How To Survive While Ghost Hunting

danger of death

Ghost hunting can be a dangerous hobby, and I’m not just talking about the furniture being thrown at you by invisible angry people or the risk of being possessed by Satan…

I started to actively hunt for ghosts at the age of eighteen, and with a small group of others I would visit businesses and homes after the sun had set to see if we could find evidence of the paranormal. We’d mimic what we saw on paranormal television shows because we knew no better, and we would ask empty rooms “is there anybody here with us? Give us a sign of your presence” in voices that we attempted to make sound mysterious and yet business-like.

Anyone who has read my blog before will know that years later I completely changed my approach to my research, but for those who haven’t been here before I now use a more scientific approach when investigating reports of paranormal phenomena and I use rational inquiry and scientific scepticism to try and work out what is really going on when people experience weird stuff. This means that I usually do my research during the daytime which has significantly reduced the number of risks I take – like being accidentally shot by Counter-Terrorism Officers. Yet, there are still people out there who choose to visit allegedly haunted places with the lights off to look for ghosts. I think that methodologies that rely on ghost hunting gadgets and spiritual communication techniques are flawed and irrational, but to each his or her own, right?

However, if you are going to go ghost hunting at Halloween- or at any other time of the year -here are some tips on how to do so safely and responsibly. I’m not going to go into the details of the ethics of ghost hunting here but I have written about it before and I recommend that you read about it. Below are tips on the risks that many people wouldn’t even realise they are taking when they go looking for ghosts…

Tip #1: Don’t Get Mistaken For Burglars

As I mentioned previously, ghost hunters tend to walk around businesses and homes in the dark and guided only by the light of their torches or by candles. To a passer-by this could look as though a house or business has been broken into and is in the process of being robbed. Late last year that very thing happened to three ghost hunters who were investigating a Civil War-era location in the US. News outlets reported 

The officer reportedly passed by an old Civil War-era building in Gettysburg and saw flashlights inside. Thinking he was witnessing a burglary in progress, he went in, handcuffed, searched and detained the three ghost hunters at gunpoint.

Um… eek! The best way to avoid this is to make sure the owner of the location is present or is easily contactable. Always carry identification and if you can get written permission to be at the location then do carry that with you. Alerting the police to your planned activity is also a possible course of action.

Tip #2: Seek Permission To Access Buildings And Land

It’s really tempting to enter private and restricted areas to hunt for ghosts at creepy and old looking buildings but you can end up in a whole heap of trouble. Remember – the first thing people are going to think when they see people sneaking around in the dark in a location they shouldn’t even be in is that they’re up to no good. Is it really worth a police caution or conviction?

Further to that though, there are some places that can be tempting to ghost hunters that seem public but are actually privately owned. Some woodlands and parks are private property, for example. Some wooded areas near my house are split into plots of land which are each owned by different people and permission would need to be sought from each of these by anyone thinking of going on the land after certain hours. Graveyards and Cemeteries are also a big red flat for ghost hunters. Although some are public, they will have restricted visiting hours and you will get in trouble if you enter outside of these hours. Other graveyards that are in the grounds of houses or estates may not be open to public access at all.

Tip #3: Remember That You Are Not Immortal

Ghost hunting can be exhilarating and when spooky things happen it can cause a rush of adrenaline, but always remember that you are not immortal and you will die if you do dangerous things. Going off alone without a way to contact the others with you is an obvious n0-no, but over the years ghost hunters have taken even bigger risks while looking for ghosts.

People have been shot while trespassing in the hunt for ghosts, people have run off of cliff tops while evading police after being caught trespassing, people have tried to access haunted buildings via rooftops only to fall to their deaths and people have been hit by trains while looking for spooky activity. Such risks are really not worth it and are not a required part of ghost research.

Tip #4: Don’t Set Fire To Stuff In An Attempt To “Provoke” Ghosts

I seriously cannot believe that people need to be told to not do this but there have been several instances of people setting fire to a property in an attempt to “provoke” a ghost into doing something. Usually people just verbally provoke ghosts by saying things like “come on you coward, don’t you have the guts to do anything?”, or as Yvette Fielding once shouted at the alleged spirit of a woman who was cruelly persecuted for witchcraft as part of the Pendle Witch trails, “Come on you bitch!”

This in itself is tasteless but setting fire to venues is a whole other ballgame. Don’t do that, okay?

Tip #5: Don’t Get Mistaken For Terrorists

I can’t even believe that I’ve just written that header up there, but armed police in West Sussex recently responded to a 999 call from a member of the public who had seen armed men forcing people into the back of a van in the middle of nowhere. The BBC reported

Armed officers descended on the Outbreak “physical horror” event in Hurstpierpoint, West Sussex, after a concerned passerby called the police. Sussex Police said they had strong words with organisers who inadvertently placed people at “significant risk” … Supt Rex Matthews said: “We would actively discourage people from carrying even imitation firearms in any public place. The threat level from international terrorism in Britain is currently assessed as severe and there have been a number of terrorist plots thwarted. Incidents such as the one on Sunday are clearly going to worry local residents and the public who were unaware of the intentions of the event organisers.”

I don’t know any ghost hunters who carry imitation weapons, but even so, it is really easy for the actions of ghost hunters to be misinterpreted by outside observers.

If you must go ghost hunting then please make sure that you do so safely and make sure that you don’t endanger other people too. There’s absolutely no reason to put yourself in danger when looking for spooky encounters.

Don Philips Plays The Science Game. Loses.

evp

According to Mike Lockley of the Birmingham Mail, paranormal researcher Don Philips ‘has allowed scientists to pore over his unique talents and emerged with reputation untarnished.’ When I read this I had to do a double take – readers of my blog may be familiar with the issues I have with Don Philips and his research methods, so to discover he had worked with scientists to prove his abilities once and for all was news to me and my skeptic senses started tingling straight away.

I contacted Professor Chris French from the Anomalistic Psychology Research Unit at Goldsmiths because I assumed it would be Professor French that this had happened with considering that Philips has been on investigations alongside Chris in the past, but he knew nothing about it. It turns out that this reference to allowing scientists to ‘pore over his unique talents’ may be reference to Steve Mera whom Philips has recently started to work alongside.

Further in the Birmingham Mail article Mike Lockley explains that Philips uses audio recordings to capture evidence of ghosts and explains that ‘Among believers, the activity is dubbed Electronic Voice Phenomena. Among non-believers, it is pareidolia – presented with a wall of incoherent noise, the brain will scramble the cackles and hisses into words.’

According the article Steve Mera has been able to discount that the recordings Philips provides as evidence are pareidolia. He is quoted as saying

“We’ve played Don’s tape to three people and they’ve picked out the same name. With pareidolia, they should all hear different words.”

Um. Nope.

ducking shaking its head gif

It’s great that there has been an attempt to use a control here by asking a (albeit small) sample of people to listen to the recording to gather their independent opinions of what the recording is but this doesn’t mean anything. I play samples of EVPs in the talks I deliver to the general public all the time and the hundreds of people who have sat and listened to these clips in my talk often hear similar things said in the recordings but this is not evidence that these recordings are made by ghosts.

They are not made by ghosts and there is a very good chance that the recordings are a product of external interference from broadcast sources such as radio transmissions, walkie talkies, wireless baby monitors and similar devices.

To suggest that three people hearing the same thing in an EVP recording is evidence that the recording is not a result of the pareidolia effect is quite odd really and it certainly isn’t scientific. Not to mention the pareidolia effect doesn’t make people interpret things differently than others. If the recording follows a specific speech pattern or sound pattern then it isn’t difficult to see how three people could hear the same thing.

Below is an example of one of the EVP clips I often use in my public talks. Give it a listen:

The hundreds of people who listen to this alleged EVP recording tell me that they hear some of the following things:

Just give it to me
Where is Timmy?
Just listen to me

Does this mean that this clip is a ghost saying one of these things? No, there is no way that I can rule out any of the possible rational causes for the recording and I find it very hard to believe that this has been possible for the clips that Don Philips records and presents as evidence. By all means allow scientists to examine your evidence and use a scientific approach to your research, but claiming that EVP isn’t pareidolia or caused by external interference? Please… change the record.

Don’t Be Afraid Of Ouija Boards

ouija planchettes

Can Ouija Boards summon demons? No.
Are Ouija Boards dangerous? Nope.
Can Ouija Board possess you? No, they cannot.

The only threat a Ouija Board poses to your health and safety is if someone throws it at your head, sometimes the square boards have sharp corners that could take an eye out if you’re not careful and some people use Ouija Boards in dark rooms with candles lit which can pose a fire risk if knocked over.

Who is the dumbass really? Hmm?
Who is the dumbass really? Hmm?

The idea that Ouija Boards are dangerous in some sort of spiritual way is usually the result of religious scaremongering and superstitious people. There is absolutely no reason to be scared of a Ouija Board, so if people tell you that you are being stupid or a dumb-ass for using a board, if they tell you that you are at risk of demonic possession or they say that you are evil don’t listen to them. They’re the ones who are in the wrong and science can show us why.

The planchette- the marker that is moved between letters and numbers to spell out messages -seems to be guided by an unseen force but research[1] has shown that this effect is caused by those involved without them necessarily realising it. This is referred to as an Ideomotor Response. Some people would disagree and would claim that these effects are caused by paranormal and supernatural forces but this is speculative and there is no evidence to back this claim up.

When I point this out a lot of people who disagree with my opinion on Ouija Boards tell me stories of times that messages that came from a Ouija Board were precise and detailed and they will tell me that there is no way that anyone could have made the board deliver those messages. Although these experiences can seem very compelling to the user the answer usually lies with them and their involvement. Our expectations can have a huge influence in the outcome of Ouija Board sessions- especially if we are really keen to communicate with the deceased.

For example, if you are told that a ghost called Marie haunts a house and that she is often seen looking for her lost lover then it is likely that a message from Marie will be spelled out via the board that matches these expectations. Some would argue this is proof that the ghost of Marie exists and is trying to communicate with the living but that it is the people around the Ouija Board unconsciously moving the planchette in accordance to their expectations is a far more reasonable explanation. If you replace Marie with the spirit of a relative that the people using the Ouija Board are desperate to get a message from you can see how easy it would be to unwillingly move the planchette through an eagerness to get that message. In the past people have gotten messages via Ouija Boards from ghosts who were completely fictional which suggests they unconsciously moved the planchette to deliver those messages with the details they were given influencing them.

Ouija Boards can be fun to use but there is no evidence that they provide a communicative channel with spirits of the dead, yet there is an overwhelming amount of evidence that shows that what happens during a Ouija Board session is a product of the people taking part. In fact, if you blindfold people who conduct a Ouija Board session and turn the board around without them knowing you are doing so, the planchette will be pushed to positions in which letters had been before the board was repositioned. The same effect is seen when a square board is replaced with a circular board and so on.

Does this mean that people who use Ouija Boards are cheating? Not necessarily. There is no way to be certain that the other people using a Ouija Board are not pushing the planchette around on purpose to trick the other people with them, and this should ring alarm bells for anyone planning to use a Ouija Board. If you cannot put in place a control to rule out intentional trickery then how can you ever be sure? However, even if you trust the others using a Ouija Board with you to not trick you it is still likely that all of you will unintentionally cause the planchette to move.

In fact, after his research into Ideomotor responses Ray Hyman stated that ‘honest, intelligent people can unconsciously engage in muscular activity that is consistent with their expectations’, that means that even if you are not intending to move the planchette and trick people you will still have an influence upon it without necessarily meaning to, especially if you are attempting to communicate with the dead and want to be successful in doing so.

Recent research[2] has suggested that Ouija Boards can be used to tap into our subconscious and some people have mistaken this as evidence that Ouija Boards have spiritual powers but this is not true. This research, which is still in early stages, relies on the Ideomotor Responses of people using Ouija Boards to work and that is all. Nothing spiritual involved whatsoever.

When it comes to spirit communication methods there is a really good rule of thumb that I recommend everyone uses: if people have to touch something for a spiritual message to come through then it’s probably not spiritual at all.

Fear not the Ouija Boards, for Ouija Boards is people.

 

1-http://www.quackwatch.org/01QuackeryRelatedTopics/ideomotor.html
    http://www.sgipt.org/medppp/psymot/carp1852.htm

2- http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1053810012000402

Recommended Reading

Science Of Scams | Ouija Boards Revealed [Video]
Hayley Is A Ghost| Did Scientists Prove That Ouija Boards Work? No. 

REVIEW: The Longleat House Ghost Tour

longleat 2

Something strange has happened to Longleat Safari Park. A vampire has taken up residence in the Bat Cave, enormous pumpkins are sprouting up all around the grounds, a coven of witches have taken up residence in the main hall of the beautiful Longleat House and things that ought to lurk only in the shadows have taken to roaming the corridors in the dark basements and attics.

longleat ghostI may have led dozens of real-life ghost investigations, entered allegedly haunted houses to try to solve their ghostly mysteries, and busted my fair share of dodgy ghosts in my time as a paranormal researcher but nothing could have prepared me for the moment this afternoon when I found myself in the creepy and cold attics of Longleat House resisting the fight or flight instinct that we still-alive humans feel when something scary or dangerous happens to us.

I was part of a group of ten people participating in one of the ghost tours of Longleat house that happen in the lead up to Halloween and although I’m not going to tell you what happened or any of the stories that we were told during the tour, I am going to tell you to buy tickets. This is a must do tour for anyone remotely interested in ghosts. If you can’t get there for 2014 then put it in your diary for Halloween 2015.

The Longleat Ghost Tours, which are not suitable for minors, have only existed for two years but the experience is up there with many other such tours I have gone on. The estate has a rich history peppered with truly spooky stories of strange happenings and ghostly sightings and, to their credit, the tour guides don’t go over the top in their retelling of the ghost stories like some venues can but there’s enough tension in the air as you wander around to cause a tingling on the back of your neck…

In conclusion, the ghost tour was just perfect. Tickets cost £7.50 per person but you do have to have a day ticket to the Safari Park to take part. Although this does put the price up it does give you access to the rest of the park including the famous Safari, Safari boat, shows, playground and other attractions which was really enjoyable (even if I did get pooped on by a bat…)

I am extremely glad that Longleat have started to explore and share the ghost legends of the house and, between you and me, I think I might have spotted the infamous ghost of the grey lady…

Samuel Kent’s Ghost: What It Means When You Say A Photo Shows A Ghost

Trowbridge Photo One

A while ago the photo seen here was posted on Social Media sites and it came to my attention because the person who took the photo lives in the next town over from me and we have mutual friends. Did I know what it was, I was asked. An original of the photo was send to me to examine and I tried to work out what could have caused the oddity in the window but I couldn’t work out a cause but I didn’t think it was anything significant. Weird shapes are reflected in windows all of the time and our pattern seeking brains call them faces even when they are not. Remember the Cumbria demolition ghost that was actually plaster?

demolition ghost

Photos can be difficult to work with because they show a snapshot in time. It is often impossible to recreate the exact conditions a photo was taken in so even though you are provided with before and after shots for comparison.

According to the press I was wrong though and apparently the oddity in the window was the ghost of a dead man. I don’t agree (you might be surprised to find) and I think there are several problems with the line of reasoning that has led to people concluding that the photo is evidence of something paranormal in nature. (If that is indeed what the photographer believed. When I spoke to them via email they were not convinced it was paranormal.)

When we say that we cannot explain something caught in a photograph or caught on a video or audio recording but in the next breath we say that it must therefore be a ghost what we are actually saying is “I cannot explain this, therefor I can explain this as a ghost.”

That does not make sense because if it has no known explanation then it has no known explanation. To conclude that something you cannot explain must be a ghost is quite the presumption on your part because by reaching that conclusion you are suggesting that you can confidently rule out every other possible explanation and, because of the nature of what we are dealing with, it is not possible to rule out every possible explanation.

Photographs are snapshots of a moment in time and you can only see what the camera was pointed at in the second or so that the camera took the photo. You cannot see what was behind, to the side, above or around the photographer. A photo shows you a representation of what was in frame and it tells you nothing of what was on the other side of the window in the photo or what was happening when the photo was taken.

Linking a clock falling off of a wall with this photo makes no logical sense and there is no reason that these two separate occurrences have anything to do with one another. That is also quite a presumption.

It always amuses me when odd photos or videos that I am asked to examine end up in the press when they’re not that impressive and, although I have no reason to believe that this photo was faked or staged, this is not reason enough to accept that is paranormal in nature. That conclusion is unimaginative.