Answers to the Question, “Is My House Haunted?”
“Do recall that the vast majority of paranormal activity is harmless. In many cases it’s a person’s fear of the unknown that puts them in the most danger.”
by Robin. M. Strom-Mackey
Watching paranormal television shows, one would get the idea that paranormal investigators spend all of their time running around dark buildings at night in pursuit of spooks. However, most of the inquiries I get are from people simply looking for some answers. Left with the choice of having a group of strangers running around their premises late at night, most would rather figure out what’s going on and handle the situation on their own. If the catalog of paranormal shows has done nothing else, it has made the general public more self-sufficient. Case in point, I received several emails from a boy who reported activity in his closet. When I asked if he needed an investigation he said no. He’d already been performing his own audio and video recording, and analyzing the data. He just really wanted to bounce some ideas around with me. Voila, a natural ghost hunter at the age of 12! Considering that self-sufficiency saves me a sleepless night and hours of painstaking evidence review, I was more than happy to oblige.
Below I’ve compiled brief explanations of the most usual types of paranormal activity. Granted, paranormal activity doesn’t always fit into neat categories, and sometimes a location may have more than one type of activity occurring. But it should give you a starting point for figuring out what is going on.
Do recall that the vast majority of paranormal activity is harmless. In many cases it’s a person’s fear of the unknown that puts them in the most danger. Truly dangerous or evil entities are extremely rare; rare to the point that seasoned investigators with years of experience have never encountered them. From accounts I’ve read the difference between benign paranormal activity and a truly evil entity is the difference between night and day. So let me say it again, because it bears repeating, in many cases it’s a person’s fear of the unknown that puts them in the most danger. Knowledge on the other hand is power, and can help you take back your sense of being in control.
The German translation of the word literally means noisy ghost. But this may be a misnomer. An associate of mine wanted to ask me a few questions. A family member was experiencing truly frightening activity in their home. Objects were falling off shelves, flying against the wall and sometimes smashing themselves into tiny pieces. The family was obviously scared out of their wits. Should they call in an investigation team, ask a priest for an exorcism or flee the family home? I told her that none of these need happen. Instead I suggested they sit down and have a serious talk with their adolescent daughter.
My friend looked at me as if I’d lost my marbles. “Why in the world should they do that?”
“Because,” I explained, “the prevailing theory behind poltergeist activity is that it is created by a human agent and not a ‘ghost’ at all.” How do people create paranormal activity, you ask? Through pyschokinesis (PK), which is the ability to control or manipulate objects via the mind, or more specifically recurrent, spontaneous psycho-kinesis (or RSPK). Poltergeist activity is usually created by sub-conscious bursts of pyschokinesis, usually emanating from an adolescent as they grapple with an inner conflict. (Epileptics and hysterical subjects are also cited as possible candidates.) RSPK is an ability that appears to be strongest in young people, but fades as a person ages.
Poltergeist activity usually manifests itself as strange noises such as knocking or scratching sounds. It can also encompass items being lifted, flying (usually slowly) through the air and breakable items being smashed into walls or falling onto floors. The items are usually lifted without anyone witnessing it, and there are even accounts of items not belonging to the domicile suddenly appearing (apports). Sometimes only the sound of an item being broken is heard, the object being found intact. There have been historically infamous accounts of poltergeist activity. Emotionally harrowing as a poltergeist attack may be, such activity doesn’t usually result in physical injury.
Jennifer Lauer, Co-Director of the Paranormal Research Group describes an investigation they did that involved a poltergeist. In an interview she said: “There was one [client] in particular. They called us late at night and we had to drop everything and get a team and go out there...It had to do with a young female. After we did an investigation and told her that’s what we felt that the case was, we explained that the activity was probably coming from her. We explained how the brain works, and how the brain functions and how that can happen, and that it’s a natural cause. We explained that it’s been studied under lab conditions and how it has been reproduced and that it’s not a “crazy-person” thing, but that it happens more frequently than people understand or recognize.
She didn’t want to believe it. She wanted to believe something else. However, after we brought that from her sub-conscious into her consciousness by making her aware of it, it [the activity] stopped….Then everything is ok, because the issue is resolved in their mind. Especially if it’s PK, because PK is done in their mind. By making them aware of it, it solves a lot [of cases] of them (Strom-Mackey, 2012).”
What Can You Do to Handle a Poltergeist?
If you are experiencing poltergeist activity, the first thing you should do is identify the person responsible. Is there a member of the family that is always present when the activity occurs? Does the activity cease when that person isn’t in the building? If so, you have undoubtedly found your unwanted source of RSPK. It’s then time to have a talk. Suggest to the adolescent that the activity only occurs when they are around. Explain to them the theory behind RSPK. Because poltergeist activity usually occurs during times of conflict or distress, try to find out what problem the child is experiencing and suggest a compromise or solution to the problem.
One accounting of a residual haunt is told by a young publisher. He and his business associates had started publishing a magazine. Tight deadlines required long hours. One late night he was working alone in their second-floor office when he distinctly heard the slow “clunk, clunk, clunk” of footfalls coming up the back steps. The sounds seemed to start on the first floor, continued past his office door and followed up to the third floor where they stopped. Obviously being concerned, the young man went to the door of the stairwell. Sticking his head out into the stairwell he looked up where the footfalls had stopped. No one was there. Then he looked down to the first floor. No one was there. He was worried a vagrant might have let himself in via the door at the bottom of the stairs. So he went down to check the lock. The door was securely locked from within. Obviously confused, if not completely unnerved, he decided to call it a night. Asking around afterwards, he soon discovered that other people had heard the strange sounds as well, although only late at night. No one reported ever having seen the “stair climber” The sounds were always described in the same manner. They would start on the first floor and progress to the third floor where they would simply stop, and they were always described as sounding heavy and slowly methodical. Finally the mystery was solved. The young publisher discovered that a man who worked in the building had committed suicide on the third floor, undoubtedly accounting for the slow, heavy tread.
This is a perfect example of a residual type of haunt. Residual haunts may seem very sinister, but are without doubt the most benign of any paranormal activity. A residual haunting is the result of PSI energies being imprinted on the surrounding environment. The theory is that an event of emotional magnitude can leave an imprintation in the surrounding area. This emotionally charged “recording” is replayed when the proper environmental play button is pushed. What causes the recording to be replayed remains a mystery. It may be replayed on an anniversary date or the precise time when the event occurred. The footfalls in this case were only heard late at night at the precise time that the man made his final assent. The replay may also be dependent on environmental factors such as humidity.
So to recap, a residual haunting is nothing but a recording of an event. They are very often sounds, such as footfalls on the stairs. They can occur indoors, such as the sounds of a basketball game in an old gymnasium, or outdoors, such as the recurrent sounds of fighting on an old battlefield. Residual haunts can also be visual, and as such can be very easy to detect. As we know, residual haunts are immutable recordings. Thus the image may appear to be walking a foot above the ground or walk through a wall. If such occurs it’s usually because renovations to the building have changed the flooring height or walled in a doorway. The residual specter has no intelligence however, and thus continues to do what it has always done.
What Can You Do to Handle a Residual Haunt?
Do note, I postulated that the residual haunt has no intelligence, just as your blue-ray movie has no intelligence. Thus the residual haunt cannot in any way interact with you or the world around it. It cannot be exercised by a priest, reasoned with by a ghost hunting group or turned off. No matter how unnerving it may be, the residual haunt cannot harm you.
So how does one know if the noises they’re hearing in the attack are that of an active haunting or a residual? Get a notebook and note when the activity occurs. Have the other family members do the same. Also note the time, the weather conditions, the date of occurrences, and of course describe as accurately as possible what occurred. As time elapses look for similarities in the activity. Do the footfalls always happen after midnight? Does the activity always occur in the first week of June? Does the spectral woman always seem to be walking below the floor? I suppose it’s possible for a building to have more than one type of residual recording present, so again look for patterns. Also note, if the haunting has never attempted to make contact with you, interact with you or deviate from what it is doing it is probably a residual haunt.
Once you know it’s a residual you’ll be less afraid of it. Know also that the occurrences are likely to decrease with time. But know also, there’s nothing you can do to stop the residual haunting from playing when it plays. (There are song lyrics in there somewhere, I’m sure.)
If you have a sudden uptick in unusual happenings you may want to look to that recent flea market buy you made. Yes, it’s possible to buy an object that is “haunted.” Such objects as mirrors, dressers, books, paintings (especially portraits) dolls, jewelry and in one case even a bed.
The call came in late one Saturday evening. The young woman on the phone, we’ll call her Ann, was upset and needing advice. The house in which she resided with her parents had transformed from a peaceful retreat to a house of fear. Strange and unaccountable sounds were heard and lights turned on and off. Then one night Ann went down to the basement to flip a breaker that had shut off. As she stepped to the basement floor she witnessed a tarp tied around a box of old books come unaccountably untied and fly across the room. It was this event that made Ann decide to call me. She was mainly concerned for her parents; being very religious, they were talking about calling in the family pastor to rid the property of evil spirits. Ann on the other hand wasn’t as frightened as she was stymied. What had caused this sudden onslaught of activity in a home that until recently wasn’t haunted? She wanted some answers, and she wanted to know how to make the activity cease in order to restore her parents’ peace of mind.
I made the usual enquiries. The house was recently built. There was no known history of misfortune surrounding the land upon which it sat. The activity was a new occurrence. I was trying to think of some reasonable explanation and then I remembered the tarp which suddenly seemed to point directly at the solution. I asked her to tell me more about the books.
She explained that she had just recently purchased the box of old books which included some very personal papers [her emphasis] and possibly a journal. Wanting to protect the box she had put it in the basement with the tarp tied over it to protect it from the damp. Bingo! I surmised that Ann and her family had unwittingly exposed their home to a haunted object.
Just as houses, land or people can be the center of a haunting, so too can objects. Given the premise then, a haunted object moved into a building can cause the start of activity, and moving the object out can make the activity stop. Often haunted objects are items that were of personal significance, such as a personal diary or a painted portrait. Then again the items themselves may be mundane and unremarkable.
Theories behind Haunted Objects
Dave Schumacher, Director of the Anomalous Research Department of the Pennsylvania and Wisconsin based Paranormal Research Group suggests three theories as to why objects might be haunted. First is the theory of the residual haunt. The residual haunt theory contends that certain emotionally charged events can leave an imprint on the environment, such as a location, building or object. Activity may either be auditory or visual (See Residual Haunting Above).
The second theory behind haunted objects is retrocognition. Retrocognition is the ability to perceive experiences from the past clairvoyantly, usually as a spontaneous replaying of past events such as in a vision or a dream.
The third possibility is an intelligent haunt. This theory suggests that some part of a human consciousness survives death. This consciousness released from the body may return to a location to which it was attached, or in this case an object. Thus if someone were attached to an object in life they might return to it after death. It might be that the spirit desires to see the object given to the proper person. Or perhaps they might not wish to see their beloved object fall into the wrong hands.
Determining if you have a haunted object
If you think you may have a haunted object in your house try taking its temperature, preferably with an IR thermometer (available at hardware stores) If an object is unaccountably several degrees cooler than other objects in the room, you may have found your culprit. Do observe surroundings. Furniture placed by windows during the winter months will be cooler, as will objects placed by a chimney flue.
How to Deal with a Haunted Object
Returning to Ann and her dilemma, when she asked again what she should do, I had a definite answer for her. Simply remove that box of books out of her basement and get them out of the house and then see if the problems ceased. That late Saturday call was the only time I ever heard from Ann. I can only speculate, therefore, that moving the box out of the house restored peace and order, making any further intervention unnecessary.
In the article, Home Invasion, I describe my son’s experience with what may have been a shadow person. He woke to see a shadowy figure of indistinguishable features standing at the top of the stairs, once looking around the corner into my room as I lay sleeping, and another time acting strangely by bobbing up and down. All three times my son witnessed the thing he called out to me, upon which the creature would seemingly disappear. I never saw the shadow figure. My son only saw it the three times, and has never reported seeing it again. Still it makes one wonder if what my son saw was real, and if so what the shadow man was doing in our house?
Shadow Men are unlike other types of hauntings, and thus many paranormal investigators categorize them independently. These beings look like shadowy figures, dark masses with no distinguishable facial features. Some are described as having red glowing eyes. They are almost always described as being male, although some accounts detail them as bald, sexless and with a large, broad silhouette (Russell, 2007). The shadows appear to move of their own volition. They often move quickly through a room and are witnessed disappearing through a wall or door (Richford, 2007). If they move across you you’re most likely to feel extreme cold. And yes, they have been known to touch, grab and pull on victims. Unlike other types of hauntings, shadow men appear to be intelligent.
Being intelligent they also appear to be acutely aware of the presence of witnesses. It seems they either act secretly as if trying to avoid detection or act brazenly with behaviors demanding attention or fear. For example, many witnesses report that they see shadow people out of the corner of the eye, noting that they appear to lurk in the darkest corners of the room, or peer around doorways as if spying on inhabitants. Other accounts are more sinister, speaking of shadow people that stroll out in full view, sometimes sitting on the edge of a bed or standing in a doorway menacingly. From the accounts I’ve read, they seem to appear most often to children or adolescents, and many witnesses have suggested that they felt the creatures gained strength by feeding off their victim’s fear.
They seem to prefer nighttime for their activities, although there are accounts of shadow people showing up in the broad daylight. They may make an appearance once never to be seen again, or they may make appearances at odd times over a series of years. One witness noted that one fedora clad shadow figure harassed him over a decade, usually appearing when the witness was the most distressed or anxious, seemingly to relish the misery.
Paranormal writer and blogger Jason Offutt of MysteriousUniverse.org categorizes shadow figures into five distinct categories based on appearance and behavior.
1.Benign: These creatures may be seen only once or a few times, such as the one my son witnessed. Their behavior appears more like a residual haunt in that they may always display the same behavior every time they appear, for example always appearing at the same time, walking the same path across the room. They may or may not acknowledge witnesses. Aside from being spooky, these beings don’t appear to have a desire to terrorize or unduly frighten witnesses. Other accounts describe benign shadow figures who are playful, or that appear to act in a clownish fashion. 2.Negative Shadows: These creatures appear to lurk in dark shadows and can cause feelings of terror from their witnesses. For these creatures intimidation appears to be the goal. 3.Red Eyed Shadows: These creatures are always negative. They are described at staring openly at observers with blazing, red eyes and are described as feeding off people’s fear. 4.Hooded Shadows: These creatures are sometimes described as looking like a medieval monk in hood and robes. They emanate feelings of deep rage. 5.Hat Men or The Men in Black: Offutt notes these creatures are “the most curious.” They appear to be wearing a fedora style hat and are sometimes described as wearing a suit. If this suggests a “men in black” style appearance it may be on purpose. Offutt notes that these fedora-clad, shadow men have been reported in numerous cultures across the globe, and it has been suggested that these may actually be inter-dimensional beings traveling not across the galaxy, but from a different dimension to make contact and/or study our world.
Theories behind Shadow People
In the article Hauntings – Shadow People, Nannette Richford suggests several theories as to what shadow people might be. The first is that shadow people are the ghosts of departed souls seen as amorphous shadowy creatures in an incomplete attempt to materialize (Richford, 2007). Another theory is that they are beings from another dimension witnessed when our own dimension partially overlaps their own, which may explain why they are only partially visible. Some paranormal investigators suggest that shadow people are evil or non-human creatures or perhaps even demonic spirits which evoke terror purposely.
Offutt suggests they may be categorized as djinn (jinn). In the Islamic tradition djinn play an important role as entities that are non-human. These spirits may be gay, human companions or dark predators depending on their dispositions. They are said to lurk in cemeteries or the ruins of human habitations. They can be great deceivers, sometimes disguising themselves as a departed loved one.
Sleep theory may help to explain some sightings. In the in-between state of wakefulness and sleep is known as the hypnogogic state. It is a period when the brain is extremely receptive to “ideas, images, sounds, feelings, impressions and intuition,” a period when a vaguely imagined dream may take on the feeling of reality (Cheung, 2006). Patients experiencing a hypnogogic hallucination report flickering lights, visual hallucinations, a feeling of being paralyzed and report feeling like they are being held down on the bed or a feeling of pressure on the chest.
Richford also lists overactive imaginations and neurological disorders such as schizotypal disorders which can cause hallucinations and visual disturbances. High levels of electromagnetic fields have also been known to cause visual disturbances and hallucinations, and should not be discounted as a possible explanation. As chemist Rick Toomey notes, electrical stimulation to certain parts of the brain or certain drugs, or anything that causes a chemical imbalance in the brain can cause strange perceptions by the nervous system.
How to Handle Shadow People
Whatever the explanation, shadow people are often described as having intelligence since many of them appear to feed off fear, perhaps the best advice a paranormal investigator can give is to fight your own fear, so as not to feed them inadvertently. Shadow people usually don’t seem to take up residence in a domicile, but seem more likely to come and go. You may only witness them once or twice, although they have been known to attach to a person for years, returning to make numerous visits. Again, it’s never a bad idea to keep track of the sightings. Does the creature appear every year on the same day or week? Do they only appear during time of emotional stress? You’ll never know until you’ve established a pattern.
Haunted Houses – The Intelligent Haunt
Debi Chestnut speculates that the actual haunted house is a relatively rare occurrence. What is meant by a haunted house is an actual intelligent being who has left the corporeal plane but whose spirit remains at a building or residence. It may be that the building was of significant importance to the spirit. In other situations spirits may take up residence in a building that was close in proximity. For example, the home of the spirit may be been torn down, but another house is close, so the spirit changes locations. They may take up residence in a building where they have privacy, such as an abandoned structure.
It should be understood that spirits do not appear to be irrevocably tied to one location unless they either believe themselves bound or choose to stay. If all that remains of us is our spirit in raw, willful energy, then the sky is the limit when it comes to what we could do or where we might go after death. If a spirit remains in a location, it probably does so with a purpose. Perhaps they have unfinished business to finish, perhaps they simply care for a certain location, maybe they’re waiting to be reunited with a loved one. They may remain to right what they felt was an injustice done to them. Some theories suggest that spirits that have died a tragic and/or abrupt death may remain in a location because they do not know that they have passed, and thus remain because they are confused.
Chestnut suggests sometimes spirits may remain earthbound because they’re afraid of facing judgment on the other side. On an investigation into a building that had once been living quarters for union soldiers during the Civil War, I appeared to run across one such being. It was rumored that one of the spirits at the location had been a traitor. When asked during an EVP session if he was afraid of being judged a traitor in the eyes of his fellow soldiers, I heard a very distinct male voice reply, “Yes!” on my recorder.
Intelligent Vs. Residual
Obviously the main difference between an intelligent haunt and a residual haunt is that an intelligent haunt can and probably will choose to interact with the human inhabitants of the building. Another obvious difference is that an intelligent spirit will mix it up. They won’t cause activity in the same way every time, but will move the china one day, and ring the doorbell the next. Interaction with humans can take on many forms. Auditory activity is probably the most prevalent. You may hear banging sounds, footsteps, doors opening and closing. One may hear music such as a piano playing, or voices may be heard.
Odd smells are fairly common, especially if the spirit had a smell that was distinctive to them. A strong perfume smell may waft through a room and disappear moments later. If the spirit was a cigar smoker, smoke may be smelled when no one in the building is smoking.
Sensations are another way for spirits to make themselves known. You may feel a stroking on your hair or down your arm. In more sinister cases people have reported being shoved in the back as they walked downstairs. In the same vein, many report being held back from falling down the stairs.
Apports and Asports: Depending upon how advanced the spirit may be, objects may appear, disappear or move from one room to another with no explanation. The disappearances may be comical, like your keys disappearing off the hallway table only to be found in the refrigerator. Or they may be more serious in nature, such as a religious amulet disappearing from your jewelry box.
Objects may also be manipulated. We lived in an old home, a home I believe we shared with a small child spirit. Often I would hear my son’s electronic toys going off in his closet when he wasn’t in his room. Being skeptical as usual, I speculated that the batteries in the toys were wearing down, thus misfiring. However, I never heard the toys go off by themselves after we moved from that location.
And of course, the spirit can manifest visually. This may occur as a full-bodied apparition, but this is the rarest form of activity – the Holy Grail for paranormal investigators. In the rarest accounts an apparition can look so real that the witness doesn’t realize at the time that they’re seeing a spirit, but think it’s a real human being in period costume. Other manifestations may not appear as solid. You may witness an apparition, but then realize you can see through them. Still other manifestations may only be partially complete, such as seeing a set of legs walking down the steps, but no torso or head over the top! And still other visual manifestations are amorphous, and may appear as a wispy, moving cloud of white smoke.
How to Handle the Intelligent Haunt
For this type of haunting you may wish to contact an area paranormal group for an investigation. They should also be able to tell you if it's residual or intelligent. And they shoud be able to give you at least some idea of how to deal with the activity. But please beware of anyone in the paranormal field who tells you they know exactly what to do to rid a home of a haunting. These people are snake charmers. There is no fool proof
solutions. There are only theories.
If a haunting of a location is caused by an intelligent, individual intelligence then it seems sensible to deal with the haunting as you would an irritating door-to-door salesman. Many people that contact me report they’ve already called in a priest or reverend to do a house blessing. I have not researched this statistically as a way to resolve a haunting, but under the weight of anecdotal evidence I would suggest this may not be the best, first defense. Indeed, this tact seems to incense many spirits to rebel to bigger, bolder acts of defiance.
Instead, I would suggest that you keep a journal of activity. Check for possible similarities in activities. Also, as a family or team, sit down and decide what you want. Do you want the spirit to move on? Decide that unanimously and present a united front to the being. You can talk to the walls, perhaps as you walk in the door or last thing at night before you go to sleep. Remind the being that 1. This is your home now. 2. You are asking them to take up residence somewhere else. 3. Remind them they are no longer welcome.
Don’t Show Fear
When off the wall occurrences happen, try to adopt a nonchalant attitude as you might with a recalcitrant child.
As one smart ghost hunter once pointed out, most spirits are human in nature. That doesn’t mean that they were nice people when they were alive. If a mean person passes away and now is trying to take up residence in your home you have every right to tell them to pay rent somewhere else. If they can’t bully you (show no fear) and the residents present a unified front, then eventually they’ll get the point and move on. I realize this doesn’t always apply in a home with small children. Obviously small children are infinitely more malleable.
Living with the Benign
Perhaps your spirit isn’t so bad. In many situations the spirits appear only to be trying to get some attention, or to let the living know they’re around. Think about the activity. Was it vile in nature or merely startling? If the evidence suggests just startling you might simply accept that you share your domicile with someone else. I’ve written many times about sharing our home with a child ghost. He visited me once in the night. He played on the stairs and he often made my son’s electronic toys malfunction. For the most part he ignored us, as we ignored him. We were united in our love of the beautiful home in which we all resided. There was no need to ask him to leave as he was as much a part of our historical home as we were.
Critters that Follow You Home
Remember that lost kitten you found as a kid that followed you home? It may be possible that spirits are capable of doing the same. I’ve read or listened to accounts of paranormal investigators that came away from an investigation with more than they bargained on. It can also happen to laymen as well. I got an email one day from a young married man. His comely, young wife worked at a hospital. They lived in an apartment where nothing had ever happened, until just recently. They felt as if they were being spied on in their bedroom and once the young woman had woken up to find a man leaning over the bed looking at her? Was it possible that his lovely wife had managed to attract the attentions of a ghost? Hmmm, so the choices are hang out a hospital with all that sickness and death or spy on a pretty young lady in her bedroom at night? Possible something followed her home? I’d say!
How to Handle Interlopers
The prevailing theory of spirits is that they are intelligent, willful energy. If that is the case why would they not be able to move about as they chose, changings locations at will? These restless souls appear to be more curious than anything. They may come for a night or two, or stay for a week, but then they appear to get bored and move on. The good news is that you can reason with these entities, establish parameters or even suggest they go on their way. For example, I told the young man to discuss with his wife the distinct possibility that they had become the unwitting recipients of a stray. At night when they got ready for bed I suggested they communicate with their interloper, reminding him that it was their home and that it was not appropriate for him to invade the private space of their bedroom or spy on them at night. The point is that as a family you have to set the rules, and present a solid front. It’s also helps you to feel that you are taking back the control of the situation, which is extremely powerful psychologically, speaking.
The Crisis Apparition and the After Death Communications
My mother was in her bed alone when she awoke in the night. She sat up in bed groggily when she heard my father call her name from the other room. “Come to bed, Skip!’’ she called and patted the empty side of the bed…. And then she recalled that he had died over a year ago and began to cry. “It sounded so real,” she said. “What should I think?”
“I think, Mom, that you should feel blessed. I don’t think you imagined it or dreamed it at all. I think it was Dad’s way of saying he loved you and he was checking in.”
She didn’t really talk about the event after that. In fact she seemed to forget it, or discount it as a dream. After all, when you have a daughter who is “into the paranormal” you ask an occasional question and then discount everything she says as absolute bunk. Such is my story! But I wish she had given the event more significance, because while they might be frightening, these events are special gifts from our loved ones, and are meant to reassure us that they’re doing ok across the veil.
These “episodes” have been called by many names by many different people. Anniversary Ghosts, Crises Apparitions, or the archaic moniker, Phantasms of the Living. Among those in the Hospice Field they’re known as After Death Communications. I will attempt to categorize them. But keep in mind that few things fit into our neat little subsets, and over-categorization probably does more to muddy the field than illuminate the experience.
Crisis Apparition: On the basest terms, when someone speaks of a Crisis Apparition they are speaking in the terms of Edmund Gurney as an occurrence of spontaneous telepathy fueled by the shattering event of death. The iconic two-volume study conducted and painstakingly chronicled in Phantasms of the Living is undoubtedly the most thorough study of the Crisis Apparition ever conducted. In the basest terms, you have a loved one who passes, and at the exact moment they pass you experience a visitation. Grandma passes in Topeka, Kansas and at the exact moment, in St. Louis, Missouri you awake from sleep to find Grandma sitting in an armchair and watching you from the corner.
“Grandma, is everything ok?” You ask in confusion. What is Grandma doing here?
“I have to go now, Tommy. But I’ve left my will in the safe in my room. You’ll be fine, honey, but you should marry the Owens girl,” Grandma replies. She stands and appears to step toward the bed pleadingly and then fades before your eyes.
This is a crisis apparition. In effect it is someone who has passed who does not yet know they have passed. Recently I’ve read of plane crash victims who have been witnessed in the area of the crash only hours after death. Basically this being may or may not know that it has departed this plane of existence. It may be saying goodbye or it may be looking for answers.
After Death Communication: An ADC may be categorically different. It can occur a couple of days to several years after the death of a loved one. As in my mother’s case, it was a mundane evening and the visitation was without warning or provocation. These visitations appear to be a loved one’s attempt to return, make sure everything is ok, and depart again. I use the term visitation specifically, because these events are not hauntings in the traditional sense. According to mediums, earth-bound spirits, those who have not “followed the light” are responsible for a haunting in a traditional sense, while a relative or close friend is responsible for a Crisis Apparition or an ADC.
Whether you have experienced a Crisis Apparition or an After Death Communication, neither of these events constitutes a haunting in the traditional sense. These spirits are visiting. They come and they go, perhaps without discernible reason. Once the event has passed, there is very likely they will occur again.
What to do about a Visitation
Nothing. Most spirits will foll0w the usual path. Some will come back to notify you that they are okay. It is not a traditional haunting; it is more a way for your loved one to communicate. Don’t call in ghost hunters or the area priest. Tell them you love them and send them on their way. Unless you hold them to the spot with your desire, they will move about as they choose, and be there waiting for you when you arrive.
Is My House Haunted or is it My Imagination; The Psychological Effect
There are also a few psychological possibilities for hauntings as well. Dave Schumacher suggests magical thinking, sheer human imagination, and the desire to experience a paranormal event, subjective validation and confirmation bias.
In other words, if a person is inclined toward believing in the paranormal they’re more likely to attribute unexplained phenomenon to being paranormal. For example, I was speaking with a colleague who was house-sitting for a person who collected antiques. One of the beloved antiques was an old church pew. My colleague said that the object made her uncomfortable, and noted that if anything would be haunted it would be an old church pew. Given her bias, had she noted strange sounds or movements in the house while she was staying in it, which is likely as she’s already in an unfamiliar environment, (see the article on the New House Theory), it’s quite likely that she would have attributed these things to being paranormal and likely blamed the church pew as the culprit.
In other words, she was already suspicious of the object because it seemed “spooky” and needed only the confirmation of a strange event to leap to that conclusion. Certainly some objects do elicit emotional responses from people. A creepy painting which seems to follow you with its eyes or the leering face of my brother’s Bozo the Clown doll come to mind. If a person is half the way there, perceiving something as “spooky,” all that’s needed is a little push toward belief.
Balzano, C. Weisberg, T. (2012) Haunted Objects; Stories of Ghosts on Your Shelf.
Krause Publications, Iola, WI.
Chestnut, D. (2011) Is Your House Haunted? Poltergeists, Ghosts or Bad Wiring. MJF Books. New York, New York.
Cheung, Theresa (2008). The Element Encyclopedia of Ghosts and Hauntings. Harper Collins Publishers in cooperation with Barnes and Noble. China.
Melton, J. G. Editor (2001) Encyclopedia of Occultism & Parapsychology, Fifth Edition, Vol. 2. Gale Group. New York.
Offutt, Jason (2012). “The Lurking Shadow People.” Mysterious Universe.org. Retrieved January 14, 2013 from http://mysteriousuniverse.org/2012/03/the-lurking-shadow-people/
Richford, Nannette (2007). "Hauntings and Shadow People" Retrieved January 14, 2013 from
Russell, Shaan (2007). “Shadow People Phenomenon.” Unexplained Mysteries. Retrieved January 14, 2013 from http://www.unexplained-mysteries.com/column.php?id=97317
Schumacher, D. Director of Anomalous Research Department, Paranormal Research Group paranormalresearchgroup.com Special thanks to David for his helpful insight into the article and for pointing me towards other terrific sources of information.
Cheung, T. (2008) The Element Encyclopedia of Ghosts and Hauntings, 2nd edition Barnes and Noble Inc. by arrangement with Harper-Collins Publishers, China.
Strom-Mackey, R. (2012) “Haunted Objects” The Shore Delaware Paranormal Research Group Blog. Retrieved October 13, 2013 from http://www.delawareparanormal.blogspot.com/2012/05/part-ii-how-to-run-ghost-hunting-group.html.
Strom-Mackey, R. (2012) “Part II - How to Run a Ghost Hunting Group: Interview with P.R.G. Founder & Director Jennifer Lauer” The Shore Delaware Paranormal Research Group Blog. Retrieved October 13, 2013 from http://www.delawareparanormal.blogspot.com/2012/05/part-ii-how-to-run-ghost-hunting-group.html.
Strom-Mackey, R. (2012) “The Mysterious Substance of Life: Water and Paranormal Activity” The Shore Delaware Paranormal Research Group Blog. Retrieved October 13, 2013 from http://www.delawareparanormal.blogspot.com/2012/05/part-ii-how-to-run-ghost-hunting-group.html.