Television shows and haunted attractions have made ghost hunting appear to be an adventure that is open to anyone who is willing to pay the money and spend the night in the dark. Is this how the paranormal should be approached? A former dark tourism partner and I once had a long conversation about the ethics of paranormal investigation/tourism and making money on the stories of those who came before us. It can be a really icky thing to think about how we have come to exploit the dead and when I say “we” I’m generalizing to society because I know a lot of good, honest investigators that pride themselves on doing right by the dead. So where is that line between honest curiosity and entertainment and is it ok to have fun while conducting an investigation?
If we go with the assumption that we are attempting to communicate with people who have died, then we need to think of them as people first and foremost. These people are not just stories, characters, or general ideas. If what is theorized is true, they are real people who are in a state that we do not understand. This means that your “entertainment” is their afterlife. Let that sink in for a moment. If these people can interact and hear us, they then hear the things we say about them and the stories we tell. They know when we call them names, insult their memory, or make light of their situation. If you choose to investigate the paranormal, keep this in mind because it will help you stay grounded.
You need to also make sure that you trust the people you are working with at a location. Destroying property, stealing things, insulting/provoking the dead, and so on should never be tolerated. You cannot claim to be an ethical investigator if you allow the people around you to act in an unethical manner. This also goes for hosting events. If you host an event at a location, you have to set the expectations and remind participants why these expectations exist.
Things can get tricky if you host events because the general public is used to the storytelling they see on television which is often over-dramatized. They want to talk about any terrible thing that happened within a location and ask the “spirits” to talk about these things. Finding a way to explain to guests ethical communication skills is an important task before you let them roam the location. Emphasize that they may encounter people who had difficult lives and they may not want to talk about those parts of their life. They may also encounter people who loved the location and stay because they are attached to the space. Not all experiences are negative. It is the responsibility of the host investigators to teach newbies the dos and don’ts of investigation because many of them only know what they have seen in the media. You are the expert here so you must feel comfortable with this role if you plan to host untrained investigators.
As for investigating with your team and conducting research, it is ok to have fun. You just shouldn’t have fun at the expense of the dead. My team spends a lot of time making fun of each other but we are very cautious about how we address the “residents” of any location. We always put ourselves in the place of guests in someone else’s home. Another thing I find really important is explaining why we are doing things and informing anyone who may be present what the expectations might be. I welcome “residents” to participate in experiments as they feel comfortable and explain why we do certain experiments. I have a teammate who thinks this is redundant because surely many of these large locations have investigators doing the same thing almost every night but I caution that this may not be 100% true. Yes, the activities may be done often within a location but does everyone explain why they are being done? Do they explain why people keep visiting the location, make noise, and ask stupid questions? Being polite never hurt anyone.
I still feel weird sometimes when I consider that my “research” may be people. I think about how we need these “spirits” to be present in their current state in order to learn more about the mechanisms that cause that particular state. I also wonder if it is ethical to expect “spirits” to participate in these experiments if they are having a negative experience. If these are people, then shouldn’t we help them instead of perpetuating their pain?
If you also feel conflicted, that is understandable and actually good, that means you are really thinking about what you are doing. It’s hard to choose the “right” answer in these situations. That’s why it is so important to be honest, polite, kind, and undemanding. Always try to do what feels right for not just yourself but the “people” that you are encountering. We don’t have all the answers but we can try to tread lightly and cause as little harm as possible while we learn.
Until next time, Happy Hunting!