get in touch).
Even if witnesses are given such 'identity parades', people are known not to remember details well. Also, unlike in incidents reported to the police, witnesses to apparitions may not be interviewed for weeks or even months after the incident.
So why are ghosts identified so confidently in many cases? Sometimes it may be mediumistic information, which has known problems (see left). Or, it may simply be the way the case is investigated. Some people start with the assumption that ghosts are 'spirits', so it might seem natural that a male ghost in particular property is the 'spirit' of a man who once committed suicide there. But did the ghost actually resemble the individual? You can see this sort of reasoning in the Blue Bell Hill case.
One intriguing fact is that ghosts were not reported in anything but contemporary dress until the early twentieth century. So Roman soldiers, Elizabethans and Jacobeans were not reported until fairly recently. Presumably Mary Queen of Scots was not seen until Victorian times.
The best way to decide whether a building is haunted is to try to find original, independent witnesses and interview them. Find people who reported things before the building gained its reputation. Look for similarities between the witness accounts. If there are consistent factors between such reports it indicates that something is producing them, whether it is 'normal' or 'paranormal'. Such a location would warrant a full investigation.
Frequently updated paranormal research blog often features ghosts.
© Maurice Townsend 2007,2010