The Anatomy of a Haunting By Tom Cooney

When people call for our services, we always hear the same line: “You are going to think I am crazy but…” The next line is always: “I think I may be haunted.” My response to the first statement is always something to the effect of “No, you are not crazy, but we probably are.” As to the second line, I always respond by saying: “If you think you are haunted, you probably are not. You see, when you are being haunted, you know it.” Having said that, let us take a look at how a haunting starts and how it progresses.

Hauntings tend to start off slowly. Rare are the cases that start off like a firestorm, although that does sometimes happen during poltergeist explosions or outbreaks as they are sometimes called. There is a reason for this. Spirits wishing to “haunt” you are most vulnerable in the early stages. If a haunting is caught in the early stage, the chances of ending it quickly are good. The invading spirit needs to get a strong hold. That can take a little time to accomplish. However, it is very difficult to catch a haunting in the early stage because there is a very definite strategy at work. The invading spirit has a game plan if you will. That plan is to get in there and establish its territory before letting the victim know it is there. Once that is accomplished, it can become bolder. It will not show himself to everyone at once. If it did that, it would be tipping its hand too soon. Instead, the spirit will pick and choose its spots. It will attempt to “divide and conquer.” This will be explained in detail later. Once it has had time to organize itself, it will become increasingly bold and it will eventually reach the point where it does not care who knows it is there. Finally, it will attempt to carry out his mission, whatever that may be.

It is widely believed that there are four stages to a haunting. What is not in agreement is the order in which they occur. Many texts will list the first stage as the “Infestation” stage. In other texts, this is considered the third stage. What has to be remembered is that this field naturally lends itself to empirical study. There are precious few textbooks on the subject of hauntings. However, whatever order you put them in or what label you use to describe it, the progression is the same; it starts off mildly and ends with a bang. The four categories are:

  1. Oppression.
  2. Obsession.
  3. Infestation.
  4. Disruption, possession or death.

Before a spirit makes its presence known, it will begin to oppress at least one person in the family. The invading spirit will target the one person it considers to be the most vulnerable. In most cases, that is the woman of the house. This is not to suggest that she is the weak link, rather, the spirit knows it will have a tough time getting through to the male members. Men tend to scoff at the notion of ghosts. Also, she may be home more often than the male, thus making her the easier target. In households where both parents work, the youngest child is often targeted. Children can be good targets because they will not readily be believed when they talk about the “ghost up in their room.” However, they make bad targets for the same reason. If the parents are stubborn enough, the spirit may decide to leave the child alone and go to work on the parents. In some households, the spirit may have to jump up and down just to get the attention it wants.

In the oppression stage, small events will take place. These will often go unnoticed or when they are noticed, they may be taken as coincidence. (By and large, psychic researchers do not believe in coincidence. I have yet to meet one who does.) One example of the type of activity that takes place at this stage is finding a door open. You may notice it and think to yourself that you are sure you closed it. Another example might be laying an item on the kitchen counter only to find it in your bedroom later on. “Gee, I must be losing it. I could have sworn I left that book in the kitchen.” This is a common refrain in a haunting. Remember, the invading spirit is trying to get a strong hold. It is not ready for more obvious activity. It is also testing the various family members to see who is the most susceptible to its actions. As I said before, in some cases, it will initially target a woman, only to find that she is far tougher than it expected. Then it turns its attention elsewhere. Since the early stages are so subtle, it is amazing how many warning signs are missed. As the spirit gains knowledge of the family, it will pick and choose its targets. This is done for a purpose. At some point in time, it will try to split the family unit apart. Since it is targeting one person, whatever activity does take place, will often happen only to that one person. In the case of children, it may target more than one. The idea here is to have the parents think the children are making things up or are guilty of overactive imaginations. It is not unusual for foul odors to be experienced in this stage, although it is usually of the minor variety. Most of the time, the children get blamed for whatever activity that does take place. If a lamp is thrown from a table, the child gets blamed for knocking it over.

The next stage is the obsession stage. In this stage, the targeted victim begins to feel isolated from all other family members. As more and more happens to that person, they become obsessed with it. It gradually reaches the point where the haunting is all that person thinks about. The more they think about it, the more isolated they feel. The more isolated they feel, the more they are subjected to. At some point, they may begin to question their sanity. They reach the stage where they are afraid to even mention the activity to the other members of the family. This is where the divide and conquer strategy comes into play. Tension within the family unit increases and in some cases, sides are taken. Mom might believe what her son is telling her while Dad scoffs at the notion. “I do not want to hear any more of this ghost talk. Do you hear me?”

During this stage, shadows are often seen by the targeted victim. In some cases, more than one person will see these shadows. Whispering is a common complaint in this stage. Lights may go on or off. In some cases, beds will vibrate. It is common to be touched in this stage. These are usually light brushes, almost like a cool breeze. You may also notice temperature changes. The point is that the spirit is becoming bolder in its actions but it is still targeting only one or two individuals. The spirit is now growing stronger and it is quickly driving a wedge between family members. Remember, there is a strategy and at this point, it is becoming clearer. As these events are taking place, the spirit is growing stronger. The more fear and chaos is created, the stronger the spirit grows. If recognized at this point, the family may still be able to stop it on their own. However, once it moves to the next stage, the job becomes extremely difficult.

Once the invading spirit has gained a stronghold, it is said to be infesting the home. This is where the spirit no longer tries to hide itself. Not only does it no longer fear detection, it wants everyone to know it is there. Now the activity becomes pronounced. Furniture may move around the home and pounding may take place in the walls. Numerous people may see shadows, if not actual forms. As the fear factor grows, so too does the level of activity. The infesting spirit begins to feed off its victims. Once all members of the family accept the obvious, the spirit grows stronger still. It is now getting the recognition that it has wanted. More recognition means more fear. More fear means more strength to use against the family. The more strength the spirit has, the more fear it can cause. Around and around it goes. The strategy here is to wear down the victims; break their will if possible. The spirit will be relentless. It will do its best to ruin pleasant activities. It will put the victims on a roller coaster ride. The activity may suddenly stop or at least taper off. Every time they think the haunting is over, the spirit will do something overt. During periods of heavy activity, sleep will be difficult for the victims. Their regular routines will be destroyed and their normal activities will be affected. Job and school pressures will mount. Fear will become the dominant emotion. That will occasionally give way to anger, then frustration and finally, apathy. That is exactly what the spirit wants- apathy. It wants the family to lose hope.

The strategy is to take away their spirit, their hope and faith. Most of all, it wants to destroy their will. The family will often begin fighting with each other and soon, the home resembles a war zone. Dad snapped at the children so now Mom is not talking to Dad. The children are mad at Mom because she yelled at them about doing their homework. You can imagine the degree of tension in the home. It is thick and all pervading. On top of all the other problems in life, they have this added burden. At this point, it will be very difficult for the family to stop the problem on their own. Once the haunting has progressed this far, outside help will most likely be needed.

If the problem continues to grow unabated, the next stage is the possession of one of the members of the family. All too often, with their will broken, the spirit will pounce. If it does not find a way to get inside of a person, it will change its strategy. However bad a haunting may be, in order to become possessed, some form of permission must be given. No one wants to be possessed. However, parents will sometimes feel so bad for their families that they will say something like “Do anything you want with me but leave my family alone.” As understandable as that may be, it is a form of invitation. That is all a marauding spirit needs. However, in many cases, the spirit will not receive the invitation it needs. Should that happen, it will turn its attention towards the destruction of someone in the family. While spirits can kill, do their own dirty work so to speak, they very rarely do so. Even they are subject to certain laws. What they will do is try to convince someone in the family to take either their own life or someone else in the family.

Let me make something clear. Very few hauntings of this degree take place. It is beyond rare, so do not panic. I cannot emphasize that enough. Of those rare cases, few ever come close to reaching this point. However, you have to wonder about some of the murder-suicides that we often read about. Could it be the work of evil spirits? I have to think that there are some instances where this is the case, although certainly not all. However, while the spirit may not achieve its lofty goals, it will settle for the destruction of the family unit. In the vast majority of hauntings, this is all the spirit will accomplish. While this may be such a small victory for the spirit, it is a major blow to the family who has had to experience it.

However, the news is not all bad. It must always be remembered that hauntings of this nature are rare. Even when they do occur, there are numerous ways to stop it from becoming severe. Recognition of it important but one must be on guard against paranoia. One or two “odd” occurrences do not a haunting make. Every familial argument is not the work of the devil. An occasional temper tantrum is not a sign of possession. The best way to avoid trouble is not to focus on what bad things may happen. Rather, the best thing you can do is create an environment that is not conducive to a haunting. Create a happy household. Remember family values and live by them. Most of all, keep the lines of communication open. However, pay attention when “odd” things happen repeatedly. Do not be afraid to mention something that you think is strange. If someone mentions a strange occurrence to you, do not make them feel stupid for mentioning it. Create an environment where everyone feels free to talk. In the overwhelming majority of the times, nothing serious will be going on. However, if there is something bad is happening, you need to catch it as early as possible. Just having an open attitude can prevent trouble. Spirits often pick and choose their victims. They look for easy marks. Do not let yourself be an easy mark. Finally, if you think something paranormal is taking place, do not be afraid to reach out for help. Do not be afraid to say: “You are going to think I am crazy but…”

If You Suspect That You May Be Haunted:

  1. Immediately begin keeping a record of any activity that has taken place. List everything, no matter how silly it sounds. The key is to get as much information as possible, even if that means going through pages of normal events.
  2. If you are religious, pray. This alone can stop a problem.
  3. Pick up the phone and call an organization that deals with this type of phenomena, whether it be NEBPI or any other organization. Do not be afraid that we will think you are crazy. This is what we do for a living.
  4. Regardless of your religious beliefs, pick up a bottle of Holy Water. It works for everyone.
  5. Praying is good but be careful about challenging any spirits that may be causing havoc. Many people will grab a cross and try to exorcise their home. While it may work, in some cases, it will exacerbate the situation. Speak to an investigative group before you do anything. Any group worth its salt will help you.
  6. Do not give up hope, no matter what is taking place.
  7. Be wary of anyone who claims they will cleanse your house for a fee. Reputable organizations do not charge for their services.
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