The call came in late one Saturday evening. The young woman on the phone, we’ll call her Ann,
was upset and needing advice. The house in which she resided with her parents had transformed from a peaceful retreat to a house of fear. Strange and unaccountable sounds were heard and lights turned on and off. Then one night Ann went down to the basement to flip a breaker that had shut off. As she stepped to the basement floor she witnessed a tarp tied around a box of old books come unaccountably untied and fly across the room. It was this event that made Ann decide to call me. She was mainly concerned for her parents; being very religious, they were talking about calling in the family pastor to rid the property of evil spirits. Ann on the other hand wasn’t as frightened as she was stymied. What had caused this sudden onslaught of activity in a home that, until recently, wasn’t haunted? She wanted some answers, and she wanted to know how to make the activity cease in order to restore her parents’ peace of mind.
I made the usual enquiries. The house was recently built. There was no known history of misfortune surrounding the land upon which it sat. The activity was a new occurrence. I was trying to think of some reasonable explanation and then I remembered the tarp which began to seem like a direct pointer to the activity. I asked her to tell me more about the books.
She explained that she had just recently purchased the box of old books which included some very personal papers [her emphasis] and possibly a journal. Wanting to protect the box she had put it in the basement with the tarp tied over it to protect it from the damp. Bingo! I surmised that Ann and her family had unwittingly exposed their home to an haunted object.
Just as houses, land or people can be the center of a haunting, so too can objects. Given the premise then, a haunted object moved into a building can cause the start of activity, and moving the object out can make the activity stop. Often haunted objects are items that were of personal significance, such as a personal diary or a painted portrait. Then again the items themselves may be mundane and unremarkable. For example, the Discovery Channel documentary True Hauntings reported on a Wisconsin couple that purchased a used, wood bunk bed for their children and underwent a nightmare that ended only when the bed was removed from the home and destroyed.
Psychometry and the Residual Haunt
Dave Schumacher Director of the Anomalous Research Department of the Pennsylvania and Wisconsin basedParanormal Research Group suggests three theories as to why objects might be haunted. First is the theory of the residual haunt. The residual haunt theory contends that certain emotionally charged events can leave an imprint on the environment, such as a location, building or object. This type of activity isn’t really a haunting in the traditional sense, but is more like a recording that plays when the right environmental circumstances occur. Activity may either be auditory, like the sounds of boots walking up a stairs, or visual, such as a woman who appears from nowhere and walks through a wall.
Think of a residual haunt as being like a music CD. The disk in its case doesn’t play by itself. But put it in the machine, and hit the play button and the recording plays out just as it was recorded. Tomorrow if you hit the play button the exact same recording would play. The recording doesn’t interact with you, and it doesn’t change.
A residual haunt is like that. It’s a pre-recorded episode that is waiting for the environmental “play” button to be hit. What causes something in the environment to record an episode? No one really knows, though theories abound. If a building or a location can record such things then it may be that a simple household object can as well, given the right circumstances. Then if the object moves to a new location, and when, or if, the environmental factors trigger the “play back” response the residual episode plays out, though the location has changed.
The psi term (pronounced by letter p-s-i) for the ability to read the ‘history’ of an object is psychometry. This unique ability allows a medium to read the history of an object usually by handling the item. It is usually contended that psychometrists don’t directly interact with spirits when they read objects, but read the ‘history’ - like someone reading the back of the CD jacket. Sometimes what they read is in images, sometimes in words. They may not read the same thing every time they hold the object, the images may change. Psychic medium and psychometrist, Pat Patalona (Balzano, Weisberg, 2012) notes that she often sees different episodes in the history of an object, though one may be more emotionally charged than another. Or she may pick up only one person attached to an object, despite the fact that the object had numerous owners. If one person in particular was attached to an object it may only be their history she reads.
She explains the recording process thus, “Everything in the universe has an energy field that radiates all around it. These emotions, these impressions they are absorbed with that energy field. It’s not necessarily inside the object, but it exists in that energy field. I read that energy (Balzano, Weisberg, 2012).” Palatona notes that of the objects she reads rings and other jewelry and in particular gold [also known for its electrical conductivity] tends to hold onto the greatest amount of energy.
Therefore, it’s not out of the likelihood that someone with perhaps unknown psychometric abilities may bring an object into a home and by touching the object experience phenomenon.
The second theory behind haunted objects is retrocognition, a psi ability of which psychometry and past-life experiences are both elements. Retrocognition is the ability to perceive experiences from the past clairvoyantly, usually as a spontaneous replaying of past events such as in a vision or a dream. Such visions can include elements of sights, sounds and smells, and can seem to replace the temporal plane with scenes occurring during the past. In other words, instead of seeing an event in your mind (psychometry), a retrocognitive viewing is like literally stepping into that time period for however short a period. Again, an object may be the unwitting locus of a memory of a past event. In the hands of someone with the ability to read it, it may play back episodes that were otherwise stored, seeming to take the purveyor to the scene of a past event. It has even been suggested that all hauntings are retrocognitive events where the past scene is read telepathically in the present (Cheung, 2006).
The third possibility is an intelligent haunt. This theory suggests that some part of a human consciousness survives death. This consciousness released from the body may return to a location to which it was attached, or in this case an object. Thus if someone were attached to an object in life they might return to it after death. It might be that the spirit desires to see the object given to the proper person. Or perhaps they might not wish to see their beloved object fall into the wrong hands.
There are also a few psychological possibilities for haunted objects as well. Dave Schumacher suggests magical thinking, sheer human imagination, and the desire to experience a paranormal event, subjective validation and confirmation bias. In other words, if a person is inclined toward believing in the paranormal they’re more likely to attribute unexplained phenomenon to being paranormal. For example, I was speaking with a colleague who was house-sitting for a person who collected antiques. One of the beloved antiques was an old church pew. My colleague said that the object made her uncomfortable, and noted that if anything would be haunted it would be an old church pew. Given her bias, had she noted strange sounds or movements in the house while she was staying in it, which is likely as she’s already in an unfamiliar environment, (see the article on the New House Theory), it’s quite likely that she would have attributed these things to being paranormal and likely blamed the church pew as the culprit. In other words, she was already suspicious of the object because it seemed “spooky” and needed only the confirmation of a strange event to leap to that conclusion. Certainly some objects do elicit emotional responses from people. A creepy painting which seems to follow you with its eyes or the leering face of my brother’s Bozo the Clown doll come to mind. If a person is half the way there, by perceiving something as “spooky,” all that’s needed is a little push toward belief.
Implications for Paranormal Investigators
New Jersey based paranormal investigator, Clinton “Doc” Vick suggests that haunted objects are one instance when using an IR thermometer versus an ambient thermometer is preferable. IR thermometers use a light beam that bounces off a solid object such as a wall or a dresser to determine the temperature not of the room, but of the object. Thus if an haunted object is, for example, several degrees cooler than the surrounding room it can be accurately measured.
Returning to Ann and her dilemma, when she asked again what she should do, I had a definiteanswer for her. And the beauty was that the answer didn’t require hours of investigation, nor daunting research into the history of the property. Simply remove that box of books out of her basement and get them out of the house I told her; and then see if the problems ceased. “Why?” She asked. Ann was understandably fond of her little treasure trove of Americana. But I explained to her that she wasn’t the only one. I told her to move the box out and see if the problems ceased. If not, I opened the door to her to call me back and we could schedule an investigation. That late Saturday call was the only time I ever heard from Ann. I can only speculate, therefore, that moving the box out of the house restored peace and order to their home, making any further intervention unnecessary. Whatever happened to the box of books I can only guess? It’s probably buried at the back of some shed or garage where it will remain until someone else falls prey to its charms.
Special Thanks to David Schumacher, Director of Anomalous Research Department, Paranormal Research Group paranormalresearchgroup.com for his helpful insight into the article and for pointing me towards other terrific sources of information.
Balzano, C. Weisberg, T. (2012) Haunted Objects; Stories of Ghosts on Your Shelf.
Krause Publications, Iola, WI
Cheung, T. (2008) The Element Encyclopedia of Ghosts and Hauntings, 2nd edition Barnes and Noble Inc. by arrangement with Harper-Collins Publishers, China.
Posted by Robin M. Strom-Mackey at 4:00 PM
Labels: clairvoyance, confirmation bias, ESP, ghost items, haunted objects, haunted possessions, intelligent haunt, magical thinking, possessed objects, psi ability, psychometry, retrocognition, subjective validation