Things that Go Bump in the Night: How to Investigate and Challenge Ghostly Experiences
Emily Peach (London: Aquarian Press, 1991).
A commendatory aside in Hilary Evans’s Seeing Ghosts drew me to this book. What quickly becomes evident is how much Evans’s book owes to it: there are similarities in both format and method, although maybe this is because of the debt that both owe to the SPR material from which they draw their case material.
Peach takes a phenomenological approach, arguing that – to the extent people report them, and those reports share certain characteristics – therefore ghosts ‘exist’. She spends the first third of the book marshalling some classic cases and organising ghosts into five categories, all of which challenge the common notion of ghosts received from fiction and folklore.
This first part, for me, was the most rigorous and compelling. In the second part, on theories, niggles set in. Due to her phenomenological approach, the sceptical theory of misperception does not receive the attention it deserves; and – although she tries to insist otherwise – Peach is obviously partial to what she labels ‘the occult theory’ (‘a hypothesis regarding a subtle environment that underlies the physical’ [p. 115]), which trumps the four other theories she pits against it by consistently explaining all the ‘facts’ about ghosts.
The third section deals with how to investigate cases. It is a little dated, but most of the advice it gives seems sound. Yet now that we are down to practicalities, a host of factors become relevant that were not given consideration in the earlier sections. We are suddenly obliged to consider whether witnesses have been boozing, or if their mental health is not good (p. 133); and urged to consult geological survey maps (p. 147) before citing ghosts as the cause of creaks and bangs.
‘Some intestinal ailments have been linked with telekinesis’ (p. 132), Peach asserts, in a startling aside that calls out for a supporting reference (but in vain). It was the rare lapses like this that made me wonder whether the reasoned voice in which the book is written is entirely Peach’s own. So too does the decision to include the section on investigation. The title of the book promises to ‘challenge’ ghostly experiences, yet this was always going to sit uneasily with the phenomenological approach espoused in the first two thirds.
Nevertheless, this is mostly a compelling and useful book. Second hand copies are cheap and easy to obtain, and are worth seeking out.