Halloween is the one time of the year when ghost geeks like me are relevant. I work full time in arts venues, but when I’m not at work I’m a skeptical paranormal researcher and writer who is a bit obsessed with all things spooky and strange. I started out as a believer in ghosts, and over the course of three years between 2005 and 2008 I investigated over Forty locations in the county of Wiltshire that were rumored to be haunted. As first I was looking for ghosts, and towards the end of those years I was starting to doubt that ghosts were the cause of the strange things people experienced.
Now, when a ghostly story makes headlines or is sent my way by a member of the public who has found my website, I look for the logical causes behind what has been reported, instead of concluding that is must have been a ghost. I like solving puzzles and there’s no better feeling than working out what’s making that howling noise, or what’s causing puddles of water to randomly appear on the floor of a local shop…
I’m often asked to deliver talks to a range of audiences – my most popular talk is called ‘I’m a ghost hunter, get me out of here!‘ and introduces people to the strange world of modern ghost hunting. At all of my talks I get bombarded with questions from the audience and, as it’s Halloween, I thought I’d share some of the most popular questions here, with an answer. Why not leave any questions you have as a comment and, for today only, I’ll answer them.
Question 1 - What would make you believe in ghosts?
Knowing what a ghost is would be a good start. We have these culturally influenced ideas about what ghosts are – that they’re dead people in spirit form, or that they’re demons, but none of these ideas have been backed up with testable evidence. If that were to happen I would then be able to tell you what qualities I would need to see to believe ghosts are real, but as it stands there’s just no testable definition for ghosts. That isn’t to say I don’t believe people have strange experiences that they believe are ghosts – I fully believe that happens to people, I just can’t see anything that to me suggests those experiences are caused by whatever it is that people think ghosts are.
Question 2 – Have you ever had an experience you can’t explain?
I’ve had several strange experiences that still puzzle me to this day.
One time I was in a reputedly haunted manor house when it felt like something grabbed my arm at the elbow and yanked my arm backwards – it was so startling that I thought the person in the room with me had done it to wind me up. When I turned to say ‘Ha! Very funny, mate!’ they were on the other side of the room.
I once asked an empty room ‘was that you?’ after hearing a clunk from within it, and I heard ‘you know it was’ whispered back, but I don’t know if that was just my mind playing tricks on me or not. The thing is that another investigator standing next to me sad they heard it too and I believe them because they started running away at the same time I did.
Once, I was in a haunted shopping centre in the middle of the night with a bunch of other people. The centre was locked up and we were stood around chatting when we all suddenly became aware of a child humming a tune from the other side of a barrier. We all stopped talking at the same time, eyes widening with shock, and the humming stopped. We went around the barrier but there was nobody there and we couldn’t find a child in the whole building. That one really shook me up because we all heard it at the same time.
I was once in the cellar of a derelict nightclub that was built in and above the old holding cells of the town courtrooms with another investigator – we were waiting for other people to arrive and killing time by watching a DVD on his portable DVD player. The DVD player was on the old bar of the club and we were leaning on the bar watching it when something hissed right behind us, it was horrible. At first we couldn’t move because we were so scared, and then we ran, leaving the DVD playing on it’s own. I’ve never run so fast in my entire life.
Do I think these things were caused by spirit of dead people? No, I don’t see what there is to support that theory. What do I think it was then, if it wasn’t ghosts? I don’t know, and I’m happy to admit I’ve had experiences I have no explanation for, without jumping to conclusions that have no evidence to support them.
Question 3 – Don’t you get really scared?
Sometimes I do get really scared, but it’s often when there are other people around. Fear is infectious and I feed off of other peoples fright quite easily. I have walked around allegedly haunted theatre’s and manor houses on my own in the past and not felt at all scared. If you turn the lights off though, that’s another kettle of fish. I think that’s the difference between then and now though. Then I used to ask for ghosts to do things – I expected things to happen and would get quite tense and wound up with the anticipation, and every little noise or movement in the building would set me (and the others with me) off. Now I don’t have that expectation I don’t find haunted places so scary and I’m not scared to walk around corners first or to sit in a room on my own.
I think the expectation to see a ghost, or the desire to see or experience a ghost is what causes people to have those experiences. I think that’s why I used to get so scared. Would I run away from a loud hissing noise now? Maybe, but I don’t think my first thought would be ‘it’s a demon!’, I might jump because it shocked me, and then try to work out what it was. Back in the day I was running in fear of the entity I believed had made the noise to warn me out of the building.
Question 4 – Isn’t it pointless looking for ghosts if you don’t believe in them?
Yes, but I don’t go to reputedly haunted places to find the ghosts though, I visit because I’m curious about the stories and I want to see if I can work out what’s really going on. Earlier this year I visited Clevedon Pier to see what might be causing the ghost sightings. After chatting with the members of the Pier fishing club I found out that what people were seeing on the pier when it was locked up at night was in fact members of the fishing club who prefer fishing late at night and have 24 hour access to the pier. People were convinced that the figures seen on the pier in the dark were supernatural in origin, yet a simple chat with the right people told me otherwise.
Question 5 – Aren’t you just ruining peoples fun?
Possibly, but the important thing to remember is that I have no desire to force my doubt and ideas onto other people. If people want to believe a building is haunted even though I have other suggestions for what is causing what is experienced then I have no issue with that. I do think it’s important to share my opinion and findings though – especially where fraudulent activity is concerned.
There’s a sinister side to ghost hunting too, and the behaviour and actions of ghost hunters can have ethical implications. I think it’s very important to counter such behaviour and information, and this is why I’m so vocal with my skepticism of ghosts and hauntings. You can read more about the ethics of ghost hunting here.
Question 6 – What do you think caused my strange experience?
People often ask me what I think about the experience they once had, and what I think could have caused it. I don’t like to answer these questions because so much time has passed between them having the experience and them asking me about it. Our memories can become distorted over time, and if I haven’t had a chance to investigate and research the claims then my thoughts would be nothing more than uninformed speculation.
If you have a question you’ve always wanted to ask a skeptical paranormal researcher then leave it in the comment section below and I’ll do my best to answer as many as possible today. Remember, there’s nothing wrong with believing in ghosts, and in some instances a belief that the dead are around in spirit form can actually help people with their grief.