Being a paranormal investigator for the past 4 years or so, I’ve had lots of people ask me lots of questions about my experiences. Topics that come up a lot seem to be things like how we started the group, what equipment we use, how we conduct investigations, what kind of evidence we have caught, what was the scariest thing to ever happen on a case, etc. So with that in mind, I decided to write a series of (partially tongue-in-cheek) articles answering those questions and talking about what I’ve learned over the years, with many “dos and don’ts.” In this entry I’ll give my advice on becoming a paranormal investigator and starting a group. Subsequent entries will detail equipment suggestions, how to conduct investigations, and maybe even some personal anecdotes. Enjoy!
Part 1: So you want to be a Paranormal Investigator…
Choose a focus: This is pretty self-explanatory. Before doing anything, you have to decide what it is that you want to do exactly. Do you want to be a ghost hunter? Do you want to search for Bigfoot? Do you want to investigate UFO sightings? Or do you want to be an anamolist and research a little bit of everything, like such notables as Charles Fort or Loren Coleman? The paranormal field is rife with interesting stuff to investigate, so stick to your passion, whether it’s one specific aspect or the full spectrum of the unexplained.
The Mission Statement: Once you have your general field of paranormal interest decided, next you have to decide what you want to do specifically. If you’re a UFO researcher, will you actually go out and search the skies for UFOs? Or will you focus more on interviewing witnesses and collecting data? If you’re a ghost hunter, will you investigate private homes and residences? Or will you focus on commercial businesses? Will you skip the investigating and concentrate on running informative seminars? Or maybe run tours of haunted locations around Halloween? It’s important to let the public know what you do exactly. Don’t proclaim to have private residences as your priority and then spend all your time investigating restaurants or running ghost tours. Potential clients will be left confused.
Internet Presence: For better or for worse, the main way that paranormal investigators get recognition is via the internet: through their website, Facebook page, Twitter, etc. I won’t go too much into the actual design and look of a website here, as that deserves its own article. But some basic things to keep in mind are to keep the site clean, professional, and easy to navigate. You want people to feel comfortable on your site and to be able to find what they need quickly and easily. The other big issue to keep in mind, and this is an issue I see all too often in the paranormal community, is proofreading. There are way too many sites out there that have spelling, punctuation and grammatical errors all over the site. How will anyone be convinced of your claim that you are a “serious, scientific and professional group” if you can’t spell “serious,” “scientific” or “professional” correctly? Or if you don’t know when to use “UFOs” versus “UFO’s?” Also, don’t be sensationalistic. If you use exclamation points excessively, have tons of underlined words, words all in CAPS, etc., you won’t look professional, you’ll just look desperate to convince people of your worth. Lastly, use your web presence to educate and inform people. There are many great professional groups out there who stay classy and only use their online presence for good. But there is far too much infighting in the paranormal field. People become territorial, jealous and bitter, and use their website, Facebook or Twitter as a platform to talk trash about other groups. Again, professionalism should be about cooperation, not about denigrating every other group around you so that you look better. Use your blog if you want to do that! Haha.
Run Your Group Like a Business and Keep Strict Guidelines: Like any business, every group needs rules. Without them you will have chaos. Members need to know what is expected of them, whether it relates to conduct, dues, lateness and attendance, etc. Write up a set of rules, make sure every member has a copy and understands them, and even keep it posted on the website or in a private forum where members can always refer to them. Make sure you are consistent and fair, especially if you are the group leader. Don’t say “no couples are allowed” and then let your boyfriend or girlfriend join the group. Don’t say that everyone needs to be on-time, and then show up an hour late to investigations or meetings. If people aren’t treated fairly and consistently, being in the group will stop being fun, and there will be conflicts within the group and possibly even members leaving.
Group Members: What’s a group without members? There’s probably a riddle in there, but I’m too lazy to look for it. Anyway, you want to get strong members for your team. Try to find people who are passionate about the same subjects that you’re passionate about. Get people who are educated and bring something to the table besides the fact that they are breathing when you interview them. Try to get members who can write, have memberships to historical societies, can do web and graphic design, photography, audio analysis, etc. They should have some sort of skill beyond the ability to sit in a dark room with you or carry equipment cases around. There are plenty of people out there who want to join groups, but a good portion of them basically just want to show up and investigate and not do any of the real work that goes into investigating. The actual investigating is fun, but the research, sleepless nights, evidence review, and lugging around of equipment is much less glamorous. Make sure your members are serious about the paranormal and contributing to the overall success of the group. They will be representing you, going into people’s homes, businesses, or even talking to the media. Just be certain that you feel confident in their ability to professionally represent you before welcoming them into the group with open arms.
Group Size: This is another important factor to consider. I’m sure we’ve all seen paranormal teams with like 87 members. To me, this is utterly ridiculous. I understand the need to have a good-sized group, but most groups do an overkill with the recruiting effort. They allow almost anyone in, and then allow their brothers, sisters, spouses, second cousins, co-workers, and anyone else into the group. Why? Almost anything paranormal that is worth investigating would be better served by a small, tightly-knit group rather than a small army. If you’re ghost hunting in a 2-bedroom home, do you need 16 investigators? No. If you’re looking for Bigfoot in the woods and have 24 people in your party, chances are he’ll hear you coming long before you ever catch a glimpse of him (or her). A good size for a group, in my opinion, is between 4 and 8 people. For most investigations, you will never need more than 4, but it is always good to have a few more just in case. But once you get beyond 8, you’re getting into sketchy territory, and you either have to bring everyone along all the time, or certain people have to sit out on investigations.
Collaborate With Other Groups: As I mentioned earlier, there is, unfortunately, a lot of infighting in the paranormal field. One investigator will be jealous of another investigator’s equipment, or one group becomes territorial when a new group pops up in the same general vicinity or tries to investigate a place they just investigated. I never quite understood the intense malice generated in these situations. I do understand some friendly competition, as it keeps us all on our toes. But every group has its strengths and weaknesses. No group is “the best.” No group can “do it all.” Some groups have better equipment than others. Some groups have better connections with the local community than others. Some have better media contacts than others. If we are all in this to find answers, why the secrecy and isolation? We should want to collaborate and pool our resources. This way, two good groups can become great by helping each other out. In this spirit of collaboration, I’d like to link to some of our friends here in New York: The Scared Crew, who have done awesome work getting Staten Island on the paranormal map and have since moved on to bigger and better things, including a documentary with John Zaffis, and The Darkside of Staten Island Paranormal, who have just recently redesigned their their website and updated it with some awesome new evidence. I know my new group is looking forward to working with both of these teams in the future.
So that does it for Part 1. Stay tuned for Part 2: Equipment!