Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Residual hauntings

Lost Souls or Residual?(What is Haunting Us?)

As a ghost hunter, I’ve gone through every explanation for phenomena attributed to hauntings by chasing sounds, hoping to recreate things, waiting for something to happen so I can finally say, “ah ha!” In my search, I’ve come across many theories that I’ve considered and cast aside until I arrived where I am today. And I arrived at my conclusion by going back to the beginning.
My childhood.

To understand my drive to “hunt ghosts,” you have to understand that I grew up in a locally famous haunted manor home called “Aspen Grove” in Fairfax, Virginia. The house was over 200 years old and during the Civil War, the Union troops took it over and used it as a field hospital, then later the Confederates stole it back and used it for the same. The wood floors were stained with the blood of the soldiers. The grounds were filled with relics and I was trained a young age to use a metal detector and fill our display case with more and more amazing little treasures. Mediums arrived to do séances. Family members often recounted what happened the night before at the supper table only to hear someone else say, “that happened to me two years ago!”

My first ghost hunting experience was in 1972. I had enough of kids in elementary school questioning my house’s haunted status. The Washington Post seemed to think it was haunted, as did NBC when they did a special on the ghosts. But, what I knew about the phenomena wasn’t going to impress anyone without proof. Now, mind you, back in 1972 we were still in the Ouija board using, turn-of-the-century spiritualist ghost hunting methods like séances. There weren’t really any scientific folks out there trying to weigh and measure it objectively. So, I did the only thing a 10-year-old could come up with. I grabbed my father’s tape recorder that he used to create his lectures, and I high-tailed it to the stairway at that notorious time of the evening when the booted footsteps would start their path to my bedroom. I sat in my flannel nightgown on the middle step in the narrow stairwell and held my moist finger to the record button.

First, I felt it. Something heavy that seemed to suck the air and light from the surrounding area in a dense kind of residential black hole. I learned to read artifacts when I would dig them up, holding them and knowing their history and the person who last touched it. That same highly practiced skill from early childhood worked at knowing when something “haunting” was about to occur. I pressed the button and waited, holding my breath, as the first step indented by the sound of a heavy weary boot. Then another. Then another one a few steps up. Then, the step below me. It rested on the board I sat on and the entire right side of my body went chill cold with goosebumps, or as I called in my child’s vocabulary, the “creepy willies.” It continued on up the steps to the hall where it took only a few sparse steps to my bedroom where every night it would rest before the metal radiator between the windows and inevitably, I would roll over and tell him goodnight. After all, he was guarding me now that he’d lost his family and his way.

The legend was of a soldier resting in the field hospital when fighting incurred outside and he raced out to help without the precious new boots his parents had given him. He apparently came back every night in search of them. As a child, I tried leaving him my father’s boots, but perhaps he wasn’t a size 10. For that matter, I didn’t question the validity of the story when a barefoot soldier couldn’t possible climb the stairs in boots looking for his boots. That being said, I'm always wary about passed down stories.

The next morning, I played back the sounds to some skeptical friends. Still, I had no way to prove that the boots made that sound and it wasn’t me doing it. I felt stymied by the overwhelming weight of responsibility in trying to prove a haunting. Some day, I told myself, there would be a way to gather information that would be irrefutable. I gave up ghost hunting for decades after that, waiting for the field to catch up.

Even though I’ve been ghost hunting officially for over five years, I still wait for the day we can gather irrefutable evidence. So long as we have PhotoShop, people aren’t going to be any more accepting now about ghostly evidence as they were in 1972. Certainly, we have more instruments in the field like Gauss meters, infrared cameras, laser thermometers, and electronic voice recorders, but we still have to face an audience of skeptics who can take us down a peg quiet easily.

I, however, am thankful for those skeptics.

I’m perhaps one of the biggest skeptics in the field. My problem is that, even though I am a “ghost hunter,” what would be more appropriate is “phenomena hunter.” I’ve never been sure I can attribute these things to a departed person’s spirit. I do without a doubt in my heart know that there is phenomena that escapes the logic we know now. I heard and saw things with no explanation and believe me, I tried every one I could find to make me able to live with such persistent occurrences. What I seek when I hunt ghosts is an explanation for these happenings.
When I was a child playing with my doll on the floor beside a table where my mother’s cigarette rested in an ashtray, I clearly witnessed the cigarette flick itself from the tray and up in the air about 5 feet away. No one was near. Mother was sitting back in her chair where she would have to sit on the edge and reach out for the cigarette. No one was touching the table. There was only the two of us. The table hadn’t moved. The ashtray hadn’t moved. The cigarette simply vaulted as if someone had flicked it with an invisible finger. That kind of physics might scare most folks, but as a child I came to think that was a part of usual physics, like birds flying, gravity holding me down when I jump in the air, and rain falling down and not up. I didn’t know any better, so it seemed normal. When I aged, however, I came to realize that kind of thing shouldn’t occur by any explanation other than supernatural.

People around me said it was ghosts. I liked that idea, but it didn’t exactly match with the beliefs of my childhood Methodist church. If God existed, how could He possibly go to all the trouble to put souls into babies and collect them in the afterlife and not account for some of them? Did one need a map when she died to find heaven? How did these souls get sidetracked and linger with very human feelings of regret and loss? It seemed like a very half hazard way to conduct an afterlife. Not to mention the stories of people who had life after death experiences and reported being greeted and ushered around on the other side, only to be told there was some grand mistake and they'd have to reinhabit their bodies.

That skepticism aside, I considered what it would mean if ghosts really did exist. If I barely caught a glimpse of something or heard a faint sound, what did the ghost experience? When I hold up my voice recorder and ask questions, are they hearing only every few words like I hear of them? Are they somehow endowed with better hearing on their side? Better sight? Then, it came to me that perhaps we are ghosts to them. We pass by and smell something of get a chill and while we do that, they pass on the other side and said “what was that?” when they glimpse our presence. That was an easier theory for me to latch onto because if ghosts could truly hear and see us well, then there would be a hell of a lot more encounters with them frequently by everyone, especially grieving family who beg for them to send them a sign. And believe me, as someone whose lost an enormous amount of family members over the years, I’ve tried that plea endlessly, even to relatives who knew I was actively ghost hunting and looking for answers. Not one response, though. Not even a hint of one. Without a physical body to limit one and being in a spiritual form, you'd think they could communicate better. They have no boundaries...

My turning point was attending a party at the home of some people I didn’t know. My husband knew the boyfriend of the new homeowner throwing the party. When I arrived and began to mingle, someone who knew me at the party told the owner/hostess that I was psychic. She asked me if I could tell her about her new home because she’d heard strange things. I went through the house with her and some of her friends as I told her about each room and the people that lived there and what had happened. I went into great detail about the history, a very strange one, at that. Then, the woman beside the hostess said, “I’ve been living next door for 20 years. Everything you said perfectly describes the last owners. Except, they live across town. They’re all still alive.”

Something shifted in my perspective at that moment. I had read the history of the home but not the dead. It was in that realization that I decided to begin ghost hunting in earnest and have for over five years now sought any proof of ghosts in the traditional sense, as wandering souls. I have not found evidence yet, but I have found plenty of evidence that correlates with some ability for emotion and events to be imprinted into an environment, or a ring, or a car key, or anything else, and held there to be read again or replayed by what now seems like random timing, but in the future might seem to make sense once we realize what activates it.

I have yet to find true evidence of “intelligent” hauntings where a ghost can interact. I’ve heard EVPs (electronic voice phenomenon when voices are captured on recordings without being heard by the ear) that sound like responses, but still there are too many variables. I’ve heard a woman’s cell phone come out of my answering machine without the phone ringing, just loud on the speaker of my machine as she drove by. These devices can bleed over to anything that acts as a receiver, such as a recording device. Even if that were completely covered as a possibility, an answer of “yes” to someone asking “did you die?” isn’t necessarily a true interaction. Take for instance the magic eight ball of childhood—any response to a question seemed to fit when you turned the toy over and read its answer. I see a lot of ghost hunting shows where folks ask questions and wait for tapping sounds as responses. What they don’t show you are the 10 questions they asked and got no response to, only the two that did seem to respond. Although I can be very impressed by physical movement of objects and doors and such, I cannot say for certain that isn't something that is of the physical world. Perhaps something explainable by physics or not yet explained by physics. I still can't tell you that's a person's soul causing that racket. It's a frustrating loop, but if I'm not skeptical then the rest of my life in the back of my mind I'll be wondering, "but what if..." and knowing that I hadn't explored all the reasons for the event that are more practical and less fanciful.

Yeah, I have to be as skeptical as those folks out there are who don’t believe even in phenomenon. I do it because to take passed down information about what ghosts are and how they’re trapped by tragic deaths to haunt for eternity, is to continue the old-world ghost hunting that requires as much belief as religious doctrine. There’s a lot of theories on ghosts out there being passed on without question, like orbs in photos are “energy” or spirits drain batteries for energy to show themselves. Those are assumptions being passed on without any real scientific basis, only theories passed on without question. But only real scientific gains come from stepping outside of the assumed and asking, “why?”

I’ll continue ghost hunting until I feel satisfied with my conclusions, but I also know that so long as things occasionally break the rules of physics, like doors slamming, voices being heard, mists appearing, there will be a hundred different explanations from an open window to a disturbed spirit to duct work carrying sounds. I’ll know when I’ve found something that satisfies my inner critic. It’ll come from years and years of compiling evidence and finding its commonalities. Like why old buildings seem to have more hauntings. Ghost hunters will tell you that it’s because more people lived and died in it. Yes, more people did live and die in it, leaving a history trail that can be picked up at any time. The more layers of living in the home, the more complex and varied the things that are released. And then, there’s some homes that don’t seem to be haunted until the owner buys an heirloom at an estate sale. This is particularly why renovating a home and people moving in and out of it changed the dynamics or, if you will, the "chi" of the building. It's in those times when these residuals can be released.

I'm thrilled to evolve in the field. I'm certain that a year from now, two years from now, I'll be quite pleased with a more developed explanation for the phenomenon which at that point may even include the "G" word ("ghost"). Right now, I'm more likely to believe it's locked into the land, the rock, the waterways, the leylines, but I have absolutely no doubt residual exists. That's about the only thing I truly do believe in for now. I'd certainly like to believe in ghosts--kind of like pets you don't have to feed, but I'm not totally sold on the concept. Tomorrow, I may have a completely different stand on that, depending on what personal evidence I accrue that makes me change my mind. I'm totally open to ghosts--I think they'd be "wickedly cool," but I have yet to see something that to me resembles an interactive physically dead being. I can tell you this, when it comes to residual--it's real. No doubt about it. I can't explain how I get the information in an object and release it to "read" it, but I can tell you that the moment I hold something I can get a person's viewpoint as if it were my own memories. It must have been significant in the evolutionary process, perhaps when we were pre-language and living in seriously dangerous times inside caves with ferocious creatures running about, but I feel quite sure residual is based in science and not the spiritual. I wish it weren't so, because the spiritual sounds so much more intriguing.
Ask me in a few weeks how I view ghosts--it may have changed and evolved, just like our knowledge in the field is doing.


  1. I love that your theory doesn't mimic every other paranormal opinion.

  2. I've decided that to entertain myself at work today I'm going to read all of your posts! I wanted to ask though have you considered putting up a youtube channel where you could talk about these things and share some of your Ghost Hunting experiences??

  3. Dolly;
    I was thinking about getting a webcam and maybe doing some talks now and then on my blog. It's one of those things on my list of getting done this springtime. My winter is booked. I don't know if I'm all that entertaining in person, but most folks think I'm a totally giddy spaz, so maybe it'll be fun.

  4. what you are saying makes sense, and I believe in residuals as well...but in all your experiences, even if you have not seen anything, haven't you ever felt something? I don't mean bad vibes, or a breeze going by your head, or even something you hear - but things sort of along the line of being watched, of being targeted in a sense by something unseen - something that knows you are there and is making sure you are aware of them as well? These are the sort of experiences I have had, and I don't mean just the occasional run of the mill creepy feelings we all get at times - I mean a definite sense of something being there and being focused in on you. I have not had that many experiences, and in real life, though eerie, they are not interesting enough to be movie or book material, but for me they have stood out enough to be different than other things I have felt.

  5. Jennifer,
    Well, I've certainly been a lot of hunts where the sense of presence was very intense, even tinglings chills as something rushes through me. As a psychic, I can tell you that these sensations can happen anywhere and are often times ones I get from the living when I'm picking up things about them. Should a place have a history and a residual, it's entirely possible I can be sensing that and not actually an entity. I continue to search for proof of active intelligent that is present in this time period. I have had a few very intriguing encounters that seemed to be interactive. I hope to find more of them.