The title of this quick end-of-the-year article is inspired by Guy Lyon Playfair’s 1980 book on the shocking two-year episode of the Enfield poltergeist (North London, UK), which Playfair investigated with Maurice Grosse starting in 1977. Playfair is also known for some electrifying studies of the spiritism of Brazil. (See The Flying Cow, 1975.) He might be best known for his biography of the impish Israeli, Uri Geller – who for all his quirks, may be or once have been the real deal as a psychic performer.
The article itself is inspired by the note below that arrived yesterday. Below it is my reply.
I hope all is well with you, it’s been a long time! Not sure if we have spoken since I left **** to join **** Real Estate in 2014, but when you have a chance, I wonder if you could answer a question for me.
I have a client who is moving into a home in Hamburg village, built in 18**, and she asked me if it could be haunted. Is there a local database of locations with reports of activity that I could refer her to? Or perhaps you have a book you could sell her:)?
Caught me on line. Glad to know you landed well! Hope the real estate business is being good to you. I have several comments about hauntings and houses.
1) First of all, let’s clarify our use of terms, particularly the word “haunted.” Many people presume that to say a house is haunted is to mean that it has one or more ghosts. Not necessarily.
Let’s liken supernatural reports to money.
We know that few people we call rich have only a safe full of cash. They have property, investments, bank accounts, jewelry, art, gold… Still, we call them rich as if it was all money.
Like the forms of wealth, psychic phenomena (psi) comes in categories, too. Phantom sounds, apparitions (ghosts), electrical effects, spontaneously moving objects (psychokinesis or telekinesis)… Psychic phenomena can appear to any one of our five material senses, though I am grateful to say that the sense of taste is the least-reported means of experiencing anything prospectively supernatural. (I’ve never heard of anyone tasting a ghost. Kinda glad of it.)
Psi is more subtle and diverse even than that. People in powerful places or at powerful times can have dreams, visions, insights, and other experiences whose reception seems entirely interior – within the mind.
But to say that a building or site is haunted means simply that it is rich in in reports of this type of phenomena. In fact, many of New York State’s most legendary haunted buildings may not have a single ghost, at least one that people actually say they see. Spooky sounds, shadows, sensations, and other effects are enough to get the reputation started.
2) I detect a note of apprehension on the part of your client. Please tell her not to be troubled if she does find out she will be moving into a house that has picked up a few ghost stories. No one has ever been injured by a ghost or anything else supernatural, at least according to serious report. (“Spirit attacks” appear to be TV stuff.)
There are energetic sites, and if you happen to be spending time at one you may experience things that you accept as threatening, but that is your choice. If you routinely interpret natural phenomena like gusts of wind or falling leaves to be messages or menaces, that is your choice, too. What I am saying by that is that the stuff you perceive is not necessarily out to get you. Like gusts and leaves, spontaneous psychic manifestations are generally just doing their thing. The vast majority of the time, the psychic phenomena I hear reported of the typical haunted house would seem quite neutral – as well as incoherent – to an objective observer.
If you should happen to be living or working in an active site – I like that term better than “haunted” since the condition of being haunted is usually temporary – there are a variety of ways in which an active site might show itself. They are not nearly as dramatic as in the movies. Let’s just say that once every few months someone – depending on impressionability – might think he or she heard or glimpsed something. It will almost always be quick and subtle.
I would like to remind your client that haunted houses often lose their energy, too. Something that once went through a period of activity may be pretty inert, according to testimony, even a few years later.
Most inns and hotels love a ghost story, FYI. Innkeepers and pub-owners often ask me to uncover a ghost story about their establishments if not to make one up and stand behind it. They would never do that if a ghost or two drove away business.
3) I have never written about a house in Hamburg village, so none of my books would inform your client directly. Depending on the location of your client’s house, the Iroquois book (Iroquois Supernatural, 2010, Bear & Company/Inner Traditions International) might help. There are some references to Native American sites in the Hamburg area. Some of them pick up reputations for being haunted that last to this day.
4) To help with any further comment I would need to know the address of the house in question or at least the general section of the road or street. The site, the physical spot, is often a key factor in the pattern of a building getting the reputation of being haunted. For an example, some roads tend to pick up reputations, especially the handful of avenues about New York State that were ancient Native footpaths. The grander and older they are, the more likely they are to collect stories and reports.
5) Your client asked about a data base of haunted sites. Allegedly haunted sites are way more common than the general public suspects. A list of them in New York State would be so vast and yet so sketchy as to be almost pointless.
I would estimate that there are a hundred buildings in the village of Hamburg that might have acquired at least temporary reputations for supernatural experiences in the last two hundred years. Almost none of that material was ever recorded in any medium except the human voice and the memory of those who heard the stories. By now almost all of it is lost.
There are indexes of haunted sites, all based on the idea that haunted sites are truly so rare as to be exceptional. I am most familiar with a site called Shadowlands which features lists of reported haunts in all American states, and there are surely others. Every American village has its reportedly haunted houses but consulting websites like this is going to be hit or miss.
The material on most of these sites like Shadowlands is not vetted, either. Its writing is of flexible quality and its details are not reliable. (As of the last day of 2017 one of Shadowlands’ entries on East Aurora continues to maintain that the Roycroft Inn had once been destroyed by fire, which is absolutely silly and dispelled by the first phone call to the registration desk of the Inn. That blunder has stood there at least fifteen years.) Shadowlands and other sites like it are not of much use as any more than leads. They can point you to the most obvious sites and subjects people in certain communities are talking about, but a lot more research is needed if you plan to publish anything. FYI, I didn’t see any entries for Hamburg on Shadowlands, so your client’s house cannot be that proverbial.
6) Finally, even if it is rumored that your client’s prospective house or any other site is haunted, there is no way to prove it. A psychic who tells you a site is haunted is just giving you an opinion based on his or her intuitions. A ghost hunter who tells you a site is haunted based on “scientific” surveillance instruments is just using 21st century gadgets to work like a 19th century ouija board. There is no valid reason to link an electronically detectable anomaly to the willing intervention of a disembodied spirit.
The only evidence for a site being actively haunted could be the record of human experience. The best would be your own. If you believe you have observed something supernatural at a certain site, that is the best proof anyone could give you that it may be active. There is also no assurance that anything like it will ever happen again. Sites that are haunted don’t act up either reliably or often. Again, reality is not like TV shows or “ghost hunts” on which psychic displays are expected every night if not many times an hour.
You are free to send this note to your client, and she is welcome to contact me. I will be happy to talk further if needed. I hate to see the sensationalism of the entertainment industry being taken for the norm in these subjects, especially when it alarms people needlessly.
© 2017 Mason Winfield