Ghost Hunting, A Practical Guide: The New Edition, edited by Andrew Green and Alan Murdie
Andrew Green (1927-2004) was a well-known figure in the world of paranormal research. His Ghost Hunting: A Practical Guide was originally published in 1973, and while manuals on how to investigate ghosts are common now, at the time it was groundbreaking, packed with sound advice presented in a genial style and sprinkled with anecdotes to help aspiring investigators tackle with confidence the difficulties a haunting presents. Naturally it has dated in some respects, so Alan Murdie, SPR Council member and chair of its Spontaneous Cases Committee, as well as Chairman of the Ghost Club, has brought Green’s text up to date in order to make it suitable for a new generation. The result is wide-ranging, covering the investigator’s attitude (a factor all too often forgotten by authors), the various definitions employed, mediums, séances, and electronic voice phenomena; it looks briefly at equipment (the array employed these days, though not necessarily its value, is the greatest change to have occurred over the last forty years), how to examine the fabric of a location and its history. There are discussions of interviewing techniques, issues around eyewitness testimony, assessing witnesses’ reliability and evaluating their responses, how to seek corroboration, and crucially the need for an awareness of possible natural causes. This updated edition contains a reading list but no index.
The newcomer who thinks an investigation will be like something out of Most Haunted will be surprised at one of the opening chapters which deals with telepathy. Green was sceptical that ghosts were spirits of the dead, instead favouring a theory that they were hallucinations generated by energy imprints conveyed to percipients through telepathy, and not possessing consciousness; in some cases they outlived the sender as residual traces in the environment. Thus there are descriptions of how to conduct informal telepathy trials using Zener cards, even though two living individuals scoring significantly in telepathy tests would be of limited use in understanding how the mechanism might operate in hauntings. There is not enough information here to enable the carrying out of properly controlled experiments and the reader wishing to pursue this line of psychical research would need to consult a more specialised text. Green’s intention is simply to demonstrate that there are other possibilities to consider than the assumption that a ghost has to be a conscious entity. He also thought the evidence for psychokinesis was good, and a factor in certain poltergeist cases which were misinterpreted as spirit activity.
Green’s general attitude was that all avenues should be explored in a coolly scientific manner, not merely the one which aligns to the investigator’s prior viewpoint, because otherwise objectivity is lost and only evidence conforming to the preconception considered. His approach is still relevant: it is client-centred and not, as is often the way with some ghost groups with their sweatshirts and fancy websites, about image. It is concerned with understanding people, helping them (even if it means mounting theatricals’, as he puts it, of which an exorcism would be only a species, to draw tension from the situation), and learning about the dynamics of what is happening to cause their experience. He was a believer in the link between ignoring a phenomenon and it dissipating. That is a key point because there is often a contradiction between those caught up in strange events wanting them to end, and the researcher wanting to study them. Green was of the opinion that clients’ needs have priority. To those who want to model themselves on what they see in television programmes, this will be a salutary lesson in adopting a level-headed, calm attitude to a sensitive area in which harm can be caused by an ill-judged intervention. Green emphasised that it cannot be treated like a casual hobby but requires a high degree of dedication. The work is demanding if done properly, which it must be if it is to have any lasting value. Anything else is a waste of everyone’s time.
Alan Murdie knew Green, and became his literary executor after his death. One can see why he thought that the book was worth bringing back into print, and he has approached his task with sensitivity. But his editing, removing outdated material and bolting on information to reflect subsequent developments, makes for a curious read as, palimpsest-like, Green’s text bleeds through the modern revisions and occasionally creates a jarring note. For example, it is suggested that a Polaroid camera can be useful ‘in certain circumstances’. True Polaroids cannot be manipulated like digital photographs, but apart from that their use would seem to be limited, and the film expensive, compared to the technology available today. Then the reader is warned of the risk of confusing ghosts with living figures seen at night, such as the ghost of a highwayman with someone wearing a black coat and broad-brimmed hat, because ‘some teenagers are keen on such a garb’. Or they might be teenagers in ‘trendy’ clothing bearing a resemblance to clothing worn in the nineteenth century. The danger of that type of mistake was greater in the 1970s than it would be nowadays.
That said, Green’s methods, over and above some of these minor details, are worth preserving, and this revised version should be read by all ghost researchers to remind themselves of the code by which they should operate, even if they disagree with his particular view of ghosts. But we live in a more sophisticated world compared to 1973, as can be gauged by the presence in an appendix of an extract from Steven T Parsons’ recent Ghostology. Putting the two books side by side shows how far we have come in four decades. This is not to diminish the significance of Ghost Hunting – Parsons has paid tribute to it as a seminal influence on him – but one is left with the feeling that Green’s effort has served its purpose (‘ghost hunting’ is certainly a term which should be consigned to history), and a completely fresh volume by Murdie, drawing on Green, Parsons and other recent treatments of the subject, plus his own considerable experience, would have made for an even more valuable book.