Archive for the Anthropology Category

Extraordinary Anthropology and Ghost Research

The concept of extraordinary anthropology is a way of thinking (and a mode of fieldwork) that recognizes that “Western styles of knowledge, which typically give priority to detachment over engagement……are to be exposed to radically different ways of understanding and inhabiting reality” ( Robert A. Orsi, “Between Heaven and Earth”, 2005). This becomes a radical change in ghost research, and the study of particular “ghost cultures”, the vestiges and remains of “what was” that remain “active” in contemporary reality. It entails giving oneself  to different means of learning and knowing, including immersions and full participation (as far as humanly possible) into past lifeways. Through immersion, participation, and performance, we experience changes in what we are witnessing:

“Unlike Galileo’s contemporaries, who refused to look through his telescope, experiential ethnographers are brave enough to stand inside what may be to them a foreign means of encountering the world” ( Eva Marie Garroutte, “Real Indians: Identity and the Survival of Native America”, 2003). What is involved is a modification of “our previous cognitive structures to include those new features of the environment learned through new or unexpected perceptions” ( Robert C. Fuller, “From Emotion to Spirituality”, 2006). This is what we hope to accomplish in each and every “ghost excavation” we enact in the field at haunted locations: the “extraordinary anthropology” of a “ghost culture”!!

ParaNormal(cy) in Ghost Research

“Anthropology’s function is to present to the world, among much else, the world’s own ritual systems, this one among many; and therefore, Anthropology is less and less able to resist the rich reports that are coming in from far-fling places….about conscious live people in the midst of communications with spiritual beings of many kinds….it seems to me that this ‘spirit’ – this ‘consciousness-extends-beyond the body’…..might persist beyond a lifetime, being beyond the body. I reckon it is what we see in ghosts…..” (Edith Turner, “Heart of Lightness: The Life Story of an Anthropologist”, pages 213, 264.).

A “ghost excavation” attempts to go deeper, where no complete ethnographic account has gone before, to unearth these “spirits” of past presence. We seek out new experiences through the recovery of alternative ( past – NOT “paranormal”) states of consciousness. We document events that are “actualities”, not subjective sensations. We unearth an empirical presence that emerges from a set investigative field process that is repeatable at some future date and time.

A “ghost excavation” is a team effort, each participant is involved within a specific role and “mind print” that works together in cognizant of one another AND the entities that continue to linger within a “hauntscape” of distinct sensugraphic layerings on the contemporary surface. This holistic investigative archaeological-ethnographic-theatrical approach is achieved by people who participate together in the immersion and engagement with past presence. This is no “ghost hunt” or “ghost tour”! There is no “I” when we “excavate the ghosts”! There is no ego when we engage the past, nor a demand and command!! And there certainly is no sense of “everyone doing their own thing”!

A “ghost excavation” is experiencing something social, both present and past. That sociality is both cultural and contextual. It initiates (and becomes) a change in current reality and in collective non-ordinary consciousness. It is accomplished, as Edith Turner has said, “when a number of people get into flow together in a collective enterprise”. That “collective enterprise” is a “ghost excavation”!

E.V.P. : A “Limited” Ghost Hunting Practice!

A “ghost archaeology” of the senses is critical to unearth and document a manifesting intelligent past cultural presence. We must incorporate the concept of memory with the study of past senses. This is a necessary procedure to reconstruct past sensory experiences. It leads to an integrated process of experienced space, material past culture (“ghost culture”), shaped memories, and contextual identities.

The use of general EVP sweeps, a common practice in “ghost hunting” (“Is anyone here….?, “Show us a sign…..! Do Something!!) is creating a different soundscape at haunted locations. It identifies the individual (as investigator) as an outsider, thus limiting the sensuality (and sensory awareness) of a haunted location.

In contrast, I use “contextual EVP”, as part of the “P.O.P.” process. If my participatory acts cause a contextual manifestation, I immediately ask: “Did you like that….”? or something relevant to that manifesting form. This resonates with the entity, and does not isolate (and identify) me as an “outsider”.

Another problem of a general EVP sweep is that we do not know what we may have just recorded. There is no socio-cultural contextual context. We are not sensually aware of the implications (if any) of our EVP sweep until much later in the analysis phase.

Sometimes, architectural features at a site may actually have been prompted by a specific desire to manipulate sound effects, such as in a ritual context. This has shown to be the case at many archaeological sites. Perhaps, the same is true in some haunted, multi-layered historic locations. Was that EVP actually an “echo effect” or a purposeful architectural resonance that was previously imprinted on the wall or another physical feature in the environment? Without a processual context (participatory resonating cultural act/manifesting contextual response), we just don’t know!

New investigative avenues open as we change our attitude and approach at haunted locations. I believe this attitude change will greatly alter our understanding of past interactive presence. It also underscores the profound value of a broader cultural investigative participatory approach to ghost research!

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”!!

The Detectable (and Delicious) Smell of Haunted Space

A “ghost excavation” can dig-up” more than a phantom presence. It is an application of phenomenology to the past. My use of K.O.C.O.A. (key areas, observation areas, cover and concealment, obstacles, and avenues of approach) to investigate haunting phenomenon at Gettysburg (in my book, “Battlefield Hauntscape”) is one example. But, can a “ghost excavation” dig-up smells, tastes, and other sensory modalties?

Archaeological fieldwork has demonstrated the importance of smell in Ancient Mesoamerica and many cultures, both past and present, communicate with “spirits” through aromatic aids. Odor, memory, movement, and meaning are closely-related. Somatic memories also apply to taste, and to the haunting uncertainties of environment (kitchen, “dining areas” (whereever they existed in a location’s historical/cultural context)) within which these embodied acts occur. These are issues of deep cultural resonances that would not normally occur on a typical “ghost hunt” tech or EVP sweep.

Anthropologists and archaeologists have found that the biological uniqueness of the sense of smell evokes memories, emotions, and connections more easily and readily than do other senses (see conference briefs in “Making Senses of the Past: Toward a Sensory Archaeology”: March 26-27, 2010 at Southern Illinois University, Carbondale).

The preparation of food is a total sensory experience:

-feeling the texture of the “raw” food.

-stirring it in a pot or other household vessel.

-smelling it cooking.

-tasting it to season.

-hearing it cooking.

-habitual, mundane preparation movements, etc.

With this in mind, we used “food prep” as a “trigger sensation” in our investigation of a “live” excavation of Farnham Manor in Ohio on May 22nd 2009 on ParaNexus Radio. This was an ongoing participatory act that was used throughout the investigation. It involved a total sensory immersion that is both contextual (the site was also once a Danish Restaurant), and historically-significant (the ghost of “Emily”, the original owner’s daughter who fell into a cistern and drowned, haunts the kitchen area. The cistern is located beneath the floor of the kitchen)!

Today, we live in a 21st c. sensorium that unconsciously influences the ways we try to understand the past. To “unlearn” these modern cultural ways (try taking a cell phone away from one of your children!), we must incorporate into our field investigations a consideration of embodied practices and sensory ontologies that are different. Some of these which I have used in the field are contextual cultural immersions, peripatetic audio-video/narrative positional surveys, a “theatrical ghosting” in my participatory/performative field practices (P.O.P.), and the use of fictive memory practices that identify me as a “dinosaur” with some people (including my 20 year-old daughter).

For me, these contextual cultural fieldwork practices are a move from simply measuring and recording the environment with scientific devices to exploring the effects of resonating practices on a “live” past presence who “identifies” with me as one of “them”, and I am not talking about being one of the “undead” or a “ghost” of my former self!! Only then, can I “POP” a contextual manifesting presence. STAY TUNED for more “recipes” to “sense” (and “taste”) a “live” past presence in this project!!

“Excavate” the Ghost with an Anthropological Sense!

The anthropologist is a cultural relativist. He or she recognizes others in our midst who are no so very different than the rest of us, even those who “search”, “hunt”, “survey”, and “dig” for those past remains that actively linger today at certain locations. The eyes of the anthropologist “speak” of presences that walk through the accumulated dust of “ruin”. Today, our tech-oriented society has become “blinded” by overuse (and dependency), and merely records a “deviation”, without context, agency, or understanding. This is not the “human” element of what “survives”. The idea that perhaps we are not alone remains an anomaly in this perspective.

Too often, it is called a “paranormal” event, or something from a parallel universe. These lingering remains are something that comes from our world, not another reality that occasionally merges with our own. If parallel universes (rather than symmetrical spaces) are the agencies of these manifestations, why is so much human cultural context contained in these phenomenon?

Those who investigate the darkness of the unknown are told to “ground” the witness. We should “ground”, instead, the investigation in an excavation context of multi-symmetrical space of unfolding time and various levels of past presence.

“Now in the night

the dark walker came

sliding in shadow”


To “see” in a relative, ethnographic way, is to be open, to take it all in without being taken in, to be aware of the diverse possibilities of the world during the day, and at night. What more could one want as a field investigator? To excavate with that anthropological eye, is to be among those elite who have re-discovered “something” more than a measured anomaly. It is an encounter of the “human” kind. It is the unearthing of the “culture” of the night.