THE BASIC INVESTIGATION KIT
So..you want to be a Paranormal Investigator? Firstly, my commendation on your choice; as someone who has been "in the field" for around 20 years now, I can't say I've found investigation a disagreeable pastime..if I had, I suppose I wouldn't still be involved.
For those who are just taking their initial steps into this field, there's a great deal to consider, and a large part of that consideration is often centered around the question "what do I need to take with me?".
There are a few basics that, for my mind, are essential tools for any investigator or researcher; bear with me for a few minutes whilst I explain those..
THE "TOOL KIT"
If you were expecting a list of "gadgets" and material items here, think again! I'm not a big believer in the usefulness of many of the devices so commonly relied upon by many in the field today.
The kit I'm talking about is one that's much cheaper to obtain..in fact, it's free; it's sort of "built in", for want of a better term..
What I'm actually talking about here is our mindset, and the aspects and qualities which, I feel, can assuredly serve us well if we nurture them and utilise them..
So let's have a look at our essential tools, shall we?
When one stops to consider it, without curiosity there would not be any such thing as paranormal investigation.
Over a century ago- in January of 1882, to be precise- a conference was held in London, where quite a few very learned men discussed the viability of forming a society that would investigate claims of anomalous experiences in an unbiased manner, and with a spirit of scientific enquiry.
A month later, the Society for Psychical Research (SPR) was formed.
Over time, the field which began its existence investigating reports of hauntings, apparitions, mediumship, mesmerism and Psi has branched out. In this day and age, as people have become curious about other strange phenomena, we now have not only those who have kept those early considerations in mind and thus investigate apparitions, hauntings, Psi and such, and the possible reasons for them, but there now exist other areas of specialised interest such as UFOlogy, and cryptozoology too..
But if not for the curiosity of those early forebears, would such a large body of investigation, research, and documentation exist today? If the questions I ask so commonly nowadays- how, why, and what if- had not been asked by those first great minds, would the foundations upon which we now base our work and our standards have the depth and breadth that they do?
The existence of this field was inevitable, I suppose..people have been fascinated by the unusual and the supernatural since the dawn of time. But would the body of knowledge we now have to draw from, and learn from, have been as large if not for the curiosity of those who came before us?
Curiosity is always a vitally important part of our mental tool kit..after all, is it not generally an unanswered question that we seek answers for which starts us on our journey?
Whatever your question is- whatever convinced you that there was an answer to be sought, and that stepping into this field may help you find that answer..keep it in mind. Always.
READ, READ, READ!
I'm a lifelong bookworm- I've loved reading since I was very young, and still do to this day. And there's no topic I'd rather be reading about than the paranormal. I've read about many different topics relevant to this field- from personal experiences to the possible psychology behind those, from the groundbreaking early works of the SPR to the modern-day "how to" manuals, and everything in between.
I'm a frequent reader of research papers on such sites as Academia, and spend a great deal of time on Lexscien too. It's important that we absorb as much as we can about the possible explanations for any anomalous occurrences, and that we acknowledge too that there is a great body of scientific and academic research that has been undertaken over the span of more than a century, by some very distinguished minds. Reading the research conducted by our forebears in this field is vital, I feel, as it may give us new considerations to dwell upon when it comes to attempting to explain what we've experienced.
My advice? Instead of the paranormal pages so many in this field frequent, look to the original sources from which many of the articles or beliefs on those pages may have sprung. Check out Lexscien, Academia, the SPR website..search Google Scholar too..
And buy books! Lots of them! Anything applicable to the paranormal which has been written by serious minds, not TV-style ghost-hunters.
There are many below-the-surface considerations that really need to be explored, if we're to be well-rounded as investigators. My bookshelves are groaning with the weight of everything I've bought since I started to truly dig deeper, and everything I've read has been part of what is a truly wonderful journey into the realities of paranormal and psychical research, and parapsychology. I don't regret a dollar I've spent, nor a moment immersed in what lies within the covers of so many wonderful tomes. They've given me much to think about. I'd recommend this depth-diving to any and all in this field.
KEEP AN OPEN MIND
When it comes to the "ghostly" side of paranormal investigation and research, there are a few hypotheses to be taken into account, and often, unfortunately, we can develop biases which manifest in our confining ourselves to a single-minded view regarding what may be going on with anomalous experiences.
There's the mainly-espoused theory, which is that our minds and personalities survive bodily death, and which thus rules that any anomalous experiences are due to interaction with a surviving mind. This is not necessarily always the case, and no empirical evidence exists to prove the "survival" theory..but neither can it be ruled out entirely, as of course no completely empirical evidence exists to say that it isn't sometimes the case, either.
Many of us in this field (and that includes me) have had personal experiences we can't explain, which we may tend to attribute to After-Death Communication.. but to focus on that one possibility as the sole reason for those experiences can rule out the other (very well-researched) possibility; that of telepathic interaction with an "agent" who may still be very much alive..
Let's say we have something odd happen to us at a location- either in our homes, our frequented places, or on an investigation somewhere- which we can't explain. Our thoughts may straight away turn to that being due to the presence of a ghost or spirit..but that may not always be the case. Perhaps we're telepathically discerning the emotional residue left behind by somebody else- someone possibly still living.
Emotion, after all, does have detectable and measurable output, as shown in some of the studies cited in my favourite non-fiction book. The study of energetic output, and its flow through living systems, combined with energetic input from the environment external to that living system, is called Bioenergetics.
Then there's the other possibilities too; those being the possibility of unintentional misinterpretation of perfectly explainable occurrences due to perceptional biases..or also the more Psi-related possibility that we ourselves may be creating any phenomena we experience, due to a psychokinetic process set in motion by our assumptions, expectations and beliefs, and an unconscious desire to see those justified.
To keep an open mind means to not rule out any possibility..not everything anomalous that occurs is necessarily due to the presence of someone who has "passed beyond the veil". And even if we do have an anomalous experience, there's nothing that's ever been empirically proven that states that this is due to communication from a surviving personality. It may be hard to swallow, but in order to keep an open mind we must be ever aware of the fact that not everything we experience is due to a ghost or spirit- our minds are very powerful things, and capable of more than we may stop to consider.
BUT ADD A PINCH OF SCEPTISISM
Regardless of whether or not we believe that anomalous phenomena is due to interaction with a personality that has survived the physical death of the body in which it was once housed, or whether we feel it is more to do with telepathy, or the workings of our minds, I feel it quite important that we not jump to any conclusion automatically any time something we can't explain happens on an investigation.
In the previous section of this piece, I've listed several quite viable reasons as to why unusual experiences may occur, and as investigators it's vital that we consider that an experience may be due to one, or several, of those factors..but it's also vital that we approach any possible explanation with a little scepticism too, keeping in mind that whilst we may think something anomalous is due to a particular explanation, we don't know that it is.
I generally describe myself as an open-minded sceptic, or a sceptical believer..I don't ascribe dogmatically to any one particular theory or belief, but prefer to consider as many as are of possible relevance..because after all, I can never assert that I know without doubt that anomalous phenomena are definitely due to "this" or "that"..or even that they're actually anomalous at all- and to jump to conclusions without actually proving them is definitely not beneficial.
The truth of the matter is..nobody has empirical proof as to what causes every anomalous occurrence- natural, manmade, extrasensory, or spiritual- may apply to each individual experience, so to not accept any singular explanation at face value is beneficial.
BE HONOURED..AND BE GRATEFUL TOO!
As a small child, and one with a love for old places, I adored the times when my history-loving adoptive Father would take my Mother and myself to the many beautiful historic properties managed by the National Trust, that lie scattered around Victoria's inner suburbs and outlying towns.
This always felt like an honour- to have the opportunity to step away from the suburban reality of everyday life and enter a still-standing monument to times past. I would happily spend hours within those various old walls, admiring the beauty of the house itself, and of its furnishings, quietly amazed at the opulent splendour on display, and pondering the possible goings-on in the everyday lives of the many who had passed time in such grand, decorously hushed surrounds.
It was during those times that I began to form a childlike concept of what it was that I truly wanted to do..I had no term for it back then (that took quite a while!), but I knew I wanted to be able to spend time in such beautiful places..with many less people about. I had no idea what I'd do if given that chance, I merely knew I wished, so very much, to be able to have it one day.
Many years later I was afforded the chance to truly live what I had thought only a gossamer childhood dream- when I stepped into the world of the paranormal.
I've kept something from those early days, though; I'm still almost speechless with the sense of awe, and of honour, that envelops me as I set eyes upon each and every location I visit. That sense of honour is important, I feel..and not only to me personally; to have something at least akin to it will ensure that wherever one travels, and whatever location we may visit, we will ensure that the utmost respect is accorded to not only the location and its contents, but its owners, staff, and occupants too.
To be tied in with honour is gratitude..and when we truly stop to think about it, there really is a lot to be grateful for when it comes to our time here- we are given privileges beyond those accorded to many people, and are given trust and respect by those who allow us into what may be their businesses, workplaces or homes. Sometimes, these places have significant historic importance also. To treat each place we visit with that same sense of honour and gratitude reflects positively upon a field that is still so often shown in a negative light.
LISTEN TO YOUR BODY
One of the very first things I was ever told upon beginning my journey into this field came from the man who would become my "para-mentor" (sorry, couldn't help the "para" prefix, it's so much fun!) during my initial years, and who has become not only a dear and trusted friend, but is also a constant source of information, and of new considerations (thanks, Gaz!). What I was told, but perhaps knew instinctively already, is that sometimes on an investigation we are benefited by dispersing with the gadgets, and letting our senses guide us.
We are, after all, energetic beings. By that I don't mean we're all happy to go for long jogs, or work out at the gym daily. We all emit our own energetic fields, and just as we do that, we also are capable of sensing the energetic fields of others.
Have you ever entered a room, perhaps where two people have just been arguing, and felt a difference in the room's energy? Have you wondered how this happens?
Our emotions, and the resultant energetic output from those, can actually measurably effect our external environment. As I mentioned earlier, the study of our energetic output is called Bioenergetics.
A truly great brain I have the honour of being able to pick occasionally is that of Brandon Massullo, who states in his truly amazing book "The Ghost Studies":
" Humans are electrical beings; like everything with electricity flowing through it, we produce magnetic fields."
"Magnetic fields have energy and can carry information. Therefore, because our magnetic fields extend outward, they are interacting with the Earth's magnetic field in the atmosphere which, in a sense, is connected to everything on Earth."
(Massullo 2017, p.68)
In summary, what we are feeling when we encounter unusual emotional fluctuations at a location could be the residue left behind by the emotions of others, be they deceased or still living. Whether this is stored within the fabric of a building, as Place Memory theory asserts, or whether there is a "psychic ether", as theorised by H.H. Price, we really can't say for sure. But I do feel our own bodily responses to that emotional residue can be of far greater importance and value than the flashing lights and beeps of the gadgets we often rely too heavily on. Those can't speak to us of emotion, of feeling, and can't truly immerse us in the energy of a location.
BUT BE AWARE TOO
Many of us carry biases with us in our day-to-day lives, and are unaware of how those can shape our way of perceiving a situation.
A perfect summary of how this affects us can be found in the form of an acronym, in a fantastic book by another great brain I'm honoured to be able to pick on occasion.
Veteran Law-enforcement officer and lifelong paranormal enthusiast, (Lieutenant) Greg Lawson, writes in "Detecting Paranormal":
"To an extent, we can shape our own perception. Every day we walk among the living we are exposed to new experiences, people, and things. it is our perception that molds our day: our interpretation of these experiences, people, and things provide an intellectual and emotional outcome. Our base values, assumptions, beliefs, and expectations (VABEs) forge our perceived world." (Lawson 2017, p.9).
Our VABEs are ever-present. They're things we've learned or determined due to our pasts, our upbringing, what our parents and friends believe, our religious values (if any), what we're exposed to on various media platforms, and our own unique personalities and psychological makeup.
It's important to be aware of the effect of our VABEs can have upon us during investigations- for instance, if you hold religious beliefs, you may interpret your experiences through what you've read in the Bible. If you're a fan of the Para-TV shows, you may interpret your experiences through the lens of how the stars of those shows would interpret them. If you see a lot of content from paranormal groups on social media, you may interpret your experiences in the manner of those groups you admire most, or whose beliefs you feel affiliate with your own to the strongest degree.
Personally, I don't hold a particular belief system. I feel every experience we have should be thoroughly examined, whilst taking into account the possibility that our interpretation may be influenced by those VABEs, and thus may in turn influence our perceptions. It's important to be aware of that little chain effect, and to be aware of the personality aspects within ourselves that could cause unconscious biases.
So there we have it. There may be other "tools" I've not added to this basic kit, but as investigators I feel those I've covered are definitely of vital importance.
Do you have any other tools you feel are important to have in your mental kit? Do feel free to tell me about those, or to share any thoughts in comments. I'd love to hear them!