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…
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.
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.
* 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?
* 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?
A bad attempt at humour on my part, originally written back in the days when I was a researcher/consultant for the TV show Most Haunted , and posted by me on a few websites since. I rather like it though, and it does contain a lot of truth!
If you are looking for Edinburgh Science Festival’s Science of Ghosts event the website is here –
I mentioned it in a previous post and loads of people have come here looking for it! Still I am going, and hope to see you there! Anyway on with the spookiness…
The six types of Ghosthunter according to CJ –
1. the Safari Group - out to “catch” a ghost on film, armed with the latest in video, camera and laptop equipment. Every “vigil” begins with several hours of wiring and setting up sensitive devices all over the shop to allow these latter day big game hunters to bag the spook. Usually succeed only in making you uncomfortable using the toilet in case you are being filmed or monitored, and while generally pleasant folks there is more technobabble than an episode of Star Trek. Always find an “anomaly” which as they are usually waving around EMF meters sensitive enough to pick up a fridge being turned off at 300m is no surprise! Unfortunately likely to follow their own mobile phones in their pocket around with the EMF meters, convinced it’s a spook, and tend to be Very Serious Indeed, while having very little knowledge of the literature of parapsychology. Never publish their results.
2. the Legend Trippers – usually young people, who have dared themselves to go to the spooky place, where they plan to drink alcohol, tell ghost stories, frighten each other and make out. Not all legend trippers are teenagers – some are much older, but if you want to flirt and hear a lot of screaming these are your folks. No ghosts caught but they have a good time, a bit like a fairground haunted house! They never publish their results.
3. the Pyscho-dramatists - ok, these tend to be ladies, and these groups usually revolve around one or two star performers, with several minor competing mystics, all of whom compete to tell you the story of the lost little Victorian girl who was the daughter of the wicked Squire who abused her terribly, etc, etc – sort of paranormal MisLit. Occasionally they encounter Terribly Evil Entities (TM) whose lack of corporeality has not slaked their lusts, and who have designs on the mediums person, which in many cases having seen the medium and witnessed their shrieking I would agree anything planning on ravishing is a deeply unnnatural entity. When they find a spook a redemptive myth is played out, and the spirit “moved on” in to “the light”. Bizarrely, despite my cynicism I once saw this process appear to do something useful — not all people in this category are nuts — however a considerable number are. They never publish their results.
4. The Enthusiastic Amateurs – always nice, people unsullied by contact with other ghost hunters and sometimes still naive enough to think that orbs are definitely paranormal, and scorn the dust hypothesis, these people have watched Most Haunted and bizarrely responded by wanting to do it themselves rather than selling their TV and emigrating. I like them a lot, because generally you can teach them a few good habits, and sell them merchandise for said dodgy TV show, and because on the whole these are good hearted people with often great knowledge of local folklore and history. Enthusiastic, fun folks. They never publish their results.
5. The Ghosthunting Machiavelli - this person has been in a dozen groups in the last year, all of which split off or schism-ed from each other. They have appalling relations with half the groups in the UK, and love to discuss ghost group family trees, their many enemies, and who is doing what with whom (in the bedroom not the haunted house usually!). Often they have a profitable sideline in running paying events, but really they seem to mainly succeed in creating new groups and then alienating the committees of said groups. They never publish their results, which is probably just as well!
I suppose I should offer my own perspective and why I differ very slightly while still having many of the failings I point out light heartedly in others, and some new ones all of my own. All these “types”, and most groups contain a mix of types, resulting in internal conflict, favour a method of investigation called the “vigil”, which means pretty much sitting around all night waiting for stuff to happen. They hope to observe and interact with the phenomena first hand, and hence all the mediums/night vision cameras/EMF meters (very handy of you want to put a nail in the wall and not electrocute yourself, or see if your neighbour has turned on their washing machine, not so useful for ghosts!) and shouting “is there anybody there?” Not bloody likely with you lot kicking up a row.
I have of course sat through many hundred of these (being paid to do so for a long while) but my preferred method is the Inquiry Model. Briefly, arrive in daylight, and interview carefully the witnesses to previous “sightings”. Record their testimony, and photograph “the scene of the crime” from many angles. Try to ascertain where the story originated, and who knew what and when about the purported phenomena. Collect interviews and evidence for as long as it takes,and perhaps attempt to reconstruct the incident. Carefully check out maps, and local histories for any useful clues, and then consult with relevant experts – often builder, plumbers, electricians, naturalists, geologists. The emphasis here is on understanding how the account arose, and on trying to find the origin and explanation for the ghost, rather than sitting around trying to see it yourself. of course if the occurrences are frequent you might well do that — but the tragedy of Most Haunted was it suggested ghost hunting was about personal encounters with the unknown, whereas really its generally about understanding and trying to explain other peoples experiences, and then writing up what you find. I’m not sure I have put this very well, but perhaps you can follow my intent?
Anyway, not sure if that is particularly helpful, but I thought I’d try and explain and am happy to field questions if I can. That is my personal experience, and despite my cynicism, I rather like the vast majority of ghosthunters who are lovely folks – and it is a topic I genuinely love talking about!