By Simon Woodhouse
Despite what TV programmers like Most Haunted and Ghost Hunters might lead you to believe, ghost hunting isn't the exclusive domain of over-excitable, fame-hungry wannabes. Conducted with a healthy dose of rationalism, ghost hunting is actually a good way to develop logical thinking skills. It also encourages an interest in local history, promotes interaction with the natural world and demonstrates basic principles such as cause and effect. During fine weather, it's also a pleasant way to spend a day outdoors.
As ghost sightings are global phenomena, finding a local source of interest shouldn't be too hard. Try to choose a public place with easy access, or if you're interested in a privately owned location, make sure you seek permission before entering. Once you've chosen your locale it's time for a bit of research. Not research into paranormal activity associated with the site, but rather general background history. In fact, in order to avoid prejudicing your conclusions, it's better to steer clear of reading any ghost stories linked to your chosen location before you've been there.
Next thing to consider is what equipment to take. Since ghost hunting has made it onto prime time television, the need for ghost hunters to equip themselves with all sorts of electronic equipment seems to have become the order of the day. I prefer to keep things simple. A note pad and pencil are as good away as any to record the things you experience. Cameras, motion detectors, thermometers, ion counters, EMF detectors and infra red thermal scanners all need your attention to operate them, and whilst you're looking at these devices, you might not be looking at what's right in front of you. If your intention is to gather evidence to show other people what you've experienced, them electronic equipment might help you. But if you're seeking to understand the cause of ghost sightings, and thus help to explain what may or may not be occurring, simple observation will suffice. Another problem caused by electronic equipment, is the tendency to associate any data collected as automatically being paranormal in nature.
So, armed with your notepad and pencil, it's time to visit your chosen locale. Contrary to what seems to be the TV norm, it's not necessary to go ghost hunting at night. In fact, I'd say it puts you at a definite disadvantage. If you were hunting animals in the woods, trying to do so at night would be very difficult. The same principle applies to ghost hunting. And there is far less chance of mistaking the mundane for the fantastic, if you can see exactly what's happening around you. When you first arrive at the sight, take plenty of time to familiarize yourself with where you are. Make a note of the weather conditions, if there is anyone else in the immediate vicinity, what you can see and hear and your general impression of the state of the area.
Ghost hunting is probably not the right way to describe what you'll be doing. Rather than hunting for the ghost, you'll be waiting for it to come to you. Find a position that offers the greatest area of observation, and sit and wait. As time passes by you'll begin to become accustomed to where you are, and it'll be easier to tell when something out of the ordinary happens. If it does, make detailed notes of exactly what you have experienced. Events that are difficult to explain don't often happen within your immediate surroundings, for the simple reason it's easy to see the cause of something when it occurs close by. If what you've experienced seemed to take place in an adjacent location, go and investigate. This is often the most interesting part of the ghost hunt. As you're moving from one location to the next, it's important to be on the look out for anything that might explain what you've experienced. For instance, if you're in an empty house and you hear a door slam shut upstairs, you'll be wanting to find out if there's a draught blowing, or whether there's anyone else in the house who you might not be aware of. Sticking with the door-slamming scenario, once you reach the spot, don't disturb anything for a few moments, but instead just stand and observe. Take note of anything that seems relevant. Open the door and enter the room, all the time looking for a physical explanation as to why the door slammed shut. See if you can make the same event occur again yourself, i.e. slam the door. This will show you how much force was needed to slam it, and also that it's well within the ability of someone like yourself to make it happen. Leave the door standing open, and wait to see if it slams shut again. What you'll probably find is this time you'll be close enough to feel the draught that closed it.
By always looking for rational explanations, and not jumping to conclusions, you'll soon be able to explain most of the things you experience. By approaching ghost hunting with a logical intent, if you do encounter something unexplainable, you'll be able to appreciate it so much more.