Three Kinds of Ghosts You Can See

man-door-roseWhile ghost hunting, I’ve seen weird things like unexplained lights, shadows, and figures just out of the corner of my eye.

Here’s the basic rule: If they can’t be explained by something normal, we consider them paranormal.

Anything that’s seen or sensed that can’t be explained, except in paranormal terms, can be called an anomaly.

In ghost hunting, that means one (or both) of two things:

  1. We can’t explain it.  We see three gravestones, but a fourth one shows up in a photograph.  Or, we can hear a certain investigator’s voice on our EVP recording, but she wasn’t there during the investigation.
  2. Even if we could explain it,  it’s still very weird and doesn’t make sense.  It’s “statistically unlikely” in the context of where it happened or was recorded.  This is the kind of evidence that skeptics pounce on.  Sure, that orb could be humidity, but why did it show up in just two of about 15 photos, each taken within two minutes of each other… and by two different cameras?

So, when we’re at a location that’s supposed to be haunted, we’re researching paranormal activity and we’re documenting anomalies.

Those aren’t necessarily ghosts, or even evidence of ghosts.

However, when it’s something best described as a ghost, we call it a ghost.  It’s as good a label as any, for now, and — when we say “a ghost” — others recognized the kinds of phenomena we’re talking about.  Whether the person believes it represents the spirit of someone dead… that’s another matter.

As ghost hunters, we’re collecting evidence, trying to figure out what’s going on in haunted places.  Often, ghosts are the most logical explanation, so that’s the word I’ll use in this article and at this website.

There are at least three kinds of ghosts you can see:  Ghosts that emit light, ghosts that are shadows, and ghosts that are apparitions.  (There may be a fourth category, ghosts that absorb light, but we’re not sure yet.)

Ghosts that emit light

The most frequently photographed ghosts are those that emit light.  We see orbs (translucent circles or spheres) in our photos.  Those orbs usually have fairly crisp edges; they’re not reflections from headlights or lens flares.

In the photo below, the orb is very faint, and over the EMF meter on the right.  In a series of photos, the orb seemed to float between the meters, back and forth.  When it was near one of the EMF meters, that meter would signal. Then, the orb would float back to the other meter, leaving both meters dark in the interim.

At the time, we described it as spiritual ping pong.

This photo was not altered with Photoshop or any software, so the orb is very faint.  My photo is among many taken that night, at Tenney Gate House (Methuen, MA), showing the orb floating back and forth, triggering the EMF meters.

Two EMF meters and a faint orb, at Tenney Gate House, Methuen, MA.
Two EMF meters, spiking alternately, and the orb that floated between them.

Using Photoshop with a typical orb, the characteristic colors are revealed.  This next photo could have been taken anywhere, but I was at Fort George in Ontario, Canada.  Though skeptics will look at this kind of photo and explain it as dust, pollen, or moisture, this orb was photographed by about four of us, each standing about 10 – 30 feet apart, pointing our cameras in the same direction.  Mapping its location relative to landmarks we were seeing from different angles, it was easy to show that we were all photographing the same orb.

Typical orb. Perfectly circular. Looks three dimensional.
Typical orb. Perfectly circular. Looks three dimensional.

Some photos show a streak of light, often described as a vortex.  Unfortunately, a large number of vortices (plural of vortex) look identical to camera straps.  So, we’re not sure how many of those photos show something paranormal.  It’s too easy to explain them as a forgotten camera strap that fell in front of the camera.

However, if you have a photo with an image like this and you’re sure no camera strap or similar object was near the lens of the camera, you might have an anomaly we call a vortex.

This is a camera strap.
This is a camera strap.

Sometimes, we see light-emitting shapes or figures in real life, not just in photos.  Weirdly, those anomalies rarely show up in photographs.

They could be circular shapes or spheres.  They might be rods of light.  Or, in very rare cases, they assume the form of a figure, like an apparition.

These kinds of ghostly figures are best seen and photographed after dark.  Though I’ve taken photos of daytime orbs, with no flash or possibility of lens flare, the vast majority of light-related anomalies are photographed at night.

That’s one reason for a lights-out investigation at haunted sites.

Ghosts that are shadows

Ghostly shadows — sometimes “shadow figures” — are among the most disturbing ghostly phenomena we encounter.  We don’t know what they are, but they can seem a lot more covert and sinister than the ghosts we usually study.

The photo below, taken at a private residence near Laconia, New Hampshire, shows an eerie shadow figure we saw in a fully-lit basement.  It’s one of many troubling photos from that investigation.  In real life, the figure looked like a tall man.  There was nothing to explain that shadow.  I could see the cause of almost every other shadow, but not that one.

Laconia-basement3-shadow-230x300

The figure in the photo, above, is unusual because shadow figures usually seem to hide among other shadows.

We’re not sure what these figures represent. Sometimes, they appear individually. At other times, they seem to travel in groups or packs.

In general, I don’t recommend lingering at any location where you see shadow figures.  We’re not sure that they’re as benign as what we usually call “ghosts.”

Ghosts that Absorb Light

At the present time, we’re not sure if shadow figures or “ghost shadows” are actually casting a shadow, if they are simply dark figures, or if they’re absorbing light like a black hole.

If they’re absorbing light (and perhaps energy), that’s another very good reason to be cautious if you ever see a shadow figure.

We don’t know what these are, and if they’re a separate kind of entity.

Ghosts that are apparitions

Apparitions are ghosts that look like they did in life.  Sometimes they’re more-or-less translucent.  Others look like living people, but they may appear to be in historical costumes.

It seems that there are very few photos of apparitions.  Here’s a classic, the Brown Lady, photographed in 1936 by Captain Hubert C. Provand.

Brown_lady

I have three of theories about why we don’t see more credible photos of apparitions:

  1. Most apparition photos aren’t credible, and look like double exposures or as if they’ve been created in Adobe Photoshop.
  2. Often, the anomalies we see in real life don’t show up in our photos, and vice versa.
  3. Many apparitions seem so lifelike, we don’t realize they’re ghosts until they fade or abruptly disappear… and then it’s too late to get a photo.

Those are the three kinds of ghosts you can see… maybe:  Ghosts that emit light, ghosts that are shadows, and ghosts that seem to have physical form and look a lot like they’re living people.

A fourth category, ghosts that absorb light so they’re not just shadows but something like black holes, is a troubling concept that has yet to be explored.

The Banshee – Ghost, Faerie or Something Else?

Banshees are unique in paranormal research.  The following is from an article I wrote in 1999.

When someone mentions a ghost, most of us think of cemeteries, haunted houses, and transparent figures draped in sheets.

Likewise, the word “faerie” is usually linked with cute little figures with wings, and merry mischief… like Tinkerbell.

However, mention a Banshee, and people squirm.

The Banshee, like a ghost, can represent death, but that is not her actual role in folklore or in our lives.

She can appear transparent, usually the size of a living person. Nevertheless, like her fae counterparts, she is associated with a more magical Otherworld.

She reminds us that the Otherworld is a vast place, inhabited by many kinds of beings, including faeries and ghosts.

The Banshee — in Irish, the Bean Sidhe (pronounced “bann-SHEE”) — means “spirit woman” or sometimes a spirit (perhaps a faerie) dressed in white. She is usually described as a single being, although there are many of them.

Your Irish Family’s Banshee

According to legend, one Banshee guards each Milesian Irish family. These are the families descended from the “Sons of Mil” who emigrated to Ireland long ago. Often, those families’ surnames start with O’ or Mac, and sometimes Fitz. Remember, many of those prefixes have been dropped, particularly by American families.

In other words, if your ancestors lived in Ireland for a couple of generations, your family — and perhaps your household — probably has its own Banshee.

There is a Banshee for each branch of these families, and the family Banshee can follow the descendants to America, Australia, or wherever the Irish family travels or emigrates.

The Banshee protects the family as best she can, perhaps as a forerunner of the “Guardian Angel” in Christian traditions. However, we are most aware of her before a tragedy that she cannot prevent.

Traditionally, the Banshee appears shortly before a death in “her” family.

The Banshee is almost always female, and appears filmy in a white, hooded gown. (The exception is in Donegal, Ireland, where she may wear a green robe, or in County Mayo where she usually wears black.)

However, if she is washing a shroud when you see her, she may merely signal a major life-changing event in your future. The way to determine this is to go home and burn a beeswax candle after seeing her. According to folklore, if it burns in the shape of a shroud, her appearance does foretell death.

The Banshee’s Wail

The night before the death, the Banshee wails piteously in frustration and rage. Her family will always hear her. Many others in the area will, too. For example, Sir Walter Scott referred to “the fatal banshi’s boding scream.”

One of the largest reports of this wailing was in 1938, when the Giants’ Grave in County Limerick, Ireland, was excavated and the bones were moved to a nearby castle.

The crying was heard throughout central Ireland. People said it sounded as if every Banshee in Ireland was keening.

That collective Banshee wail was unusual but not unique. When a group of Banshees are seen, they usually forecast the dramatic illness — and perhaps death — of a major religious or political figure.

In Irish mythological history, the Banshee tradition may link to the fierce Morrighan as the “Washer at the Ford,” a legend of Cuchulain. In that story, the Morrighan appeared as a young woman who prepared for an upcoming battle by washing the clothing — or perhaps the shrouds — of those who would fight and lose.

Does the Banshee Cause Death?

Despite her grim reputation, seeing or hearing a Banshee doesn’t cause the death. Traditionally, the Banshee is a very kind woman. As poet and historian W. B. Yeats commented, “You will with the banshee chat, and will find her good at heart.”

Perhaps her appearance and wailing before a death are efforts to protect her family from a death. or other tragedy that she foresees.

This is the clearest link to what are popularly called “ghosts.” In many stories, the spirit appears to warn the living about danger, illness, or death. Many gothic novels feature a ghost whose appearance forecasts death.

Likewise, in the Sherlock Holmes story, the Hound of the Baskervilles howled before a family death.

In real life, my maternal grandmother and her siblings were individually visited by the spectre of their mother, to warn them of her imminent death in a hospital many miles away, and to say good-bye.

This level of concern for the living is consistent with many ghosts, as well as the Banshee.

Whether the Banshee is a “ghost” or a “faerie” may never be resolved. However, the Banshee provides clear evidence that the lines separating ghosts, spirits, and faeries are vague at best.

For more information about the Banshee, one of the best studies is The Banshee: The Irish Death Messenger by Patricia Lysaght (paperback, © 1986, Roberts Rhinehart Publishers, Colorado).

Note: Most of this article originally appeared as “Banshee – Ghost, faerie or something else” – in October 1999 at Suite 101, when I was one of their consulting editors, writing about paranormal topics.

Photo credit:
Menlo Castle, photographed by dave gilligan, Limerick, Ireland (Eire)

Banshees and Ghost Hunting

Ancient tower with crowsBanshees… should ghost hunters look for them?  In my opinion, the answer is no, but not for the reasons you might expect.

A March 2011 episode of Destination: Truth focused on a Banshee, or a “hotbed” of Banshees at Duckett’s Grove Castle in County Carlow, Ireland.

Looking for a Banshee is like looking for a Guardian Angel.  (The spiritual kind, not the Guardian Angels organized by Curtis Sliwa and his wife.)

A Banshee will find you, not vice versa.

I began writing about Banshees in 1999:  Banshee – Ghost, faerie or something else?

The Banshee’s cry

I have heard a Banshee, and it’s not something I’d want to hear again.  Others’ first-person descriptions of the Banshee’s wail — described as keening, from the Irish word caoine — are equally chilling.

In many modern-day reports, the Banshee cries through someone living.  It’s similar to something in science fiction and horror movies: The person (usually female) opens her mouth and a terrible cry emerges.  It sounds nothing like the person’s actual voice.  It’s more like the worst combination of fingernails on a blackboard, mixed with someone dragging a bow across a squeaking violin string.

That’s worth repeating: It sounds nothing like the person’s actual voice. If you think, “Oh, he (or she) must be faking it,” you’re probably not hearing a Banshee.  The sound isn’t even close to human.

Death and the Banshee

Banshees protect families with Irish ancestry.  Generally, they’re not seen or heard when they’re quietly successful with their protection efforts.

The only time you’re likely to hear or see a Banshee is if she’s anguished because she can’t prevent a tragedy in “her” family.

Banshees, ghosts, clones and quantum theories

Almost every family with Irish ancestry has their own Banshee.  That’s the theory, anyway.  (I explained more about that in my 1999 article, linked above.)

However, those who see the Banshee and know their family history… they always describe her as a known ancestor, usually from before the 1700s.

That’s where this becomes odd:  It appears that every household with Irish ancestry has a Banshee… but within one family line, they’re all the same ancestor.

That leaves just a few possibilities.  These are among the most likely:

  1. It’s one spirit but she’s protecting thousands of households.
  2. The spirits are different (and may or may not be spirits of ancestors), but they choose a common ancestral image that the family may recognize.
  3. It’s one spirit and she’s cloned herself as a spiritual protector.
  4. From her own time,  she’s able to visit multiple times & places (parallel realities) and — as a time traveller — try to change future outcomes.
  5. Something’s paranormal is occurring, but the Banshee stories influence how the encounter is perceived and told to others.

Ghost hunting for Banshees?

Banshees are ghosts only in the sense that — according to many reports — each one looks like someone who was once alive… a real person.

So, they could be called ghosts.

However, this isn’t a spirit that you can help to “cross over.”

If you hear or see a Banshee

Banshees don’t cause death or tragedy.  They’re simply able to see the likelihood of tragedy, and they’re already mourning.

This is important: Even if you see or hear a Banshee, the tragedy can still be avoided. As any good psychic will tell you: The future isn’t set in stone.

The Banshee can’t prevent whatever-it-is, but you (or someone else) might be able to.

At the very least, immediately leave the site where you encounter the Banshee.  Tragedy is imminent.  If the Banshee remains behind,  it’s not your tragedy and you can avoid being part of it.

On the other hand, hearing or seeing multiple Banshees at once usually indicates a tragedy involving someone with a high profile… a politician or a church leader.  You’re less likely to prevent that from occurring.

Nevertheless, if you’re looking for a Banshee, you’re looking for trouble.  At best, it’s a waste of time to launch a paranormal investigation to encounter a Banshee.

At worst, you could be putting yourself in harm’s way.  An encounter with a Banshee usually means that something very bad is likely to happen.

Though some have speculated that a Banshee is related to the faerie called “the little woman of the hearth” or to the Green Lady traditions, the Banshee is more likely to be a distinct kind of entity… and not appropriate for ghost hunting.

Irish travel tips for ghost hunters

Duckett’s Grove Castle is a great location for ghost hunting.  The location is tremendous and picturesque… and a little eerie.

The castle has an amazing history that includes money, power struggles and tragedy, and more than one family curse. Several incidents from the castle’s past could lead to hauntings.

Ireland is a wonderful place to explore if you’re a ghost hunter or a paranormal researcher.  Banshees are best avoided, but Ireland’s rich history and haunted sites offer more active ghostly encounters than most countries.

Photo credit: Steve Ford Elliott, Mountshannon, Co Clare, Ireland Eire

Identify Your Ghost

Sometimes you can find out who your ghost was, even if no one knows the ghost’s name.

It starts when you (or someone else) has seen the ghost, or received a fairly clear impression about the appearance of the ghost.

In addition to the obvious things (such as if the person wears a noose or has a weapon in hand), carefully observe the clothing if you can.  Usually, that tells you a lot about your ghost, including the era when the ghost lived, and his or her economic status.

With those insights, you may develop a “gut feeling” as you research, and soon conclude the most likely identity of your ghost.

Most ghosts respond to their names. They may act startled or angry, but you’ll almost always get a dramatic reaction to the correct name.

That’s your goal, whether you’re trying to confirm whether a place is haunted, or help the ghost to “cross over.”

Step 1: Start with the ghost’s clothing.

Fashions

You can guess the era when the ghost lived, based on the clothing he or she wears.

  • Researching a female ghost, you may narrow the time to a ten-year period, based on fashions.
  • Men’s styles vary less dramatically from year to year.
  • Children’s clothing can be more challenging. In most cases, only the upper class dressed their children fashionably.  Even then, little boys and girls were often dressed identically until around age four, and sometimes older.  So, “the little ghost in the dress” isn’t necessarily female.

A ghostly woman with a very large and extreme bustle extending over the back of her skirt (possibly a fairly narrow skirt to the floor), is probably from the 1880’s. Bright yellow was fashionable for both men and women — particularly for footwear — in the 1890’s.

Those are easy to date.  However, don’t seize stereotypes.

Here are a couple of examples:

  • A woman with sloped shoulders and large, poofy sleeves plus a full skirt, may be from the American Civil War era. However, affluent women of the 1620’s through 1640’s would match this profile, too.
  • High-waisted gowns are reminiscent of the “Titanic” era. (The ship sank in 1912.)  High-waisted gowns were also worn during England’s Regency period, in the early 19th century.

By contrast, some fashion cues are sure things.

For example, in America, a powdered wig will usually be seen prior to the Revolutionary War, and even then, only among the upper class or those who aspired to appear influential.

When you see a female apparition (or perceive her, psychically), it’s usually easy to notice dramatic fashion details.

If your ghost is male, try to look for specific details in his clothing.  Here are some examples:

  • For men, hats and lapels are key points. The length of the jacket is also helpful.
  • Tricorns, the three-cornered hat usually shown on Patriots in illustrations of American Revolution, were worn from the late 17th century through the late 18th century, but were soon replaced by hats with flat brims and taller crowns.
  • Likewise, longer pants, also called “Irish trousers,” replaced breeches after the American Revolution.
  • Men did not wear “top hats” with tall crowns until around the 1820’s.
  • Men’s suits, as we know them today, did not come into fashion until towards the end of the American Civil War.
  • Gaudy fabrics in suits, including brilliant colors and plaids, usually represent fashions after 1885.

For more information on costuming, check your public library. I recommend illustrated guides by John Peacock.

Step 2: Match people to that era, at that location.

If you can narrow the time period using clothing or some other means, you can then learn who lived in the house, or what company was in the building.

Site and residents’ history

For houses, go to city hall and search property records.

Or go to the public library (or a genealogy library) and use the census records which are generally listed by state, then town, and then neighborhood. All the houses on one street are usually grouped on one set of pages, in order.

Census records from the mid-19th century will usually tell you the names, ages, and professions of everyone in the house, and their relationships to each other.

City directories listed homes and businesses. Before phone books, city directories listed, street-by-street, every adult in each household. Most included where the person was employed, too.

Those directories also listed businesses by street address. Businesses advertised in city directories, providing additional information.

Once you enter the era of the telephone book, look for “reverse directories,” which list names and phone numbers by their addresses. If the house was at 123 Main Street, you can look up Main Street and then find who (or what business) was in number 123.

Step 3: Use genealogical records to learn more about the most likely people.

With the location, a name, and a time period, use genealogical resources — such as civil and church records — to learn what happened to the occupants of the house, or the owner of the business.

  • Civil records include birth, marriage, and death records.  They’re usually kept at city, county, and state offices.
  • Church records may be at the actual church, or at a broader office, such as Catholic Archdiocese archives.
  • Many older records are online, and some are indexed.
  • Historical societies, family history libraries, and the historical collection at the public library may be helpful.

Other resources

Many newspaper articles are indexed. Newspaper obituaries are, too. They can provide considerable information. Once you have names to work with, you can look for articles about their lives. You may find clues in those stories or reports.

Court records can be useful. For example, you may find a series of lawsuits disputing a property line. That was common when property and income were closely tied.  A running dispute could explain lingering residual energy, especially at a site that never had a house on it… or never had a house on it, until now.

After a person had died, their will and probate records can provide insights into family relations. These records are usually at the courthouse.  Most are open to the public once the will has been read, after the individual’s death.

siseTown and city histories can provide colorful (but often fictional) biographies of leading citizens. No matter how much the person’s background was embellished, you can find clues to their real lives.

This is a simplified explanation, but hopefully it will help you identify your ghost, or narrow the possibilities to just a few people.

Remember that some ghosts wander. One famous example is the ghost of Room 214 in the Sise Inn of Portsmouth, NH. The Sise Inn — shown at right — appears to have no violence in its long history. However, the ghost may be a visitor from a house two doors away, where a murder was committed many years ago.

You may not identify every ghost, but — in many cases — you can narrow the possibilities to just a few real people from the past.