The Haunted and the Haunters: the House and the Brain

I managed to find this on the Waybackwhen internet archive, and as I frequently cite it, and thought it might be of interest, I’ll reproduce it here.  The title is taken from a very famous ghost story, but seemed appropriate!   This piece was originally written in 1994, and revised in 1995 and 1997.  [[XXXX]] indicates 2006 edits when I put it on my ghost group’s forum.

I note the revision history, but the position stated is very much that I held in 1994 – it has changed in many ways since then, but I think it was one of the first pleas to take an approach that looked at what we might find if both psi and the spirit hypothesis held some truth, or were partially true, but more importantly now is that I had realized the potential of experimental work with psychics even back then. Little did I realize  that Most Haunted would happen within a decade, and unfortunately every one would experiment in this direction!

Anyway, as people keep coming here looking for the Edinburgh Science of Ghosts event (and one more time – which I will be attending as a punter like you, well I may as well publish one of my articles on the topic. Please note I am in no way at all connected with said event — I just thought it looked fun and advertised it on my blog after it was first mentioned on the parapsychology mailing lists!


The Haunted or The Haunters;

The House and The Brain

(from copy dated July 18th, 1997)

When investigating a “haunting” there are two main schools of thought in the [[group]].

The first takes the ‘common sense’ view that the disturbances we look at are caused by external agencies, such as ghosts, spirits and the like.

This could be called the haunted school for it believes that paranormal events do occur and are something like an affliction, or at least little to do with the witnesses.

The second school is that of the haunters, those who believe that the occurrences are primarily the responsibility of the witnesses themselves.

This could be further subdivided into those who do not believe in the paranormal except as hallucination or delusion (the sceptic’s camp), and the position I intend to consider, that which holds that paranormal events do have an objective existence but originate within ourselves [as a result of unknown psychical powers.]

It is quite a remarkable claim. Imagine Mr. Jones has called us in to investigate mysterious goings on in his home. The last thing he expects to hear in reply to his worried question “What’s haunting my home?” is the answer “You are, Mr. Jones.”

Now of course for many years parapsychologists have postulated the idea that poltergeist phenomena are created by PKE or psycho-kinetic energy; that is that a human being is responsible for the haunting. Unfortunately popular works on parapsychology have created a popular conception of haunting as either by ghosts (apparitions appear, chains clank, doors open and close, etc.) or by poltergeists (an emotionally repressed and deeply frustrated youngster lets off steam by throwing furniture about psychically and generally having a nervous breakdown outside of their head).

This is the basis for the concept of the person-centered versus place-centered haunting; the former “poltergeist”, the latter a “ghost”.

Could it be the distinction is false? One of the great strengths of the [[my group then]] is that the investigators tend to make repeated visits to a property and spend several hundred hours at any site, and hence come to analyse cases thoroughly. Most of our investigations have included both traditional ‘ghost’ effects such as apparitions and a history of disturbance through several tenants, and traditional ‘poltergeist’ phenomena such as objects moving and in many cases S.O.D.

(Author’s note:  SOD is an acronymn for small object displacement. A good example is a craft knife which vanished while repairs were underway at The Bell in Dursley, and reappeared a few minutes later on a table where it certainly was not a moment before. SOD is easy to explain away as misperception but I am personally convinced by the fact this phenomena has been mentioned to me on almost every case I have investigated without leading questions, yet it is not considered part of the traditional repertoire of a haunt. SOD is easy to remember; indeed rarely has a technical term been so appropriate. The mnemonic to recall this is  “Where’s the sodding ghost put my car keys/cufflinks/whatever?!”)

The moon over Thetford Priory, Norfolk

The moon over Thetford Priory, Norfolk

So how then does one set about haunting oneself? Well according to most proponents of the RSPK [Recurrent Spontaneous Psycho-Kinesis – Star Trek style technobabble at its finest that I have critiques elsewhere] or poltergeist theory the human agent who creates the disturbance is unaware of their actions, at least on a conscious level. After suffering a set of paranormal events such as SOD and object displacement what is more natural than to start seeing ghosts?

In the 1950’s the then President of the S.P.R., G.W. Lambert devised his much maligned geophysical explanation for haunting resulting from underground water. His theory was in essence that an underground water course may flow under the ‘haunted’ house and that after heavy rainfall the stream results in subsidence of the property or other structural movement, possibly causing the house to vibrate and knock objects flying simulating ‘poltergeistery.’  He took the theory one stage further, stating that these odd noises could the be psychologically ‘rationalized’ by the percipients minds creating a ‘ghost’ to account for them, and then seeing the imaginary ‘ghost.’

Water flowing underground... well nearly! Thetford, Norfolk

Water flowing underground... well nearly! Thetford, Norfolk

In essence I think Lambert may have been on to something. Environmental cues such as the ‘Corridor’ and ‘occulted space’ things I found in my work with Curtin and Lay, as well as a variety of other stimuli, may lead a sucession of tenants to the same conclusion, namely that their house is haunted, even if no knowledgeable local tells them so.

Once the belief is there, or even the vaguest shadow of a doubt, it must surely become that much easier for the mind to generate micro-PK (or minor poltergeist) phenomena. It has been repeatedly claimed that believers score higher than sceptics on ESP tests, and there is some reason to believe that motivational factors should also be considered. Once the idea of a haunting is broached, do the family then begin to generate the haunting?

What follows? As the Psi/haunting builds up more and more people within the family become convinced, and their scepticism breaks down. Thus the haunting becomes increasingly severe. Members of the family then begin to explain the events by reference to a guilty third party or ‘ghost’ and may in line with Lambert’s theory begin to see or hallucinate apparitions. It may only be at this stage that they consciously begin to consider themselves “haunted”, the build-up having been largely ignored by the conscious mind. Then again a sighting of a ‘ghost’ with its origin in misperception, temporal lobe epilepsy or other stimuli may actually initiate the sequence.

If the hallucinatory nature of the apparitions seen seems unlikely, as in a case where two witnesses see an apparition simultaneously, it is still hard to rule out the possibility of one telepathically transmitting the image to the other. More problematic is the situation where two witnesses, many years distant in time and with no knowledge of the earlier experience both see an identical figure. This could be rather unconvincingly explained by recourse to archetypal or locationally suggested visions (a monk in a church for instance) or possibly by evoking the idea of Super-ESP which is sometimes used in discussions of mediumship.

Why does it end? Well if the initial PKE disturbance is occasioned by psychological forces then we may expect those feelings to eventually be alleviated as the chief instigator or focuses circumstances change. Often all that is needed to cure such a ‘haunt’ is the intervention of someone with counseling skills who is able to pay a little attention to the frustrated person. Of course it is significantly better if the person who ‘cures’ the situation has an air of authority and possibly even some hi-tech gadgetry to wave around. Simply announcing ‘the ghost’s gone’ may sadly stop the exteriorization of the internal complex and lead to the eventual breakdown of the agent if they can not find a better way of ‘letting off steam.’

What of ‘exorcism’, ‘deliverance’ or ‘moving on’? If the exorcist has less than full confidence in their own abilities or the focus has developed a dislike for the would-be helper then we might expect a violent reaction; the ejection of the exorcist or the worsening of the haunt. This is not a game for idiots or fools, but requires a mature sensible person who is likable and possesses certain counseling skills.

It is with the matter of exorcism however that we find the greatest problem with this theory. Practical experience, not as yet backed by any theorectical or experimental basis, has shown that haunting tends to reoccur some three months after exorcism. Unless there is some compatible pattern in the fields of psychotherapy, counselling or psychoanalysis I find it hard to see why this should occur. The second outbreak is rarely as severe as the first and is usually not a source of worry to anyone involved.

A word of apology and a disclaimer. This article has been hard to develop and reflects my own developing ideas. Although I am a [[group]] member this article is in no way representative of the ideas of the group. The group holds no corporate religious or philosophical beliefs, and all views are those of individual members. I certainly do not intend to denigrate the psychics, especially Miss M. A——, who is just as vital if these ideas are true, for she is the best ‘cure’ I know of for ‘psychic disturbances’. I therefore offer a brief word on the psychic, haunter and the haunted.

I have never rejected psychism as a belief system. This is a constant source of amusement to my more sceptical colleagues, but I see no conflict in my position. If poltergeists are caused by the mind of a human agent we do not necessarily have to give a psychosomatic explanation for their ‘exorcism’. The psychics energies may well be one and the same as those which are causing the haunt; that is the agent is in fact a latent psychic who simply does not know how to control the energy they are generating. The problem for me is that against my wishes I am being led further and further towards an epiphenomenalist rather than dualist position, and hence am rather inclined to see ‘spirits’ as exteriorized fragments or sub-personalities of the human agent or psychic, a convenient label or mental device to perform the task. I am however willing to be proved wrong, and end by stating that if anyone has any doubts about a psychic’s talent then they should meet a good one, and listen. The results are edifying. [[Obviously this should not be read as an endorsement of the reality of psychic powers!]]

[[cj]], 1994/95


About Chris Jensen Romer

I am a profoundly dull, tedious and irritable individual. I have no friends apart from two equally ill mannered cats, and a lunatic kitten. I am a ghosthunter by profession, and professional cat herder. I write stuff and do TV things and play games. It's better than being real I find.
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5 Responses to The Haunted and the Haunters: the House and the Brain

  1. David says:

    By a strange coincidence, I recently re-read Edward Bulwer-Lytton’s story of this title, which as you know was inspired by a famous factual haunted house case in Berkley in London.
    Just my personal opinion, but I don’t see the PK explanation of poltergeists as being imcompatible with a ‘spiritistic’ view… why cannot both occur? I tend to put most low level poltergeist activity as down to PK of a living agent, whereas it seems to me that the more spectacular cases could well also involve an external agent (ghost, demon etc!) using the PK energy of a living person in order to create activity.
    Of course you have to accept the spirit explanation of ghosts for that…
    According to the experts I’ve spoken to, full exorcism of poltergeist phenomena from places is notoriously difficult to achieve, and recurrence is certainly possible. Even Ed and Lorraine Warren have admitted that!
    What about those cases where objects have been found to have been moved when there has not been a living person present? Could this be evidence that some strong spirits can use their own energy to move physical objects?


  2. Chris says:

    Hi DCG,

    Becky has done a lot of work on exactly this issue, well she covered the secondary literature very well in her essay on poltergeists she wrote last year. I won’t post any of it here, but if you pm or email her and ask her she may still have a copy and be happy to show you it? Dunno, she might have lost it when her computer crashed?

    I have quite complicated thoughts on ye olde polt. – I’ll put them in a future blog entry!

    cj x

  3. David says:

    Thanks CJ – I’ll ask Becky about this.
    As I missed your lectures at St Briavel’s last month, I’d be interested to hear what your current thinking is on the whole subject of ghosts and hauntings…?


  4. Chris says:

    Complicated! 🙂 I might have a go at mentioning a few major strands in my current thought, but I don’t think there is one “theory of everything” that explains all “paranormal” phenomena — in fact I find the idea very misleading, as most “paranormal” experiences are perfectly normal! I’ll be blogging on this later in the week though.

  5. David says:

    I totally agree with you about the ‘Theory of Everything’, I think it’s a very over-optimistic and misleading idea, whether applied to parapsychology or to science in general.
    Interested in your comment about the ‘paranormal’ being ‘normal’…
    I’m a panentheist, so I believe that God and the spiritual world are a part of but also distinct from our material world, so I actually find it misleading to call something a paranormal or ‘supernatural’ event, by which I mean a particular action by a spirit or by God to create an effect in our world (here I’m deliberately excluding living human abilities such PK or ESP), as to my mind this could also be described as just a ‘particular kind’ of natural event… what I mean is, if God and spirits have always been a part of our reality, as I believe they are, then the effects caused by them in our world have always been a part of the natural order of things… Am I making any sense or am I babbling?!


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