By Rosemary Ellen Guiley
c. Visionary Living, Inc.
A haunting is the repeated manifestations of strange and inexplicable sensory phenomena — smells, sounds, tactile sensations and hallucinations — said to be caused by ghosts or spirits attached to a certain locale. The term “haunt” comes from the same root as “home.” Typically, a haunted location is the former home of the deceased, or the spot where the deceased died. Haunted sites also include places that apparently were frequented or favored by the deceased, and sites of violence death. Other hauntings are “aimless,” occurring without explanation.
There is no general pattern to a haunting. Some phenomena manifest periodically or continually over durations that may be short–a matter of days–or long, going on for centuries. Some hauntings occur only on certain anniversary dates: the ghost of Sir Christopher Wren is said to be heard hurrying up and down the stairs of Hampton Court in England every February 26, the date of his death in 1723.
Not everyone who visits or lives in a reputedly haunted location will experience phenomena. Hauntings sometimes can be brought to an end through exorcisms conducted either by clergy or by mediumistic individuals who reportedly can communicate with the ghost or spirit believed to be responsible for the haunting. Some hauntings end of their own accord for reasons not known. Those that seem to be “psychic recordings,” or impressions that certain people can receive, do not respond to exorcisms. Such hauntings seem to be endless reenactments of events, like a video or audio tape set on automatic replay.
It is popularly assumed that most hauntings involve apparitions, or ghosts, of the dead. In fact, apparitions are associated with a minority of reported cases. Most hauntings involve noises, such as mysterious footsteps, rustlings, whisperings, animal sounds and howlings, thumps, tappings and rappings; smells, expecially of flowers, perfume, burned wood or rotting flesh or matter; tactile sensations such as a cold prickling of the skin, cold breezes and feelings of being touched by an invisible hand. Some hauntings feature poltergeist activities such as rearranged furniture, stopped clocks, smashed glassware and mirrors and the paranormal movement of objects.
Percipients often experience negative emotions at a haunted site, including anger, fear or hatred. They also may sense a presence of evil. Other hauntings seem to involve friendly or benign ghosts. Some mediums say they can contact trapped spirits of the dead who are haunting sites, and are able to send them on their way to the Other Side.
Some hauntings also feature phantom animals, such as pet dogs, cats and horses, which are seen, felt, or heard in their familiar spots. Objects as well as sites may be haunted. In Britain, for example, numerous tales exist of haunted skulls which seem to cause unearthly screaming whenever they are removed from their places in a home.
Poltergeist hauntings often are characterized by violent physical disturbances such as flying and levitating objects, banging doors, assaults on humans and rapping and thumping noises. These disturbances often seem to be caused by living persons; there is evidence that some poltergeists may be discarnate spirits.
Little is known about why or how hauntings occur. An explanation for at least some hauntings favored by many ghost investigators is that of the portal, an opening to other dimensions that allows spirits to enter the physical world. Belief in portals is ancient and universal. Certain places that are sacred serve as natural portals. Wells have often been associated as natural entryways for spirits. Other portals can open at places associated with death, such as cemeteries, battlefields and natural disaster sites; places associated with trauma and intense emotions, such as hospitals, hotels, schools, churches and theaters; and lonely places such as lighthouses.
Thousands hauntings have been systematically investigated by psychical researchers and parapsychologists since the late 19th century. Many explanations have been proposed, but there is no conclusive evidence to support one more strongly than another. Frederic W.H. Myers, one of the founders of the Society for Psychical Research (SPR), in London, did extensive research of apparitions in the late 19th century. Myers believed that most hauntings are fragmentary and meaningless, the bits and pieces of an energy residue left by the living after their death. Others who have built on Myers’ theory propose that hauntings do not involve ghostly personalities, but are those recordings of energy that take on personalities to percipients who are psychically sensitive. Psychic sensitivity may account for diverse experiences in a haunted site: why one person experiences phenomena and another does not.
Eleanor Sidgwick, former secretary of the SPR, theorized that hauntings are a form of psychometry. Just as an object appears to absorb and retain the “vibrations” of its owner, which manifest as impressions when the object is handled by a medium or psychic, then houses might also retain memories or psychic impressions. A house could incorporate the thoughts, actions and feelings of its former occupants, which then manifest as a haunting to psychically sensitive individuals.
Oxford philosopher Harry H. Price and American parapsychologist William G. Roll are among those who have elaborated upon Sidgwick’s theory. Price’s theory, called “deferred telepathy,” posits that there exists a “psychic ether” which is a bridge between mind and matter and impregnates all matter and space. Certain thoughts and events are impressed upon this ether and remain on it for long periods, even years. When tragedies occur, the appropriate psychic conditions are created and lasting impressions result. Sensitive persons coming into contact with a haunted house might telepathically contact these thoughts and emotions which are then “replayed” as hauntings. “Deferred telepathy” has been criticized by others for not explaining movements of objects which are sometimes reported in hauntings.
Roll has proposed that all objects have a psi field that prevades and exudes from them. A sensitive individual contacts and reads the impressions of a house from its psi field during a haunting. This theory has suffered some of the same criticism as Price’s theory, particularly since persons who have little or no demonstrable psychic ability have witnessed hauntings.
Italian parapsychologist Ernesto Bozzano studied several hundred cases of hauntings and analyzed their characteristics, relating them to the different theories of hauntings and to his Spiritistic theory. Bozzano came to five conclusions in support of his belief that hauntings were spirits of the dead: 1) phantoms of the dead can haunt sites where they did not die and had not lived; 2) hauntings consist of the movement of objects that suggests some type of physical presence; 3) hauntings are associated with deaths to a greater extent than other types of tragedies or emotions; 4) hauntings are intermittent; and 5) when such actions as exorcism and prayers for the dead are performed, the hauntings end.
Numerous remedies to end hauntings exist around the world. Some are simple, such as sweeping out the offending spirits with a broom. Others are more elaborate, such rites of exorcism or releasement. Such measures do not always succeed.