People love getting spooked this time of year. For most, the days and weeks leading up to Halloween are for ghost stories, playing scary pranks on friends, and watching horror films. But for some, ghosts aren't just something they think about in October. The reason? They are living in what they believe to be a haunted house 365 days a year. So The Stir went to three top paranormal investigators to find out the signs you are living with a spirit and what to do if you are.
Before going into Ghostbusters mode, it's important to know a few basic distinctions about those spooky spirits, says Loyd Auerbach, Director of the Office of Paranormal Investigations and author of ESP WARS: East & West.
Apparition: An apparition is our personality (or spirit, soul, consciousness, mind) surviving the death of the body, and capable of interaction with the living and presumably other apparitions. This is the true definition of a ghost.
Haunting: A location (or object) holds or records information about its history. Our own psychic abilities allow us to pick up certain play-backs of this history, including sightings of people. However, these are recordings, not conscious beings. Referred to as “place memory” and “residual hauntings.”
Poltergeist: Physical effects, such as moving objects, in a situation caused by the subconscious mind of a living agent, generally someone in the household undergoing emotional and/or psychological stress. Effects are caused by psychokinesis (PK).
1. What is the most obvious sign that your house may be haunted?
"Movement of doors, sounds of footsteps, movement of items -- like putting a check down on a table and it isn't there when you return to the room -- that's called an apport," explains medium Rob Gutro, author of Lessons Learned From Talking to the Dead. "Ghosts can affect the electricity in your home, short out lights, or dim them. Cold spots are another way to tell if a ghost is there -- but check for blowing vents and open windows first. Because ghosts are energy, they draw the energy from the movement from the moving air molecules and slow them down. Slower moving molecules of air are cooler air. Ghosts in homes also tend to give off negative energy and make people feel more irritated, depressed, and more argumentative."
2. Are there subtle signs of a haunting that people often miss?
"There can be subtle smells of perfume or pipe or cigar smoke," describes spirit advocate and medium Bonnie Vent. "These smells are usually related to the person when they were alive. The scent of lavender, roses, etcetera, are quite common in homes built in the Victorian era. The people living in the home may dismiss losing their keys only to have them appear back again in the same place as forgetfulness. You might also find things that you cannot account for. These things tend to have meaning to the spirit person and are being used as a communication tool. People do tend to dismiss the more subtle signs which can cause the activity to increase in an attempt to get their attention."
3. Is it true that pets and children can see things adults cannot?
"As I explain in my new book, Pets and the Afterlife, dogs and cats have different cones and rods in their eyes that allow them to see faster movement than humans can see," says Gutro. "Spirits and ghosts move at that higher vibration. Dogs and cats also have the ability to hear higher frequencies. Think of a dog whistle that humans can't hear. Spirits and ghosts talk on that higher frequency, so they can hear it."
Kids also have an innate ability to tune into these entities, though that is lost as they grow older. "Babies and small children are wide open to their world," adds Vent. "They have not been taught to dismiss what they see and feel. All too often a sensitive child will be strongly discouraged by adults in talking about seeing spirit people. The parents may dismiss this as an imaginary friend or accuse the child of telling tales. It is better to engage the child with interest and ask them age-appropriate questions. Do not be fearful as they will pick up on this fear and be afraid simply because you are."
4. Kate Hudson has said, "When you see something, you are supposed to tell the energy what year it is and that they don’t belong there.” Is that true? Will that really get a spirit to leave?
"The year is really irrelevant if indeed you have an apparition," advises Auerbach, who also coauthored Ghost Detectives' Guide to Haunted San Francisco. "Telling them they don’t belong there is not a bad idea, but a better one is to ask questions like,
'Who are you?'
'What do you need?'
'What can we do for you?'
Interestingly, most apparitions leave after that, though some actually try to communicate. At that point, it becomes a bit of a discussion and diplomacy to either convince the ghost to move on or help them with whatever they might need. Explaining to them that they are dead, without a body, that they need to move on -- whether to 'the Light' or simply to someplace more fun. Ask them to go to someplace they always wanted to visit when they were alive. Of course, most people are unfortunately too scared to ask those questions -- or actually too afraid they might get an answer."
5. Are most cases you encounter actual hauntings?
"It's about 50-50," admits Gutro. "One of the members in the ghost tracking group is an architect, that can explain settling of houses, drafts, etc. I'm a scientist, so I can explain heat and cold and other physics-related issues. Sometimes, though, teenage girls have a lot of energy they can project and simulate ghosts and haunting activities. That's called a poltergeist. We've had to recommend counseling for a couple of girls who did wind up being the cause of what appeared to be paranormal activity."
"We have encountered a lot of cases of true hauntings," Gutro continues. "I wrote about a double murder investigation in my book Lessons Learned From Talking to the Dead, where two women were murdered in a home and were still there -- and we learned and confirmed how they died. They still linger there because they want to protect families that live there. I have a picture (at right) of a face of one of them that appeared in an orb -- the most simple form a ghost can take."
6. What should a person do if they believe their home is haunted?
Take notes, advises Auerbach. Record the times and locations of incidents and look for patterns. Also rule out alternate, non-paranormal reasons for what is happening, like creaky floor boards or a drafty house. If there is something present, "they need to be treated with respect," warns Gutro. "Treat them like a neighbor that you want to leave so you can make dinner. Ask them politely to leave and tell them you live here now. Make sure that they know this is YOUR house. If you can't clear them out, contact a local paranormal group like Inspired Ghost Tracking in Maryland. I'm a medium in that group and we'll help them cross over."
7. What happens if you just try to ignore the spirit?
Very bad idea, warns Vent. "Most people will try to ignore or dismiss activity. If the activity is caused by a spirit person, this can cause an escalation. Just like a living person they will try harder to get your attention."
8. Are there things people should never do?
"One thing that people SHOULD avoid are Ouija boards," cautions Gutro. "They open doorways and allow dark entities to come in, in addition to someone you may want to hear from. Many times when people use them, we know when we walk in. Opening a door to another side will also allow discontent, anger, depression, and even sickness."
9. Is living with a ghost as terrifying as the movies make it out to be?
"Real activity tends to not be scary at all if it is understood by the people experiencing it," says Vent. "Sadly, most people’s experience is horror and they jump immediately into fear. Some people fear the unknown and unseen and some like me just want to know more about how it works. There are many people who live happily with a spirit person or two in their home. They name them and talk to them all the time. Communication and understanding are key to any good relationship, even with those that have passed."
Have you ever been in a haunted house?
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