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SYFY WIRE ghosts

People are claiming more hauntings than ever in quarantine. What does that mean?

By Julie Tremaine
Haunted quarantine from Greg + Dana Newkirk

At a certain point this year, the year of never-ending bad news, it became hard to believe that anything else could go wrong. But then people started claiming that ghosts were, quite literally, coming out of the woodwork.

Both the para-friendly and people who are terrified of ghosts are reporting that they’re noticing hauntings in their homes like it’s the newest TikTok trend. There are so many ghosts popping up in homes — or at least, there’s so much more talk about supposed ghosts — that The New York Times reported on the trend in the spring, saying that people who had no existing belief in ghosts were seeing shadow figures, hearing strange noises, and sensing touches from invisible hands.

But why now?

Maybe the universe piled this one on when murder hornets didn’t become a big enough problem — but a better guess might be that it has something to do with the world's collective current level of stress, anxiety, anger, and grief. Who knows how that negativity could manifest, given that we’ve been producing it at such high levels for so long?

“We’re all just trying to be as chill as possible, when inside we’re screaming,” Amy Bruni, paranormal researcher and co-host of Kindred Spirits, tells SYFY WIRE. “People have been coming to me nonstop on social media saying their houses are more active, or that they think their house is haunted, but they never thought it was haunted before.”

Kandice S., who requested that SYFY WIRE not publish her last name because she’s a schoolteacher in a conservative school district, was one of those who left a comment to Bruni on social media. She says that she’s sensitive to contact from the dead, and there are so many more entities trying to make contact with her right now that she’s having trouble sleeping. “Pre-quarantine, I’d see or hear maybe five or six different entities a week,” she says. During the worst of the quarantine, that number was double — but she felt as though they were reaching out for a different reason than usual.

“The majority of activity during quarantine I’ve experienced is due to human emotion being at an all-time high and that stress leeching out to every area it can reach,” she says. “During the worst of it, I would get messages of concern or warning from those souls — generally looking-out messages, warning of what’s to come, warnings not to let my guard down.”

People who are inclined to believe in what’s beyond the veil think it might have to do with the fact that there are some complicated things happening at this moment in history. As a society, we are going through a trauma — one that has put us in a state where we have significantly less control of our lives, and which has no real end in sight.

“Historically, it’s after these tragic times that people start turning to the paranormal for answers,” Bruni says, adding that famous paranormal investigators like Hans Holzer or The Conjuring’s Ed and Lorraine Warren became popular in the wake of the Vietnam War. “I think that’s happening again now with this pandemic. I am hearing that so many people are having weird experiences in their homes, and they’re going to want answers.”

She believes that a contributing factor to this phenomenon of increased instances of alleged hauntings in homes is that people are confined to their own spaces and that they’re giving off a lot of negative energy. “Everyone is on edge,” Bruni says. “We’re never fully relaxed right now. We’re in this constant state of anxiety, and I think it’s perpetuating activity that’s already there.”

The other thing, though, is that we have had a lot more time in our homes than we’ve ever had before. Paranormal investigator Adam Berry, co-host of Kindred Spirits, thinks that stir-craziness has something to do with it, too — but it’s not just the living who are sick of isolation.

“I think the ghosts are just as tired as anyone else of [people] having to be at home all the time,” Berry tells SYFY WIRE. “They’re like, 'What are you doing here?' I think ghosts are feeling the same pressure. Your own energy is in your house all the time right now.” 

Empathy for ghosts might sound weird, but it’s the premise of Bruni and Berry’s paranormal show. On it, the pair try to communicate with the dead to help them articulate the messages they’re trying to give, or to help living people figure out why spirits are supposedly still present in a place.

As much as he believes that ghosts are real — and that they can just as easily feel and express emotions as living people can — Berry also sees a possibility that the rise in supposed paranormal sightings is just people mistaking weird noises for ghosts now that they’re home all the time. “Maybe you think it’s a ghost because you’re never at home to experience that kind of thing,” he says of unexplained sounds.

“Everything is running full blast,” Berry says, noting that quarantined people are probably using elements of their homes more, too. “The air conditioner is always on. Things are working overtime.”

The other crucial thing he points out: People are bored. Their imaginations could easily be running free with thoughts of things that go bump in the night. “People get so scared, and they get it in their heads that they’re in danger, and they think it’s the worst possible thing,” he says, “Which is understandable, because not knowing what it is [can be] scary.”

Not only could you imagine a ghost, but there’s a scientific precedent that you could put so much energy into the idea that you could actually create one, or so some parapsychologists claim.

In the Philip Experiment, one of the most famous paranormal studies ever conducted, a group of people attempted to create a ghost by hosting a seance for Philip Aylesford, a fictional soldier who “lived” in 17th-century England. By focusing their intention on this person, they allegedly manifested an actual presence in the room, which answered their questions with knocks and rapping noises. In the room, according to the recordings of the experiment, there were unexplained breezes and vibrations, and furniture moved on its own. Whether they were really experiencing something can only truly be known by the people in that room, though.

“You can actually manifest that stuff around you in intense and scary ways, and it is just completely, 100 percent you,” says paranormal researcher Dana Newkirk, who, with her husband Greg Newkirk, runs the Traveling Museum of the Paranormal and Occult.

However, there’s a less supernatural — and much more verifiable — explanation for what’s happening. There are mental states, including intense depression, that can make people think they’re seeing or hearing ghosts.

“Major depressive episodes can have psychotic episodes of visual or auditory hallucinations that seem absolutely real,” Sarah Coombs, a psychotherapist who has been on many paranormal investigations, tells SYFY WIRE. “Anyone can be depressed. If it’s severe enough, it can mess with your brain chemicals, and it can absolutely produce hallucinations."

Another thing that can produce those same effects? Grief. “Right now, we’re grieving the world that we once knew,” Coombs continues. “Who’s to say that won’t make us feel like we’re sensing more things? It does not surprise me that a lack of external stimuli would cause people to start focusing more within themselves.”

Coombs notes that ghosts — or the belief that you’re seeing ghosts — aren’t necessarily negative. “I’ve read several reports of increased paranormal activity in homes that is frightening to the experiencer, but I’ve also heard just as many stories of contact from entities like passed loved ones that are comforting and life-affirming,” she says. “The point is, we’re all just trying to make sense of a world we no longer recognize while being cut off from our usual, socially driven coping mechanisms for stress.”

Even beyond what our brains are consciously or unconsciously doing, it seems that the world itself could be helping us to manifest strange and seemingly scary things. 

Haunted quarantine from Greg + Dana Newkirk

“People who start to have paranormal experiences are typically in transition or in a transitionary state,” paranormal researcher Greg Newkirk says. Liminal spaces — places in an unfinished or unsettled state — tend to have proportionally more paranormal activity. So, he says, it makes sense that in a time when we are all collectively waiting for life to return to normal (or at least hoping it someday will) we’d be sensing more ghosts.

Because our emotions about the pandemic and the state of the world are at an all-time high, so, too, is that pervasive sense of being unsettled. “The world is more liminal than it's been in any of our lifetimes,” Greg explains. “Everything is filled with uncertainty, and we're all in this strange stasis with work, school, even how we get our entertainment. We're existing in a mental and emotional purgatory, which is a flashpoint for paranormal activity.

“Think about the situations that surround famous hauntings and you'll notice that they typically have a transitional element in common: half-built construction, kids going through puberty, and the classic — unfinished business,” he adds. “We're living in a period defined by liminality, and all of that emotional turmoil has created a gigantic ghost factory.”

But, he says, just because you believe there are ghosts in your house, there’s no reason to panic. Finding a routine that grounds you and brings you comfort will help you create normalcy and peace in your home. “Do yoga at the same time every day, have a regularly scheduled Zoom call with friends, eat family dinner around the table every night,” Greg says. “If you can create a healthy habit that normalizes your life, even in the smallest way, you'll likely find that your ghosts have hit the bricks.”

Kindred Spirits’ Berry has similar advice. “I would encourage people that if they hear something in their house, don’t be afraid,” he says. “Go look. A ghost is not going to kill you.”

“A person will, though,” he adds. “If it’s a person, be careful.”