Demon-Free Paranormal Research?

scared personMany people email me and ask, “I’d like to become a ghost hunter, but I’m afraid of demons.  What can I do?”

If I could answer that, I’d ask them, “What’s a demon?”

The answer is important.

According to my copy of the Oxford Universal Dictionary, the word “demon” comes from the Greek term for evil spirit. Since 1706, that’s what it’s meant in English, too:  Evil spirit.

Any malicious entity or spirit could be called a demon.  That could be an alien or a faerie or something we can’t yet define.  My dictionary also says those spirits could be the souls of deceased persons.

In recent and popular use, the word “demon” has been used in a religious context, particularly the Christian beliefs indicating the (singular) Devil or Satan, or — more rarely — one of the evil entities under his command.

A ghost is not a demon. No matter what your theology, they’re different kinds of entities.

So, are you worried about ghosts and spirits?  Or, are you anxious about a dangerous entity described in the New Testament?

If you’re afraid of unhappy, angry and aggressive ghosts — that is, spirits of the deceased — don’t get involved in paranormal research.  Many ghosts seem unhappy. Some of them vent their anger in aggressive ways.

There’s no way to be involved in this work without dealing with unattractive and threatening spirits of the dead.  Sooner or later — usually sooner — you’ll encounter something startling.

On the other hand, if you want to learn ghost hunting in an setting that’s relatively free of any dangers from the religious (usually Christian) concept of a demon, start with “hallowed ground.”

That is, develop your skills in haunted cemeteries, preferably church-related cemeteries.  In most cases, they’ve been blessed to keep Satan (or the Devil) out.

But, this is important: Cemeteries (and churches) can become unhallowed and unsanctified. That’s a separate topic, too complex to discuss in this article.

In other words, don’t drop your guard in a church or related burial ground. It may not be as spiritually protected as you think.

If you want to understand more about demons, a Long Island Paranormal Investigators’ article, Demonology 101, covers the topic in depth.

I also recommend a 2007 Coast-to-Coast AM interview with John Zaffis and the late Father Andrew Calder, Demonic Forces & the Paranormal.

I spent considerable time with each of them, and learned a lot about the dangers of ghost hunting. On the topic of demons, their advice was always 100% reliable.

That doesn’t mean that cemeteries are entirely safe. I’ve mentioned severe problems at Vale End Cemetery in Wilton, NH.

Those were extremely rare encounters, and what we encountered wasn’t a ghost.  I’m not certain it was a demon, either.

Either way, it was unique among hundreds (perhaps thousands) of sites I’ve investigated.

In my opinion, you have more to fear from the living than from the dead (or other entities), whether you’re in a cemetery or any other “haunted” location.

If you focus on relatively benign haunted cemeteries, especially if they’re in hallowed grounds, you’re as safe as possible from demons (no matter how you define them).

That doesn’t mean you’re 100% safe.  No one can guarantee that, no matter where you are or who you’re with.

If you’re frightened by any aspect of ghost hunting or paranormal research, don’t get involved in this field. 

Sooner or later — often when you least expect it — you’re going to encounter something terrifying.

It might be a ghost. It might be something malicious.  It might just be some guy you trusted, but he’s a sexual predator.

If you’re fascinated by ghosts and haunted places, and you’re willing to take risks despite the many potential dangers, this can be a thrilling field to research.

If you’re uneasy about ghost hunting, even before you’ve explored it… stop now. Find some other hobby or interest. Ghost hunting isn’t safe, and it’s probably not for you.

Exorcisms and Demons

Photo by Michal Zacharzewski, Poland - SXCExorcisms date to earliest times.  The belief in demons and demonic influence is documented in many pagan cultures, beliefs and practices.

However, not all demonic possessions were attributed to evil spirits.  For example, in classical Greek,  daimonan merely means to be mad or insane.

The treatment for that kind of demonic problem is less than — and very different from — the rituals used to drive out malicious entities or spirits.

As I explained in Possessed? Need help?, the vast majority of so-called demonic possessions have nothing to do with demons… or even ghosts.

Before deciding that you’re dealing with demons, calmly evaluate the situation.

What you’ve seen on TV is often created to make the show more sensational and increase ratings.  That’s entertainment, not reality.

Modern and historic exorcisms range from simple to complex, but they generally have one element in common.

Pagan and earth-based rituals often involved salt and/or water, or herbs, or some blessed object, plus a casting-out ritual invoking the name and assistance of Deity.

Modern-day rituals also use holy objects plus the name or names of Deity to empower the rite.

In other words, most traditions recognized that spiritual assistance is necessary to cast out — or reject the influence of — an entity with evil intentions.

Development of exorcisms

Over many centuries as religions emerged,  very precise and effective exorcism rituals were developed.  In the Jewish faith, exorcisms were fine-tuned and included specific names, varying with the situation.

From the 1913 edition of The Catholic Encyclopedia:

“The chief characteristic of these Jewish exorcisms is their naming of names believed to be efficacious, i. e. names of good angels, which are used either alone or in combination with El (= God) … it was considered most important that the appropriate names, which varied for different times and occasions, should be used.

“…It was a popular Jewish belief… that Solomon had received the power of expelling demons, and that he had composed and transmitted certain formulae that were efficacious for that purpose.” (emphasis added)

In other words, there are specific rituals that work.  Others can do more harm than good.  That’s important to keep in mind.

Today, many exorcists rely on the rituals documented in church history.  Whether they believe in Jesus Christ or not, many exorcists note that the use of Jesus’ name seems to be among the most effective for banishing a demonic presence.

However, inexperienced ghost hunters and paranormal researchers usually don’t know the difference between a demonic possession and the far more dangerous devil (or Devil) possession.

They are two different issues, and must be treated differently.

Types of Christian exorcisms

Christian exorcisms trace their roots to the ministry of Jesus.

There are three kinds of exorcisms in the historic church:

  1. Baptismal exorcism, performed when someone is accepted (baptized) into membership in the church.
  2. Simple exorcism, including the blessing of a house.
  3. The Rite of Exorcism, used to cast out demons or the Devil from a human.

A traditional baptismal exorcism includes phrasing that is the basis for many other kinds of exorcisms.

The following text is from the 1894 book, The Glories of the Catholic Church – The Catholic Christian Instructed in Defence of His Faith.

Then the priest proceeds to the solemn prayers and exorcisms, used of old by the Catholic Church in the administration of baptism, to cast out the devil from the soul, under whose power we are born by original sin. ” I exorcise thee,” says he, ” O unclean spirit, in the name of the Father,  and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, that thou mayest go out, and depart from this servant of God, (name of the afflicted) ; for He commands thee, O thou cursed and condemned wretch, who with His feet walked upon the sea, and stretched forth His right hand to Peter that was sinking. Therefore, O accursed devil, remember thy sentence, and give honor to  the living and true God. Give honor to Jesus Christ His Son, and to the Holy Ghost, and depart from this servant of God.”

Those kinds of prayers and rituals were developed over many centuries, and refined to work as quickly and effectively as possible.

Other religions and spiritual traditions may use different approaches.

However,  most demonologists explain that exorcisms rarely work on the first try.  The person may seem to be free of the demons, but relapse later.  It’s not unusual to require ten or more rituals of exorcism, and each one of them can be excruciating and exhausting for everyone involved.

In addition, treating a non-demonic situation as if demons are involved can be dangerous.  It can trigger mental, emotional, physical and spiritual issues that weren’t a problem before the attempted exorcism.

For this reason, physical and mental illnesses must be ruled out before an exorcism begins.  No one, including the afflicted person, should have to go through an exorcism if other treatment — medical or pastoral — is more appropriate.

Experience matters

Even it appears that a demonic entity is the cause of the problem, the solution isn’t always simple.

In the hands of someone inexperienced, exorcisms can go horribly wrong.  The methods and rituals that can drive away malicious spirits that were once human, and cause lesser demons to cower, can make things worse if a more powerful presence is involved.

Currently, the biggest liability is the example set by TV show and movies.

Even when they’re presented as “reality” shows — a loophole that allows networks to pay far less than an actor would earn in a regular TV show — what you’re seeing may not be reality… or anything even vaguely like it.

Waving a cross and walking briskly through a “possessed” house is not a Rite of Exorcism.

In addition, deciding that something is definitely demonic after just one visit… that’s not what really goes on in this field, either.

One of our biggest concerns is the number of people who see something on TV and think that’s what real paranormal researchers do.

They either emulate what they’ve seen acted-out on TV, or — if they’re clients — they expect the team (or expert) to do what was shown on TV.

Both are unhealthy approaches, and they can even be dangerous.

For that reason, we recommend contacting an experienced demonologist if someone is dealing with a potentially dangerous possession.

Remember that a demonologist is someone with expertise in the field of demons.  A demonologist may also be an exorcist, but many demonologists work with exorcists and do not initiate the rituals themselves.

Exorcists must know how to identify an actual possession — since most cases appear to only mimic possession — and which rituals and practices to use at each level of actual possession.

Recommended resources

I recommend only a few people with whom I’ve worked in the past.

John Zaffis – and PRSNE (203) 375-6083


Also, if you might be dealing with a poltergeist rather than a demon, and especially if a teen or a child is involved, contact Peter Haviland.  He travels to meet with clients, and is based in Texas.  Lone Star Spirits –

Photo credit: Michal Zacharzewski, Poland – SXC

What’s Not a Ghost – The Basics

Sometimes, people are understandably eager for something to be a ghost. A haunted house or graveyard can seem so exciting. A “real” ghost experience grants instant celebrity to the storyteller.

I wrote this article back in the 1990s, and it’s still valid today, though our research techniques — and cameras — have changed.

Sometimes the obvious is most easily overlooked, especially under stress, late at night, and in an unfamiliar setting where everyone’s nerves are on edge.

Haunted houses

Do a reality check before deciding that an odd experience is a ghost.

  • If an object seems to move by itself, check the floor or surface with a carpenter’s level. You can pick up a cheap one for under $2, and it’ll fit in your purse or pocket. If the object is lightweight, check for drafts, too.
  • If you sense a cold spot, check it with a thermometer. Use a candle or other draft detector, to see if you can find where it’s coming from. In old houses, I often find drafts from electrical outlets on outside walls that are not insulated. Check around light switches, too. Carry a roll of masking tape with you, as a short-term way to shut out these drafts.
  • If you hear ghostly footsteps, wait until the phenomenon has stopped (or until daylight, if you’re more comfortable) and try to duplicate the sound by walking wherever the footsteps came from. Was it really footsteps, or the house settling or shifting as the temperature dropped at dusk?
  • If windows open themselves, check the hardware. Make certain they’re really closed. Try the window to see if the counterweight isn’t right, and the window opens too easily.
  • If windows close themselves, try propping them with a piece of pipe or other solid object. Ghosts pop those props out, gravity usually doesn’t.
  • Snapping window shades can mean defective hardware. Or, maybe the coil has been too-tightly or too-loosely wound. Let it release, and then rewind it yourself.
  • If you genuinely think it’s a ghost and you’re in the dark, use caution when turning on lights. In our experience, lights usually banish the phenomenon. However, shortly after turning the lights off again, if it was a ghost, he (or she) may return with a vengeance. If you’re nervous, leave the location and return again in daylight hours to look for natural causes of what you witnessed.
  • Poltergeist phenomena is its own animal, so to speak. First, try to repeat the incident yourself, using natural means that could have occurred the first time. (A dish can fall off a shelf if the shelf is shaky. A dish cannot fly across the room and smash on the wall unless someone threw it, or rigged it.)If you cannot duplicate what happened, keep a log of similar events that occur at this location in the future. Often, the energy source for poltergeist phenomena is a teen or pre-teen. (Though the spirit itself may be very real, and is not always the same as the “focus” of the energy.) More poltergeist events will happen when the energy source is nearby, so you’ll have less activity during school hours, for example.
  • However, do NOT get caught up in what I call the “Randi complex” (referring to skeptic James Randi). Just because you can make something happen, doesn’t mean that the phenomenon is a fraud, hoax, or error in judgement.Yes, I can probably rig stairs so they sound as if someone is walking on them. No, that doesn’t mean that all stairways have been rigged when people hear spectral footsteps on them.

Ghost photos

Most people are careful when taking “ghost photos.” However, even the most experienced photographer can forget the basics.

My best advice is to deliberately break every possible rule (from the list below), to see what it looks like in your photos taken with that camera.  Then, if you see that kind of orb or anomaly again, you’ll know what it might be.

  • Snow orb.
    Snow orb.

    Do not point your camera towards the sun, or so the sun can highlight something on your lens. There are devices made to prevent this, if it’s a regular problem.

  • Notice weather conditions.  Rain, snow, and high humidity can produce orbs. They’re usually easy to distinguish from anomalies, but learn what they look like, anyway.
  • Make certain that nothing reflects the sun towards your lens, such as a polished gravestone, a foil candy wrapper in the grass, a metal veteran’s marker, your car windows/trim, rings on your fingers if one hand is supporting the front of the camera, and so on.
  • This will sound silly, but these things can happen at the worst moments: Watch for floating milkweed or dandelion “puffs” that can look like orbs in the sunlight. If they appear, do not take photos until they’re gone. Or, take notes so you remember when whatever-it-was might have affected your photo. Do NOT think “Oh, I’ll remember that photos 5 and 6 are just milkweed thingies.” You won’t, three years from now when you review your photos as you’re clearing out your files.
  • This is a camera strap.
    This is a flash photo of a black camera strap.

    It can never be said too often: If your camera has a strap, remove it or put it around your neck (or wrist, if small) while taking photos. Even black camera straps look vivid white when they reflect light from your flash camera.

  • Take two photos of everything, as closely together as you can, without moving an inch. Then, if it’s a reflection, it’ll be in both photos and the same. If it’s an anomaly, it’ll either move or vanish. Anomalies are usually static. They are actively moving and will be different in two consecutive photos.
  • If you’re sharing a photo online, try to make an uncompressed, unmodified print available for viewers. This prevents people from saying, “Oh, she just increased the contrast to make that look more dramatic.”  (However, if a critical skeptic is convinced you’re deliberately faking your photos, nothing will change his or her mind.)
  • If you’re using a film camera, the following will produce false anomalies in film photos: fingerprints on the negative; a folded negative; a scratched negative; rushed printing at the one-hour (check the index print, which should be fine); very old film; film left in a hot car for too long, or in the hot sun; film that goes through the “old” metal detectors in airports (most airport scanners are fine now.)

Also, see my article, What Is “Paranormal”? to see why I’m concerned about photos, and what we think cause false orbs.  It’s not as easy to take a “fake orb” photo as I once thought.

In general, it’s important to rule out normal causes for what seems to be a paranormal event. Experience is the best teacher and will save you hours of confusion as well as embarrassment if a simple explanation is found.