September 21, 2012
Trekking the Ghost Frontier: Challenges and Opportunities
By Deonna Kelli Sayed
The past decade has changed everything about the way we talk about -- and investigate -- ghosts and hauntings. The game changer? Reality TV. Ghosts are now cool and so are those who "hunt" them.
Think about this: there has never been a moment in history where so many people are visiting the ghost frontier and seeking out, documenting, and exploring the unexplained.
One could argue that there has been a paradigm shift in paranormal investigation.
In my forthcoming book, So You Want To Hunt Ghosts? A Down-To-Earth Guide, I explore this shift and highlight emerging issues facing investigators in a post-reality TV world.
What Paranormal Investigators Need To Know
Many investigators today are unfamiliar with the long history of psychical research and parapsychology. Anyone who is serious about understanding ghosts and hauntings needs to have some basic knowledge about parapsychological concepts like psi, psychokinesis, and the vast amount of research that predates the reality TV show community. Authors and researchers such as Loyd Auerbach, Dr. Bill Roll, and Dr. Barry Taff have influenced the way we conduct investigations more than we realize.
For example, Dr. Bill Roll was one of the first to extensively document the movement of objects as being related to Recurrent Spontaneous Psychokinesis (RSPK). He was an avid field researcher rather than restricted to the lab. He established a correlation between EMF and psychokinesis (and is probably responsible for how we use EMF on investigation today, although too few investigators understand PK.) Dr. Roll also established ethical protocols and noted that ethical treatment of the client yielded better data.
Parapsychological literature provides meaningful ways to engage psychics and intuitives on investigation. The presence of psychics is one emerging ethical issue facing the field. There is no way to really prove the accuracy of anyone who claims to have such abilities. Sharing psychic impressions with a client, particularly in the absence of a track record of the psychic's credibility, is potentially problematic.
However, research methodologies provided by parapsychologists, such as creating blueprints of a location and having all investigators, psychic or not, do individual walk-throughs before an investigation and note areas where they "sense" things, is one way to involve intuitive ability on investigation. Just don't compare notes until after the investigation is over!
In addition to academic research on these matters, many contemporary investigators are unaware of pre-reality TV amateur ghost work and the contributions of Dave Oester, Richard Senate, Troy Taylor, Rosemary Ellen Guiley, Hans Holzer, and Joshua Warren (among others). Many of these researchers mixed various philosophies -- the Occult, parapsychology, science, and mainstream faith ideas, into "The Work." These individuals have inherently influenced what we do on our weekend haunt jaunts. Even Ghostvillage.com's Editor in Chief, Jeff Belanger, has greatly contributed to the way amateur investigators approach their work!
In So You Want To Hunt Ghosts, I outline the contributions of these seminal researchers, and their books remain required reading for any serious investigator.
There are several emerging issues facing contemporary investigators. One is the increased role of the "paranormal team" model.Investigation is no longer a group of friends getting together to do ghost work. Today, paranormal teams provide the primary way anyone gains entrance into the ghost frontier. There is a need for increased organizational sophistication when it comes to teamwork, and I explore how to organize a group and I breakdown case management. This nitty-gritty nature of real investigation is rarely depicted on TV shows.
Another emerging issue facing today's investigators is the need a research and design approach to investigation. Let us be realistic: there are limited numbers of actual haunted locations, and some of them aren't going to allow multiple teams in (especially if they are private homes). Therefore, not all investigators will be client-based, nor should they be. Residential cases aren't meant for everyone.
I feel it is now time to move towards a research-based approach for a segment of the field, where we use investigations as ways to primarily experiment and collect data on anomalous events. I provide case studies of groups who have designed experimental investigations. Along these lines, I suggest a component of the field can voluntarily agree to standards, either in their everyday protocol or on specific cases, in efforts to make investigation more acceptable to an academic community.
However, serious casework requires documentation. I provide two report examples, one from Haunted North Carolina and one from Scientific Paranormal. I also make suggestions how to save and share the data we collect. After all, for those of us who claim to do science, we need to focus on documenting and preserving our efforts.
Finally, one of the most important issues concerning our field involves ethics. As I said before, there are more investigators and more locations than ever involved in the ghost frontier. There are real issues investigators need to consider, particularly in going into private homes. What do you do if you encounter a situation where you expect child or drug abuse? ow do you ethically manage a case where you suspect the client has a mental illness or medication issues? (Most of us are not trained or licensed to provide diagnoses.) How do you really honor client rights? And what obligations do investigators have to public sites? Even if one celebrates the paranormal as a legend tripper, there remains a need for responsibility. These ethical discussions well worth having, and too few are involved in this particular dialogue.
It is OK for investigators of all persuasions to be in the community. Spiritual-based investigators, as well as those who are scientifically oriented or legend trippers, all have unique roles to play. We often view one another with suspicion and competing agendas. This is unfortunate as we are all accessing different parts of the same story. Investigation is meant to be fun, personally meaningful, and an intellectual challenge. Ghost hunting, legend tripping, and paranormal investigation become a philosophical classroom, a church, a therapy couch, and a personal growth experience for many. There is great privilege in traveling to the ghost frontier, and we are obligated to behave honorably.
Deonna Kelli Sayed is an American-Muslim writer who also happens to be a paranormal investigator. She is the author of Paranormal Obsession: America's Fascination with Ghosts & Haunting, Spooks & Spirits and So You Want to Hunt Ghosts?: A Down-To-Earth Guide. Deonna also writes on nonparanormal issues, as well. Visit her website to learn more, and follow her on Facebook and Twitter.