Who Forted? Magazine

Twenty-Five Hard Earned Pointers for Paranormal Investigation

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.

Greg Newkirk

Greg Newkirk

Senior Editor at Who Forted
Documentary film-maker, professional monster chaser, and mystery monger, Greg is the senior editor for Who Forted? 'Zine. When he's not occupied by writing about the wide world of the weird, he's busy directing and editing documentary films like The Bigfoot Hunter: Still Searching or writing about offbeat travel for Roadtrippers. He's currently in production on his new project: an original documentary web series titled Planet Weird. He currently lives in Cincinnati.
Greg Newkirk
Greg Newkirk

24 Comments

  1. Dana Newkirk

    12/21/2011 at 8:51 PM

    Gow going down!

  2. Jason Gowin

    12/21/2011 at 9:23 PM

    ….really, Dana? REALLY?

  3. Robbie Newman

    12/21/2011 at 9:27 PM

    You are a God among men. Men with dicks.

  4. Jason Gowin

    12/21/2011 at 9:53 PM

    There are a few rules…that I would like to add….

    1. Never wear GOOD PANTS on an investigation
    2. Sometimes the cops are the best people to ask where the best haunted spots are supposed to be.
    3. If a group from another country pairs up with your gang….and then tries to sleep over at one of your houses inciting a bitter war…years later one of your group will probably marry their leader.
    4. Ghost hunting in costume is just as rewarding as actually finding something.
    5. Fairies are real.
    6. The Stranger the people you encounter, the greater the adventure.

    • Greg Newkirk

      12/21/2011 at 10:04 PM

      4.5: Unless you’re Pepsiman. Because lack of eye holes and pitch dark night do not mix.

    • Ken Summers

      12/23/2011 at 2:57 PM

      Gotta agree with #2… and I do believe I’m living proof of #5.

  5. Ken Summers

    12/21/2011 at 9:58 PM

    It’s like you read my mind. Well, either that or it comes from being “old school” before people decided, “I’m a pro at this! I watched the whole first season of (insert ghost show here!)”

    I’m not worthy!

  6. Chasing Midnight

    12/21/2011 at 11:38 PM

    26: Although inappropriate touching is deemed socially unacceptable in most other fields apart from prostitution and lap-dancing, in the paranormal community it is actively encouraged.

    • Ken Summers

      12/23/2011 at 2:58 PM

      Same with letting people come in your house who see invisible people and hear voices that aren’t actually there.

      It’s a fucked-up field, I tell ya.

  7. Tim Yancey

    12/22/2011 at 7:41 AM

    Well done buddy – you just may save the paranormal community from itself : )

  8. Chicken Zombie Tom

    12/22/2011 at 7:52 AM

    26: Gas-X should be considered paranormal equipment.

  9. Chasing Midnight

    12/22/2011 at 9:22 AM

    “Trespassing is not that big of a deal, and the rewards far often outweigh the risk of a fine”. I agree. I got 12 years hard time in San Quentin for trespassing on the grounds of Fairfield Asylum. This resulted in over a decade of almost daily anal-violation, gang warfare, and prison shankings. It was only my eventual affiliation with the Aryan Brotherhood that saved me from a violent end. But on the plus side, the Orb photos I got before the Fairfield police arrested me were well worth it.

    • McJesus

      05/10/2013 at 10:12 AM

      If you got 12 years for trespassing, I’m going to assume you also had a ton of crack in your trunk. No one gets hard time for trespassing unless they do something really stupid on the premises, like… I don’t know; shoot a friend in the face or operate a drug cartel. Cool story, though, bro.

  10. Patrick H.T Doyle

    12/22/2011 at 9:55 AM

    No! I will not wear pants. We come into this world naked, and I’m going to hunt the dead naked!

    • Ken Summers

      12/23/2011 at 3:01 PM

      The headline the next day would read, “BIGFOOT HUNTER CLAIMS TO HAVE SHOT AND KILLED ALBINO BIGFOOT; HAS CORPSE IN CHEST FREEZER”

  11. Tony Morrill

    12/22/2011 at 7:25 PM

    Personally, I’ve always gone for more of a “pants optional” atmosphere on the rare occasion I leave the arm-chair to actually go out into the ‘field’. It really serves to separate the men from the boys.

  12. Deb

    06/19/2012 at 7:52 AM

    As a paranormal investigator I am saddened that you would tell anyone to illegally trespass on private property, just because you did it and “had fun” doesn’t make it right and because of your comment people will think its ok and end up hurt or arrested.
    In fact most of what you wrote is bogus bull and will be sending kids off thinking this is all a big lark when it is not, its serious and people are suffering events they cant explain and need help, you trivialize their experiences with your ill conceived recommendations.

    • Greg Newkirk

      06/19/2012 at 8:52 AM

      Oh man, give me a break. You come in here and tell me that the 25 tips I wrote, all grounded in reality (you think the majority of “ghost hunters”, and plain ‘ol kids, don’t trespass you’re fooling yourself) and hard learned, and you tell me that they’re bogus? Lady, your team’s website lists fog and window reflections as paranormal evidence. In fact, your team broke damn near every rule in this list. C.A.S.P.E.R. – hilarious. Does Hanna Barbara know about this? You’re part of the problem.

      If it makes you feel any better, this article wasn’t written for you or anyone who actually believes that ghost hunters are “helping” anyone except tourists and the haunted Bed & Breakfast industry. It was written for people who still operate in reality.

  13. Wineaux

    06/19/2012 at 2:20 PM

    You forgot one!!!

    Paranormal crap doesn’t only just happen in the dark. Turning the light on wont scare away the paranormal.

  14. ChasingMidnight

    06/19/2012 at 10:18 PM

    So the E in C.A.S.P.E.R, stands for education, so why not educate yourself on how to use a camera before claiming you have a picture of ectoplasm ? What next, are you going to say it appeared because you “crossed the streams” by mistake? And if you’re going to run around in the dark like a 12 year old girl and pretend it’s to “help clients” rather then admit that it’s to help yourself get cheap-thrills.Then you’re not fit to investigate a blocked toilet, let alone if there is an afterlife.

    • Deb

      06/20/2012 at 8:41 AM

      Those pics were years ago and I have no control on what is put on that site, I am saying I am a serious investigator who sees the idiots and legend trippers out there ruining our reputation and making it very hard for clients to see past the crap and stupidity and ask for help when they need it.
      I am no child in fact I am a grandmother who isn’t in this for the thrills and I find your assumptions insulting to say the least. None of you have any idea what the paranormal field is all about.
      Our Casper program has raised a lot of money for charity and to help businesses in times of trouble, ask them if its bull, they were happy for the help and if more teams helped the community this would be a much more credible field.
      Ghost Hunters and the rest of the shows are nothing more than entertainment, they don’t realistically portray what we do and I think everyone but you is aware of that.

      • ChasingMidnight

        06/20/2012 at 11:57 AM

        I’m glad you find my assumptions insulting, why else do you think I made them ? But you got off lightly considering how much your ridiculous website justified them. You think that because your C.A.S.P.E.R program makes money for charity that suddenly legitimizes it? I could sell bronzed rabbit turds to raise money for cancer research, that doesn’t miraculously transform them into roses. And so what if you’re a Grandmother, what does that means exactly. That you’ve been an incompetent paranormal-investigator for longer? Congratulations. Now the bad-news, unfortunately whether or not there will be a Ghostbusters 3 is still in the balance. So until then you will have to get your training by watching re-runs of Paranormal State.

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