Playing host to a ghost is not necessarily a bad thing. Ghosts seldom present any physical threat to the living, after all, and they tend to be self-absorbed, more concerned with their own problems than with causing trouble for anybody else. Resident spirits can even be comforting, provided they belong to benevolent ancestors or departed friends, or even to a charmingly sorrowful soul who’s just looking for company.
Viewed with a coldly commercial eye, a haunting can even have practical value. Harmless but interesting haunts add a certain romantic cachet to a house, and that cachet may enhance property value.
All that having been said, however, most of us would probably prefer to confine our households to the living, simply because ghosts are scary. Faced with the chilling certainty that some stranger is invisibly among us, its nature unknowable and its motives and intentions unknown, our first reflex is to scream. But to whom?
To a priest is one answer. In times past, and sometimes even today, spirit infestation was deemed a religious problem, best solved by religious means. There has never been a society, primitive or modern, pagan or Judeo-Christian, that lacked the necessary technicians, whether witch doctors or shamans or clergy. Tibetan Buddhists still use a rite called shedur that involves summoning a protective goddess to oust an offending spirit. And of course, the Roman Catholic Church still occasionally employs the ancient rite of exorcism.
Some purists argue that exorcism aims to out demons, not ghosts. But other experts dismiss this distinction as mere semantics, contending that a ghost, broadly defined, is any alien spirit that impinges on the world of the living, not just a spirit of the dead. Demons qualify, therefore, and demonic possession is the invasion of a soul by some foreign entity rather than the invasion of a dwelling. Indeed, the most ancient human problem with spirits has not been so much with the haunting of property as the haunting of souls, and these spirits, by definition, were evil.
The Catholic Church perfected its rite of exorcism early, in the 4th centaury, and it has changed little since. Originally, the rite was built into baptism and could be applied both to the faithful and to those outside the Church as necessary. But not all ecclesiastics could be exorcists; a certain charismatic quality was needed. Some priests, for example, showed such power that they could drive out evil spirits by the force of their prayers alone, or by the laying on of hands.
As Christianity spread, however, and paganism waned, demonic possession became rare. “It is only Catholic missionaries laboring in pagan lands,” according to the Catholic Encyclopedia, “who are likely to meet with fairly frequent cases of possession.” Still, all reports of possession must be taken seriously and closely investigated, but only by those who have led brave and blameless lives and have prepared themselves through prayer and fasting, clergy who have immunized themselves against demonic invasion.
Soothing the Sorrowful
A priest need have no special qualifications, however, to bless a dwelling that may be troubled by restless spirits. He may visit a home and offer prayers for those who live there. Sprinkling of holy water and filling various rooms with incense also may be useful.
Malicious spirits sometimes can be persuaded by these techniques to move on. If they resist, however, it’s possible that they are not malicious at all. Most ghosts, it is said, cling to Earth because they are troubled souls, not evil ones.
Some experts believe that ghosts respond to exorcists not because the spirit is afraid of the talismans of belief, but because clergy tend to be good listeners, with an aura of emotional tranquility. In fact, the negative energy of a full-blown exorcism may only enrage the ghost, especially if it’s already angry.
Most ghosts are not mad, merely sorrowful. It isn’t that they don’t want to leave; their sadness holds them where they are. More than any other kind of haunter, sorrowful ghosts reflect the living; all they lack is a body. Because they are so close to live with them as they endlessly relive the moments that define their grief. Let them brood. And should they become too much, they generally will depart if asked politely.
The ghosts hunters now summoned by the haunted tend to be less interested in driving away spirits than in understanding them, helping them work through the inner conflicts that keep them forever restive. There is little room for troupes of bungling, khaki clad “ghostbusters” and their high-tech ectoplasm collectors in the real world of paranormal investigations. The idea is not to bust ghosts but to counsel and comprehend them, to offer a compassionate solution to their emotional problems. Like their living counterparts, ghosts have issues of abandonment, self-esteem, loneliness, and anger to resolve. The language of ghost hunting has altered to reflect this understanding and uses the vocabulary of holistic therapy, not that of confrontation and spectral war. Today’s professionals must be there for them.
They also must be there for hosts whose kinder, gentler approach hasn’t budged the spirit. These intransigent ghosts are the plague-rats among haunters, ghosts in whom the touching melancholy of other apparitions seems to have curdled into terrible rage. They aren’t working through anything familiar to the living, nor do they search for lst love’ they want only to entwine themselves as destructively as possible with the lives of their hosts.
Some of these are down right messy, besides. Being haunted quickly loses its appeal when decapitated ghost drip blood on a white carpet even when the stain vanishes a moment later. Slime is devilishly difficult to get out of suede. A house haunted by such negative spirits is a miserably unhappy house.
And then there are the poltergeists (German for “noisy spirits”). These demonic whirlwinds of the spirit world seem always to need attention from the living and are willing to go to any extreme to get it. Some modern ghost haunters say poltergeists are not real ghosts and that the mischief usually attributed to them is actually caused by psychic energy emanating from a troubled member of the household, especially young people. Whatever the source, however, paranormally flying crockery and slamming cabinets can be problems that need immediate solutions.
Once a poltergeist is sensed, the first step might be to store the family china and other breakables outside the home. These prankster spirits often seem to have a sense of fun that can make them lively company as long as they are treated well. They are like pet raccoons, marvelous to watch, often funny, and wondrously destructive.
If you don’t find them amusing, however, the most important tactic for getting rid of them may be to look inward. Most investigators now believe that ghosts, including poltergeists, are drawn to the projections of the human unconscious. Thus, before trying to expel an angry ghost or rowdy poltergeist, a certain amount of introspection is in order. Haunted hosts are often just people under a lot of stress or jangled by a recent emotional ordeal, so they radiate a powerful negativity, a dark flame that draws spectral moths. Before calling anyone, one must change that aura and deprive the ghost of its negative beacon.
Calling in the Ghost Investigators
If the dark beacon attracting the ghost is external instead of internal, i.e., something to do with the property rather than the host, a trip to the library might reveal what happened there that would leave a ghost-drawing psychic imprint. A murder? A suicide? A memorable injustice or failed romance? Old houses virtually glow with forgotten violence.
To help erase this psychic residue, you may need to call in the professionals. Their tactics will vary according to the nature of ghost and the nature of the hunter. Some excel at tracking, some are eager for discovery.
The Singapore Paranormal Investigators, a registered society that has a website of information on ghost hunting and hauntings, has a large collection of ghost photographs posted on the Internet, a kind of spectral rogues gallery to help the haunted to identify what is plaguing them. Besides photographs, the society has posted tips on on equipment usage and ghost hunting strategies, along with goose-bump-inducing recording said to be voices of the dead. There is information about club gathering, research trips and a newsletter for do-it-yourself ghost hunters. For those seeking additional aid, the society provides links to other useful sources such as exorcists, spiritual healers and so on.
Even if you have good professional help, “laying the ghost” – the unfortunate but traditional term for getting rid of one, can be a long and complicated process. Eventually, you may have to decide whether your spectral guest is more welcome than the hunters pursuing it.
Intuition and Patience
Because ghosts generally require patience and understanding more than the shock of an all-out exorcism, a good ghost hunter must be intuitive to a fault, a person whose own psychic abilities allow contact with the spirit on an emotional plane. No one wants an angry banishment that could result in more ghost trouble down the line. But the client’s instincts are also central here. Generally, anyone sensitive enough to have a paranormal problem reads underlying psychic vibes well enough to find the right ghost hunter for the job at hand.
Once a professional has been called in, the investigation unfolds step by step in a logical fashion. First, an interview examines the hauntee’s report, with the experienced hunter wielding skepticism like a machete. Few reputable practitioners would undertake an investigation before ruling out every possible natural scenario, turning to the paranormal only as a last resort. Then photographs are taken of the site, and perhaps drawings are made. If the haunt has a discernible pattern, the investigators may want to stay on site for a while to map it. Given the intrusive nature of the inquiry, you should never embark on a paranormal investigation lightly, or with investigators who are not sympathetic companions. Hunters who are too ready to believe, or too skeptical to accept what their senses tell them, should be replaced immediately: Ghost sneer at their psychic inferiors.
Whatever the type of spectral presence, its removal should be under taken with compassion and understanding, or at worst with tough love. Despite their restless, worrisome ways, ghosts are more like us, more like the living, than not. They have beliefs, hopes, fears, concerns, and expectations that must be respected. And they have vast experience. Many ghosts are believed to have been roaming the world for centuries.
Sometimes they may be gentled into a tolerable domesticity. But now and then they are so dark, so angry, so destructive that they have to be forced to leave. Time is on their side, however, and they know it. Having one’s ghosts removed, even with today’s conciliatory methods, may take a good long time. Patience is the key. Patience is what we should be thinking when we finally decide to pick up the telephone and ask for professional help.