It crossed my mind recently, as it does from time to time when meeting with and interviewing people who believe they have had a paranormal experience, that anyone who wishes to take the subject of paranormal investigation seriously, should attend any potentially haunted location with a mental checklist. Not aimed at proving that something other worldly is going on, but aimed at proving there isn't. After all, it's my belief that unless we approach these things from a balanced viewpoint, how can we ever truly PROVE the existence of ghosts?
After 19 years experience trying to convince people that they don't have a ghost upstairs (well in 99% of cases anyway, of course there is always that 1%!!) I would like to share my mental checklist, for what it's worth.
So what does the 'experiencer' report?
Here are some common examples:
1. Resident hears footstep
Consider the following:
Wooden floorboards expanding or contracting due to changes in temperature/moisture/external influence
Sound from neighbouring houses travelling along floor joists, which can sound remarkably like it's coming from within your own home.
Other people in the house (you'd be surprised at how many times people are convinced everyone is outside, only to discover their young child had gone upstairs un-noticed!)
Water leak/dripping tap. This sounds crazy but I've attended homes in which a resident has believed there to be ghostly footsteps on the landing, which peculiarly only occurred when her Husband was in the shower! Cause? A slow, steady drip from one of the radiators onto the floor upstairs.
2. Cold breezes that come suddenly
The obvious one - open windows, or windows with perished seals, or open vents.
Other draughts, particularly underneath doors. In my own home, if you sit in the right spot in the lounge, you can often feel a cold chill coming directly from the hallway. Our front door is old and wooden and as a result, draughty! You wouldn't think you could feel it from another room...but believe me you can.
Faulty thermostat messing with your mind! - you check the thermostat and it says the house is at a comfortable 20 degrees, so why is it when you sit down you feel so cold? Could sit be a ghostly presence or is your body telling you something your thermostat isn't?
Health conditions causing chills. It may seem like you're prying into their private lives, but any good investigator should always consider the possible effect a persons physical or mental health could have on their perception of their experiences. Many investigators follow a questionnaire which should always remain confidential, but which if answered truthfully, could provide the missing piece of the jigsaw when it comes to helping explain supposed paranormal activity.
3. Orbs captured on camera
Where do I start!?
What type of camera did they use? An old polaroid displaying an orb, especially if used without flash, would be much more interesting that a digital camera for example. Digital camera are highly sensitive and as a result, often create these orb-like shapes and reflections on images when a flash is used (and sometimes without).
Was it raining? Obviously this matters if the photograph was taken outdoors but did you know it can also have an impact indoors? I have a photo somewhere of an old cinema in Wadebridge, Cornwall (note to self I must dig that out!) We went inside one Saturday afternoon as it was an awful day outside, absolutely pouring down with rain. I took a few photos and all of them showed TONS of orbs all over the place. This, I believe was the result of many people coming in, moving around with tiny specks of water all over them and their umberellas. Rain also creates mist as we start to dry of course, again which could explain orbs.
Dust. Without being offensive, try to establish whether there was a chance that the room in question was particularly dusty at the time of the photograph. If so, it' a pretty safe bet that the reason for their orb photo was dust.
Insects. Always consider insects, especially in the case of moving orbs caught on video. The way in which these move can often give the game away. If they seem to fly past in one direction quickly, in the way a fly would for example, then what you are probably dealing with is a fly or other insect. Nats are a particular 'bug-bare' pardon the pun, in these cases! They are quite tiny and often not seem with the naked eye, especially at night.
4. That "someone standing at the foot of the bed" statement
This is quite common in cases of a suspected haunting. People often report that they have been visited, during the night, and awoken to a figure standing at the foot of the bed.
Chances are they were asleep and it was a dream. I try to reassure residents by asking them, amongst other things, to consider why a spirit or ghost would do this, if they were present. It' s not a particularly effective way to communicate with the living, and if I were a spirit, I would probably rather choose a time more conductive to interaction with the living, maybe while they are sitting reading a book for example! without sounding flippant, our minds can do amazing things and can absolutely convince us that something happened when it didn't. The conscious and the subconscious mind are closely intertwined and dreams can be so vivid that at times they can stay with us in a very real sense long after we've awoken.
Does anyone in the house sleepwalk? In a conversation years ago with my sister in law she told me how terrifying it was to wake in the middle of the night to find her youngest son standing at the foot of the bed. The first time it happened she had no idea who it was, the room was dark and he didn't speak. She closed her eyes and he must have gone back to his room, as when she looked again there was no-one there. He did this a number of times over the years, but after the 2nd experience, when she was brave enough to put the light on, she always knew it was him.
5. Fleeting shadows/corner of the eye stuff
Usually whens someone says they have seen something 'move' out of the corner of their eye, what they are referring to is probably just a trick of the light. I've had it happen myself, where I've felt sure that my Husband has walked past me, but when I look he's not there. I don't tend to put this down to anything paranormal, as I know now, having examined and tried to recreate the effect, that the positioning of some of the lamps in my home can cast unusual and sometimes unexpected shadows.
Potential eye conditions. Again it may seen nosey to enquire about someones health, but when investigating a case of a suspected haunting, you have to rule everything out before you can attempt to claim anything paranormal. Some eye conditions can cause 'floaters', 'patches' or 'dark spots' in the corner of the eye which I am told, can appear like a shadow moving slowly past. Retinal tears can also cause shadows in the lower corner of the eye.
6. Reports of being held down in bed
Another fairly common experience for people who believe their home is haunted.
Sleep paralysis. Most of us have heard of this. Thankfully I am not, and never have been a sufferer, but for people who do experience this terrifying phenomena it can be incredibly realistic. Basically when we sleep our bodies go into a state of paralysis in order to keep us safe. If we didn't enter this state, our bodies would be acting our our dreams! For some people, the line between asleep and awake can become blurred, as we mentioned before, and while the body is still in the 'paralysed' state we can wake up. If this happens, it is pretty impossible to move and can be very frightening. Some people report this as feeling like someone is holding them down, or even pushing them into the bed.
7. The smell of perfume/pipe smoke from an unidentifiable source
Now this is something I have had personal experience, and I must admit that on 1 particular occasion I couldn't identify the source, and the smell came quickly, then went just as quickly. So what could be causing this?
Air fresheners. We'll go for the obvious, in your face (or up your nose!) one first of all. These days many homes have a variety of fragrances, be it plug-ins, reed diffusers, scented candles, the list goes on. Often we get very used to the scent within our own homes and actually stop noticing it. Visitors may comment as they walk through the door that there is a lovely smell, but to us it is now unnoticeable. This type of familiarisation with scent is common, but we can have sudden lapses where we suddenly catch a waft of said scent. Maybe enough time has passed for us to have forgotten it but suddenly it's there. Maybe someone else in the home has put a new air freshener somewhere and not told us? At one home I visited many years ago, the Son kept saying he could smell roses after his nan passed away and they felt that she was there watching over him. A comforting thought, however several days into an investigation the Husband remembered he had started buying rose scented toilet paper (!) and had only just realised that the timing coincided with his son catching a waft of Roses every now and then!
Smell from outside carried on the breeze.
A visitors lingering perfume/scent. When my Husband goes to work in the morning, for an hour or so after I get the occasional waft of his aftershave as I move around the house. It can get onto cushion son the sofa, my daughters clothes, towels and so on. Scent has no colour (usually!) and so we have no way of knowing exactly where it has landed, or been transferred to, not until we catch that sudden aroma.
Memories. It is said that when a loved one passes over, we find ways in which to comfort ourselves by in some small way keeping their memory alive. Some experts believe that we do this in several ways. Obviously we remember someones face, but we also remember other things about them. The way their voice/laugh sounds, and believe it or not the way they smelt. Be it a pipe, whiskey, perfume or whatever, that smell is forever associated with that person. It is highly possible that when recalling our favourite memories of a person out brains could possibly bring about these other sensory memories too, causing us to believe we can actually smell it once more.
So having said all of that, I should point out that I am in no way a skeptic. I am a 50/50 believer. I often sit on the fence, I listen and observe and yes of course there are cases where I simply cannot put my finger on what might be causing the things a family are experiencing.
Most of the time though, as you can hopefully see from my brief checklist, things which at first may appear supernatural, are often anything but, which make those all important other moment, all the more exciting!
If you have any suggestions you think I should add to the checklist please let me know!!!