(This Old House) -- Troy Taylor is the author of more than 40 books on all things paranormal -- most notably haunted houses. He's also the founder of the American Ghost Society, a network of ghost hunters who collect stories of sightings and hauntings, then use investigative techniques and equipment to track down evidence of the supernatural.
Here he explains how you can find the right ghost buster to rid your old house of its specters and spirits.
In my line of work, I often deal with people who have (or claim to have) ghosts in their houses. Inevitably, most of them ask me what they should do about it. Should they move out? Should they talk to the specters, or just ignore them?
But the most common question I get is whether or not they should contact a ghost hunter to come to their houses and investigate.
First let me say that over the years I have been involved in ghost research, the vast majority of the cases I've investigated have had perfectly natural explanations. That is not to say that some haven't puzzled me, or left me feeling the house in question was indeed haunted. This Old House: Haunted houses
Even if you're house is not haunted, it's easy to get caught up in the idea that it is, thinking every bump and creak you hear is something ghostly. And it's not long before your family picks up on your fears, and begins hearing the "unexplainable" sounds and seeing the resident "ghost." This Old House: Fix creaky stairs
As witness to a series of what could be considered ghostly events, you must first determine whether or not those events are natural or supernatural. In order to do this, try to relax and be a good observer. Even if you're scared by what you've seen or heard, it's important that you first give the occurrences some rational thought. Are those "phantom footsteps" you heard simply the house settling, or the floorboards creaking? Was that "cold chill" merely a draft? Was that "ghost" you saw out of the corner of your eye nothing more than a trick of the light? This Old House: Detecting drafts
Who you gonna call?
Once you've ruled out natural causes, you have a choice of what to do next. You can either learn to live with the novelty of a ghost in your house, or get in touch with a legitimate ghost researcher to help you understand what's going on. This is not as easy as it sounds, as there are hundreds of them out there, with a varying degree of credibility. To get you started, here is some information that will help you choose the right one for the job.
Check out the investigator's Web sites and use them to determine whether or not they are the kind of people you would be comfortable having in your home. Remember, that site is their method of advertising. If it's questionable, the ghost hunters are likely to be as well. After all, anyone can launch a Web site, but the quality of the material on it speaks volumes about who's behind it.
Avoid ghost hunters who dabble in magic, the occult, or offer "magical cleansings" of homes. None of these things should be part of a legitimate investigation. If there is any mention of them on the Web site, move on.
Legitimate ghost hunters will not charge for their services. If you are asked to pay for an investigation, look for something else. Only services that produce concrete, tangible results are worthy of payment, and paranormal research is too unpredictable for that. That said, if the ghost researcher is expected to travel (especially overnight) to reach your home, you should offer reimbursement for his or her expenses.
Once you've found an investigator you're comfortable with, ask him how long he's been involved in paranormal research, and about his past investigations -- especially those involving private residences. If he claims to be some sort of "doctor," ask what kind of doctor he is. Find out if he's affiliated with a research group or a national organization, such as the American Ghost Society. Being affiliated with a group with a good reputation can help you make a better decision about allowing him into your home. You can also call the organization and request additional information.
After ruling out natural explanations, the researcher might decide that an investigation of your house is warranted. Prepare to be invaded! Research teams can be made up of five to six individuals. And investigations can be very invasive. There will be photographs taken of the house, and hundreds of feet of video shot. They will ask you dozens of questions -- many of which will seem unconnected, and perhaps even embarrassing. They will ask you to describe the events that occurred, and your statement will be recorded. But bear with them. These questions have a purpose, and the investigators will be working to try to legitimize your story, and determine if the reported activity is real.
Here are some things that you should be aware of when it comes to legitimate paranormal investigations:
Investigators should arrive at your home with healthy skepticism and an open mind to all possibilities. Good ones remain non-committal until they've had a chance to gather all the evidence.
Make sure the investigators know how to use their equipment. If there is anything you don't understand, ask them to explain. If they can't, you may have a problem.
Reporters or other members of the media should never accompany investigators without your permission. The investigators are duty-bound to keep all aspects of your case confidential, unless they have your permission to disclose anything.
Make sure everyone who experienced anything unusual in your house is present on the night of the investigation. And don't let friends and relatives over who simply want to watch the proceedings. They can be distracting to you and the investigators.
It's important to remember that if you start feeling uncomfortable with what is going on at any point in the investigation, you have the absolute right to call it off. The investigators are guests in your home. They should be given the respect that such a title signifies, but they must respect your feelings and fears as well.
Proper ghost removal
If it turns out there are natural explanations for your haunting, ask the investigators to explain them in detail -- and don't be offended. You've asked them to give you an honest opinion, so you have to be prepared to accept it --whatever it is.
If natural explanations cannot be found, and it's determined that there is indeed a presence in your house, the investigators will likely suggest you get in touch with a family minister so he or she can come to the house and to pray for the soul of the spirit that is present. This is not an "exorcism," but simply an attempt to get the ghost to leave in peace.
If a willing minister is not available, the ghost hunter should be able to suggest another person capable of getting rid of ghosts -- either a professional medium, psychic, or someone who is sensitive to spirits. This person should be someone the ghost hunter has worked with before, or who was referred through a legitimate source.
If the medium detects that a spirit is present, he will try to convince it to move on. How effective is this? It's hard to say. Sometimes it works, and sometimes it doesn't. I often get calls from people asking for this service, but in my years in the paranormal field, I have found very few people trustworthy enough for this assignment. They are out there though, and your investigator should do all they can to get you in touch with them.
Let me assure you, though, that ghosts are not present to hurt anyone and in almost every case, a family can peacefully coincide with a spirit.
Obviously though, not everyone wants that and some even insist that the ghost itself would be better off passing on to wherever we go at the time of death. In this case, the ghost hunter should be proactive in helping you with your wishes. E-mail to a friend
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