The Beginner's Guide to Ghost Hunting
On my very first ghost hunt, I met six or eight other people (read: strangers, save for one or two) at a park. We all met on Meetup, we all shared a common interest, and we were all there for the same reason: to go on a paranormal investigation.
We had a designated leader, and he led us around the park. We had one spirit box, and we would stop every once in a while to ask questions, hoping we'd hear a voice come through from the "other side."
Not much happened. In fact, it was supremely boring. Since that experience, though, I've picked up on what you should and shouldn't do and have had much more successful hunts — but not before learning a very important lesson first: It's one thing to watch people search for and try to communicate with spirits on TV; it's a completely different experience embarking on your own.
Despite what many may think, ghost hunting isn't as easy as picking a haunted location, spending an hour or so there and leaving. You need the right equipment, the right mindset and the right people. And if possible, you need to have spent some time researching the location beforehand.
This Halloween season, if you're hell-bent on going on a ghost hunt for the first time, read the following tips from expert ghost hunters before you head out, and you'll likely have a much more interesting, exciting investigation — one you'll want to brag about later.
Bring the right equipment
Here's a solid list of what you'll need from ghost-tour site Ghosts & Gravestones:
- Pen and paper
- Comfortable shoes
- Light jacket
- Audio recorder (you can even use a voice app on your phone)
- First-aid kit
While out on a ghost hunt, record anything and everything that happens, including what you see, hear and feel — both tactilely and how you feel. (We'll get to what certain feelings mean later on.)
Write down all your observations, and record any questions you ask. Keep the recorder going too — you might capture electronic voice phenomena, which are believed to be spirit voices.
"Digital recorders are a really good basic tool," Nick Groff, formerly an investigator on Ghost Adventures and currently the lead investigator for Paranormal Lockdown, tells SheKnows. "Cheap ones are great because they generate white noise, which spirits speak within."
To further explain what electronic voice phenomena are, Groff says they're broken down into three categories: classes A, B and C. "Class A is so unbelievably clear, you can easily make out the words," he says. "At our last location, we were asking questions and then playing back some EVPs, and the spirits said our full names in clear voices, actually responding to our questions. Really bizarre."
Class B is the most common type of EVP and is usually heard during audio playback. The audio is usually clear enough that the person listening can easily make out what the ghost is saying. Class C is also fairly common but you're unable to understand what the ghost or spirit is saying. It most likely sounds like inaudible whispers or murmurs.
Take as many photos as possible in case you capture orbs or any other phenomena.
Lastly and most important, bring a first-aid kit. If you're exploring an abandoned or isolated area, you never know what might happen.
Do not go alone
Speaking of safety, it's wise and highly recommended not to go on a hunt alone. Again, if you're heading to a low-traffic area, you have no idea how dangerous it might be or what might happen, so it's always best to have at least one other person with you. If you can't find a friend who's interested, try joining a group like I did on Meetup.
"Be in a local team so you can tag along in an investigation," Kindred Spirits host Amy Bruni said in a video on her TLC page.
Do your research before you go
So, you've chosen a location. Now what?
Learn as much about the location as possible, including the people and the lives they lived. This allows you to prepare for any challenges you might face on the property as well as who you might potentially communicate with when you get there.
According to the Ghosts & Gravestones site, researching might also help you determine what time of day you should conduct your investigation. "For example, if sightings commonly occur in the evening, you'll know to plan your ghost hunt around that time," they write.
Aaron Goodwin, one of the paranormal investigators on Ghost Adventures, agrees and also told CNN he recommends bringing a trigger object, or an object the spirit might relate to. "Know the history of the place and of the haunting, and bring something the spirit can relate to," Goodwin says. "If it's a kid, for example, bring a toy, or if you're at a bank where there was a big heist, bring money from the era of the heist. Talk about the item you bring. Ask questions. You may even get enough spirit energy to move it."
Berry and Bruni take researching one step further: They recommend reading up on the history of paranormal investigations in general. "Read up on all sorts of different methodologies," they said in their video.
Here are five books we recommend starting with:
- The Ghost Hunter's Survival Guide: Protection Techniques for Encounters With The Paranormal by Michelle Belanger
- Ghost Hunting for Beginners: Everything You Need to Know to Get Started by Rich Newman
- The Supernatural Book of Monsters, Spirits, Demons, and Ghouls by Alex Irvine
- Ghost Hunting: True Stories of Unexplained Phenomena from The Atlantic Paranormal Society by Jason Hawes
- Ghost Hunting Diary Volume I by T.M. Simmons
Don't just show up to private property. Make sure you've been given permission to be there because the last thing you want is to get caught trespassing.
If you can, get written consent to avoid legal troubles, the Ghosts & Gravestones site advises.
Know the signs when you get there
So, you're standing in a dark room, but how do you know if a spirit is there with you?
"Your head starts to hurt out of nowhere," said Ghost Brothers star Dalen Spratt in a video on the site Destination America. "Then, it'll get really hot or really cold. And you get this nauseating feeling, almost like you get sick for a brief second."
Signs can be physical and affect your energy too — for instance, if you get touched by something that's not there, then there's likely something paranormal happening.
Know what to do if something bad happens
Let's say a spirit becomes angry with you or a malevolent spirit tries to harm you. What should you do?
Berry and Bruni recommend speaking up. "To alleviate the problem, just talk to whoever you think is there," Bruni tells SheKnows. Communicate with whatever may be in the room and ask them to leave. "Remember that they are people just like us, just in a different form. If you want to be friends, you can, but you can also be firm."
Basically, be confident and own the space.
It's believed spirits can follow you home, so with that said, it's always best to take every ghost hunt seriously.
"You're not hunting rocks. You're not hunting seashells. Provocation is very serious. Things can follow you home. I've had to have my house blessed twice," said Ghost Adventures paranormal investigator Zak Bagans in an interview with CNN. "In [one of the] premiere [episodes], I was overtaken by a dark entity. I suddenly wanted to attack Aaron and I started breaking our equipment. I don't remember it, and watching the video was very disturbing. I don't mess around with this stuff."
Stay safe out there!