Throughout time, regardless of location or culture, ghost sightings have been a common occurrence. Phenomena presumed to involve the spirits of deceased people (haunting, poltergeist activity etc) remain of interest, not only to those experiencing them but to the curious in general.

Accounts of these phenomena are extremely interesting, usually connected to places and involving no reason to suspect those giving them of fabrication. They are isolated stories told by people who are not into making careers out of it. If anything, they risk being ridiculed for describing what they’ve witnessed.

Others, however, are set on using this mysterious side of human nature for personal gain, an easy con for centuries. They prey on the thirst for thrills, as well as the grieving, the latter being inexcusable.

Ghost hunting is the practice of observing a location believed to be haunted, in attempts to spot or/and make contact with the spirits thought to be lingering there. Paraphernalia is often used (cameras, motion detectors, devices based on measuring temperature etc). The “instrument” most sought after, however, is a medium, also known as a psychic or channel, claiming to facilitate this communication.

Whilst those reporting a haunting can normally be trusted and those seeking to observe it directly can at least be given the benefit of the doubt, most mediums are full of it.

Moreover, paranormal investigations produced for television, in order to cater to viewers, can be remorselessly suspected of BS. Whilst capturing phenomena on camera does happen, it happens spontaneously, and rarely, if ever, in a scheduled manner; that is just too convenient. The proof found is usually limited to noises and sensations experienced in the area. The chances of it all being staged are very high, even when based on a true story.

Identifying the deceased person

For the sake of keeping it brief by not constantly repeating the words “ghost”, “deceased”, “dead person” etc, let’s just refer to a spirit observed by the living as Bob.

Whereas in some cases people are confident of knowing who Bob is, through some of the things he does (like moving or smashing certain possessions), in most cases, his presence is nebulous and he is connected with the place he manifests himself in, rather than those currently occupying it. He might appear partially, as a shadow, as a vapour, or be downright invisible. He might vociferate but never show any physical traits. Whilst he may inadvertently give clues about his reason to be there, identifying him is very difficult, and likely a result of meticulous research; even then things can’t be certain.

To think that someone can walk right in, off the street, and give an accurate portrayal is not plausible. Mediums are known to make up elaborate stories on the spot.

Making contact

This is presented as the medium calling Bob and expecting a sign; perhaps asking a question or two.

First of all, this is a person, not a house pet. You can’t just whistle and expect him to turn up.There are no guarantees he’s even there in real time, that he hears the medium or that he’s in any way inclined to respond.

Assumptions are made beforehand, due to popular culture:

  • He knows he is dead;
  • He spends all his time at that particular location;
  • He knows he shouldn’t be there and is aware he owes an explanation for his presence;
  • He is aware of the current year and of the people living there;
  • He wants to go elsewhere but can’t for some reason.

There are no guarantees any of these apply.

“Go to the light, Bob, go to the light!”

First of all, Heaven was a religious invention; there isn’t any way to know what lies beyond the material world and where people go after dying, if they go anywhere at all (they might just be here but difficult to perceive by the living). What the medium really means is “piss off”. Whilst many have seen ghosts, no one has ever seen Heaven. James Randi pointed out how funny it is that mediums never try to reach someone who is in hell, or, I assume, likely to go there if “passing on”.

Secondly, let’s assume there was such a place where spirits are supposed to go. Now, if Bob has refused to move on for, say, 300 years, he must’ve had his reasons all along. It’s unlikely that the medium saying “you must go home now”, with self-attributed authority, will suddenly change that.

If he is not aware he is dead (a hypothesis detailed below), saying that is pointless. And if he is aware of his circumstances and options, should there be any, he doesn’t need pointers from the medium; he is there because he wants to be.

Bob the public menace

When Bob interferes with the lives of the living, it is often assumed he is doing it on purpose; some people think ghosts are set on chasing the present occupants away. However, that needn’t be the case. Bob might be experiencing the living in the same manner they are experiencing him (fleeting, blurred interactions which are difficult to make sense of).

Some apparitions have indicated there just might be an overlap between the past and present. For instance, somewhere in the UK, the ghost of a monk was seen walking down a street. The observer only saw the monk’s upper half, and after researching the history of the area, realised the road used to be at a lower level, which would explain why the monk’s legs could not be seen (he was walking on the old road, the old and current scenery overlapping). That was one of the most interesting stories I’ve come across and indicates occasional glitches, as opposed to spirits deciding to haunt a place (which is not to say the latter doesn’t occur).

The same can be said for noises, voices etc inside a house; perhaps the living are simply getting a glimpse of past events, without any interaction per se. Of course, when it comes to poltergeist activity, there seems to be a clear intention, when objects are thrown around for instance. There are cases when people are physically attacked.

Yet lacking any indication of violent intentions, it’s unnecessarily distressing to make assumptions, simply based on Hollywood tropes.

Bring in the priest

When dealing with a haunting, perhaps due to culture or modern horror film narratives, someone might think that bringing in a priest to perform some ritual will make everything stop. If they have indications of – or simply imagine – Bob having suffered a violent death, to perhaps lie hidden in an unmarked grave, they think a service will bring him closure. Hollywood certainly portrays it that way – that merely reciting a few Bible verses can bring peace to the dead.

However, there are no guarantees Bob was ever religious, or that he, in fact, was not killed at the behest of a religious institution in the first place, as many have been throughout the centuries. Imagine doing that for victims of the Inquisition; it might just feel like a spit in the face (if they even become aware of it). I reckon that cross is the last thing they would want to see or be associated with.

And here’s a thought – what if some of the spirits out there, claimed by the religious to be demons for reacting negatively to religious practices, are actually just ghosts who hate the church?

This spontaneous thought calls for some research and a future post on anything I might find.

Mediums freaking out on camera

There are sensationalist programs showing mediums scared half to death in dark basements, squirming and squealing about being touched on the shoulder.

“I talk to the dead on demand; I even let them possess my body to speak through it, but if I think one is near me I scream and run away.” Makes sense, right?

There is one thing I know for sure about ESP – if you’re someone who experiences it regularly, you’re not afraid of it, regardless of how it manifests. You take it as a normal part of life.

Granted that if you reject the idea, you might be negatively impacted by such phenomena. But if you embrace it fully and call yourself a medium, it makes no sense to run for the hills, especially when you seek out such encounters. It’s all done for show.

Given the availability of such material, it would be a shame not to post a cringe-worthy example of poor acting, from those who pretend to contact the dead.

This is one notable instance, organised by BBC 3, of three “mediums” being taken to a chocolate factory to communicate with a spirit. The presumption was they had no information and were obtaining their findings through their so-called abilities. However, it turned out they’d researched the place and were regurgitating the fictitious narrative posted on a website a week prior.

One medium even pretended to go into a trance to obtain the false information. The cringe was at the highest possible level.