This is the fifth lesson in the free Ghost Hunting for Beginners course.
Ghost hunting can be dangerous. This is something to think about, early. Once again, consider your limits and how unsafe you’re willing to feel.
Most safety problems fall into four categories.
- First, there are strictly physical hazards. They range from allergies to holes in the floor, and from uneven stairs to animal burrows at outdoor locations.
- Problems with the living can intrude, too. Generally, your concerns will center on team member issues and annoying strangers.
- Then, we’ll look at problems with ghosts. Most aren’t actually dangerous, but they can cause unintended harm.
- Finally, we need to talk about truly dangerous entities… the ones that inflict intentional pain and spiritual assaults.
Are you investigating a private, well-maintained site?
That might be a private residence, hotel, or a “haunted” building like a former prison or hospital that allows tours, vigils, and private ghost hunts.
If that’s where you’re investigating, you probably don’t have much to worry about. Most owners have liability insurance, and – to keep their premiums low – they usually maintain their sites very well. In some cases, especially if the site is open to the public, either local officials or an insurance representative may check for safety standards, regularly.
But if you’re investigating abandoned buildings, there’s a lot to worry about.
Outdoors – especially at battlefields and cemeteries – poor maintenance and Mother Nature can place many hazards in your path. Sometimes literally.
A daytime, pre-investigation tour is vital. Of course, you’ll note the locations of “haunted” areas that most interest you.
More importantly, look for problems like uneven paths, broken pavement, and holes in the ground (especially if they’re partly concealed by tall grass or plants).
Also note low fences or dividers, and curbs or stairs that are easy to overlook.
Study local plants for poison ivy, poison oak, and so on. If team members have severe allergies or asthma, be watchful for ragweed and other plants with significant pollen.
Look just outside the walls or fences, in case you see evidence of graves, marked or unmarked. That’s especially true at cemeteries, but also some battlefields.
While you’re touring, also check for signs of past (and recent) parties or rituals, as well as evidence that homeless people sleep nearby. Any of those can present problems during your actual investigation.
I’m not sure I’d decide not to investigate that kind of site, but I’d be very wary. Frankly, we have enough safer options. Unless there was a compelling reason to plan a ghost hunt with what are – for me, anyway – major red flags, I’d cross it off my list.
Finally, use a flashlight – even during the day – if you’re in a partially wooded area. Look for spiderwebs, especially if you live in an area with poisonous and nocturnal spiders. Check for snakeskins, too, if poisonous or territorial snakes are native to your area.
Problems with the living
Now and then, a team member can become a problem.
At the very least, the annoying person could be a distraction. Be prepared to tell them, firmly, “I’ll answer your questions after the investigation,” or whatever is appropriate.
If the problem persists, ask them to leave, and discuss the issue with them later.
(However, if that leaves you alone at the site, you should leave as well. Never stay at a haunted site by yourself.)
Less frequent, some people use the shelter of darkness as an excuse or a shield for inappropriate touching or aggression. I explain this in more detail in Ghost Investigations and Touching.
- Mean, angry, and malicious spirits can slap or scratch investigators.
- The living can mimic this to scare others or bring attention to themselves.
- Inappropriate touching can be a risk in dark and low-light settings. Speak up if someone (or something) touches you.
- If someone seems regularly in proximity to inappropriate touching or harm, watch that person and – short term – keep him/her/them away from others. That’s for everyone’s protection, while you study what’s actually happening and whether it’s paranormal, normal, or even criminal.
Speaking of criminals… Criminals may use deserted and unpopular sites for their own purposes, too. The more isolated the location – especially on the outskirts of towns or cities with drug or prostitution problems – the more alert you’ll need to be.
Check police records, crime blotters in local newspapers and websites, or – ahead of time – just call the police (not using their emergency number). Ask if the location is safe.
Note: it’s rarely a good idea to announce to the police that you’re going ghost hunting at a specific site. Unless you’re on close, friendly terms with the police or a particular officer, keep your questions as vague as possible. Otherwise, they’re likely to be extra watchful, and some police are uneasy about ghost hunters. (Unfortunately, some have very good reasons to distrust us.)
And then there are the parties. (Yes, I’m sighing deeply as I write that. Parties are among the most annoying problems we regularly deal with.)
Whether it’s a battlefield, a cemetery, an abandoned school, or just a location “where weird stuff happens,” young adults may decide it’s a great place to party. The farther away from a main street (and prying eyes), the better.
My advice is to leave. Don’t confront them. Just leave.
Even if you were there before they arrived, that doesn’t grant you exclusive rights to the site. The same goes for them, but chances are: there are more of them than there are of you. And there’s a reason they’re partying in a location generally unobserved by adults. Usually, it’s so they can be as loud as they like, and party as hard as they like.
So, just leave. Perhaps schedule your next investigation at that site for a school night. In most cases, parties are scheduled for weekends.
Problems with ghosts
There’s a good reason I’ve use a somewhat silly illustration – someone in a sheet, pretending to be a ghost.
It’s because most actual ghosts aren’t troublesome.
Some don’t perceive us.
Others know we’re there, but they’re afraid or us or otherwise ignore us.
A few will – with encouragement – establish some sort of contact.
Some are eager to prove that they’re real, and establish a dialogue… or otherwise have fun with us.
Most aren’t malicious.
Three kinds of ghosts can cause problems.
Angry or territorial ghosts
Some ghosts don’t like visitors. They don’t want to be treated like they’re performers. They don’t like being bullied or taunted, under the guise of being “provoked.”
I agree. Some ghost hunters don’t seem to understand boundaries.
In most cases, you are intruding on a place where the ghost lived or died. He, she, or they have more of a right to be there than you do. And if they want to be left alone, perhaps you should respect that.
On the other hand, some ghosts are angry or territorial and – decades or centuries after they had a right to be there – they’re belligerent. They like to scare people, perhaps because they’re so scared of whatever they think awaits them in the afterlife.
Usually, they’re “all bark and no bite,” but don’t turn your investigation into something confrontational. Ignore angry ghosts and focus on evidence you’re collecting.
There is one exception: If you’re ghost hunting to help spirits “cross over” or “go to the light,” and so on, you may want to try to help an angry spirit.
Be mindful that you’re probably not the first to try this. I recommend setting a firm time limit on your efforts.
Some angry ghosts have learned to wheedle and sob to get sympathy and attention. They have no intention of leaving the site, if they even believe in an afterlife.
In the past, my teams have included ghost hunters who want to help possibly trapped spirits. They’re sort of a sub-team, and all are committed to what they’re doing.
We may work together and swap notes during part of the investigation. But, at a certain point, I may want to go home. (I’m an “early to bed, early to rise” person.) So, I’m comfortable leaving that part of the team at the site, to stay as late as they like, hoping to help spirits ready to cross over.
Some spirits, especially ghosts of children, visit their former homes or favorite places… and they like to play pranks.
One did that to me at the Myrtles Plantation. Near the foot of the main staircase, a ghost pushed me.
I don’t think the intent was to hurt me, though I did sprain my ankle as I fell.
Almost immediately, I felt an external sense of remorse, as if the ghost was really sorry for what she’d done.
Prankster ghosts are more likely to slam doors, respond to “trigger objects” like toys (especially lightweight objects, like beach balls).
I’m not sure where to draw the line between prankster ghosts and poltergeists. At this point, we don’t understand poltergeists, but – recently – I’ve been seeing some interesting theories in an unexpected area: quantum physics. (I’ll link to those reports when I see more credible evidence, but the gravity connection is intriguing.)
The cover of the book, Poltergeist – Tales of the Supernatural, explains, “A poltergeist is a ghostly imp with certain unpleasant characteristics. Whereas the ordinary ghost is, usually, fairly quiet and discreet, the poltergeist is the reverse.”
That same book describes poltergeists as “mischievous, destructive, noisy, cruel, cunning, malicious, audacious, teasing, ill-disposed, spiteful, ruthless, and resourceful.”
Is that a little harsh? Maybe.
From my experience, poltergeists are mischievous and don’t seem to care if they cause harm to objects and sometimes people.
Unlike ghosts, poltergeists also seem to follow individuals, at least within a small range of where the poltergeist was discovered.
I’ve written about poltergeists in Poltergeists – what they are and famous stories, as well as Poltergeists – The Great Amherst Mystery, and briefly mention related activity in Eden Camp Ghosts – Where the Ghosts Make It Personal.
Are poltergeists ghosts… or something else? I’m not sure.
Most new ghost hunters are unlikely to encounter significant poltergeist activity. I’m mentioning it because this kind of activity seems halfway between “prankster ghosts” and malicious or demonic entities.
For now, file this away as a topic to research more, after you’ve been on more investigations.
NOT ghosts: demons and dangerous entities
Demons and malicious spirits are rare, but they’re also a genuine risk. They can injure you physically, mentally, and spiritually.
You’ll find far more specific details in the next lesson.
A few decades ago, demons weren’t a significant issue. Ghost hunters rarely even mentioned them.
Then, I’m not sure if something changed, or more people investigated more sites, and we learned more about spirits in the burrows, crevices, and hidden corners of “ghostly” sites.
While some disbelievers scoff at the idea of actual demons, experienced ghost hunters know that – at some sites – something evil lurks.
Worse, it can be dangerous beyond almost anything you’d encounter in everyday life. Usually, it wants to manipulate innocent people, or even destroy them.
Take no chances!
If you feel as if something – a visible or invisible entity – has made you a target, leave the site immediately.
Never think, “Worst case, it’s something ‘demonic’ and I’ll get an exorcism. That’ll fix everything.”
Exorcisms are rarely a simple answer to a demonic encounter. See my article at Hollow Hill, Do Exorcisms Work?
Frankly, many of us worry that we don’t know what all ‘demonic’ entities are.
I don’t mean to sound flippant, but they could be aliens. They might be something from the Unseelie Court. They might be a category of entities we don’t have a label for, yet.
Or, yes, they might actually be demons.
John Zaffis is the expert in that field.
I stay far away from anything demonic, malicious, and vicious.
I suggest that you do, too.
If your internal radar – or “gut feeling” – give you a deep sense of anxiety, pay attention to it. It is better to leave an investigation site and feel silly about it, than to put yourself at risk.
The investigator who died
Here’s my story: I don’t like to talk about this, but it happened to someone on my team. She was bright, funny, a mom, and a skeptic.
Also, she was fit & healthy, and led an active life.
After a routine investigation, she decided to visit another haunted location on her way home. I’m still not sure why.
But, something there terrified her.
(She wasn’t easily startled. In fact, even during our most unsettling investigations, she was usually the last to leave. So, when she told me how troubled she was after her independent, late-night exploration, I was alarmed.)
A few days later, her sudden death was a shock to everyone who knew her.
We still don’t know if it was connected to something paranormal at the second site. We know that she literally ran from whatever-it-was… perhaps too late to escape its effects.
Don’t take chances.
That incident still lingers in my mind. But, it’s also an extreme that ghost hunters rarely encounter.
Don’t dismiss that as “it could never happen to me,” but keep in mind the relatively normal, weird things that we regularly encounter during investigations.
Here are a few of my related articles about demonic and malicious spirits. I write as little as I can about them, because they’re not ghosts, and I won’t go anywhere near a location that may have demonic activity.
(And really, you don’t want to know how many things went really, really wrong when I was revising this lesson and trying to post it at Hallowfields. Does that creep me out? Yes. But it also makes me even more determined to make sure I warn ghost hunters about this rarely encountered issue.)
With more experience, you’ll learn the internal and external signals to watch for. Meanwhile, be prepared for anything.
Yes, ghost hunting can be dangerous. That’s true of many hobbies and careers, from kayaking to mountain climbing, and from piloting a plane to building skyscrapers.
In general, ghost hunting’s biggest dangers are physical hazards at the sites we investigate. After that, the next biggest problem is the living, not ghosts or anything malicious.
The next lesson is about Protection for Ghost Hunters, and it delves more deeply into demons and spiritual issues.
(Even if you roll your eyes, sigh, or even laugh up your sleeve about this topic, keep it in mind if your investigations get weird.)