Where did the idea of a residual haunting come from?

Who dsicovered residual hauntings?

If you are a paranormal investigator, watch a lot of ghost hunting TV, or partake of other ghost hunting media, then you have probably heard of a residual haunting.

As I explain in my post defining “ghost,” a residual haunting is said to be caused by the imprint of a person’s energy.

In many cases, the person has died, but they experienced strong emotions in a given location while they were alive, forming an imprint of energy. Other times, the imprint is formed by repetitive action, such as a person walking down the same hallway thousands of times during their lifetime.

An observer will experience phenomena where the imprint is made, such as the apparition of a person walking down a hallway or rocking in a chair.

A residual haunting is like a recoding that plays over and over. The ghosts in a residual haunting are not conscious. The consciousness of the person is not present, just a repeating imprint.

Who first developed the idea of residual hauntings?

I don’t know for sure, but I have a theory. Discussion of something like residual hauntings can be found in the writings of psychical researchers near the beginning of the twentieth century.

Psychical researchers were often educated professionals who devoted their spare time to investigating the paranormal, or what was then better known as psychical phenomena.

The Society for Psychical Research was founded in London in 1882, but much psychical research was performed in the United States as well and Americans were members of the Society. 

Frederic H. W. Myers

One of the society’s most prominent and active members was Frederic H. W. Myers (1843-1901), a poet and professor of classics. In 1889, Myers was writing about the evidence the Society gathered for “phantasms of the dead,” or apparitions that people had seen of people who had died.

He noted that many of these phantasms seemed like dream figures with no particular purpose rather than conscious human beings. Myers began to describe what we would later recognize as residual hauntings.

He concludes that “we have no warrant for the assumption that the phantom seen, even though it be somehow caused by a deceased person, is that deceased person, in any ordinary sense of the word.” Instead, he argued these ghosts should be seen as “a manifestation of persistent personal energy, – or as an indication that some kind of force is being exercised after death which is in some way connected with a person previously known on earth.”

Myers continues, “It is theoretically possible that this force or influence which, after a man’s death, creates a phantasmal impression of him, may indicate no continuing action on his part, but may be some residue of the force or energy which he generated while yet alive.” 

Edmund Gurney

Myers goes on to reference the work of Edmund Gurney (1847 – 1888) another psychical researcher.

Gurney reported on a case in which the phantasm of an old woman kept appearing in the bed where she had been murdered. He argued that the phantasm suggests “not so much any continuing local action on the part of the deceased person, as the survival of a mere image, impressed, we cannot guess how, on we cannot guess what, by that person’s physical organism, and perceptible at times to those endowed with some cognate form of sensitiveness.”

Psychical researchers are the forbears of twenty-first century ghost hunters and, as we can see, some of their foundational ideas have been passed down. It might be fruitful for contemporary ghost hunters to read more of the work of earlier psychical researchers.


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