at Hollywood Forever
It's no fun being scared to death by ghosts. In fact, it's a major inconvenience when you've got bigger things to worry about like how you are going to pay the bills this month. I don't know if ghosts exist or not. I only know that sometimes something may follow you back from the cemetery, and you'll be awakened in the middle of the night by something you can't see but all your other senses are saying is there. Maybe we can call it an "unidentified invisible object" or UNIO, like UFO (unidentified flying object).

Common lore says ghosts manifest not only at night but during the day as well. They are not angels or demons, but behaviorally are like the humans they were before, for better or for worse. If there are more ghost sightings at night, it would be because the dark naturally encourages alertness and fearfulness, visibility is diminished, and the fight-or-flight response activates more readily and dumps out natural explanations.
Ghosts are distinguished by some to be different from spirits; spirits being defined as entities of considerable spiritual currency who are not burdened by the limitations of a mortal physical body and who may not have ever had such a form.

Where do ghosts come from? It depends on what you believe ghosts to be. Here are a few guesses. Maybe they are historic imprints on the immediate fabric of space, a type of paranormal photograph sometimes referred to as a "residual haunting." Or they are souls — if you think personality can exist independent of its biological and chemical coding — whose expected journey to the beyond was disrupted by an especially traumatic death (a belief behind the practice of coaxing ghosts to "go into the light"). Or perhaps ghosts are unquiet souls whose great hate (or great love) has brought them back over the River Styx, and they won't return until the matter that pulled them back into our world is settled.
devilish cloud formation
Ghosts may also be thought of as another manifestation of human attempts to impose egocentric meaning on the greater universe surrounding us. In the U.S., we spend a lot of time, energy, and money denying death, the privilege of becoming compost for the next fertile generation. Death is the enemy. We refuse to accept death, even after we are dead. As Mary Roach concludes in her book Spook: Science Tackles the Afterlife, a belief in an afterlife is "more appealing — more fun and more hopeful — than not believing."

If you believe, the list that follows is of traditional methods of keeping away ghosts (or UNIOs) so you can enjoy a more peaceful home and bed rest.



1. Salt
"Next time you reach for the salt, save it for holy water and exorcism," I wrote some time ago about cutting salt out of your diet when you have high blood pressure. However, salt is vital for human survival. It is part of every cell in your body. Because salt occurs naturally in some foods, and is used as a preservative and to add flavor, it is in just about everything we eat.

The salt I like to use as a symbol of purity and preservation is coarse-grain sea salt. Even if you don't believe that salt has protective powers against evil, if you are at least aware of salt's historical importance as a preservative, then through association the agenda of protection is foregrounded every time you look at it, i.e., if you place it respectfully in a container like a charm bag and not in a salt shaker.
salt birdie I learned how to make this salt birdie in Hawaii. Cut a small square of fabric. (You can also add a square of tulle or nylon netting over that for decoration.) Place a heap of salt in the center. Gather up the corners. Wrap a rubber band around the middle so the salt won't fall out. Cover the band with a pretty ribbon. Fluff out the top like a badminton birdie.

Place the salt birdie in your car for protection while driving or next to your bed or a child's bed. They also make great gifts to friends who are having a difficult time at work.
2. Circle of Mirrors
With strong intent, visualize yourself at the center of a brilliant circle or sphere of outward-facing mirrors that reflects evil back to its source. (Similar to psychic Sylvia Browne's "Circle of Mirrors," witch Ly de Angeles's temporary form of psychic protection, medium James Van Praagh's "The Reflective Mirror," and the Japanese notion of a "kekkai" or protective spiritual barrier.)

3. Balance
Balance can mean many things, but I'm thinking more or less along the lines of yin (receptive energy) and yang (active energy), being balanced within one's self on the physical (movement), mental (learning), and spiritual (meditation) planes. Basic self-care is a prerequisite for strong defenses.
After a Funeral or a Visit to the Cemetery

• Before you step through your door, toss salt over your person to cleanse away death cooties or any mischievous ghost that has hitched a ride. (a Japanese folk custom)

• Do not return home directly. Make a stop somewhere, preferably a busy and impersonal place like a supermarket or shopping mall, then go home. (a tip shared by a Filipino friend)

If you have eliminated the usual suspects such as pranksters, burglars, animals (e.g., rats in the attic), trucks rumbling by, still half asleep, natural explanations for rarely seen light phenomena, etc., then:

1. Ancestors
Call in a protective guardian spirit, usually a deceased relative that you feel a special bond with. Who knows best how to fight a ghost than another ghost?

2. Religious Icon or Amulet
Call in other spiritual guardians through contact with a meaningful religious icon or amulet or through prayer. For Christians, that protector might be St. Michael the Archangel or another cherished saint. For religions with strong environmental ties, a follower might call upon natural gods, family or clan totems, or guardian animals.

3. Salt
If you are unable to leave, toss salt to purify the area. If it's a room, put saucers of salt in each corner. These actions must be done with clear intent, usually with a prayer for protection.

4. Professional Exorcist (a skeptic would say therapist)
If you're still having problems, seek out the professionals. They're only a family priest or monk away. Beware of con artists whose primary occupation is putting your money into their pockets.
Hawaiian Ghost Testing
from W. D. Westervelt's Legends of Gods and Ghosts: Hawaiian Mythology (first published 1915)

The two ways of proving whether someone is a ghost or not are:
1) Cover the ground with ape-plant leaves. If a person walks over them and does not bruise the leaves, then he or she is a ghost.
2) When the person peers into water, grasp and crush his or her reflection or "spirit face" in your hands. If the person dies, then he or she was really a ghost.

The Hawaiian underworld sends out "spirit catchers" to bring back ghosts that have strayed into the world of the living.

ghostGhostly Books in General

Austin, Joanne M., compiler. Illustrated by Ryan Doan. Weird Encounters: True Tales of Haunted Places. New York: Sterling Publishing, 2010 by Mark Moran and Mark Sceurman. This is an anthology of eighty-four real-life ghost tales, and the writers who are included read like a who's-who list of ghost hunting. It is more fun if you skim the book and read first the ghost stories that happened where you live (or lived). For this reason, I enjoyed the stories of an encounter with Madame Pele, Hawaii's goddess of fire; El Campo Santo, a graveyard in San Diego, California; and a ghostly handyman at the Monterey Hotel in Northern California.

Aykroyd, Peter H., with Angela Narth. Foreward by Dan Aykroyd. A History of Ghosts: The True Story of Séances, Mediums, Ghosts, and Ghostbusters. Emmaus, PA: Rodale Books, 2009. Many will remember Dan Aykroyd because of his association with the TV series Saturday Night Live and the hit comedy film Ghostbusters. The writer of this book is his father who grew up in a household that had a strong interest in the study of psychic phenomena.

Balliett, Blue. Nantucket Ghosts: 44 true accounts. Photographs by Lucy Bixby. Camden, ME: Down East Books, 2006. Balliett collected over a 15-year period some 44 oral history accounts forming an interesting collage of unusual happenings on Nantucket Island. The stories document a wide variety of ghostly phenomena and experiences.

Browne, Sylvia, with Lindsay Harrison. Visits from the Afterlife: The Truth About Hauntings, Spirits, and Reunions with Lost Loved Ones. New York: New American Library, 2003. Browne ends the book with her favorite ghost story about an encounter with a ghost named Mary on the R.M.S. Queen Mary and how she met talk show host Montel Williams.

de Angeles, Ly. "Ghosts and Hauntings" from Witchcraft: Theory and Practice, pp. 188-189. St. Paul, MN: Llewellyn Worldwide, 2000. This book was brought to my attention when I worked at a bookstore; it was being returned by an angry mother who had found it in her teenaged daughter's possession. It's a practical book on the subject of witchcraft, and would actually be boring to anyone not interested in the craft or who was looking for trouble; a more accessible book on the subject is Debbie Michaud's The Healing Traditions & Spiritual Practices of Wicca (Los Angeles: Keats Publishing, 2000).

Ellis, Melissa Martin. The Everything® Ghost Hunting Book: Tips, Tools, and Techniques for Exploring the Supernatural World. Avon, MA: Adams Media, 2009. This is a general information book about the preparation (psychic and observational skills, training, site research), paperwork (permissions, record-keeping), and equipment (camera, tape recorder, electromagnetc field meter) needed for ghost hunting. Paranormal entities and approaches are mostly discussed within the traditions and mythology of a Euro-Christian worldview, e.g., demons and nature spirits such as elementals are evil, whereas for some of us they may be scary but not necessarily evil.

Hawes, Jason, and Grant Wilson, with Michael Jan Friedman. Ghost Hunting: True Stories of Unexplained Phenomena from The Atlantic Paranormal Society. New York: Pocket Books, div. of Simon & Schuster, 2007. This is a very entertaining book because the main crew consists of guys who are fallible Joe Blows with an extraordinary curiosity about the supernatural. The forty-two cases help you to understand that ghost hunting involves long tedious hours of observation where you might want to talk to your girlfriend instead of work, but then you might miss the few extraordinary seconds that make an investigation worth the effort. One of my favorite cases was where Hawes and Wilson revert back to their daytime job as Roto-Rooter plumbers and fix a leaking pipe in a tricky location for a client. The book has an eight-page insert of color photographs from past investigations. Related link: The Atlantic Paranormal Society

Myers, Arthur. The Ghostly Register: Haunted Dwellings — Active Spirits, A Journey to America's Strangest Landmarks. Chicago: Contemporary Books, 1986. This guidebook of collected stories and interviews does not cover all fifty states, but tries to include at least one black-and-white photograph or illustration per location.

Norman, Michael, and Beth Scott. Haunted America. New York: Tor, 1994. If you are researching a particular locale, this book might be useful to you since the content is supported by a state-by-state bibliography in the back of the book. However, only one or two locales are featured per state and there are no photographs.

Ramsland, Katherine. Ghost: Investigating the Other Side. New York: Thomas Dunne Books, 2001. Ramsland's account of her pursuit of ghosts reads like mystery fiction, which is how I read it, browsing through it quickly for the parts that advanced the plot involving an evil haunted ring she carries and a self-proclaimed vampire who pursues its return. Will Wraith ever be reunited with his lover Christian whose ghost is attached to the ring? Will Ramsland finally see her first real-live ghost?

Ramsland encountered different belief systems while immersed in the world of ghost hunting, and does make note of the mental shortcuts people use to process information, including selective observations and ignoring details that fall outside known and familiar scripts about ghostly occurrences.

Roach, Mary. Spook: Science Tackles the Afterlife. New York: W.W. Norton, 2005. This is the kind of book I would want to write if I were to write a book on ghosts, where you bother everyone high and low who has anything to do with ghosts and you ask them a lot of questions in the style of a reporter's shotgun blast.

Roberts, Nancy. Haunted Houses: Tales from 30 American Homes. Chester, CT: Globe Pequot, 1988. (Link is to slightly differently titled 3rd edition.) Importantly, much of Roberts's information about haunted locations comes from interviews she has done and not from secondhand accounts.

Van Praagh, James. Ghosts Among Us: Uncovering the Truth About the Other Side. New York: HarperOne™, div. of HarperCollins, 20008. "Let me just say that leaving your body at death is as natural as being born," Van Praagh writes to comfort the fearful living. Indeed, much of this book is written to demystify the process of death and passing on, from a man who makes his living talking to ghosts. If it will make some of you feel better, he adds, "In a sense, we all are ghosts—that is, spirits residing in physical bodies." The most vivid image I remember from this book is Van Praagh's encounter with a Hollywood producer who looked like a porcupine from all the psychic knives stuck in him, mementos from the people this producer had screwed over.

ghostCalifornia Ghostly Books

May, Antoinette. Photographer Ronald Shuman. Haunted Houses and Wandering Ghosts of California. San Francisco: California Living Book, San Francisco Examiner Div. of Hearst Corp., 1977. This is a great coffee table book because of Shuman's black-and-white photographs, and the stories are easy to read and seem created for discussion.

May, Antoinette. Haunted Houses of California: A Ghostly Guide. San Carlos, CA: Wide World/Tetra, 1990, 1993. California ghost hunter's primer. The book's forward was written by the author's friend Sylvia Browne.

Reinstedt, Randall A. Ghost Notes: Haunted Happenings on California's Historic Monterey Peninsula. Carmel, CA: Ghost Town Publications, 1991.

Senate, Richard L. Ghosts of the Haunted Coast: Ghost Hunting on California's Gold Coast.

Senate, Richard. Ed. Jane Gilbert. Illus. Sandra Lara. Fwd. Arthur Myers. The Haunted Southland: Ghosts of Southern California. Ventura, CA: Charon Press, 2nd ed. 1994. This collection of 34 stories includes Senate's first ghost sighting. He is married to psychic Debbie Lynn Christenson who accompanies him on many of his investigations. What makes his stories interesting is the history of the places they visit, making California history come alive in a memorable way.

Wlodarski, Robert and Anne. California Ghosts: A Guide to the Most Haunted Restaurants, Taverns and Inns on the West Coast. West Hills, CA: G-Host Publishing, 2007. I bought an already autographed copy of this book at a San Diego tourist spot. But when I opened the book, I discovered that someone had torn out the copyright page. When I e-mailed the Wlodarskis, I was able to get an e-file of the missing two pages, and they said they had a copy of my dad's ghostly folklore book Mexican Ghost Tales of the Southwest on their shelves.

ghostInternational Ghostly Books
Ross, Catrien. Supernatural and Mysterious Japan: Spirits, Hauntings and Paranormal Phenomena. Tokyo: Yenbooks, 1996. The only book I have that talks about contemporary paranormal phenomena in Japan.

ghostSpooky Entertainment

Shakespeare, William. Hamlet. Two-disc star-studded special edition DVD, uncut version 4 hrs. long. Directed by Kenneth Branagh. Warner Home Video, 1996. The appearance of the ghost of the former King of Denmark sets off a tragic course of events plotted and driven by his insane son Hamlet, Prince of Denmark.

Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street. 1979 original Broadway cast. Music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim. Book by Hugh Wheeler. Based on the 1973 play by Christopher Bond. Mrs. Lovett's meat pies have a very special ingredient, namely human body parts.

ghostSpooky Science and History

Brocken Spectre, natural ghostly illusions, from the Atmospheric Optics website

Colman, Penny. Corpses, Coffins, and Crypts: A History of Burial. New York: Henry Holt and Co., 1997. An easy-to-understand historical account of what happens to a body after death and how it is prepared for disposal or burial not only in the United States but in other cultures as well.

The Sourcebook Project: Catalog of Anomalies. Another example of how interesting a study of the sciences can be.

ghostSpooky Skeptics

The Committee for Skeptical Inquiry. They'll send you a free "I Doubt It" decal. (I'm skeptical enough to wonder whether it really is free.)

James Randi Educational Foundation. It's easy to get carried away with a ghostly imagination. A professional magician and relentless skeptic, James Randi has spent a lifetime debunking outrageous paranormal claims that take advantage of the gullible and unquestioning.

Robert T. Carroll's The Skeptic's Dictionary: "Exploring Strange Beliefs, Amusing Deceptions, and Dangerous Delusions since 1994." It was fun reading Carroll's "Using ghost stories to teach critical thinking" (dated January 22, 2008), which can be found in the Skeptimedia archives. It's more intellectually stimulating to approach haunted locations as a detective rather than as a passive funhouse customer, don't you agree?

ghostGhostly Links   Last checked 8/13/2012
pelican monster
Pelican Monster of Upper Newport Bay in California

(Actually, it's my photo of the wing of a pelican
as the bird dove into the water.)
ghostly orb floats in a hallway
at the R.M.S. Queen Mary

(Often indicative of a cheap digital camera,
which mine was at the time.)