- two very different entities -
Did you think a Paranormal Investigation was just a fancy way of saying Ghost Hunt?
Here's why you're wrong.
Most people interested in the paranormal will have at one time or another either gone along to a public 'Ghost Hunt' or will have considered it. They are now easy to find, with countless organisations offering promises of scare-filled evenings and things that go bump in the night. These events can be good fun, and if organised correctly, can also be educational. But for anyone serious about paranormal investigation they often lack depth, and leave the seasoned investigator wanting more.
As with most things in the world of the supernatural, this isn't a cut and dried case and as will hopefully be made clear throughout the course of this page, there can often be - and indeed should be - an overlap.
Let's start with the name. For most professional investigators, or seasoned amateur the very term 'Ghost Hunt' can be annoying. Firstly, why would you want to hunt the soul of a deceased person? For what purpose? Are you planing to capture it once found and mount it above your fireplace?
Of course not, so the idea that you are going out there to literally hunt down ghosts seems incorrect for many. Maybe 'Ghost Search' would be a better name although it hasn't got quite the same ring to it somehow.
Once past the obvious flaws in the name itself it helps to actually know what to expect from this type of event. Usually public ghost hunts are conducted by professional events companies on a ticketed basis and as long as you're over 18 (for most companies) and can afford to buy a ticket - you can go! There are no background checks on people attending, no questions asked as to the mental stability or well being either, as the assumption is that the purpose of the evening will be entertainment, some jumps and thought provoking experiences but nothing too emotionally draining or that could leave guests particularly disturbed. It is also not usually considered that many of the things that happen throughout the evening may actually have nothing to do with the location, but more the people attending the event.
A good ghost hunt will usually begin with a version of a traditional Ghost Walk (ghost walks are usually conducted outdoors around historic towns and cities). The event host will regale guests with tales of spectres, unseen forces and the locations macabre history to really get you in the mood! Some organisations don't offer this and jump straight into the whole Ouija board stuff, which we'll get to in a moment, but hopefully if you've booked with a good company you will get some good historical information as part of your 'hunt'.
The evening will then probably involve splitting into groups, depending on how many guests there are, and taking part in a varierty of activities, all designed to facilitate and encourage communication from the other side. These can include things like Ouija boards, pendulum dowsing, vigils, seances, human pendulum, mirror scrying and so on. There seems no end to the possibilities when you're with an imaginative and forward thinking organisation. There will be giggles, screams, and a good deal of camaraderie. Most people who go home after a ghost hunt have enjoyed their time whether they actually experienced anything paranormal or not. They are out for a good time in a reputedly haunted location. If they experience anything, well it's generally a bonus.
The clue is in the name...these are basically more investigative and to some people who attend public Ghost Hunts, a genuine Paranormal Investigation with a professional team would seem pretty boring in comparison. Generally they are undertaken at the request of a client when they believe they are experiencing unexplained phenomena in their home or workplace.
A team will go in and will usually begin by conduting individual interviews with each resident or worker as a first step. This is to establish not only what they have been experiencing, but also to gain clues as to whether there could possibly be some kind of emotional/psychological cause for these perceived experiences.
A good investigative team will have some knowledge of parapsychology.
A full blown paranormal investigation can take weeks, months, even years in complex cases, but for comparative purposes here we will use a 1 night investigation as an example.
Investigations can be conducted by just 1 person and if so, are often referred to as lone vigils. An investigator or team will, following their previously mentioned initial interviews, conduct what are known as 'baseline tests' prior to setting up equipment. Baseline tests are crucial in identifying areas within the building where there are natural or explanable fluctuations in things like temperature, electromagnetic field etc (it's already sounding complicated compared to the ghost hunt right!?)
Once these tests are complete the investigator or team can make informed decisions about the best places to closely monitor throughout the investigation and where to set up their equipment (and more importantly where NOT to). This is often specific rooms where increased activity has been reported, or areas where 1 specific event has taken place (this is especially common in cases of murder, suicide or other tragedy). The equipment used can vary from team to team, with some teams preferring to go 'old school' and rely mainly on their own senses, but generally speaking you will find EMF (electromagnetic field) meters, motion detectors, night vision cameras, digital voice recorders and so on. It's worth noting that of course you will likely find much of this equipment present on a professional public ghost hunt too although there is rarely the degree of scrutiny when it comes to results.
Most paranormal investigations that occur privately tend not to include the use of ouija boards or psychic mediumship although there are no set rules and so anythings possible, although the quality of the data obtained from say a ouija board, isn't really measurable and so is often not considered valid in these circumstances.
An evening spent on an analytical investigation, one with a view to collecting data, is likely to yield very little in itself. Paranormal activity is notoriusly elusive and whatever your beliefs around why that may be, the truth is that usually in order to gain enough evidence to put forward a bonafide haunting case you will need to spend many an hour sitting in the dark, cold, tired, bored and in need of the next sugar rush to keep you going. Vigils throughout paranormal investigations rarely involve giggling or merriment for the fear of missing something (a sound etc) that could have proved valuable. Now that's not to say that people can't enjoy themselves on private investigations as speaking from personal experience, I've had an absolute blast on some evenings spent just with 2 or 3 people but usually the 'job' takes priority over the fun.
So which is best?
Answer...neither really. There's a lot to be said for both, it depends entirely on your need and expectations. It's like asking me to choose between a great steak and a great burger. Yes I love a steak but there are times when you just fancy a damn good burger!
Not everyone in the paranormal community feels this way however and amongst certain pockets there is a degree of snobbery and dislike for public ghost hunts, but personally I think they have their place. They make getting involved in the supernatural with like minded people accesible to everyone with an interest. Some companies charge an extortionate amount for tickets however and that's an issue for another time, but on the whole when a professional events company is offering a service, an experience, they should quite rightly be paid for that. Provided you do your research, check out reviews and compare prices with other companies offering ghost hunts at the same venue chances are you won't be disappointed.
Likewise, there are lifelong ghost hunters who shun traditional paranormal investigations, believeing they can be too stuffy or that investigators can become too hung up on the gathering of scientific data for what many believe is a phenomena that science cannot even explain. Maybe to a degree that's true. I've been on investigations in the past with investigators who are so focussed on tracking the temperature changes for example, that they have missed out on strange sounds or shadows that were spotted by the less analytical members of the team. As with all things, finding a balance is key. Hopefully you'll never find yourself in the position where you are concerned about strange activity in your home, but if you do believe you are experiencing signs of a haunting, you're not likely to want to start selling tickets and asking strangers to come in and hae a walk around!
As previously mentioned, there are areas in which both of these overlap and with a bit of luck if you find yourself on a public event with an experienced organisation you could find you get to experience elements of both which should provide the best possible experience. Maybe some professional teams could also benefit from taking a leaf out of the ghost hunters book and step away from the data loggers once in a while.
To my mind these are 2 very different entities, each with something to offer and each with something to learn.
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