You hear heavy footsteps in the upstairs hallway
when you know no one is up there. Doors slam unaccountably.
Commonly used items disappear and reappear without cause.
The kitchen light turns on by itself. There's the
unmistakable scent of a strange perfume in the air.
may be indications that your house is haunted. True
hauntings are rare occurrences, and it may be
difficult to determine whether or not any strange
phenomena you are experiencing in your home might be
due to a haunting.
For one thing, no one really knows what a "real"
haunting is - what causes it or why it starts. There
are many theories, of course, which we have
discussed in this space in the article
"Ghosts: What Are They?"
But if you think your house may really be haunted,
what can you do about it?
The Signs of a Haunting
The first step
is to determine, as best you can, whether or not you
truly have a legitimate case of a haunting. Not all
hauntings are alike, and they may exhibit a variety
of phenomena. Some hauntings feature a single
phenomenon - such as a particular door slamming shut
that occurs repeatedly - while others consist of
many different phenomena, ranging from odd noises to
partial list of phenomena that might indicate that
your house is haunted:
Unexplained noises - footsteps; knocks, banging,
rapping; scratching sounds; sounds of something
being dropped. Sometimes these noises can be
subtle and other times they can be quite loud.
cabinets and cupboards opening and closing -
most often, these phenomena are not seen
directly. The experiencer either hears the
distinct sounds of the doors opening and closing
(homeowners get to know quite well the
distinctive sounds their houses make) or the
experiencer will return to a room to find a door
open or closed when they are certain that it was
left in the opposite position. Sometimes
furniture, like kitchen chairs, are perceived to
have been moved. Very rarely will the
experiencer actually witness the phenomenon
turning off and on - likewise, these events are
seldom seen actually occurring, but the lights
are switched on or off when the experiencer
knows they were not left that way. This can also
happen with TVs, radios and other electrically
Items disappearing and reappearing - this
phenomenon, which we have dubbed
"the DOPler Effect" (DOP =
Disappearing Object Phenomenon),
has been examined in the article "The DOPler
Effect." Others have called this "the borrowers"
phenomenon, and it's the familiar experience of
not being able to find a regularly used item -
say, your set of car keys - which you believe
you placed in a spot you routinely place them.
But they're gone and you look high and low for
them with no success.
Some time later, the keys are found - in exactly
the place you normally put them. It's as if the
object was borrowed by someone or something for
a short time, then returned. Sometimes they are
not returned for days or even weeks, but when
they are, it's in an obvious place that could
not have been missed by even a casual search.
Unexplained shadows - the sighting of fleeting
shapes and shadows, usually seen out of the
corner of the eye. This phenomenon has also been
discussed in some detail in
Many times, the shadows have vaguely human
forms, while other times they are less
distinguishable or smaller.
Strange animal behavior - a dog, cat or other
pet behaves strangely. Dogs may bark at
something unseen, cower without apparent reason
or refuse to enter a room they normally do. Cats
may seem to be "watching" something cross a
room. Animals have sharper senses than humans,
and many researchers think their psychic
abilities might be more finely tuned also. (See
"Animals and Ghosts"
of being watched - this is not an uncommon
feeling and can be attributed to many things,
but it could have a paranormal source if the
feeling consistently occurs in a particular part
of the house at a particular time.
Those are some
of the most common experiences of those who think
their houses are haunted. Yet even stranger things
The following phenomena are more rare, but could be
stronger evidence of a haunting:
Mild psychokinetic phenomena - hearing a door open
or close is one thing. Actually seeing it happen is
quite another. Similarly, actually seeing a light go
on or off by itself is greater proof that something
unexplained is happening. Do you see the TV or radio
turn on? Or perhaps you're present when a child's
powered toy begins to operate on its own. Doors and
windows are locked or unlocked. Some people report
that when they are in bed they can feel and/or hear
something sitting on the bed.
Feelings of being touched - the feeling of being
watched is one thing, and actually feeling like you
are being touched is quite another. Some people feel
something brush past them, something touching their
hair or "a hand" on the shoulder. Some feel a gentle
poke, push or nudge.
Cries and whispers - on occasion, muffled voices,
whispering and crying can be heard. Sometimes it's
music from some unknown source. People hear their
names being said. This phenomenon, as is true for
the one above, gains more credibility if more than
one person hears or sees the same thing at the same
hot spots - cold spots are classic haunting
symptoms, but any instance of a noticeable variance
in temperature without a discernable cause could be
Unexplained smells - the distinct fragrance of a
perfume or cologne that you do not have in your
house. This phenomenon comes and goes without any
apparent cause and may accompany other phenomena,
such as shadows, voices or psychokinetic phenomena.
Foul odors can happen in the same way.
still are more extreme phenomena, some of which have
been called poltergeist phenomena, and can be quite
strong evidence of a true haunting:
Moving or levitating objects (severe psychokinetic
phenomena) - dinner plates sliding across the table;
pictures flying off walls; doors slamming shut with
great force; furniture sliding across the floor.
Physical assault - scratches, slaps and hard shoves.
This kind of personal assault is extremely rare, but
obviously highly disturbing.
Other physical evidence - unexplained writing on
paper or walls; handprints and footprints.
Apparitions - physical manifestation of a spirit or
entity. These phenomena are also very rare and can
take many forms: human-shaped mists or forming mists
of some indistinguishable shape; transparent human
forms that disappear quickly; and most rarely, human
forms that look as real and solid as any living
person, but that disappear into a room or even while
Rule Out Rational
A person who has experienced some
of these phenomena might have cause to believe that
his or her house is haunted. But maybe not. In fact,
according to most experts, probably not. The human
mind and human senses (as any magician will tell
you) are easily fooled. And people can often mistake
explainable (if unusual) occurrences in their homes
for the paranormal.
Before you decide there's a ghost in your house or
move out from fear, do your best to find rational
explanations for what you are experiencing.
Virtually all of the phenomena listed on the
previous page could have perfectly natural causes:
noises could be house settling, plumbing or even
vermin such as mice and squirrels
opening and closing doors could be faulty hinges or
caused by drafts
DOPler phenomena could just be carelessness and
shadows could be just that - shadows caused,
perhaps, by a passing car's headlights
as real as some of these things might seem to you,
they really could be just products of your
Of course, the more extreme the phenomena, the
harder they are to dismiss. And, as noted above, if
multiple witnesses experience the same phenomena,
they are likely to be taken more seriously.
Get help in finding rational explanations for the
phenomena. A plumber might help you find the cause
of that banging. A carpenter can fix that door from
closing on its own. A friend or neighbor might be
able to look at your particular experience in a
different way and offer a reasonable explanation for
your "haunting" that you might not have though of.
In short, make every possible effort to prove that
your house is not haunted.
Keep A Journal
If you feel you have ruled out rational explanations
for the phenomena that are taking place in your
house, and they are still occurring on a more or
less regular basis, document them. Keep a journal of
the phenomena as they happen. For example:
June 2, 2002; 10:30 p.m. - Was sitting watch TV when
the bathroom light switched on by itself. Went in
and turned it off again.
June 10, 2002; 9:14 p.m. - Was in the kitchen and
heard the footsteps crossing the upstairs hallway
again. No one was up there. Went up to investigate
and could find no cause.
A journal such as this could help with any formal
investigation of the phenomena by experts.
If you hear unexplained noises, attempt to record
them with a portable tape recorder. If there are
physical phenomena of any kind, photograph or
videotape them. Keep your journal, recording and
camera equipment readily available so you can
document the phenomena as it happens.