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.

7 thoughts on “Ghosts and Ghost Hunters – Stereotypes and Reality”

  1. I’ve always believed that Poltergeists were just energy drawn from a bunch of hyper teenagers that gather in a small area, like a dinning room, kitchen, or bedroom. When the group of teenagers leave, the energy would ebb. I am now rethinking this whole concept after reading this article.

  2. Thanks for your comment, Rich! I think that it’s important for us to share our ideas, even if our views are very different… or perhaps especially if they are.

    Talking about the possibilities keeps us open to the truth, whatever it turns out to be.

  3. Hi Fiona.
    My uncle and I have looked everywhere on your site and still could not find out information on this subject.
    Can Ghosts/spirits read?
    My uncles car is decorated for Halloween with spiders, rats, jack-o-lanterns, cartoon ghost figures and kooky Halloween sayings. Could something like this have any effect on our ghost hunting?
    He was also thinking about buying a bumper sticker that says “GHOST HUNTERS do it in the cemetery.


  4. I have heard stories that Poltergeists can stay in a place for a very long time. Like for example, a house in Sequim Washington still has Poltergeists even after the three teenage girls move out years ago and now are older adults. Can Poltergeists stay that long even after the house has been empty for many, many years?

    My uncle and grandma are trying to remember where this house is in Dungeness area.
    My Grandma grew up in the small town of Sequim and remembers the stories and have had eerie experiences on the road where the house was. There are other stories about the house and road. My uncle and I are going to drive to Sequim and look into the newspaper archives at the musium there and see what we can find since it not really a publicity haunting.

  5. hello, Fiona.
    I have a couple questions if you don’t mind. I could not find the right catagories for them.

    Do animals become ghosts after death? Why not. If it has a consious, it has a spirit that could be “earthbound” ofter the body dies. Am I right?

    My neighbors dog sometimes barks at night for no apparent reason. Could he actually be barking at spirits wether human or animal spirits? And could animals see sprits as a small child could?

    Ghosts have the same personality as they had as living. There are sad ghosts, there are mad ghosts. Ghosts also have likes and dislikes. A ghost likes -say for example- Samantha my niece but don’t like me.
    Could a ghost actuauly fall in love with a living person even though they never met in life. – One of our newest team members brought this up during our last meeting.

    Any thoughts?


  6. Fiona,
    Every so often, I find a pool of water by the side of the sink in the bathroom. It lines the outside border of the sink and is always the same shape and in the same area. I clean it up with a bath towel each time. There is no leak in the sink that can be found. This has occurred about four or five times so far in the past 7 years. This is the same bathroom where my brother had a stroke when he was only 44 several years ago. He is still alive but living with my parents now due to his disability. In the same bathroom, there is a “knock, knock, knock” heard only by me on occassion that is from behind the wall where the toilet is located. Could this be the result of a spirit or ghost causing the knocking and the unexplained pool of water?

    1. Michael,

      That’s a great question. There seems to be a direct relationship between poltergeists and unexplained water. I’ll talk about it in my podcast about poltergeists, on 12 Feb 2010.

      Colin Wilson and other researchers have noted this same, baffling phenomenon.

      The knocking sound could be explained by the pipes rattling. I’d rule that out before assuming it’s a ghost.

      However, the water — unless your plumber can explain it — is another matter altogether.

      Combined, it sounds like you have a poltergeist… though a very mild and well-behaved one. There are many explanations, including a connection with your brother.

      Sincerely, Fiona

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