Australian Ghost Hunters Society

by Peter Underwood, Ghost Hunter


Poltergeist activity is at one and the same time the most exciting and the most frustrating type of spontaneous phenomenon that the amateur ghost hunter is likely to encounter. He, or she, will probably be regaled with many accounts of startling happenings; particularly noises, movement of objects, inexplicable fires and irritating and often pointless little disturbances such as the switching on and off of electric lights, the turning on and off of taps, the opening and closing of doors.

In conducting an investigation into poltergeist activity, as indeed in any haunted house inquiry, I have always found it to be a good idea to ask the principal person concerned to relate the story at length, and then to hear the story independently from each of the other people involved. By taking copious notes (an able assistant is invaluable at this stage) it is possible to obtain almost immediately a rounded picture of the case from several viewpoints, and by careful and discreet inquiry it is fairly easy to decide whether or not genuine paranormal activity has occurred. At this stage I do not advocate the use of a tape recorder, and even the note-taking should be done as unobtrusively as possible; initially many people do not like to have their conversations recorded.

Poltergeist phenomena are almost invariably associated with an adolescent child, more often a girl than a boy, and it is obvious that any investigation of a poltergeist case will centre on this individual. On all subsequent visits, and on the initial one if the nexus of the poltergeist is apparent, one member of the, investigating team should be allocated to keep the young person under close but not obvious surveillance at all times. The purpose is not to ‘catch out’ the girl or boy who may be ‘helping out’ the phenomena (although this is not unknown) but rather to detect at once any apparent phenomena that occur in the child’s presence and so seek to establish any pattern to the poltergeist activity. The luminous paint, card and paper can be used to mark people; both those suspected of ‘helping’ with the disturbances and those investigating the phenomena (using different colours). Luminous card or paper can also be attached to people’s clothing, and the paint can be used to mark small items so that they can be seen and possibly photographed in flight. Sometimes one particular room is found to be more frequently affected than other parts of a house; some poltergeists only ‘perform’ when the young person who is the centre of the disturbances is at rest, either sitting quietly or lying down; other poltergeists appear to be affected by the presence of certain objects, notably watches and clocks; still others most often manifest at certain times of the day, often early morning and late afternoon; and so on. The earlier that any such characteristics are noticed and established in any poltergeist case the sooner plans for investigation can be formulated that take these factors into account. Of course some poltergeist cases possess no such characteristics that are readily observable.

The investigation of poltergeist cases, which are so often haphazard and spasmodic, can involve most of the apparatus that the ghost hunter will expect to use in any haunted house: notebooks; graph paper (for making plans); tape recorder; thermometers – for recording the temperature in the locality of apparent phenomena and in the vicinity of the nexus of the poltergeist (perhaps the nexus herself or himself) in comparison with the temperature elsewhere, in the vicinity of other occupants of the house and visitors, and in the affected room when phenomena were not occurring; chalk and willow charcoal for marking and surrounding movable objects; camera; measuring apparatus; a magnifying glass; transparent envelopes and other containers; Zener cards; hand-mirrors and so forth. A second associate, during initial interviews, can often compile word-association tests which contain key words applicable to that particular case amid a number of innocuous and irrelevant words; such a ‘test’ often produces interesting results and provides ideas for further investigation. The inclusion of one or two gadgets creates interest and relaxation and sometimes promotes 'phenomena'.


The investigation of a traditional or historical haunting can be a fascinating business. Initially the investigator will have learned what he can about the alleged haunting: the locale, duration, season, time, position of witnesses and so on. He will then have read what he can of the history of the house and the historical character, if such the ghost is reported to be. He might then pay a quiet visit to the house and spend some time in the area reputed to be haunted, noting any impression the area may have on other visitors; he will make a point of talking to the guides and casually bring up the subject of ghosts. The guides of historic houses are usually mines of information on the subject of the house they serve and the characters who lived there, and often too they have heard reports of ghost sightings that have never been recorded or published. Of course there are historic house guides, just as there are people in other walks of life, who find it difficult to accept the possibility of ghosts and ridicule the subject.

Having obtained as much information as possible about the house, the people who lived there, and reported sightings, the investigator will retire to digest all this material and plan his investigation. A thoughtful approach to the director or owner of the property is then necessary to obtain the required permission to carry out an investigation. Often such requests are rejected out of hand, but where they are entertained the authority concerned will sometimes require an insurance cover, the installation of any equipment to be under their supervision, and they may insist on the presence of one or more of their staff during the whole of the investigation, be it day or night. When conducting all-night ghost hunts there is always the likelihood of a member of the investigating party being seen prowling about or acting rather strangely in a lit or darkened room, or indeed being abroad at an unusual hour, carrying suspicious-looking bags or apparatus, so it may be advisable to inform the local police of your plans.

Such an investigation will call for the usual note-taking materials, cameras, tape-recorders, thermometers, measuring apparatus, chalks, reels of thread, cotton, tape, wool and wire, and sealing materials for ‘controlling’ passages, doorways, staircases, cupboards and so forth (to limit the area under investigation); torches for each member of the party and a free-standing one for the hub of operations; soft shoes and extra clothing if it is winter time or outdoor vigilance is anticipated; and a magnifying glass and such gadgets as seem applicable and appropriate. It is wise to formulate a fairly rigid program of events and stick to it as far as possible so that strategic places are under constant surveillance by more than one person from different viewpoints; that regular checks are made for temperature readings and so forth.

Death-bed visions, crisis apparitions and ghosts of the living do not usually offer much scope for practical investigation but all instances of such reported happenings should be carefully and fully recorded as soon as possible after the event, pre-ferably first-hand and with additional witnesses wherever possible. Good evidence of these phenomena is always welcomed by such organizations as The Ghost Club, the Society for Psychical Research and The College of Psychic Studies. The records of any of these organizations may well possess a similar or associated case that is relevant, and the addition of another case may shed some light on the modus operandi of these strange but indisputable happenings. Atmospheric photograph ghosts can usually be recognised by the fact that as a rule they are always seen in one particular place doing one particular thing, and when witnesses, seeing these illusions which they take to be real people, approach them to enquire what they want or to offer help, thereby altering the angle necessary to observe them, the illusionary forms disappear. These are the nun-like figures that always glide along a certain path; the ‘monks’ who are glimpsed time and time again in one part of a cathedral or in the doorway of an ancient ruined monastery; the headless horseman always seen near a particular field or farmyard gate; the indistinct but human form that scores of motorists report seeing at a certain spot – a sight that causes them to brake violently, but then they see nothing to account for what startled them; the child seen at the bottom of a garden where once such a child amused itself for hours; the dog that its owner says he often sees walking up the garden path; perhaps too the sounds of sighing, or weeping, or laughing, the smell of violets or tobacco smoke, the rustle of silk, the footstep on the stair, the squeal of a car braking: they may be some kind of atmospheric echo, a suggestion that occasionally actions, sounds, odors and experiences may in some unknown way become impressed upon the atmosphere, to reappear under certain conditions and perhaps only in the presence of certain people. What is interesting of course is the fact that there are instances of visitors to a particular place, who have no knowledge of a ghost being seen there, witnessing a particular ghost that has been seen by other people at that particular place.

The ghost hunter who comes across an atmospheric photograph ghost should, after obtaining the fullest details of the sighting, arrange to be present when, as far as possible, the circumstances are duplicated. This will involve careful attention to time, date, atmospheric conditions, the presence of wit-nesses in their exact positions and clothed exactly as previously and many other particulars. Then the ghost hunter should seek to recreate any particular emotional atmosphere that prevailed at the time of the original sighting and position himself close to the witness with camera ready and see what happens. He should take a few photographs even if neither he nor the witness can see anything, for there have been instances of ‘something’ appearing on a photograph when nothing has been visible to the human eye. The ghost hunter should also have additional witnesses (as always) and they should mostly be scattered at various viewpoints, but at least one should be immediately on the other side of the witness; sound-recording apparatus should be running, if available, and in the event of a human or animal form having been observed moving in one particular direction, all sorts of other paraphernalia can be employed in an effort to obtain some kind of record of the appearance should it return.

More than one visitor to a haunted house has come away with the conviction that it is not the 'ghost' that he feared, but the 'ghost's' earthly agent! And it has to be said that the investigator has to be continually on his toes to ensure that he is not misled. It may be that in a sense of fun someone does something, and if it is accepted as a genuine phenomenon the perpetrator is trapped: either he admits he did it and looks silly, or he keeps quiet, and he usually adopts the latter course. Then he again has two choices: he either takes no further part in the matter or he repeats the trick; either way he is not helping the investigator. Sometimes the 'happenings' may be consciously performed by someone in the house for his or her own good reasons, and it is up to the investigator to find this person and quietly have a word with him or (which is the course I usually adopt in these circumstances) ensure that he is eliminated from the possibility of doing anything further. This can be done, for example, by ensuring that he is not present at the scene at all (although he is under surveillance) or having him under constant surveillance in a separate room. Then when nothing further happens it is possible to suggest, in the kindest possible way, that the absent person may have been responsible, either consciously or unconsciously. It all points to the great care and experience that is needed in choosing fellow investigators on whom one is going to rely.

The psychic investigator should always bear in mind the possibility, nay the probability, of any reported happening having a completely natural explanation, and he must thoroughly explore every possible rational explanation before he begins to explore the possibility of a paranormal explanation. In short he should adopt the attitude and the methods of an open-minded private investigator, but one whose knowledge and experience of human beings and haunted houses lead him to question everything and everyone until no other explanation will fit the facts. Only then will he bring to bear on the matter his expert knowledge and his equipment in an effort to establish scientifically the reality of the psychic happenings reported.

To simplify the question of equipment: the barest of essentials that should comprise a ghost hunter’s bag would be a notebook and pencils, chalk, measuring tape, sealing apparatus for doors and windows (this need be no more elaborate than coloured tape, wire, fine string, drawing pins, cotton and ‘plutowax’ or something similar), torch, flour, sugar, thermometer, camera and a small mirror.


[Castle of Spirits home] [AGHS home]

Mr. Peter Underwood

The above information is Extracted from Mr Peter Underwoods "The Ghost Hunters Guide" - reproduced with the kind permission of the author, Peter Underwood, with whom sole copyright remains the exclusive property thereof.
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