When I started out investigating the paranormal there were only a few major influencers on TV that provided an outline of how we should be carrying out our investigations; those included Ghost Hunters, Most Haunted and one or two others. The show format quickly became a recognised standard, which was repeated over and over again. It is one that we still see in use today.
The problem is; did the format we see in TV shows become the new standard for investigation or did the investigations of ghost hunters from back in the day help to outline how we investigate today?
It is certainly a question that troubles me on a regular basis and a debate that is beginning to gain more recognition amongst the paranormal community. Especially as many are beginning to recognise the simple fact that many ghost hunters have actually lost the ability to properly investigate phenomena in favour of advocating some kind of drama that is relatable to those TV shows that have become much more mainstream and draw many more people into the field than before.
I have to admit, as ever, when I began to investigate places over night, well over fifteen years ago now; it was the TV shows and their approaches that dominated how we conducted our investigations. Certain approaches like using CCTV around the location, conducting EVP sweeps of the area, looking for cold spots and spending ten minutes to conduct an EVP session; were the prime things we would try. This was apparently a worldwide standard too, as anyone on social media or TV used these main things too. Plus ‘evidence’ was reviewed after the fact and from that shows like Ghost Hunters coined the term ‘great catch’ for anomalies caught during the investigation. Although as a viewer you would only really see what that ‘great catch’ was during the reveal.
The problem here was that we quickly slipped away from actual investigation and into a world where we were following the show format, over and over again. Rather than looking at each and every anomaly on its own merits and then investigating it accordingly, ghost hunters would rock up to various locations, then follow a predetermined format that was similar to a TV show rather than following the phenomena properly to try an understand it. So, walking around in the dark became the norm, carrying video cameras to video ourselves and our team mates like the reality TV shows do was an obvious leap too. Also, with the easy access to platforms like YouTube, finding our own audiences was just a step away too. Before we knew it we were doing less real investigating and more along the lines of creating paranormal content for social media. Finding a following became more important than finding real evidence, even though we told ourselves this wasn’t true.
Personally for me, this happened in a different way. I prefer to write, so researching the paranormal and writing about it remained very much something I was passionate about and still continue to be passionate about. However, I too tried my hand at creating videos and probably will do more in the future, simply because these days video works better for the social media search engines and brings more people to your content. However, I would like to think that I am not searching for fame, likes or views with my content; I would just like to provide a little more insight into the paranormal world where I can and share my view with the community. That said I have to be honest and do enjoy seeing my posts reach a good number of people, its a good feeling for any writer to have their work read and commented on in a positive light.
So, why is this a paranormal investigation misunderstanding I hear you call? Well it is rather simple, how can something be an investigation if that is not what is happening in reality. Now it could be argued that the approach used by many ghost hunting teams is that of looking for supportive evidence of someones paranormal experience at some time in the past and as such could be deemed an investigation. However, I argue that in many cases the teams ‘go in blind’ refusing to have background information or even an understanding of what the purported haunting could be. This approach, in my opinion, is not about investigation, but more an attempt to self validate against already well known information. As such its something that holds even less evidential value.
Now many groups do conduct some initial work, capture the ghostly stories and then go in search of them during their nights ghost hunt. The problem here is that in many cases the smallest occurrence can become directly related to the potential ghost story related to the location. For example, I recently watched a YouTube series that showed a bunch of ghost hunters at the Skirrid Inn in the UK. They had knowledge of the hauntings in order to help focus their ghost hunt, but then quickly failed by throwing a tonne of equipment at a room for no obvious reason. Then when they caught an inaudible EVP, they quickly evolved it into a classic ‘get out’ and then continued to relate that to a historical link at the location. All based on a piece of audio that was highly subjective. This was not investigation in any form of the term, it was simply dramatisation of something to help make their ghost hunt appear more successful. This particular team also appeared to have activity constantly occurring, which is rare and to be honest most appeared to be them jumping to conclusions.
There is a huge amount of evidence on the likes of YouTube that shows how many teams fail to investigate locations and simply follow this TV show generated method. Which is a real shame as we have a huge amount of resource available to us to help solve this paranormal mystery. For example; I once watched a video of a ghost hunter walking around an old location, during which something odd flew across the shot between the ghost hunter and the camera. As this flying object was out of focus and followed what appeared to be an odd line, it was deemed paranormal. However, this potentially paranormal anomaly in that location, meant that the ghost hunter in question would claim it to be the ghost of Henry the VIII. He would even title the YouTube vide with the very same and sure enough the video received thousands of views.
In reality though this was most likely nothing paranormal at all and was probably, if not certainly, a bug of some kind, like a moth flying past. As the camera was operating in night mode the bug appeared as something more like a ball of blurry light, which is why it was deemed ghostly. However, on top of that was the large number of people that commented agreeing this to be Henry’s ghost. The problem then becomes in a community of people; if only one person is stating that something is likely a bug and not a ghost, whilst many more are agreeing it to be a ghost, then a ghost it becomes.
I also saw this on a particular Facebook post as I skimmed through my feed one day. There was a photo of a house fire with emergency services in attendance. To the right of the picture was a tree and bush, just back from the road and path. The photo made it seem as if there was someone stood near the tree watching the fire, but this was actually a simple case of pareidolia. Where the image of the person standing there was actually just made up of the different shades of the bush and tree. However, there were hundreds of comments on this post where people would state they could not only see the figure, but communicated her back story too. It was a remarkable leap from a photo to an abundance of information that many simply accepted.
At some point we stopped properly investigating the paranormal and started following a TV format instead, going through the motions as if its fact. When in reality we could not be father away from the investigation process. However, there is light at the end of the tunnel. This is not the case for all and there is guidance out there too. The SPRs Guidance Notes for investigators is a great place to start; their blue and red books cover a great deal, some of which I know is rarely considered. It tells a different story in regards to equipment and reminds of the ethics we should all be considering when investigating.
Rather than fishing for an experience at a possibly haunted location, we should be analysing and investigating reported experiences to discover more about them. There is so very much more to paranormal investigation than running around a darkened old building hoping to run into its resident spectre.