Whether you are a seasoned member of a ghost-hunting group or an occasional investigator who likes to participate around Halloween or at special events, there are rules you must follow. Too often we have heard of ghost-hunting groups that seem to operate without any rules at all, and the result is almost always chaos, bad evidence, sometimes even illegal activity and injury.
Every ghost-hunting group should have a set of bylaws by which it operates, and these should be written down, agreed to, and pledged to by every member of the group. Yes, these investigations can be fun, but they must also be taken seriously and handled professionally -- especially when the investigation is in someone's home.
Here are some guidelines -- 10 Commandments -- that every paranormal investigation group should consider and take to heart:
1. Thou Shalt Be Informed
Before you start an investigation, learn all you can about the location and the paranormal activity that has been reported there. Seek any books, magazine and newspaper articles that might have been written about the place. If possible, interview eyewitnesses to the activity. The more you know about a location, the better you'll be able to conduct your investigation. You'll know about specific areas to look into, the right questions to ask, and will be better able to understand any evidence uncovered.
2. Thou Shalt Be Prepared
Being informed is part of being prepared, but you should also be prepared physically and equipment-wise. Physically, be sure you are feeling well enough to endure whatever the investigation might demand: climbing stairs, creeping through damp basements, etc. If you have a bad cold, you don't want to spread it among your fellow members or your clients.
Make sure your equipment is ready: plenty of extra batteries, clean camera lens, plenty of memory cards for cameras and camcorders, tape for voice recorders and camcorders, note-taking supplies, flashlights, extension cords.... You should have a checklist of equipment and supplies. Check it and be sure you have everything you need and in good working order.
3. Thou Shalt Not Trespass
Just because you have a well-organized ghost-hunting group with cool T-shirts does not give you automatic permission to go into any abandoned building or even any cemetery after hours (most are closed after sunset) to do an investigation. Even though a building looks abandoned, the property is still owned by someone, and going into it without permission is illegal.
Always -- ALWAYS -- get permission to investigate a building. You can often get special permission to investigate a cemetery by contacting the owner, if it is privately owned, or from the city, town, or county if it is a public graveyard.
4. Thou Shalt Be Respectful
A big part of your ghost-hunting group's reputation is based on how respectful it is -- to the property being investigated and to any clients that might be involved. A property owner or client is going to want to feel comfortable that your group is not going to be destructive in any way, that the possibility of theft is never an issue, and that you won't be noisy or rude.
Treat any client and witness with the utmost respect. Listen to their reports of experiences carefully and seriously. Every member of your group should be especially mindful of this when investigating a private residence.
Be respectful of your team members. Ghost-hunting groups -- like all such groups of people -- are fraught with infighting, personality conflicts, and differences of opinion. Without respect for one another, your group will fall apart.
Someone else who needs your respect is the investigatee -- the ghost or spirit that might be haunting a location. Some investigators take a confrontational approach, being rude and obnoxious when trying to elicit a response from a spirit. You've seen this kind of stuff on TV, and in my opinion it's done for whatever "entertainment value" they think it might have. Unfortunately, some ghost hunters copy what they see on TV, thinking it's the right thing to do. If spirits truly are people who have passed on, they deserve to be treated with the respect you'd give any living person.
5. Thou Shalt Not Venture Off On Your Own
We have heard the news reports of ghost investigators who have gone off on their own and gotten seriously injured -- even killed. When your ghost hunting team splits up to cover various areas of a location, they should always be in groups of two or more. Safety is a primary reason.
Also, the evidence collected by a person who goes off on his or her own might automatically be suspect. To help ensure the integrity of any evidence, it must be gathered in the presence of two or more people. Which leads us to...
6. Thou Shalt Not Bear False Witness
Or "Thou Shalt Not Fake Evidence." For those who don't know, bearing false witness means lying. And if you're going to falsify, exaggerate, or otherwise alter evidence, then why are you doing ghost investigation? These investigations are about trying to find thetruth about a possible haunting as best we can.
So falsifying or exaggerating a sighting, manufacturing EVP, Photoshopping pictures, and other evidence tampering and passing them off as genuine is a ghost hunting mortal sin. Why do people do it? For the attention, obviously. But it's counterproductive to the investigation, what the ghost hunting group is all about -- and just plain wrong.
7. Thou Shalt Be Skeptical
This can often be a difficult thing for ghost hunters because we want to find evidence. We want to record a Class A EVP, take an anomalous photo, make contact with the "other side", or otherwise have a paranormal experience. That's what drives us to conduct these investigations. But we must take caution and not be too eager. Be honest about that evidence: that EVP could be just the sound of noisy pipes in the background; those orbs probably are dust particles; that "apparition" in the video really is just a reflection on the glass door.
Be diligent in trying to debunk gathered evidence. Find plausible explanations; do not automatically jump to a paranormal explanation. Being skeptical will make any possibly genuine evidence all the more valuable.
8. Thou Shalt Not Covet Thy Neighbor's Evidence
In other words, do not steal from other ghost-hunting groups. Many groups with websites have found that their evidence -- EVP, pictures, etc. -- has been "borrowed" by other groups without giving credit where it is due. Do not take evidence from other groups (from their websites or in any other way) without permission. And certainly do not claim it as your own.
9. Thou Shalt Know Thy Limits
It doesn't happen very often, but on occasion a ghost investigation can get rather intense. Phenomena might be taking place that you do not have the experience or skills to deal with. Know your limitations on what you are able to handle. You might have to call in or turn over the investigation to a more experienced investigator, particularly if there are physical attacks. Again, these are quite rare cases, but they can happen and you should have a plan for what to do.
10. Thou Shalt Be Professional at All Times
This last Commandment is one that overarches and includes all the others: Be professional. You want your ghost-hunting group to be respectful and respected, to be honest and forthright, to be ethical and have the highest degree of integrity. Without these things, your group is doomed to failure and will have contributed little if nothing to the search for truth in this field.
In many endeavors, the term "professional" means that you get paid to do what you do. Of course, that does not apply here. You should be professional in your conduct.
And this leads to a corollary or 11th Commandment: Thou Shalt Not Charge for Thy Investigations. No group should charge a client for an investigation. Period. Not one dime. In special circumstances, if your group is being asked by a client to travel a long distance to conduct an investigation, the client might offer to pay part of the transportation costs, but this should not be a requirement.
The author, Stephen Wagner, has been a paranormal researcher and investigator for over 30 years. He has written articles for numerous magazines, including FATE, and is the author of "Touched By a Miracle: True Stories of Ordinary People and Extraordinary Experiences". Please join Center for Paranormal Studies.