Groping in the Dark: “Hunting” the Lack of Sensory Awareness!

The phrase, “Let There be Light” has more than a simple implication for contemporary ghost hunters. Modern “hunters” literally “grope in the dark” for that elusive ghost, missing other vital sensory cues in the process! No wonder absence is the common thread that ties most field investigations together, and makes them failed attempts at documenting a “real” manifesting presence. Unfortunately, this is the not so sensational space of most haunted locations, as experienced by contemporary ghost hunters!

Vision, as the “privileged” sensory mode in the modern world, (and the principal arbiter of reality) literally “takes a beating”! Technology is to blame for a lack of total sensory awareness during a “ghost hunt”. The invention and spread of electric lighting has illuminated our lives, both during the day and at night. But it has also dulled our senses. It has “killed” the sensory awareness of ghost research. Without light, the superiority of sight is undermined. It is that same light (or lack of it) that inhibits ghost hunting.

During an investigation, one has to learn to see all over again. Furthermore, there is no complete “blackout” in ghost hunting. Most illuminations, however, are not culturally-contextual for the interactive presence and their world. The ghost hunter strikes out with identity, simply by using a flashlight at a site of deep historical haunting uncertainties (the cultural world before the 24-hour illumination),

The use of lighting technology (in flashlights, video cameras, “flashes” of light in cameras, and other tech devices) prevents the manifestation of an interactive historical presence through mis(or non) identification. The source of illumination becomes an “unknown agent” to an intelligent presence, not likely “friendly”, or an individual one could (should) not communicate with!

This is a Catch-22 situation for the ghost hunter. If he/she uses this equipment, there is light but mis-identification, and detecting presence becomes an unknown variable. If the equipment is used at night, the investigative team, long accustomed to bright light, would have to revert to other senses, such as hearing, touch, smell, proprioception, all of which have atrophied with disuse. The result is a continued reliance on the less than perfect visual sense, and unknown audio context. That “bright” future for ghost research, suggested by the technocracy of ghost hunting equipment suppliers, has not materialized in this “illuminating” viewpoint!

Is it any wonder that the authenticity of an interactive past presence during a night-time investigation is such a difficult undertaking?

What is the solution? I propose two, both of which I perform before an investigation (as the principal “tool” of the investigation). This is essential “prep-work” before fieldwork. These actions are physical acclimatization and cultural immersive practice sessions. Both practices are based in a solid foundation of historical, geneological, and cultural behavioral research on the haunted location, and its former occupants.

Acclimatization is physically becoming accustomed to the level of light (or degree of darkness) that one will encounter at the haunted location. Illumination (in the “excavated” space) will be context-specific during these exercises, reflecting the “actuality” (strata of haunting uncertainty to be unearthed) of the haunted location. This may mean performing various cultural scenarios in candlelight, for example.

Cultural immersion means to fully experience, as is currently possible, the “ghost culture” of the period of history to be excavated. By this I mean its sensual nature (what to expect in terms of sounds, smells, tactile feelings, movements, etc. in the “dark” of that time period). This is, however, not to let “expectations” dominate and influence any future perceptions in the field. It is to allow a resonating participatory/performative practice to be projected at the site of excavation. There, the team is the objective element. They are the recorders of any manifesting contextual presence. It’s also important that I am not so “immersed” that I don’t (can’t) react to their signals, which then changes my participatory cultural acts to a “targeting performance” aimed at a specific individual in that particular “ghost culture”.

This becomes a sensually-aware action (or reaction), rather than a grope in the dark, hoping something will manifest on the audio, video, photographic or other electronic devises. This process of physical acclimatization and cultural immersion is “ghost excavation”, not “ghost hunting”!!