Ghost hunting. For years I thought it was something of a joke, people wandering into the dark with night vision cameras and scaring themselves. I felt that every anomaly that a group could encounter fell into some sort of natural phenomenon that was easily explained. Bumps and “steps”? Settling floorboards or shifting debris in an old building. Electronic voice phenomenon? Pareidolia drawing conclusions from white noise. Disembodied voices? Acoustics playing tricks on the ear/recorder, and so on.
Now…well. Let’s start at the beginning. This past December, I stopped off at my barber before taking a road trip back to home town. They have a plasma TV mounted in the back of the place, and when you rotate around to a certain spot you can watch what’s on that TV. On that particular day, they were watching Ghost Hunters. And something clicked. What if I wrote an ensemble piece about a ghost hunting crew and what they encounter – what sort of tricks and turns could I pursue with a story like that?
The more I thought about it, the more I liked it. Create some characters without much in common save their dedication to ghost hunting and throw them into a remote location with a macabre story driver. What could happen? The mind boggled. I had to write this story. But there was one problem: I didn’t believe, and I’d never watched one of these shows.
The obvious answer was to start watching them, and I’ve done that, but I’m also very aware of how much television can take something pure and distort it. With that in mind, I’ve gone to some local groups about interviews and a possible ride-along for an investigation; I figure the results will only help the story and could potentially be a great piece for the site as well. I’ll be contacting those folks tomorrow morning and will hopefully have something more to report next week.
For now, though, let’s look at ghost hunting techniques that I’ve learned to this point. I make no claims as to the scientific validity of some of these techniques; I have my own doubts about the efficacy of a lot of them, but sometimes it just doesn’t matter what you personally believe – the story has to be told. That said, this is what I’ve figured out so far, and it will go a long way toward how the group in my fourth novel works.
First, to address the issue of electromagnetism. In some circles, this is viewed as the essential “stuff” of ghosts, the energy upon which they draw to create manifestations of voice, light anomalies, and apparitions. Now, issues of electromagnetism possibly causing hallucinations aside (check out the God Helmet for more information), the argument is that the presence of increased electromagnetic activity indicates ghost activity. Television ghost hunters use a number of instruments to detect and “pump up” the electromagnetism in an area:
EM Detector. These come in many stripes – from a basic magnetic field detector to ones with built-in alarms to those that measure both EM flux and temperature changes. The concept, of course, is to detect those EM fields that might indicate the presence of some sort of paranormal activity. The theory with detecting temperature variations is that the ghost or entity is somehow draining the “energy” from the air around it, though when you consider that notion, it seems a little flimsy – surely with the “energy” in the air getting thinner, the air would get warmer? Either way, there does seem to be some correlation between these field fluxes and temperature variations, at least on an anecdotal level, so perhaps something is going on. This will definitely be included in the story.
EM Pump. The idea of this one is to create an EM field that will invite the entities to draw upon that energy. Some people say that this increases the incidences of Electronic Voice Phenomenon (EVP), and I’ve actually seen some impressive results with this particular trick, but again, you have to wonder if it’s the field or the entities at work.
Battery Drains. I think this might fit under EM. I’m not sure where it goes, exactly, but one of the most consistent features of these hauntings is that they drain batteries at an inordinate rate. Some groups will set flashlights in certain areas and note how quickly the batteries drain.
The goal, of course, is to capture video evidence of the paranormal, whether it’s apparitions, things moving, or sounds. I used to dismiss a lot of video evidence as either obvious trickery or mechanical issues in the cameras, especially given that they’re operating in high EM environments that would mess with the cameras. Given what I’ve seen, though…I have to question it. Assuming there is no trickery going on, I can’t explain some of the things that I’ve seen. Of course, that doesn’t mean it can’t be explained, just that I can’t explain it. That’s good enough for me to build the kind of wonder that I need for my characters. That said, let’s look at some of the tricks of the trade.
Night Vision Cameras. The default tool of the ghost hunter. Most ghost hunting operations take place at night because the investigators have full-time jobs and some of these places aren’t available during the day. Contrary to what some shows would tell you, hauntings typically take place during broad daylight rather than night. Why do TV shows use these if they have the latitude of making it a full-time job? I’d guess atmosphere. My ghost hunters will use these, as they have day jobs. Anyway, the idea, of course, is to capture things in the lonely, dark, quiet places of the world, preserving the integrity of the haunting. They could do it with the lights on, but fine.
Full Spectrum Imaging. This adds infrared and UV imaging to the investigator’s bag of tricks. The concept here is that ghosts sometimes reside in these parts of the spectrum that humans can’t typically see. Some cameras specifically capture these parts of the spectrum, while others have mounted UV and/or IR lights.
Thermal Imaging. These are apparently the “holy grail of ghost hunting”. I don’t know how many groups use these today, but it’s apparently very expensive. With what I mentioned above about ghosts causing cold areas, you can see why this might come in handy.
Electronic Voice Phenomenon (EVP)
My least favorite of the tools. The concept is that ghosts use EM to leave messages on recorders that are, again, outside of the listener’s range of hearing. Most of these require some manipulation in sound editing software to “find” what’s hidden in the recording, though I’ve heard some that are clearly audible from the start, and can be captured by a common video camera.
Digital recorder. Your common hand recorder, with its sensitivity cranked up. The output is run through some filters in a program like audacity, and this comes out:
The problem with these is that so many things can cause white noise on recorders: stray magnetic bursts, radio signals, TV signals, and so on. What may appear to be intelligent agency could just be a timely coincidence. To be fair to Ghost Hunters, they’re fairly dismissive of EVP.
Pro EVP Listener (and variants). These are simple – the idea is to convert the EM signals that create the sounds for immediate listening. I’ve seen some interesting results, but nothing that really convinced me one way or another.
This is really just scratching the surface; I’ve seen a lot of interesting toys and gadgets that have had varying results. Maybe we’ll cover them in a future entry. For now, this is a good basis for creating the guts of my team.