PSICAN - Paranormal Studies and Inquiry Canada

Ghosts, Hauntings & Related Phenomena

Written by Ben Grant

The Brown Lady of Raynham Hall.  The Ghost of Lord Combermere.  The Tulip Staircase Ghost.  Anyone with even a remote curiosity about ghosts has seen each of these classic photos.  But why aren’t there more of them?  There are thousands of paranormal groups around the world, many devoted entirely to the pursuit of capturing evidence of ghosts.  Given the millions of pictures taken each year at reportedly haunted locations, why then are there so few quality ghost photos that each of them is so easily identified by name?  Perhaps the vast majority of visible apparitions are actually historical repeaters, and are therefore impossible to motivate or provoke.  Maybe it’s not easy for a ghost to appear unless under specific conditions.  Could it be that ghosts can only appear in front of certain people, making it difficult for anyone else to capture them on film?  With so many unanswered questions about life after death, it’s completely possible that spirits or ghosts are discouraged or even forbidden from intentionally appearing.  

Initiating conversation and provoking at reportedly haunted locations has produced a fair number of unexplained audio recordings.  So why have these results not translated into more photo opportunities?  Is it that ghosts find it easier, or are more willing to interact vocally as opposed to visually?  Or could it be that the ghosts caught on film are all historical repeaters as opposed to sentient anomalies? None of the most well-known ghost photos were taken while the photographer was interacting with the apparition.  In fact, most of these photos were taken without the photographer even suspecting a ghost was present.  Since the ghosts in some of these photos match previous eyewitness claims, it must be assumed that these ghosts are indeed visible to the naked eye – at least sometimes.  It must be then that the ghost is only visible for an extremely brief period of time; otherwise the photographer would have seen it.  This brings into question the practice of attempting to interact with ghosts at reportedly haunted locations – at least as far as trying to capture a photo is concerned.  The same can be said for trying to provoke a ghost.  If the majority of ghosts captured on film are indeed historical repeaters, then the reoccurrence of them appearing must be extremely infrequent and impossible to predict.  Consider the famous “Brown Lady of Raynham Hall”.  How many thousands of photos have been taken of that very same staircase over the past 75 years since the well-known picture was taken?  It’s astounding that not a single one of them features the Brown Lady herself.  But that only goes to show how unlikely an opportunity that was.  Suppose the historically repeating Brown Lady only appears for a second at most, three or four times per year.  That would mean that only a picture taken in the three or four of the 31,556,926 seconds in the year would yield any results.  

Suppose, however, that the majority of the ghosts featured in famous paranormal photos are, in fact, sentient anomalies.  What reason might there be for their brief and infrequent appearances?  Could it be that ghosts of this nature are - for the most part - invisible, and becoming visible requires either the perfect set of circumstances, or a great deal of effort on the entity’s part?  It has been suggested that a spirit must harness a great deal of energy in order to manifest.  This hypothesis has been offered by a number of paranormal teams who have had multiple sets of fully-charged batteries suddenly drain while at a reportedly haunted location.  Obviously, if this is the case, this “energy” cannot be limited to modern electricity and battery packs as ghosts have been reported long before the mass availability of either.  It has also been suggested that certain weather patterns, the proximity to water, or even the presence of limestone can make it easier for a spirit to manifest, though there are no studies to date that adequately support these claims.

It has long been speculated that ghosts appear for the sake of passing along a message, taking care of unfinished business, or ensuring the safety and security of loved ones they leave behind.  Once this has been achieved, the ghost no longer has a reason to appear.  This might be as simple as letting a loved one know that they are fine, or as complex as avenging their wrongful death.  There are references to this belief in a lot of Elizabethan writing, but most famously in Shakespeare’s Hamlet.  Hamlet’s recently deceased father returns as a ghost to let his son know that he didn’t die from a snake bite, but rather from being poisoned by his own brother.  Hamlet is to avenge his father’s death by killing his murderous uncle.  It is suggested in the text that this ghost will cease to appear once Hamlet has done the deed.  More recently, this theory was popularised by the movie Sixth Sense, during a scene in which a young murder victim continues to pester a boy who can see ghosts until it is known that her mother was in fact the killer.  If there is any validity to this theory, it might help explain why reported sightings of the Brown Lady of Raynham Hall have been scarce since the 1930’s.  Perhaps once she passed along her message, she no longer needed to appear.  If there is something to this, it serves as a major problem for paranormal investigators who generally investigate locations with a history of haunting.  There is a chance they will be too late, that the ghost will have achieved their purpose and moved on.

There is yet another school of thought that subscribes to the notion that ghosts are manifestations of the deceased who do not know they are dead.  In theory, a ghost of this nature would continue to live their life as if still alive, albeit with a limited or hazy awareness.  There are many reported hauntings that coincide with a renovation.  The thought is that the ghost does not understand why someone is tearing their house apart, and so begins to act out.  This is still consistent with appearing infrequently, and for only a brief second because, as the ghost is unaware of the fact that they are a ghost, they make no specific effort to appear.  They instead try to prevent the renovation which leads to objects being moved, voices being heard, people feeling as though they were touched, but not necessarily any sightings.

Reverend Doreen Bauld from the Springdale Spiritualist Church in Toronto is a well respected medium.  She believes that some spirits are more difficult to contact than others, and that spirits become better at making connections the more they talk with mediums.  On the other hand, some spirits, like some people, are just are not very good at communicating.  Might this same line of thinking translate to apparitions?  Could it be that becoming visible is very difficult process?  Is it perhaps a skill that many spirits are never truly able to master, or is the effort not worth the brief appearance in many cases?

Mediums are a controversial topic for ghost researchers and investigators due to the fact that it is essentially impossible to prove their abilities conclusively.  Many, however, feel that some people have a heightened ability when it comes to seeing ghosts.  There are a surprising number of cases involving young children reportedly talking to a recently deceased relative, sometimes without them even knowing or being able to understand that this relative has passed on.  With this in mind, is it too much to suggest that there are also people whose ability in this area is less developed, or even nonexistent?  If a paranormal investigator is completely unable to see ghosts, it puts them at a disadvantage when it comes to capturing ghost on film.  If the majority of the population is in this boat, it might help to explain why there is not more photographic evidence of ghosts.

One commonality among most religions is that no proof of a higher power can ever be demonstrated, for it is one’s faith which must be considered above all else.  It is harder to speculate about what might or might not go on in the theoretical afterlife, than it is to speculate about the paranormal in general, but what impact might this idea have on ghostly visitors?  Perhaps after death, one is discouraged or even prohibited from offering concrete proof of their continued existence.  It could be that ghosts appear unintentionally, or in defiance, but either way, it would explain why appearances are so brief.

Through analysing the possible reasons why it is so difficult to take a picture of a ghost, paranormal investigators might be able to tweak their methods slightly, increasing their chances of snapping that elusive ghost photo.  Instead of standing at the bottom of a reportedly haunted staircase taking the occasional picture, perhaps a paranormal investigator would be better served programming a still camera at the bottom of the stairs to take pictures every second for the duration of the investigation.  Certainly this would result in a lot of pictures to sift through when reviewing evidence, but the odds of capturing a photo of the ghost, though still highly unlikely, would improve dramatically.  It would take little extra effort for investigators to carry around an extra power source on investigations – a small car battery for instance.  This extra power could possibly provide an entity with the energy they need to appear in front of the camera.  Certainly there would be hundreds of issues with bringing a young child on an investigation, but consider the results it might yield.  Clearly the child’s parents would need to be advocates of paranormal investigations, and the conditions surrounding the investigation would need to be altered, but it might be worth it if results were produced.  For all the advances that have been made in the paranormal field, there are so few quality pictures of ghosts.  The paranormal field is full of open-minded innovators who are eager to try new methods.  Adding these strategies to a paranormal investigator’s arsenal does not by any means guarantee that more ghost photos will result, but clearly what is being done currently is not working well enough, and new methods need to be attempted if more progress is to be made.