16 October 2013


Leo Ruickbie. A Brief Guide to Ghost Hunting: How to Identify and Investigate Spirits, Poltergeists, Hauntings and Other Paranormal Activity. Robinson, 2013.

With more than 300 pages of text and more than 50 of endnotes, this book is not really a ‘brief’ guide. Combining practical assistance on preparation, equipment and investigation techniques and protocol, including the all-important health and safety advice, with a brief history of ghost hunting and a sociological analysis of ghost hunters, and a roundup of the various theories about ghosts, this is clearly quite comprehensive and remarkable good value for the price.
Perhaps the comprehensiveness causes something of a problem of its own, as it not always clear what is the intended readership.

That in some way reflects ghost hunting itself, which hovers in a liminal space between psychical research, folklore and pure entertainment, and this can be seen by the range of ‘ghost hunters’ discussed, ranging from serious psychical researchers such as Tony Cornell and Andrew Green, through to pure entertainers such as those associated with the Most Haunted TV series or the TAPS group in the USA (some of the latter’s cases and stories are clearly fictional). Ruickbie does advise, wisely, against the use of mediums and psychics. At best these tend to be well meaning but over imaginative people, at worst they take perverse delight in frightening people, or are frauds who batten on the vulnerable.

I would say the weakest section of the book is that on location, with lists of 'most haunted places', as these tend only to reflect folkloric notoriety and/or the assiduousness of publicity agents.

There is some really good advice, and the final chapter gives some dire examples of what can happen if sensible health and safety advice is ignored. These include the advice never to go armed on a ghost hunt - yes some people have! If there is a gap here it is not having a warning that ghost hunters might easily find themselves out of their depth dealing with people and families with multiple problems, and in some cases with very disturbed and disturbing people.

Needless to say that if there is even the faintest chance that criminal behaviour, including domestic abuse, especially if there is the remotest risk to a child, is occurring, ghost hunters should withdraw and report the matter to the appropriate authorities at once. Of course they should never engaged in criminal activity themselves or aid and abet those doing so. It would also be wise for people with particular vulnerabilities such as a recent bereavement not to engage in ghost hunting.

These caveats aside this is an interesting and useful book one can recommend to ghost hunters and psychical researchers. - Peter Rogerson

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