Joining a Ghost Research Team

cem1-pdMany people have asked me about finding and joining a local ghost hunting group.

THE BASICS

First, be sure to read the articles in my free ghost hunting course, Introduction to Ghost Hunting.

From the second lesson:

Locate at least one ghost hunting group in your area. Search at Google, Yahoo, etc., using the name of your city or town, plus the word “ghosts.” If that doesn’t work, try your county name and the word “ghosts.” If that still doesn’t help, try your state or regional name, and the word “ghosts.”

If you don’t find a local group, or none of them are right for you, ask friends if they’d be interested in ghost hunting at dusk or later.

When think that you have enough people — and collective expertise — to try a ghost hunt, choose a well-known haunted site (a place that’s open to the public) and visit it shortly before dusk.

If you decide to start your own group, be sure to take my free course first, and carefully read Part 4. Learn what to think about when you launch a ghost hunting group.

COMMITMENTS

If you’re asked to sign an agreement, make sure that you can leave the group easily — and without penalties of any kind — if it’s not a good match for your interests.

If there are any “non-disclosure” terms, don’t join that group.   Be suspicious of anyone who’s keeping secrets from others.

THE MONEY QUESTION

Groups may charge a small fee to cover their actual expenses.  However, be sure you know where the money goes and be certain that you’re getting your money’s worth.

Money keyDon’t pay anyone for anything at all, unless the price is extremely low.  It’s not that the course (or whatever) isn’t worth it, but if you’re on a shoestring budget or beginning this as a hobby, for now, there’s no reason to pay someone over $100 for.. well, anything.

Of course, weekend conferences and professionally-taught courses are an exception to the $100 rule.  But, even then, don’t spend money you can’t afford.

If you pay in advance for a class, a conference, or a ghost-related event, always get a written receipt with the refund information on it.  Don’t be uncomfortable about asking for one.

You can dispute payments made through PayPal, but it helps if you have either an email stating refund terms, or a screenshot of the group/event’s website page explaining refund policies.

Here are a few other points to watch for.

  • Don’t pay anyone an “investment” fee to be part of an entourage or work with anyone.  (At least one questionable investigator is using that term to solicit money.)
  • Don’t buy supplies for anyone or any group, with the idea that you’ll be paid back in the future or given special status.
  • Don’t believe anyone’s promises that they’ll make you a star or build a career for you. (That’s another line some con artists use.)

You can learn ghost hunting without spending a cent. It’ll take you more time than if you took classes with a professional (or a good, experienced group), but you can acquire a very solid foundation in paranormal research, on your own.

MAKING CONTACT

Have patience when you contact groups.  The good ones are overloaded with work, and under-staffed.

(Each year, the media begin contacting me in July for Halloween-related interviews.  So, don’t expect quick responses from any professional-level group, from September through mid-November.)

Affiliate with no group until you’ve worked with them for at least a month.   Well, except TAPS, maybe.  (That is, the real TAPS and their family of investigators, not some group that’s illegally using the TAPS name.)

Other than that… get a good sense of whether the chemistry works and if their views fit with yours, before you make any kind of commitment.

IN GENERAL

Most ghost hunting groups have a website.  You can usually find them with Google, combining “ghost hunting” and your town or city name.

If a group has been around for at least two or three years, and you respect the members, ask if you can join them for a few ghost hunts.

If you can’t find a local group, go to free events at bookstores, etc., related to paranormal topics.  (They’re most popular around Halloween.)  Ask friends at school or work if they’re interested in ghosts and haunted places.

Find at least two or three people to explore ghost hunting with you, and you’ll soon attract others with similar interests.

The vast majority of ghost enthusiasts are wonderful people and you’ll enjoy your research with them.  However, it’s smart to be cautious at first.

Use common sense.  Don’t be afraid to admit if you’re uncomfortable with a person or a group, or if a haunted location seems “not right.”  Leave immediately, and then see if you can figure out what bothered you.

Participate in ghost research and investigations as long as it’s fun and interesting.  That could continue for a month, a year, or much longer.

With no formal system of credentials and certification, this field can seem confusing to newcomers.   However, with just a little experience, you’ll soon learn the questions to ask and what to look for when you accompany a group on an investigation.

Certified? What does it mean?

Certified ghost hunter? Licensed? Competent?  How do these terms affect us as ghost hunters?  The following include my answers to a reader’s questions on these topics.

The reader asked why my free Introduction to Ghost Hunting course issues a certificate.  Here’s my reply:

A certificate is just that… a certificate. It’s a piece of paper (or a digital certificate) that indicates something, usually that the person has completed a project or course of some kind.

Anyone can be “certified” if we’re talking about earning a certificate. That’s different from being licensed.

My courses include certificates of completion. If the person chooses to say that they’re “certified,” that’s is correct.  In fact, anyone can claim to be a “certified ghost hunter” if they have some training and earned a certificate.

Don’t confuse that with approval from any official board of licensing and certification… that doesn’t exist in the paranormal field.

Until paranormal expertise can be determined in a truly scientific setting, we can’t license or broadly certify someone’s skills as a ghost hunter.

In spiritual fields, dealing with subjects that — for the present — can’t be quantified.

Here’s an example: Legally speaking, someone is an “ordained minister,” whether they printed out their certificate from the Universal Life Church or graduated from Harvard Divinity School.

I’ve met devout spiritual people with certificates from the former, and nasty cynics who’ve abandoned their beliefs after graduating from Harvard.

In paranormal research, we don’t have annual licensing reviews. We’re not required to complete X number of hours of continuing education or in-service training.

However, the sooner we understand what people call “ghosts” and “hauntings,” the sooner some standardization might be possible.

Can someone be taught to find ghosts?

The reader asked if someone can be taught to find ghosts.

The answer is, no. At this point, no one can say with confidence that any ghost can be found, period.

However, we tend to use the word “ghost” when we actually mean “phenomena that many people believe may be caused by the spirit of someone who once lived.”

It’s just easier to say “ghost” so most people know what we’re talking about.

People can be taught to find and identify that kind of phenomena, but only charlatans will claim you’re actually finding ghosts.

Ghosts are different from demons

The reader asked who can tell a spirit to cross over, except experienced exorcists.

I replied:   Some exorcists may help a spirit “cross over.”I think that’s rare.

In most cases, exorcists are dealing with demons, not ghosts. They don’t care if the demon “crosses over” or crosses the street, as long as it leaves people alone.

I believe that many exorcists won’t say they’re qualified to banish ghosts or release them from this plane of existance.

Helping a “trapped” ghost involves empathy, patience, a strong sense of spirituality, and — above all — time. It involves education and a lot of experience in the paranormal field.

Do all ghost investigators want to help the ghosts?

Another reader commented about my introductory course, “I would hope that you are trying to help someone or help the ‘ghosts’.”

Not all ghost hunters are interested in actually helping clients. (From my experience, many teams are interested in studying ghostly phenomena. A few are thrill-seekers.)

Few teams pause to help ghosts, unless a team member insists on it.

hh-eastern_state_penitentiary3In a beginning ghost hunting course, your first step is to find a haunted place. Then, determine if you believe any of this, and what your specific interest are.

For many professionals, this is a scientific pursuit. It has nothing to do with “helping” ghosts.

For others, it may be entertaining. They’re playing “How many famous ghosts can you witness?”

My courses help people learn enough basics to determine if they’re truly interested in ghost hunting, after they’ve visited a few haunted places.

Should we always warn people not to trespass?

The reader suggested that I should put a warning about trespassing at the top of the first lesson.

I have a different outlook. In my course, I mention the private property issue.

A warning about trespassing appears on every page of this website, and in my ghost hunting rules/guidelines.

It’s also common sense and the law.

I’m not sure that repeating it will make much difference.Do you have an opinion about these issues? Leave a comment, below.

Ghosts and Ghost Hunters – Stereotypes and Reality

Haunted site 150w

Ghosts? Not everyone believes in them.

Oh, many people are afraid of the dark. Others become edgy when they hear unexplained noises after dark.

Let’s talk about fact and fiction, related to ghosts.

These are the three main kinds of ghostly activity:

  • Residual energy.
  • Active hauntings.
  • Poltergeists.

Phrases may vary, but the concepts remain the same.

A residual energy haunting is a location that “feels” haunted. When something happens, it’s the same thing, every time. The activity usually occurs on a certain day or date, and sometimes at a particular time. Or, it might be activated by a specific trigger, such as when a certain song is played on the radio.  It might be a temperature drop, an apparition, or a fragrance. However, it’s always the same thing, over & over again.

I usually describe this as stored energy that lingers after an event (or events) that included strong emotions. It’s like an iron that remains hot long after you turn it off. The vast majority hauntings are simply residual energy.

Active hauntings are different. The ghost (or ghosts) reacts to what’s going on when you’re there. If you talk to the ghost, it will respond or at least pause what it’s doing. (These spirits are often described as “sentient.”)

In my research, fewer than 20% of ghost reports are active, sentient, responsive hauntings. Most are residual energy. They’ll fade away over time, if they’re ignored.

Few ghosts appear as apparitions. They’re not complete figures that everyone can see.

Apparitions rarely appears gruesome, bloody, or extremely old or young.  When they manifest, it’s usually how they appeared at the prime of their lives.

Poltergeists are controversial.

Poltergeists are, literally, “noisy ghosts.” When you hear about dishes flying across the room, or stones raining from the ceiling, that’s a poltergeist.

Some people believe that all poltergeist phenomena are psychokinesis (also called PK) or telekinesis. That is, the events are caused by someone living. That individual has elevated abilities related to ESP. According to this theory, people are able to move things with the power of their minds, and no physical contact.

Most people believe that the poltergeist is a mischievous or malicious spirit, acting on its own. It torments one or more people until it gets bored and goes somewhere else.

However, some ghost researchers — including me — believe that poltergeists represent a two-part phenomenon.

  • The energy for the activity is provided by someone who is very much alive.
  • The pranks and noises are caused by a ghost who’s using the energy of the living person.

One of the most intriguing lines of research relates to water and poltergeists. Poltergeist phenomena seem to increase around water — in the kitchen, bathroom, or a dining area where water is served. And, where there is no naturally occurring water,  unexplained water appears after a poltergeist episode.

In general, ghosts can appear anywhere, but history — and sometimes geography — usually indicate why the site may be haunted.

Likewise, there are three main stereotypes among ghost hunters:

  • Skeptical critics.
  • Over-enthusiastic “true believers.”
  • Everyone else.

Skeptical critics go to extremes to find normal explanations for events that most people would label paranormal. The stereotype is male, over 25 years old (usually over 40) and he’s annoyingly sarcastic.

Over-enthusiastic “true believers” are the opposite of critical skeptics. In the stereotype, they tend to be teens or young adults, or mature (45+) adults.

They eagerly choose paranormal explanations for events that might well be normal. If a normal explanation makes sense, they’ll bristle and relentlessly poke holes in it.

Combined, these two groups — rabid skeptics and ardent “true believers” — probably comprise less than 10% of all ghost hunters.

However, skeptics and overly-enthusiastic believers stand out in the crowd. So, many ghost hunters have to deal with these labels in the media and public opinion.

Let’s talk about reality now.

The vast majority of ghost hunters are healthy skeptics who admit that some events can’t be explained, and may be caused by ghosts. They enjoy “what if…” questions, and reasonable challenges to paranormal explanations.  They never want to leap to a hasty conclusion.

Most ghost hunters believe something odd is going on at “haunted” sites.

Some, but not all, ghost hunters believe in ghosts.  Generally, they’re looking for proof, one way or the other, but how they define “proof” varies widely. What seems like compelling evidence to one person may seem laughably shaky to another.

In general, most ghost hunters are everyday people. At any ghost investigation, you’ll usually find a mix of genders and a wide range of ages and backgrounds.

You’ll also find a full spectrum of opinions and beliefs.

The media and Hollywood love stereotypes.  They reduce the need to explain things.  Every ghost hunting team seems to have at least one cute guy in a tight t-shirt, and one member who startles easily. (The classic is a young woman with blonde hair, who shrieks at everything.)

Any writer or producer who relies on those stereotypes is short-changing the audience.  While parodies are fun, and it’s convenient to simplify peripheral characters, people know it’s not real.

If you add too many “no, that’s not real” elements, you’ll lose your audience’s trust and loyalty.

If you want believable ghosts and ghost hunters, make them real people, not something freakish or silly.