Reports of haunting phenomena are often characterized by two types of ostensibly anomalous phenomena that may repeatedly occur over long periods of time in a given location. There are subjective phenomena that tend to be experienced by our senses, such as seeing apparitions or ghosts, sensing an unseen presence (sometimes accompanied by feelings of apprehension or fear), and hearing various kinds of sounds that may either be suggestive of physical disruptions (e.g., crashes and banging noises) or be suggestive of a presence (e.g., voices, footsteps, doors opening and shutting). Then there are phenomena that may have some degree of physical objectivity, such as floating lights (“orbs”), temperature variations (“cold spots,” which can be measured with a thermometer), electrical disturbances, and the occasional instance of apparent object movement.
One of the goals of haunting research has been to determine whether or not such phenomena may have a rational explanation in terms of the known principles and laws of physics. Parapsychologists often take measurements of the surrounding physical environment at reportedly haunted areas to see if, and how, they may differ from control areas that have had no reports of hauntings. One of the rather consistent findings to emerge from taking such measurements is the indication that haunting occurrences may be associated with magnetic field activity. Additionally, many amateur paranormal enthusiasts take measurements using magnetometers in their attempted efforts to search for spirits in reputedly haunted houses (Coghlan, 1998 – 1999). Here, we wish to provide a basic primer – a sort of “crash course,” if you will – on what parapsychologists have learned about magnetic fields and hauntings, so that their findings may help guide the efforts of paranormal enthusiasts in conducting their investigations. Over the next few days, we will give a basic overview of magnetic fields and how they might relate to hauntings based on the current parapsychological literature, and provide some useful tips on what to look out for during field investigations and how to properly interpret findings. This will help make sure that any measurements taken by paranormal enthusiasts are a bit more reliable, better collected, and more soundly interpreted.
There are two main types of magnetic fields that paranormal enthusiasts should be aware of: geomagnetic fields and electromagnetic fields.
Geomagnetic fields are DC fields that are produced naturally by the Earth. Although the precise mechanisms are not yet fully understood, it is thought that the Earth’s magnetic field is largely produced through the fluid motion of the Earth’s molten iron core (Buffett, 2000). The circular motion of the core may give rise to electrical currents, which in turn generate a magnetic field . Although the geomagnetic field (GMF) of the Earth averages around 500 milliGauss , there are a number of things that can produce notable changes in the strength of the GMF in certain areas of the planet. These can include seismic activity along fault zones (Persinger, 1985), electrical activity during thunderstorms, and large amounts of magnetic or electrically conductive minerals present in the surrounding geology of a given area. In addition, increases in cosmic radiation from space, as a result of sunspots, solar flares, and similar stellar phenomena, may sometimes greatly change the GMF strength as this radiation interacts with the boundary of the GMF in the upper atmosphere (Lyon, 2000), one of the things that can lead to geomagnetic storms.
There has been considerable evidence gathered to suggest that certain forms of human behavior (e.g., sleep disturbances, mood shifts, and increases in anxiety) may coincide with changes in the activity of the geomagnetic field (see Persinger, 1987, for a review of this evidence), suggesting that the GMF may interact in some way with the workings of the brain. Some studies also suggest that people who happen to have particularly sensitive temporal lobes, a condition sometimes brought about through temporal lobe epilepsy or brain injuries, may be more susceptible to changes in GMF activity (e.g., Fuller et al., 1995; Persinger, 2001; Persinger & Koren, 2001, pp. 183 – 184).
These findings were extended to apparitional experiences when neuroscientist Michael Persinger and his colleagues at Laurentian University in
reported findings that suggested that the geomagnetic activity tended to be stronger on days in which people reported seeing apparitions of people that had recently died (Persinger, 1988; Persinger & Schaut, 1988). When extended to haunting cases, strong geomagnetic fields (around 200 milliGauss or more above the average for the Earth’s GMF) have been found at reputed haunt sites (Roll & Persinger, 2001, pp. 154 – 163), which often seems to be related to either the structure of buildings in, or the geology of, the area around the site as noted above (for example, some structures contained materials that could potentially harbor magnetic fields, such as stone or mesh wiring; or were built near fault zones). Canada
In attempting to measure geomagnetic fields, one of the simplest yet least expensive devices that a paranormal enthusiast can use is the TriField Natural EM Meter, manufactured by Alphalab, Inc. . Rather than measuring the strength of the GMF in the local area, the Natural EM Meter measures the changes in the local GMF that may result from one or more of the natural phenomena discussed above. This meter gives readings of these changes in units of microTesla, and a useful conversion factor to note for our purposes is that 1 microTesla = 10 milliGauss (Hafemeister, 1996, p. 975). We should note here that since the Natural EM Meter is measuring magnetic changes, it is very sensitive to even the slightest movement of one’s hand, and thus the needle can move about erratically and potentially produce a false reading if one is holding it and walking about during an investigation. One way to reduce this is to place the meter on a stationary surface (such as a table) and let the needle to fall to zero before taking any readings.
In the next installment, we will discuss electromagnetic fields.
- Bryan Williams, University of New Mexico
- Annalisa Ventola, Public Parapsychology
- Mike Wilson, Psi Society
 To get a bit technical, this would follow from Ampere’s law (with Maxwell’s correction), one of Maxwell’s laws that relates electricity to magnetism; see, e.g.,
(1999, p. 323). Griffiths
 Magnetic fields are usually measured in one of three main scaled units: Gauss, Tesla, and Gamma. Since many commercial magnetometers often used by paranormal enthusiasts, such as the Broadband Tri-Field Meter made by Alphalab, Inc. (see also Note #3), tend to give magnetic field readings in terms of milliGauss (i.e., one-one thousandth of a Gauss), we will use this unit as our reference point throughout this primer.
 The Tri-Field Natural EM Meter is similar in appearance to the Tri-Field Broadband Meter (also made by Alphalab), which paranormal enthusiasts also commonly use in investigations, but is recognized by its blue-colored label surrounding the dial switch, and by the small knob on the side of the meter. Both types of meters can be purchased from Alphalab.
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Fuller, M., Dobson, J., Wieser, H. G., & Moser, S. (1995). On the sensitivity of the human brain to magnetic fields: Evocation of epileptiform activity. Brain Research Bulletin, 36, 155 – 159.
Griffiths, D. J. (1999). Introduction to Electrodynamics (3rd Ed.).
: Prentice-Hall. Upper Saddle River, NJ
Hafemeister, D. (1996). Resource letter BELFEF-1: Biological effects of low-frequency electromagnetic fields. American Journal of Physics, 64, 974 – 981.
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Persinger, M. A., & Koren, S. A. (2001). Predicting the characteristics of haunt phenomena from geomagnetic factors and brain sensitivity: Evidence from field and experimental studies. In J. Houran & R. Lange (Eds.) Hauntings and Poltergeists: Multidisciplinary Perspectives (pp. 179 – 194).
: McFarland & Company, Inc. Jefferson, NC
Persinger, M. A., & Schaut, G. B. (1988). Geomagnetic factors in subjective telepathic, precognitive, and postmortem experiences. Journal of the American Society for Psychical Research, 82, 217 – 235.
Roll, W. G., & Persinger, M. A. (2001). Investigations of poltergeists and haunts: A review and interpretation. In J. Houran & R. Lange (Eds.) Hauntings and Poltergeists: Multidisciplinary Perspectives (pp. 123 – 163).
: McFarland & Company, Inc. Jefferson, NC