A Beginner’s Guide to Paranormal Investigation

By Rosney, Mark, Bethell, Bob, Robinson, Jebby

From the publisher’s website: A Beginner’s Guide to Paranormal Investigation is an ideal guide for anyone who is curious about paranormal investigation and the supernatural.
The authors guide the reader through the required steps for paranormal investigation and identifies the core concepts of successful investigations. This book will provide readers with basic information that will help them to start their own supernatural searches. Readers will be introduced to the basic historical backgrounds of each phenomena, alternative theories for each phenomena, a grounding of common sense and what equipment to use and how to use it.

A Beginner’s Guide to Paranormal Investigation is a fantastic book for anyone with an interest in the paranormal

Amberley Books, November 2009. ISBN 9781848682344

Reviewed for the SPR by: Tom Ruffles

Mark Rosney, Rob Bethell and Jebby Robinson are collectively Para-Projects, a group active in the North-West of England. They have put together an informative and entertaining book aimed at those who have little or no experience of investigating spontaneous cases. 

The book clearly sets out guidelines for those would like to have a go, taking them through the stages of a typical project. But first they look at the investigator, listing the attributes necessary to undertake the activity in a professional manner. They consider the key characteristics to include: objectivity, not having preconceptions; problem-solving skills; calmness; patience, and a sense of humour. Above all, they stress the necessity to keep an open mind. They also include tips on safety, which can be all too easily forgotten in the excitement of following up a case.
There is an excellent section on kit, everything from cameras, audio recorders and torches, to EMF meters, CCTV cameras and weather stations, describing in detail different models, both digital and analogue, and giving the authors’ choices of what is adequate and what is best for a particular purpose, bearing in mind technical issues and budgetary constraints. Examples are given throughout the text of how these can be used in the context of particular types of investigation.
Of crucial importance is the stress on the life-cycle of a case, from initial contact to publishing a report. This is all common sense, but not necessarily something that a new group would consider carefully. A fair amount of space is devoted to interviewing skills and data gathering, with lists of questions to assist in making sure that this stage is as complete as possible. The following chapters are devoted to different types of investigation. They follow a similar format, with a quick historical overview of a topic, a consideration of different theories, and advice on how to investigate it.
Naturally the first and longest of these is devoted to ghosts, and after a few pages on historical aspects and a rundown of different theories, ranging through life after death, ‘stone tapes’, time anomalies and infrasound, and throwing in poltergeists to boot, they provide an overview of how to carry out an investigation. They stress the importance of background research, and suggest sources of information. For those cases where a vigil is deemed of value, they give pointers on how to do it in the most efficient manner, and describe a number of ways to utilise equipment and personnel. This material is based on practical field experience, and would be read with profit by any novices contemplating trying their hand at a ghost hunt.
The meaty chapter on ghosts is followed by a number of others looking at areas a group might tackle. A short one on Electronic Voice Phenomena/Instrumental Trans-Communication can only be considered a taster, needing amplification from other more specialised sources of information, and the authors do acknowledge that information on sound analysis is beyond the book’s scope. One on cryptozoology should get the budding animal tracker started.
More comprehensive, and of increasing importance given the explosion in ownership of digital cameras and the volumes of images produced by them, is the chapter on photographic anomalies. Again there is a brief history, followed by a categorisation of anomalies divided into: fakes; faults; misidentifications and misperceptions (with an explanation of how orbs are produced by the technology); and what are described as “genuine anomalies”, though that rather assumes that there will not at some point be a normal explanation for them.
That these issues can be complex is indicated by a discussion of the Brown Lady of Raynham Hall, described in the text as “Probably the most famous of all the ghost photographs that has (sic) ever been taken.” The authors mention that there was an independent witness to the development of the negative to guard against fraud, which on the surface sounds like strong support for a paranormal interpretation.  But Mr Jones, the said witness, was not present when the negative was being developed, he only saw it in the hypo bath (ie being fixed) after it had been developed by Captain Provand, and there was opportunity for fraud beforehand. The lesson here is not to take oft-repeated stories at face value.
There is a section on the use of EXIF data, which is invaluable for understanding the technical details of an exposure, and a quick look at some of the commoner effects which are incorrectly described as paranormal but which have normal explanations. The chapter ends with some images that Para-Projects have not been able to explain and suggest might have a paranormal origin.
The last type of investigation covered is of UFOs, and again there is practical advice on interviewing witnesses and eliciting as much information as possible, doing desk research and running a sky watch. They are particularly good on online sources to help identify things seen in the sky. A brief final section looks at the conclusion of an investigation, whether of ghosts, animals or UFOs, discussing the importance of writing up findings and issues around making them available. An appendix has examples of reporting forms that groups can use to log information in an organised way.
On the whole this is an excellent book by individuals who write from experience. There are some quibbles though. The historical overviews are so sketchy that they could have been dispensed with, and suggestions for further reading, on both the historical perspective and a fuller theoretical discussion, given instead. The examples of questions to ask witnesses could have been expanded. There are extremely detailed checklists used by groups in circulation, and the inclusion of a set here would have been helpful. The role of water in an imprinting process that might explain ghost sightings, by it having a memory, is implausible. The statement, “It has been found that if you place anything in water, eg a chemical compound, and then dilute the mixture to an extent that not even a single molecule of the chemical remains, the water continues to behave as though the chemical is still present”, is describing homeopathy, and is rather more contentious than this claim suggests. The authors mention Stephen Volk’s 1992 Ghostwatch and say that to see it “digging” on the internet is required. In fact the British Film Institute issued it on DVD in 2002.
With a small amount of effort the book could have been improved, but given the quantity of information provided, and the reasonable price, beginning investigators (and those more advanced as well) will find this practical guide an asset. Para-Projects' website (www.para-projects.com) has some examples of reports of their own cases, and these supplement the book, showing how the authors themselves go about it.