Orbs in the Great Hall at Chillingham Castle, Northumberland. Photo: Cayo Sobral

A day in the unlife: Ghost hunters

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The ancient Celts believed that Samhain, the day we now call Halloween, is a time when the barrier between the spirit world and our own is at its weakest and the spirits of the dead can walk among the living.

For those who might fancy a ghostbusting adventure this Halloween, the Boar caught up with James Griffiths, professional ghost hunter, to learn more about this paranormal activity.

Chloe Wynne: How did your business come about?
James Griffiths: Believe it or not we started doing investigations for the police at first. They see death all the time and there is an interest there in the afterlife.

I was asked to investigate an army barracks and it was strange because everyone was taking notes based on what I was saying. As they were police, the good thing was that they could ask for more and more detail, and clarify or dispel what was picked up.

CW: That’s bizarre. If you were going on a ghost hunt, what would be the first thing you’d want to know about the venue?
JG: Every single venue has a history. In ghost hunts, the venue has to have that spooky feeling that opens your senses immediately. I believe using psychology, you could be manipulated to see something. It’s not being done on purpose in the buildings, but there can just be a certain atmosphere there.

CW: Can you talk us through any equipment that you use for ghost hunting?
JG: Although new specialist equipment is being developed, a lot of the original ghost hunting equipment is domestic.

  • Digital recorders: We use basic recorders, by asking questions and waiting for an answer. Some people are convinced they hear, things, such as: “John, go home.” As soon as they interpret that, it’s all they hear. Nine times out of ten, what you hear is rubbish. On the other hand, you could go and get a recording where it does just sound like someone is talking with you.
  • Digital thermometers: People use thermometers, from the catering industry, as communication devices with the spirit world. You fire a laser beam on a spot where a ghost is thought to have appeared, and a signal with a temperature reading feeds back. What we then ask is, are there any external factors that could bring that temperature down?
  • Cameras: There’s been an increase with people taking pictures of their sightings. Years ago you used to get a lot of orbs, but we don’t see them anymore as the quality of cameras got better. People claim to see faces; for me, the mind makes it.
  • K2s (Magnetic field detectors): The Earth has a magnetic field; in ghost hunting, this is thought to be changed by spirits. These K2s pick up the changes, and you do see the dials go off as a spirit enters the room.

CW: From your experiences, what would you say to a scientist who is a stark non-believer?
JG: There are more experiments that need to be done. To turn round and say that there isn’t anything out there, that’s wrong, especially as a scientist. You have to always be progressing and thinking; you could say no now, but find a yes later.

Scientists that I’ve spoken to say it is an interesting subject. There’s no quantitative proof, but there is something going on. We just can’t put our finger on it, and that’s the problem.

CW: And what about to someone who is profoundly convinced that they have had paranormal experiences?
JG: When I went on my first investigation, I saw a shadow and analysed it. When you see full physical manifestations with your eyes, you want more. I want to be sitting there having full conversations with the spirits; it’s like a drug.

If it were proved that there is life after death though, it would change everything. For some, it would be positive. For others, they could turn to extreme actions like murder or suicide because of what will come after death. There’s a lot of negativity attached to convincing people of this spirit world and the afterlife. For a believer to get the feeling of calling up a spirit on an investigation, that’s how you would progress.

CW: Have you got any memorable stories from all your experience?
JG: When I was a child, I had a fear of Boris Karloff’s Frankenstein. Well, when I went to investigate the barracks, I was asked to give a presentation. When doing the presentation, who walks in but the apparition of Karloff’s Frankenstein?

Nothing was found from the investigation, but later in the night people were recording sound and Frankenstein walked in again and disappeared. My friend told me to fight it off because the spirits feed on fear. Later on, we reviewed the footage and over my friend’s quote, a voice was heard saying: “Yes, we love it.”

CW: It is bizarre how your fear can turn into an apparition. Is it particularly unusual to get such abnormal figures come through?
JG: I’ve done about 1000 events inside and outside of the country. In the UK, we are quite reserved and so are our spirits. Out of this country, the experience is totally different. They can be more aggressive, and that’s when you see situations where people’s bodies have been taken over. You have to think about health and security. In Swansea recently, a spider spirit crawled up someone’s hand. I’ve witnessed all sorts of animals: dogs, cats, monkeys, and even lions.

CW: With Halloween coming, would you recommend any films as being particularly accurate?
JG: The Conjuring’s story is quite accurate; some people have told me about similar experiences they’ve had to the ones in the film. The new horror film, Annabelle, also relates to when I went to a flat in Manchester where a couple had an African statue they didn’t like. They threw it down the chute, and the next day it appeared on their shelf again.

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