A haunting is the repeated manifestations of inexplicable sensory and physical phenomena said to be caused by Ghosts, Poltergeists, or spirits attached to a certain locale.

The term “haunt” comes from the same root as “home.” Often, 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 favoured by the deceased, and sites of violence death. Other hauntings are “aimless,” occurring without explanation.

Characteristics of Hauntings

There is no dominant pattern to a haunting. Not everyone who visits or lives in a reputedly haunted location will experience phenomena. Some phenomena manifest periodically or continually over durations that may be short, lasting only a few days or less. Others last for centuries. Some hauntings occur only on certain “anniversary” dates: for example, the ghost of Sir Christopher Wren is said to be heard hurrying up and down the stairs of Hampton Court every February 26, the date of his death in 1723.

Most hauntings involve noises, such as mysterious footsteps, rustlings, whisperings, animal sounds and howlings, thumps, tappings and Rappings; Smells, especially 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. One common sound in hauntings is that of heavy furniture being moved about and dragged across floors— however, the rooms in question remained undisturbed.

People may 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 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 that seem to cause unearthly screaming whenever they are removed from their places in a home (see Screaming Skulls).

Poltergeist hauntings 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.

Causes of Hauntings

It is popularly assumed that most hauntings involve ghosts of the dead, especially those who died tragically or violently. However, ghosts are only one type of haunting entity. Besides poltergeists, numerous nonhuman spirits, such as Fairies, Angels, Demons, and other types of beings, can haunt places as well.

Little is known about why or how hauntings occur, or why they are not experienced uniformly among people. Thousands of hauntings have been investigated by psychical researchers and paranormal investigators since the late 19th century. Many explanations have been proposed, but there is no conclusive evidence to support one more strongly than another.

The majority of hauntings that can be tied to historical events are unhappy in nature: the dead suffered emotionally or died suddenly or in unpleasant ways. Sometimes Curses are associated with hauntings. However, there are benign hauntings, and some ghost act in a benevolent way toward the living.

Frederic W.H. Myers, one of the founders of the Society for Psychical Research (SPR), London, who did extensive research of Apparitions in the late 19th century, 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’s 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, thought that hauntings may be 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, buildings, and places 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.

Philosopher HARRY H. PRICE and 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” that 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. (See Telepathy.)

Roll has proposed that all objects have a psi field that pervades and exudes from them. A sensitive individual contacts and reads the impressions of a house from its psi field during a haunting. This explanation has suffered some of the same criticism as Price’s theory, particularly since people 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: phantoms of the dead can haunt sites where they did not die and had not lived; hauntings consist of telekinetic movement of objects that suggests some type of physical presence; hauntings are associated with deaths to a greater extent than other types of tragedies or emotions; hauntings are intermittent; and when such actions as exorcism and prayers for the dead are performed, the hauntings end.

An explanation for at least some hauntings favoured 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.

Place Energy

Scientific research of geomagnetic and electromagnetic environmental factors indicates that energy of place may influence whether or not a place is haunted. According to Jason J. Braithwaite, cognitive psychologist and neuroscientist at the University of Birmingham in England, “Field-based investigations of haunt-phenomena have revealed that magnetically remarkable signatures may exist in specific locations associated with strange experiences.” Researchers have found that unusual and fluctuating natural energy fields are present at many haunted sites. This suggests that certain fields enable a “place memory” to occur. Impressions of events and people thus become etched in psychic space and retained and are perceived by those who can “tune in,” either spontaneously or deliberately. Site energy may especially play a significant role in poltergeist hauntings. Scientists, however, do not say that magnetic signatures cause phenomena, only that energy and phenomena are associated. According to Braithwaite, context needs further study. The influence of magnetic signatures may depend on context factors related to the individual and the environment at the time of a haunting experience.

In 2004, Braithwaite and others used a customized Magnetic Anomaly Detection System (MADS) to investigate magnetic signatures at Muncaster Castle in Ravenglass, West Cumbria. The castle, in the lake district, is known for its haunting phenomena. In particular, people who sleep in the Tapestry Room report the following phenomena:

• Sounds of children crying and screaming
• Sounds of adult voices
• Sense of a presence and feeling of being watched
• Fleeting visual shadows and apparitions
• Sounds of footsteps, raps, and bangs
• Ringing in the ears
• Severe headaches
• Dizziness
• Bouts of feeling severe foreboding
• Sensation of weight on the chest/body pressing down (see Old Hag)

The study showed that an unusual magnetic field exists in the area of the bed, especially the bed pillow. If an occupant of the bed moved his head often during sleep, magnetic distortions would occur around the skull.

In a similar vein, many paranormal investigators believe Ley Lines, invisible lines of natural earth energy, contribute to hauntings. Areas crisscrossed by ley lines, especially where soil has a high content of water, quartz, or granite, are particularly likely to be haunted.

In addition to place energy, consciousness, thoughts, beliefs, cultural background, expectations, and religious beliefs may influence whether or not a haunting is experienced.

Artificially Induced Hauntings

It is possible to construct rooms designed to induce haunting phenomena, by exposing people to infrasound and certain electromagnetic frequencies. In one experiment in England, called “Project Haunt,” some individuals exposed to the haunted room reported the following phenomena:

• Sense of a presence
• Uneasiness in a particular part of a room
• Chills up and down the spine
• Glowing balls flying about the room
• Mist
• Voices

Ending Hauntings

Numerous folklore and religious 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 measures do not always succeed. Hauntings sometimes can be brought to an end through Spirit Releasement or Exorcism. Some hauntings end of their own accord for reasons not known. Those that seem to be “imprints” or “recordings” and have no responsive intelligence are likely to not respond to exorcism. Such hauntings seem to be endless reenactments of events (see Dieppe Raid Case; Retrocognition; Versailles Ghosts).


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The Encyclopedia of Ghosts and Spirits – Written by Rosemary Ellen Guiley – September 1, 2007