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Sunday, January 17, 2016

Ghost Hunting 101: Conducting the Session

Teachable Moment

By Robin M. Strom-Mackey
 
When I started with my first group there was very little training.  We all just kind of bungled around in the dark and tried to pick up tips and tricks from one another. I learned my favorite thermometer technique from one of the directors (two brothers) who I realize in retrospect, were more knowledgeable in investigating than training.  I really wanted someone to tell me how to do it properly, but learned most of what I know in self-study, research and trial and error.  Listening to the audio from the last investigation, I realized that our team still needs to address some very fundamental issues.  A session the team did recently became the perfect teachable moment, a recorded segment to dissect and discuss.
Honestly, a lot of what good investigators do is just common sense – once you think about it. However, you’ve got to run your finger over the microphone a couple of times before you stop causing yourself sudden deafness while  wearing headphones (did it) and not claim someone whispering “flash” is actually an EVP instead of someone taking a photo and announcing it quietly to the team members (also me).  In other words, we learn from the mistakes, and therein lies the teachable moment.

This article is intended to be interactive with links to the soundbites discussed throughout the article.  If the links do not work for whatever reason, all the soundbites with their associated file names are available on SoundCloud.com - search under Delaware Paranormal Research Group https://soundcloud.com/delaware-paranormal-research-group

Evidence Contamination

Let me start by saying one of the biggest obstacles in investigations is obtaining access to a building with little or no outside contamination.  I once went on an investigation to a house whose owners had decided they’d use the opportunity to throw a party – a boo-irthday, as the female homeowner called it, complete with birthday cake and snacks. Children and adults waltzed into and out of the house at will, and ran around the yard with cameras taking flash photographs.  I’m quite sure that at one point I was literally frothing at the mouth.
In a best-case scenario the team would set up the command station outside the building, allowing only 1 team of two or three individuals into a building at a time.  Some investigators will set up recording equipment and environmental monitoring equipment and then vacate the property entirely, at least for a portion of the investigation. I read an account by one investigator that was so determined to catch the “company ghost” on video that he set up surveillance cameras and ran them all night, every night, with a feed at his home,  while no one was in the building. He ran the experiment for a month or so  until he finally caught the apparition on film.  That’s blasted determination. (Lesson one; have patience grasshopper.)

The investigation

So in the situation I’m writing about the team was honored to have the entire building to ourselves for as long as we desired.  It being winter, we were forced to setup the surveillance monitor/command station in one room of the house, with one person left behind to monitor cameras while the two other investigators were performing a session.  All in all, aside from the outside neighborhood noise, we had a fairly pristine environment. 
Two investigators, M. and R., did a session together while I stayed behind at the command post and monitored cameras. Below is an audio segment of the session.
Soundbite 1: Triad of Doom
The team was excited to be collecting evidence, so excited that I don't think they considered the contamination situation they were creating for themselves..   There are at least three areas of contamination in this scenario a veritable chaotic cacophony (I can't resist an opportunity for alliteration, please forgive).

First, the person setting up the audio recorder, not wanting to place it on the dusty floor (understandable) placed it instead on a window sill. The unfortunate part is that the audio recorder picked up street noises (dogs barking, people talking, cars and motor cycles driving by, etc. etc.) Sadly, we can’t really be sure what might be actual paranormal activity and what is contamination.
Soundbite 2: EVP or Contamination
A better alternative would be to set the audio recorder somewhere in the center of the room, perhaps on a box. An even better idea would be to set the recorder up on a box somewhere in front of the surveillance camera.  Entities have been known to move or manipulate objects.  If it’s on a window sill no one can see what might be happening to the machine.  Also most investigators insist that you not use the recorder inboard mic, but mic the recorder with an external mic, as many of the cheaper recorders produce a lot of machine noise that further distorts sounds.

The Toys We Love

Second, there is a ghost box running, performing its endless amount of white noise, which is basically what the device is designed to do, as it scans the radio waves in the area. Honestly, I have to admit, I don’t have a lot of faith in this piece of equipment.  I think anything that purposely scans radio frequencies (i.e. radio stations) is prone to produce false positives by its very design.  


The author on an investigation using her dousing rods.
Now, I use dousing rods during investigations, though I know many investigators don’t approve of their use. I like to think of it as ghost hunting for those with ADD. The rods give me something to do with my hands during long hours of talking to empty rooms.  I do feel they help me find hot spots, which I can then probe with more reliable pieces of equipment. For example the rods may be active in an area, so I move in an EMF detector and voice recorder or snap off some photos… But I never go to a client or homeowner and tell them I think a place is haunted or not because of what the rods told me.  So, while I understand wanting to experiment with the Ghost Box, I wouldn’t call its burblings reliable evidence.  For that to happen it would have to be shockingly clear, like a ghost saying, “Hey, I’m a ghost and I’m talking to you through this device. Believe it B^%#!.” So while I understand wanting to experiment with such a device, I wouldn’t suggest using it for long sessions and consider it as collecting reliable evidence.
 

Soundbite 3: Workmen Clear As Day


 
Third, one of the team members decides to play music loudly, and for a really long time. The entire music/ghost box/EMF session goes on for over 30 minutes.  And during this time one of the members decides to attempt to dance with the entity while holding onto an EMF detector.  Now, here’s one of those teachable moments, the idea of playing music is a good one.   Trigger objects such as a toy car or doll, old coins from the time when the building was erected, revelry calls on a battle field, and music of a certain era, any of these might help to fuel paranormal activity. 
However, the playing of the trigger object shouldn't become the focus of the session.  If you’re going to play music at an investigation, choose a segment of a song, or one whole song and then go quiet. We use these objects as a starter to the paranormal conversation, not the conversation itself.  Do realize that the sound you’re broadcasting might be destroying your evidence. After the song is over, shut down and go quiet. Scan the room with eyes and ears to see if your trigger has caused any reaction. 
 t may not be a good idea to "dance" with a spirit while holding an EMF meter either, and here is why.  Holding this instrument and moving it vigorously around the room can cause false positives as you inadvertently move close to and then away from electrical sources.  Honestly, we need to reconsider our absolute faith in these devices.  They were designed to detect either natural electromagnetic fields that the Earth produces or man-made electromagnetic fields such as our toaster uses.  The Trifield Gauss meter which is a natural EMF detector is actually so sensitive it can detect thunderstorms several miles away.  
Remember, one stray EMF spike does not a ghostly encounter prove.  During set-up the EMF meters should be used to determine areas in a room which are giving off EMF so as to avoid putting meters in locations that will give off readings. Then during a session it’s a better practice to set the meter down in a location away from these sources and invite something to interact with the meter. If necessary, an investigator can hold a meter in their hand and slowly sweep an area for hot spots.  Also keep in mind your other senses, if you’re staring constantly at the EMF meter in the center of the room, you’ll possibly miss the dark shadow moving on its own down the stairs.  It’s a tool, but it’s not the only tool in the arsenal.

The Spirit Arrives

When the team finally did go quiet, things got really interesting!
EMF Soundbite4: EMF Conversation 12-15
I almost feel like this spirit may have been jumping up and down trying to get some attention.  The detector is going off quite consistently. This is the perfect opportunity for a yes/no question and response session.  For example, M. asks, “Do you have a favorite color?”  M. notes she sees the color red.  R. says she thinks yellow, but that’s because it’s her favorite color.  Neither ever ask the spirit.
This is how the question/response might have gone. The team members come up with their color choices and then one of the team members puts it to the spirit, “Is your favorite color red?”  Wait 10 to 15 seconds for a response. Then ask, “Is your favorite color yellow?”  Wait 10-15 seconds for a response.   If a response is noted, it’s always a good idea to ask for confirmation, such as, “We think you said your favorite color is red. If that’s true can you make the meter go off again?”  If you get no response to either red or yellow try other colors like blue or purple. 
Joni Mayhan, author of Ghost Voices also suggests designating someone as session leader (Mayhan, 2015).  This person would designate who would be asking the questions for a period of time.  When that person had asked their questions they would "pass" the questioning to the next person.  This system would alleviate the problem of team members talking over one another.  During the controlled Q and A, she also suggests team members find a place to sit down, as people standing will inadvertently make shuffling noises and other sounds which might during review be interpreted as being of a paranormal nature. It's a good idea to also put the EMF detector down also, often a few feet away from investigators, lest a spirit be disinclined to come too close.  If there is an extra voice recorder or other type of sensing device it can be placed next to, or near, the detector.   Now you've hedged your bets. If you get an EMF spike that's one small piece of evidence. Get an EMF spike and an EVP that's two pieces of evidence. Get an EMF spike, an EVP and note a temperature fluctuation or a change in barometric pressure, now you've got 3 sources of evidence and your case is stronger yet.
Some topics during a session will elicit a greater response, probably because it’s a subject that’s important to the entity.  In this Q and A the members got a quick and vehement response on the subject of her fine Sunday clothes, but no response to the question of hats. 

The engaged investigator will follow the Sunday clothes line of inquiry, as it appears to be of interest to the entity.   And if you are a self-proclaimed medium, please remember; even the very best sensitives are only accurate around 50% of the time, according to Parapsychologist and author Vince Wilson (Wilson, 2012).  An impression, feeling or sensation is only that unless it’s tested and verified.  M. said she visualized red, but she never seeks confirmation that her visualization is correct. 
The clothing questions were on the surface fairly shallow questions.  When the team gets to the question about who else might be in the building – now I’m on the edge of my seat…and the team drops the subject almost immediately.  ¡Ay, caramba! This portion of the session might have gone something like this…
”Is there another entity that lives in the basement?” Wait 10-15 seconds.
“Is it male?” Wait 10-15 seconds.
“Is it female?” Wait 10-15 seconds.
“Did she or he live here?” Wait 10-15 seconds.
“Is she/he hiding in the basement?” Wait 10-15 seconds.
“Is she/he angry?” Wait 10-15 seconds.
“Is she/he confused? Wait 10-15 seconds.
“Lost?” Wait 10-15 seconds.
“Sad?”
“Does she/he ever come up from the basement?” Wait 10-15 seconds.
“Is that the shadow figure that the workmen reported seeing?” Wait 10-15 seconds.
“Let me confirm that there is a male that is living in the basement because he’s hiding from someone.” Wait 10-15 seconds.
Oh, and also, make sure to entreat the entity to also speak into the recorder by saying their name, tell you the year etc. 
I think you get the point. When you’ve got an entity actively engaged, you need to dig, dig, and dig. Rack your brain for questions. Have the patience and persistence to really communicate.  And ride that pony till it bucks ya! In other words don’t stop the session and walk away until you’re sure you’re not getting any more responses.  Remember Minerva's words in Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, "If you're going to understand the living you have to commune with the Dead (Berendt, 1994)."  By all means, please commune.
Teachable Moment Positive
On the positive side one of my members had the brilliant idea of comparing sounds in the building.  She found a segment of audio recorded in a room where the investigators were present and banging on a wall. Then she found the same segment on another recorder that was actually stationed in the attic of the building.  She edited both segments so the team could compare the sounds, i.e. figure out what banging on the walls in the bedroom sounded like when recorded in the attic.  In this way the team had a much better idea of what sounds were made by the team, and which sounds might actually be paranormal.  I intend to work this into our setup protocol in the future.  During set-up when we’re taking readings we’ll also bang on walls and stomp on floors and walk up and down the stairs meanwhile verbally tagging the audio as to our movements and then compare the sounds during evidence review, contrasting them to any sounds that don’t appear to fit.  Now that's good investigating.  
Soundbite 5 and6: Renne short audio knocking, and,  Renne knock attic audio

So here is R. knocking in the room.
https://soundcloud.com/delaware-paranormal-research-group/renne-short-audio-knocking

And this is what the same knock sounded like on the other side of the building in the attic.
https://soundcloud.com/delaware-paranormal-research-group/renne-knock-1-19-44-atticaudio-comparesoundlevel
 
Resources
Mayhan, Joni (2015) Ghost Voices.  Available on Amazon.com

Wilson, Vince (2012). Ultimate Ghost Tech; The Science, History and Technology of Ghost Hunting.  Cosmic Pantheon Press. cosmicpantheonpress.com