I’m pleased to post this guest blog from my friend Micah Hanks. I know you will enjoy reading it.

What are ghosts? How can they be studied, or is there even merit to the study of paranormal occurrences that remain on the “fringe” in terms of their ability to be proven scientifically?

To say, precisely, what a ghost is would be about as simple as weighing the soul, something else that has been attempted in the past. The problem here, of course, is that in general terms, the idea of a “soul” is more like a concept—similar to human perception of time—and while we can seemingly perceive its effects, putting our finger on any physical, measurable quantity is more difficult to do. For now, I’ll leave you to think about that, as we’ll be coming back to the problems with saying, with certainty, what a ghost is in just a moment. 

It was my own interest in this subject, as well as some of the logical issues that arise from pondering what, exactly, a ghost may be, that led me to begin visiting The Reynolds Mansion, an antebellum bed and breakfast located in Asheville, North Carolina.

It remains one of the oldest buildings in the area and is a virtual treasure trove for the history buff or antique enthusiast. It is also a bit unusual, in that its present owners, Billy Sanders and Michael Griffith, have a particular penchant for the classic films of yesteryear, especially old horror films. Therefore, visitors to the Reynolds Mansion will find the building both tastefully and expertly decorated with the colors and styles ranging from the antebellum period to the present day, and yet interspersed within the mansion’s rooms and corridors, there are also quaint reminders of the owners’ interest in the macabre. Classic movie posters, statuettes and figurines, and in one instance, a pair of portraits hanging on the wall in the library on adjacent walls display the eerie visage of Barnabas Collins, the cryptic familial keeper of Collinwood on the popular 1960s soap opera “Dark Shadows,” along with his long-lost bride, Josette DuPress. 

And yet, rather strangely, while their interest in the unusual is obvious to any visitor, Sanders and Griffith are practical when it comes to their interpretation of ghostly phenomenon. During a recent visit, I recall asking Billy, who works as the innkeeper, whether he thought any ghosts actually resided there at all. “I prefer to think of them as being something energetic,” he told me. “For some reason, I have a hard time thinking there are just spirits of the dead wandering around Reynolds Mansion for all eternity.” 

The idea of what, precisely, a ghost is—or is not—is part of what initially attracted me to Reynolds Mansion. Granted, the home is very beautiful, and it boasts of southern splendor from every darkened corner and each of its cozy rooms. But there have been enough stories about the place, shared mostly by the guests who have visited there, which remind us of its alleged “haunting.” The Reynolds Mansion has no history of death, nor was it ever raided, ransacked, or razed during the Civil War. There was a significant renovation carried out around the turn of the last century by Nathaniel Augustus Reynolds, during which the mansion had an additional floor added, elevating the already very large Federal Style home to a three floor brick mansion.
Strangely, it is from this third floor where the majority of the ghostly activity seems to emanate. Psychics, paranormal investigators, and general curiosity seekers have come and gone, at the kind, though occasional allowance of Sanders and Griffith, reporting to have seen, felt, or otherwise determined the presence of a little girl who seems to reside there around the vicinity of what, today, is called Maggie’s Room. According to descriptions of the girl, based on what those who have seen her have related of her–manner of dress, how she wears her hair, and other attributes–some have suggested that she may be the spirit of Annie Lee Reynolds, one of the home’s former residents. 

During my research for what would become the book Reynolds Mansion: An Invitation to the Past, I uncovered

Annie Lee Reynolds

some rather interesting things about Miss Reynolds. For one, she had indeed made the Reynolds Mansion her home for most of her life, and curiously (especially for the period), she had never married. However, there were no horrible deaths, illness, or other reasons for an untimely demise; Annie Lee simply died of old age, and was later buried in the Reynolds family plot at Riverside Cemetery, just across town. 

While there is some history that has become interspersed into the legend of the Reynolds ghost, handed down from owner to owner over the years, it seems that the legend is perhaps just that: a legend, which borrowed here and there from convenient historical truths about the place in order to put together a story of mystery and intrigue. And of course, going into my research of the history—as well as the alleged haunting—at Reynolds Mansion, I had already armed myself with a few questions that I felt the mansion, if anything, might help me come to terms with. Seldom, for instance, does an investigator of the unexplained have what would amount to being a laboratory at their disposal for studying the location of an alleged haunting. And yet, with Reynolds Mansion, I knew that, if the stories were true, this might be, in essence, such a location where repeatability might come into question. In other words, if ghosts appeared here with any degree of frequency, then perhaps if the conditions were right I would be able to see one. 

Again, we come back to the question of what a ghost may actually be, and if people are actually seeing them at various old homes and other historic buildings around the world, what allows them to be seen? Is there energy behind their presence, and if so, why do images that seem to be in keeping with events of the past seem to “repeat” in such an environment? Another question would be whether a ghost is always just a replaying of past events, or if it is sentient and capable of interacting with its environment, or even with people in the present day. 

Most of the encounters people had described at Reynolds Mansion occurred in one of two ways: people either claimed to see what looked like a spirit that was oblivious to anyone nearby (i.e. the witnesses), or people had described having impressions during dreams that seemed to indicate that a presence had tried to communicate with them. For instance, one woman had described that she dreamed, while sleeping in the former master bedroom of Daniel Reynolds, who built the mansion in 1847 as a family home, that a man had been standing by the bed, and arguing that the door between this room and the library adjacent to it must remain open. The door in question remains closed at all times now, since the master bedroom, now called Guest Room Lila, is a room which visitors can rent and stay in. According to Sanders, the door was traditionally always kept open, since Daniel Reynolds had liked to have direct access to his library in the next room. Even today, this room remains a library, although the door between the two areas has been bolted shut, to keep the door from mysteriously opening itself. 

It would be difficult to confirm whether anything could be verified based on what people claim to dream about while staying at Reynolds Mansion.

But with regard to ghosts that people actually see in the physical sense, it has long been understood that these “ghosts” are the spirits of dead people; in other words, their souls somehow manage to live on after the time of death. Furthermore, after they die, these individual souls, obviously represented by some kind of energy that allows them to manifest on occasion, remain in the “haunted” environment, and are capable of being studied by paranormal investigators armed with fancy gadgets like electromagnetic field detectors, laser temperature gauges, and other equipment.

For all you or I know, this may indeed be the case. But after spending a lot of time poring over the manner in which ghosts and hauntings are studied by modern paranormal investigators, I feel that it has become a matter of necessity that we reconsider a few things. For instance, as I mentioned earlier, the soul is something that many of us feels is a tangible thing, although it is obviously intangible enough that we can’t account for it beyond being, in essence, a philosophical concept that is somewhat attached to the notion of consciousness—something else we can’t fully explain. Ghost hunters will often state that the disembodied soul is what a ghost is… but if we understand so little of the soul, how can we label or explain what a ghost is by evoking another uncertainty? 

A similar logical problem occurs when we begin to describe how EMF meters and similar devices are used to study ghosts. For instance, one popular model, the TriField EMF Meter, can detect the bio-field produced by a living organism, and will react to it with an audible signal. In the past, I’ve observed ghost hunters in a haunted environment place one of these devices on a flat surface, adjust it so that it will detect the electrical field produced by an organic living body, and then move away from it, waiting for some invisible energy to interact with it, and thus proving that a ghost is nearby. In these instances, it should be fairly clear that the energy field a living body produces requires a physical presence in order for the meter to respond; in the absence of a physical body to produce such a field, what kind of energy would be capable of interacting with the device?

It must also be noted that there are indeed “invisible” energies that can interact with an EMF detector. These range from geomagnetic fluctuations, to simple electrical current emanating from electrical wiring and power outlets. In some instances, based on the source of the electrical field, these energies can appear to move about, and can and will often interact with the different settings on a device like a TriField EMF meter in what appears to be an anomalous way. But fundamentally, if we can’t put our finger on what a soul actually is (let alone prove its existence), it becomes difficult to use this as a justification for what a ghost is, and for what produces the varieties of energy detectable with a device like an EMF meter. 

At Reynolds Mansion, bearing all this in mind, I chose instead to look solely at the evidence that could be afforded me from the historical record, as well as what family members, visitors, and employees at the mansion could tell me about the nature of the alleged haunting. Using flashy meters and advanced-looking gadgets may give the practice of “ghost hunting” a more aesthetic appeal. At times they may even be useful for determining various things about the environment that are naturally occurring, which could contribute to the appearance of a haunting. But in my experience, using such devices does very little in terms of helping us to actually understand, scientifically, what is underlying the apparent presence of what, culturally, we have come to call “ghosts.” 

Despite the progress we seem to have made over the last few decades in the study of spirituality and the unexplained, it seems that the more we learn, the less we know. I feel, very strongly, that not every person who claims to see a ghost is simply a liar or publicity seeker. If there is indeed some validity behind people’s stories of encounters with strange apparitions that appear to be from the past, this is obviously an area of the natural world that begs further inquiry… but we can’t rely on the unprovable in order to find answers to other mysteries that continue to “haunt” us, pun intended. However, as Doyle’s character Sherlock Holmes had once argued, once you eliminate the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth. Within the science of ghost hunting, we are still looking for that improbable truth, and with any luck, we’ll continue to whittle away at the impossibilities that surround it, with intent on cracking this nut in the years to come. 

Micah Hanks is a writer, researcher, lecturer, and radio personality whose work addresses a variety of scientific concepts and unexplained phenomena. Over the last decade, his research has examined a variety of approaches to studying the unexplained, cultural phenomena, human history, and the prospects of our technological future as a species as influenced by science.

He is author of several books, including Magic, Mysticism and the Molecule, Reynolds Mansion: An Invitation to the Past, and his 2012 New Page Books release, The UFO Singularity.

Hanks is an executive editor of “Intrepid Magazine,” and consulting editor/contributor for “FATE Magazine” and “The Journal of Anomalous Sciences.” He also writes for a variety of other publications including “UFO Magazine,” “Mysterious Universe,” and “New Dawn.” Hanks has appeared on numerous TV and radio programs, including “Coast to Coast AM with George Noory,” “Whitley Strieber’s Dreamland,” National Geographic’s “Paranatural,” the History Channel’s “Guts and Bolts,” CNN Radio, “The Jeff Rense Program,” and many others. A weekly podcast that follows his research is available at his popular Website, Hanks lives in the heart of Appalachia near Asheville, North Carolina.


I am pleased to post this guest blog from my friend and colleague Dr. Andrew Nichols. I know you will find it a fascinating article!

The Phantom Zone: Altered States and Paranormal Experiences

FAUST: “Come, I think hell’s a fable.”                                                                             MEPHISTOPHELES: “Aye, think so still, till experience change thy mind.”                                                                 

Christopher Marlowe – Doctor Faustus

As a parapsychologist I am often asked if I have ever been really frightened during an investigation.  I have certainly spent many nights in dark cellars, dusty attics and deserted European castles, but I can honestly say that I have rarely experienced anything which I found particularly scary. I have personally witnessed apparitions and poltergeist activity on several occasions, and although these experiences were startling and fascinating, I never regarded them as personally threatening.  Most haunting investigations are rather tedious, and involve hours and hours of waiting for something…anything, to happen.  However, some years ago I suffered a particularly terrifying sleep-related experience following my investigation of a poltergeist disturbance. 

The case involved the phenomena typically associated with such events; unexplained movement of objects, percussive sounds emanating from the walls and ceiling of the home, and (somewhat unusual) sightings of amorphous, shadowy apparitions. The ‘epicenter’ of the phenomena appeared to be an 11 year-old girl with emotional problems. The family believed their home was haunted by a “demon.”  In view of subsequent events, I am forced to admit that the family’s simple religious explanation may be closer to the truth than my ‘scientific’ one.

I have investigated a number of such cases during my four decades of psychic research, and – like most academically-oriented parapsychologists – had always tended to attribute such disturbances to unconscious projection of paranormal energies from a human agent, described in parapsychological jargon as recurrent spontaneous psychokinesis (RSPK).  My experience with this case led me to seriously reconsider the ‘spirit hypothesis’ as a possible explanation for some haunting and poltergeist cases, and to re-evaluate certain cases of alleged ‘demonic possession’ as well.

I had gone to bed along with my wife after a day of investigation at the home of the poltergeist-infested family. Some time in the early morning I ‘awakened’ to find myself in the midst of an out-of-body experience. I found myself floating face down about four feet above my physical body. I could clearly see the details of my sleeping body below, lying on my back, and my wife sleeping on her side facing away from me. I had a couple of OBEs previously, but none as vivid as this one.  I was delighted, and wanted to maintain this wonderful sensation as long as possible. As I hovered there in mid-air, I was contemplating an attempt at ‘astral-travel’ to discover if I could project my etheric body to some distant location. At that moment, the experience turned into a terrifying struggle for my sanity, and – corny as it sounds – my soul.

Unexpectedly, the eyes of my sleeping body below me opened. The eyes (my eyes!) were completely black. No pupils, no iris, no sclera. Just pools of blackness staring up at me. I knew instantly that those eyes could seeme, although I was also certain that my floating astral body would have been invisible to anyone else standing nearby.  I knew with absolute certainty that something had taken possession of my body, and that the thing – whatever it was – could see me perfectly well. My body below grinned at me. It seemed to be enjoying my terror, and I was instantly aware of two things: first, I knew I had to get back into my body very quickly, or I would be forever displaced by this entity which, I had absolutely no doubt, was evil. Somehow (telepathy?) I also knew that this thing intended to harm my wife. 

I began to struggle to re-enter my body, and the feeling was like pushing against an invisible barrier, similar to the feeling one gets when trying to force two magnets of opposing polarity together. This struggle to reincorporate myself was the last thing I remembered until I suddenly found myself back in my physical body. Except I was no longer lying supine in bed, but was crouching over my wife with my hands around her throat as she fought to break my grip, screaming at me to “wake up!”

After we both regained some degree of composure, I explained to her what I had experienced, and she described her version of the story. She was awakened by the sounds of me groaning and muttering what sounded like a foreign language which she did not recognize. She assumed I was having a nightmare, and when she tried to awaken me, I attacked her, my eyes wide open and apparently growling at her like a rabid dog. She said that the voice which emanated from my body was deep and gravelly, totally unlike my own, and the expression on my face she described as “leering and hateful.” My attack only lasted for a few seconds before I came to myself again.  Now, my wife is no shrinking violet. She has for many years suffered a husband who spends his time ‘chasing spooks’, but this was really too much! She informed me sternly that if my episode had lasted for a few more moments, she would have treated me to a broken nose. To this day I am amazed that I didn’t land in jail, find myself hauled into divorce court, or at least spend the rest of my married life sleeping on the couch. However, my long-suffering spouse seemed to take the experience in stride, although I assure you she slept with one eye open for some time afterwards. Thank God there have been no recurrences of this condition of ‘possession.’

So, was I actually ‘possessed’ by some dark spirit? I am a long way from being convinced, although I confess I can’t dismiss the possibility either. I can’t state with scientific certainty that this experience was anything other than a particularly vivid and horrific nightmare. I have no witnesses other than my wife, and no evidence that this was anything other than subjective.  Certainly my psychologist colleagues would dismiss the incident as a dream – a variation of the ‘night-terror’ syndrome, possibly induced by anxiety associated with my involvement with the poltergeist case. Psychoanalysts would probably also speculate that repressed hostility toward my wife was at the root of the experience. I cannot offer any evidence to contradict these explanations, but the experience was so terrifying, so real, that I can’t help wondering if the Spiritualists’ interpretation of possession is closer to the truth. Their conclusions are drawn from centuries of practical experience, unlike the armchair savants of academia and other self-appointed arbiters of reality.

My purpose in relating this personal anecdote is to illustrate several important points about the nature of paranormal experiences. First, such experiences are inherently transformative.In my case, my tendency to ascribe most such experience to purely psychological factors has significantly decreased. Although I still believe that many paranormal experiences have conventional explanations, I am far more prepared to accept seemingly spiritistic phenomena at face value, even if the bulk of the evidence is subjective eyewitness testimony. I have never been particularly religious, and I can’t say that this experience has converted me to a regular church attendee. However, I am far less skeptical than I once was, and I believe my ability to assist my clients who are experiencing paranormal occurrences has been enhanced by my ordeal.  Whether my case constitutes actual spirit possession is questionable. But I have no doubt that my experiencewas identical to that of possession as reported throughout history.

The second important point illustrated by my experience is the crucial role played by altered states of consciousness in paranormal-type experiences. I was asleep prior to the onset of my experience, which naturally would lead the skeptics to attribute this event to dream-imagery. Western science – grounded in philosophical materialism – regards dreaming as a type of hallucinatory experience (i.e. false sensory perceptions); a type of drama orchestrated by the subconscious mind during sleep. However, mystical and occult traditions have always asserted that dreaming is a gateway to alternate realities, and a means by which discarnate spirits communicate with humans. To most scientists this stance is regarded as superstitious nonsense, but there is persuasive evidence from parapsychology to support the claim that dreams and related states are more than just the product of brain physiology.

For decades, the best evidence for psi (ESP) from the laboratories of experimental parapsychologists has been obtained through the use of a mild sensory-deprivation technique known as Ganzfeld. This method induces a state of consciousness similar to hypnagogic states experienced at the onset of sleep, or hypnopompic states experienced while awakening, a type of ‘waking dream.’ This suggests that such altered states may be conducive to actual paranormal experiences – by allowing our minds to tap into alternate realities, perhaps even the ‘astral plane’ of occult tradition. 

Another line of evidence comes from case studies of reported paranormal experiences. It is evident that the bulk of paranormal experiences occur during nocturnal dreaming or similar states such as the twilight zone of hypnagogia described above. Even psychic phenomena which occur with the percipient wide awake often seem to be associated with a state of reverie (daydreaming), when the conscious mind is occupied with some habitual and repetitive task, such as washing dishes or folding clothes. All of us experience such altered states fairly regularly, including the type of dissociation known as ‘highway hypnosis’ experienced while driving an automobile.

These facts emphasize the importance of carefully considering the role of altered states of consciousness in paranormal experiences of all kinds. Some paranormal investigators feel that this undermines the case for such experiences being ‘real’ rather than imaginary. This is not the case. It is quite possible for paranormal experiences to be subjective and genuinely anomalous. My approach to psychic phenomena these days is from the perspective of ‘humanistic parapsychology’, which acknowledges the meaning and value of subjective experiences, and is less reliant on scientific standards of evidence demanded by mainstream scientific method and laboratory-based experimental parapsychologists. Unlike laboratory experiments, the human psyche is not subject to mathematical laws.


Dr. Andrew Nichols is Director of the American Institute of Parapsychology, and has been a professor of psychology for many years. He holds a doctorate degree in clinical psychology and is the author, co-author or editor of more than fifty research papers, popular articles and books on paranormal topics, including Ghost Detective: Adventures of a Parapsychologist (2004, Cosmic Pantheon Press, Harper’s Ferry, WV), Haunted Houses(2006, Capstone Press, Mankato, MN), and Ghosts, Spirits, & Hauntings (2011, New Page Books, Pompton Plains, NJ). Andrew has investigated more than 600 cases of reported haunted houses and poltergeists, and in 1999 was co-recipient of the only academic grant ever awarded to study hauntings, awarded by the Psychological Institute of the University of Freiburg, Germany. Andrew currently lives in Gainesville Florida, where he maintains a private practice in parapsychology, providing counseling for individuals experiencing psychic or paranormal occurrences.

NOTE: There is an entire chapter devoted to Dr. Nichols and his work in John Kachuba’s book, Ghosthunters: On the Trail of Mediums, Dowsers, Spirit Seekers and Other Investigators of America’s Paranormal World.