Whats the deal with ghosts

Okay. I may be wrong, but my guess is that you’re probably reading this in the hope I’ll tell some cool ghost stories. More than that, I’ll add the customary showmanship to the stories. But wait. I’ll give you the real scoop right off the bat: there isn’t a single ghost story in this article, and I warn you that I’ll probably sound a little nerdy. Sure I’m interested in ghosts, but this interest has a lot to do with a sincere desire to understand what ghosts are and how we humans can study them.

If the bitter truth be known, I’m going to tallk a bit about how human consciousness and ghosts have quite a bit in common. Yes, I admit to being biased toward believing that ghosts aren’t something that’s objectively out there. They, in fact, have a lot to do with the subjective observer. No, I don’t believe that ghosts are a figment of imagination, but I suspect that they’re the result of human conscousness interacting with some odd force we don’t yet understand. Dare I suggest that when we finally understand something significant about quantum mechanics, we are likely to understand more about ghosts? In turn, understanding more about
quantum mechanics may link to understanding the human psyche far better than we do now. Sure, at this point in time, all my talk leads to a funky sort-of-science, but it’s (if I say so myself) deeply satisfying. Let’s face it: to understand ghosts or spirits, we have to give up a romantic attachment to fear of the dead. We have to leave old ideas behind. To do so, we need to revise our relationship to consciousness.

Although it may not be the world’s oldest profession, investigation (formal or informal) into phenomena associated with ghosts/spirits certainly comes close being the oldest profession. Early humans called this “profession” shamanism. Among other things, shamans dealt with the dead and with the essential energy of living creatures. That was because not only were ghosts/spirits an ordinary part of daily life, but it was good to have someone around who knew what to do with ghosts/spirits.Nowadays, shamanism is no longer a central part of modern culture but, even after centuries of the scientific skepticism that usurped shamanism, the ghosts/spirits that were once part of shamanic culture are still a compelling mystery to modern Western society. Hmmm. Is scientism working? I have doubts. Regardless of the scientific dogma that surrounds us and defines our lives, we still feel in our gut that science hasn’t managed to explain everything. We certainly don’t know what to do with ghosts/spirits. Denial doesn’t help. Maybe we need a new shamanism that suits Western culture.

We can start by rethinking ghosts/spitrits. Do ghosts and spirits exist? Science is dubious, but then, if science has never been able to offer satisfactory explanations for ghosts/spirits, perhaps it has to do with the fact that science suffers from exceedingly narrow vision. Science is simply not equipped to deal with paranormal phenomena! In the throes of its intellectual arrogance, conventional science doesn’t stop to consider that, in other times and places, ghosts/spirits have almost always been an accepted phenomenon. Science also doesn’t note that ghosts/spirits in accepting cultures don’t usually inspire the paralyzing helplessness that we feel in industrialized Western cultures. Why? The answer is fairly simple: in contrast to a number of indigenous cultures, many Westerners fear death. We don’t know what to do with it.

Let me be honest. Here in the West, we do have genuine trouble with death. This aversion to death wasn’t born overnight. In fact, it probably goes as far back as the early days when aggressive warriors crushed the powerful reign of old Goddess cultures that, yes, believed in ever-repeating cycles of life/death. In this view, death was merely transition. Regrettably, the eventual rise of religious dogma and, later, intellect eclipsed the Goddess-based intuition that would have reconnected humanity to natural life/death cycles. Human (mostly male) domination became more important than insight. The dominant view of death soon suggested that humanity could only view it through the eyes of either religion or science, both of which promoted a vastly restricted vision of anything that openly challenged the power of priests and, somewhat later, scientists. This narrow view, however, was an effective way to prevail over the “common” person. Why? When those in power explained reality to the general public, they exercisd an effective way to control people by teaching them not to think for themselves. That’s what people learned in the Middle Ages. [Either that, or they were executed as witches.] Yes, we have learned more objective facts since the Middle Ages, but, sadly, we still seem to be content with an “expert’s” view of death (and everything else). In short, we are quite lazy about developing personal insight.

Once we embraced a heritage of mental laziness , we began to have difficulty admitting that, yes, we inherited a serious problem with death. Now, we commonly deny the fact that, someday, we too will have to cope with the unknown. Of course, until then, what we don’t see can’t hurt us. Either we close our eyes, or we let other (apparently more qualified) people tell us what to expect. Rather than exploring our innermost instincts, we stick with realities that we have learned we can control. Unfortunately, this control emerges out of the habit of narrow thinking, the same narrow thinking out of which many churches and universities emerged.

So, here we are. In effect, the narrow view Western culture practiced in, say, the Middle Ages still dominates. Whether we like it or not, it’s our tradition. Unfortunately, this tradition doesn’t serve us well: instead of developing genuinely curious minds, we unconsciously reinvent old, accepted ideas. That means, when confronted with phenomena that can’t be explained with coventional means, our response is to pull the blankets of selective perception over our heads. The phenomena doesn’t exist. It can’t exist. We don’t consider that, maybe, this nonexistence has more to do with the learned narrowness of scientism than with genuine nonexistence. We don’t acknowledge that solving certain problems can only occur if we allow our minds to include more than strict cause-and-effect events. I don’t propose that formal science is useless, but it has limits. We have to learn to use formal science in conjuction with other ways of knowing. With respect to paranormal investigation, we must acknowlege that the sole use of scientific method will probably never bring significant results. To be effective, paranormal investigation needs an innovative mix of formal analysis and intuition. As radical as it might seem, such a mix reflects archaic methods that, for example, were once used at the oracle of Delphi in ancient Greece. At this oracle, the intuitive impressions of priestesses were noted and later interpreted by priests who were formally trained in interpretation. In short, Delphic divination used both receptive and analytical forms of thought.

Today, this mix appears in paranormal investigation when we integrate the experience of proven phychics with objective facts. Certainly, it’s a useful way to integrate different forms of input into investigation. Nevertheless, my personal feeling is that a more effective way to conduct research is to learn to open the mind of an investigator so that he or she is capable of expressing both metalities . In other words, as investigators, we learn to think in terms of what I call creative intellectualism. That is, we let accepted ideas play within a broad range of possibilities. Since I know that this explanation probably doesn’t make sense, let me give an example. Oddly, I’m going to use Arthur Conan Doyle who, in a surge of creativity, created the consummate analyst, Sherlock Holmes. Although a fictional character, Holmes reflects a genuinely inspired view of analysis. Holmes’ secret was, as Holmes’ character actually explained, to collect apparently meaningless bits of diverse information that someday, by chance, will match up with material evidence in interesting, and creative, ways. He makes it clear that effective investigation depends on unusually broad vision. Using this example, I suggest that there’s probably plenty of evidence out there that we’ve learnednot to see. We exhibit cultural blindness. Who knows what solid information we have ignored that will eventually strengthen paranormal investigation?

Cultural blindness? Does it exist? You bet. As investigators in the West, we see things very differently than, say, an aborigine in the outback who, yes, takes the existence of spirits for granted. The quality of our attention even varies from someone of European extraction who lived on the West Coast of the US about 100 years ago! If we go even further back in time to archaic cultures (particularly those that preceeded Greek and Roman rationality), we discover that what we now consider “paranormal” was, in fact, part of normal life. Did this ability occur because these cultures were less intelligent? More imaginative? More superstitious? In his work The Origin of Consciousness in the Bicameral Mind (1976) Julian Jaynes suggests that early cultures used their brains differently. In effect, they drew more strongly on the side of the brain (i.e., the right hemisphere) that interprets input from a more holistic persective. Fancy words aside, what Jaynes means is that, when they used the right hemisphere, people in old cultures had a tendency to open their minds to such a degree that they saw connections that we can no longer see with our modern minds.

What a pity that we don’t sufficiently honor the right hemisphere . Within the now obscure connections of the right hemisphere, might insight about what we now call paranormal phenomena emerge? Maybe. In this mind, ghosts might cease to inspire fear. Clairvoyance could merely represent an alternate state of mind.

Knowing all this, what do we do now? I suppose we have to get clear on the matter. Ideal use of our modern brains doesn’t mean going back to primal innocence. Return isn’t enough. We have to useboth old and new ways of thinking. We integrate. This integration means that we introduce elements of nonintellectual experience into our thinking mind so that we stimulate as many parts of the brain as we can. How do we do that? We start by learning consciously to access creativity, the sort of creativity that, for example, causes us to see some things in terms of other things. Poets do this every time they use metaphors. [Not surprisingly, poets had greater status in early society than they do today.] Or why not learn to sing? Unbelievably, studies have shown that neuronal activity in the brain changes when we sing. It’s interesting to conjecture that the reason ancient Greek storytellers sang histories and Medieval troubadors sang messages was that sung histories and messages affected listeners on a profound level that was less easily ignored or forgotten. Why? They gripped the listener on a subtle level of feeling. Interesting. I’d think that ghosts/spirits communicate on a level of feeling similar to that of storytellers and musicians. Undoubtedly, that’s why it’s so difficult to use intellect alone to pin down nonordinary phenomena. Ghosts/spirits don’t have brains. That means they don’t make a lot of sense to the intellect. It’s no wonder that science has such a difficult time with ghosts/spirits.

If there is an answer, it might be that we teach ourselves to analyze actively in that part of the brain that we normally reserve for creative efforts. Of course, I realize that this suggestion seems to open the mind to the perils of wild flights of imagination. Well, yes, it does, except that nothing stops us from learning to use both hemispheres together. If nothing else, we can learn to coordinate hemispheres. In short, we balance forms of thinking. For example, we develop an idea in the left hemisphere and then we serve over the idea into the right hemisphere to see what it does with this idea. After the right hemisphere is finished, this hemisphere serves it back to the left for structure Yes, you might ask, but how do I change hemispheres so easily? It’s a good question, particularly since, with our current knowledge, it’s difficult to consciously choose hemispheres. My answer is that we trick ourselves to change hemispheres.

How? Remember that the present-day dominance of the left hemisphere is a learned dominance. If we learned it, we can get rid of it. We can do it by engaging in activities that stimulate both hemispheres. It doesn’t mean that we have to be good at whatever we choose to do, but it certainly means that we learn to enjoy trying both analytical and creative activities. Some of these activities will stimulate the left; some will stimulate the right. The desired end of this experimentation will be that we blend the two hemispheric perspectives when we explore uncommon phenomena. The result of this blend will, yes, be greater than each separate perspective. In effect, we’ll be using the brain in a similar way to early cultures . . . except that we now have a more developed intellect with which to interpret what we see and feel. On the other end of the investigative spectrum, we are able to add archaic intuition to objective measurements.

Yes, but is this solid investigation? In terms of strict scientific method, no, it isn’t. But then, it is useful to remember that most truly great scientific insights came from more than pure scientific method. Einstein (a great scientist, I’m sure you will agree) stressed the importance of imagination in research. He was preceded by a host of other great thinkers who shared a similar vision. Moreover, in Western Europe, the Romantic era during the early 1800s was rife with fascinating attempts to blend science and art. Not surprisingly, this regretably short era also included a distinctive fascination with ghosts/spirits.

Considering the limitations of our current thinking, I suppose it’s up to us creative thinkers to revive the spirit of the Romantic era in our unconventional work. Why not? Science and art are closer than we imagine. If we adhere to an integrated vision, I predict we’ll find that paranormal investigation will begin to depend on the elusive blend of science and art that currently escapes classical physics. Instead of belonging to “shady” science, we might find that, in the long run, serious paranormal investigation challenges uninspired science in the same way that quantum physics challenges Newtonian physics. As with quantum physics, paranormal investigation should force us to work with nonsensical contradictions that frustrate the intellect. We can then accept that, with our current thinking, it is impossible to find satisfactory answers.

Of course, it’s logical to ask why I should know this. Can I prove it? No, I can’t. Proof is a personal matter.that transcends the person. All I can say is that, if we are going to progress in the realm of the paranormal, we must begin to consider that we, the observers, can’t solely depend on fancy gadgets. We must also develop into the fine perceptual tools that we are as human beings. There are a number of ways to develop in this way (a few of which I have mentioned), but, in the end, this struggle involves trial-and-error. It also involves the courage for self-exploration. Strange as it might seem, delving into ourselves requires more courage than we need to confront an actual ghost. I’m willing to guess that, the more we develop as sensitive beings, less we will fear the unexplained. Instead, we’ll feel privy to special knowledge.

Happy hunting!

Jaynes, J. (1976). The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company.

Opening your mind to the paranormal

It’s nearly impossible to access nonordinary experience with ordinary consciousness because the ordinary consciousness we learn in this society tends to be exclusive. That is, our consciousness splits up what we see into pieces so that we interpret what we see and feel from a linear cause-and-effect perspective. This sort of mental organization has benefits, but stubborn reliance on exclusive thinking makes it difficult for us to imagine any other way of interpreting our world. In the end, we develop a form of tunnel vision that selects out only a small portion of total reality. In other words, the truth is out there all around us . . . but we (unconsciously, at least) insist on the habit of narrow vision. We miss so much!

Part of our problem is rooted in our dependency on the tidy American life that we have come to love. We are addicted comfort. We don’t want to be bothered by nasty things like death or anything else that pushes the boundaries of what we, by common consent, have decided we want to believe. Certainly, this view does contribute to a sense of safety and security, although, perhaps, our society could profit from the realization that our stubborn pursuit of security isn’t common. In fact, we qualify as a curious, and perhaps unhealthy, anomaly to much of the world. There are cultures in Africa, Asia, or in less developed parts of the Western world, that find our need for a tightly controlled existence the height of foolishness.

In contrast to the dominant North American/Western European view, there are a number of cultures that are comforted by the belief that humanity is connected to the dynamic universe. Humans aren’t a discrete phenomenon. By tapping into a deep understanding of the universe, these cultures are able to transcend the uninteresting “ordinariness” of modern culture. This insight accounts for a number of rites and rituals that these cultures take seriously, but which we, as tourists, consider a quaint photo-op. Sadly, native cultures have become so accustomed to tourist mentality that they usually deliver a tourist-grade version of what they otherwise consider sacred. Since genuine rituals are a subtle play on consciousness, tourists aren’t welcome. Those involved in a genuine ritual prefer to remain focused on their consecrated space. Gawkers disrupt the flow.

In truth, real rituals are notoriously boring for vacationing onlookers because, to be effective, these rituals must be experienced from the inside out. There is little Hollywood-style flash and fury. Emotions and feelings have purpose and power that transcends the individual. They don’t merely represent inferior forms of knowing. They are where the action is! The message is that, in rites and rituals, one can’t be an onlooker; one must be a participant. One’s state of being is vital for the results one is likely to get.

Linking this idea to paranormal investigation that takes place in Western cultures, we might conclude that, to experience phenomena, we must engage in rituals that are common for certain indigenous people that do see ghosts and other spirits. Sure, we can try, but it is a mistake to confuse ritual with the result that the ritual is supposed to elicit. If a ritual is alien to our culture, it will likely appear to us as awkward and artificial. It will just be a show. It is more useful to realize that our task isn’t to emulate other cultures; it is to find a way to work with paranormal investigation within our culture. Is this an unrealistic goal? Not if we learn to arrange our American thought so that it supports paranormal investigation in a way that harmonizes with, and extends, how we have learned to think in our culture. Yes, we continue to use a solid scientific approach during an investigation, but we integrate this scientific approach with subtle elements that deepen our understanding.

Maybe the secret of conducting an investigation lies in learning not to try too hard. Maybe it lies in not taking our mission too seriously. Instead of focusing on the absolute necessity of seeing a ghost, maybe it’s more useful to work on putting ourselves into a state of mind that is most likely to make us receptive to ghostly phenomena. Accessing the right state of mind is tricky. Often, it means that an investigator must not only be able to suspend disbelief, but must also suspend belief. That is, we don’t have expectations about what we might experience. It’s not that we don’t care (which, in a way, is having an opinion); it means our mind freely takes in events to which to it is exposed. In many ways, we are emulating the mind of a child: we take in what is around us, but don’t match up experienced events with learned expectations that take the form of mental chatter.

I can’t stress the matter strongly enough: adult chatter is a powerful blocking mechanism. This adult blocking mechanism frequently appears in standard scientific studies in which an investigator sets out to “prove” a selected slice of reality. In this quest to prove, the selected slice will soon begin to appear in everything from corned beef hash to the kitchen sink. Although convenient for exploring specific details, the capacity to block leads to a narrow black-and-white view of the world that stubbornly insists that one only reality is absolutely correct. Such rigidity doesn’t apply to children. A child has a natural advantage because the child hasn’t acquired the adult capacity for mental chatter that covers what, in essence, may be perfectly natural phenomena that only we inflexible adults consider “nonordinary” experience. A child’s mind is fluid, not exclusive. It is open. It does not emulate the adult mind by recognizing some information and by blocking other information.

To review, a child’s thinking is remarkably fluid-which may account for the unusual propensity of children to experience phenomena that escapes our attention. The reason is that their mind is more open than the mind of an adult. That is because they haven’t collected enough information to lead to a black-and-white mentality. This mental flexibility may be why children are more capable of exhibiting sensitivity to paranormal activity.

Of course, paranormal researchers are adults. We have to work with the mentality we have. We can, however, still learn by observing the fluidity of children (that is, when they aren’t busy developing the ego identity that will eventually lead to blocking). We have to be able to admit that we don’t know it all. We must acknowledge that our thinking can be as fluid as that of a child. When our thoughts reach the desired level of fluidity, our powers of observation will peak.

This all sounds good, but I suspect you might be thinking that fluidity is easier said than done. Although this conclusion is true, fluidity is not the impossible dream. With a little dedicated effort, we can open our minds. We can explore mental fluidity. But how?

My suggestion is that we try out some meditation practices. I don’t mean that we begin adhering to this or that religion. What I mean is that we learn to quiet the mind so that our habit of blocking relaxes. By practicing meditation. we might realize that, in essence, the mind is fluid. That is its nature. It’s fluid for a child because, once again, a child hasn’t learned to block the natural flow with learned information that sets up patterns of neuronal firing that we use again and again to support a consistent reality. Such patterns may seem comforting, but the sad truth is that habits of thinking quickly make us into fuddy-duddies. Meditation breaks up fuddy-duddy pattern holding by breaking up dependence on accustomed patterns of thinking so that new ideas can filter through. One way of illustrating the meditative process is to imagine a piece of elastic netting that’s tightly scrunched up into a knot. There isn’t much we can introduce into the knot because, if it is very elastic, the knot pulls itself together so tightly that there’s no room for anything else. If, however, we pick up the knot and pull at it for awhile, the knot’s elasticity will eventually lose its snap. The knot relaxes. When it relaxes, we can see what was blocked by the knot. Maybe it was a dresser. Maybe it was a mirror. Maybe it was an entity standing on the other side of the room. The point is that the more we relax the mind, the more we are likely to increase our perceptions.

No, I can’t guarantee that a meditative practice will increase receptivity to paranormal phenomena, but I can point out that a number of cultures that honor the practice of meditation demonstrate an unusual sensitivity to paranormal activity. It isn’t because people in these cultures are unusually psychic (or gullible); it’s because they are open to the paranormal. Actually, according to these cultures, such activity isn’t paranormal. What we call nonordinary experience is, in fact, a normal part of life. Why? Possibly because the culture has allowed minds to embrace subtle elements in the environment that we Westerners routinely miss. A sensitive culture isn’t more imaginative; we are more closed. We can profit from experimenting with different ways of using our minds. Meditation is a good start.

What sort of practice should we try? It doesn’t matter. The best approach is to look around and see what’s out there, and then, on the basis of collected information, to choose a method with which each of us feels comfortable. Often we are attracted to a particular practice because of a particular quality about the practice that resonates with us as an individual. This resonance is important because, sometimes, we learn a practice and, in the course of practicing, we find a way to explain the practice so that it suddenly harmonizes with, and enhances, our personal understanding. I can use myself as an example: I always had trouble working through the idea of having “nothing” in my head. What is nothing? I felt like I had to fight to have nothing in my mind. I was doing too much work! Then, one day, I realized that it was far better for me to pursue a feeling of “everythingness.” That is, I relaxed the mind so that I could “step back” and let the whole universe flow into my mind. I realized that “everythingness” is nothing in particular. This realization helped. In opening the mind in this way, I experienced a heightened state of receptivity, the sort of receptivity that, yes, is ideal for experiencing paranormal phenomena. In this state of mind, it, as of yet, hasn’t occurred to me to feel fear, or have a feeling of being “creeped out” (both of which are sensations that lead to blocks) when confronted with unusual experience. If I see anything out of the ordinary, I’m curious, but neither surprised nor excited. I’m merely in a receptive state of mind.

In this discussion, I don’t refer to meditation as a spiritual practice. I’ve been more pragmatic: a meditative mind is a great mental state from which to observe paranormal phenomena. There’s plenty of room to experience the nonordinary without the blocks of expectation. I encourage meditative practice, not just for its ability to allow us to cope with our lives, but also because its value as a tool for rediscovering the unencumbered child mind that opens us to unaccustomed experience. It’s where we want to be! Once our mind is open, we are ready to progress to the introduction of scientific method into research. . . .

How to write a paranormal investigation report

Ask people who routinely conduct paranormal investigations what the most terrifying part of an investigation is and there is a huge chance that the person you ask will begin to shake uncontrollably and mumble almost incorherently that, without question, the most terrifying part is . . . writing up the investigative report.

I understand the horror. It reminds me of having to write book reports in school, especially reports about boring books that never quite got fully read. I had to make up a lot of fancy words that sounded really intelligent. These reports weren’t fun.

Let’s get it straight: investigative reports aren’t book reports. A well-organized investigative report isn’t a bad thing. It’s like a map that it lets us know in clear unambiguous terms what went on during an investigation. It tells us so exactly that, if we wanted to do so, we could either exactly reproduce the investigation, or introduce something new that might make all the difference. An investigative report also lets us know that, if we try to reproduce a particular investigation, this effort, for one reason or another, might be a complete waste of time. Whatever the reasons, a good report is not only worth the effort, it’s a valuable contribution to the community of paranormal investigators. There’s no reason we investigators can’t help each other.

Although my recipe for a report follows basic scientific method, there’s no need to be nervous about a report that follows scientific method. That’s because, unlike paranormal phenomena, a good report follows an easy 1-2-3-4-5-6-7-8 recipe. All we have to do is follow this recipe. Sure, an argument might be that scientific method extinguishes sensitivity for the paranormal, but following scientific method doesn’t mean we must be as closed as traditional scientists. Following scientific method only means we learn to organize information, no matter how unconventional this information might be. Organization is vital.

To cover each of the eight steps in an organized fashion, it’s useful to prepare one or two sheets of paper for each step. That way, it’s possible to scribble quick notes that will be useful in the final report. These sheets are useful for significant insights or ideas that arise during the course of investigation. The sheets order our thoughts.

So, now that I’ve spoken about the importance of organization, what are the eight steps? What does each step involve? How we one use the steps for paranormal investigation?

I’ll go through each of the eight steps:

I. Abstract. Call it a blurb that briefly tells what the investigation was about. It tells the reader what to expect. The abstract is short (ca. 250 words at most) and concise.

II. General statement of the Research Problem. If the abstract has piqued our interest, the general statement goes into greater detail. We find out where we conducted the investigation. Why did we conduct this investigation? The reader also learns who exactly participated in the investigation and what their qualifications are. What jobs did they do? What did these investigators wish to accomplish? Strong, clear statements are desirable.

III. Background of the problem. There are two steps here. First, the reader learns about history that makes an investigation relevent. In short, what happened here? How often has phenomena been reported? Second, we look into the history of other investigations that were conducted at the site. Most critical questions are: 1) Has there been a formal study? 2) How recent was the study? 3) Who did it? 4) What did they do? 5) Is there existent literature about prior studies? If not, who is available for interview?

IV. Design of Study. This section tells how we intend to conduct the investigation. What tools will we use? How long will we stay on the site? Who will be doing what? How will we record observations? This part describes the investigation plan.

V. Results from Data collection. Now reality sets in. The investigation has been done. This section tells us how we really collected data. This part is nitty-gritty. It doesn’t say anything about cool stuff that might have happened (that comes later). The focus is straightforward. What tools worked; what tools didn’t work? When did we collect data? How long? Were there unforseen problems?

VI. Analysis of Data. Numbers. Graphs. The down-and-dirty information goes on. We focus on numerical information. What are the numbers? If it is possible to create a visual graph of events, do so. The idea is to see if there are any unexpected readings. Sometimes, a graph will reveal oddities that were missed during observation. It may also show there was nothing that could be recorded at the site. Lack of significant numbers doesn’t necessarily mean there was nothing. It means our measurements showed nothing.

VII. Discussion. Discussion is the fun part. Why? It’s subjective. We can interpret what we experienced. We get to talk about everything we couldn’t measure with mechanical tools. We can talk about feelings. We can talk about the input of psychics (if psychics were available). All in all, we make suggestions about what happened, including the suggestion that mechanical (or other) tools were inadequate. We tell what we think the investigation proved. We examine whether our results support earlier reports. On the basis of our results, we can say what we think the investigation was all about.

VIII. Conclusion. Conclusion is the wrap-up. Was the investigation successful? How do we feel the investigation contributed to research? What were strong points and what were weak points? If the investigation were done again, what should be added? Taken away? How would it be possible to improve future investigations of the same site?

I know this all still sounds like hard science, but it’s difficult to deny that this format is a great way to structure an investigation. It’s a great way to tell others about an investigation. My guess is that this format also provides the best chance for publication in a reputable journal. Above all, the sort of investigation helps us to gain the image of being more than “flaky science.” Although we are somewhat off the mainstream, we are still serious investigators who deserve to be acknowledged!

Starting a Ghost Investigation

From what most of us have learned from TV and films, ghost hunting is exciting, right? Wrong. In fact, use of the word “hunting” is misleading: paranormal investigations mostly consist of fruitless waiting around without results. Our chance of winning the lottery is similar to experiencing genuine phenomena during an investigation. . If investigations are so dull, then, why do we do them? Okay. The friend of a friend of someone’s aunt won the lottery jackpot in some state. We can too. Let’s face it: the lure of the unknown is so irresistable to committed investigators that they are more than willing to put up with less than desirable results. Everyone else will drift away to more pedestrian thrills.

Seeking gratification in the unknown gets frustrating at times. Why not enjoy something we cancontrol in paranormal investigations? For example, we can enjoy the challenge of interviewing people who claim paranormal experience. Really? Yes. It’s because we are sure to encounter some interesting people about whom we can later tell stories around the campfire. Let’s face it: most people we interview are panicked (or worse) . . . and panicked people tend to make imaginative assumptions. To add to further difficulties, I’m willing to guess that most budding paranormal investigators are as imaginative and ready to see extraordinary events as those being interviewed. You could say it’s an occupational hazard. To overcome the natural tendency to be, uh, overzealous in our search for the paranormal, it’s helpful to remind ourselves that, when playing the role of serious investigator, we’ve got to go against our fanciful nature and play investigations with a straight face. We are, in effect, creating a science. Sure, we may explore apparent “oddities,” but that doen’t mean we turn our back on reality. In fact, it is to our advantage to be that much more concerned about the meaning of reality. This concern belongs to good science.

The initial client interview is rooted fully in reality. This interview is essential in deciding whether a client’s experience warrants serious investigation. The good news is that a well-constructed interview is not boring. In fact, it gives us a chance to be something of a psychologist in addition to being an investigator. No, our job isn’t to become a therapist who patiently listens to a client’s ghost stories. Our job is to separate out those who experience quirks of their own mind from those who present genuine events that warrant a formal investigation. [It isn’t a pleasant thing to say, but there are times when people who claim paranormal phenomena actually suffer from mental illness. These people deserve our courteous respect . . . but they are not our responsibility.] Since an investigation is no minor expenditure of time and money, we want to to certain that that we’re, well, not barking up a rubber tree.

By this time, it should be clear that the initial interview covers more than asking a few questions. Yes, we ask questions, but there’s more to the interview than questions. We also get a non-verbal feeling of who the client is, and why they want an investigation. In other words, we are sensitive to more than just words. Yes, words are important, but appearance and gestures are equally important. Moreover, we want to be aware of how words are spoken. In effect, we interview the whole person. My suggestion is that we conduct the initial interview in a very small group. To assure the correct degree of concentration, this interview should be independent of other activities.

It takes a lot of energy to interview in this way, mainly because our attention is fully focused on the potential client. We use all instinct and intuition we can muster. We are never rude. If anything, we show that we genuinely want to know the client’s experience. We look into the client’s eyes. For the inreviewer’s optimal focus, it is useful to conduct the interview with a colleague who writes down the client’s answers. Better yet, the colleague, with permission of the client, records the client’s answers on a cassette recorder. That way, investigators can later review the tape as a group.

Aside from observations, there are, of course, the actual questions. What should they be? Actually, the questions are straightforward. The art isn’t in the question. It is in receiving, and in later interpreting, answers.Good questions are surprisingly simple in a “just the facts, ma’am” sort of way. Don’t let the client begin telling extended stories. Gently remind them to stick to answering the questions. Basic questions are:

1) What is your complaint? How does the problem manifest?
2) How many times has the phenomena occurred?
3) Where is the problem located?
4) When does the phenomena occur?
5) Have you seen anything? If so, what?
6) Did you investigate further? If so, what did you see?
7) Besides yourself, who lives in this house/apartment? What are their ages?
8) Has anyone else experienced the phenomenon? Who? Will they be available for questions? If not, why?
9) When phenomena occurs, is a particular person always present? Will he or she be available for questions? If not, why?
10) Will you allow our group to investigate as thoroughly as possible?

These questions aren’t set in stone. Depending on the situation, some questions will be more relevent than others. Moreover, the client will likely supply some of the answers on his or her own. The most important point is that the interviewer briefly repeats every answer the client gives. That way, the client hears once again what he or she has said, and the interviewer knows he or she has understood correctly. More importantly, the interviewer shows that the client’s words have been heard. This receptivity establishes a strong level of trust.

Even with trust and a colleague who records answers, an interview is work. That’s because, as interviewers, we are, once again, concerned with the whole client. For example, what does the client do when you look into his or her eyes? Does the client look back . . . or does the client look at the floor or out the windows? What does the client do with his or her hands? Does the client twist clothes or play with hair? Does the client cross arms or restrict hands or arms in any way? How about the voice? Is it steady and audible, or is the client overly excited or has a tendency to whisper? How about the client’s environment or how he or she is groomed? If any questions asked seem to make the potential client uncomfortable, what are they? Obviously, we can’t ask the client about his or her mental health, but we can extract quite a bit of information from suble signs.

As soon as the interview is completed, the interviewer should go home, or to a private place (not the client’s home) to write a report of behavior that occurred during the interview. The idea is to write down the client’s behavior while it is still fresh in the mind. In addition, the investigator should write down personal feelings felt during the course of the interview. If more than one investigator was present at the interview [another witness is desirable] , this investigator should also write an independent report focusing on similar issues.

It should be noted that reports only cover observed behavior, not interpretations of behavior. Interpretations will occur when the full group of investigators has been assembled and all observations are presented to the group. If a cassette has been recorded, the cassette is played for the group. The advantage of presenting reports to the group is that all recorded behavior falls together into a general view of client and environment.

The strength of discussing a potential client in a group is that there will be a variety of opinions about the potential client and the environment in question.. An eventual consensus will be reached about the viability of an investigation. Once we have decided to conduct an investigation, we can feel confident. This confidence won’t mean that we shall experience paranormal phenomena, but it will inspire enthusiasm to persevere, even when we spend endless nights sitting in the unyielding dark.

Tibetan Philosophy and Ghosts

If asked to name the most exotic place that comes to mind, we might answer “Tibet.” Certainly, Tibet seems wildly unconventional (and maybe a little frightening) to Westerners, but most of what we hear is based on horror stories that play on our fascination with, and fear of, things like corpses and magic.

Yes, Tibetans think differently than we do, but they are not obsessed with the horrible in the same way that we Westerners are. If anything, Tibetans have an everyday reality that mixes Buddhist thought with local traditions.

About Tibetans
Local traditions in Tibet are the outcome of a culture living in an extremely remote area that is surrounded by the unusually riveting majesty of nature. Like Native Americans who lived near the natural wonders of an unspoiled America, Tibetans honor nature. They value the spiritual essence of their land and their ancient culture. Spirits, whether human or nonhuman, are an ordinary part of life.

In general, Tibetans have a strong interest in death. Why? Learning about death is valuable becauseTibetans feel that death is nothing more than a continuation of life. Understanding death completes human experience. It is as important as life.

While it is true that, traditionally, Tibetans are attracted to death and spirits, this attraction is not based on revulsion. It is based, rather, on a wish to understand, and work harmoniously, with nature. For this reason, Tibetans do not see spirits as something to fear or abhor. If anything, the Tibetan fascination with spirits reflects a wish to learn what spirits have to teach the living.

Educating the Dead
Learning about what happens after death is highly desirable for the living because knowledge is essential for the positive transition of the dead into a new life. Since the dead cannot reason, it is up to the living to learn about death before it happens. In addition, it is an act of compassion to help the uninformed dead effectively deal with their new existence. In order to be useful, however, the living cannot fear death. They must honor death as if it is as desirable as life.

In short, the living must accept death. It is not enough to be a horrified onlooker. In Tibetan lore, if a spirit has returned as a ghost, the fault does not lie with, say, a violent death and a confused spirit. It lies with the inability of the living to guide sucessfully the spirit to the world of the dead. It is this idea that led to the Tibetan Book of the Dead.

Westerners might classify The Tibetan Book of the Dead as dark and forboding, but, actually, the book was written as a manual to help the living to fulfill their ability to be compassionate guides for the dead. This help is vital because the world beyond death is confusing and a dead spirit can get into trouble (Christian, 1972). As living people, it is dishonorable to abandon the dead.

Being Spiritual for Spirits
Spirits need help? It seems that, if anything, the living need protection from the dead. But wait.Should spirits scare us? Tibetans would say “no.” If we are scared, then we must reframe the problem from a higher spiritual understanding. In a successful reframing, we must come to the realisation that a spirit problem has less to do with an unruly spirit than with the level of our spiritual awareness. In short, the dead need our help. If anything, we must work on ourselves if we are to supply help. To begin, our consciousness must evolve so that spirits no longer frighten us. The prevailing idea is that, to help a spirit, we must convince it to choose rebirth (Christian, 1972).

If human minds are going to guide the dead, then human minds must be concerned with how they interact with spirits. Spiritual evolution is critical. For this reason, Tibetans who are concerned with the evolution of human spirit usually engage in rigorous psycho-spiritual training that focuses the mind to such one-pointedness that the mind acquires the intensity that is needed for communication and interaction with spirits. Not surprisingly, such one-pointedness of mind is the core of psycho-spiritual training that is the foundation of monastic life in Tibet (Christian, 1972; David-Neel, 1977 ).

Psycho-spiritual Training
As one might imagine, psycho-spiritual training requires long hours of meditation in which a student silences the incessant activity of the brain (i.e., mentally talking to oneself) by repeating a simple mantra over and over until mind and spirit are so focused there is only the mantra. When a student reaches this level of one-pointedness, the mind becomes so open that it invites experience that does not reflect what we consider “normal.” In other words, when in this state of mind, a student enters a broad understanding in which it becomes clear that the phenomenal world is purely subjective (Christian, 1972). Spirits and what we consider paranormal activity are as valid as what we consider “solid” reality. Paranormal phenomena are no longer, well, phenomenal . . . and what seems solid is an illusion that springs from a learned conviction that only what we see, hear, touch, and taste is real.

One-minded Vision
When a student’s one-pointed focus begins to be a natural part of his/her expression, the student is spiritually ready to work with spirits. There will, however, be tests, some of which will seem as horrifying as Hollywood would like us to believe. Nonetheless, a spiritually elevated mind intuitively knows that these visions are not worth a second glance. If the mind is in the right place, ghosts and demons are no more challenging than anything else in “real” life. We learn from the horrible. We discover that ghosts are no more than souls in need of a little help.

Working With Ghosts and Demons
To a Tibetan who follows tradition, ghosts and demons are part of reality. To work constuctively with ghosts and demons, it is useless to convince oneself that they do not exist. With denial, a person does not fulfill his or her abilities as a conscious human.

To learn about human potential, it is most useful to learn to identify with other creatures-whether these creatures be of this world or another world (David-Neel, 1977). Identification leads to deep understanding in which a student learns to move and interact with phenomena, not merely observe it.

Once a student has learned to move with phenomena, it becomes obvious that true communication does not depend on words, or on the part of the brain that produces words or analysis. Indentification depends on subtle feeling. That is why communication between an advanced student and guru often does not consist of words; it consists, rather, of mental images that move between teacher and student (Christian, 1972). These images communicate far more than words.

Not surprisingly, the intense concentration that an adept uses to transmit images to a student also taps into the same focused concentration that one not only uses to work with spirits, but also gives ideas a perceptible shape and injects a spirit into objects that seems to bring them alive (Christian, 1972; David-Neel, 197). With this intense concentration, it is not unusual, for example, for an artist to indentify so strongly with a deity being painted that the artist begins to express qualities of the deity (David-Neel, 1977).

More interestingly, there are those who have reached such a pinnacle of concentration that their bodies no longer function as a material object. In effect, these bodies freely move between the world of the living and the world of the dead because they transcend the physical laws that define our lives. Perhaps, it is possible to say that these people are both dead and alive.

Living Ghosts?
Does Tibetan spirituality seem improbable? Consider the adepts who, as living people, have been able to create a ghostly double of themselves. These ghostly doubles are like ghosts, except that they are projections of a person who, having been away for a long time and lacking a telephone or other modern conveniences, is concerned about sending a message that he or she will arrive in a matter of days (David-Neel, 1977). In contrast to the unconscious dead, a living person consciously projects his or her own ghostly image to those who are waiting for the person to arrive.

Such living phantoms surely represent a configuration of energies that are similar to that of a dead spirit. Does this use of energy seem strange? If it does, we must remember that, whether we understand it or not, Tibetans who follow their traditional spirituality make little distinction between life and death. Stepping over the boundary between the two might, to analytic Westerners, seem unsettling and confusing, but that is only because we have learned to deny what is obvious to many Tibetans. Still, there is no reason to despair: heightened understanding of spirit is not as unthinkable as we in the West make it out to be. In fact, we may benefit from a consolidation of analytical and mystical thought. Such consolidation might lead to a new and fruitful study of ghosts and spirits in which we, as investigators, play a more complex role.

Christian, P. (1972). The History and Practice of Magic. (J. Kirkup and J. Shaw, Trans., Ross Nichols, Rev. and Ed.). Seacaucus, New Jersey: Citadel Press. (Original work published 1870)

David-Neel, A. (1977). Magic and Mystery in Tibet. London: Abacus Press.

Ghosts in Japanese Culture

We Westerners hear about the mysterious East, but often don’t stop to think why we think the Far East is so mysterious. Part of this problem is that Westerners simply don’t understand Eastern culture. Behind superficial differences between the two cultures, it seems that fundamental shifts in focus are most responsible for cultural confusion between East and West. Shifts in focus? Yes. In contrast to Western cultures where emphasis lies on the development of individual ego, Asians generally focus on harmonious interactions within a larger community. Community spirit rests at the heart of the universe. As a result of this focus, an individual’s first responsibility rests in assuring the smooth functioning of society at the expense of individual needs. The imperative to emphasize community supports the unusually (to Westerners, at least) structured behaviors that lie at the heart of Asian culture.

Quick Explanations
I realize that pointing to a culturally ingrained emphasis on community is a quick generalization, but this generalization is a necessary first step into a more detailed explanation of Asian mentality. Until a more detailed understanding of Asian cultures emerges, it is first useful to keep in mind that quality of community focus varies from Asian culture to Asian culture. For example, Asian relationships to spirituality can be as varied as, say, Western interpretations of Christianity. A crucial distinction is, however, that, in contrast to Western history, Asians haven’t used different interpretations of religion as a justification for war. They recognize that, although different approaches to spirituality use different rituals, the essence that supports all forms of spirituality is the same. To remain meaningful, expressions of belief fluidly adjust from culture to culture. There’s no reason to fight over religion. Ignorance breeds conflict. Fights are not useful for the whole of society.

Never the Twain Shall Meet
My references to religion and war aren’t the beginning of a meandering socio-political argument. Actually, I will use attitudes to spirituality and war to begin a discussion of essential disparities between Eastern and Western interpretations of paranormal phenomena. How? Firstly, the emotional impulse of Westerners to deal with the unknown using denial contrasts with the Asian wish to understand and patiently explain the unexplainable (Ross, 1996). The result of this divergence is that Westerners either pooh-pooh the paranormal or make it into a New Age business venture that is sure to stimulate profitable interest at the expense of genuine understanding. In addition, Western media so heavily promotes the terrifying, bloody, and other sensational aspects of the paranormal that it is difficult to transform the paranormal into a subject worthy of serious study. Indeed, it is not unusual for a Western investigator to accompany an explanation of his/her interest in the paranormal with an uncomfortable apologetic air. Let’s face it: in the Western world, it’s somewhat embarrassing to admit to an interest in the paranormal. Conversely, other cultures have different feelings about the paranormal.

Instead of giving in to a less-than-respectable opinion of those who investigate the unknown, why not turn to cultures that actually have an interest in the paranormal and, furthermore, support active investigation. Why not? There are places where the paranormal is an intrinsic part of the culture. Where? Interest and curiosity about the paranormal exists in Asia. For example, the Japanese are highly interested in, and curious about, the paranormal (Ross, 1996).

Ghosts in Modern Japan
Of all Asian cultures, Japan provides a valuable example because, among Asian cultures, the urban Japanese have assimilated into the West as an influential economic force. In spite of this Westernization, however, it is siginificant that Japanese culture is full of contrasts that reflect bothold traditions and new ideas (Ross, 1996). In fact, Japanese culture holds to quite a few ancient traditions, although these traditions have been adjusted to modern life. For example, it is not unusual to see a contemporary Japanese businessman carry anicient charms along with his cell phone and briefcase (Iwsaka and Toelken, 1994; Ross, 1996). In addition, the media is full of ghost and monster stories that either take the form of traditional folk tales or legends or have been adapted from folk tales to contemporary films and novels. (Remember Godzilla?) Even modern Japanese religion integrates the supernatural into its teachings.

The bottom line is that, even today, daily life in Japan is supernatural: 8 million deities (kami) are responsible for everything in daily life (even the toilet) (Iwsaka and Toelken, 1994).; Ross, 1996). Emulating old traditions, modern Japanese frequently feel that there’s little difference between the world of the living and then world of the dead. Ghosts are commonplace. For this reason, living people easily meet ghosts . . . and may not even realize that they have done so (Iwsaka and Toelken, 1994)!

Land of Spirits
There are spirits in Japan-many of them. There are, in general, two kinds of spirit: the spirit of the living (seiryo), and the spirit of the dead (shiryo) (Iwsaka and Toelken, 1994). Spirits can be dead or alive. It doesn’t matter much. The main distinction is that spirits either come from komoyo (this world) or anoyo (over there). Ghosts of the dead appear out of anoyo because a spirit that should be in anoyo is tied to komoyo by strong emotions or feelings of obligation. It is, however, possible to draw the spirit into anoyo by reading special sutras, or Buddhist scriptures that release the spirit from unresolved sensations of obligation, duty, debt, honor, and personal responsibility (Iwsaka and Toelken, 1994). As might be imagined, in the spirit of Japanese community, feelings that involve other people are most responsible for the appearance of ghosts. Duty does not stop at death.

Because duties do not expire with the body, there are quite a few ghost stories that deal with strong feelings of obligation. (Iwsaka and Toelken, 1994). For this reason, many ghost stories relate to, say, ongoing relationships between a dead mother and a live child or a dead child and a live mother. Close relatives or lovers that share a sense of mutual responsibility, but are separated by death, also present possibilities for ghostly phenomena. As might be apparent, responsibility transcends death in Japanese culture.

The Dead are Near
Since, in Japan, the dead are near the living, the Japanese consider it wise to continue to treat the dead as if they were alive (Iwsaka and Toelken, 1994). That means that relatives still honor the dead on their birthdays, or on specific holidays. Maybe the living will continue to do maintenance on a garden that was loved by the departed. This maintenance is not a matter of stubbornly holding onto a memory; it is doing something for someone who is not able to do the work. The departed gardener will somehow show appreciation for this polite consideration. If, however, the gardener isn’t happy with garden maintenance, in one way or another, displeasure will appear.

Why the Obsession with Death?
Does an extreme concern with death seem usual? This concern should be understood in the right spirit. In contrast to the West, Japanese ghosts serve a purpose (other than to be dead). Although the Japanese see actual physical decay as “dirty,” death, when understood in a spiritual sense, is a profound mystery that moves above and beyond decaying bodies (Iwsaka and Toelken, 1994). Ghosts are useful because they inspire emotion, more emotion than is common for the living Japanese. Ghosts make debts, obligations and guilt very real and very obvious. That’s because they don’t hide behind polite gentility. In addition, ghosts frequently serve as reminders of duties that must be done, or appear as helpful guides that impart vital information to the living. More importantly, ghosts give the living (and the dead) freedom to express intense emotions that are normally repressed in Japanese society. In some respects, ghosts present an unearthly opportunity to confront unresolved social tensions or emotional issues that were so strongly imprinted in the living person that, to move on, this person must confront the same issues in death. Death that results from any form of emotional stress, such as torture, betrayal, or disregard of acceptable social behavior is excellent for creating a ghost. Interestingly, Japanese ghosts are often prone to interact with the living in forms that speak and can be touched. Suspicion is that the living who see, talk, and otherwise interact with ghosts have a level of acceptance that creates the solid appearance of ghosts. Not surprisingly, perceptions of solidity occur frequently (Iwsaka and Toelken, 1994).

As is the case in most of Asia, it is important to remember that, unlike most Westerners, the Japanese both love and honor their ghosts. It’s a good place to be a ghost!

Iwsaka M. and Toelken B. (1994). Ghosts and the Japanese. Logan: Utah University Press.

Ross, C (1996). Supernatural and Mysterious Japan. Tokyo: Yen Books.

Case Study – Paranormal in Madrid

One of the challenges of conducting investigations of paranormal activity is, of course, determining whether an event is worth investigating. That’s because strange noises are often nothing more than completely explainable bumps in the night. Occasionally, however, there are events worth investigating. If there seems to be genuine events, how does an investigator proceed with an investigation?

This article is, in many ways, a rehearsal in which the reader must decide: 1) if events are suspicious enough to warrant an investigation; 2) how to construct an investigation (if events are sufficiently suspicious). The events I will use for this thought experiment are based on an actual interview with a friend from graduate school who experienced some unusual events during a stay in Madrid, Spain about 25 years ago. Unfortunately, the unusual events were never formally investigated. In spite of the passage of 25 years, however, we have an advantage in that, because the reported events were never investigated, we can freely play with what we know about paranormal investigation and match it with a hypothetical investigation that we base on the past events in Madrid.

Our first step is to quickly form a portrait of the person who reports possibly paranormal events. This portrait is often enough to discourage intense efforts that are needed for investigation because, at the end of the initial interview, it may become apparent that the person who reports paranormal events doesn’t inspire complete credibility. In this case study I have a distinct advantage in that the person who gives the report is a trusted personal friend who doesn’t appear to embellish experienced reality. Of course, my word alone should not be enough. We’ve got to focus on the facts. The person who reports the phenomena is a white female (I’ll call her S.) who, at the time, was a student in her twenties who, for a time, studied in Madrid at a university level. During her stay in Madrid, S. was alone, didn’t speak Spanish, and didn’t have many Spanish friends. In spite of her isolation, S. considered her time in Spain a personal test that she was eager to confront. She felt confident in her ability to survive. Nonetheless, S. was/is a sensitive individual.

Since the events in Madrid, S. hasn’t had what she’d consider a paranormal experience. She’s avoided telling people about her experiences in Madrid because she’s certain they’ll think she’s lost her mind. In hindsight, S. has difficulty dealing with what she experienced in Madrid because it was, as S. reports, so unusual.. On the whole, S. would rather forget what she saw and felt. Her willingness to tell me about her experience in Madrid emerged out of knowledge that I’m interested in investigating paranormal phenomena.

The events in question deal with a series of sightings and intense feelings in a two room apartment that S. had rented in Madrid and which, she claimed, never felt like home. S. didn’t share this apartment with another person. A big bed with a mattress stood on one room. The other room contained a cot with a metal frame with a mattress-like cushion covering the metal frame. S. doesn’t remember further details about furnishing because the bed and cot both were the primary focus of paranormal activity. As S. relates, if she wanted peace, she slept on the couch.

Now that we have a sketchy picture of the environment, it’s possible to elaborate on what happened. First, we need to divide our attention between the room with the bed and the room with the metal cot.

I’ll begin with the bedroom. In short, over a number a weeks, S. occasionally looked out of bed in an alert dream-like state to see a nun hovering at the foot of the bed. S. is certain that she was wide awake when she saw the nun. S. doesn’t remember a fluctuation in temperature when the nun appeared.The nun looked solid, although fuzzy. This nun ressembled an unclear black-and-white photograph. In spite of fuzziness, it was possible to tell that the nun was quite stocky. If S. saw the nun move, the nun moved slowly. The nun didn’t speak or gesture, although she seemed to make noises that sounded much like bumping into furniture. Rather than being frightened, S. was intensely curious. With every sighting, she was convinced that she was looking at the impossible. This can’t be happening! S. once asked an acquaintance to spend the night with her in the bed. The nun didn’t appear that night.

The room with the metal cot was a different matter. There were no sightings (nun or otherwise), but this room was, nonetheless, more unsettling. S. describes a heavy, constricting quality about the room that was accompanied by a strong sense of being watched. All S. can say is that there was a definite presence in the room. The presence was not the nun. It was something else. This presence felt overwhelming, absolute. It exerted extreme pressure. S. felt that this presence, like the nun, was completely external to her body. S. also describes lying on the cot when it began to shake violently. S. was, once again, incredulous. I asked S. why she stayed in the apartment. S. replied that she didn’t move because she was mesmerized by the impossibility of the events around her. She saw the events as another challenge she could face.

In the midst of the strange activity, S. remembers telling herself not to get carried away. She also remembers coming to the decision one day to tell the presence/apparition to GO AWAY! It did. S. wasn’t bothered anymore. After the disappearance of the presence/apparition, S. thought about her experience. She was convinced that she didn’t somehow participate in the sightings. S. emphasized that the images felt completely external to herself.

Curious about the history of the apartment, S. asked a Spanish-speaking acquaintance to ask the owners about the history of the apartment. The owners apparently didn’t wish to elaborate in depth about the history, other than to reveal that someone had indeed died in the apartment. It was difficult to acquire further information.

With the information that I gave you, the reader, I’d like to know about the investigation you would propose . . . that is, if you feel that this story warrants an investigation [note that I didn’t embellish the story as it was told to me]. Assuming you’re interested in an investigation, draw up an action plan. Ask yourself if you really would consider conducting an investigation in the apartment. Why? Do you merely want to be there just for the thrills? What would you do if you had to investigate this apartment? Who would you talk to and what instruments would you use? Are there weak spots in this story? If so, what are they? What methods could you use to expose the story as a possible fraud? These are serious questions that must be answered before any serious investigation can take place.

Sound in Paranormal Investigations Part 2

I suggest that an understanding of frequency is the key to what we call paranormal activity. Let’s talk about how animals link to the paranormal through their sensitivity to frequency.

The animal sense that most clearly surpasses human sensitivity is hearing. That some animals hear better than humans is hardly news, but this ability becomes more interesting when we consider that animals are also traditionally better at detecting phenomena like ghosts and earthquakes, both of which probably present unusual frequency patterns. Understanding heightened sensitivity in animals has two advantages: 1) in working closely with animals we become increasingly sensitive to their abilities; 2) we better learn to identify and integrate animal sensitivity into our investigation.

Most Helpful Animals?
It may seem funny, but we can probably find the most helpful animals by watching a few horror films. It’s not because Hollywood has the best ideas about paranormal investigation; it’s more that unconscious knowledge that has long shown up in folk beliefs now shows up in contemporary films. In classic horror films, two of the most significant creatures are fairly easy to identify: dogs and bats. Dogs and bats are now so closely linked to the cinematic paranormal that a thinking person might ask whether there’s some truth behind the cliché. If we go back to my suggestion that the paranormal links to frequency, we may begin to suspect that there is truth. Why? Because both dogs and bats show unusual sensitivity to frequency. Dogs hear better than humans, and bats have sonar that literally helps them to see small objects with their ears. The term “blind as a bat” only works if we refer to eyes. With respect to hearing, however, humans are clearly inferior. Bats can teach us a few things!

Dogs: More Than Floppy Ears
Of one thing we can be certain: dogs hear many frequencies that humans can’t hear (Hossell, 2003). The reason why is fairly simple: prior to domestication, dogs’ survival largely depended on being able to hear small prey in the dark. In addition, sharp hearing allowed them to communicate with companion dogs that alerted them to danger or sources of food.

While, over thousands of years, dogs’ brains have evolved, their hearing has remained much the same. That is, much of a dog’s brain is still focused on sound. This sensitivity gives them abilities that are out of the reach of many humans. Some frequencies that dogs hear may relate to frequencies that are useful for paranormal phenomena.

No, dogs aren’t psychic. They just hear better. For example, they distinguish the sound of our car from other cars so that they hear when our car pulls up in front of the house. Our dog can even hear our unusually quiet hybrid car. I’m impressed. She also hears the difference between a delicious snack and a dreaded green vegetable hitting the kitchen floor. As D. Caroline Coile, Ph.D., a neuroscientist with a special interest in canine sensory systems in Ochlocknee, Georgia, asserts, dogs have a richer auditory life than we do. Their auditory life is so rich that dogs must selectively screen out sounds that don’t normally affect their lives. Like humans, they screen because, quite simply, there would be too much going on. Even with screening, their hearing is more acute than human hearing because, even after domestication, their survival instinct is still strong.

When training a dog, some of us might have used the training tool that uses ultrasonic and infrasonic tones to either reward the dog or let it know when behavior isn’t desirable. In general, dogs like high frequencies and respond with happy compliance. On the other hand, dogs usually react unfavorably to low tones, probably because the dog’s mother used a low growl to warn the puppy to keep behavior in line. In short, while high tones make a dog happy, low tones make them nervous, a trait that may explain why dogs appear skittish before an earthquake when the earth probably emits ultra low frequencies that most of us can’t hear.

The cowering that a dog traditionally shows when confronting a ghost may lead us to believe that ghosts must be a low frequency phenomenon, but there’s also evidence that dogs also shy away from ultrasonic frequencies because they’re another sign of danger. For example, dogs in South America flee from the ultrasonic cries of vampire bats that might attack them. Vampire bats routinely feed on cattle, but dogs are an extremely rare delicacy, a sign that, although dogs react favorably to high tones, they don’t react favorably to all high frequencies. Some ultra high frequencies might actually have qualities that evoke aversion in dogs. For that reason, it’s difficult to assume that paranormal phenomena are exclusively infrasonic.

To discover how ultrasonic tones work in uncovering paranormal phenomena, it might be useful to experiment with bats, a creature that, in itself, seems to exhibit otherworldly talents.

Remarkable Bats
Bats are remarkable because they not only fly around without hitting objects in a darkened environment, but they also capture small insects for food in total darkness. It’s no hit-or-miss technique: bats do seem to see in the dark. Actually, bats don’t see well. If anything, they “see” with their ears. That is, they send out ultrasonic sonar, or inaudible (to humans, at least) high-pitched chirps that reflect off objects in the way, thus alerting the bat of the quality of terrain that lies in its flight path. This ability is called echolocation, a talent that scientists acknowledge, but don’t fully understand. What they do know is thanks to Lazarro Spallanzani, an Italian scientist in the late 1700s who experimented with how bats find their way in the dark. In an experiment, he put a bat and an owl in a semi-dark room and found that both could find their way in semi-darkness. In total darkness, however, the bat flew without incident, while the owl collided with objects. These events seemed to indicate that the bat had some means to navigate in the dark. When, however, Spallanzani placed a sack over the bat’s head, it was as disoriented as the owl. Spallanzani concluded that bats used a “sixth sense” with which to navigate darkness. In vain, he encouraged other scientists to conduct other experiments that would help clarify bats’ abilities.

Other Experiments
Later, Charles Jurine, a Swiss zoologist, had the inspired idea to block bats’ ears. The result? With blocked ears, a bat also became disoriented. As a result, Spallanzani created new experiments that suggested bats see with their ears, not with their eyes. In spite of clear evidence, however, fellow scientists rejected Spallanzani’s theory on the ground that, although interesting, the theory was untestable.

Spallanzani’s theory fell into obscurity until, 150 years later, Donald R. Griffin, then an undergraduate at Harvard University, seriously considered Spallanzani’s “bat problem” in new studies during the1930s. Using microphones, Griffin proved that bats produce sounds that are well above human hearing. At that time, it became clear that they bats use echoes of their ultrasonic, high frequency calls to locate objects. Griffin described this behavior as echolocation, or the ability of bats to find their way in darkness by using the echoes of sounds bouncing off objects to map their terrain.

Echolocation, now established as the sonar “sight” of bats, is similar to the sonar used by the military to locate hidden weapons and opponents. In contrast to military machines, however, the sonar that bats use is called “biosonar,” a sophisticated natural phenomenon that is also a property of dolphins, porpoises, and whales.
Once again, in using echolocation, bats send out high frequency, or ultrasonic, squeaks or clicks that bounce off objects and return to the bats giving information about surrounding objects. These returning echoes are so detailed that bats even receive information about small creatures like gnats and mosquitoes. They can even tell how far away objects are (Hossell, 2003). Not only are bats able to detect small objects, but they produce ultrasonic holograms that record on sound-sensitive photographic plates. Off these plates, we can (with the right technique) construct three dimensional images of sounds ‘heard” by bats (Murchie, 1978).
Investigation with Sonar

The ability to record a broad range of frequencies that humans can’t normally hear seems an asset to paranormal investigation, particularly since there’s no convincing proof that paranormal phenomena actually falls within the relatively narrow ranges that humans now use for research. More importantly, dogs and, most especially, bats appear to have a special edge to their sensitivity that humans are still unable to emulate, even with sophisticated equipment. Nonetheless, it’s worth noting that, even for humans, ultrasound imaging has become a useful tool for revealing hidden tumors, injury, or fetuses that aren’t visible from the outside (Hossell, 2003).

Yes, ultrasonic tools depend on the presence of solid matter to give results, a quality that may be absent in detecting ghosts. Nonetheless, it might be worth experimenting with a sensitive multibeam sonar that scans a large area (Hossell, 2003). To collect most information, it would probably be fruitful to conduct experiments in allegedly “hot spots” with both multibeam sonar detectors, and animals like, yes, dogs and bats. In this way, we can compare results to see if significant results emerge. As of yet, we’re unable to determine conclusively if some form of undefined matter accompanies paranormal events. In effect, we don’t know whether ghosts are a phenomenon of frequency, or whether a particular frequency tends to draw ghostly phenomena. It might be the time to start experimenting with frequencies!

Indeed, if parapsychology is going to become a new integrated science, we have to be ready to experiment with new modes of investigation. We can’t rely on old science done in the old ways. On the contrary, paranormal investigators must be fearless pioneers who, using creative experiments, create a new view of science.

Hossell, K.P. (2003). Sonar. Chicage, Ill.: Heinemann Library.

Murchie, G. (1978). The Seven Mysteries of Life. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.

Sound in Paranormal Investigations Part 1

While there’s ample reason to believe that hauntings correlate to infrasonic, or low frequency, wave patterns, I suggest that different types of paranormal phenomena relate to both the infrasonic and ultrasonic, frequencies that are out of the range of human hearing. Indeed, if we, as some British scientists propose, are emotionally and physically responsive to, low frequencies that we can’t hear, it seems logical to assume that we also respond to inaudible ultrahigh frequencies. Does a link between paranormal activity and ultrasonic frequencies seem unreasonable? If it does, it may only seem unreasonable because we’re unaware of our subtle relationship to frequency. Nonetheless, hearing- and visually-impaired individuals frequently compensate for disability by developing a primitive form of echolocation, or ultrasonic waves that reflect off objects to let bats know where they are and what’s in front of them (Hossell, 2003). In earlier days when survival was critical, humans may have also had abilities to process a broad spectrum of senses.

Although largely undeveloped, many human talents are amazing. Although not as sensitive as bats, humans apparently also sense short-wave radiation when their eyes adapt to darkness. When using night vision, retinal rod cells are actually able to detect x-rays and gamma rays as a yellowish-green glow (Murchie, 1978). Often, it’s enough to stare fixedly at a hand against a white sheet of paper to see this glow. With training, who knows how much more we can see . . . and, perhaps, learn to use?

Exploring Unseen Worlds
By now, pop physics has probably convinced some of us that what we currently see is not necessarily what we get. The subatomic world is definitely stranger than we think. In all of this strangeness, quality of frequency is, in one way or another, responsible for a great deal more than audible sound. Indeed, when we enter the quantum world, sound and light are mainly a matter of vibration. The smaller a particle, the more it vibrates with pure energy. In terms of energy, however, an electron strives to maintain a “ground state,” or a state of lowest energy because this state is most economical for the electron. When, however, a particle gains energy, it enters an excited state from which it tries to return rapidly to its ground state. The easiest way to return to ground is to shed excess energy-which the particle does by seeking out an energy catalyst that facilitates the expulsion of energy. Often, expulsion of energy takes the form of a flash of light that’s visible to the eye (Herbert, 1985).

So, what does all this have to do with paranormal phenomena? In the case of ghosts, it may suggest that ghosts are a form of unstable electron energy that, in its present form, is unable to achieve a ground state (i.e., equilibrium). In short, a spectral manifestation represents an excited state out of which it’s only possible to shed enough energy to appear briefly as a perceptible form (and then disappear). Ultimately, however, it’s impossible to shed the right amount of energy to dissipate completely, possibly because a spectral entity unconsciously grasps at the pre-death experience of having a particle form that conserves, rather than releases, energy. In contrast to those who believe that repetitive “haunting” behavior is an attempt to horrify or harm the living, it may be more likely that, as a nonconscious natural phenomenon, a ghost is attracted to energy catalysts that provide the needed expulsion of energy. In plainer terms, a ghost depends on the consciousness of the living to supply the correct energy catalyst. Consciousness, however, has to provide just the right quality of awareness. Normal everyday consciousness may not be enough.

What Ghosts and Electrons Have in Common
I can’t prove that ghosts are composed of unstable electrons, but there are some interesting facts about electrons that might be useful in attempting to understand ghosts. Sure, like ghosts, electron particles are best seen in dim light (Herbert, 1985), but the matter goes much further than that, particularly when we enter the world of quantum logic where, as “quantumstuff,” an electron becomes unusually complex. It, as the physicist DeBroglie observed in 1924, shows itself as bothparticle and wave, not merely, as long believed, only as a particle (Herbert, 1985).

In the neither/nor state of electronhood, the electron is, as Herbert (1985) suggests, a quon, or undefined quantum matter that exhibits both wave and particle qualities that vary according to the operative state of the electron (Herbert, 1985). Normally, particles have specific characteristics. These characteristics require that an electron be localized in space, impossible to split, and preserves its identity in collisions with other particles. In contrast to this classic particle identity, however, electrons don’t have to touch to interact. Instead, they create an electric field in which wave activity supplants particle activity. Some more radical physicists even propose that an electron is a point particle whose size is zero. That is, the electron has no definite structure as a particle. If anything, it behaves like a particle that can suddenly take on the qualities of a wave if circumstance are right (Herbert, 1985).

What does this all mean? It means that it’s impossible to pinpoint exactly if something is wave or particle. In the end, it’s as difficult to play with ideas about wave function by using particle theory as it is to contemplate particle function solely from the perspective of waves. It also means that, as contradictory as it might seem, it’s fruitless to explain particle theory without using wave theory, and, conversely, equally impossible to explain wave theory without particle theory (Herbert, 1985).
In spite of the close relationship between wave and particle, Western culture seems unusually particle-minded. It seems likely that our culture would profit from discovering the intrinsic relationship between wave and particle. Almost certainly, paranormal investigation would profit from such exploration. One way to begin exploration is to examine the unique behavior of wave properties.

The Way of the Wave
Let’s face it: wave reality presents a new view of life. Unlike a particle where energy is focused in one specific area, a wave spreads over large areas, is divisible, and fully integrates with other waves (Herbert, 1985). With integration, we deal with a rich new quantum wave reality in which nothing is black or white. In this reality, wave patterns periodically assume visible forms that, after a certain time, dissipate into apparent nothingness. To draw on Alexandra David Neel’s experience as a female lama in Tibet, we find that, in essence, wave reality supports the belief that anything is possible to those who know how to do it (David-Neel, 1977). In other words, when we let our thoughts fluidly emulate the integrative power of wave dynamics, we find that fixed (i.e., particle-like) ideas aren’t enough for understanding a dynamic universe. It also isn’t useful for understanding what we believe is “paranormal” activity that, in the mind of many Asians, isn’t actually all that strange.

For skeptical Westerners, perhaps the best way to describe an integrated wave-like view of reality is, as with quantum reality, to treat it as if it’s tightly woven system, not a collection of details. In effect, we acknowledge life as a quantum phenomenon in which waves, not things, are the foundation of existence. In effect, life is a group phenomenon that depends on the intermingling of various amplitudes. To support this view, we require a new vision that allows us to make dynamic measurements that leave room for what can’t be seen with ordinary consciousness (Herbert, 1985).

Sense Out of Sound
One way (maybe the best way) to understand the behavior of a wave/particle existence is to think about sound. That’s because sound depends on both waves and particles, each fulfilling different functions: sound is waves that are supported by air particles. The co-dependency that creates sound brings to mind brings to mind significant questions that may give us insight on the nature of ghosts. For example, what happens in a vacuum where sound doesn’t transmit? Can there be ghosts in space? Moreover, can there be telepathy without air, particularly since there’s no medium for transmission?

What if there is transmission wherever there’s air? What happens? Perhaps, psychic activity is mainly a matter of a psychic being “in phase” (or matching up) with unaccustomed frequency patterns that most of us unconsciously screen out of awareness as destructive interference. In effect, extremely sensitive people who experience sightings may function like a transducer that transforms the energy of waves into detailed pictures (Hossell, 2003).

Feats of Sound
While the use of frequency might seem an unlikely tool for paranormal investigation, it’s worth noting that some mystical traditions (like the Tibetan tradition) have uncanny practices that, in essence, reflect the movements of sound waves.

One of the first examples of wave transmission is the practice of sending messages “on the wind,” a poetic Tibetan expression that refers to telepathic communication. In contrast to Western belief that telepathy is something of an accident, Tibetan telepathy is willed. Often, it’s used by yogis to teach distant students. While this education might, to us, seem highly impractical, many yogis prefer this method because it’s intimate: it relies on the exchange of direct feelings between connected individuals who dispense with both misunderstandings that arise from the indirectness of words, and the perception of “separateness.”

Similar to a psychic, a yogi concentrates his or her thoughts so that thoughts have rhythm, or pulse. At the same time the yogi transmits teachings, a student “tunes into” into incoming waves by making the mind so receptive that he or she literally vibrates with the yogi’s waves (David-Neel, 1977). In this teaching, the student learns by experiencing profound feelings entirely without explanations! Vibrations assume identity in a mind that’s ready to make sense of input. Often, reception occurs when the student meditates, or is occupied with something other than waiting for a message. Generally, transmitted thoughts don’t appear as dreams because, in a dream state, there’s no interplay between vibrations and the conscious mind, an integration that supports the experience of nonordinary transmission (David-Neel, 1977).

Play With Theory
All things considered, I assume that long-distance teaching involves either the transmission of long frequencies, or very short frequencies that are so short that, taken in condensed form, they mimic low waves without the choppy qualities that generally characterize short waves. In effect, extreme shortness brings waves so closely together that they merge, and in so doing, behave like one dense low frequency wave that doesn’t have the conventional choppiness of short waves (Greene, 1999). If this idea has merit, it seems apparent that complex paranormal activity requires more than simple cause-and-effect analytical thought. To understand nonordinary phenomena, we must change our minds!

In playing with theory, it’s useful to look for behavior that supplies literal examples of what I mean. In this case, I think of traditional Tibetan lung-gong-pas running in which a runner literally illustrates the use of rhythm, and possibly even frequency patterns, by covering long distances over mountain passes without pause by using a springing, elastic movement. This repetitive movement depends on mental concentration and on different forms of rhythmic breathing. While engaged inlung-gong-pas, the runner not only appears weightless, but is also impervious to distractions. That’s because a lung-gong-pas runner calmly concentrates on a repeating up-and-down bouncing movement that looks much like a frequency wave. It isn’t unusual for waiting Tibetans to sense the impending arrival of such a runner (David-Neel, 1977).

Real Life Experience
While lung-gong-pas running may test a reader’s willingness to think creatively about frequency, I respond by referring to my experience as a professional ballet dancer who, yes, specialized in jumping. In many respects, lung-gong-pas running makes perfect sense to me. That is, I understand that the secret to endurance is to set up a repetitive up-and-down rhythm (like a sound wave) in which the accent is on the up beat. [It is, of course, easiest when one dances to music with a strong beat.] To reach a sensation of weightlessness while jumping, one builds up a sense of rhythmic “bouncing” that, in many respects, follows the same pattern as a sound wave.

By itself, this bouncing might not seem terribly impressive, but I noticed that what emerged from a meditative focus on the rhythmic pulse of an ongoing movement was a highly receptive mind in which I could tell where others were without looking at them! I also uncovered unexpected insights that I wouldn’t have had by standing still. Even today, writing is easiest when I listen to music as I write. In addition, I read my work aloud to determine if the rhythm of I write sounds right. That’s because the sound of my writing touches me more profoundly than silently reading it. There’s more to sound than we think.

More Research Needed
That sound and mysticism are closely entwined isn’t a revelation to older cultures that routinely associate qualities of sound with mystic activities. In effect, sound waves do quite a bit that we, for the most, part, don’t yet acknowledge. We don’t know the full extent of what sound waved do, but my suggestion is that sound/frequency plays a significant role in paranormal activity.

Where do we go from here? The answer may be to keep an open mind and experiment, experiment. Nothing can be ruled out in the unknown. Nothing.

Greene, B. (1999). The Elegant Universe: Superstrings, Hidden Dimensions, and the Quest for the Ultimate Theory. New York: Norton.

Herbert, N. (1985). Quantum Reality: Beyond the New Physics. New York: Anchor Press.

Hossell, K.P. (2003). Sonar. Chicage, Ill.: Heinemann Library.

Murchie, G. (1978). The Seven Mysteries of Life. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.

Ghosts and Gods

In contrast to the modern conception of ghosts, many ancient societies not only thought that awe-inspiring gods were a form of ghost, but also believed that it was appropriate to lump spirits of nature and monsters into their definition of ghosts. In other words, ghosts were not necessarily the dead. They were anything that was nonhuman. In this view, ghosts were everywhere and it was not good to offend them, particularly since all ghosts (whatever they were) were the buffer between the perceptible world and unpredictable, possibly destructive, nature. Not willing to take chances, many ancient cultures treated ghosts with respect, whether they were gods, monsters, or earth spirits (Robinson, 1972).

Symbolic Meaning

If anything, early ghosts were a form of spiritual archetype. That is, they were complex expressions of the law and order that underlined both cosmos and the phenomenal world. While these archetypes weren’t conscious in the same way as humans are conscious, they represented an awareness of universal existence. These were no ordinary ghosts! Unlike traditional ghosts that we know, these ghosts possessed a form of transcendent consciousness that wasn’t, and still isn’t, normally available to human consciousness.

As the expression of transcendent universal consciousness, ghosts were divinity dressed in changing material, or semi-material, forms that illustrated different functions in life (Tigunait, 1983). In interaction with humans, these ghosts had their own form of communication, a form that mainly relied on the transmission of ideas through subtle autonomic stimuli. That is, ghosts didn’t communicate with words or ideas; they “spoke’ directly to the body. That means ghosts manifested through gut feeling, not through intellect. Since ancient people were a lot better at gut communication than we are today, ghosts of antiquity (of all kinds) were more widely accepted. If nothing else, the living used communication with ghosts to learn about “the other world.” That is, interest in ghosts was based mainly on curiosity of alternate worlds, not on earthly horror.

Ancient Curiosity
Since many ancient cultures believed that life and death were merely two sides of one coin, they wanted to know how to deal with the whole of being. In short, they wanted to understand how life connected to death and how death influenced life. Life and death were merely stops on the great line of continuation. As a result of this belief, the educated elite of antiquity pursued studies that, today, we’d consider unworthy of study. Indeed, for many early scholars, ghosts were a normal phenomenon that, as I have mentioned, included many forms of spirit. As an example of what I mean, consider the Christian expression “Holy Ghost.” Obviously, this ghost doesn’t mean a dead being restlessly roaming the earth. In contrast, it refers to the essence of Christian ideology, a classification that was common during the days of early Christianity. In earlier times, a Holy Ghost made perfect sense.

Qualities of Early Ghosts

While early ghosts could be scary, their “scariness” wasn’t necessarily due to fear of death. If anything, many ghosts linked to deities that were connected to fertility and the concept of re-emergence from darkness, positive qualities that were traditionally feminine. For this reason, female fertility ghosts/gods often represented the harvest and/or birth and were symbolized by cows, grain, and other classically female attributes. In short, the dynamic life/death cycle was second nature for female divinity.

Male gods weren’t so lucky. In contrast to female deities who peacefully expressed laws of nature, male symbolic figures expressed the dramatic struggles that we now associate with ghostly activity. Indeed, some important male gods only became spiritually significant as ghosts after a violent (and often bloody) end. I speak of gods like Egyptian Osiris who, traditionally, was dismembered and later reassembled as a powerful deity.

Osiris wasn’t the only one who met a dreadful end. In fact, the theme of dismemberment and resurrection as a nonmaterial, but conscious, form occurs so often in stories of male gods that one may suppose that, in some respects, divine male ghosts were evolved spiritual beings who were forced to give up body to survive as a god/ghost.

Not Just Gory Ghost Stories
Resurrection tales aren’t just violent ghost stories. The stories apparently illustrated the concept of an active libido that transcended death. Yes, sex played a role, although not as eroticism. Rather, as Jung (1976) suggests, the libido of spirits was a symbol of longing and the restless urge of unsettled spirits that look, but never find, a desired object. Perhaps, the greatest desire rested on an unconscious wish to re-emerge from the darkness of ignorance. The bottom line was that, because many male gods didn’t have an innate understanding of the female life/death cycle, they had to learn the hard way, namely, by undergoing a major crisis that transformed libido from sexual urge to transcendent understanding. Death presented the choice between becoming a demon, an ogre, a ghost of repetitive action, or an enlightened, godly ghost.

Is there an example of the fate of a god/ghost? Yes, take the example of Dionysus, a god who began as a quirky elevated spirit, but who, unfortunately, later became Bacchus, the Roman god of sensual overindulgence. In many ways, rediscovering the original Dionysus is a form of resurrection.

Dionysian Intoxication
Yes, Dionysus was the god of wine but wine was only a material symbol for spiritual intoxication and frenzied abandon. As an ethereal, otherworldly being, Dionysus represented symbols of the occult world that we frequently associate with ghosts: moon, night, fig tree, cold, and moisture. Escape from human ego was the ultimate goal. In essence, Dionysian spirituality didn’t deny the existence of a supernatural world. Intoxication was escape from rationality that took the form of controlled madness (Shlain, 1998). In this spirituality, the world of darkness wasn’t necessarily dead.

Frequently associated with the horns of a bull (Wilson, 1973; Shlain, 1998), Dionysus later became an early relative of the Devil, particularly because the two horns hinted that there isn’t one exclusive form of consciousness. There are many realities. To emphasize this point, Dionysus was usually portrayed as a man with female qualities.

Mystic Dionysus
Gaskell (1960) writes that, although Dionysus was divine, the Supreme Zeus sent him to Earth where he was brought up in the darkness of a cave. From this humble cave, his goal was to find his way back to divinity. The vine that represented Dionysus symbolized earthly life that, if guided correctly, grew upwards to the heavens bearing worldly fruit. In effect, Dionysus was a child of two worlds who acknowledged both the natural and the supernatural. Nothing was impossible.

Such breadth of consciousness seems desirable, but it also has a dark side: Dionysus, like a number of other god/ghosts, didn’t act in ways that were clearly good or bad. Good or evil depended entirely on the quality of underlying wishes (Woods, 1973). In this respect, the association of Dionysus with magic was appropriate because, like dual Dionysus, magic could be positive or negative, depending on a practitioner’s intent (Wilson, 1973). In the same vein, ghosts could either be positive or negative. Positive ghosts were good. They were a desirable addition to a household.

Dark or Light?
In spite of his dual nature, Dionysus was a god/ghost with a purpose. Under the influence of his mad dissolution of boundaries, he could bestow the gift of divination just as easily as he could condemn a person to the depths of emotional turmoil (Shlain, 1998). In short, as a god/ghost, Dionysus was a source of both creativity and insanity. Sure, dealing with Dionysus posed a risk, but, as many creative artists would attest even today, the inspirational rewards are almost always worth the risk. There’s no one way to do anything . . . even hunt ghosts.

The best way to investigate is to keep an open mind. Once again, the power of Dionysus rested on destruction of the ego that blocks the experience of what Washburn (1988) calls the “dynamic ground,” or the state of being that influences mystical illumination. With dissolution of the ego, an open soul recognizes that ghosts, or other forms of the paranormal, fit neatly into a broad psycho-dynamic universe in which harmonious cooperation between light and dark plays a vital role in our understanding. That we’re frightened isn’t the fault of ghosts. Our ignorance is to blame. In fact, we’re the ones who must be helped. Worship of god/ghosts like Dionysus offered help because, as Washburn further suggests, the dread and ecstasy of Dionysus are the same. To get the full picture of reality that we need, we must accept all forms of consciousness because we can also use them for investigation.

The Message of Dionysus
That ghosts exist because of ignorance is a radical suggestion, but, to reach the state of mind that’s best for the investigation of spirits, we must face all fears of the unknown. Why? Because these fears say more about us than they do about gods, ghosts, and monsters that we try to study. If we wish to discover more, we must go beyond intellect into, yes, a sort of Dionysian frenzy in which unconscious fears rise into the light of consciousness without intervention of intellect (Jung 1968; 1976).

By doing so, we rediscover that light is dark and dark is light. In this way, we find that, when we finally reintroduce intellectual analysis into investigation, there will be a lot more profound insights to work with. Happy hunting!

Campbell, J. (1968). The Hero With a Thousand Faces. Princeton, NJ:: Princeton UP.

Gaskell, G. A. (1981). Dictionary of All Scriptures and Myths. New York; Avenel, New Jersey: Gramercy Books.

Jung, C. G. (1968). Psychology and Alchemy. (R. F. C. Hull, Trans.). Princeton, N. J.: Princeton UP. (Original work published 1944, revised 1952)

Jung, C. G. (1976). Symbols of Transformation (R. F. C. Hull, Trans.). Princeton, N. J.: Princeton UP. (Original work published 1912, revised 1952)

Robinson, C.E. (1972). Everyday Life in Ancient Greece. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Shlain, L. (1998). The Alphabet Versus The Goddess. New York: Viking Penguin.

Tigunait, P.R. (1983). Seven Systems of Indian Philosophy. Honesdale, Pennylvania: The Himalayan International Institute.

Washburn, M. (1988). The Ego and The Dynamic Ground: A Transpersonal Theory of Human Development. Albany: SUNY Press.

Wilson, C. (1973). The Occult. Frogmore, St. Albans, Great Britain: Mayflower Books Limited.

Woods, W. (1996). A History of the Devil. London: W.H. Allen.