Ghosts and hauntings are like climate change. The facts that indicate its existence are omnipresent, and denying them won’t make it go away.
When it comes to subjects we don’t understand, humans are a cowardly species. We rather deny the existence of elephants entirely than acknowledge the one in the room with us.
So it is with ghosts. Even so, chances are that while you read this, one is reading over your shoulder.
Surprised? You shouldn’t be. Hauntings are more common than you think. Once you learn how to recognise their presence, ghosts are every bit as apparent as elephants.
Ghosts Haunt By Definition
According to the Oxford Dictionary, ‘to haunt’ means nothing more than to frequently visit a place. Since ghosts are often drawn to a particular place and hang around there, sometimes for centuries, it makes sense that ‘haunting’ has become synonymous for the activity of ghosts.
The word ‘ghost’, in turn, refers to an echo, secondary image or lingering trace of something. Echoes of a person, in this case.
So, traces of dead people frequenting a particular place. That is what we’re talking about. But how can the living tell they have a visitor?
Based on my personal experience, I distinguish five stages of haunting.
Stage 1 – Sensing Presences
You’re home alone, but your instinct screams there is someone in the room with you. Ever had that feeling? I’m sure you have, because we all do. In most cases, it’s perfectly normal.
Our brains aren’t always able to tell real sensory input from imagined input, so at times we get a false positive on our perceptions. Alarmed, you look around. Your eyes confirm no one is there, and your brain gives the all clear again. It happens.
The game changes when you can’t shake that feeling of being watched. False positives can’t persist when you don’t focus on them. When you still have that feeling after binging a TV show or doing some chores, take note of your body’s primary responses.
An imagined presence is easily dismissed, but a true presence affects your body as well as your mind. Goose bumps when you aren’t cold before is a good indicator. Your mind picks up subtle changes in the energy of the room, to which your body responds with chills and raising your hackles. The brain might confuse real and imaginary input at times, but your body will respond only when you are not actively imagining something.
Do these sensations occur in a particular place and not in others? Then you may well have sensed a ghost.
Stage 2 – Minor ‘Special Effects’
Thanks to Hollywood, we tend to think that ghosts resort to flashing neon-signs to reveal their presence. But manipulating something corporeal when you have no body of your own is actually quite difficult. Not undoable, as we will see, but too much effort for most ghosts.
Which doesn’t mean that their presence doesn’t influence the intangible energy humans use. Think of light, warmth, and electricity. It’s everywhere, and because it is intangible, it is easier to change. Easier to affect.
Unnatural shadows, flickering lights and cold spots are common activity indicators for ghost hunters. Nature, of course, has a sense of humour, making conclusive detection difficult. A natural trick of the light can cause some absurd shadows. A dodgy set-up on location or a trickster in the team can well explain flickering lights or disturbances in the digital cameras.
But when there is no film crew about in a modern terraced house where the lights go off in empty rooms– infrequently but for months on end, in multiple lamps but not all – blaming the circuitry doesn’t cut it.
Could a flaw in the lamps’ wiring be responsible? Possibly. Material objects are never perfect, but there is an enormous bandwidth between ‘perfect’ and ‘defect’. A slightly faulty wire might respond to minute fluxes in the electricity more readily than an intact wire. But if this is the only explanation, every household would have such issues and we’d all be hollering at lamp producers to make better products.
Still, such slight flaws may be significant. ‘Faulty’ lamps might pick up the effects of a ghost’s energy just like they do fluxes in the electricity system. Ghosts are dead people, and just as lazy as the rest of us. If they can exploit a physical aspect and save themselves some effort, they will.
Stage 3 – Voices & Apparitions
Moans, whispers, sobs, distant screams. A disembodied voice whispering words you may or may not understand. A glimpse of a person disappearing into a wall. Someone standing next to your bed, there one moment and gone the next…
That’s right: we have entered ghost story territory. Chills and lights are too easily dismissed by reasons. In order to convince the audience that a fictional haunting is frightening, the storyteller must resort to more recognisable manifestations.
That is in books and movies, though. What about real life?
Anyone who has ever experienced an encounter like this knows the initial confusion. “Did I just see that?” Uncertain of ourselves and for fear of being ridiculed, we don’t mention what we saw. Even when it happens again.
Years ago, I worked in a tiny office building with a workshop at the back. My workspace had a view of the staircase that lead to the first floor, but it was never used. Still, from time to time, I would see a man come down those steps, turn towards the workshop and then vanished. I never mentioned it, until one day my two colleagues told me – unprompted – that they had seen that same man since they started working there. They didn’t know him, either. It was just the three of us working there, and the upstairs offices had been locked and unused for years…
Animals and children are famously more sensitive to ghosts. From my family: “Mummy, who is that lady in the corner?” asked my dad when he was 5 years old. Except there was no lady, and his father’s great-aunt, who fit his description to a tee, died ten years before he was born.
Not all apparitions look friendly. A ghost may look serene and recognisable, or resemble something that crawled straight out of a zombie movie. Such a creepy visual manifestation may be intentional, but more likely it is a by-product of their presence. Like the young soldier in The Devourer, some ghosts hang on to their death too literally.
Stage 4 – Things Go Bump
What it says on the tin: any object that can move, will. Doors, curtains, picture frames tilting, lamps swaying, small items falling or turning up elsewhere than where they were left. It’s all fair game.
Unlike what fictional tales suggest, things going bump is rarely spectacular. The items are not destroyed or permanently lost, and sometimes these anomalies may even be helpful. Unnerving, but otherwise harmless.
Remember, manipulating physical objects requires a lot of effort. The energy to accomplish this must be focussed on the intended effect. So whenever this is happening, the ghost is purposefully seeking to make contact with the living.
The crux, however, is in their reason for doing so.
Deceased loved ones may hang around and leave little reminders of their presence. Their way of saying ‘hello’. Endearing, once you get used to finding your keys or that bracelet in unusual places.
Yet slamming doors and falling objects can also be a warning. While few ghosts are malicious, they aren’t always in the best of moods, either. It’s not just movies where people move into a house, only to be chased out by the old inhabitant. Property can be of great importance to a ghost who doesn’t realise that she is, in fact, dead.
Stage 5 – Angry Poltergeist
Hovering objects, flying cutlery, and physical injury: according to the hardcore horror stories, there is nothing an outraged ghost can’t do. A terrifying thought indeed, but does it actually exist outside fictional stories and elaborated hoaxes? I’m not convinced.
We humans must spend energy to lift or throw an object, and we are physical ourselves. For a person without a body to generate and channel that energy, moving objects – let alone lifting – is excessively difficult.
The stories of poltergeist activity go back too far in human history to write off the whole concept. Yet according to many accounts, the poltergeist don’t pick up objects. They slam doors and make knocking sounds – all Stage 3 and 4 manifestations. No hurdling of any kind involved.
But assuming that Stage 5 does exist, what would that mean?
It means that whoever encounters such a ghost has a serious problem. Any incorporeal entity capable of amassing the amount of energy needed to interact with the corporeal world in that way must have an unwavering will to do so. That kind of willpower tends to come from strong emotions. And few emotions are as strong as anger and hatred. That would explain why accounts of all-out ‘true’ poltergeist invariably mention their extreme violence.
Not exactly a comforting thought…
Fortunately, most ghosts have no interest whatsoever in humanity. Don’t fret if you feel an inexplicable chill in the bathroom. Even if it’s a ghost (and not a draught), it won’t want to watch you taking a shower. Why would they bother? If they can walk through walls, they can see through clothes, too.
In real life, Stage 3 and 4 hauntings are rare. Or perhaps people just don’t recognise them when they do occur. Humans tend to be blind to what they don’t (want to) know. So on a day-to-day basis, we don’t notice ghosts crossing our path anymore than they take note of us.
But if the indicators – the facts – are there. And facts don’t change when you ignore them.