Ghosts, History, Triggers, and Synergy

You probably know that I specialize in haunted places that others overlook, especially sites that are open to the public. I believe it’s important to put ghost research within everyone’s reach. The more data we have, the better we’ll understand what’s really going on at haunted sites.

But, I rarely talk about some of the more complex (and admittedly quirky) ways I identify sites likely to be haunted, and confirm that they’re probably haunted.

If you’re busy and prefer to listen to this article as a recording, here’s my 10-minute podcast.

Ghosts, History, Triggers, and Synergy

In this 10-minute recording, you can learn how to use history to confirm and increase ghostly activity at haunted locations. Fiona shares some of her best-kept secrets, with tips for putting them to use in your own investigations.  The related article – and helpful links – are at HollowHill.com

History and ghost hunting

I’m revealing one of my “secret” techniques related to ghost hunting because an article mentioned renovation ghosts. While that’s a term I don’t use, the subject is important in both my personal research… and my professional work as a consultant for producers, etc.

So, what is this technique…?

In its simplest form, I’m using history (and other components) for synergy. “Synergy” is a word I’ll use often, so here’s its definition, from the Cambridge Dictionary:

Synergy: the combined power of a group of things that, when they are working together, is greater than the total power achieved by each working separately.

In other words, I identify multiple historical and geographical factors & influences that can contribute to hauntings… and then I put them to use.

(And no, I don’t mean “provoking,” although that is a somewhat crude version of what I’m describing.)

One reason I haven’t talked about using synergy in ghost hunting is.. well, it sounds utterly geeky.

But also – like most paranormal research – the success of this approach isn’t guaranteed, especially as a stand-alone method.

Perhaps most importantly, if synergy is handled badly, there can be consequences on many levels. They can include actual dangers that aren’t limited to what happens on-site.

But, when researchers understand synergy and use it in ghost hunting, the results can be spectacular. Literally.

History as a trigger

Today, many people talk about emotional triggers, and they’re part of the synergy I’m describing. Emotional triggers can range from inadvertently mentioning a sore subject, to outright bullying.

Here’s how author Martha Beck describes emotional triggers.

Emotional triggering is, at root, a survival response. Our brains create powerful associations between things that hurt us and whatever happened to be occurring when we got hurt.

That’s exactly what I’m describing: the interaction between historical references and ghosts, and how that manifests (sometimes literally) at haunted locations.

At its core, this technique is about history: the ghost’s personal history, and what churns up memories of intensely emotional moments in the ghost’s past.

Yes, this describes provoking, but – almost always – that’s a deliberate, very negative and forceful form of bullying. It can get a response. I believe it can also do deep damage to the spirit of the person who’s haunting the site.

Working with synergy, researchers have more and better options.

So, how does this work?

One of the first things to confirm at any location is: Is it really haunted? The best way to verify that is to do something that can magnify ghostly activity and manifestations.

Instead of taunting ghosts to evoke a reaction, we can use external and physical cues that invoke the ghost’s most vivid memories… and lead to a response we can detect, either on a personal level or with ghost hunting equipment, or both.

Those externals can include a wide range of factors, from archaeological research to reenactments to simple home renovations.

Let’s start with an everyday trigger: renovations.

When DIY gets scary

Ghosts - when DIY gets scaryI’ve witnessed this first-hand, in a 19th-century California home my husband & I renovated.

It was only mildly haunted when we moved in.

Then, we started opening walls and ceilings to replace the electrical wiring, and poltergeist activity began. It was noisy, day and night. Sometimes, objects were moved and even broken.

We knew two ghosts were involved, because we could hear his heavy footsteps and her sobbing.

When the ghosts started influencing my behavior and my husband’s, we moved, almost overnight. At the time, it seemed the only answer. (Today, I’d handle things differently.)

But, I’ve seen this same pattern repeated among private clients, and – of course – many people are familiar with the Amityville Horror story, which is an extreme and iconic example.

In most cases, if the ghostly activity is merely unsettling or annoying, the homeowner can ignore it. Within about two or three weeks of the conclusion of the renovations, the activity will diminish.

But, if you’re investigating ghosts and hear of a story like this, it’s a site to visit as quickly as you can, to document what’s going on. (Of course, do this discreetly, to protect the homeowners’ privacy and peace of mind.)

Why this works

In many cases, ghosts don’t like changes. They specifically don’t like changes to their homes. (As far as they’re concerned, the new homeowners are just interlopers.)

In other cases, they’re worried that something you’re doing will cut them off from the past they’re trying to return to. Or, you may reveal a long-held secret; they’ve remained here to be sure that secret is never revealed.

How to use this

Renovate an old home, or find someone who’s remodeling or renovating. Even better, talk with friends in the contracting, remodeling, or redecorating field. Ask them to tell you if one of their clients suddenly seems uneasy about the changes, and if that might be a ghost issue.

Archaeology

If you follow me on Twitter and have wondered why I regularly link to archaeology articles, especially in the UK, the answer is simple: When a dig uncovers something related to a noted ghost (royals like Henry VIII or Anne Boleyn), I receive anecdotal reports about that same ghost becoming active at other sites he or she was associated with.

That’s where synergy comes in. It’s not just the site experiencing physical changes (like an archaeological dig), but also related haunted sites, even hundreds of miles away.

So, if my UK & Irish followers see me link to a dig related to the Black Friars (such as the July/Aug 2019 digs in Ireland), they’re likely to make monk-related haunts a priority around that time, and shortly after it.

The dig in Ireland might well fuel ghostly energy at other former monasteries and monk-related sites. And anything haunted with the term “Blackfriars” in the name.

Why this works

Like renovations, archaeological digs churn up past history, dormant connections, ghosts’ memories, and – of course – the danger of a ghost’s secret being revealed.

How to use this

Stay current on important and relevant archaeological digs. Follow news from local universities with archaeology programs, and look for announcements about local digs, as well as digs with broad-scale connections, like the monk-related one I mentioned.

And that topic leads to a third kind of trigger, and related synergy. It starts with deliberately revitalizing ghostly energy… without provoking.

I’m talking about one of my favorite topics: historical reenactments.

Historical reenactments

historical reenactments and ghostsFor years, I’ve recommended costumed, historical reenactments. Anywhere near them, you’re likely to find ghosts. In fact, you may see apparitions and think they’re just people in costume.

Historian and paranormal researcher John Sabol has made use of this for his “ghost excavation methodology.” I’ve witnessed this at one of his performances in Canada, where he evoked ghosts haunting a theatre.

It was impressive.

While John draws heavily on his Hollywood acting career, and his innovative approach distinguishes what he does from reenactments, but the basic concept isn’t new: Researchers can use history and location to create a resonance with ghosts at haunted places.

Why this works

Ghosts, seeing people in familiar dress, or reenacting their own past, may feel as if they’re back in their own time again. That may be exactly what they’ve been waiting for, so they step out from the shadows and go about their normal routines from the past.

Or, perhaps they knows it’s a reenactment, and resent how the past is shown. Or, if the ghost is/was someone notable, they don’t like how the actor is portraying them.

How to use this

Search for “historical reenactments” or “living history events” in your area, and learn about local reenactment groups. (In the US, here’s a useful list: Top 29 Historical Reenactment Societies. Worldwide, Wikipedia has a short list, plus links.)

Join the fun, or be an observer, and watch for anomalies. (Tip: If you’re using ghost hunting equipment, be discreet. Some reenactors can be very uneasy about paranormal research.)

Of course, it’s not necessary to wait for a planned, costumed reenactment in your area. You can bring in reenactors, representing the ghosts or people who were part of the ghosts’ most intensely emotional experiences.

The most important thing is to find someone with a background in history… someone who brings authenticity to the role. If it’s just a bad parody, that’s likely to disappoint everyone.

For example, if you’re researching or filming at a haunted site related to Henry VIII, I can recommend Neil Bakewell. (He modestly describes himself as a storyteller.) He’s probably the UK’s best Henry VIII impersonator, as his historical research is impressive and – frankly – he looks the part.

That’s what you want: not just an actor who thinks he or she can play the part, but someone who’s immersed him- or herself in the life and history of the ghost.

In lieu of that, a historically accurate performance – such as one of Shakespeare’s plays, if your ghost might be a Henry, or Richard III – could be enough to attract and confirm ghostly energy.

After all, ghost hunters know that theaters are among the most reliably haunted locations, anywhere in the world.

Putting the pieces together

I’ll admit that this is just one piece of the puzzle. When I work as a consultant, especially for producers, I use history and resonance with other tools. They help me find haunted places and then confirm whether a site is haunted.

Some of those additional tools are speculative like ley lines and intuitive flares. Others are more predictive patterns of paranormal activity.

But, on its own, you can use historical references to create synergy and trigger ghostly activity that might otherwise remain dormant, or seem too subtle to notice.

And this can make a big difference in your investigation results.

Ghosts, Love, Provoking, and Triggers [Part 2]

In Part 1 of this article, you learned about:

  • The long-term effects of love and hate at a haunted site
  • Why stories are important (and how seriously to take them), and
  • “Hiding in plain sight” clues to the ghosts’ history.

Now, let’s talk about the extras that can make a difference, and how to put all of this information to good use.

Ghosts, love, provoking, and trigger objects

Historical Records

You may find additional clues in historical records. Look for wills, diaries, court records, and newspaper stories – including obituaries – related to the site and the people who lived and died there.

You may need to research the locations and people, offline, at public libraries and county courthouses.

But, if you’re researching someone famous, online resources can be a goldmine. For example, many diaries are already online. (Some of the largest and oldest collections are at The Diary Junction and the British Library.)

Double-check and cross-reference everything. That’s especially true if you use genealogical records, newspaper articles, or 19th-century anthologies of biographies or histories.

The number of historical resources can be overwhelming. If you have the likely ghost’s full name and it was a real person, start by searching online for “genealogy [person’s name].”

Tip: Ancestry.com is great, but it requires a paid membership, and – even then – some submitted records can be really wrong. You’ll find many free alternatives, and can use them to piece together your ghost’s history.

Try Cyndi’s List: UK Resources / US Resources, and so on.

Near the haunted site, you may find many useful records. For example, visit local cemeteries. See the artwork and inscriptions on gravestones that might be related to the site’s ghost.

  • Two hands, clasped, may indicate romance… and possibly someone who died early in life. (Look at the cuffs. Men’s cuffs and ladies’ were very different.) Compare each death date with when the person married. (And see how soon the other person married again, after the death of his or her spouse.)
  • Before studying Victorian gravestones, learn the meaning of different flowers in that era. For example, if the headstone design features a rose in bloom (or a bud), it’s usually someone who died in the prime of his or her life.

This kind of research can be the most time-consuming, but also the most helpful if you want a successful ghost investigation.

Tip: If your ghost was a prominent person, check Find A Grave to locate where he or she is buried.

Assemble the Information, and Test It

Next, put all of the information together.

Understand your ghosts' histories

If you’re lucky, you may have a fuller picture of your ghost’s life, from birth to death. He (or she) may even remind you of someone you’ve met, or a ghost from another haunted site.

Or, your research might point to multiple ghosts at the site, or residual energy hauntings.

Now, you have names and events to work with. You can use them for real-time communications to establish rapport, or to trigger ghostly activity and interaction.

Test your theories

Maybe you’ve learned that the husband, Thomas, died young from “consumption.” (Usually tuberculosis.) You’ve also learned that he was engaged to Sarah, but he died about a month before the scheduled wedding.

You could ask:

  • Is your name Sarah? Is your name Thomas?
  • Are you looking for someone?
  • Sarah, is this your [object]? (Ask the same of Thomas.)
  • Are you someone else? Did you know Sarah or Thomas?

And so on.

If all else fails, ask, “Can I help you?”

Try saying it two different ways. First, ask it the same as a clerk in a store might say it. Let it roll off your tongue, like you say it a hundred times a day. Weirdly, that can elicit the most immediate response.

If that doesn’t work, try a second, more consoling tone of voice. Lean forward and look interested, in case the ghost can see you; body language matters.

That simple question can be enough to start a dialogue with the ghost.

Be sympathetic rather than provoking. Kindness works.

Trigger Objects

Trigger objects – including everyday household items from the ghost’s era – may be useful.

People often think about bringing flowers to a grave, or a toy when the ghost is a child.

These can be useful in some settings.

During the 19th century, and sometimes earlier, many homes had a Bible. The ghost may respond to it. If you bring a Bible with you, make sure it doesn’t look modern. Black or brown covers were typical, and – when a family could afford an embossed Bible – the letters were usually gold.

Tip: If you read from it, your safest choice is a King James Bible, not a recent translation. (Prior to James I, only wealthy families and clergy owned Bibles. And, until 1782, the King James Bible was under a form of copyright, so some families didn’t – or wouldn’t – own them.)

But this is important: If you’re investigating an early American home, the Geneva Bible or Luther’s German Bible may trigger better responses.  In fact, ghosts of Pilgrims may feel uneasy if you read from the King James Bible.

Think about the class level of the ghost, and what kind of objects they might love to see again. Something beloved by a “downstairs” maid might be very different from an object that will trigger responses from the lady of the house.

However, think twice before bringing the ghost what he or she might think is a gift.  When you reveal it to the ghost, explain that it’s yours and you’ll be taking it home. You just wanted him/her to enjoy it for a short time.

Otherwise, the ghost may feel further betrayed. You gave him (or her) something… and then you took it away, for no reason.

Two things to consider before bringing/leaving gifts for ghosts:

  1. Will the object continue to “look nice”? Fresh flowers can wilt and look ugly in a short time. Plush toys will get soggy and mildew after a storm. If you leave anything, return in a few days (during the daytime) to remove it. And – just in case the ghost is listening – explain (out loud) why you’re taking it away.
  2. Don’t bring gifts to a ghost if those objects might further “hold” the ghost in this realm. For example, toys that a child’s ghost might not want to leave behind. (The sentiment is lovely, but don’t give ghosts an additional reason to linger here.)

If you’ve already left something you feel that you shouldn’t have, contact the owner or managers of the site. Ask them to remove it, with a kindly explanation – out loud – to the ghost. (If you left something at a cemetery, contact a team that tours it regularly. In most cases, cemetery staff routinely dispose of perishable items every few weeks, anyway.)

Love, Hate, Provoking, and Triggers

Provoking can be useful in extreme situations.

Instead, with more research and closer observation, you might learn enough about the ghost to establish rapport.

Understand who your ghost probably was, and reasons why he or she might remain at the site.

It’s easy to say “unfinished business,” as a catch-all reason. But, with a few hours’ research, you can dig deeper. You may find a personal connection.

That could lead to more productive EVPs, or other communications. As they say, “You catch more flies with honey than with vinegar.”

Also, personalized, real-time communications might help you learn even more about the ghost, to help him or her let go of the past… and move on. It could be a real, productive conversation.

Of course, if the ghost is rather mad and stuck in the past, he or she might respond with anger, once his/her name is known. The ghost might have secrets and fear you’ll expose them. (Perhaps the only reason ghost remains here is to keep his or her secrets concealed.)

Tread carefully if the atmosphere changes and you sense hostility. It may be best to leave, evaluate the evidence and team members’ reports. And then decide you next, best plan for that site.

Summary

Smart ghost hunters get better results when they go beyond the “everyone knows” stories, and learn more about the ghosts.

Behind almost every haunting is a story of disappointment. If you know that story, the ghosts are almost certain to respond more quickly and clearly.

Dig into history. Look closely at everything “old” at the site. Ask why it’s there. Is there a story behind it?

Listen to your intuition and pay attention to the mood – the emotional energy – at the site. It can be your biggest clue.

Old records – family histories, newspaper articles, obituaries, court records, and even cemetery inscriptions – can help you understand the real stories behind hauntings.

Communications may improve, including EVP and real-time responses through ghost hunting tools.

In most cases, kindness will evoke a far better response – and outcome – than provoking. Given a choice, I think most ghosts would prefer love and understanding rather than antagonism and taunts.

Let me know if you have questions, and also what happens when you try these methods.

Ghosts, Love, Provoking, and Triggers [Part 1]

Ghosts, love, provoking, and triggersIn ghost hunting, provoking works. It’s not very nice, but we’ve seen it work in our own investigations and on TV shows.

As a last-hope effort to see if a site is truly haunted – and help the homeowner – provoking can be justified.

Otherwise…? No. Saying it’s rude or mean would be an understatement.

It’s bullying, plain and simple. 

What if there was another way to trigger ghosts, or even help them find the peace they seek?

At the root of most hauntings, you’ll find stories of love and hate. Understanding them can radically improve your ghost hunting results.

Love and Hate at Haunted Places

Hate is useful for provoking, maybe we need to look deeper.

What so wounded the ghost that he or she became angry, resentful, or even hate-filled? Staying here – instead of crossing over – what situation is he trying to reverse?

By looking one layer deeper, you’ll probably find expectations and love – romantic love, greed (love of money), or trust (relying on someone the ghost trusted).

You might get better ghost hunting results if you appeal to the ghost’s true (or at least earlier), kinder nature.

In this article, you’ll learn a few ways to uncover clues to the full story behind the hauntings.

  • You can use those clues to establish rapport with the site’s ghosts.
  • Or, you might identify triggers (and trigger objects) that work better than provoking.

Both of those can make ghost hunting far more interesting and productive.

Start with the Stories

Every haunted site has a story. That might be an “everyone knows” tale, popular with teens and young adults. Or, you might hear it from a local historian or folklore expert.

Research everything. Some of the best historical resources weren’t available until the last few years. Older ghost stories might be more fiction than fact.

Look for flaws in those stories, such as:

  • Wrong time period. (If the ghost wears a modern tie, he’s probably not from the American Revolution.)
  • No records that fit the story. Let’s say people believe the ghost is John Doe, who built the house. Be sure someone named John Doe either lived in the house, was a local builder, or had a direct connection with the homeowners.
  • Urban legend. Some ghost stories show up dozens of times. Maybe more. Perhaps one of them is true, but raise an eyebrow if you can’t find any credible, first-person encounters, and similar stories show up on a site like TVTropes.org.

Tip: Sometimes a story is half-true. Don’t toss aside a local legend because one part of never happened. The name or date might be wrong. That’s okay. Even the most bizarre ghost stories can have a kernel of truth.

If there’s more than one tale, choose the one that makes the most sense to you. Choose the one that “feels right” after you visit the site. Your impressions matter. You don’t have to be psychic to sense the energy or emotional tone of the location.

Ghostly Clues: What’s There?

Many ghost hunters are so busy looking for ghostly noises or apparitions, or so focused on their ghost hunting equipment, they miss clues “hiding in plain sight.”

When you arrive at a haunted site, what’s there? What portraits are on the wall? Are any objects really old… and look a little odd in that setting?

If the homeowner or a historian shows you something that belonged to a previous owner, tenant, or visitor, why is it still there? What does it tell you about possible ghosts?

Sometimes, people keep an object – clothing, jewelry, furniture, artwork, books, and so on – that belonged to deceased friends or relatives. There’s usually a story behind it.  I’m not saying the object is haunted, though it might be.

Several times, I’ve noticed a shabby chair or an ugly painting in a home where the rest of their decor was ultra-modern and stylish.

When I’ve asked the homeowner why he or she kept it, the answer is – almost always – “I don’t know why. It just felt wrong to get rid of it… I can’t explain it.”

Usually, that object links to the haunting. It’s part of the ghost’s story.

Consider these possibilities:

  • Perhaps the object belonged to a lost love, or someone who died early in life.
  • Maybe it was a memento of a friend, relative, or lover who abruptly moved or ended the friendship with no explanation.
  • It might be something the ghost remains attached to… and doesn’t want to leave behind. (He or she refused to believe “you can’t take it with you.”)

Some clues are more obvious than others. For example, if you see a pin like the one in the next photo, study it closely.

Victorian mourning jewelry - woven hair
Photo courtesy Thayne Tuason [CC BY-SA 4.0], from Wikimedia Commons
You might glance at that brooch on top of a dresser or sideboard and think it’s woven fabric or wire.

It’s not. It’s someone’s hair. And that person is dead now.

The ghost might be the person who owned that pin, or the person whose hair is woven in it.

(Search for “Victorian pictures made from hair.” You’ll see how commonplace this was in the 19th century. And yes, it’s kind of creepy.)

Check it for unusual EMF, and for nearby EVP or hot/cold spots.

In the past, almost every object kept by someone had significance. Remember, before the middle of the 20th century, the average person didn’t own many things.

So, sometimes, that jewelry, portrait, or man’s jacket hanging in a woman’s wardrobe tells an important story.

During an investigation, try asking – out loud – who’s in the painting or photo, or if the item had special meaning for the ghost.

See what reaction you get, if – to the ghost – it looks like you’re about to touch or move the object. (If it’s fragile or you don’t have permission, don’t actually touch it.)

Tip: If you see old portraits at a haunted site, and you’re not sure who they are, take photos. Then use something like Google Image Search to see if the portrait – especially a photo – is online with additional information.

Next week, the second (concluding) part of this article: Historical records, putting it all together, and how to use it.