When planning a paranormal investigation, the first thing you should do is send for reinforcements. It is never recommended to investigate an area for paranormal activity if you are alone. It is simply not safe, and not just because of any spirits that might be present. Imaginations can run rampant during investigations, and adrenaline can begin pumping.
In a panic, you can easily fall or hurt yourself, or you might get physically ill due to anxiety or nerves. This is especially true if you are conducting an investigation at night in a place that is deserted. Any number of things can happen to you: your car might not start, you may sprain your ankle on a loose floorboard, or you might get mugged by the living. There is safety in numbers. Plus, having extra eyes and ears around to corroborate your story is always a benefit.
One extra person is good to have, but a team of three or more people is best. Keep in mind that the people you choose should be fairly open-minded. Healthy skepticism is okay, but out-and-out scoffing and cynicisms may prove frustrating for those trying to approach the investigation with sincerity. You might also want to leave out people you think will be too afraid or who are convinced that anything they don’t understand is evil.
Your team should be people you feel will approach the situation with a certain amount of reverence and respect. That’s not to say people can’t have a sense of humor, but making fun of spirits and spitting on graves could bring disastrous results. Finally, make sure that everyone on your team is in fairly good health, both mentally and physically. People who are ill, overtired or over-stressed could have low defenses, leaving them vulnerable on the off chance that they meet up with a negative entity.
One member of your team who is good at researching should begin to research the history of the location you are planning to investigate. This person should take detailed notes, but keep the information to himself until after the investigation. This will keep the knowledge from tainting the results. Sometimes what we think we are going to see can cloud what is really there.
The researcher should try going to city hall to get information on the property (when it was built, names of previous owners, maps, etc.). Then he should head to the library, local historic society, and turn to the internet to get all the information possible, including what was there before the current structure was built. Interviewing neighbors, caretakers, employees, witnesses, or current and past residents, if your researcher can get in touch with any of them, may also prove useful. When the investigation is all over and the data is being analyzed, he can share everything he has uncovered with the group.
The next thing you will want to do is, if you don’t own the place you are investigating, get permission IN WRITING from the owner to conduct the investigation. If it is a public place, make certain to find out and follow the rules and regulations, as well as obtain permits when applicable. If you cannot get permission to investigate on private or public property, simply don’t go. Getting thrown in jail is not worth the investigation.
When you have obtained permission to gain access to the property, go there before the investigation to check it out, especially if you plan for the investigation to take place at night. Get familiar with the place, and ensure there are no hazards around that could hurt someone stumbling around in the dark. Make a mental note of any ditches, broken stairs or floorboards, loose stones, low branches, soft ground, or any other danger that may be applicable. Note all entrances and exits to the place as well, and discuss evacuation routes, in case the need should arise.
Begin to gather your investigating equipment. This does not have to be as elaborate as you have seen in your favorite horror movies. Simple equipment you probably already have on hand will be sufficient. Make sure to test all of your equipment and become familiar with how to work it beforehand. Here is a list of some useful items to have. Bring as many as possible:
CAMERAS: It is best to have at least one still camera, and at least one video camera. If you don’t own a video camera, it would be worth it to borrow or rent one for the occasion. Many paranormal investigators debate whether regular film or digital cameras are better. Both have their benefits and drawbacks.
With regular film, you get a negative to prove there was no tampering with the photo. With digital, you can get a better picture, and you can see what you’ve caught before even send it out to be developed. If you can get your hands on both, even if the film camera is just a disposable, do so. If not, just get what you can– even if it is only one disposable camera.
TAPE RECORDERS: You will definitely want to have a tape recorder around to pick up EVP (Electronic Voice Phenomena). If all you have is a cassette player, even without a microphone, it is worth bringing. Bring plenty of new, blank tapes to avoid sound bleeding and contamination.
EMF METER: An Electro-Magnetic Field meter is a great help if you are serious about the investigation, and can be a worthwhile investment. Prices generally start at around $50. They read disturbances in the electromagnetic field, which is common when spirits are around.
DIGITAL READOUT THERMOMETER: If you don’t have one or plan to get one, at least try to bring along a digital probe thermometer from your kitchen or in the kitchen gadget section of your local supermarket. It will not be as accurate taking room temperatures, but if there is a severe cold or hot spot, it will be able to give you an idea of the variation.
FLASHLIGHTS: If you are going into a place that will be dark, you will want to ensure that every member of your party has at least one flashlight with them. It is good to bring extra, too, as equipment commonly malfunctions in places that are haunted.
FIRST AID KIT: Accidents can happen, especially if people are a bit nervous (or scared out of their wits). More accidents happen on ghost hunts when people flee in a panic. It is good to be prepared.
BATTERIES, BATTERIES, BATTERIES: In haunted places, all the power from even a new or fully charged battery can be zapped within a few minutes. Bring three times more than you think you will need for all of your equipment: flashlights, cameras, recorders, and readers. If the place is not haunted, you can always return unopened packages. If it is haunted, you will kick yourself if a ghost makes an appearance and your batteries went dead 10 minutes into the investigation.
AND DON’T FORGET BATTERIES: Did I mention how important it is to bring lots of extra?
Prep your team with investigation protocol. Try to have the place cleared of dust and any debris at least a day ahead of time to avoid capturing false evidence on film. Dust can reflect light and camera flashes, and look like orbs or streaks of light. Make sure that no incense is burned or air fresheners are sprayed on the day of the investigation.
It is not uncommon for certain scents to fill the air during a haunting. You don’t want that paranormal scent to compete with anything normal (or any normal scent to be mistaken for a paranormal scent). Your team should dress in comfortable clothes and shoes. Make sure no one wears any cologne, perfume, scented deodorant, or hair products. On the site, no one should smoke or burn candles.
This can interfere with odor detection, and sometimes smoke can show up on film looking like a ghostly wisp. While on-site, no one should make any unnecessary noises, such as tapping, popping gum, whistling, or humming. If a live person does any of these or makes any other unusual, unidentifiable noises while a video or audio recording is being done,
someone should call out the event and note on tape that it was a man-made sound. During the investigation, your group should not split up, unless you have such a large team that you can split up into smaller teams of three or more. Under no circumstances should anyone wander off alone.
As you set up for your investigation, you should assign each member of your team the equipment or jobs they will be handling. Video cameras should be placed on tripods or tabletops and set to run. If you have only one, you may want to change your camera angle or location every now and then. Snapshots should be taken everywhere, of every area in the place, even if you don’t see anything at the time.
Tape recorders should be running, even if you don’t hear anything. If you have them, someone should begin scanning the area with the EMF reader and digital thermometer, noting and fluctuations or odd readings. Keep a watch and a pad and pencil handy to note the time and jot down any pertinent information.
It helps to speak out to any spirits that might be around. Just be careful of what you say. If you are planning to call to them and ask them to show themselves, or to come forth and speak to you, you had better be prepared. You might just interest or annoy them enough that they will oblige you, and you might not like what they have in mind. It’s better to just explain that you are there to take some pictures and record some sounds, and that you don’t mean to bother or harm them.
You might want to throw some questions out there, in case a spirit is trying to communicate. Just speak in a normal voice, as you would with any human interview. Ask things such as:
- What is your name?
- How old are you?
- Can you tell me about yourself?
- Do you know why you are here?
- Did anything happen to you here?
- What do you look like?
- Is there anything you want to tell me?
Between questions, pause for about 30 seconds to give the spirits a chance to answer. Even if you don’t hear any answers, keep on asking and taping; a recording might pick up a voice or noises that weren’t picked up by your ears.
Spend a few hours at the location monitoring for activity. Even if nothing appears to be happening, keep the film and tapes rolling. Something could happen suddenly and unexpectedly, or something might turn upon them later that you were unable to perceive while you were there.
Should you witness some spiritual activity, try to remain calm, and document everything. Should anyone on the team begin to get a really bad feeling of dread, become ill, begin to feel odd or threatened, or should you encounter a hostile spirit who confronts you in a frightening way, pack your equipment quickly and calmly leave.
If the encounter is particularly frightening, leave everything and get out of there. Come back later for your stuff. Dangerous or hostile spirits are rare occurrences, but should one make itself known, you do not want to face it if inexperienced. It is time to call in a professional. Go home and contact a local parapsychologist.
When you return home safely with your data, examine everything. Print every photo without alteration, watch all the videos and listen to all the tapes. Spirits don’t usually show up as full-blown apparitions as they do in the movies. Most of the time, you will see them in the form of orbs, or little round balls of energy, floating around in the pictures and on film. They might also appear as a mist. Sometimes on the audiotape, you might notice sounds that you don’t recall hearing in the room– tapping, banging, whistling, humming, whispers, moans, giggles, or even sentences. Watch and listen carefully.
Go over the history of the location and all the information that your team researcher has collected. You may wish to go back to the library, historical society, or re-interview witnesses based on any new information gathered during your investigation.
If you have detected nothing unusual or caught only one or two orbs out of dozens of shots, but recorded no unusual temperature or electromagnetic readings and nothing on film or tape, the place may not be haunted after all. You may wish to make a second attempt on another night or conclude your investigation with the belief that there is no haunting.
However, if your film, tape, readings, and experiences (suddenly drained batteries, flickering flashlights, unexplained odors) turned up a few or a lot of unexplained occurrences, you might just have a haunting on your hands. If you believe you have found evidence of spiritual activity, you may wish to get in contact with a local parapsychologist to further analyze the data for you. Sometimes the untrained eye and ear can mistake natural occurrences (such as dust particles on film, reflections in photographs, or tape recorder humming) for spiritual activity.
Good luck, may you be safe in your investigation, and happy hunting!