What should you call someone who studies ghosts? Ghostbuster, Ghost Hunter, Paranormal Investigator, Psychical Researcher? All terms which are regularly used to describe those individuals who like me are interested in studying and investigating ghosts.
In truth, no single word or term currently exists that properly describes the study of ghosts and related phenomena including apparitions, hauntings and poltergeists. Such phenomena are generally described as being ‘spontaneous’ i.e. they are unplanned, unexpected or unsolicited. Those of us who study such things frequently get labelled or label ourselves Paranormal Investigators; simply for want of anything more appropriate being available.
The term ‘paranormal’ is generally defined as being anything that is considered to be beyond the range of normal human experience or contrary to what is deemed to be scientifically possible and as such can be applied to a huge range of subjects including extrasensory perception, psychokinesis, mediumship, ghosts, UFO’s, alien encounters, reincarnation, ley lines, Earth mysteries, Bigfoot and crop circles, in fact anything that is weird, strange or hard to place within a normal scientific category. Whilst the expression paranormal does indeed include ghosts it seems more than a little illogical to collectively label such a wide and diverse range of phenomena and experiences in such a fashion.
Ghosts and the associated phenomena and experiences represent a unique subject for investigation and study. Ghost investigation is often confused with Spiritualism (which is actually a religion), mediumship or the survival of bodily death. Ghost investigating is also often confused with parapsychology, which is usually considered to be the academic study of psychological or mental phenomena that are generally ignored by orthodox psychology. Ghost investigating certainly takes account of both spiritualism and parapsychology but it also out of necessity draws upon many other areas of scientific, engineering and humanitarian disciplines too.
In reality ghost investigation is an area of research that is distinct and separate. It addition those who investigate ghosts at all, are required to conduct much of their research in conditions that lack many of the formal experimental controls that science usually demands. Ghosts do not appear on demand in the laboratory, they cannot be predicted. Ghosts are reported in busy modern shopping precincts, derelict and ancient castles, they are reported by night and by day under almost every imaginable circumstance. Such situations do not lend themselves to the rigours of scientific control yet the ghost investigator must be able to work through and with the chaos in order to secure their data and evidence.
Ghost investigators have to take into account of the need to record and document unusual and unexpected human experiences, they have to document and examine the history and geography of a location, they have to obtain and record objective measurements of environmental changes and they have to be able to conduct their research under conditions that most others would consider to be chaotic and un-conducive to normal methods or techniques. Therefore, it is long overdue that this specialist area of study of anomalous human experiences is recognised and provided with a term that both describes the role and yet separates it from other areas of study that are more or less related.
Those who solely investigate UFO’s and related experiences are universally called Ufologists, those who study strange and unusual animal life are recognised as being Crypto-zoologists but those who study ghosts usually just get labelled alongside a whole heap of people who study anything that is strange and bizarre. Ghost investigators study people and unusual human experiences but they are not parapsychologists, they study buildings but they are not architects, they study history but they are not historians, they study physical phenomena but they are not physicists and they make measurements but they are not engineers.
We could use the term Ghostology, it does the job; but somehow it doesn’t really work – well not for me, although I have used it from time to time but being called a Ghostologist isn’t something that appeals to me. But why change anything at all? Why not just use the existing terms? Well as I have already said, ghost investigation is not parapsychology (and to be honest parapsychologists are not really the best people to have come round and investigate your haunted house) so we can’t use parapsychology to describe ghost investigating. It’s not mediumship or spiritualism either, as there is no necessity or reason to contact dead people or spirits in order to study ghosts, so that’s out too.
Paranormal investigating is such a broad term that ghost investigating becomes just one of dozens of disparate subjects that get flung into this ‘dustbin’ term with all the rest of the hard to place, wacky and weird stuff that nobody is really sure what to do with. I have lost count of the number of times I have had to turn down pictures of ufo’s sent for analysis or struggled through an inbox full of crop circles, black cats and oddball conspiracy theories simply because people think that because what I am interested in is labelled paranormal then I am interested in everything else with the same label. Also the saying “Jack of all trades, master of none” springs to mind.
The term Psychical Researcher has a long and illustrious history of use, much favoured by the early investigators, but again it was a broad expression that covered many areas of human experience that are not related to ghosts and hauntings such as spiritualism and mediumship. Psychical researcher is something I do frequently use but all too often, when I do it causes confusion and I end up having to explain that I am not a psychic who does research or someone that researches psychics, so that choice is out too. Ghost hunter; again much favoured by early investigators and still my most used description of what I do. Yes, I know it’s highly inaccurate – we don’t actually hunt for ghosts but it’s a simple term that everyone more or less gets the concept of, or at least they used to.
With the rise of modern TV ghost hunting shows (you know who you are!) describing myself as a ghost hunter nowadays almost invariably conjures up images of investigators clad in SWAT protective clothing, armed to the teeth with oddball technology and stalking their prey through blacked out corridors. Whilst I still use the expression ghost hunter to describe myself it does little to promote the actual nature or importance of the research that is being undertaken.
How about Ghost whisperer? I know what a horse whisperer is supposed to do but ghost whispering? Is that merely the opposite of the traditional calling-out technique or should we refer to that as Ghost shouting? There are others – ghost rescuer, ghost buster, ghost chaser, ghost geek etc… things are starting to get plain silly now! What is really required is a term that uniquely describes the study of ghostly phenomena, a term that makes no presumptions or presuppositions that ghosts are paranormal, supernatural, and meta-physical or the result of some mental process. I therefore propose the term MANESOLOGY (pronounced MAN-ESS-OLOGY). Borrowed from the Latin ‘Manes’ an apparition (normally of a deceased person). A Manesologist would be someone who studies the various phenomena that are associated with ghosts. The Manesologist would be considered to be an expert in his or her own right.
The Manesologist would have a sound knowledge of physics, parapsychology, psychology, history, geography, sociology and environmental sciences. They would have to be proficient in observing, measuring, documenting and interpreting data from a wide range of sources. Also, add to that list interview skills and the ability to deal with human experiences at all levels. Such a skill set fully deserves to be recognised, the abilities of those few who dedicate themselves to this specialist area of research needs to be better understood by both the public and by the academic establishment. Of course, I will continue to call myself a Ghost hunter, Psychical researcher, maybe even (around Halloween) a Ghostbuster but increasingly I call myself a Manesologist but I will never label myself as a Paranormal investigator…