How to Investigate the Paranormal: Guide to Ghost Hunting

Explorer Walking Inside Abandoned Home

Have you always been fascinated by tales of ghosts and hauntings? Do you lie awake nights pondering the possibility of life after death? Could you pick Nick Groff, Jason Hawes, and Amy Bruni out of a line-up? Is your favorite author Hans Holzer and your favorite movie The Conjuring? Do you possess a potent curiosity about ghosts, impressive observational skills, a keen analytical mind, and the capacity to sit for hours in the dark and wait for something to happen? Then you, friend, may have what it takes to start investigating the paranormal. Whether it's something you've always wanted to try, or you've just now realized that you might have the right stuff to be a paranormal investigator, then find a haunted place and get ready to get your ghost on with these guidelines for investigating the paranormal.

Get Permission

So you've found a haunted hot spot, and you're raring to go and begin your paranormal investigation. And why wouldn't you be? There's nothing quite so exciting as the thrill of the hunt, especially when you're pursuing a passionate interest in hopes of finding answers to one of life's greatest mysteries.

Not so fast! Before you go barging into that creepy abandoned church at the end of the block where the neighborhood kids swear they've seen eerie nighttime ghost lights, make sure you have permission to enter and explore. Otherwise, you're trespassing.

So don't be a lawbreaker. Find out who owns the church (or wherever you're headed), contact them, tell them what you'd like to do, and get writing. Make sure you know all the property owner's rules and follow them exactly. These need to include:

  • Start time and finish time
  • Where you can and can't go at the location
  • Who and how many can be there with you
  • Any activities that are off-limits
  • Who to call in case of emergency

If the owner won't be with you during your scheduled time, make sure you have your written permission and the owner's phone number should any issues arise.

Phone a Friend or Two, but Not too Many

Sure you're brave and you could go on your paranormal investigation alone, but should you? Probably not. It's sort of an unwritten rule of paranormal investigation that you always work in pairs. Why? Lots of reasons including personal safety, another set of eyes, and somebody to be there if an emergency arises.

On the other hand, you also probably don't want to investigate with everyone you've ever met.

There's a magic number of people to take on an investigation: at least two, and no more than the location can support. So, if you're headed into a private residence or a small business, you'll probably only want two to four people. Any more and you'll likely wind up with too many people, which can cause all kinds of scene contamination (noise, shadows, aromas, among other things). For a larger location like an old hospital or a museum, you may be able to take a few more people, but you never want to roll up 20 deep and expect to have ideal conditions for your paranormal investigation. Try to keep your number under double digits for best results, and fewer for smaller locations.

Make a Plan

You've got the who and the where. Great! Still not quite time to go yet. Because you need a plan. Ideally, go walk through the location before your investigation to get the lay of the land. That way, you know what you're dealing with, and you can have a plan in place to determine who goes where, how long they stay, and more. Write it down (or stick it in your phone), and then try to have the discipline to stick to your plan (with some flexibility if stuff starts to go down during the investigation) once you're on location. Need help planning? Familiarize yourself with basic paranormal investigation protocols, which are necessary for anyone who is truly serious about capturing credible evidence of hauntings.

Save Your Money

There's a thing that people new to paranormal investigation do. Okay - it's actually a thing people new to many hobbies do (anyone else have an unused bag of golf clubs gathering cobwebs in your garage?). They go out and buy the latest and greatest equipment that they've seen on TV or read about online. This is almost never a good idea. Why? Again, lots of reasons. For example, there's no proof many of these gadgets actually detect ghosts. Also, they're usually super expensive, so why drop a bunch of cash if you're not even sure whether this is going to be something you want to keep doing?

At most, download a recording app on your phone and bring a portable charger, make sure you have a way to take notes, and bring a flashlight and some extra batteries. These are truly all that you need to perform a paranormal investigation. Save the spendy gizmos for down the road after you've had time to learn more about the craft, develop your own protocols, and understand how some of these gadgets work and what they actually measure or record.

Dress the Part

Dressing the part does NOT mean black jeans, black t-shirts, and lots of tattoos (unless that's your jam). Nope. It does mean that you want to dress comfortably in something that has pockets and doesn't make a ton of noise. No jangling bracelets, squeaky shoes, or swishy pants. Dress simply, comfortably, and quietly.

Look Around

Finally, you've arrived. The investigation begins now! Should you turn out the lights and stumble around in the dark? Nope. Not yet. Or not at all, really. But what you should do is walk through the location in full light and make notes of important stuff. What should you note:

  • Things that might cause a draft or breeze
  • Things that might move
  • Things that might make a noise
  • Things you might trip over if you turn out the light
  • Things that might cast shadows
  • Odd light sources
  • Anything at all that could trick you into thinking you're experiencing the paranormal if you don't know it's there
Explorer Walking Towards Abandoned Home

Post Up

It's finally happening! It's go-time. You've arrived and taken a good look around the location and you're ready to go. Now what? This is the exciting part so get ready to...plant. That's right. Pick a spot and post up. Make yourself comfortable. Make sure you've got a good line of sight. Be prepared to be there for a while; you'll need at least 30 good minutes of being planted (longer is better) to observe what happens around you. Now, observe.

Be Quiet

Observe quietly. Very quietly. Keep your ears on alert. Don't chat. If you notice something, don't talk about it. Note it in a log with the time and exactly what you noticed. There'll be time to verbally compare notes later. The exception to this, of course, is if you are communicating with the location's possible spirits either to explain your presence or run an EVP session. Then, keep your questions brief and easy to answer, and leave lots of time between each question to allow a response.

Be Observant

True paranormal investigation is a sensory experience. Pay attention and notice what happens around you. Keep all senses on alert. If you notice something, log exactly what you saw, felt, heard, smelled, tasted, or noticed. That's it. No embellishment. Just what you noticed with no interpretation.

Be Patient

Nothing happening? Yeah - that can be boring, but being crazy bored for hours on end is part of investigating the paranormal. So if nothing is happening, what should you do? Should you shout? Run? Beat on walls? Say mean stuff and hope for a response? Nope. Be patient. Continue to sit quietly and observe. Give it time. Paranormal activity doesn't happen on a schedule; it's not a performance. So stay patient and continue to quietly observe for as long as you can deal or until your planned time is up. Welcome to the glamorous and exciting life of the paranormal investigator.

Be Calm

Holy crap! Something happened! Maybe a door slammed. Maybe you felt someone touch you. Of course, the natural tendency when you experience something like this is to get pretty excited and respond accordingly. To the best of your ability, try not to do this. Sit quietly with the experience and observe. If you react in a way that is something other than calm, you could bring the experience to a premature conclusion, or you could interrupt someone else's observations. Note the time. Take a log describing exactly what you noticed. If you do talk about it, do so calmly. No shouting. No jump scares. As much as possible, remain calm and analytical.

Explore Explanations

Once the experience has passed and you're sure no other phenomena will occur in relation to it, check out your environment and notice any possible environmental causes of the experience. Could lights have shined through a window? Did a cobweb brush against your arm? Did your investigation partner shuffle their feet? Explore every possible explanation for the experience using all of your critical thinking skills.

End Your Investigation

And just like that, it's over. Time to go, but before you do, make sure everything is back in its place and you've picked up all of your stuff (consider it like backpacking...pack it in, pack it out, and leave no trace). Take a moment to thank any spirits that have interacted and head home. If it's night (and it usually is), get some sleep. You can go over your stuff in the coming days when you've had some time to regroup.

Investigating the Paranormal Takes Time and Patience

You did it! You had your first investigation, and now you've got some stuff to do. Go through any evidence you collected. Compare notes with the other investigators. Do some research about the location's history and collect stories of others' experiences. And then, maybe, cautiously come to conclusions, but not too quickly. Investigating the paranormal seldom yields irrefutable proof or concrete answers, and it often raises even more questions. So learn to be okay with the unknown and get out there and do it again. As you collect more experiences and information, you may begin to be able to recognize patterns and develop some hypotheses about what is happening, you may remain as in the dark as you always have been, or you may come away with some great stories you can share at parties.

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How to Investigate the Paranormal: Guide to Ghost Hunting