This was the title to a recent post to a forum I frequent. Edited a little for brevity, the request went like this:
“There’s this modern phenomenon of Ghost Hunters, people with video cameras and various technology to document ghosts. They are organized teams with names and web sites and stuff. Please help me understand what they are.
I experience most of them as sensational and technology-focused. The technology part means a strong materialist bent, that the ghosts “affect the instruments”. I get that they want to legitimize the paranormal, but I hope and wonder that there’s more to this than kids creeping around abandoned asylums like Ghostbusters.
These groups must vary, so how do the best of them integrate a spirit model and spirit communication? Psi? What can we learn from the work of these groups and the phenomenon?”
This person was not making a judgement, but asking a legitimate question and wanting to understand. I am always willing to have a conversation with anyone who is truly trying to understand. It occurred to me that, in some sense, answering this question is the reason Paul and I wrote our book. So I took a shot at an answer and it went something like this:
“You are correct that there is a lot of variation between groups and even individuals within a group. People are in this work for many different reasons. Many may just be mimicking what they see on TV. Some are looking for their own paranormal experiences to answer their own questions. Some are trying to find scientific evidence to prove the reality of paranormal phenomena.
But there are many in the field, like myself, who are in it to help people understand and deal with paranormal experiences. Sometimes people have these experiences when they are not looking for them, and don’t want anything to do with them. Sometimes it is a major disruption to the person’s beliefs, a phenomenon Paul and I call the Rabbit Hole Experience. It can be very hard for these people to come to terms with their experiences, and they deal with them in a variety of ways. I view our main job as helping people to understand and integrate these experiences so that they can move forward, hopefully in a slightly richer world.
The first step in helping people is understanding, to the extent that we can, what it actually occurring at the location or what the person experienced. I’m no Ghost Whisperer, so the best I can do is try to capture evidence that can provide information to myself and the client about what is going on. The technology can help in this.
The equipment serves a few purposes. A lot of it, like EMF meters, is actually used to find “natural” (non-paranormal) explanations for the experiences of the client rather than to try to look for ghosts. The cameras and recorders serve a dual purpose in both capturing data and also possibly providing spirits with a way to communicate. In situations where there is genuine spirit activity occurring, I find that in most cases the spirits present are simply trying to get someone’s attention. They want someone to know they are still there, or maybe they want to get a message to someone. The equipment we use may be able to help us with this until we can find better ways to assist the spirits. That’s the goal anyway.
The question of understanding ghost hunters may be too broad since people all have their own motivations. I can only speak for myself and those I work with. Our paranormal investigation team, Scientific Paranormal, has always taken the view that as long as we can leave a client with less fear of the paranormal and more of a sense of wonder and curiosity, we feel that we have done something useful.”
Judging by the response, my explanation seemed to satisfy the questioner that there was more to this than a bunch of people wandering around in the dark trying to scare each other. We had a few more exchanges, and he decided that it was worth looking into more. So, in the off-hours, maybe investigators can also play a role in educating people about our own role. Paul and I have a whole chapter in our book called The Role of the Investigator where we address this at greater length.