Ghost hunters use certain words in reference to ghosts and haunted places. The following list explains some of them, and their usual meanings. Regional terms and definitions may vary.
Afterlife – One of several terms used interchangeably to refer to life after death. The word “afterlife” has been used since 1615. It’s generic enough for almost any setting and culture. Other popular terms include “crossing over,” “the Otherworld,” and “the other side.” Most ghost hunters avoid specific religious terms such as “heaven” and “the Summerland” when discussing ghosts, hauntings, and an afterlife.
Aliens – Visitors from other planets or galaxies. We differentiate aliens from visitors that live in parallel worlds, the Otherworld, or what’s generally characterized as the afterlife.
Some ghost hunters believe in UFOs and aliens; others don’t. Generally, ghost hunters don’t mix those studies.
Anomaly – Something that is unusual, out of place, and unexplained. In paranormal studies, this word refers to any phenomena that we cannot explain.
Apparition – Since the early 17th century, this means a ghost that seems to have material substance. If a spirit appears in any physical form, including a vapor-like image, it may be called an apparition.
Banshee – From the Irish, bean sidhe, meaning female spirit. Most families with Irish ancestors have at least one banshee that watches over the family as a sort of “guardian angel.” Many people are reluctant to discuss this subject. The banshee’s wail does not always mean death. She does not cause anyone to die. Generally, she’s not a ghost.
Clearing, or space clearing – The process of ridding an area of lingering, unpleasant energy. It does not “kill” a ghost. Space clearing may encourage ghosts to cross over, or at least leave the haunted location.
An effective space clearing may take three to five days to work. In the meantime, the ghost (or ghosts) may be noisier and more obnoxious than usual. In the most haunted settings, we repeat the space clearing several times to make sure all negative or residual energy has cleared out.
Cryptozoology or crypto zoology – The controversial study of animals and hybrid creatures generally omitted from mainstream biology. That is, many scientists regard these creatures as extinct, legendary or entirely fictional. Though some crypto creatures may seem man-like, they are not ghosts.
Since around 2010, an increasing number of ghost hunters have reported odd or unexplained animal forms near haunted locations. (These are usually different from the ghosts of household pets.)
Demons – Historically, this term has included deceased individuals. However, since the early 18th century, the word “demon” usually refers to an evil spirit, sometimes more powerful than man, but less than Deity.
Today, we don’t use this term to indicate a deceased human being. The female demon, very rarely mentioned, is a demoness.
Demons and possessions are treated like UFOs and aliens. That is, most ghost hunters have an opinion about them, but they rarely discuss them in connection with routine hauntings.
The “Amityville horror” is one noted exception where the story seemed to include both ghosts and possessions, but I have doubts about some of the tales.
Note: Generally, ghosts do not attempt to take over a living body. In most cases, ghosts believe that they’re still alive and — in their minds (or perhaps in another realm) — each already has his or her own body. They’re not interested in anyone else’s.
However, there can be a fine line between the trance medium state and allowing a spirit to “take over” the person’s body. If that spirit is malicious or even demonic, the trance medium may not be equipped to deal with the problem without help.
Please keep that in mind if you’re tempted to allow a spirit to “speak through you,” or use your form — even your fingers, on a Ouija board.
Doppelganger – A concept made popular in the early 19th century, especially by Shelley and Byron. The doppelganger is the apparition, or double, of a living person. This may be a paranormal phenomenon, but it’s not a ghost. It does not necessarily forecast anything tragic.
Dowsing rods – These are usually single rods, split rods, or L-shaped wires or twigs. In the right hands, and used alone or in tandem, dowsing rods can locate water and oil wells, and measure energy levels of many kinds. I often use them to locate underground springs or cables that might affect our research results.
In ghost hunting, the investigator loosely carries one rod in each hand, and watches the movement of the rods. When the rods cross or otherwise make a dramatic change in direction, it can indicate elevated EMF energy or a haunted location.
It’s easy to make your own dowsing rods. See my article, Homemade Dowsing Rods, for more information.
Ectoplasm – Often referred to as “ecto,” this is the physical residue of psychic energy. It’s the basis for “slime” used in the Ghostbusters movies. Some ectoplasm can be seen by the naked eye. It’s best viewed in dark settings, since it is translucent and tends to glow. It is very unusual.
Researchers often describe it as a vivid, X-Files kind of lime green, but I’ve heard first-person reports of other colors, too. It usually fades from sight gradually. It may explain some “sparkles” (see that definition).
EMF – The initials stand for Electro Magnetic Field, or — more rarely — Electro Magnetic Frequency.
In the broadest terms, EMF is a combination of electrical and magnetic fields. You’ll find EMF around power sources, fuse boxes, electrical outlets, computer monitors, microwave ovens, some mobile phones or mobile towers, etc.
Abnormally high levels of EMF can cause people to feel ill or agitated. Around high EMF levels, some people misinterpret normal phenomena as “ghosts” or aliens. Others can feel angry or paranoid.
It’s smart to study EMF so that you recognize normal sources of elevated EMF readings, and eliminate them from paranormal investigations.
Constant, clearly defined EMF fields usually have a logical explanation. Unexplained EMF fields may indicate something paranormal.
EMF fields can be measured with various tools, including an EMF meter or a hiking compass.
Entity – An entity is any being, including people, animals, and ghosts. It can also refer to aliens, faeries, mystical beasts, and a wide range of paranormal creatures. If you use this term — and many ghost hunters do — be sure to make the context clear.
ESP – ESP is the abbreviation for Extra Sensory Perception. It means the ability to perceive things beyond the usual five senses of smell, hearing, touch, taste, and sight.
With practice, experienced ghost hunters can usually tell the difference between normal detection with the five senses, and things detected with the “sixth sense” or psychic abilities.
EVP – Electronic Voice Phenomena is the recording of unexplained voices, usually in haunted settings. Sometimes the voices are heard during the investigation, without any special equipment. More often, the voices are whispers, understood only when a sound recording is processed, filtered, and amplified with a computer. EVP may be heard via special devices in real time, or after the recording is processed, later.
Years ago, when people first recorded EVP, they insisted on total silence so normal noises and talking wouldn’t be confused with EVP. Today, some researchers believe that ghosts need ambient noise to create their own sounds and speech.
Most researchers use normal digital recorders or phones to save EVP. In that case, once the researcher is at home, he or she uses software to filter out everyday noises such as airplanes and passing cars. The recording may need to be speeded up or slowed down, or a range of sounds isolated from background noise.
Faeries – Beings that live in the Otherworld or Underworld, parallel to our world and not far from it. Many researchers who readily accept the reality of ghosts don’t believe in faeries.
Unless they’re shape-shifters, most faeries have never been human. Therefore, most people won’t define them as “ghosts.”
Similar to the subject of aliens and UFOs, it’s best to separate faerie research from your ghost hunting.
Fear – Most ghost hunters have a healthy respect for ghosts and paranormal phenomena. Also, many ghost hunters seem to enjoy a “good scare.” That may be what attracted them to ghost hunting.
Ghost hunting should always be interesting, and sometimes entertaining. If it’s not, especially if ghost hunting scares you, you may be at risk.
Ghost hunting should never be a “dare” or an endurance test.
Important: If you’re truly frightened in any setting — haunted or not — leave immediately. If this happens regularly when you’re ghost hunting, choose a different hobby.
Flashlight communications – Using a flashlight with its contacts loosened just enough for the light bulb to flash intermittently. Generally used for yes/no real-time communications with ghosts. Many report the best results with flashlights that have a metal case, not plastic.
Due to the non-standard nature of this technique, it’s the frequent target of skeptical critics.
Ghost – A sentient entity or spirit that visits or lingers in our world, after he or she lived among us as a human being. We’ve also seen evidence of ghostly animals and pets.
Some people include residual energy and other kinds of hauntings in the same category as “ghosts.”
Ghost hunters generally use different terms for other beings such as aliens, crypto creatures, and faeries.
Ghost boxer – An informal term for someone who uses a ghost box or other ITC device to listen to or communicate with ghosts. (See ITC, below.)
Ghoul – This word has been mistakenly used to mean a ghost. “Ghoul” comes from Middle Eastern lore, where it may refer to an evil spirit that robs graves.
Haunted – Describes a setting where ghosts, poltergeists, or residual energy seem to produce significant paranormal activity. The word “haunt” originally meant to frequent.
Hollow Hill – Hollow Hill is the name of Fiona Broome’s ghost hunting website, http://HollowHill.com/ It launched under that name in 1999 and included both ghost information and faerie lore.
By 2010, it had over 600 original articles, specifically for ghost hunters.
The term “hollow hill” refers to the home of the Tuatha De Danann, with a nod to Sleepy Hollow.
Infrasound – Low-level sound waves, below the range of human hearing. It can result from a variety of natural and man-made sources. NASA studies suggest it can cause visual distortions.
If a haunted site is near a highway or a bridge that has heavy trucks crossing during your research, infrasound may explain some of what researchers experience.
ITC – Instrumental Transcommunication, or ghost “voices” heard over a radio that rapidly scans radio frequencies, picking up sounds and bits of words. Those sounds may combine to form words and sentences, sometimes in a single, distinct voice and accent.
Early, effective ITC devices were produced around 2002 by Frank Sumption. ITC devices — called “ghost boxes” — by Frank were nicknamed “Frank’s Boxes.” Since then, Radio Shack radios have been altered as “Shack Hack” ghost boxes. Similar devices have been called spirit boxes.
ITC seems to work better for some people than others. No physical contact with the box is necessary. Some speech is more clearly heard in recordings from the ITC devices, than when the boxes are “talking.”
KII, K2, Kii or K-II meter – One of several kinds of EMF meters designed for ghost hunting. In early research, the KII seemed more “ghost-friendly” than many other meters, and was successful in direct communication with spirits. (For my own research, my favorite simple EMF meter is the Ghost Meter Pro. It looks very much like an “as seen on TV” product, but it really does work well. And, it’s a little less expensive than the KII.)
Medium – This word usually refers to something in the middle, relative to size or duration. In ghost hunting, it means anyone able to convey communications from departed spirits. That is, the person maintains a position between the world of the living and those who’ve crossed over, and talks with (or for) those on the other side.
This term was popularized in the mid 19th century. Today, it’s often used interchangeably with the word “psychic.” (Compare that definition in this glossary.) Some people call themselves psychic mediums because they can communicate with the other side, but also sense other paranormal energy and work with ESP.
Occult – From the Latin, meaning something that is concealed or covered. Since the 16th century, it has meant anything mysterious. In 21st century America, it generally refers to magical, mystical and experimental studies.
Orb – An orb is a round, whitish or pastel-colored translucent area in photos. Generally, they are perfectly circular, not oval. Many researchers believe they represent spirits or ghosts.
If you’re using a digital camera, it’s important to differentiate between an area of broken pixels (called an “artifact”) and the translucent, circular image that is an orb.
In most cases, ghost hunters do not see orbs when they’re at a haunted site. Usually, orbs show up only in photos. They’re among the most common kinds of evidence at hauntings.
Critics often dismiss orbs as lens flares and artifacts. I was among those critics until I tried to create convincing fake orbs in my own photos… and had considerable difficulty.
Unexplained orbs appear more often at haunted sites than at locations with no reason for ghostly phenomena.
Test this yourself. In a location where your photos include orbs, pause. Then move to a nearby, related location. (If you’re in a haunted cemetery, leave and walk 100+ feet down the road. Eliminate “ghostly energy” as a possibility.)
Take more photos. Do they have orbs, as well? If so, there may be a normal explanation. If not, maybe your orb photos aren’t dust, bugs, or lens flares.
Ouija – From the French and German words for “yes,” this is a spelling board used with a planchette. The device might communicate with the spirit world, receiving answers to questions.
Many ghost hunters — including me — don’t recommend Ouija boards. We don’t really know who’s communicating, and whether their messages can be believed.
Ovilus – A hand-held electronic device that appears to use changes in EMF levels to trigger speech based on a pre-programmed vocabulary.
Ghost hunters use this tool with a focus on anomalies. That is, we notice when the Ovilus announces a word (or name) that’s not in its vocabulary, or when it repeats words in excess of the statistical norm.
This is one of many high-tech devices created by Digital Dowsing, a forerunner in ghost hunting devices.
Paranormal – The prefix, “para” indicates something that is irregular, faulty, or operating outside the usual boundaries. So, “paranormal” refers to anything outside the realm and experiences that we consider normal.
It doesn’t necessarily mean a ghost or spirit. It just indicates something outside the norm.
Parapsychology – The study of mental abilities and effects outside the usual realm of psychology. Parapsychology includes the study of ESP, ghosts, luck, psychokinesis, and other paranormal phenomena. Many parapsychologists are skeptical of ghostly phenomena.
Pendulum – A small weight at the end of a cord or chain that is usually about six to ten inches long. The movement of the weight, uninfluenced by other factors, can detect areas of unexplained energy. Some believe that a pendulum can also be used to communicate with spirits. See my article, Pendulums – How They Work and How to Use Them.
Poltergeist – From the German meaning “noisy ghost.” The term has been popular since the early 19th century. It means a spirit that makes noise, or otherwise plays pranks… usually annoying. Physical phenomena are very common in these cases. Unlike other ghosts, poltergeists can move from one location to another, following the person they’ve chosen to torment.
Many psychologists believe that poltergeists are not ghosts at all, but some form of psychokinesis or remote activity.
See my article, Poltergeists – What They Are, Famous Stories.
Portal – a doorway or gate. This term suggests a specific location through which spirits enter and leave our world. When multiple phenomena occur in a confined area, such as an abundance of unexplained orbs, some people call this a “ghost portal.”
Possession – When an entity attempts to take control of a body that does not belong to them, it’s called a possession. In ghost hunting, this phenomenon is rare, but some psychics and mediums allow ghosts to speak through them. (See “trance medium.”) Sometimes, this can enable the living to communicate directly with the ghost and help him or her to cross over.
In extreme cases, a malicious spirit may attempt to take over an unwilling person’s body. Most ghost hunters will never witness this kind of possession, though it’s a popular scene in horror movies. Unwilling possession is often linked to demonic activity.
Proof – This is a mathematical and scientific term. In math, it means an established rule that will always be true, within the respective mathematical system.
In science, it means verification or disproof. Unlike maths, science is not absolute. We can only verify something, not say it is absolutely, positively, without exception, true.
There is no “proof” of ghosts when someone is a committed skeptic. People who won’t believe in ghosts will always find other explanations for any evidence of hauntings.
In most cases, it takes a profound paranormal encounter to change a skeptical critic’s mind about haunted places.
Protection – Some researchers use objects, rituals, routines, tactics, or specific processes to protect themselves against spiritual and paranormal threats. This is a personal matter and rarely discussed during a ghost hunt.
Psi – “Psi” or “psy” is a popular term used to mean any psychic phenomena or psychic abilities. This term sometimes includes paranormal disturbances as well. (In combination with other terms, it can refer to psychology or psychiatry.)
Psychic – From the Greek word meaning of the soul, or of life (Paul used it in the Bible, I Cor ii, 14), this word usually refers to the world outside the domain of physical law.
When someone is described as a psychic, it usually means that he or she is able to perceive things that are outside traditional physical laws and perceptions.
Psychical – A British term used as an adjective or adverb, for what Americans call “psychic.”
Psychokinesis, or psycho kinesis – To move something with the powers of one’s mind, and nothing else. It may be a factor in some hauntings. It may explain some poltergeist cases. It’s usually called “PK.” (Also see telekinesis.)
Residual energy – Many ghost hunters believe that emotionally charged events leave an energy imprint or residue on the physical objects nearby. That’s called a “residual energy haunting,” or – in recent years – simply a “residual haunting.” (See my article, Residual Energy Imprint Hauntings.)
Residual energy is different from an active, intelligent, or sentient haunting. The energy or impressions repeat consistently, as if on a loop. The level may increase or decrease, but the content remains the same with each manifestation.
By contrast, during an active, intelligent, or sentient haunting, the ghost may respond to environmental stimuli and direct contact.
Sixth sense – Anything experienced outside the normal five senses (smell, taste, touch, hearing, and sight). Usually, this indicates to psychic detection or ESP.
Since M. Knight Shyamalan’s movie of the same name, people usually think that the sixth sense refers to seeing ghosts.
In reality, few people see ghosts as full figures (“apparitions”) or living people.
Sparkles – This paranormal visual effect resembles the sparkle of embers falling immediately after a fireworks display. Sparkles are seen during and especially immediately after the flash on a camera is used.
Unlike highlighted bugs, dust, or moisture, even the most vivid sparkles will not show up on film. We believe they’re paranormal phenomena.
“Sparkles” is a term I developed in the 1990s, during research for Hollow Hill. (See my article, Sparkles and Other Surprising Anomalies.) Other researchers have adopted the term to describe this unique visual phenomenon.
Spirit – This word comes from the Latin, meaning that which breathes. It means that which animates life, or the soul of the being.
Table tapping, table tipping – Two related terms dating back to the 19th century, describing a few methods of spirit communications. Several people may sit around a table with their hands on it, or holding hands on top of the table. Then, they ask the spirits to reply to communicate by tapping on the table, perhaps once for yes and twice for no.
Table tipping is when ghosts lift the table very slightly to show that they are present. After that, the ghosts may tap their replies, move a Ouija-type platen, a glass placed upside-down on the table, or use some other means to communicate with movement around the table.
Tarot – The history of the Tarot deck is still unclear. However, since its use in 14th century Italy, “Tarot” refers to playing cards used for fortune telling or divination. Some psychics use Tarot cards to discern the history of spirits and why the individual ghost remains here.
Telekinesis – From a Greek word meaning any motion that is activated from a distance. Technically, this could describe a remote-controlled toy boat or airplane, so most people use the word psychokinesis in ghost research.
Trance mediums, trance channeling – An encounter with a spirit that temporarily “takes over” the body of the medium, usually with her permission. Usually, the ghost seems to speak through the medium using a voice, vocabulary and/or accent similar to what the ghost had during his or her lifetime.
In some cases, the spirit is able to communicate something important and then “cross over.”
“Trance medium” performances are becoming more commonplace at entertainment-style events, raising questions of authenticity in all settings. The topic is controversial.
Vortex – Since the time of Descartes, this has indicated the rotation of cosmic energy around a central point or axis. Beginning in the mid-19th century, the word “vortex” means any whirling movement of energy or particles.
Some people use this term to explain lines or narrow cylinders that appear highlighted in ghost photos.
I’m able to duplicate most of them with a camera strap or a piece of hair. (See my photo of hair, at right. Every streak looks like a ghost vortex image.)
However, just because someone can fake a ghost photo… that doesn’t mean all similar photos are false anomalies.