Everyone experiences ghost sightings differently. These sightings appear to be as unique as the individuals who once inhabited the earth. Parapsychologists characterize ghost sightings in two main categories: apparitions and hauntings.
Parapsychologists refer to intelligent and interactive spirits as apparitions. Apparitions appear to interact with their environment, demonstrating intelligent responsiveness to things occurring in the present time. For example, an apparition may respond appropriately to a question in an EVP session, or it may interact with paranormal investigation equipment such as EMF meters on request.
Public Parapsychology describes different types of apparitions.
Crisis apparitions appear to loved ones within 12 to 24 hours of death and sometimes even when the person is still alive but very close to death. These spirits typically come to loved ones to convey an important message, such as one of comfort or love. In some cases, the crisis apparition is the first time the loved one is aware the person has died.
This one is a little weird for some people, but it does occur. A living apparition is when the spirit of a person who is still alive appears to someone in a place that is different from the location their body currently inhabits. In these cases, the spirit may be traveling during astral projection, meditation, or dreaming.
Deathbed visions occur when someone is dying. Sometimes family members, caregivers, and others in the area may experience visions of people who have passed or beings they describe as angels. Afterlife researcher Dr. Raymond Moody calls these "shared death experiences" in his book Paranormal: My Life in Pursuit of the Afterlife.
These are apparitions that appear after someone has died, from minutes to years later, what people commonly refer to as a "ghost."
While many people use the term "haunting" to describe any type of ghostly paranormal activity, parapsychologists use the term in a much more specific fashion. In parapsychology, a haunting occurs as a sort of historical and energetic imprint. The Paranormal Encyclopedia refers to this type of activity as a "residual haunting."
Like active, intelligent apparitions, hauntings may affect any of the senses. For example, a haunting may cause a phantom smell, sightings of spirits, disembodied voices, electronic voice phenomena, or phantom touches. However, unlike apparitions, these hauntings are neither intelligent nor interactive. Instead, they are like replaying a film of an event that once occurred. The Association for the Scientific Study of Anomalous Phenomena (ASSAP) notes hauntings have a few specific characteristics:
- They are location-specific.
- Over time, similar reports for that location arise from various witnesses.
Other Types of Sightings
While not technically ghosts, many people lump the following classifications into ghosts and hauntings.
Poltergeists most frequently occur as the result of a living agent, according to parapsychologists. While the common belief is that the poltergeist agent is most often a teenage girl, in fact any person of any sex or age can act as a poltergeist agent. During a poltergeist "haunting," the living agent experiences repressed and/or unexpressed deep emotions which cause a sudden release of psychokinetic energy. Resultantly, strange happenings often attributed to ghosts may occur such as lights flickering, objects flying through the air, or the manifestation of strange substances. While these occurrences may possibly be attributable to an apparition using psychokinetic energy, parapsychologists try to first rule out a living agent before seeking paranormal explanations.
Demons are often lumped in with ghosts. Certain religions believe demons to be evil spirits or tormentors from Hell. However, parapsychologists like Loyd Auerbach believe demons to be a religious construct occurring beyond the scope of expertise of the paranormal investigator. Instead, demons fall within the realm of the church and should be investigated by trained and experienced clergy. Bishop James Long, who has appeared on numerous television shows such as Ghost Adventures, started the Paranormal Clergy to train clergy to deal with demons. He feels that lay people should never attempt to deal with them.
Manifestations From the Living
Manifestations of what are believed to be spirits often occur from the living. There is a famous experiment called the Philip Experiment, which describes this action perfectly. In the 1970s, a group of Canadian researchers gathered and tried over the course of several months to create a spirit. To do this, they met regularly to hold a seance to create a very specific spirit, whom they called Philip. They all established certain characteristics of the spirit, who, after time, did appear to the research team. The research raises interesting questions about whether people create and manifest spirit activity in haunted locations out of expectation, desire, or belief.
Characteristics of Sightings
While the "holy grail" of paranormal investigation is the full-body, interactive apparition, in truth apparitions may not appear to people. Instead, they may use psychokinetic energy to move objects or answer questions either via electronic voice phenomena or disembodied voices. Likewise, they may "touch" people or leave a certain density of energy in the room that some sensitive people can discern.
According to the ASSAP, people report a number of different types of activity that may indicate a ghost sighting.
These shadowy figures take human form, but are often several feet tall. They do not have discernible features or faces and appear as black humanoid figures in haunted locations. Shadow people tend to have a density that appears to be heavier than objects around them.
Many people report encounters with individuals as solid as a living person. However, these figures may be dressed in period clothing, may speak in outdated language, or may engage in odd behavior such as disappearing or not speaking when spoken to.
Some apparitions may appear as a dark or a light mist that forms out of nowhere and then resolves just as quickly. In some cases, the mist assumes a full or partial human form, but not always. Many natural explanations may exist for mists, so it is important to rule out environmental conditions that could cause a mist before suspecting paranormal activity.
In some cases, people may report seeing only part of a person, such as an upper body, an arm, or a face. According to ASSAP, these types of sightings are rare.
Signs of Spirit Hauntings
What is it like to see a ghost? Some people are frightened, others merely curious. While sensations don't definitively prove a haunting, they lend credence to claims of a place or person being haunted when combined with other evidence.
Cold Sports or Feeling Cold
Researchers believe spirits need energy to manifest, and they extract thermal or heat energy from the atmosphere in order to do so. Cold spots, feelings of freezing, or abnormally cold temperatures may indicate a spirit is near, or they may indicate drafts or radiative heat loss.
As with cold spots, some investigators believe spirits extract the energy from batteries like those used in flashlights or cameras when they attempt to manifest. Because of this, experienced investigators pack extra batteries on all investigations in case they experience battery drain. However, investigators recognize battery drain may have more logical explanations, as well.
Equipment Failure or Interference
Some people report experiencing problems with common electronic equipment. For example, radios tune in to static, televisions change channels by themselves, cameras no longer work, or stereos turn on and off for no apparent reason. Some people attribute these experiences to ghosts, although no scientific proof exists to support this theory.
Feelings of Being Watched
People who've experienced ghost sightings firsthand frequently report odd sensations, such as the feeling of being watched when no one is around. Other sensations reported include a feeling of not being wanted, or a strong feeling that one must exit the premises. According to Auerbach, the human body is one of the best ghost hunting tools, so people should pay attention to these types of sensations.
Odd Psychical Sensations and Atmospheric Changes
Anecdotally, some people report noticing a sense of unease or a feeling of heaviness in the atmosphere where an apparition exists. In such cases, one may notice odd sensations, such as goose bumps or hair rising up on the arms and back of the neck. It may also occur as an odd tingle, lightheadness, dizziness, or even butterflies in the stomach. Some report noticing abrupt sensory changes such as strange smells, tastes, or sights. Mary Ann Winowski, author of When Ghosts Speak, also notes that people may notice issues like headaches or nausea in the presence of spirits.
According to ASSAP, the most common feature of a haunting is strange sounds, although many of these have likely logical explanations. Odd sounds may include disembodied voices, humming, unexplained music, buzzing, whooshing, or other noises.
People report visual signs that may also indicate the presence of a spirit. For example, you may notice something that looks like heat waves, differences in light or shadows, or mists. You may also notice something is blocking out objects in your field of vision, or you may notice that something that appeared solid has disappeared completely.
What To Do for Recurrent Sightings
Sightings of apparitions can be disconcerting and even frightening to the average person. If you see a ghost, do the following:
1. Wait and See
With a single sighting, take a wait and see attitude. There could be many natural and logical explanations for what you believe you saw or experienced. If the experiences continue and/or escalate, then you may wish to seek help.
2. Document Without Jumping to Conclusions
When you have an experience, note the date, time, and general conditions (darkness/lightness, weather, temperature, what you were doing at the time, etc.). Then, write exactly what happened including information about:
- Any physical sensations
- What you saw
- What you heard
- Other details
Keep a journal of the activity and look for patterns. If others are present during the activity, have them write what they saw and experienced as well.
3. Seek Non-Paranormal Explanations
In some cases, there are physical causes for what appears to be paranormal activity. Some of these causes may actually be dangerous, so it is important you rule out things like electrical problems and high levels of carbon monoxide.
4. Contact a Reliable Expert
If you remain concerned, consider contacting a reliable and trusted psychic medium or paranormal investigator. Provide them with the journal you have kept of the activity. Look for teams who perform criminal background checks for their team members and provide a variety of information about possible explanations for hauntings. The Atlantic Paranormal Society (TAPS) has a nationwide database of chapters. Look on their website for a local chapter to help you.
5. Set Boundaries
Tell any spirits that this is your home, and they are frightening you and your children. Ask them to respect your boundaries by not bothering children or pets, or by not bothering you while you sleep.
6. Avoid Two-Way Communication
Home and business owners should not attempt to interact with their spirits. While you may be curious, having an EVP session or asking the spirit to interact can increase the activity as the spirit realizes you are open to interaction. Instead, allow a psychic or investigator to attempt communication. While this may stir up activity for a short time after the communication, it will quickly settle to previous levels.
7. Be Wary of the Hype
Popular media likes to sensationalize paranormal activity in movies and on television shows. While movies and shows depict paranormal activity as very forceful, in fact it is often much more subtle than one imagines. Likewise, most paranormal activity is benign. While it may feel frightening, it is unlikely spirits will cause you any kind of physical harm or put you in any type of danger.
Living With Spirits
If you have an experience you believe is an encounter with a ghost, treat the spirit respectfully as you would any other living human being. If persistent activity frightens you, seek help from qualified investigators or psychic mediums. If, on the other hand, your encounter with a spirit is a one-time thing, you'll have a great story to share for the rest of your life.