A quick overview on how to avoid wasting your money or breaking your neck
People are drawn to investigate the paranormal for many different reasons, for some it might relate to childhood experiences, or a curiosity to explore the unknown. Lately there has been a new group of people drawn to the field because it is a chance to use cool looking electronic tools, the type seen on “ghost hunting” television shows. The high tech gear these investigators wave around can attract many want to-be Ghostbusters.
Many of these devices placed in trained hands can shed some light on the unexplained and if you are a technically minded person they can be great tools; on the other hand if you still don’t know what half the buttons on your DVD player are for it would be unwise to rush out and spend your hard earned dollars on everything you see. With that in mind let’s focus on some required items, and a few “gadgets” that might be a worthwhile investment.
First off is a very high tech item; it’s called a flashlight. It is amazing just how many people would set out to investigate dark cemeteries or woods without this critical item. It will not detect the presence of ghosts, but it may prevent you from becoming one by falling and breaking your neck in the dark. A good sturdy flashlight, such as a “Maglight” can be a lifesaver. There are also headlamps and other kinds of lights that allow you to keep your hands free when working, just try to avoid pointing your headlamp into peoples eyes every time you talk to them, it temprarilly ruins their eyes natural night-vision, and is also really annoying.
While we are in the ‘not-killing-yourself” zone, add a first aid kit, because dark locations are filled with thorns, rusty nails, and other treacherous items. A good practice is to actually look in the first aid kit beforehand and learn where the items are, as there is a strong chance you will be the one performing first aid on one of your companions. I for one do not like sitting on the ground bleeding while someone else tries to find the band-aids.
Speaking of companions, never conduct one of these investigations alone; there is safety in numbers, plus if you saw something incredible when you were alone nobody would believe you anyway.
Another valid point is obtaining permission, it is mandatory; never trespass in order to conduct an investigation. First off it is just plain disrespectful, it is also illegal, and you may be the one to find out if those “trespassers will be shot” signs have any basis in fact. While your at it make sure you have photo ID on you, because even if you do have permission and are stopped by a police officer or park ranger he will have to establish who you are. There are a lot of really weird people skulking around in the dark, and congratulations, now you’re one of them, at least until your actual identity is verified. Also try not to wear T-shirts with ghoulish slogans or symbols on them, remember what I said about strange people skulking around in the dark?
Another point is to know where you are. If you do have to call 911 for an ambulance it is essential that you are able to tell them exactly where you are located. If you are exploring a hundred year old cemetery there’s a good chance it is not a regular stop for the local paramedics. Write out the location information, copy it and give a copy to each person on your team.
Every electronic store carries an array of inexpensive two-way radios, or walkie-talkies. It is essential to remain in contact with all of your companions, if only for safety purposes. They will also allow you to convey information and feel like you’re a real pro. Also keep your cell phones on, as they may be your only lifelines to each other in areas where two way radios encounter interference.
Speaking of being in contact, try to avoid playing with things like Ouiji Boards and other Occult slanted items. People have had very strange experiences with these kinds of things, so let the psychics handle them. It can also make you look more suspicious to property owners or other members of the general public, who may think your playing with some dangerous satanic thing on their property, and maybe their right.
Most important is a still camera, either 35mm, or digital, or both. Paranormal experts debate which type of camera offers the best results with many favoring the 35mm. Carry what you can afford; if you want to take hundreds of shots, you may be better off with a digital camera. Using both allows you to compare the results, while 35mm offers the option of using infra red or other exotic film formats. The most important thing to do is practice, learn to use your camera and recognize simple mistakes before you wind up thinking you’ve captured the evidence everyone has dreamed of. The sooner you learn to recognize when your thumb is in the viewfinder or the camera strap is in the corner of the frame the sooner you can avoid embarrassing yourself.
A video camera is another excellent tool and the modern DV cameras allow you to shoot hours of footage with high resolution in very low light conditions. If you are purchasing a video camera seek out one with a “night vision” feature that will allow you to shoot with virtually no light. Just be sure to look very closely at your night vision footage before making any earth shattering announcements, because everything looks pretty spooky in that format. If you are fortunate enough to have access to more than one camera, the additional cameras can be locked down on tripods in empty rooms, and allowed to record like security cameras. This will allow you to shoot hours of these empty spaces for careful scrutiny later. Using video also allows you document your entire experience for later viewing pleasure, which is fun.
A digital recorder is one of the latest additions to the Paranormal Investigator’s toolkit. There is a phenomenon known as EVP, “Electronic Voice Phenomena“ where many investigators have later discovered voices and sounds that were not heard at the time of recording, and some theorize that these are the voices of spirits. Many of these recordings are quite amazing and truly unexplainable. A digital recorder is inexpensive and can hold hours of audio material, all of which can be directly translated to a home computer with no loss of quality. One thing to remember is that the internal microphones on these devices are designed for dictating notes, and are not of the highest quality, so search for one that can accept an external microphone that is more suited to your recording environment. An inexpensive lavelier or shotgun microphone can enhance the quality of your recordings enormously. Like the camera, learn to use your recorder before going into the field; nothing is worse than recording something very intriguing, and then discovering that the green button you just pressed erases everything.
Every ghost hunting documentary features someone using an EMF meter, and it has become the poster child of paranormal investigation. These devices certainly serve a valid purpose when used properly. The theory is that spirits generate a high electro-magnetic field, or disrupt the existing fields and this device will detect these fluctuations. Bear in mind that virtually everything on earth generates some electro magnetic field, including fluorescent lights, toasters, and electrical junction boxes. The manufactured purpose of EMF meters is to enable electricians to find hidden junction boxes or power sources, so they were not created specifically with ghost hunters in mind. It is important that you walk through the area you are investigating with the EMF meter before the investigation to search for electrical junction boxes or other high EMF areas Once these areas are identified it will prevent false readings. These devices range from inexpensive, to highly priced Paranormal Investigator specific models. The best bet is if you are going to purchase is to buy an inexpensive model and test it in the field, and not only for it’s resilience but your own. If three months later you still find yourself traipsing around in cemeteries and old haunted houses, then you can look into buying something more high tech.
Another popular item is the Thermal Scanner, which detects major and minor changes in temperature from a distance. Ghosts are often associated with “cold spots” in rooms, or overall changes in temperature. When combined with an EMF meter and photography the Thermal Scanner offers one more way to gather and confirm evidence. These devices are quite handy, but once again you should ascertain your level of interest before purchasing an expensive item that has absolutely no other use in your day-to-day life.
A simple and inexpensive tool is a motion detector; Paranormal Investigators generally use Infra-red type of detectors. If the detectors are placed in an empty room and something crosses, it will set off a soft or loud alarm letting you know some unseen entity is moving around the premises. This is an excellent way to monitor a large location such as a house or public building efficiently and not miss any possible evidence. It is important to eliminate any other sources of motion, such as cats or other pets, and to remember where you placed the detectors, lest you unwittingly enter a dark room and scare the living daylights out of yourself. Motion Detectors can be purchased from specialty sources geared toward paranormal investigation, or they can be bought at any major hardware store.
Some investigators own Night Vision Goggles, which can amplify the ambient light up to a hundred times, and make you look like something from a Tom Clancy novel. These goggles, or more simplified monocular scopes allow you to both magnify the light level, and the distance the same way a pair of binoculars would, permitting investigators to observe a location in virtually zero light, and not disturb or scare off whatever entities may be present. Be aware that although these devices increase your frontal vision they completely eliminate your peripheral vision, something you will discover when you walk into a doorjamb or trip over an ottoman and break your very expensive goggles. These are pretty much in the experts-only category, and are not a required item. These goggles also run in the hundreds of dollars, and vary in quality wildly, so shop carefully, especially the models advertised as Russian army surplus, which are at least ten years old and should be avoided. The most critical feature is “overlight protection” which adjusts the image to counter sudden illumination, without it if someone near you uses a flash camera you can be blinded, or have long term vision damage.
Dowsing Rods are tools used by many paranormal investigators, usually those who are more psychic. They are very simple items consisting of two angled rods, one for each hand. The person holding the rods needs to concentrate on what they are searching for, and when they come near that - be it a ghost, or water or metaphysical energy - the rods will cross. It is the same principal used by dowsers searching for water wells. Dowsing rods are an interesting addition to an investigation and are something you should experiment with beforehand. If you are a person with some psychic abilities you may have more success than others.
Everything on earth emits some kind of radiation, and many believe that spirits can disrupt that energy. This has led some investigators to include Geiger Counters in their toolkit. If the Geiger Counters readings begin to fluctuate you may be in the presence of a spirit, or a hijacked Russian Nuke. Geiger Counters also detect levels of Radon, and if that level climbs radically you should leave the premises…or at least not drink the tap water. These counters are rather expensive and fall into the experts only category. If you are in the expert category you may find yourself having to do some fast-talking to explain why you are walking around with a Geiger counter and a pair of Night Vision goggles. For some reason property owners and police officers just find it suspicious.
Last but not least is the most expensive item that Paranormal Investigators purchase, which is a Thermal Imaging Scanner. This device generates stills and videos which use heat, not light to create the picture. The results are strange, murky images that can detect objects invisible to the naked eye. These imagers were designed for a myriad of applications including fire department search and rescue, semi conductor processing, or finding hot electrical connections, or tracking down vermin inside walls. To the paranormal investigator they represent a chance to see possible ghosts, which I suppose would register as cold images. The results can be amazing, but the price tag is also something to behold, generally around ten thousand dollars. This truly falls into the experts only category. Do not confuse Thermal-imaging scanners with infrared film, as the two are quite different. Infra red film, such as Kodak 35mm uses light in the infrared spectrum to enhance images, the results of which are often very magical and beautiful. Thermal imaging on the other hand sees only heat, and requires no light whatsoever.