A lot of people have ghost stories but don’t want to tell them. If we could get over the stigma, we’d all have a better sense of what to do when something goes bump in the night, or when you wake to find a witch sitting at the end of your bed.
I have a cache of ghost stories. I rarely tell them, because someone will always challenge their veracity or make a glib dismissal of an event that traumatized me. I don’t need to hear “rational explanations.” I don’t want to hear, “You’ve got squirrels in your walls.” No, you have squirrels in your walls. I have the spirit of a fish thief from the early 18th century who died of an accidental injury while hiding from the captain whose fish he stole. That’s very different from a squirrel. Paranormal activity can coexist with logic (and squirrels).
I used to try to appease my doubters. “Maybe I did hallucinate the whole thing,” I’d say. “Maybe it was a series of mini strokes.” But now I’m speaking out. Even if you don’t believe in any form of the supernatural, at some point in your life you’re going to experience the unexplainable. And I’ve got advice based on my own experiences to help you cope when that very discombobulating moment presents itself.
- Consult your belief system: Many religions have their own interpretations of paranormal activity and rules on how to deal with it. Whatever works for you. Go with what you know.
- Hydrate and reflect. A glass of water and 10 minutes of slow and easy breathing will help you reclaim your self-control. Once your heartbeat has steadied, you can begin an assessment. Is this just a one-time thing where all of the cabinets in the kitchen opened themselves at once, or is it part of a pattern?
- Identify your interloper. If objects are flying of their own accord, you probably have a poltergeist — that is, a nonhuman entity formed by the negative energy of people living in the space. I grew up in a house with a tremendous amount of poltergeist activity. I learned to cope by repeatedly playing the original cast album of the Broadway musical Annie. Musicals tend to trade in optimism, which is anathema to poltergeists. A mass of dark energy is no match for a choir of cheerful orphans.
- Ignore the lady in white. You see an apparition crossing the hallway in front of you, but it doesn’t react to your screams. What gives? It’s probably just residual energy. Residual energy is like a TikTok video that repeats the same 10 seconds over and over. It’s not conscious. It doesn’t see you and can’t interact with you. Burning sage will likely clear it out for good. I like to think cannabis will do the same, but I have no proof.
- Know your demons. Do you think Meryl Streep walks into a room and announces that she’s the greatest actress of all time? Of course not. Demons are the same way. They don’t need to shout about their elevated status among the evil dead. If it tells you right away that it is a demon, it’s probably just a demon’s assistant trying to level up.
- Listen for a message. Like a lot of people, I wake from a heavy sleep every night at exactly 4:22 a.m. with the weight of a cold, dead hand on my throat. Clearly, that hand is trying to give me a message that has something to do with those numbers. But what is it? I don’t know. Numbers give me a headache. But you might want to put some effort into solving the mystery before you clear out the spirit. What if it wants to show you a hidden box of gold?
- Don’t poke the bear. I spent the Covid times in an isolated farmhouse where something wanted my attention. Whenever I was in the kitchen, the microwave would turn itself on. I made a conscious decision not to react to it. As calmly as possible, I would walk over to the microwave, gently turn it off, and go about my day. Not today, Rapid Defrost Goblin, not today.
- Avoid the vortex. If there is a spot in your home where you feel cold, nauseated, dizzy, or sad, you should avoid going to that spot. That sounds easy enough, but you may find yourself drawn to it to test whether it’s real or not. Don’t let the vortex become like an itch you can’t help scratch.
- Ask yourself: What is the right journey for me? The answer depends on what you would like to have happen. It leaves and you stay? You both stay? It stays and you go? If it’s not scaring you or hiding your keys, maybe you could leave it alone. If you decide you want it to leave, start by just asking it nicely to go.
- Get your equipment together. If you’re going to commit to figuring out what is happening, you’ll need some ghost-hunting equipment. There is a lot to choose from. Start with an $11 light-up cat toy. It’s a ball that lights up with different colors and makes sounds when it moves. Ask nicely for the spirit to move the ball and be ready to scream when it does. For $189 you can upgrade to a pro-grade REM pod (radiating electromagneticity). It emits a low EM field and will alert you with both LED lights and an audible tone of any possible spirit activity around it.
- To Ouija or not to Ouija? People who identify as paranormal experts or professionals almost universally discourage the use of Ouija boards. It’s an open invitation to whatever is hanging around to get inside your world. Also, around a Ouija board, whatever is answering you is unbound by any sort of agreement to speak truthfully or observe even common courtesy.
- Hire an expert. There are many paranormal investigators, parapsychologists, and chaos magicians. The list goes on. You can also call one of those ghost-hunting TV shows. Just be cognizant that the crew they send may have a production boss breathing down their necks to produce good television.