As soon as I became involved in overnight investigations of the paranormal, the vigil was a well accepted part of that process. After all, pretty much all of the television programmes of the time and even some now, still embark on their nightly investigation of various locations by breaking the night down into separate vigils spent in different areas of the purported haunted location.
For me, when I first joined the ranks of other weekend ghost hunters venturing out to the darkened haunts of the nation; this approach of breaking the night into vigils did not seem strange or incorrect in the slightest. It of course made sense due to its similarity to the approach of the television shows, but also because everyone appeared to follow the same approach. In fact in did not seem to matter if you were on an investigation with a single team or if you were on a larger paranormal event, the use of vigils was widely accepted across the board.
To be fair the approach is logical in its approach too. You are at a haunted location and you want your team to access as much of that location as possible to see if something paranormal can be captured. It is almost like spreading yourselves across a location to ensure that if something occurs elsewhere in the building it may be captured or at least experienced. It is also pretty close to walking around the darkened halls of an old building waiting for a ghost to pass you or better still come right up to you and start talking to you.
Many of us in the paranormal field have been using the Vigil approach as long as we have investigated, but that does not make it right. Personally I totally understand the concept behind it; you spend some time in one particular area of the building attempting see if there may be any paranormal activity there. Which can sometimes be based on reports you have of the location, but more often these days appear to be based around an attempt to communicate with potential resident spirits. This is where we fall out of investigation and drop into the realms of weekend ghost hunting.
You see; vigils make sense if you’re attempting to investigate certain claims in different areas of one location. In which case spending a certain amount of your time in one area and then another, makes total sense. This allows you to spread your time at the location to investigate both active areas. However, we often see now that ghost hunters will attempt the same things in different areas, which indicates an approach more aligned to blind luck and wish for an experience than true investigation of the reported activity.
Not all phenomena reported relates to communication, in fact most is probably as far away from communication as you could possibly get. Reports may include things like pictures falling off the wall, objects moving, strange smells and more; yet the weekend ghost hunter will attempt investigation techniques more akin to trying to communicate. Even though there is often no evidence to support some intelligent being present. Yet still an assumption is made that a spirit is present and that it wants to talk. Hence the approaches during the vigil are often geared towards exactly that, communication.
This aligns the ghost hunting vigil with more of an approach that could be seen as similar to spirituality and the seance room. Granted the ghost hunters are not exactly sat around a table with a medium calling out, but often there is a medium present and often they do call out. The modern difference being that they utilise many gadgets to gain communication rather than the classics like a flickering candle.
We then find that the vigil approach adopted is actually something that could not be further from true investigation if we tried. True investigation would mean observing, taking notes and looking into possible causes of the reported activity. That last one, which used to be known more as ‘debunking’ is also something that has began to filter out of the vigil for more varied approaches at communicating with the potential localised spirits.
What is then particularly strange about all this, is that although the approaches are more spiritual and truly lack real investigation methods; the ghost hunters make claims to ‘evidence’ being captured on a regular basis. Those who embark on television shows or YouTube series especially seem to constantly capture this ‘evidence’ and advise others that it represents communication with those that have past on. The truth of the matter is that the vast majority, if not all of said ‘evidence’ is of poor quality and very subjective. Muffled audio that becomes magically interpreted when someone tells you what it says being par for the course.
Television has also given us the over reaction approach too, where we hear and see more people stating ‘oh my god did you just see that’ pretty much every investigation they do. Add into this the popular demon or strange entity characters too; and before you know it every ghost hunt is a drama filled episode. The reality of true paranormal investigation could not be further from this representation, with silent observation and many notes being more realistic. Then analysis of the situation based on the findings.
In recent years I have heard many ghost hunters claim that we are still investigating the paranormal the way they were decades ago and we have made no real advancements to that process. Sure, we have more advanced gadgets now, but what are we really doing with them. Yet the same ghost hunters return weekend after weekend to darkened old locations to seek out the haunted claims by holding vigil in area after area, performing the same techniques regardless of the reports associated to the location. Granted some may alter what they do slightly based on the reports, but many are not truly investigating the paranormal.
If we are to advance this field then we need to make changes to our approach and begin to follow the claims better, seek out the alpha case and produce valid case reports that the rest of the community can use. We should be investigating and building on the work of others, not simply repeating it in search of our own experiences. Unless of course thats what you prefer.
So, what is the point of a vigil? To be honest, I am not sure anymore. Perhaps we need to find a way to drop it from our investigation process and embark on a new mission to follow the phenomena.