Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Apparitional Experiences Primer: Characteristics of Experiencers

6. Characteristics of Experiencers of Apparitions

    We took a brief look in Section 3 at some of the various characteristics of apparitions. But what about those of the people who see them? Are there any physiological, psychological, or personality characteristics common among witnesses that may perhaps tie into their ability to experience an apparition? Some parapsychological studies are beginning to suggest that there might indeed be a few.

    One characteristic may be that people who have a strong imagination or a frequent tendency to fantasize may be more likely to experience an apparition. This possibility was initially researched in the early 1980s, when psychologists Sheryl Wilson and T. X. Barber (1983) studied a select group of women who had a "fantasy-prone personality," meaning that they exhibited a strong capacity for imagination and that they often engaged in fantasy throughout their daily lives. Rather than being the mere mental images of ordinary daydreaming, many of these women's fantasies are rich experiences involving multiple senses and are often described as being "as real as real" (p. 352). Based on their study, Wilson and Barber estimate that about 4% of the people in the general population may have a fantasy-prone personality.

    Wilson and Barber (1983) found that 73% of these female fantasizers had reported previous experiences with apparitions, some of which resembled deceased people they had known. They note:

For instance, one subject, who was feeling guilty for not trying to stop her family from cremating her dead grandmother, saw a striking apparition of her grandmother (a figure radiating a brilliant light) who communicated telepathically that she was happy, safe, and not angry. Another subject also saw her deceased grandmother, who told her correctly where her missing Will could be found (p. 363).

   Some of the women reported encounters with haunting apparitions in places that they had just moved into. Some knew beforehand that the residence was rumored to be haunted, while others did not and came to the conclusion that their residence was haunted.

    A few parapsychologists have attempted to follow up on Wilson and Barber's finding in field investigations. In a case investigated by Teresa Cameron and Dr. William Roll (1983), five people working at a Virginia radio station reported seeing an apparition in the vicinity of the station's long inner hallway from late 1980 to early 1981. Although they each saw the apparition at separate times, they all seemed to describe seeing the same one: a male figure, partially obscured in shadow, about six feet tall and 180 to 200 lbs., who was dressed in a brown or dark-colored suit. Their similar descriptions seemed to resemble that of a former sales manager who had worked at the station up until 1977, and had died several months after leaving the station. Of these five people, two were noted to have shown a rather high degree of fantasy-proneness.
    In another case, the late Dr. Karlis Osis (1986) had investigated the apparitional sighting of a young businessman named Leslie, who had died in a plane crash. Following his sudden death, a distant relative of Leslie had sent out a mental appeal to his discarnate spirit, asking him and his infant son (who had died from drowning the year before) to appear before his deeply grieving mother as a sign of comfort and survival. Two nights later, between 1:00 and 3:00 A.M., Leslie's mother suddenly awoke to find someone standing at the foot of her bed. Looking up, she was startled to see Leslie standing there with his infant son:
There he was, Leslie, with the baby, and he was holding the baby's hand ... they were at the foot of the bed. They looked at each other. I was wide awake then. They were content; they were happy that they found each other, that they were together now. And they were letting me know that it is so; I got that feeling (p. 181).

    Leslie's mother apparently became so lost in her experience of seeing them that the external world around her seemed to fade away. By her account:

They were solid. There was like grayness around, like a gray cloud around them. I would say there was a mist in the whole room, nothing you could touch, just the grayness all around. But they were solid, both of them. The room was dark; electric light was coming from outside through the venetian blinds .... but I didn't need light to see them. There is a lot of traffic around my area. No matter what time you got trucks and buses. Not one sound then, all was excluded at that moment, everything, as though the world had stood still. And there was nobody but us three in the world (p. 181).

    The experience quite brief, estimated at about 15 seconds total, and then the two figures seemed to recede into the distance and fade away. Despite its brevity, the experience had a profound effect on Leslie's mother, evoking feelings of both elation and sadness within her.

    Several months after her experience, Dr. Osis (1986) administered some psychological tests to Leslie's mother to see if he could possibly uncover any mental or personality factors that might have been related to her experience. Among these was a test of her imaginative ability. In asking her to imagine various mental images, Dr. Osis learned that Leslie's mother was able to vividly imagine them in her mind's eye, suggesting that she had a strong imaginative capacity.

    Related to the mental capacity for imagination and fantasy is the capacity for absorption, which is the tendency to focus one's attention so strongly to the point where one can mentally immerse oneself completely in their direct experience, to the exclusion of all others. In other words, it is the tendency to completely lose or absorb one's self in mental experience, while effectively blocking out the external world and the things occurring in it. A familiar example of absorption might be getting caught up in a good book or movie.
Along with fantasy-proneness, absorption might be a characteristic of some witnesses. This is clearly suggested by the account given by Leslie's mother, in which the external world seemed to fade during her experience, and this suggestion was further supported by the results of Dr. Osis' (1986) tests with her. Furthermore, in a recent study, Alejandro Parra (2007) surveyed 650 undergraduate students at a university in Argentina about apparitional experiences and possible psychological factors. Of these students, 67 had reported at least one encounter with a crisis apparition. Compared to other students who have never had such an encounter, these 67 students showed a significantly higher level of absorption, as well as fantasy-proneness.
    Some studies have begun to suggest that people who encounter apparitions tend to have a certain type of personality profile. As part of her psychomanteum study (Section 4), Dianne Arcangel (1997) had asked each of her 68 participants to fill out a personality assessment questionnaire known as the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) once they had emerged from the psychomanteum chamber. Her results indicated that people having a reunion experience while in the chamber showed a strong tendency to have a personality that emphasizes feelings over logical thoughts, and intuitions over sense-perception, with approximately 96% of these "intuitive-feeling" participants having a reunion experience (see also Arcangel, 2005, pp. 108 – 109). Dr. Arthur Hastings and his associates attempted to follow up on Arcangel's finding in their own study by giving the MBTI to each of their 27 participants before the psychomanteum session. In a similar fashion, they found that 20 of the participants had intuitive-feeling personalities, as well as a rather high level of absorption (Hastings et al., 2002).

    Other studies have begun to suggest that there may be a physiological factor involved apparitional experiences, having to do with a witness' brain functioning. Based on previous neurological research, Canadian neuroscientist Michael Persinger (1974, Pt. II, p. 81; 1988) has proposed that certain brain structures located deep within the temporal lobe, namely the hippocampus and the amygdala, are the most electrically unstable regions of the brain. As a result, these two structures are electrically sensitive and may prone to experiencing neuroelectric "mini"-seizures.7 The hippocampus and the amygdala have important behavioral functions, in that they are the prime brain structures involved in memory and emotion, respectively. Previous neurological research suggests that when these two structures are directly stimulated with electric pulses, they can sometimes evoke brief, vivid memory-like images of people and places, as well as generate strong negative emotions such as fear and apprehension (Gloor, 1990; Gloor et al., 1982; Halgren et al., 1978; Weingarten et al., 1977).

    Persinger (1988) has proposed that the unstable electrical activity of these deep temporal lobe regions may be influenced by the presence of a neurochemical known as melatonin, which is thought to have chemical properties that may be helpful preventing the occurrence of seizures. The secretion and circulation of melatonin in the brain is usually regulated by the day-night cycle, with an increase in melatonin occurring during the night hours. However, there is also some evidence to suggest that its regulation can be altered by changes in the Earth's magnetic field (Persinger, 2001; Reiter, 1993). Persinger (1988) proposes that during times when the geomagnetic activity is high, melatonin levels may decrease through such an alteration, effecting increasing the instability of the deep temporal regions and thereby increasing the likelihood of a neuroelectric mini-seizure. If this mini-seizure occurs in the area around the hippocampus and amygdala, it may briefly evoke a memory-like image of a person that can be subjectively experienced as an apparition. In support of his proposal, Persinger (1988, 1993) found that reports of apparitions tend to occur on days when the geomagnetic field activity is significantly high as compared to surrounding days, and at night hours when melatonin levels are at their peak (leading in principle to the greatest amount of alteration by magnetic field activity). Persinger (1988) suggests that this process may be more likely for post-mortem apparitions that appear not long after a person's death, as the brain's neurochemical processes may be further altered by the effects of grief and bereavement, and the deceased person may be more often in the person's memory (leading to increased likelihood of that person being the one seen as an apparition if the hippocampus is electrically stimulated by a mini-seizure). In addition, British researchers H. P. Wilkinson and Alan Gauld (1993, p. 306) independently compared their own apparition accounts with geomagnetic data and their finding was notably in line with the idea that apparitions tend occur on days of higher geomagnetic activity.

    Persinger's proposal that magnetic fields may affect brain activity in the temporal region in a way that could contribute to an apparitional experience received further support from a study that he and his associates at Laurentian University had conducted with a middle-aged man who reported experiencing an apparition and haunt phenomena in his West Canadian home. When the temporal lobe region on the right side of his brain was exposed to complex magnetic pulses with a strength of 10 milliGauss, the man reported suddenly experiencing brief "rushes of fear" and odd sensations, which were followed by his sighting of a visual image that seemed to resemble the apparition that he had seen in his home. Sharp spikes in brain wave activity over the man's temporal region were observed on an electroencephalograph (EEG) in conjunction with his experiences (Persinger, Tiller, & Koren, 2000). For additional discussion of magnetic fields and their possible relation to apparitional and haunt phenomena, we refer the reader to our first primer (Williams, Ventola, & Wilson, 2007).

Bryan Williams, University of New Mexico

Annalisa Ventola, CERCAP, Lund University

Mike Wilson, Psi Society


7.) It should be made clear here that these "mini"-seizures are not like the kind of seizures that tend to come to mind when people think about epileptic seizures. Those type of seizures, involving body convulsions, repetitive movements, and the like, are associated with grand mal epilepsy, and only occur when electrical discharges in the brain reach the areas associated with muscle and body movement. We are not referring to that particular kind of seizure; rather, we are referring to a kind known as complex partial seizure (CPS), which involves small electrical discharges that can naturally occur in the brain due to slight structural and neurochemical changes, as well as other factors. There is some evidence to suggest that CPS may occur from time-to-time even in the brains of healthy people (Persinger & Makerec, 1987; Roberts et al., 1990), and we are generally unconscious of it when it does occur. Sometimes CPS discharges might be capable of briefly altering our perceptions in a way that may contribute to apparitional experiences, as we note in text.


Arcangel, D. (1997). Investigating the relationship between the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator and facilitated reunion experiences. Journal of the American Society for Psychical Research, 91, 82 – 95.

Cameron, T., & Roll, W. G. (1983). An investigation of apparitional experiences. Theta, 11, 74 – 78.

Gloor, P. (1990). Experiential phenomena of temporal lobe epilepsy: Facts and hypotheses. Brain, 113, 1673 – 1694.

Gloor, P., Olivier, A., Quesney, L. F., Andermann, F., & Horowitz, S. (1982). The role of the limbic system in experiential phenomena of temporal lobe epilepsy. Annals of Neurology, 12, 129 – 144.

Halgren, E., Walter, R. D., Cherlow, D. G., & Crandall, P. H. (1978). Mental phenomena evoked by electrical stimulation of the human hippocampal formation and amygdala. Brain, 101, 83 – 117.

Hastings, A., Hutton, M., Braud, W., Bennett, C., Berk, I., Boynton, T., Dawn, C., Ferguson, E., Goldman, A., Greene, E., Hewett, M., Lind, V., McLellan, K., & Steinbach-Humphrey, S. (2002). Psychomanteum research: Experiences and effects on bereavement. Omega: Journal of Death & Dying, 45, 211 – 228.

Osis, K. (1986). Characteristics of purposeful action in an apparition case. Journal of the American Society for Psychical Research, 80, 175 – 193.

Parra, A. (2007). "Seeing and feeling ghosts": Absorption, fantasy proneness, and healthy schizotypy as predictors of crisis apparition experiences. Proceedings of Presented Papers: The Parapsychological Association 50th Annual Convention (pp. 84 – 94). Petaluma, CA: Parapsychological Association, Inc.

Persinger, M. A. (1974). The Paranormal (Pt. 1 and Pt. 2). New York: M.S.S. Information Corporation.

Persinger, M. A. (1988). Increased geomagnetic activity and the occurrence of bereavement hallucinations: Evidence for melatonin-mediated microseizuring in the temporal lobe? Neuroscience Letters, 88, 271 – 274.

Persinger, M. A. (1993). Average diurnal changes in melatonin levels are associated with hourly incidence of bereavement apparitions: Support for the hypothesis of temporal (limbic) lobe microseizuring? Perceptual and Motor Skills, 76, 444 – 446.

Persinger, M. A. (2001). The neuropsychiatry of paranormal experiences. Journal of Neuropsychiatry and Clinical Neurosciences, 13, 515 – 524.

Persinger, M. A., Tiller, S. G., & Koren, S. A. (2000). Experimental simulation of a haunt experience and elicitation of paroxysmal electroencephalographic activity by transcerebral complex magnetic fields: Induction of a synthetic "ghost"? Perceptual and Motor Skills, 90, 659 – 674.

Reiter, R. J. (1993). A review of neuroendocrine and neurochemical changes associated with static and extremely low frequency electromagnetic field response. Integrative Physiological and Behavioral Science, 28, 57 – 75.

Weingarten, S. M., Cherlow, D. G., & Holmgren, E. (1977). The relationship of hallucinations to the depth structures of the temporal lobe. Acta Neurochirurgica
Supplement 24, 199 – 216.

Wilkinson, H. P., & Gauld, A. (1993). Geomagnetism and anomalous experiences, 1868 – 1980. Proceedings of the Society for Psychical Research, 57, 275 – 310.

Wilson, S. C., & Barber, T. X. (1983). The fantasy-prone personality: Implications for understanding imagery, hypnosis, and parapsychological phenomena. In A. A. Sheikh (Ed.) Imagery: Current Theory, Research, and Applications (pp. 340 – 387). New York: John Wiley & Sons.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Apparitional Experiences Primer: Apparitions in the Laboratory

5. Experiments with Apparitions in the Laboratory

Perhaps the ideal way to experiment with a ghost would be to bring it into the laboratory, where its physical and psychological aspects could be studied under controlled conditions. While it is clearly not possible to do so, some parapsychologists have attempted the next best thing: to artificially produce an apparition that can be experienced by a witness in the lab. To do that, parapsychologists have made use of a custom-built chamber called a psychomanteum.

The psychomanteum (Greek for "theater of the mind") is a darkened room that is designed to induce apparition-like experiences through the process of scrying (gazing into a reflective surface). Its origins derive from Greek mythology, in which people would often journey to special locations (such as the oracle at Delphi) to hold audience with the gods through visions seen in reflective pools of oil or water. Sometimes, they would also see images of their deceased ancestors within those reflective visions. Dr. Raymond Moody (1992; Moody & Perry, 1993), a psychiatrist with a deep interest in Greek history, adopted the idea and created his own modern-day version of the psychomanteum in the early 1990s as a technique for bereavement and grief counseling.

Dr. Moody's technique generally proceeded as follows: The witness would first be asked to select a deceased friend or relative with whom they wished to have a visionary reunion in the psychomanteum. Prior to the actual session, extensive discussion was held between the witness and Dr. Moody about the deceased person, their relationship with the witness, and the witness' motivations for wanting to have a reunion with that person. The witness shared photographs and objects that had once belonged to the deceased person, and discussed their significance to help them remember and reconnect with that person. Towards dusk, the witness was shown into the psychomanteum, and was instructed to relax in a comfortable chair while gazing passively into a large mirror hanging on the wall a few feet across from the chair, which was angled upward to reflect the darkness. After some time had passed, the witness was brought out of the psychomanteum and discussion was held about what he or she had experienced while mirror-gazing. According to Dr. Moody (1992), about half of the people who underwent his psychomanteum technique reported seeing apparitions of the dead in the mirror.

Other researchers using the psychomanteum have had varying degrees of success in producing reunion experiences. Drs. Dean Radin and Jannine Rebman (1996) report that just over half (four, or 57%) of the seven witnesses who spent time in their electronically-monitored psychomanteum had sensed the presence of a deceased person. They found that variables in the surrounding environment (e.g., magnetic fields, radiation, and temperature) that they had monitored during the witnesses' experiences were significantly related to changes in the witnesses' physiology (e.g., heart rate, skin temperature, and brain waves), suggesting that some apparitional experiences may result from complex interactions between mind-body states and physical variables in the surrounding environment.

Dianne Arcangel (1997) had a strong degree of success, with 58 of her 68 participants (85%) having a reunion experience. Fifty-five of them reported a visual apparition as part of their experience. Dr. Arthur Hastings and his associates at the Institute of Transpersonal Psychology in California had 27 people participate in their psychomanteum study (Hastings et al., 2002). Of these, 13 (48%) described a reunion experience, which mostly came in the form of a mental conversation they had with the deceased person, which some witnesses said was akin to telepathy. Although none of the witnesses had reported seeing a full-blown apparition of the deceased person in the mirror, they did see a variety of visual images, including lights, dark human-like figures, animals, flowers, landscapes, and faces. An account by one of the witnesses illustrates the kinds of images seen:

Feeling deep grief at the beginning; black robed figures coming toward me; black spinning ball with trailing energy moving clockwise in mirror; unidentified faces in the mirror; energy streaming out of mirror into space in front of me. A foot (light skin then changed to dark skin). Hand and faint formulations of a human (?) shape (Hastings et al., 2002, p. 217).

The effects of a reunion experience upon a person's grief is illustrated by an account given by one witness who sought contact with his sister, who had died nearly three decades earlier:

Yes, I did sense her presence – a body state more than anything, though a couple of times it seems like I heard her voice. I got the message that I have been holding this experience of her pain, my resentment that she had to suffer so much, and my sadness that she is gone for 27 years. Though I have worked in therapy around the grief issue, I didn't know that the resentment was so strong (p. 218).

In sensing her presence, the witness further stated that he had had the impression of his sister holding him as he experienced sadness over her loss. Generally, Dr. Hastings and his associates found that the witnesses showed significant reductions in their grief following their time in the psychomanteum, as compared to before.

Dr. William Roll (2004) held a series of psychomanteum workshops with 41 people who sought a reunion with deceased friends and relatives. Using an approach similar to Dr. Moody's, Dr. Roll helped the people through their grief by discussing their deceased relatives and friends and handling their objects before having each person sit in a psychomanteum facility built into the basement of his home. Despite only nine of the 41 people (22%) experiencing a reunion, the workshops seemed to help the people reduce their grief and unresolved feelings toward the deceased person, consistent with the findings of Dr. Hastings and his associates. Dr. Roll found that people who previously reported having a survival-related experience (such as an apparition or a near-death experience) tended to report strong reunion experiences.

Devin Terhune and Matthew Smith (2006) used the psychomanteum to explore the effects of suggestion on the occurrence of apparitional experiences. They randomly assigned 40 people into one of two groups: a suggestion group and a non-suggestion group. The suggestion group was told that they could experience anomalous sensations (including seeing an apparition) while in the psychomanteum, while the non-suggestion group was told that they might only experience unusual bodily sensations or perceptual distortions while gazing into the mirror. The suggestion group was later found to report significantly more visual and auditory apparitions in the psychomanteum than the non-suggestion group, possibly indicating that the experience of an apparition may be influenced by such things as suggestion and rumor. In a similar fashion, some people may be more likely to report haunt experiences in a particular location when told beforehand that the location is supposedly haunted (Lange & Houran, 1997).

Bryan Williams, University of New Mexico

Annalisa Ventola, CERCAP, Lund University

Mike Wilson, Psi Society


Arcangel, D. (1997). Investigating the relationship between the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator and facilitated reunion experiences. Journal of the American Society for Psychical Research, 91, 82 – 95.

Hastings, A., Hutton, M., Braud, W., Bennett, C., Berk, I., Boynton, T., Dawn, C., Ferguson, E., Goldman, A., Greene, E., Hewett, M., Lind, V., McLellan, K., & Steinbach-Humphrey, S. (2002). Psychomanteum research: Experiences and effects on bereavement. Omega: Journal of Death & Dying, 45, 211 – 228.

Lange, R., & Houran, J. (1997). Context-induced paranormal experiences: Support for Houran and Lange's model of haunting phenomena. Perceptual and Motor Skills, 84, 1455 – 1458.

Moody, R. A. (1992). Family reunions: Visionary encounters with the departed in a modern-day psychomanteum. Journal of Near-Death Studies, 11, 83 – 121.

Moody, R., with Perry, P. (1993). Reunions: Visionary Encounters with Departed Loved Ones. New York: Villard Books.

Radin, D. I., & Rebman, J. M. (1996). Are phantasms fact or fantasy? A preliminary investigation of apparitions evoked in the laboratory. Journal of the Society for Psychical Research, 61, 65 – 87.

Roll, W. G. (1994). Are ghosts really poltergeists? Proceedings of Presented Papers: The Parapsychological Association 37th Annual Convention (pp. 347 – 351). Durham, NC: Parapsychological Association, Inc.

Terhune, D. B., & Smith, M. D. (2006). The induction of anomalous experiences in a mirror-gazing facility: Suggestion, cognitive perceptual personality traits and phenomenological state effects. Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease, 194, 415 – 421.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Apparitional Experiences Primer: Spontaneous Cases and Field Research

4. Experiments with Apparitions in Spontaneous Cases and Field Research

As a way to gain better insight into their possible nature, some parapsychologists and psychical researchers have attempted to experiment with apparitions in a number of different ways. We take a look at some of the more interesting ways in this section.

    One of the earliest ways came in the form a quasi-experimental effort made by the correspondents of some psychical researchers, and could be seen as a way to informally explore the folklore-based notion of apparitions as spirits leaving the body upon death. In many respects, it was a form of early survival research done with living persons.

    In general, the effort consisted of people attempting to willfully make themselves appear as a spectral figure to an unsuspecting friend in a distant place; in other words, it is an intentional effort by a person to produce an apparition of him or herself that can be seen by others. One of the most detailed accounts of such an effort was given in 1886 by the Rev. Clarence Godfrey, an acquaintance of the prominent psychical researcher Frank Podmore. In a letter to Podmore, Rev. Godfrey wrote of his effort:

Retiring at 10.45 (on the 15th November 1886), I determined to appear, if possible, to a friend, and accordingly I set myself to work with all the volitional and determinative energy which I possess, to stand at the foot of her bed. I need not say that I never dropped the slightest hint beforehand as to my intention, such as could mar the experiment, nor had I mentioned the subject to her ... I endevoured to translate myself, spiritually, into her room, and to attract her attention, as it were, while standing there. My effort was sustained for perhaps eight minutes, after which I felt tired and was soon asleep (in Myers, 1903, Vol. I, p. 688).

    Around 3:40 A.M., Rev. Godfrey suddenly awoke from a dream in which he had seemingly been successful in appearing to his friend. The next day, November 16, he directly received an account from his friend of what she had experienced, which she wrote down as follows:

Yesterday – viz., the morning of November 16th, 1886 – about half past three o'clock, I woke up with a start and an idea that some one had come into the room. I heard a curious sound, but fancied it might be the birds in the ivy outside. Next I experienced a strange, restless longing to leave the room and go downstairs. This feeling became so overpowering that at last I rose and lit a candle, and went down, thinking if I could get some soda-water it might have a quieting effect. On returning to my room I saw Mr. Godfrey standing under the large window on the staircase. He was dressed in his usual style, and with an expression on his face that I have noticed when he has been looking very earnestly at anything. He stood there, and I held up the candle and gazed at him for three or four seconds in utter amazement, and then, as I passed up the staircase, he disappeared. The impression left on my mind was so vivid that I fully intended waking a friend who occupied the same room as myself, but remembering that I should only be laughed at as romantic and imaginative, refrained from doing so.

I was not frightened at the appearance of Mr. Godfrey, but felt much excited, and could not sleep afterwards (p. 689).

Podmore then added:

On the 21st of the same month (says Mr. Podmore) I heard a full account of the incident given above from Mr. Godfrey, and on the day following from Mrs. --- [Godfrey's friend]. Mrs. --- told me that the figure appeared quite distinct and life-like at first, though she could not remember to have noticed more than the upper part of the body. As she looked it grew more and more shadowy, and finally faded away. Mrs. ---, it should be added, told me that she had previously seen two phantasmal figures, representing a parent whom she had recently lost (p. 689).

    Rev. Godfrey made two more attempts to appear to his friend, one successful, and one not. In relating her account of the successful attempt, his friend "... states that she was awakened by hearing a voice cry, 'Wake,' and by feeling a hand rest on the left side of her head. She then saw stooping over her a figure which she recognised as Mr. Godfrey's" (p. 689).

    Another way that researchers have experimented with apparitions has been to bring psychics and mediums to an allegedly haunted location to see if they could sense an apparition in the areas where it has been seen (haunt areas), as compared to other areas within the location where no apparition has been reported (control areas). This particular method of experimentation was initially developed and applied by the late Dr. Gertrude Schmeidler (1966), and for that reason, we shall adopt the phrase "Schmeidler's method" as a shorthand term.

    To illustrate, Schmeidler's method generally proceeds as follows: After interviewing the witnesses living or working in the haunted location, the researcher asks each of the witnesses who reported seeing a ghost to fill out a checklist. On this checklist is a series of words that could potentially describe the ghost's actions or personality. The witness circles those words that seem to closely match the ghost, and crosses out those that do not match the ghost at all. Then, the researcher gives each witness a floor plan of the haunted location and asks them to mark the areas where they had seen the ghost (the haunt areas). Once this process is completed, the witnesses' checklists and floor plans are stored in a secure place for safekeeping.

    Not long afterward, the researcher brings a group of psychics/mediums to the haunted location at a time when the witnesses are not there. Handing each psychic and medium a blank checklist and floor plan, the researcher asks them to tour the location one by one, sensing for ghosts or anything else unusual. If a psychic or medium receives an impression in a certain area of the location, they are asked to mark that area on the floor plan. If this impression seems to relate to the ghost's actions or personality, they are asked to circle the related words on the checklist. After all of the psychics and mediums had completed their tour, their floor plans and checklists are also stored in a secure place. Then, on another day, the researcher brings in a group of skeptics and has them do the same thing, instead asking them to guess on the checklist what the ghost's actions or personality must be like, and to mark any areas on the floor plan that just seemed "spooky" or "weird" to them.

To see if the responses of the psychics and mediums matched those of the witnesses to a degree beyond that expected by chance, Dr. Schmeidler compared them by adapting and applying the methods of statistical analysis commonly used in laboratory experiments on psychic phenomena. A statistically significant result would suggest that the psychics and mediums were somehow able to sense the haunt areas where the witnesses had previously experienced a ghost (the floor plan test), as well as accurately describe the ghost (the checklist test).

Naturally, one must also consider the possibility that the psychics and mediums, rather than sensing a ghost, may have been responding on the floor plan test to cues embedded in the surroundings of the haunt areas. For instance, a haunt area may contain dark hallways or spooky-looking corners that could give the impression that it would be the place where one might find a ghost. Similarly, on the checklist test, the psychics and mediums could have responded based on the stereotypical notions about a ghost that come from imagination, folklore, and superstition. To see if cues or stereotypes could have factored into the results, Dr. Schmeidler also compared the floor plan and checklist responses of the skeptics with those of the witnesses to see if they showed any significant matches as a control comparison.

    Human behavior is known to be variable; we all behave differently from each other and patterns occurring in our behavior can often be difficult to spot for that reason. To get around this, psychologists often employ a method known as meta-analysis when evaluating their experiments on behavior. For simplicity, we might look at meta-analysis as being a method of statistically combining the results of many behavioral studies grouped together in order to look for an overall pattern across all their results, rather than looking at each study result individually. Psychic phenomena turns out to be no exception when it comes to variability in behavior, and so parapsychologists also often make use of meta-analysis when evaluating the data they have collected over the years.

    To examine the overall pattern of performance on the floor plan and checklist tests by the psychics/mediums and the skeptics, Dr. Michaeleen Maher (1999), who had once been a student of Dr. Schmeidler, conducted a meta-analysis on five field studies of reputed hauntings conducted from 1975 to 1997 that utilized Schmeidler's method. The results of Dr. Maher's meta-analysis indicated that, across the five studies, the floor plan and checklist responses of the psychics/mediums tended to match those of the witnesses to a statistically significant degree, suggesting that they were generally successful in locating the haunt areas where witnesses had previously seen a ghost, as well as accurately describing the ghost they saw. In contrast, the floor plan responses of the skeptics did not significantly match those of the witnesses, suggesting that they were generally unsuccessful in locating the haunt areas. However, there was a slight tendency for skeptics' responses on the checklist test to show some correspondence with the witnesses' responses, offering a weak hint that the description of the ghost may have been at least partially derived from imaginative, folklore, and superstitious stereotypes. In sum, the overall results suggest that the psychics and mediums may have been responding to something at the haunt sites within the location, whether ghost or otherwise.

    Finally, some researchers have attempted quasi-experiments with apparitions during field studies in order to possibly learn more about their physical composition. One example comes from a field investigation by Drs. Dean Radin and William Roll (1994) of haunt reports coming from the owners and patrons of a popular Kentucky music hall. During their investigation, a psychic had sensed a rather strong ghost in the basement of the music hall. Upon following her down to the basement, Radin and Roll were able to place a Geiger counter (which measures radiation levels) both "inside" and "outside" the supposed ghost after the psychic was able to corner it in one area of the room. On two occasions, when placed inside the ghost, the Geiger counter sounded an alarm, detecting the presence of radiation. On two other occasions, when taken out of the ghost as a control comparison, the Geiger counter remained silent. Then, before Radin and Roll could do the test again, a photographer snapped a photo of the room, which (according to the psychic) the ghost had not liked and caused it to disappear into the wall. This intriguing quasi-experiment offers the hint that some ghosts may be radioactive.

Bryan Williams, University of New Mexico

Annalisa Ventola, CERCAP, Lund University

Mike Wilson, Psi Society




 Maher, M. C. (1999). Riding the waves in search of the particles: A modern study of ghosts and apparitions. Journal of Parapsychology, 63, 47 – 80.

Myers, F. W. H. (1903). Human Personality and Its Survival of Bodily Death (2 Vols.). London: Longmans, Green, & Company. (Reprinted as a condensed volume in 2001 by Hampton Roads Publishing Company.)

Radin, D. I., & Roll, W. G. (1994). A radioactive ghost in a music hall. Proceedings of Presented Papers: The Parapsychological Association 37th Annual Convention (pp. 337 – 346). Durham, NC: Parapsychological Association, Inc.

Schmeidler, G. R. (1966). Quantitative investigation of a "haunted house." Journal of the American Society for Psychical Research, 60, 137 – 149.



Monday, November 16, 2009

Charley Tart Speaks at the AZIRE Virtual College Fair

Charlie Tart will be talking about the courses/programs available at the Institute for Transpersonal Psychology in Palo Alto where Charlie is a faculty member. The ITP is an accredited graduate school that gives psychology degrees, including the doctorate, on such topics as consciousness, spirituality and parapsychology.

The talk is online at and is the first session in The AZIRE Virtual College Fair. The 60 minute talk and Q&A will take begin at 5:30 p.m. Eastern Standard Time on Wednesday November 18th, 2009. You need an invitation to join the session. To get that email me at the above email address or at and she'll send you an invite.

If you can't join in real-time, write Nancy and she'll send you the link to the video of the session, which should be available about 24 hours after the session takes place.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Review of Tymn: The Articulate Dead

Ever since the early days of psychical research, investigators interested in the possibility of life after death have studied mediums, extraordinary individuals who claim the ability to communicate with Spirits. The study of mediumship has also been historically important in psychology for its influence on the development of concepts such as the subconscious, dissociation and anomalous identity experiences (Cardeña, in press). However, in the 20th century interest in mediumship declined somewhat as researchers turned their attentions to other areas. Nevertheless, in recent years there has been a conspicuous resurgence of interest within the parapsychological community with notable publications by David Fontana (2004, 2009) and ongoing research from Tricia Robertson and Archie Roy in the UK and from the Windbridge Institute in the USA led by Julie Beischel (to name just a few). The publication of The Articulate Dead by Michael E. Tymn is a further indication of this revival.

A resident of Kailua, Hawaii, Michael E. Tymn is vice-president of the Academy of Spirituality and Paranormal Studies, a free-lance journalist specialising in paranormal subjects and a regular contributor to the UK Spiritualist newspaper Psychic News.
In The Articulate Dead, he takes a look back through the annals of psychical research and revisits some of the most remarkable cases of mediumship from the glory days of Spiritualism in the period from1850 to 1940. Beginning with a preface written by Donald Morse the book is divided into four parts. The first covers the work of some of the earliest psychical researchers such as Sir William Crookes, Sir William Barrett and F.W.H. Myers and covers the spread of Spiritualism from America into Europe. It outlines the development of Spiritism in France and discusses the work of Victor Hugo and Hippolyte Léon Denizard Rivail. It even includes samples of messages from The Spirits’ book published under the name of Allan Kardec in 1857 and from Stainton Moses’ Spirit Teachings published in 1883. The second and third sections of the book move on to examine the work of prominent mediums Leonora Piper and Gladys Osborne Leonard and the fourth discusses some other intriguing cases of otherworldly communication including the Poetaster spirit Patience Worth and the delightful band of monks who gave archaeological assistance to the Glastonbury Abbey excavations via the pen of Frederick Bligh Bond. Next, there is a short Epilogue in which Mr Tymn regrets the fact that they don’t make mediums like they used to and places the blame on lack of patience, moral climate and possibly electrical interference. (O tempora! O mores!) Finally, the book wraps up with a useful glossary and a psychical research timeline starting from 31 March 1848 with the onset of the Hydesville rappings and ending in 1940 with the death of Sir Oliver Lodge.

The author is clear from the outset that his purpose in resurrecting these old cases is to provide evidence of a spirit world and with this aim he deliberately avoids controversial cases. As a result he steers away from the escapades of the bold Eusapia Palladino and the controversies of the Mina "Margery" Crandon mediumship. However, I have to confess that I miss them. As the “Margery” case split the American Society for Psychical Research and helped contribute to the career misfortunes of Frederick Bligh Bond, I think it (and other contentious cases) were relevant to some of the stories told. As Oscar Wilde once said “Truth is rarely pure and never simple”! The book is nearly divided up in such as way that each chapter can be read and understood by itself, however this leads to quite a bit of repetition and links between the various chapters are not always made. For example, it might be interesting for the reader to know that the Hester Dowden (Mrs Travers Smith) who appears in a ouija board session in chapter 5 with Sir William Barrett also had a hand in the automatic writing experiments of Frederick Bligh Bond in chapter 19 and that her colleague “Miss C.” (of “Pearl Tie Pin Case” fame) was none other than the Irish automatist, Geraldine Cummins, who ended up suing him.

Mrs. Travers Smith also appears in the book’s last chapter, “Disaster Survivors Communicate”. This gives an account of a famous Dublin séance which began at 8.30 May 7, 1915 when contact was apparently made with the spirit of art aficionado Sir Hugh Lane. Mrs. Travers Smith was sitting at a ouija board with playwright Lennox Robinson (both blindfolded) along with the Rev. Savell Hicks who was taking notes when unexpectedly the board spelled out, “Pray for Hugh Lane” and then the ominous message “I am Hugh Lane, all is dark.” (Travers Smith, 1919: p 33-34)

The story continues in The Articulate Dead:

“After several minutes, Hicks told Travers Smith and Robinson that it was Sir Hugh Lane coming through and that he had communicated that he was aboard the Lusitania and had drowned. On her way home that evening, Travers Smith had heard about the sinking of the passenger ship by a German torpedo, but she had not yet read the details, nor did she or the others know that Sir Hugh Lane was a passenger on the ship sailing from New York to England. In her 1919 book, Voices from the Void, Travers Smith states that she knew Lane and had heard that he had gone to New York, but it never occurred to her when she heard of the sinking that he was on board.” (Tymn, 2008: p.224)

Mrs Travers Smith may not then have suspected that Hugh Lane was on board the Luisitana, however fears about his safety had first reached Ireland around midday on May 5th. His Aunt, Lady August Gregory, Patron of Dublin’s Abbey Theatre, heard a rumour from the postman that the Lusitania had been lost, then a telegram arrived from a New York lawyer to confirm this and inquiring after Hugh Lane’s safety. Lady Gregory was entertaining guests at the time, including playwright George Bernard Shaw, but worried for her nephew she quickly enclosed the telegram in a letter to another Abbey Theatre Director, W.B. Yeats, and began to make further inquiries (Gregory, 1921 p 215-216) By the time Mrs Travers Smith sat down at the Ouija board in Dublin, concerns about Hugh Lane’s safety had been circulating in Ireland for more than two days, particularly in the theatrical circles of which her séance partner Lennox Robinson (former Manager of the Abbey theatre) and her house guest, Geraldine Cummins (recently produced Abbey playwright) were very much a part. As evidence for a spirit world, this case is much less impressive than would appear at first glance. From the point of view of historical accuracy, a sharp-eyed reader will spot other irregularities, as well as some printers’ errors which will hopefully be ironed out in a second edition. Nevertheless, if you are a Spiritualist you will like this book, if you have friends who are Spiritualists they would probably like to receive it as a present, and for hard-core historians and researchers, Alan Gauld’s excellent book Mediumship and Survival can still be tracked down on Ebay and Amazon Marketplace.

Wendy Cousins

Wendy E.Cousins is an Irish University lecturer/psychologist and an Associate of The Center for Research on Consciousness and Anomalous Psychology (CERCAP), Lund University.


Cardeña, E. (in press). Anomalous identity experiences: Mediumship, spirit possession, and dissociative identity disorder (DID, MPD). In Carlos S. Alvarado, Lisette Coly & Nancy L. Zingrone (Eds.) The Study of Mediumship: Interdisciplinary Perspectives. New York: Parapsychology Foundation.
Fontana D. (2004) Is There an Afterlife: A Comprehensive Overview of the Evidence ? O Books: UK.
Fontana D. (2009) Life Beyond Death: What Should We Expect? Watkins Publishing: London.
Gauld, A. (1982) Mediumship and Survival: A Century of Investigations. Heinemann: London: UK
Gregory, A. (1921) Hugh Lane’s Life and Achievement. John Murray: London
Travers Smith, H. (1919) Voices from the Void. E. P. Dutton: London.

Sunday, November 08, 2009

Apparitional Experiences Primer: Characteristics of Apparitions

3. Characteristics of Apparitions

In looking at the various types of apparitions in the previous section, we also got a brief look at some of their characteristics. In this section, we provide a fuller summary of their characteristics, based on previous findings in parapsychology and psychical research (Irwin, 1994, Sect. 8; Roll, 1982, Sect. 2; Tyrrell, 1953/1961, Apparitions, Ch. 2).

The first characteristic naturally deals with physical appearance. Unlike the misty and translucent ghost of classic folklore, many apparitions are described by witnesses as being solid looking and life-like. For example in the "Morton Ghost" case, in which the Despard family repeatedly saw the figure of a spectral widow over the course of several years, Rosina Despard had stated that the figure "...was so solid and life-like that it was often mistaken for a real person" (Morton, 1892, p. 321).3 In a similar fashion, we saw in the crisis case (Section 2) that the woman and her daughter initially took the apparition to be the woman's real father. In the bystander case, the doctor described the image of his late father-in-law as being opaque and life-like.

While appearing solid, some apparitions can apparently exhibit physical or non-physical features. For instance, some appear to cast shadows and reflections. One curious example of an apparition casting a reflection is seen in one woman's personal account of a crisis case, which Feather and Schmicker (2005) present in their book The Gift:

"My mother lived in California and I lived in Wichita, Kansas. At 9:40 A.M. on February 17, I was sitting in my bedroom at my dressing room table, brushing my hair in front of the mirror. Suddenly the room was illuminated with the strangest light, one I can't fully describe. I then felt a rustle of wind across my shoulders, and a faint sound like the brushing of birds' wings. Then I looked in the mirror.

"My mother was standing behind my chair ... She just stood and smiled at me for a full thirty seconds. I finally said, 'Mom!' and rushed for her, but she disappeared, light and all. I was so upset by this that I shook for an hour. When my husband came home for lunch, I told him about it and got myself ready for a phone call that mother was dead ... Sure enough, about one P.M. that same day, the call came that my mother was gone ..." (pp. 261 – 262).

In other cases, apparitions have been seen to appear or disappear in enclosed rooms, and pass through doors and walls (Stevenson, 1982, p. 353; Tyrrell, 1953/1961, pp. 56 – 58). Attempts to touch an apparition have either resulted in the figure apparently eluding the hand to where it is unable to be touched, or the hands or arms simply passing through the figure. An example in which the apparition eludes the witness' hand can be found in the Morton Ghost case, in which Rosina Despard describes her attempts to touch the spectral widow. She noted that, "It was not that there was nothing there to touch, but that she always seemed to be beyond me, and if followed into a corner, simply disappeared" (p. 315). This latter statement may be valuable, in that it offers the hint that any non-physical features of an apparition may perhaps relate to distortions in perception on the part of the witness. If this is so, then it may suggest that, despite looking physical, apparitions may be mental forms, as well. That is, how the witness perceives the apparition may be partly determined by his or her own mental state at the time.

Although they traditionally represent deceased persons, we see in some cases that apparitions can also sometimes represent people who are still living. An example comes from an account given in a study of cases by Dr. Louisa Rhine (1957):

A little old lady came around every Thursday morning selling eggs from door to door and she always stopped at my house. This Thursday I had to go to town and as I was coming up the little road leading to my house I saw the egg lady standing on the porch. I noted that she was wearing a new pink dress and a sort of little bonnet to match. Just as I spied her, she turned to step off the porch and called to her to wait and then she just disappeared.

She never came out my gate, she didn't go anywhere, she just wasn't there. I was not more than 50 feet away when I first saw her and there were no bushes or plants to obstruct my vision. Later in the afternoon a knock sounded on my door and when I responded there stood the little egg lady dressed in pink and with her basket on her arm. I told her I was sorry I was not at home when she called about an hour earlier. She looked very surprised but smiled as she answered, "But this is the first time I have been here today. An hour ago I was just leaving the ranch. I was thinking about you and wondering if you wanted some eggs" (p. 22).

In addition, apparitions of the living may sometimes occur in crisis cases, when the person whose apparition is seen is ill or in an accident, but not faced with the threat of death. We shall also see in the next blog post that there have been a few rare cases in which living people have attempted to intentionally make themselves appear as an apparition to people they know.

Some apparitions may seem to exhibit behavior that suggests that they have some degree of awareness of their surroundings (Tyrrell, 1953/1961, pp. 60 – 66). Dr. Harvey Irwin (1994) offers the illustrative example that if a witness "... moves around the room the apparition's head may be said to have turned to follow these movements" (p. 58). Another interesting example comes from an account by Rosina Despard of an encounter with the spectral widow:

[The widow] crossed the drawing room, and took up her usual position behind the couch in the bow window. My father came in soon after, and I told him she was there. He could not see the figure, but went to where I showed him she was. She then swiftly went round behind him, across the room, out the door, and along the hall, disappearing as usual near the garden door, we both following her (Morton, 1892, p. 317, emphasis added).

This account suggests that, rather than simply passing through him, the spectral widow had moved to intentionally avoid Rosina's father as she exited the room. Rosina additionally noted that the widow would always move to avoid the light, leaving the witnesses unable to tell if she cast a shadow (p. 321). Apparent displays of awareness such as these tie into the issue of whether or not some apparitions are intelligent, an issue we shall discuss a bit more in Section 7.

Although the majority of apparitions have been witnessed by one person, there have been a small number of cases in which an apparition was collectively perceived by more than one witness. As we saw in the crisis and post-mortem cases (Section 2), two individuals may perceive the same apparition at one time. On the other hand, one witness may see the apparition, while another may not; this was apparently the case in the account by Rosina Despard involving her and her father, above.

Some apparitions of the dead tend to be seen in the geographical location where they once lived or worked (as in haunting cases), or around people who knew them in life (as in bystander-type cases). In addition to the Gordy case (Section 2), another example comes from Dianne Arcangel (2005, pp. 18 – 20), who relates a personal account of the experiences that workers at her family's dry cleaning business have had with the ghost of a man named Dyer. Employed with the business for about 30 years, Dyer worked diligently at his spotting board from morning till night, until his sudden death from a heart attack. Not long after, a female co-worker walked in and saw Dyer working behind his spotting board. She smiled and waved at him, and he waved back. The woman turned to put her things down, and when she turned back to him, Dyer was gone. Several other workers who were employed there later on reported similar incidents, and tenants of the apartment that was later built above the business by Arcangel's husband also reported seeing the spectral figure of a man resembling Dyer. Her husband noticed that one particular area of the apartment, located directly over the area of Dyer's spotting board, was constantly cold, even in the summer months. Arcangel says that neither her husband, the later workers, nor the tenants had ever known about Dyer prior to the experiences.

A comparison of four separate survey studies, shown in Table 1, suggests that more (non-haunting) apparitions tend to be of people with close family relation to the witnesses, rather than strangers.4

Table 1. Relationship Between the Apparition and the Witness in Apparition Cases (% Cases)

Values not cited are marked with a dash (-). All values are rounded to the nearest one percent.

In a later survey study, Dr. Haraldsson (1994) stated that nearly half of the figures seen in the 357 apparition cases he gathered were of a relative of the witness. In contrast, 29% of those cases involved the witness seeing the figure of a person unfamiliar to them. Similarly, in reviewing studies that compared apparitions of the dead with those of the living, Dr. Ian Stevenson (1982) had noted that: "No fewer than 78% of apparitions of the dead were perceived by a [witness] to whom the [deceased person] had had strong emotional ties, such as a husband, wife, or fiancé; and among apparitions of the living the percentage of such appearances rose even higher, to 92%" (p. 351).

There is some indication that the farther one gets from a person's time of death, the less frequently that person's apparition appears. In other words, sightings of the apparition of a deceased person tend to decline in frequency with increased time from the person's moment of death. Evidence for this initially surfaced in the late 1880s, when two prominent psychical researchers, Edmund Gurney and Frederic Myers (1888-89), had conducted a survey of early apparition cases they had gathered and published in a two-volume case anthology of psychic experiences entitled Phantasms of the Living (Gurney, Myers, & Podmore, 1886). They observed from these 211 cases that "... the recognised apparitions decrease rapidly in the few days after death, then more slowly; and after about a year's time they become so sporadic that we can no longer include them in a steadily descending line" (Gurney & Myers, 1888-89, p. 427). A similar decline in apparitional sightings was observed by Rosina Despard in the Morton Ghost case. She noted that from 1882 to 1884 she saw the spectral widow "... about half a dozen times" (Morton, 1892, p. 314), and it was also seen by several other members of her family during that time period. It was reportedly seen frequently throughout the year of 1885 (p. 318). By 1887, Rosina noted that "... we have few records; the appearances were less frequent" (p. 321). She added that from 1887 to 1889, the spectral widow was rarely seen, and then: "From 1889 to the present, so far as I know, the figure has not been seen at all" (p. 321).

The appearance of an apparition can sometimes be accompanied by certain kinds of subjective effects, such as feeling sensations of cold, wind, or touch. In the survey of apparition cases described in his classic book Apparitions, psychical researcher G. N. M. Tyrrell (1953/1961) observed that the experience of cold breezes and similar cooling sensations was fairly frequent across witness accounts. For instance, some witnesses gave the following statements: "I ... felt myself grow perfectly cold"; "A cold, shivering feeling came over me"; "The apparition 'laid a cold hand on his cheek'"; "As if a cool wind was blowing about me" (p. 73). Rosina Despard stated that similar cold sensations were sometimes felt in proximity to the spectral widow of the Morton Ghost case (Morton, 1892, p. 325).5

One final characteristic of apparitions is that, aside from being visual, some can be purely auditory, seeming to manifest as sounds reflective of human activity. An example of an auditory apparitional experience can be found in an investigation by Dr. William Roll (1991) of the alleged haunting phenomena witnessed by the tour staff and crew of the Queen Mary cruise ship, now permanently docked in Long Beach, CA. According to accounts by the staff and crew, sounds of loud metal impacts, voices, and rushing water are sometimes heard coming from the lower forward compartments near the ship's bow. However, when the compartments are checked, no one is found to be in the area, nor is there any sign of damage or a leak. To see if these sounds might represent an objective event rather than being purely subjective, Roll attempted to record them by leaving a voice-activated tape recorder overnight in the bow. When retrieved in the morning and played back, it was discovered that "... the tape recorder picked up a strange sequence of noises. You could hear heavy blows of metal, sounds of rushing water and voices, one of which, low pitched and gravelly, was almost intelligible" (p. 58). The recorded sounds were found to be strikingly similar to a description given by the ship's chief engineer, who heard the sounds on several occasions when he was in the bow area with no one else around. In addition, the nature of the sounds seemed consistent with a tragic event occurring early in the Queen Mary's sailing history, when it had been a military transport during World War II. During an evasion maneuver off the coast of Scotland in October of 1942, the bow of Queen Mary had accidentally collided with the British battle cruiser Curaçoa, tearing the smaller cruiser in half and resulting in the deaths of over 300 British sailors.6

Dr. Erlendur Haraldsson (1994) offers another example of an auditory apparition in his second survey of cases, which again seems to reflect the activity of a person:

Shortly after our father died, I came to his house with my brother. We knew that there was nobody in the house, and then we heard the old man at his desk. He was walking around, opened the door, and closed it again. Both of us stopped and listened when we entered, and then I remarked: "I guess there is no doubt who is up there." "No, there is no doubt about it," my brother replied. Both of us went upstairs; no one was there. We had heard this so clearly. He was 85 years old when he died, and he walked slowly, you know, had the typical old man's way of walking (p. 3).

Bryan Williams, University of New Mexico

Annalisa Ventola, CERCAP, Lund University

Mike Wilson, Psi Society


3.) The "Morton Ghost" case, documented by 19-year-old medical student Rosina Despard, is a classic in psychical research in that offers another good example of a haunting apparition. We previously alluded to this case in our second primer (Williams, Ventola, & Wilson, 2008), and refer the reader to that primer for a brief and convenient summary.

4.) Aside from the data of Persinger (1974) and Haraldsson (1988-1989), the results shown in Table 1 were calculated from data presented in Appendix Table 2 of Osis and Haraldsson (1977, p. 218), and the Appendix of Arcangel (2005, p. 284, 291). Cases in which the apparition was of a spiritual, historic, or unidentifiable figure are excluded.

5.) For additional discussion of cold sensations in relation to apparitions and haunt phenomena, see our second primer.

6.) In the late 1980s, Unsolved Mysteries had aired a segment on the alleged haunting of the Queen Mary and the investigation of it by Roll and British psychical researcher Tony Cornell. A two-part streaming video clip of this segment can be found on YouTube – Part 1 and Part 2. A sample of Roll's recording of the unusual sounds in the bow area can be heard in Part 2.


Arcangel, D. (2005). Afterlife Encounters: Ordinary People, Extraordinary Experiences. Charlottesville, VA: Hampton Roads Publishing Company.

Feather, S. R., & Schmicker, M. (2005). The Gift: ESP, the Extraordinary Experiences of Ordinary People. New York: St. Martin's Press.

Gurney, E., & Myers, F. W. H. (1888-89). On apparitions occurring soon after death. Proceedings of the Society for Psychical Research, 5, 403 – 485.

Gurney, E., Myers, F. W. H., & Podmore, F. (1886). Phantasms of the Living (2 vols.). London: Trübner.

Haraldsson, E. (1988-1989). Survey of claimed encounters with the dead. Omega: Journal of Death & Dying, 19, 103 – 113.

Haraldsson, E. (1994). Apparitions of the dead: Analysis of a new collection of 357 reports. In E. W. Cook & D. L. Delanoy (Eds.) Research in Parapsychology 1991 (pp. 1 – 6). Metuchen, NJ: Scarecrow Press.

Irwin, H. J. (1994). The phenomenology of parapsychological experiences. In S. Krippner (Ed.) Advances in Parapsychological Research 7 (pp. 10 – 76). Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Company.

Morton, R. C. (1892). Record of a haunted house. Proceedings of the Society for Psychical Research, 8, 311 – 332.

Osis, K., & Haraldsson, E. (1977). At the Hour of Death. New York: Avon Books.

Persinger, M. A. (1974). The Paranormal (2 vols.). New York: M.S.S. Information Corporation.

Rhine, L. E. (1957). Hallucinatory psi experiences II. The initiative of the percipient in hallucinations of the living, the dying, and the dead. Journal of Parapsychology, 21, 13 – 46.

Roll, W. G. (1982). The changing perspective on life after death. In S. Krippner (Ed.) Advances in Parapsychological Research 3 (pp. 147 – 291). New York: Plenum Press.

Roll, W. G. (1991, May). Journey to the Grey Ghost. Fate, pp. 55 – 61.

Stevenson, I. (1982). The contribution of apparitions to the evidence for survival. Journal of the American Society for Psychical Research, 76, 341 – 358.

Tyrrell, G. N. M. (1953/1961). Science and Psychical Phenomena/Apparitions. New Hyde Park, NY: University Books.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Anomalous Experiences Primer: Types of Apparitions

Apparitional Experiences: A Primer on Parapsychological Research and Perspectives

Part 2. Types of Apparitions

Although the two terms are often used synonymously, it is useful to initially define what we mean by “apparition.” The term apparition, from the Latin word apparere (meaning “to show oneself”), may be formally defined as:

An experience, usually visual but sometimes in other sense-modalities, in which there appears to be present a person or animal (deceased or living) ... who/which is in fact out of the sensory range of the [witness]” (Thalbourne, 2003).

In other words, it is the experience of the presence of a person or animal – living or dead – that is not actually there, which seems to occur primarily through sight, but at times can seem to occur through the other senses (sound, smell, taste, and touch). This term is a bit broader than the more popular term ghost (from the German word geist for “mind” or “spirit”), which refers to the apparition of a deceased person, usually in connection with a haunting. Although we will use both terms throughout this primer, we shall primarily use the term apparition, given its broader meaning.

There are actually several known types of apparitions that have been documented by psychical researchers and parapsychologists since the late 19th century.1 They include: crisis apparitions, post-mortem apparitions, deathbed visions, haunting apparitions, and apparitions of the bystander-type. In addition to describing each one below, we provide an illustrative case example of each to help the reader better grasp what each entails.

Crisis: As implied by its name, a crisis apparition appears to a witness at a time when the person whose apparition is seen is experiencing a state of crisis, whether it is an accident, an illness, or even the threat of death. A good example of a crisis apparition case is given by Dr. Sally Rhine Feather and author Michael Schmicker (2005) in their book The Gift:

A woman and her fifteen-year-old daughter had recently moved to California from their previous home in Washington D.C., where they had left the woman’s father very ill. One day not long after moving, they entered the dining room, and to the woman’s great surprise, there stood her father. “Why Dad, when did you get here?” she exclaimed.

At that point, her daughter turned around to look, and she, too, saw the figure of her grandfather, his hand upraised in a gesture of greeting or perhaps blessing, but he slowly faded away, and they both suddenly realized that he was not really in California in their house. Shortly afterward, they received the news that he had died (p. 254).

In addition to representing a crisis apparition, this case has three other interesting aspects to it. First, it is case where the apparition was collectively perceived, meaning that it was witnessed by more than one person. Second, the apparition was apparently so real looking to the woman that she actually mistook it for her real father at first. This goes against the folklore-based view that apparitions are often only misty, translucent outlines. Third, the apparition of the man seemed to acknowledge the presence of his daughter and granddaughter, suggesting that it had some degree of intelligent awareness. We shall discuss these aspects a bit more in future installments of this primer.

Post-mortem: As implied by its name, a post-mortem apparition appears after a person’s death, anywhere from several hours to several years after. As an example, we briefly recount a case documented by survival researcher Dianne Arcangel (2005, pp. 70 – 72):

About four months after her son Tommy had been tragically murdered, a woman was out walking Tommy’s dog in the daytime and they were passing by the parking lot where Tommy had kept his Jeep when the dog began barking and pulling on the leash. Looking up, the woman saw a young man standing in a blue outfit about 30 feet away, although she could not see him clearly because she was not wearing her glasses. When finally put them on, she recognized Tommy standing there on the sidewalk and smiling at her, wearing a blue outfit he had bought but never got to wear before he died. She immediately called out to him, and she and the dog began running toward him. But then, the image of Tommy seemed to slowly turn around and glide away, his feet being about an inch off the pavement. Despite how fast they ran, the woman and the dog could not catch up to him, even after pursuing him for three blocks. Then, the woman’s sight of her son was abruptly obstructed by some passing schoolgirls, and when she looked up again, the figure of Tommy was gone.

This case has two other interesting aspects to it. Similar to the crisis case, the apparition in this case was apparently witnessed not only by the woman, but also by the dog. It also seemed to suggest an optical effect, as the woman needed her glasses to see the apparition clearly.

Deathbed Vision: Near the moment of death, some terminally ill and dying patients have described seeing images of people and places that seem to relate to an afterlife existence, images known as deathbed visions. Reports of such visions have been recorded since the 19th century (Rogo, 1978), and are still occasionally reported today among healthcare and hospice workers (e.g., Arcangel, 2005, pp. 110, 116 – 120).

Among the images described by patients are apparitions of deceased friends and relatives. In the 1970s, Drs. Karlis Osis and Erlendur Haraldsson (1977) had surveyed and interviewed 877 medical doctors and nurses in India and the United States, whose patients had reported seeing deathbed apparitions. In one of the 418 cases they documented, a nurse recounts the deathbed vision related to her by an intelligent 76-year-old female patient who had suffered a heart attack:

[The patient’s] consciousness was very, very clear – no sedation, no hallucinogenic history. She was cheerful and confident that she would recover and return to her daughter who badly needed her at home. Suddenly she stretched out her arms and, smiling, called out to me. “Can’t you see Charlie [her dead husband] there with outstretched arms? I’m wondering why I haven’t ‘gone home’ before.” Describing the vision she said, “What a beautiful place with all the flowers and music. Don’t you hear it? Oh, girls, don’t you see Charlie?” She said he was waiting for her. I feel she definitely saw her husband (pp. 80 – 81).

During her experience, the woman had a feeling of peace and serenity reportedly come over her. She remained oriented to her surroundings, and was able to talk with the nurse and the family at her bedside during the vision.

This case has two aspects to it that are consistent with other cases of deathbed visions. First, as indicated in the narrative, the woman was not medicated or sedated at the time of her vision, indicating that it was not a drug-induced hallucination. Similarly, most of the patients in other cases were not found to be medicated, sedated, running a high fever, or in a delirium at the time of their vision (Osis, 1975; Osis & Haraldsson, 1977, pp. 70 – 73), arguing against a medical-related hallucination as the cause for their vision. Second, the apparition seen by the woman was that of a close relative (her husband). Similarly, a majority of the patients (90%) in other cases had seen close relatives (Osis & Haraldsson, 1977, p. 64). We’ll return to this second finding in the next installment.

Many patients regard the deathbed apparitions they see as “take-away” figures, meaning that the apparition seemed to appear for the purpose of greeting, inviting, or leading the patient to the afterlife. This apparent purpose of the apparition was noted in nearly two-thirds (65%) of the cases documented by Osis and Haraldsson (1977, pp. 65 – 67). Reflecting on her experience as a hospice chaplain, Dianne Arcangel (2005) openly states: “I have never sat with a dying patient who was not in the accompaniment of an apparition as their time grew near. No one ever dies alone” (p. 120, her italics).

Haunting: As many paranormal enthusiasts are probably all too aware, most of the apparitions seen at allegedly haunted sites do not take the form of the classic ghost of folklore, instead appearing as shadowy forms, floating lights, and hazy mist-like clouds. It seems that, in most cases, these kinds of apparitions are more likely to have a geophysical and/or psychological explanation (for reviews, see Persinger, 1974, Pt. II; Persinger & Koren, 2001; Roll & Persinger, 2001), and are less likely to be indicators of survival. However, there have been a few rare cases in which apparently well-defined apparitions of deceased human individuals have been repeatedly seen over time in the places where they once lived or worked. One such case is the “Gordy” case, initially investigated in the late 1980s by Dr. William Roll (in Roll & Persinger, 2001, p. 160), which we briefly summarize here:

Soon after moving to a new home with her family, a little girl named Heidi Wyrick had met a man in her neighborhood named “Con,” who invited her to play on a swing. When Heidi asked for permission to do so, her mother asked about Con and Heidi described him as “having blood all over.” Concerned that Con may be a kidnapper or a child molester, Heidi’s parents had the neighborhood searched for the man, but were unable to find him. A short time later, Heidi began speaking of regularly meeting with another man in the neighborhood named “Mr. Gordy” to play on the swing, and her parents figure that Con and Mr. Gordy are the girl’s imaginary playmates. Eventually they discover that an elderly gentleman named James Gordy, as well as a man named “Lon,” had actually lived in the neighborhood many years back, and that Lon had lost his hand in a machinery accident. The descriptions that Heidi gave of the two men were later found to closely match photographs of them (she was also able to correctly pick them out of a random collection of old photos), and Roll could find no normal way in which Heidi could have learned about them prior to her family’s discovery of their identities.2

The Gordy case seems to contain a possible parapsychological component, in that it suggests that Heidi was able to somehow psychically perceive the apparitions of people who had once lived in her local surroundings. How might we come to better understand this? We’ll briefly look at some possible theories in a later installment of this primer.

Bystander-Type: It turns out that apparitions may not only be associated with a haunted location; in rare cases, they may be associated with a person. Rather than being seen in the place where they once lived or worked, some apparitions have been witnessed in close proximity to people who once knew them in life. Dr. Louisa Rhine (1957) had coined the term bystander-type case to label these kinds of cases, noting that, “...these cases are suggestive of the haunting cases, the main difference, however, being that in these the link is a person rather than a geographical location” (p. 39).

An example of an apparition of the bystander-type comes from a study by the late Dr. Ian Stevenson (1995), in which he had interviewed a medical doctor who had once witnessed such apparition while keeping vigil at the bedside of his mother-in-law, who was very ill, in a coma, and near death. According to the doctor:

I was standing by her bed and no one else was in the room. She had an agonal inspiration, and at that moment I had a very clear picture of G. C. [her late husband] standing across from me with his arms outstretched, and he said, “Flora, I’ve been waiting for you.”

I did not really have to look to see that my mother-in-law had died, but the physician in me pushed me to verify that (p. 362).

The doctor stated that the figure he saw of his late father-in-law was “...quite opaque, as he would have seen him in life” (p. 362). He was only able to see the figure from the waist up, but believed that the surrounding furniture had blocked his vision of the rest. Prior to his encounter, the doctor believed that he had only been able to see his father-in-law only once or twice while his father-in-law was still alive, but he was familiar with his father-in-law’s appearance from family photos. However, he had not expected to see his father-in-law at the time of his mother-in-law’s passing, stating that, “I was surprised but comforted by what I saw” (p. 363).

In this case, the doctor was able to see the apparition of a man in close proximity to the man’s dying wife, and thus the doctor was acting as a third person “bystander” witness (hence the term). One might notice that this case seems similar to a deathbed vision, but we should point out that it cannot be classified as one in the strictest sense because the mother-in-law was comatose and did not herself perceive the apparition of her deceased husband.

The case has three other interesting aspects to it. First, as in the crisis case, the apparition that the doctor saw appeared solid. Second, as in the deathbed case, the apparition he saw was of a relative in his family. Third, the doctor reportedly heard the apparition speak, suggesting it had some degree of intelligence. We’ll look more at these aspects in future installments.

Bryan Williams, University of New Mexico
Annalisa Ventola, CERCAP, Lund University
Mike Wilson, Psi Society


1.) For some readers unfamiliar with the history of parapsychology, the distinction between “psychical research” and “parapsychology” may be a bit unclear. Parapsychology actually owes its roots to psychical research, which began in 1882 when a group of scholars associated with Cambridge University in England had formed the Society for Psychical Research, which was devoted to the serious study of various psychic phenomena, including telepathy, clairvoyance, psychometry, mediumship, and hauntings. Parapsychology arrived on the scene in the 1930s when Dr. J. B. Rhine and his colleagues had formed the Duke University Parapsychology Laboratory in order to study psychic phenomena via controlled experimental work. A few recent books offering some accessible overviews of the history of parapsychology and psychical research for the interested reader are those by Dr. John Beloff (1993), Deborah Blum (2006), and Stacy Horn (2009). In addition, a useful list of additional print and Internet sources has recently been compiled by Dr. Carlos Alvarado (2009).

2.) In the early 1990s, the popular television show Unsolved Mysteries had aired a segment that profiled this case and Roll’s investigation of it. A two-part streaming video clip of this segment can be found on YouTube – Part 1 and Part 2.


Arcangel, D. (2005). Afterlife Encounters: Ordinary People, Extraordinary Experiences. Charlottesville, VA: Hampton Roads Publishing Company.

Feather, S. R., & Schmicker, M. (2005). The Gift: ESP, the Extraordinary Experiences of Ordinary People. New York: St. Martin’s Press.

Osis, K. (1975, Summer). What did the dying see? Theta, No. 45, 1 – 3.

Osis, K., & Haraldsson, E. (1977). At the Hour of Death. New York: Avon Books.

Persinger, M. A. (1974). The Paranormal (2 vols.). New York: M.S.S. Information Corporation.

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). Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Company.

Rhine, L. E. (1957). Hallucinatory psi experiences II. The initiative of the percipient in hallucinations of the living, the dying, and the dead. Journal of Parapsychology, 21, 13 – 46.

Rogo, D. S. (1978, January-February). Research on deathbed experiences: Some contemporary and historical perspectives. Parapsychology Review, 9, 20 – 27.

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). Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Company, Inc.