The Psychology of a Haunted House

by MJ Wayland

After rereading David Taylor’s article, Spaces of Transition (At The Edge Magazine No 10 1998), I began to explore to points highlighted by both articles.

David Taylor makes some keen observations on how as investigators we approach the archetypal haunted house. Hopefully the standard approach is to interview the witness and listen to “the claim” before even any research or investigation has taken place. Most investigators will then clarify the haunting with a very nuts and bolt methodology that seems as prevalent as it were in 1998, when David wrote the original article.

However often the personality and the psychology of the witness’s relationship with the house is not even taken into account, David uses this reference to make his point, “To the new occupant, the “incomer”, the haunted house has a “history” or a “reputation” in a personal, almost sexual way. The house is not a “virgin”. It has been violated by the presence of other human activity . . .’ (ROGERSON, Peter, 1987, ‘And the dogs began to howl’, Magonia No. 27 p7–10.)

As an ex-inhabitant of a “haunted house” I can vouch how paranoia can increase after the first “incident”. At first my family scrambled to find some sort of explanation, and almost instantly it was ascertained it was a former inhabitant, without any further research or discussion with neighbours on the matter.

Instead of concealing the experiences and our own thoughts on the ‘ghost’, we asked very leading questions of our neighbours, and indeed it seemed that an “old man” once lived in the property. The majority of my family believed that our house was haunted by this man – and yet looking back thirty years later it is hard to accept that we took the word of neighbours who never even met this “old man” or what his interests or appearance was actually like.

David Taylor talks further about a case he investigated,

When I visited them it was clear that the present occupants believed that a past resident, who they believed had died in the house, was responsible for the phenomena. These occurrences, they believed, had apparently also been experienced by previous occupants of the house – with the result that no one ever stayed long in the property. An hour in the local records office soon showed that, despite what the neighbours had told them, a normal number of families had stayed in the house over a reasonable period of time and, even though past occupiers may have died, there was no evidence to suggest that they had died in the house. This I feel illustrates the point: faced with apparently unexplained phenomena the family believe that the only explanation can be the ‘spirit’ of a past resident who died in the house. Their belief is reinforced by neighbours who appear to have ‘invented’ a history of the house.

Our story developed further with the over-active mind of my mother – she believed the “old man” had dabbled in the occult after they found a broken up ouija board in our garden. I have investigated many other “haunted houses” and not analysed (enough) at how the witness related to their own, direct surroundings. It is to easy to say that a location is “haunted” because of the stereotypical reasons, but how many times do we say that it could be a case of psychology and local folklore?

David continues,

their neighbours certainly seem to have projected their concerns onto the house. The house had become a sort of psychic scapegoat. We can then get entangled in a chicken and egg situation. Rumours that a house is haunted could lead the family to turn normal ‘bumps’ and ‘bangs’ into a tormented ‘spirit’, and before you know it the entire family is convinced the house, which prior to the rumours everyone was happy to live in, is haunted.

And this is not a recent phenomenon. During my research of “ghost hunters” in Victorian Britain, many deserted houses were classed as being haunted with large crowds gathering nightly to witness the “ghost”. The famed case of “50 Berkeley Square” has it’s origins in a case of mistaken identity. During the 1870s when it was rented or used as a part-time residence, it slowly gained a reputation of being haunted – one that has stuck even until day. Yet in the 1890s, and also by the work of Jessie Adelaide Middleton, it was ascertained the property was inhabited during the time of the alleged appearances of “ghosts”.

I certainly plan on investigating further how the appearance of a house can affect the inhabitants, Most people know or have a story about a house that has bad luck, haunted or has a “strange feeling” – I would like to explore what aesthetics can enhance the witness’s thoughts to come to these decisions.

David’s article is well worth checking out – you can read it here:-

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