How do you know if that persistent rapping on your walls is bad plumbing or a mischievous spirit? Here are some of the signs of a haunting:
You hear heavy footsteps in the upstairs hallway when you know no one is up there. Doors slam unaccountably. Commonly used items disappear and reappear without cause. The kitchen light turns on by itself. There's the unmistakable scent of a strange perfume in the air.
These may be indications that your house is haunted. True hauntings are rare occurrences, and it may be difficult to determine whether or not any strange phenomena you are experiencing in your home might be due to a haunting. For one thing, no one really knows what a "real" haunting is - what causes it or why it starts.
The first step is to determine, as best you can, whether or not you truly have a legitimate case of a haunting. Not all hauntings are alike, and they may exhibit a variety of phenomena. Some hauntings feature a single phenomenon - such as a particular door slamming shut that occurs repeatedly - while others consist of many different phenomena, ranging from odd noises to full-blown apparitions.
Here's a partial list of phenomena that might indicate that your house is haunted:
Unexplained noises - footsteps; knocks, banging, rapping; scratching sounds; sounds of something being dropped. Sometimes these noises can be subtle and other times they can be quite loud.
Doors, cabinets and cupboards opening and closing - most often, these phenomena are not seen directly. The experiencer either hears the distinct sounds of the doors opening and closing (homeowners get to know quite well the distinctive sounds their houses make) or the experiencer will return to a room to find a door open or closed when they are certain that it was left in the opposite position. Sometimes furniture, like kitchen chairs, are perceived to have been moved. Very rarely will the experiencer actually witness the phenomenon taking place.
Lights turning off and on - likewise, these events are seldom seen actually occurring, but the lights are switched on or off when the experiencer knows they were not left that way. This can also happen with TVs, radios and other electrically powered items.
Items disappearing and reappearing - this phenomenon, which we have dubbed"the DOPler Effect" (DOP = Disappearing Object Phenomenon), has been examined in the article "The DOPler Effect." Others have called this "the borrowers" phenomenon, and it's the familiar experience of not being able to find a regularly used item - say, your set of car keys - which you believe you placed in a spot you routinely place them. But they're gone and you look high and low for them with no success. Some time later, the keys are found - in exactly the place you normally put them. It's as if the object was borrowed by someone or something for a short time, then returned. Sometimes they are not returned for days or even weeks, but when they are, it's in an obvious place that could not have been missed by even a casual search.
Unexplained shadows - the sighting of fleeting shapes and shadows, usually seen out of the corner of the eye. This phenomenon has also been discussed in some detail in"Shadow People." Many times, the shadows have vaguely human forms, while other times they are less distinguishable or smaller.
Strange animal behavior - a dog, cat or other pet behaves strangely. Dogs may bark at something unseen, cower without apparent reason or refuse to enter a room they normally do. Cats may seem to be "watching" something cross a room. Animals have sharper senses than humans, and many researchers think their psychic abilities might be more finely tuned also.
Feelings of being watched - this is not an uncommon feeling and can be attributed to many things, but it could have a paranormal source if the feeling consistently occurs in a particular part of the house at a particular time.
Those are some of the most common experiences of those who think their houses are haunted. Yet even stranger things can happen...
The following phenomena are more rare, but could be stronger evidence of a haunting:
Mild psychokinetic phenomena - hearing a door open or close is one thing. Actually seeing it happen is quite another. Similarly, actually seeing a light go on or off by itself is greater proof that something unexplained is happening. Do you see the TV or radio turn on? Or perhaps you're present when a child's powered toy begins to operate on its own. Doors and windows are locked or unlocked. Some people report that when they are in bed they can feel and/or hear something sitting on the bed.
Feelings of being touched - the feeling of being watched is one thing, and actually feeling like you are being touched is quite another. Some people feel something brush past them, something touching their hair or "a hand" on the shoulder. Some feel a gentle poke, push or nudge.
Cries and whispers - on occasion, muffled voices, whispering and crying can be heard. Sometimes it's music from some unknown source. People hear their names being said. This phenomenon, as is true for the one above, gains more credibility if more than one person hears or sees the same thing at the same time.
Cold or hot spots - cold spots are classic haunting symptoms, but any instance of a noticeable variance in temperature without a discernable cause could be evidence.
Unexplained smells - the distinct fragrance of a perfume or cologne that you do not have in your house. This phenomenon comes and goes without any apparent cause and may accompany other phenomena, such as shadows, voices or psychokinetic phenomena. Foul odors can happen in the same way.
Rarer still are more extreme phenomena, some of which have been called poltergeist phenomena, and can be quite strong evidence of a true haunting:
Moving or levitating objects (severe psychokinetic phenomena) - dinner plates sliding across the table; pictures flying off walls; doors slamming shut with great force; furniture sliding across the floor.
Physical assault - scratches, slaps and hard shoves. This kind of personal assault is extremely rare, but obviously highly disturbing.
Other physical evidence - unexplained writing on paper or walls; handprints and footprints.
Apparitions - physical manifestation of a spirit or entity. These phenomena are also very rare and can take many forms: human-shaped mists or forming mists of some indistinguishable shape; transparent human forms that disappear quickly; and most rarely, human forms that look as real and solid as any living person, but that disappear into a room or even while being viewed.