In My Commonplace Book: Electromagnetic Fields & Ghosts

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When I was a child with a commonplace book full of ghost research (written in gel pens of course), I asked Santa Claus for an Electromagnetic Field (EMF) detector. I thought I could wave it around my friends’ houses and catch ghosts. I never got one. Bummer.

Flash forward to today: I’m more skeptical than I used to be and I have no idea what EMF means or how it works. So, I did some research for you/us. I am not an expert on the subject or claim to be, so please share any insights or articles in the comments. I’d love to learn more!

The following are notes from my commonplace book.


Definition of EMF: “a physical field produced by electrically charged objects” (Wikipedia).

A more detailed definition of EMF: “Electric and magnetic fields (EMFs) are invisible areas of energy, often referred to as radiation, that are associated with the use of electrical power and various forms of natural and man-made lighting. EMFs are typically characterized by wavelength or frequency into one of two radioactive categories:

What causes it? Where can it come from? EMFs can be produced from conventional power sources: computers, power lines, cell phones, home appliances, x-rays. etc (there’s a nifty chart in this article). Also, the further you are from the EMF-producing source, the less harm it does to you.

What effects does it have on humans? Ghosts?k2emf_animated

EMFs can affect the brain (and body) in many ways: shred your DNA, alter your morality, train you off food and water, cause seizures, etc (io9).

Research shows compelling evidence that EMFs can induce panic, disorientation, deep fear, and hallucinations–all things associated with hauntings. Though, research cannot 100% prove its validity.

One study published by Michael Persinger (a neuroscientist at Laurentian University in Sudbury, Ontario, Canada) in a 2001 Perceptual And Motor Skills article followed the experience of a 17-year-old girl who claimed to receive visits from The Holy Spirit. She also felt the presence of an invisible baby on her left shoulder. An investigation revealed that the electric clock she slept 10 inches from was producing “electromagnetic pulses with waveforms similar to those found to trigger epileptic seizures in rats and humans” (Marcus, Scientific American). The clock, along with a minor brain injury in her youth, were the cause of her nocturnal visits. The visions stopped when the clock was removed.

My Commonplace Book
My Commonplace Book

For another study, psychologist Christopher French (Goldsmiths, University of London College in London) created a “haunted” room in an apartment building, which was filled with electromagnetic producers and infrasound generators (it is believed that extremely low frequencies can cause strange experiences). French and his colleagues invited 79 people to spend time inside this dimly lit room, warning them that they might experience some strangeness. Participants were also given a psychological evaluation to understand their paranormal beliefs. French said about their findings: “Most people reported at least some slightly odd sensation, such as a presence or feeling dizzy, and some reported terror, which we hadn’t expected” (Scientific American). French and colleagues could not 100% determine that these feelings were attributed to the EMFs.

Some researchers have also theorized why these alleged hallucinations (hauntings) happen most often at night: “Because of the way the solar wind interacts with the Earth’s magnetosphere, the planet’s magnetic field stretches out on the side that’s in darkness. Some researchers hypothesize that this expanded field interacts more strongly with people’s brains” (How Stuff Works).

Some paranormal investigators will say ghosts cause high EMF levels. Another possibility is that high EMF levels create an ideal environment for actual paranormal activity. I once heard that some paranormal investigators will create high levels of EMF so to produce more activity during an investigation.

Photo by Mar Newhall on Unsplash

A Repository of Paranormal Knowledge: Black-Eyed Children

This series explores the paranormal basics: key terms, categories, theories, and schools of thought. This will prepare you to be an intellectual ghostbuster. 

Black-Eyed Children (aka Black Eyed Kids or BEKS) are paranormal creatures resembling children, usually between the ages 6 and 16, with pale skin and black eyes. These creatures are often seen hitchhiking or panhandling. They might appear on your doorstep asking for help escaping an unseen danger. People note their hypnotic powers and relentless requests. Legends of these black-eyed children begin in the 1990s.

People attribute the first documented BEKS encounter to Texas journalist Brian Bethel.

The story picked up more notoriety in 2014 when the Birmingham Mail published a story about paranormal investigator Lee Brickley (people question this title). Brickley was investigating claims of BEKS in Cannock, Staffordshire. The Daily Star picked up the story and ran with it.

Reported sightings are numerous, but many believe this is just a hoax or trick of the eye.

Further Reading

Creepypasta article on Black-Eyed People 

Thought Catalog‘s “16 Terrifying Encounters With ‘The Black Eyed Kids’”

“Everything You Need to Know About Black-Eyed Ghost Children,” Buzzfeed

“Dark Visitors: Black-Eyed Kids – Horror or Hoax,” About.com

 

A Repository of Paranormal Knowledge: Artificial Ghosts

This series explores the paranormal basics: key terms, categories, theories, and schools of thought. This will prepare you to be an intellectual ghostbuster. 

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An artificial ghost is a ghost created though the collective imagination and energy of a group of people.

The Philip Experiment

In 1972 a parapsychology experiment was conducted to see if humans could create and communicate with a fictionalized ghost. The experiment occurred in Toronto, Canada and was led by several members of the Toronto Society for Physical Research. This group had a diverse set of backgrounds:

The experiment was conducted by the mathematician A. R. G. Owen and overseen by psychologist Dr. Joel Whitton. The test group consisted of A. R. G.’s wife Iris Owen, former chairperson of MENSA in Canada Margaret Sparrows, industrial designer Andy H., his wife Lorne, heating engineer Al Peacock, accountant Bernice M, bookkeeper Dorothy O’Donnel, and sociology student Sidney K. (Wikipedia)

None of these members had ever demonstrated psychic ability.

The group created a man named Philip and his life story:

  • “Philip Aylesford” was born in 1624.
  • He joined the military at age 15 and was knighted at age 16.
  • He was friends with Charles I.
  • He fought for the crown in the English Civil War.
  • He married a woman named Dorothea.
  • While married, he fell in love with a Gypsy girl. Dorothea found out and accused her of witchcraft. She was burned at the stake.
  • Philip died from suicide in 1654 (age 30).

Once the story was complete, the group met to meditate, visualize, and materialize him into existence. After having no success for months, the group turned to techniques used by Spiritualists: seance and table-tilting. Rosemary Ellen Guiley describes their first contact with Philip:

On the third or fourth table-tilting session, the group felt a vibration under the tabletop. The vibration became raps and knocks, and the table moved beneath their hands. When one member of the group wondered out loud if ‘Philip’ was responsible, a knock sounded in answer. Using a simple code of one rap for yes and two for no, the group communicated with the spirit, who claimed to be the very man they had created. Although the spirit was able to give historically correct answers concerning the events and persons–perhaps due to cryptomnesia or extra-sensory perception (ESP) among members of the group–it was unable to provide any information about itself which had not previously been manufactured as part of his life’s history. (The Encyclopedia of Ghosts and Spirits 254)

People questioned the validity of the study, pointing to the unreliability of seance methods and the lack of solid controls (Wikipedia). Additional experiments were done with the characters “Lilith” and “Humphrey” with similar results. The Owens believed the study demonstrate that a group’s subconscious could created effects resembling a ghost or psychokinetic (PK) effect, what they termed “PK by committee” (The Encyclopedia of Ghosts and Spirits 254).

A short video about the experiment:

Ghosts Created in Labs

Parapsychologists aren’t the only ones creating ghosts. According to mental_floss, scientists created their own ghostly sensations in the lab.

Olaf Blanke, a researcher from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne, Switzerland (EPFL), first had to find the scientific culprit for these strange sensations [the presence of an unseen entity]. He and his team analyzed brain scans of patients suffering from neurological disorders who experience the ghostly feeling. They found abnormalities in the areas controlling how the brain sees the body, or one’s own spatial self-awareness. These abnormalities “can sometimes create a second representation of one’s own body, which is no longer perceived as ‘me’ but as someone else, a ‘presence,’” says Giulio Rognini, who led the study.

Armed with an understanding of where the feeling of being haunted comes from, the researchers set out to recreate it in “healthy” people. A group of subjects—oblivious as to the experiment’s purpose—were blindfolded, their fingers connected to a robotic device. When the test subjects moved the device, a robotic arm behind them mimicked the movement, poking them in the back. Sounds pretty straightforward, but when researchers introduced a slight delay between the subject’s movement and the resulting poke, the subjects were spooked. They felt they were being touched by another presence. Some even reported sensing more than one “ghost.”

Both are interesting experiments which put forth the question: are ghosts real or something we create (whether through energies or through tricks of the brain)?

A Repository of Paranormal Knowledge: Ghost Lights

This series explores the paranormal basics: key terms, categories, theories, and schools of thought. This will prepare you to be an intellectual ghostbuster. 

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What is a Ghost Light?

Ghost Light: a mysterious ball (or irregular shape) of light with no natural explanation that often appears at night in remote locations. Ghost lights usually come in yellow or white, but can be red, blue, or orange.

According to the Ghost Research Society (via Rosemary Ellen Guiley), ghost lights have 5 characteristics:

  1. They appear in remote areas.
  2. They are elusive and can be seen from different angles and distances.
  3. They react to noise or light by receding or disappearing.
  4. They are accompanied by hummings, buzzings, or outbreaks of gaseous material.
  5. They are associated with folklore surrounding a haunting because of an accident or tragedy (for example the light represents the lantern used by a ghost searching for his decapitated head).

(The Encyclopedia of Ghosts and Spirits, page 138)

Ghost Lights in Folklore

There are several examples of ghost lights in folklore.

Aarnivalkea (Finish folklore): a light that appears over the location of buried faerie gold.

Aleya (West Bengal & Bangladesh): A ghost light that appears over marshes that causes fishermen to lose their bearings, sometimes leading to drownings.

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Onibi (source)

Hitodama (Japan): “Hitodama are the visible souls of humans which have detached from their host bodies. They appear as red, orange, or blue-white orbs, and the float about slowly not too far from the ground […] On warm summer nights, these strange glowing orbs can be seen floating around graveyards, funeral parlors, or the houses where people have recently died. Most often they are only seen just before or just after the moment of death, when the soul leaves the body to return to the ether” (Yokai.com).

Onibi (Japan): “One of the more dangerous types of hi no tama yokai, onibi is a beautiful but deadly phenomenon. Its name means ‘demon fire,’ and it certainly earns that moniker. It look likes a small ball of flame, usually blue or blue-white (red and yellow onibi are less common), and often appears in small groups of twenty to thirty orbs. The orbs can range in size from three to thirty centimeters, and usually float around at eye-level. They appear most often during the spring and summer months, and particularly on rainy days. They appear more frequently in places that are surrounded by nature” (Yokai.com).

Will-o’-the-wisp (English and European folklore): “or ignis fatuus (/ˌɪɡns ˈfæəs/; Medieval Latin: ‘foolish fire’) is an atmospheric ghost light seen by travellers at night, especially over bogs, swamps or marshes. It resembles a flickering lamp and is said to recede if approached, drawing travellers from the safe paths. The phenomenon is known by a variety of names, including jack-o’-lantern, friar’s lantern, hinkypunk, and hobby lantern […]” (Wikipedia).

So many other interesting folklore examples of ghost lights from all over the world can be found here.

Famous Ghost Light Locations

Click here for famous ghost lights seen all over the world.

Explanations for Ghost Lights

  • See above
  • Piezoelectricity
  • Man-made fire or lights
  • Fires
  • Ball Lightning
  • Natural Gases
  • Meteors
  • “optical phenomena of light emitted through electrical activity” (Wikipedia)
  • UFOs
  • Pranks

What About That Other Ghost Light?

These ghost lights are not to be confused with the ghost lights in theatre. Ghost Light can also refer to the single illuminated light left onstage in a theatre after everyone has gone home. There are two reasons for this light. The first reason is more practical: to provide light in a dark theatre so no one falls into the orchestra pit. The second reason is more paranormal. It is believed that every threatre has a ghost. The ghost light keeps the ghost from being mischievous when everyone is away.

You can learn more here: “The Story Behind the Ritual that Still Haunts Broadway,” Atlas Obscura. 

 

A Repository of Paranormal Knowledge: Types of Hauntings

This series explores the paranormal basics: key terms, categories, theories, and schools of thought. This will prepare you to be an intellectual ghostbuster. 

A photo by Richard Loader. unsplash.com/photos/qsEJGX4VqYU

The terminology surrounding paranormal activity  is complex, vague, and contested. For example, the word spirit means different things from culture to culture. And, it can mean something different to a religious leader, folklorist, or a parapsychologist (and so on). The definitions I am working with, then, are very limited: westernized and influenced by parapsychology. I hope in future posts to pull apart the word “ghost” in various cultural contexts. I guess I have to buy more ghost books (oh darn).

The following is a brief overview of ghost and spirit key terms and concepts. What is not covered is scheduled for a future A Repository for Paranormal Knowledge post.


Spirit: “discarnate being, essence or supernatural force of nature” (Rosemary Ellen Guiley).

Ghost: spirit of a dead person or animal that appears to the living.

Apparition: “It is characterized by the apparent perception of either a living being or an inanimate object without there being any material stimulus for such a perception. The person experiencing the apparition is awake, excluding dream visions from consideration” (Wikipedia).

Four Types of Hauntings

Residual Haunting: Sometimes called a “place memory” or “echo ghost,” these hauntings are a playback of past events. The location experienced intense emotion, causing energy to embed itself in the environment. This energy has no consciousness and is just repeating past behaviors. For example, a female ghost that repeatedly stares from a bedroom window.

Intelligent Haunting: These hauntings involve ghosts with a conscious awareness of the present world. They can interact with humans (if they want) and sometimes even through communication. Sometimes these ghosts can be negative, because that was their personality when alive (does not make them a demon). These ghosts may have unfinished business, have a desire to stay near loved ones, or possibly are unaware they have passed on (and need help doing so).

Poltergeist Haunting: Translated from German as “noisy ghost,” these are mischievous spirits or energy. Apparitions are not part of this phenomenon, but they make their presence known with loud noises, moving objects, or physical interactions. These energies have been attributed to ghosts, demons, or witches. In more modern times, poltergeists are associated with an “unconscious type of psychokinesis” (Rosemary Ellen Guiley). Poltergeist activity is usually centered around one person (known as the epicenter), who is experiencing high levels of stress or emotional angst (most often adolescent girls are the target). These experiences can suddenly come and go.

Demonic Haunting: In these dangerous situations, a demon (inhuman supernatural being) hopes to break down a person’s free will so to possess their body. An exorcism is required to rid of the demon.

Some Notable Types of Paranormal Activity

Crisis Apparition: an apparition of someone recently deceased, who visits someone they have a close connection with (often with the purpose to say good bye).

Doppelganger: an apparition of a living person, which could be a death omen or an out-of-body projection.

Shadow Person: a dark mass in the shape of a humanoid figure that is perceived as paranormal by the viewer. Meth addicts have commonly reported seeing these people (b/c of sleep deprivation), along with those suffering from sleep paralysis. A famous paranormal example is The Hat Man.

Next in the Repository of Paranormal Knowledge series are 2 more interesting types of paranormal activity: artificial ghosts and ghost lights. 

These terms will be added to the Glossary page. 

A Repository of Paranormal Knowledge: Street Light Interference

This series explores the paranormal basics: key terms, classifications, theories, and schools of thought. This will prepare you to be an intellectual ghostbuster. 
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Street Light Interference phenomenon is the claimed ability that individuals can turn off street lamps (or security lights) by walking underneath them. The term was first coined by paranormal author, Hilary Evans.

A reader at About.com describes their experience with this phenomenon:

Around five years ago, I have noticed that at times while I am driving down the road at night a street light will go out as I am passing below it. It happens frequently and seems to be happening more.

It has been giving me the creeps. If it happened only once or on very rare occasions, I don’t think I would have given it a thought. However, it happens about once or twice a week. Could it be some electronic thing or could it be something less explainable?

Aaron Sorkin also claims to have this ability, as written in the Hollywood Reporter:

The super-scribe was taking part in THR‘s annual Writers Roundtable at Siren Studios in West Hollywood when the lights suddenly went out, surprising everyone except the Oscar-winning writer of Steve Jobs, who revealed he has the power to burn out streetlamps simply by walking past them.

“I thought this was a crazy coincidence — that I happened to be walking past street­lamps at the very moment that the bulb is done,” he said at the Nov. 2 taping. “There’s a name for this. It’s a real thing.” It’s called “Street Light Interference,” and there are scads of websites devoted to the subject of this strange electromagnetic phenomenon (though, admittedly, scant scientific evidence to prove it actually exists). “I would tell people about it from time to time,” Sorkin continued, “that there’s this strange thing that happens …” Sadly for Sorkin, the power doesn’t work in reverse. “I can’t make lights go on,” he said.

Evans explains that experiences such as these are “not consistent with our current knowledge of how people interact with the physical world.” People who cause the phenomenon, as named by Evans, are called “SLIders.”

Explanations for Street Light Interference

  • static electricity
  • psychic or psychokinetic ability
  • coincidence or wishful thinking

And, according to an io9 article:

There is one thing that might cause certain people to claim SLIder status – living in a place that doesn’t regularly replace its sodium vapor lamp bulbs. This leads to a phenomenon called cycling.

Sodium vapor lamps work pretty simply. They’re a glass tube filled with a gas, and sprinkled with sodium and sometimes with a few other materials like mercury. Electrical current passes through the gas, which heats up and vaporizes the other materials. The gas ionizes, and some of the electrons knock into the sodium, heating it up so it it glows. Sodium is an element that reacts readily with many different materials, and it can grab hold of the aluminum oxide that is used in the material for the lamp. This extra oxygen forms more gas inside the tube, and the pressure builds up, especially as the lamp gets hotter. As the pressure gets higher, more voltage is required to keep the electrical current going, and eventually the streetlight kicks out. When it cools down sufficiently, the gas condenses and the voltage is sufficient once more. The streetlight turns on, only to turn off again when it heats too much. So if you live in an area where the lamps bulbs are not kept fresh, you are more likely to be a SLIder.

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