December 17, 2007
The Encyclopedia of Ghosts and Spirits
By Rosemary Ellen Guiley
Publisher: Checkmark Books (Third Edition: August 2007)
Pages: 480 - Price: $24.95
Interview by Jeff Belanger - firstname.lastname@example.org
Ghostvillage.com author interview
Rosemary Ellen Guiley is the author of 31 books on a wide range of topics, she's been writing about the paranormal full-time since 1982, and she's become one of the foremost authorities on the subject. Most ghost enthusiasts are already familiar with her Encyclopedia of Ghosts and Spirits, and if you're not. Now is a great time to check it out. The third edition is chock full of new information, updates, and resources. Ghostvillage.com caught up with Rosemary to ask her about the book and field at large.
The Encyclopedia of Ghosts and Spirits was first published in 1992. In 2007 you released the third edition of the book. How have you seen the field of ghost research change over the last 15 years?
Rosemary Ellen Guiley: It's changed in very exciting ways. In 1992, the field was largely either parapsychology on one side, dominated by academics and scientists, or armchair/amateur on the other for lay people. Technology advancements have placed much more sophisticated equipment in the hands of lay people. Today the field is more "paranormal investigation" than "ghost hunting." It's more organized, in groups, conferences, events and publications. There will always be the entertainment factor for many, but the field has attracted a large number of lay persons who are interested in serious study and research. Many of them are motivated by their own personal experiences - they're on a search for answers.
The study of ghosts and spirits touches on so many different avenues: belief, science, religion, psychology, and parapsychology, just to name a few. The task of creating a definitive encyclopedia must have been daunting. How do you determine what made it into your book and what didn't?
With a single-volume encyclopedia, it's harder to decide what to leave out rather than what to include. I'd say it is "representative" rather than "definitive." A single-volume encyclopedia needs to hit the high notes in a field, the major topics, and provide a broad representation of scope of topics pertinent to the focus of the book. All of my encyclopedias include folklore, history, biography, cases and places, science, parapsychology and psychical research, phenomena, and, where appropriate, psychology, sociology, anthropology, religion and spirituality, philosophy and metaphysics. Each of those areas can't be covered in-depth, but they need to be featured. Ghosts and Spirits is primarily Western culture in orientation, as are all of my encyclopedias, though I include some cross-culture entries for points of comparison.
I've always been interested in the "soft" aspects of the paranormal, i.e., how and why people have experiences, how the experiences fit historical patterns, and how people integrate the experiences into their spiritual/personal worldviews. That interest influences my choices, too.
When I start an encyclopedia or a revision, I have an initial list of "musts" that grows from there. I'll often start with a topic and find that threads lead me to other topics. I have to make decisions as I go as to whether or not to write something as a separate entry, treat it only as a cross-reference, or write it as a cross-referenced sub-entry to a larger "mother" entry. For example, should a haunted place that illustrates a type of haunting or phenomena have its own entry or be mentioned in an entry oriented to the characteristics of hauntings or particular phenomena? Sometimes it depends on the amount of information available. For revised editions, I also look for new angles and dimensions that I didn't explore in the previous editions. I'm never able to include everything I'd like to, due to the limits of time and space.
As for bios, I look for people who have made major contributions, or who have gained prominence in particular topics or expertise, or who are representative of the field in some way. Is someone going to have historical significance ten years on down the road? Encyclopedias look at long-term legacies.
As you can imagine, I have to do a massive amount of reading and research, just to hit highlights. I have my own library of about 4000 books. I also research at the Library of Congress, and sometimes at specialized collections, such as the Society for Psychical Research in London. The Internet offers a lot of resources, too. I try to keep up with developments through professional networking, conferences, journals and other publications. My work cuts across the entire scope of the paranormal. One week I'm at a ghost con, the next week it's UFOs, Paganism or faeries.
I also devote time to my personal study and skills: meditation, psychic and mediumistic work, spiritual development, and so forth.
What's new in the Third Edition?
I added about 70,000 new words in new entries - that's a full-length book in itself -- and updated a lot of existing entries. There are numerous new bios and profiles of haunted places, and new photos. I updated the science and tech entries on investigations, explanations, photography, etc. I significantly expanded the Canadian entries, with the help of the Survival Research Institute of Canada.
Considering the huge amount of animosity and in-fighting between various paranormal research organizations, do you think we're getting any closer to a standard or single set of guidelines that everyone who is interested in ghost research can get behind?
There will always be infighting, unfortunately. It's human nature. It happens in every field, not just the paranormal. I think paranormal researchers have made advancements in higher quality research -- but one of the obstacles is, this field is not institutionalized. It's a loose collection of people and groups of varying interest levels and expertise. At present, there is too much independence and autonomy out there for complete unity to happen. In addition, we are dealing with phenomena that for the most part defy scientific analysis. So, who or what is going to be the peer "authority" that regulates everyone else? And how do you standardize the subjective? It's like measuring smoke.
Part of the paranormal will always be blurry and ephemeral. That will make it difficult for standards to take hold across the board. However, there is significant room for advancement in research and investigation methodologies. Groups and individuals need to keep comparing notes and working together as much as possible. I'm in favor of coalitions and alliances, and I'm honored to consult with the newly formed New Jersey Paranormal Investigators Coalition.
What new projects are you working on?
I just finished revising my Encyclopedia of Witches and Witchcraft for a third edition, to be released in the fall of 2008. I am midway through a new line of young adult books on the paranormal, a series called Mysteries, Legends and Unexplained Phenomena, which Chelsea House, an imprint of Facts On File, will begin releasing in the spring of 2008. I am consulting editor for the series, and I am writing several of the volumes myself. I'm excited about this project, as these will be my first books expressly for the YA market.
In addition, I am starting a brand new encyclopedia (topic undisclosed at the moment until I get farther along), and my long-awaited book on Shadow People will be out soon. I am also revising and re-releasing some of my out of print works, on vampires, the Tarot, dreams, intuition, and angels.
My long-term interest in spirit communications is blossoming with ownership of two Frank's Boxes and a Mini-Box, devices built for two-way, real-time interdimensional communication. This is going to be a major focus of my research and experimentation in the coming year, and a topic of some of my 2008 conference presentations. I'll be working with some of the principals of the Association for the Study of Unexplained Phenomena in Texas, who launched the Mini-Box this year -- I have the very first one off the production line.
Also on the speaking front, I am teaming up with John Zaffis to offer some dynamite programs for the college and university circuit. John is a delight to work with!
Both John and I are in The League of Paranormal Gentlemen, along with Keith Age and Troy Taylor. I anticipate working on a new League film project with the producers, the Booth Brothers. Children of the Grave, featuring all of us, was released last October and will air on the Sci Fi Channel in March. Its sequel, The Possessed, will be released in June.
I am working on some of my own CD and video projects, and some other commercial ventures that will be announced on down the road. Plus, I am already heavily committed for travel and events - conferences, research trips, and invitations to investigate with various groups. It's going to be another busy year! But I love my work - the topics, the research, the people, the travel. It's very rewarding to me.
What's the last song you sang along to?
"Hold On Tight" by ELO. In fact, it's my ringtone on my land line at home. ELO's album Time was way ahead of it's time.