Paranormal Glossary: 60 Terms Every Ghost Hunter Should Know

December 13, 2021 1:00 AM ‐ Ghost HuntingParanormalLong Reads
Ghost Hunting At Southport's Botanic Gardens Museum
A glossary of ghost hunting terminology including 60 paranormal, occult and supernatural terms that every paranormal investigator should know.

This jargon-busting page covers everything from psychic mediums, through to demonology and the common technical language you'll hear on ghost hunts such as the name of ghost-hunting gadgets, methods and techniques.

Although the paranormal terms listed in this glossary are commonly used, their inclusion in this list is not an endorsement of that particular method, piece of equipment or branch of the paranormal, neither is it a reflection on its credibility. The list is purely intended to help you understand these common words and phrases.

1. Apparition

An apparition is the term used to describe a visible embodiment of the spirit of a dead person or animal. Also called a ghost. An apparition isn't limited to vision of dead people, it's rare but on occasions there has been witness reports of people seeing ghosts of the living.

2. Apport

An apport is when an object is transferred from one place to another through a non-understood paranormal method. Apports are often associated with poltergeist activity or séances, but can also result in objects appearing from nowhere during investigations, often this is coins - the phenomenon of "pennies from Heaven."

3. Astral Projection

Astral projection is the claim that a person can intentional induce an out-of-body experience allowing their "astral body" to travel elsewhere in the universe leaving their physical body behind.

4. Automatic Writing

Automatic writing is a method of communication which is similar to a Ouija board. It involves a medium or participant holding a pen and letting spirits take control of their hand in order to write an answers to questions or relay a message. A specially adapted planchette may also be used by one individual or a group of people. A pen is placed into this planchette which is able to slide freely across a piece of paper.

5. Calling Out

Calling out or asking out is the act of speaking aloud in an attempt to encourage any spirits that might be present to communicate with you. The classic ghost hunter's trope is, "hello, is anybody there?" The idea is to ask a question or encourage them to give you a sign they can hear you, then listen for a response - either a physical movement or sound, or a response via a ghost hunting gadget.

6. Cat Balls

Cat Ball Paranormal Detection Ghosts

Pet toys can be used on paranormal investigations as trigger objects. The type most commonly used are plastic balls that are designed to light up and flash to entertain cats and dogs when they are played with. On an investigation these pet toys are placed on the floor or a flat surface in the hopes that a spirit may interact with it causing it to light up.

7. Cold Spots

It's believed that unexplained cold spots and sudden significant temperature drops are a sign a spirit being present. You should be aware of not only cold spots in a haunted location, but also unexplained hot or warm areas as this too might indicate a supernatural presence.

8. Demon

Demonic hauntings are said to be caused by non-human entities. Unlike ghosts or spirits, demons were never human, they have never been alive and have only ever existed purely as malevolent energy, which is intent on causing suffering to those that it haunts. Some traditions go as far as to say that demons may not even be from our plain of existence, instead believing them to be entities that have survived from a former universe, or have found a way to cross over from a parallel universe. Demons are closely related to imps.

9. Demonology

Demonology, as practiced by a demonologist, is the study of demons or demonic beliefs. Protection and eradication is a major part of a demonologist's role.

10. Direct Voice Phenomenon (DVP)

Direct voice phenomenon is the experience of hearing audible, disembodied voices that are heard during paranormal investigations, séances or at a haunted location. These voices are spoken directly to the witnesses and heard without electronic equipment.

11. Dowsing Rods

Dowsing is a technique which is usually used to locate ground water, but is also used in an attempt to communicate with the dead. Paranormal investigators generally use a pair of simple L-shaped metal rods, one is held in each hand, with the short arm of the L held upright, and the long arm pointing forward. You need to hold your arms as still as possible and ask the spirits questions. You could ask them to indicating an answer by moving the tips of the rods closer together, further apart or two point the rods in a specific direction.

12. Dybbuk Box

A dybbuk box is said to be a box which contains an evil or malevolent spirit, or even a demon. A genuine dybbuk is usually very old, often an antique wooden box which is sealed using melted wax to keep whatever's inside from getting out.

13. Ectoplasm

Ectoplasm has been immortalised as a slimy substance of supernatural origin in popular culture, but the phenomenon dates back to the Victorian era when mediums would produce reams of ectoplasm as part of their elaborate shows. The ectoplasm started off transparent or even invisible, but as it was charged with psychic energy by the medium it would become visible and more of a physical substance, which was white in colour. Ghosts would then drape this over their ethereal bodies to give them a corporeal form.

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14. Electronic Voice Phenomenon (EVP)

Audio Recorder EVP

Electronic voice phenomenon is the mysterious sound of disembodied human-like voices of unknown origin that are heard through electronic devices. They are usually heard in the form of sounds imprinted on an audio recording or through radio noise.

15. Elemental

An elemental is a non-human entity that originates from occult and alchemical works that date back as far as the time of the European Renaissance. They are often associated with nature and the four classical elements, for example a gnome which is associated with earth, with other elementals being linked to water, air and fire.

16. EMF Meter

K-ii EMF Meter On A Ouija Board

An electromagnetic frequency meter is a common piece of ghost hunting kit, with the recognisable K-II EMF meter being one of the most popular ghost hunting gadgets of all. The device is simple to use with nothing more than a single power button. Once turned on it will alert you to spikes in the ambient electromagnetic field, giving instant via five coloured LED lights. It's said that this EM spike could be a sign of spirit manifestation or spirit interaction.

17. Entity

An entity is an umbrella or catch-all term for any kind of supernatural or paranormal being, this could countless things including ghosts, spirit, poltergeist, elemental, imps, fae and demon.

18. Estes Method

The Estes Method is a type of sensory deprivation experiment that is designed to eliminate the subjectivity of the investigator by cutting them off from all external stimuli. This usually involves placing a blindfold and noise-cancelling headphones on one member of an investigation team to cut off their senses, then the audio output of a ghost hunting devices is played through the headphones. The rest of the team then call out to the spirits and ask questions. If any responses are heard through the ghost hunting device the team will not be able to hear it, however the blindfolded participant will, but since they won't be able to hear their fellow investigators their perception of these responses won't be influenced by the questions being asked.

19. Exorcism

Exorcisms are an ancient religious or spiritual ritual which are performed across many different religions and cultures in order to evict demons and other malevolent entities from a person or to end a spiritual attachment or possession.

20. Fae

In folklore a fae refers to a fairy, a type of supernatural entity.

21. Full Spectrum Camera

A full spectrum camera is just like an ordinary camera, but as the name suggests it can see the full light spectrum, including light in the infrared and ultraviolet frequencies that the human eye can't see. There are obvious advantages to having a camera that can see more than the naked eye when ghost hunting, not to mention the fact that when paired with an infrared light source the camera acts as a night vision camera.

22. Geophone

A geophone measures movement in the surface it is sat on an indicates its intensity through a display of lights or audible tones. On a ghost hunt it can alert investigators to knocks, bangs and movement, especially those which are too small or subtle to hear. The geophone is useful as it can be placed a long distance away, investigators can still see if its lights flash despite being too far away to hear or feel a sound or vibration.

23. Ghost

Ghost On Stairs

It's generally accepted that a ghost is the soul or spirit of a dead person or animal that can has manifested into a physical, or at least visible apparition, that can be seen by the living. These apparitions may appear to be solid or translucent. Dark figures, although technically a ghost, are more often referred to as shadow figures. The word ghost is often used as a more broad term to describe the supernatural entity behind any haunting.

24. Human Pendulum

For this method of spirit communication, one person is picked to stand in the middle of the room and close their eyes. The rest of the group then ask any spirits that night be present to push or move the person, you'll often find that the person starts to sway. You can ask the spirits to make them sway left and right for yes, or back and forth for no - or variations on this.

25. Hydromancy

Hydromancy is a method of divination by means of water, it is sometimes used by ghost hunters in a similar way to mirror scrying, which involves looking for shapes and patterns on the surface of the water and the ripples.

26. Infrasound

Infrasound is very low frequency sound below the human range of hearing. It's not paranormal in nature, but these low frequency vibrations can cause people to have experiences similar to those associated with the paranormal. This can include feeling discomfort, disorientation, or panicked, as well as having an increased heart rate and blood pressure. In extreme cases infrasound has been linked to feelings of depression, a general feeling of unease, as well as visions like apparitions.

27. Instrumental Trans-Communication (ITC)

Instrumental trans-communication is an umbrella term which refers to all forms of spirit communication using any kind of electrical instrument, the best known method of ITC is EVP, which is a small subset of the wider topic of ITC. ITC encompasses any communication between the living and spirits or other supernatural entities through any electronic device, this can be anything from tape recorders through to computers, and in more recent years ghost hunting gadgets such as smartphone apps.

28. Intelligent Haunting

The type of characteristics associated with intelligent haunting, also known as interactive hauntings, includes entities being self aware and aware of their surroundings. They are also aware of the living and responsive to communication attempts, this can include intelligible communication in the form of EVPs, through ghost hunting gadgets such as spirit boxes or Ouija boards, or by leaving messages. Intelligent haunting may also manifest in the form of audible voices, intelligent and responsive knocking, physical experiences such as being touched, pushed or scratched, and objects being moved with intent.

29. Laser Grid

Laser Grid Ghost Detection

A laser pointer or laser pen can be used to detect motion in the darkness during a paranormal investigation. To do so a simple light-scattering filter is attached to a laser pointer, this causes the laser to split into multiple beams, creating a grid-like pattern of dots which spreads across the walls, floor and ceiling and if anything moves in front of the laser you will see a shift or discrepancy in the grid.

30. Lone Vigil

A lone vigil involves one investigator being sent to haunted location or a specific part of a haunted location on their own in order to embark on an investigation, often this involves sitting and waiting for paranormal activity to occur.

31. Manifestation

When a spirit or ghost manifests it becomes a physical in some way producing the tactile, auditory, olfactory or visual signs of a haunting. When a manifestation is visual the entity often takes human-like form.

32. Near-Death Experience (NDE)

A near-death experience occurs when someone returns from being close to death. It often involves feelings of detachment from the body, levitation or floating towards the ceiling and away from the body, and the sensation of moving towards a bright light.

33. Necromancy

This is any magic or black magic practice which is relates to death, either through divination or the act of raising the dead body. It also includes the practice of communicating with the dead, especially in order to predict the future, bring someone back from the dead or to use the dead as a weapon.

34. Night Vision

A night vision camera uses an active source of illumination in the near infrared band, often in the form of an external top light mounted on the camera. This type of light is just outside of the visible spectrum of the human eye, but it can be picked up by the camera's sensor. It will produce a bright monochrome image, either with a greenish-tint or black and white, despite the fact the scene appears dark to the naked eye.

35. Orbs

Some believe that these floating ghost lights which glow in the dark are evidence of spirit presence, or even the early stages of a ghostly manifestation. However, orbs are actually nothing more than the result of the camera's flash or light illuminating dust particles that are drifting close to the lens. The compact design of modern camera means that the lens is much closer to the flash and this is to blame from orbs. The photography experts at Fujifilm describes the artefacts as a "common photographic problem".

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36. Ouija Board

Ouija Board

Ouija boards, also known as spirit boards, talking boards, or séance boards, have been a popular method of spirit communication since Victorian times. Ouija boards are usually wooden, they have the letters of the alphabet marked on them, numbers zero to nine. Participants must each place a finger lightly on a planchette in the hopes that a spirit will then guide it across the board in order to spell out words or phrases.

37. Out-Of-Body Experience (OBE)

An out-of-body experience is when a person voluntarily attempts to leave their body or feels that they have left their body through involuntary means allowing them to perceives the world from a point of view outside of their physical body.

38. Pareidolia

Pareidolia is our subconscious tendency to perceive a familiar or meaningful vision or sound in random patterns or noise. This could be seeing the image of a man on the surface of the moon, shapes in cloud formations, and even the image of Jesus on a piece of toast or the Shroud of Turin. This quirk of the brain explains many ghost sightings in which the witnesses incorrectly perceives a face or figure that simply doesn't exist. Pareidolia isn't contained to just vision, the brain also deals with sounds in the same way causing us to hear human voices in random noise, this explains away many EVPs and voices heard through spirit boxes.

39. Pendulum

In order to contact spirits using a pendulum, you need to allow the pendulum to hang while holding the other end between two fingers. Then call out to the spirits and encourage them to interact with the pendulum. You can suggest that the spirit tries moving the pendulum in order to answer your questions. Encourage it to swinging the pendulum back and forth to indicate "yes," or left to right to indicate "no." You can also ask for the pendulum to be moved in either a clockwise or anticlockwise motion.

40. Planchette

A planchette is the wooden or plastic pointer that is used with a Ouija board, it is this flat object that participants place thier fingers on in the hopes it will slide around the board. Alternatively an upturned glass can be used as a planchette. Other variants of planchettes include the option to attach a pen to facilitate automatic writing.

41. Poltergeist

Poltergeist hauntings are often described as being violent, threatening, and malevolent. This type of haunting is characterised by physical movement as well as the manipulation of the environment around the spirit. The word poltergeist means "noisy ghost" from the German "poltern geist." Poltergeists activity can include objects being thrown or moved, foul smells, turning lights or appliances on or off, and producing growls, screams and other loud noises. On rare occasions it's been reported that poltergeists have intentionally attacked people by pushing, hitting, biting or scratching them.

42. Portal

A paranormal portal, sometimes referred to as an energy vortex or simply vortex, is believed to be a gateway to another plane of existence through which our physical realm and the spirit realm meet allowing spirits and other supernatural entities to pass through into our world. Probably the most common belief surround portals is that mirrors can act as a windows to the spirit realm.

43. Possession

A demonic or spirit possession is a concept that exists in many cultures and religions, it's believed to happen when a person is either voluntary or involuntary invaded by a supernatural entity which takes them over, meaning the person is no longer in complete control their own thoughts, actions and speech. A less severe or temporary form of possession is referred to as a "spirit walk-in" whereas in extreme cases a possession can lead to an exorcism being performed.

44. Psychic Mediums

Psychic Abilities

A psychic is a person who claims to be gifted with extrasensory perception enabling them to obtain information that shouldn't ordinarily be available to them. Not all psychics are mediums, those who are have fined-tuned their ability to allow them to talk to the spirit world. Mediumship can be broken to into further subsets:
Clairaudience - the ability to hear spirit voices
Clairvoyance - the ability to see spirits or insight from the spirit world
Clairsentience - an awareness of emotions from the spirit world
Claircognizance - the ability to acquire knowledge from the spirit world

45. Psychokinesis

Psychokinesis or telekinesis is alleged supernatural ability allowing a person to move or otherwise influence a physical object without physical interaction.

46. REM-Pod

REM-Pod

The REM-Pod, or radiating electromagnetism pod, is named based on it operation. It radiates its own electromagnetic field from a telescopic antenna and can detect fluctuations in the field if a conductive material enters into it. The device will flash a light and give an audio alert if something moves in or out of its field.

47. Residual Haunting

A type of haunting said to be caused by residual energy. This is where the witness is seeing, sensing or experiencing the imprint of the lingering psychic or emotional energy of a person or an event that took place at that location in the past. For this reason, residual hauntings are sometimes called place memories. Often this is said to be someone who suffered a tragic traumatic premature death, a murder, suicide or execution. As residual hauntings represent nothing more than a reflection of the past, you can't communicate with them.

48. Scrying

Scrying can be performed with any mirror, but often a purpose-made black scrying mirror is used or even the reflection in the surface of a bowl of water. The technique involves gazing into the mirror, it's said that if a paranormal entity is present they can affect what you see and the vision of your face in the mirror will change or transform into theirs.

49. Séance

In a séance the participants, or sitters, attempt to contact the dead, it became popular in the late 17th century during the rise of the spiritualism movement. Séances often involve sitting around a table in the darkness and sometimes involve the use of a psychic medium.

50. Shadow Figure

The experience of seeing a dark shadowy figure or shadow person. It is often described as a dark silhouette of a humanoid figure that flickers in and out of peripheral vision and is usually seen out of the corner of the eye.

51. SLS Camera

SLS cameras work by projecting an invisible infrared laser grid over a wide field of view. The grid is made up of over one million tiny dots. This structured grid of laser dots is what gives the device its name SLS, or Structured Light Sensor. The camera's sensor is able to calculate the distance between these dots in order to build a three dimensional model of its view. The camera's software has the ability to recognise and highlight human figures by detecting limbs and movement, a technology developed by the gaming industry called "skeletal movement tracking". Any figures it detects are highlighted by overlaying a bright green stickman, which is why the device is sometimes called an SLS Stickman Camera.

52. Spirit

Unlike ghosts, spirits aren't visible to the living. The term is usually used to describe the non-physical consciousness or soul of a dead person. It is this disembodied intelligence that investigators believe they are usually communicating with as part of a paranormal investigation or when using tools such as Ouija boards, EVP recorders and various other ghost hunting gadgets.

53. Spirit Box

Spirit Box Ghost Box Paranormal ITC Tool

Sometimes called a Ghost Box, a spirit box is a popular tool that rapidly scan through the AM or FM radio spectrum, or a combination of the two. As the box sweeps through the spectrum you are likely to hear fleeting bursts of white noise and static, but also radio broadcasts. It's believed that spirits can make their voices heard amongst these burst of noise.

54. Spirit Photography

A field of photography which aims to capture images of ghosts or apparitions in the shot, usually as part of ghost hunts or in haunted locations. The principles are very old, dating back to the 19th century and as cameras have to got better and more advanced, so have the photos of spirits. Even modern smartphones can be used to capture spirits. While spirit photography is a bit of an art form for some, for most it's just a chance happening as many ghosts in photographs are caught unintentionally.

55. Stone Tape Theory

Stone tape theory, or atmospheric photograph theory, is said to be responsible for hauntings in which witnesses report seeing replays of past events and is closely linked to the idea of residual energy. It is speculated that a human's energy or emotions are captured and recorded in the stone of a building. It is then said to replay to those who are sensitive to it, when the atmospheric conditions are the same, or on the anniversary of the event.

56. Table Tipping

Table tipping, also known as table turning or table tilting, dates back to Victorian times. The technique generally involves the uses of a light and rickety table which is easy to rotate or tilt. Participants then sit or stand around the table, place their fingers on the surface and wait for it to move. These movement is said to be the spirit communicating.

57. Thermal Imaging Cameras

Thermal Imaging Camera Paranormal

Thermal imaging cameras are a useful piece of photographic equipment that visualises infrared radiation on a screen to show areas of heat. Because thermal imaging cameras capture the heat being radiated by an object, instead of visible light, they give the user an indication of the temperature of everything within the camera's field of view.

58. Trigger Object

Trigger objects are items that can be placed down on an investigation in the hopes that a ghost or spirit will interact with it. A trigger object can be anything from balls, a bunch of keys, a child's toy, a marble or just about anything else. It's common to select a trigger object which is relevant to the location for example a teddy bear in an old orphanage or a bunch of keys in a prison.

59. Vigil

In ghost hunting a vigil refers to a period of time spent on an active investigation focussed on one particular area, often this involves sitting and waiting for paranormal activity to occur. A ghost hunt is often made up of multiple vigils, this could be vigils at different locations in the buildings, vigils involving different team members, or even lone vigils in which one investigator spends time in an area alone.

60. Word Bank Communication

Communicating with spirits using apps and devices that are pre-loaded with word banks has become commonplace in recent years. Many of the devices use electronic speech synthesis to speak out, or simply display, words or phrases from a list stored within its software. Others randomly output the phonics that make up words. Supposedly spirits can affect the random nature of these devices using its atmospheric sensors to produce or form the words they are trying to communicate. Some common tools based on this technology include the Ovilus range of devices, EchoVox, ParaTek, and Portal

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