2003: When you’re sneaking around an abandoned house at 17 years of age, even Newsweek is scary.
Sometimes it’s hard to believe that I began my adventures into the paranormal at the age of 12. It was a gradual thing that started with a second hand Time Life book on the mystery of UFOs and abduction. The book, purchased for me by my grandfather, resulted in the most ferocious nightmares I ever experienced as a kid, and set into motion a decade of sneaking out at midnight, falling through rickety floorboards, sleeping in class, and plotting the next adventure with some of the best friends I’ve ever had.
My formative years were spent, some might say squandered, on absolutely ridiculous late night road trips to locales whispered of beside campfires and under blanket forts. Because of this, I don’t think I’ll ever be able to shake my fascination with the strange or the desire to chase it down, no matter how unlikely or fantastic the stories may be.
Here at WF, we’ll often get emails from people, mostly younger kids, who are looking for advice on starting paranormal investigation groups of their own. In fact, the search term “starting a ghost hunting group” is one of the most popular incoming results to this website. It’s a question that I see asked quite often to people of status in the paranormal community, and the answers are generally along the lines of “buy my book, use my gear, come to my lecture, and watch my television show”. None of these are good answers. They’re disingenuous and don’t provide any real world advice for someone who may be authentically curious about poking around in the dark.
Ghost Hunters Inc. staring into the 7 Steps Circa 1999
When asked for advice, I’ve always responded in a particular manner. Rather than provide a list of books, people, or equipment.. things that have a tendency to change radically depending on who’s on television this month.. I like to give a list of the most important lessons that I’ve learned, often the hard way, over close to fifteen years of gallivanting through the fringe. Sometimes the list is shorter, other times longer, but I’d like to believe that it’s genuinely helpful, or a least thought provoking, to anyone with the same itch I got when I was 12. It’s a list of all the things that I wish someone would have told me early on in my adventures.
- Your expectations are too high. Drop them. Considerably. Go into the wilds of the weird with a sense of adventure and an open mind and you’ll be rewarded. Sure, you probably won’t see a ghost, but you’ll have a good time. That’s what you’ll remember.
- You aren’t a scientist. Don’t try to convince anyone you are, it will just make you look foolish. A tape recorder and a digital camera aren’t the equivalent of a hard earned degree in the scientific fields. Leave the “science” to the people who have dedicated their lives to it.
- Leave the “helping people” to priests and psychologists. You will only make things worse.
- Trespassing is not that big of a deal, and the rewards far often outweigh the risk of a fine. Use the urbx rule of “take nothing but pictures, leave nothing but footprints” and don’t get caught.
- Orbs are dust.
- Ghost Hunters / Paranormal State / GhostLab / Haunted Collector, etc. are labelled “docu-soaps” for a reason. They are not real. Hawes, Buell, Zaffis, et al are performers. They know nothing about the paranormal that you don’t, they’re just decent bullshitters.
- Don’t be afraid to experiment. In a field that is inherently silly, no one should be afraid to look a little ridiculous at times. Make mistakes. People are chasing ghosts with studfinders and tape recorders for Christ’s sake. Your “stupid idea” might be the next big thing in the paranormal community.
- Ouija boards are not dangerous portals to hell. On the contrary, they are portals to your subconscious. It’s often twice as scary.
- For the love of God, don’t come up with a cute acronym for your team name. In fact, don’t call yourselves a team and don’t give people titles like “lead investigator” or “tech specialist”. It’s bad for morale, it’s lame, and it will cause you problems.
- The paranormal is a pretty broad subject. Make use of that.
- Read. A lot. Hans Holzer for inspiration. The Fortean Times for attitude. Belanger for locations. Radford for critical thinking. Never buy a how-to book. In a field with no rules, it’s pointless. (Sidenote: “legend tripping” is the stupidest forced name ever, please don’t use it.)
- Get cozy with Art Bell as often as you can.
- Write EVERYTHING down. Save it.
- Don’t let it become a competition. If you choose to participate in the ‘community’, the amount people snub you is directly proportional to how unique you are within the community. Everyone wants to be the ‘next big thing’. Chances are, they won’t be.
- Wear pants.
- It’s ok to have fun. There’s a popular attitude in the paranormal community right now, particularly with ghost hunters, that one must be in this for a “purpose”. Simply not true. The crusaders with a mission are simply using the paranormal as a means to make up for the social status that they lack in everyday life. It’s easy to appear an important person in a field that requires no credentials.
- Most psychics are liars and drama queens. Most. The quicker/more often they share their “gift” with everyone in earshot, the faker they are.
- Keep your religious beliefs to yourself. Atheist, Wiccan, Christian, whatever.. just shut up about it.
- Just because it’s not real doesn’t mean you have to write it off.
- Most skeptics you will meet are former believers that set their expectations too high and never got the payoff they wanted (see #1). Their mentality is very much “if I can’t have it, no one can”. Remember that when they inevitably come around to pick a fight.
- It’s probably sleep paralysis.
- Every good gang needs at least of the following: a fat kid, a nerd, a girl, and a guy who doesn’t really want to be there.
- Paranormal conferences are a waste of money.
- The best tool you’ll ever have is your flashlight. Don’t scrimp on it.
- It’s the journey, not the destination, that will change your beliefs. Remember, opinions evolve. Let them.
There you have it. I’m sure that there are many good tips that I’ve missed, a whole bunch that a lot of people won’t agree with, and even a few things that I might begin to feel differently about somewhere down the line, but after growing up in the embrace of the strange, it’s the best advice, and the most honest, that I can give.
Now go chase some monsters.