Tuesday, 1 October 2013

How hauntings start?

Shadow ghostI heard the alarm go off and, instinctively, looked up. I was at the checkout of a supermarket. The beeping sound was coming from a security pillar placed near the door of the shop. I expected to see someone walking out, or maybe coming in (!), but there was no one there. Indeed, there was no one even near the pillar, nor any nearby machinery that might conceivably set it off.

I was on the point of joking to the assistant serving me at the checkout that it must be a ghost, when I thought better of it. Such 'jokes' have a habit of ending up as 'ghost reports'. It could produce a jokey story in the local paper, vigils by local ghost hunting groups and employees unwilling to work the night shift! And all because of a false alarm and my 'harmless joke'. I shuddered at the idea of being responsible for all that!

The security pillar 'went off' again several times before I left the shop. On all but one occasion, there was no one near it. Even though I knew it was almost certainly just a system malfunction, I couldn't suppress a distinct feeling, every time I looked up, that 'something unseen' was triggering it. I knew it was highly unlikely to be a ghost because there isn't, contrary to popular opinion, any compelling evidence for existence of invisible ghosts. But still the feeling came, seemingly irresistible.

So why, in a well-lit, well populated shop was I even considering the possibility of ghost involvement, albeit involuntarily? I think this may be a core component of why people report buildings to be haunted. If they experience unexplained events, like odds sounds for instance, that might make them think there is an unknown person present, when there is not, it can lead a strong feeling of a ghostly presence. And it is easy to see how additional spookiness factors, like low lighting and low temperature, may tend to unconsciously bias their thoughts in that direction.

So, it is likely then that only SOME types of unexplained sounds will trigger an initial report of a haunting. A creaking stair of floorboard, which might normally be caused by someone walking on them, is a classic example. Only once the idea that there might be a ghost present has taken hold will other, more ambiguous, sounds tend to also be reported as signs of a haunting. It is often these more ambiguous sounds that are reported on ghost vigils. And yet, in non-haunted buildings the same sounds would probably be dismissed as 'nothing of interest ' or even not noticed at all.

I've discussed this idea that hauntings start with a specific trigger event, and can maintained by less dramatic stuff, before (here). I am now convinced that such trigger events will usually consist of some sensory experience that give a strong impression of a person being present who isn't actually there. This can be anything from an apparition to apparent walking sounds. And, in a lot of cases, the initial event may not even be repeated! Once a place has a reputation for being haunted it can be maintained by more ambiguous incidents.

PS: Those of you who remember the 'garden poltergeist' won't find anything too surprising in this video.

PPS: I noticed a misperception recently, seeing a photo one way when it was actually something quite different on second glance. But here's the interesting bit. When I looked for the second time, I'm sure I saw the objects rearrange themselves (from my initial misperception to their true forms) as I started to see ithe photo correctly! I don't recall seeing that happen before. Usually the second view is different from the initial one straight away. I'll keep a look out to see if it happens again. It could be key to how some people apparently see 'impossible' things in poltergeist cases, for instance.

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