Do ghosts really exist?
Ghost hunting is the act of investigating sites which are reported to feature paranormal activity. These can include poltergeists, unexplained sounds and various other apparitions.
Ghost hunters, sometimes known as paranormal investigators, use a variety of equipment in their work, from technology such as digital video recorders and audio recording devices to interviews and other research into allegedly haunted places.
The history of ghost hunting
In medieval times, any attempt to investigate alleged supernatural occurrences would have risked a charge of witchcraft and heresy. The penalty for this was usually death by being burned at the stake, so it is understandable that reports of supernatural activity were few and far between.
However, there are exceptions and the most notable of which occurred in 1662 and is known as the ‘Drummer of Tedworth’. It involved unexplained drumming sounds occurring late at night in a house in the town of Tedworth whose owner had recently filed a lawsuit against an unlicensed drummer who he accused of obtaining money through false pretences. The case was investigated by philosopher and clergyman Thomas Glanvill. By the 1800s, the case was almost universally regarded as a fraudulent act.
Fascination in the supernatural rose during the Victorian period and in 1834 the first serious case of ghost hunting was recorded. Major Edward Moor, who lived at Great Bealings House in Suffolk, reported hearing the servants’ bells in his house ringing at random and uncontrollably.
He conducted his own investigation into the causes of this phenomenon, and although he did not immediately believe the cause to be of supernatural origin, he nonetheless recorded his findings in a book called Bealings Bells, which he published in 1841. Today, the case is widely believed to be either a hoax or a practical joke on the part of a servant and the book is considered in some circles to be an intentional work of satire.
In 1862, the world’s oldest and longest-running paranormal investigation group, The Ghost Club, was founded in 1862. By this time, interest in the supernatural had reached the upper echelons of Victorian society.
Such eminent Victorians as Charles Dickens and philosopher Henry Sidgwick were among the founding members. In years to come, the organisation would welcome notable personalities such as Arthur Conan Doyle, Julian Huxley and occult writer Dennis Wheatley into its ranks.
The period immediately following the end of the First World War and the catastrophic loss of life it entailed sparked a renewed interest in the supernatural. Indeed, the war itself could boast its own alleged supernatural occurrence when men of the 1/5th (Territorial) Battalion of the Norfolk
Regiment allegedly marched into a mist and vanished without trace. In fact, the unit was savagely cut down during the Gallipoli campaign of 1915. Notable ghost hunters of the early to mid-twentieth century include Elliott O’Donnell, who coined the phrase “ghost hunter” and Harry Price, who was the first to attempt to link ghost hunting to a scientific reality by founding the National Laboratory of Psychical Research.
This organisation produced advanced equipment, for the time, such as electroscopes – which detected whether an electrical charge was present and what its magnitude was – and thermographs, which were able to constantly read temperatures.
In the immediate post-Second World War years, ghost hunting largely declined and those who took up the reins thereafter were largely amateurs. The nature and scope of investigations became more austere than they had been during Harry Price’s time.
One prominent ghost hunter during the latter half of the twentieth century was Andrew Green and the sparse nature of contemporary ghost hunting is perhaps best apparent in the most advanced piece of equipment Green used in his investigations being a camera and tripod and an infra-red telescope if one could be obtained. Peter Underwood, another notable ghost hunter of the period, remarked that five tons of equipment produced no better results than relatively simple gear.
Ghost hunting today
With the advent of the Internet, ghost hunting enjoyed a resurgence in popularity and television programmes dedicated to it, such as Strange but True? and Most Haunted, enjoyed considerable ratings, the latter seeing the launch of an American adaptation shortly thereafter.
Throughout the early twenty-first century, ghost hunters began to add more sophisticated items to their equipment list, including electromagnetic field meters, audio enhancers, strobe lights and dowsing rods.
The practice of seeking out the supernatural is perhaps more widespread now than it has ever been, with over one thousand amateur ghost hunting organisations present on the Internet and ghost hunting in certain areas being offered to paying guests as a tourist attraction.
The constant debate that rages over ghost hunting is its authenticity. Over the several centuries in which it has enjoyed popularity, no hard, scientific evidence has ever been produced to conclusively prove the existence of ghosts. This has led to the practice being dismissed by most in the scientific community as a pseudoscience.
Many believe the process to be futile and a waste of time. However, ghost hunters can potentially provide reassurance to those who call them fearing that paranormal activity is taking place around them and who may have become distressed or anxious as a result.
Another potentially useful role for the ghost hunter in today’s world is to collaborate with the scientific and academic communities to record and research occurrences which have no immediate natural explanation and share their findings with the relevant specialists.
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