Ghosthunting Techniques: Quantatitive Assessment of Haunted Houses…

A technique I have been playing with for some years, which may be of interest… A way of employing psychic claimants and sceptics in investigating a purported haunting.

The idea was first developed by NY parapsychologist Gertrude Schmeidler, in her paper on Quantitative Assessment of A Haunted House. I don’t have the paper or the reference to hand, but the proposed protocol has been developed quite a bit since then, though to almost universal disinterest.  A few UK groups I have been involved with have tried it, with varying levels of success, but surprisingly positive results.

Note a  positive result here means a high degree of agreement between the “psychics” and the witnesses – but that in itself tells us nothing about the nature of the “phenomena” — I’ll get back to that shortly…

A GSUK member participates in an a experiment in Tamworth Castle

A GSUK member participates in an a experiment in Tamworth Castle

Here is my current version thereof. I still refer to it as the Schmeidler Protocol, as it is clearly based entirely on that, and because The Schmeidler Protocol sounds like it should be a cool 70’s thriller or a Quatermass episode. Feel free to critique my methodology —

Now firstly, you are going to need an experimental team. Let us assume you are the Investigation Coordinator. Firstly, locate your haunted property. Interview your witnesses – being careful not to ask leading questions – and get the main facts. A case with multiple witnesses and visual apparitions, preferably where the witnesses have not conferred is ideal. However any multiple attested ghost case where you can record primary accounts from the people concerned is cool. Obviously one with no published history, where events are currently occurring, but are known to very few people works well.

Secondly you need to have a set of good clear accurate maps. These are issued to your psychics or their “buddy” (see next).

Now, take your “witness testimony”, and select words relevant to the phenomena for each account. Just a list of words which constitute a hit. How improbable that hit is is really really problematic to work out – word frequency tables won’t work in my opinion, because the nature of the ghost narrative predisposes certain words more than in normal usage, and ghost books are edited and hence not reliable as a source. Also some words simply go together in conceptual blocs – young, pretty, talented, sexy, actress, singer. Cliches! Cliches bugger up your probabilities no end.  Still you need to know what constitutes a “hit” for the Word Challenge! ( I might not be a rich and famous ghosthunter, but I might have made it as a gameshow host…) Also get your witnesses to draw on your map exactly where they saw things. Take measurements if need be. Then produce a composite master map, showing all witness reports.

OK, next up – find your psychics. I’d personally try and get them from 30 miles or more away (I’d also drive them to the location hooded, blindfolded under the hood, wearing head phones and playing loud music by a very circular route, just in case. In the past this has provoked severe motion sickness, but has not actually resulted in me being sued or arrested – to date.) Many psychics might prefer you just don’t tell them where they are going till the day, and some properties location or function is obvious once inside and the blindfolds taken off anyway.

Now you need five psychics, and 5 buddys – fellow investigators, with no knowledge of the building,and who are kept apart from each other, and have never met the witnesses. The buddys should each have a VCR and record all testimony. They should hand the map to the psychic.

Now the psychics and buddy are sent in, independently, to the empty building. Each records on their map where and what they are experiencing, marking exact locations if possible. I usually use small squares which can be filled in. Record all the walk through.

Thank your psychics. Give them a filmed ten minute debrief after they left the building, asking of extra impressions etc. Make it clear they have everything they want to say recorded, and have no” I was going to says”. When they have agreed that on tape, end the interview and film.

Fotheringay church at night, from GSUK fieldtrip.

Fotheringay church at night, from GSUK fieldtrip.

Now this is pretty hard work. Why five people to walk the psychic round? Why can’t you just do it?

Because you know what happened and where. Even if you are incredibly careful with what you say, your body language breathing or even sweat might be giving them clues. So someone who does not know the stories or witness testimony is needed to do this. Also, as we are going to test the mediums/psychics/sensitives statements for consistency, well if you have just heard Madame Arcana say this room is filled with an invisible demonic menage a trois, when you take Fluffy the Vampire Boffer in the same room 5 minutes later you might give off clues… So you need independent walk rounds.

I’d also ask 5 imaginative ghost sceptics to walk round as a control – but there is a problem here. We can’t prove they are not actually psychic. In fact one of our sceptics consistently hits well above chance in ESP tests 9for the first ten minutes till they grow bored at least), and on a couple of runs of this experiment did better than some of the “psychics” – more on this in a moment..

Next, you thank everyone, and play back the testimonies on a big screen, to make sure everyone agrees they were not edited. Then you can overlay the maps on transparencies, and talk through the results, and introduce the witnesses. the press might like this bit too – if the venue wants coverage. Its a nice way to round off the proceedings.

Then, compare
* the psychic testimony versus the “Word Search” lists
* the psychic maps versus each other
* the psychic maps against the witness maps

So what have you got?

Assuming that
* ghosts do not wander around much – a rather large assumption!
* the witnesses are reliable
* the psychics had no foreknowledge of the building

You might have some evidence indicative of the haunting hypothesis.

Of course by “haunting” here I mean in my usual sense to mean – something makes people think this bit is spooky. You might want to look for mould, damp, lighting oddities, weird angles, etc, etc to see why people all chose the same areas. The fact they agree ultimately tells us nothing about the nature of the “haunt” – it merely tells us there is an objective “haunt” ie. something odd going on in that particular area. Smell may well be important, or magnetic fields, or I dunno. You work that out for yourselves…

So there you go. I’ve written up a lot more on how this can work, and indeed since ’93 when I first tried it in the UK it seems to slowly be becoming more common. Not many ghosthunters pay any attention to it, but I personally think it might be rather useful?

cj x


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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2 Responses to Ghosthunting Techniques: Quantatitive Assessment of Haunted Houses…

  1. Murray66 says:

    I am always sceptical of the “no prior knowledge” idea. Why would a psychic not have read the history of the local castle, gaol etc. just because of interest in their gift and the best places to try it out if you will? Even if you do not inform them, what happens when you remove the hood and they say “Ahh Scotland, I wonder if Mr Boots will show tonight?”

    • Chris says:

      Yes indeed. When we did Tamworth we were lucky in that we knew what people might have seen and heard on the purported haunting, and that was very much part of the experimental design. However, I think one thing you might need to consider is how big a task that would be – to know enough. Stick a pin in a map of Britain, and draw a circle 30 miles from that point, that being the distance between the MH team hotel and the location often. Now, see how many places in that circle are supposedly haunted… 🙂 I have done this a couple of times in the past, but I would like to think I have a pretty exceptional knowledge of British folklore. The only other person I think could do it perhaps would be Ed Woods: in fact we could try and experiment!

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