How to investigate the paranormal with no electronic equipment
Modern day paranormal investigation can be quite 'technical'. There are a lot of gadgets, a lot of meters, a lot of lights and a lot of beeps. This equipment is used to 'detect' the presence of something that may be paranormal. Some of these devices are 'tradie's tools' such as a K2 meter (originally designed to find wires in the walls) and temperature guns to measure the temperature. Then there are devices specifically made for paranormal investigation like the ovilus and the REM pod. These specially designed devices also come with quite a hefty price tag which set you back hundreds of dollars. Putting together a decent kit will cost you thousands. Is it really worth it? What is important to remember with all of this equipment, is that is it only taking readings of the environment around you. Things like temperature, atmospheric pressure & EMF to name a few. When a device makes a noise and lights up, it means it has detected this change. Does this mean you have found something paranormal? The device can't actually tell you that, it can only tell you what your surroundings are doing. It is up to the user to interpret the results. There is nothing wrong with using equipment if that is what you want to do and I will admit that I used to rely quite heavily on as much tech as I could get my hands on. My approach over time changed. My good friend Bill Tabone from Australian Paranormal Society is always drilling into people at every investigation not to focus too heavily on the equipment. While we are looking down at a device waiting for the lights to flash, we could be missing something. I like to compare it to attending a concert and watching the whole thing through your phone screen. It just isn't the same. You aren't getting the full experience, you are getting some sort of detached version of it. In the same way people are encouraged to put their phones away at a concert and enjoy the experience, perhaps we should be doing the same when we investigate the paranormal. Do we really need all the fancy electronic stuff?
A while ago I published an article: Old School Paranormal Investigation Techniques which gave a general and vague look at different things people did to investigate the paranormal before all these fancy devices. Let's look into this a little closely while also looking at the most important piece of equipment you can use ..... yourself!
First lets look at our senses and how we can use them more effectively during an investigation
We have the ability to hear. Some of us hear better than others. Some of us can hear at higher and lower frequencies than others. We can hear, but do we listen? One of the things I love doing at a location, is sitting in a dark room and sitting still and quiet and to listen to my surroundings. What are the natural noises of the location? What noises are coming from outside? I get myself used to the sounds. That way when I do hear sounds, I am able to establish if there is something i should be looking at in more detail. I always use this example, but at Black Rock House, there are a lot of noises which people often mistake as paranormal if they are not used to them. Bats flying overhead, wallpaper rustling when there is wind and figs falling on the roof are just some of them. Once I have become accustomed to them, I listen to hear if the house wants to talk to me.
Listen and see if the location wants to speak to you.
Our eyes can play tricks on us. In the same way we should take some time to really listen to the location, we also need to use our eyes to see what is in front of us. If you are investigating at night which is quite common, allow your eyes to adjust to darkness. Where does natural light fall, what items cast shadows? It is a good idea to familarise yourself with a location either during the day or with lights on. Sometimes something as simple as a fire extinguisher on the wall can look like a shadow figure in a doorway when it is dark (yes I have learnt that one that hard way!). Once we have adjusted to our surroundings, look. What do you see? Some people see light anomalies with their own eyes (not through a camera). Some people see shadow figures. Some people notice items moving. When you aren't looking down at a piece of equipment and instead looking at your surroundings, what will you see?
Look and see if the location wants to show you something.
If you ask 'What is the best piece of equipment I can get?', the majority of people will answer with themselves. Our bodies have this way of picking up when things are different. We feel if the temperature drops. We get goosebumps when there is static electricity around. We react with fear and anxiety when our brain detects that the surroundings have changed, even in the most subtle of ways. We all have this thing called intuition where we just seem to know things. Now of course all of this is what would be called a 'personal experience' and isn't something that can be used as proof of the paranormal. Who cares? There is nothing wrong with going into a location and just experiencing it. I am a person that loves data and reviewing things, but the best investigations I have had, is where I just go in with nothing and see what happens. What I am feeling? Does an area make me feel an emotion? Does my body react? While I may not walk away with 'evidence', it is often what I need to keep me going. Sometimes I personally need to just go in an experience those feelings to remind me of the bigger picture. Often we can fall short when it comes to measuring things with equipment, yet our bodies tell a different story. Sometimes it is enough to validate to me and only me that there is something else out there. I am not trying to prove it to anyone in this instance. I am opening myself up and going with what the location is making me feel. When you first starting investigating the paranormal, this is probably what you did. Sometimes it is good to just strip it all back to bare basics and go in and see what a location makes you feel. Sometimes you can feel if there is energy around. Other times you feel nothing. I do believe the more you do this, the more 'intune' to a lot of the these feelings you become. Use this to your advantage.
Open yourself up and allow yourself to feel what the location wants to give you.
Observation and Documentation
Besides yourself of course, the only thing you really need to take with you on an investigation is a paper and pen. This is such a valuable tool. We cannot rely on our memories. We sometimes remember things differently or we can easily forget something. Maybe something doesn't seem significant at the time but could have meaning later on. Write down everything. From what the weather is like to anything you have seen, heard and felt. Bring together your senses and write down everything you have experienced. Sit and watch. Even if you are in a group of people, let me tell you that your perspective on things can change when you sit back and take an observational role. You actually start to learn a little bit more about the human element of things and how we react. By sitting back and watching, you aren't potentially getting caught up in the moment and you are seeing things how they really are. You may also see things that others have missed. Perhaps while people are doing things like an EVP session etc, again they are focused on what they are doing and missing what could be happening around them. It is up to you to observe what is happening around them and in other areas. You have the opportunity to possibly see things that the others will be missing because they will be focused on another task. Write it all down. If you have several people all writing things down, it is interesting when you compare your notes at the end of the investigation. Did you see the same things? Did you feel the same things? Did you have the same experiences? Did you interpret the experiences the same? The questions begin.
Never underestimate the importance of a notebook and pen
So now with that out of the way, here are some techniques you can actually use on a paranormal investigation that do not involve electronic equipment.
Pendulum, table tipping, ouija board, scrying, automatic writing and human pendulum
In the spiritualist era, mediums wanted to show their clients in a physical way that they were communicating via spirit. While there were a lot of frauds, there were also some people who were considered by researchers to be genuine. I am not going to go into too much detail as I have addressed these techniques in their own articles, but there are some links below if you want to read about them in more detail. These techniques all involve the human element. This in itself can be flawed for a couple of reasons. The first being the obvious that there are people that sometimes fake things. The second is where a person is unaware that they are subconsciously moving things. For this reason, a lot of investigators don't like to use these techniques. I do think however it is something that everyone should try so that they can at least form their own opinion. To be honest nothing frustrates me more when people tell me not to do something or not to bother trying something. Sure in a lot of cases they can be right, but I want to to come to my own conclusion. Don't tell people what they can or cannot do on an investigation. If they want to try something you don't necessarily agree with because you think it is rubbish, don't give them a hard time. Let them try it and let them form their own opinion.
A pendulum is generally a weighted object which is symmetrical (most often it is a crystal) which is hung from a chain or a cord. The pendulum itself acts as a receiver and transmitter of information and moves in different ways in response to the questions that you ask. A person holds the pendulum with a steady hand and asks for a sign of yes. They wait to see a response. Which could be the pendulum swirling in a circle or perhaps rocking in a certain direction back and forward. The person then asks for a sign of no. Once the signs have been established, the user askes yes/no questions. Other people like to use a special board under the crystal which has yes or no and other words or letters on it and people use it in a similar way as they would use a ouija board by looking at where the pendulum is swinging to on the board.
Table tipping involves a lightweight table with a group of people standing around it with their fingertips on the table. You invite spirit to come forward and move the table. It can move and in some cases it can 'tip over' which would be the ultimate goal. Given that this used to be a favourite among spiritualists during that era who would come up with inventive ways to move the tables, a lot of people are quite skeptical. If in doubt, only use this technique with people you fully trust.
Ouija Boards are probably one of the most controversial items in the paranormal field. Also known as spirit boards, it relies on a person/s with their hands on a planchette. They ask spirit to spell out words. The planchette then sometimes moves to spell out words (while the people are touching it). Somewhere along the line, they have developed a stigma around them that if you use one, you are in for a world of trouble. For myself, I believe it is no different to any other technique or piece of equipment. Anything you do with the intention to communicate is just that. It is no different to switching on a spirit box.
Scrying itself is more an act of self reflection. Paranormal investigators however often like to use it as an investigation technique. They stand in front of a mirror often with just a candle nearby to provide a little bit of lighting. They gaze into the mirror. Sometimes they see their face changing. Sometimes they see a figure as if it is standing behind them. They often feel that it is a spirit trying to show itself.
By either channeling spirit or by meditating, some people believe that a spirit is able to control them enough to write something on paper. This is called automatic writing. You simply have a paper and pen and let yourself write without thinking about it.
While the word pendulum is often associated with something like a crystal on the end of the string, there is a human variation to this technique. By having a circle of people, you invite spirit to come and talk. You ask the spirit to 'select' a person they want to talk to. Sometimes a person may start rocking or feel sick. They then go into the middle of the circle with a person either side to catch them. You then ask spirit to show a sign for yes. They either move forward or backwards. You then ask for a sign for no. You then carry on as if you were using a pendulum, except you have a person in the middle giving the yes/no answers.
Why not work on your ESP skills? You can do testing anywhere, it doesn't have to be a 'haunted house'. It is quite simple. There are 5 cards of each symbol. The deck is shuffled. There are 2 people which participate in the experiment and a third who acts as a moderator. The particpants are the sender and a receiver. The aim is quite simple. The sender picks a card from the deck. They then try to mentally send the image to the receiver. The receiver then concentrates and says the first image which comes to mind. This continues over a certain amount of time and then an overall success rate is calculated.
Some other alternatives
Glass Dowsing is another one which is very similar to a Ouija board. Using either a table or a board, you have what is like a shot glass turned upside down. It is used in the same way as a planchette is to spell out words or to answer yes/no questions.
Table Rapping. When sitting at a table (often during a seance) people will ask for a spirit to 'rap' on the table. Once for yes, twice for no. You need to be wary of this one as something as simple as cracking a knuckle or someone knocking the leg of the table can be considered a response.
Knocking. You can also ask a spirit to knock loudly or to finish a tune by knocking. Sometimes you will hear just a random knock which could be something easily explained. If however you hear a 'tune' in the form of knocks, that would be a bit more impressive. You can also start calling out letters and ask the spirit to knock when you get to the letter. Much in the same way you would try to get answers or words through a Ouija board, you can do something similar by knocking. Call the letters out slowly and give them a chance to answer.
When using all of the above techniques, the major flaw is the human element. While most people will be genuine with their intent when using these techniques and not knowingly fake anything, they may be answering or moving the items on a subconscious level. They are not aware they are doing it so they believe it is spirit communicating with them. It is called the ideomotor phenomena.
Old school investigation
In what we refer to as Old School investigation techniques, here are some other things you can do:
Locking down a room
You can set up a room with multiple items to see if they are in any way manipulated over a period of time. You can put a circle of ping pong balls on the floor. You can use a trigger object and trace it on a piece of paper. If it is moved, you will be able to tell from the tracing. One of the most popular techniques was to sprinkle talcum powder on the floor to see if there were any footprints of markings. You can also use tin foil which is a great alternative and doesn't leave a mess (Thankyou to Dan MacMath for that tip!). Seal the room shut and use sticky tape to 'seal the door'. Write your name date and time on it. If the room has been tampered with by 'human' interference, you will know because the sticky tape won't be in tact. When you come back to check the room, is everything as you left it? Are there footprints? Have things moved?
Here I am setting up ping pong balls in a hallway
There is also equipment that is not electrical which you can also use. One of the most popular would be a compass. A compass works in a similar way as a K2 meter would. If you don't have one, you can easily make your own. You can also make an electroscope and a barometer as well. Here are some instructions I made for a series I called 'Old School Challenge'.
It is important going into an investigation that you are going in with level head. When I asked people to tell me their tips for investigating with no electronic equipment, there was an overwhelming response from people saying that they felt the most important thing to do was to get rid of any pre conceived notions you have and go in with an open mind. It is important to remember that an open mind works both ways. If you are a skeptical person, you have to be open to the fact that something might be out there that you cannot explain. In the same light, you also can't go in thinking that something paranormal will happen. We all know that a lot of times, we walk out of an investigation empty handed. Having this level head allows us to properly not only observe, but to interpret our surroundings. Not every bang is paranormal. While there could be a natural explanation, is that what has happened in this particular case? It will be up to do you do decide. Have no expectations. Experience things as they happen. Talk to the location and quite simply, see if it talks back. While it is great to have a plan, you also have to accept that you will most likely be forced to go with the flow. I am a planner by nature. I like to plan as much as possible. Sadly, I learnt early on that this doesn't really work when it comes to investigating the paranormal. Sure you can have a loose plan of what rooms you want to lock down or what experiments you want to try, however you have to be able to think on your feet. If activity is happening at the other end of the building, you need to go and see what is going on. If you stick purely to your 'plan', you could potentially be missing things.
In a lot of ways, we are potentially holding ourselves back by limiting ourselves with equipment. You do need however to find a way that suits you and the answers you are looking for. If you love using ghost boxes for example, use them. If you don't like equipment and you just want to use yourself, do it. As I mentioned above, in the same way we encourage people to have an open mind going into an investigation, we also need to keep an open mind when it comes to the equipment vs no equipment discussion. People will have their own personal preferences based on what they have experienced and what they are used to. It is important to be willing to look at other options as well. No one has the answers, so maybe there is a place for both us and equipment to find some sort of balance and work together. In any case, whether you use equipment or not, the results of the investigation are only as good as your interpretation of them.
Do you like using equipment, or are you a more old school type of person? Tell us your tips for investigating without equipment below!
I would like to thank all of those who took the time to comment on social media with their tips on this topic!
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