How do you set about investigating a case? Something unusual, quite purportedly paranormal is occurring – the investigators seek to understand it. The following notes are merely tentative guidelines. There can be huge differences between one case and the next. In 1995 the author, working as a field researcher investigated three mediums, three hauntings and two poltergeists as well as an out of the body experience. There is a huge variety from case to case; yet it has become obvious that certain methods are consistently useful.
On arrival at the location the first thing to be done is to fully interview each of the witnesses. Interviews should be done individually with the interviewer and interviewee out of earshot of those who are yet to be interviewed, and those who have given testimony should not discuss their answers with those yet to be cross-examined. The testimony is often the centre of a case as it is quite possible (and in reality probable) that the investigators will not themselves experience the phenomena, although anything is possible! Try to think of clever questions, and always be aware that people are usually telling the truth as they perceive it, which may be coloured by their own assumptions. Use common sense to try and get a grip on what they really believe and their motivations in talking to you.
Obviously to get the right answers you need to ask the right questions!
“I had thoroughly searched the ruin before, hence knew my plan well; choosing as the seat of my vigil the old room of Jan Martense, whose murder looms so great in the rural legends.”
HP Lovecraft, The Lurking Fear
Secondly, prepare a map of the property, and mark the exact positions of each person present at the time of each event, as well as the location where any phenomena occurred. In addition, examine the surroundings in as much detail as possible. How often has one been able to track that pesky knocking spirit to a faulty water pipe in the basement? This is the only way to rule out normal explanations for what might otherwise seem completely inexplicable.
Photography can then be used to create a permanent record of any evidence left and also of each room and the exterior of any property. Armed with this information the team should then return to a safe place to discuss and plan their next move. This planning phase is vital, but most teams will neglect it. We call the initial visit the recce (for reconnaissance) and use it to be well prepared for a vigil or full investigation. It is important that the testimony is compared, and the relative reliability of witnesses assessed. Was there a natural explanation for events? It is probably true as Sherlock Holmes said that it is a mistake to hypothesise before all the evidence is available, but in psychic research it is invaluable to be prepared, and to consider all options, ‘however improbable’. You should try and think of possible experiments and ways to test what is happening on location…
“I had come with a fierce resolution to test an idea. I believed that the thunder called the deathdemon out of some fearsome secret place; and be that demon solid entity or vaporous pestilence, I meant to see it” HP Lovecraft, The Lurking Fear
Next you must fall back on your own initiative and ideas. Can you establish a hypothesis for what is occurring, and if so can you devise a plan to test it? Tryu and think of something that will falsify your theory – you can’t prove it is right, you can prove it is wrong however!
Various persons will also offer their own explanations based on their personal belief systems, but which is and which is causing the current problem? Investigators should use their imaginations to devise tests that will test the evidence. Does the knocking spirit only appear when the hot water faucet in the bathroom is opened? Test it to find out!
“Fear had lurked on Tempest Mountain for more than a century. This I learned at once from newspaper accounts of the catastrophe that first brought the place to the worlds attention…”. HP Lovecraft, The Lurking Fear
Library research is one of the least exciting but most necessary aspects of psychical research. The library may tell the investigators what buildings if any, once stood on the site in question, and give details on a vast range of relevant previous owners). Geological surveys are also vital – is the property subject to subsidence or underground water which may be causing some of the phenomena?
As well as libraries they might check out local records offices, newspaper archives and university departments for specialist information. The one book I like to carry is a history of fashion – it allows swift evaluations of witness statements against known dates for certain styles of dress. Yes I know the idea of me knowing anything about fashion may shock!
Even when all the witnesses are interviewed the investigators have still not exhausted the possibilities of talking. Do the locals know anything? Of course, such additional interviews can get tricky when considering the wishes of those already involved. Often, a family suffering a haunting, for example, will not want any of their friends or neighbours to know for fear of ridicule. It is always important to bear such things in kind when investigating. A witness who previously knew nothing about the phenomena and did not know the other witnesses is worth their weight in gold, for obvious reasons.