Paranormal Glossary

Paranormal Glossary

The descriptions here have been kept brief wherever possible, so for in-depth elucidations I suggest further research. This glossary is also by no means complete, so if there are any entries that you feel should be included please leave a comment.



A term often used to describe supposed manifestations or mist-like shapes that have been caught on camera.


A broad, umbrella term for anything that deviates from what might have been expected to happen. Anomaly is often used as a neutral expression, in comparison to more loaded words like ‘supernatural’ or ‘paranormal’.


The visible manifestation of a spirit.

See Ghost

See Haunting


The movement or materialisation of an object that takes place seemingly without human assistance.


The American Society for Psychical Research.

Astral Projection

See Out-of-Body Experience


“A field of subtle, luminous radiation surrounding a person or object.” Some people insist they can detect, and even clearly see, other peoples’ auras.

See Kirlian Photography

Automatic Writing

Writing that is purported to be produced outside of the writer’s control. Sometimes referred to as ‘psychography’.



See Black Eyed Kids

Black Eyed Kids

Reports of Black Eyed Kids have become more frequent in recent years, thanks to the proliferation of the internet. BEKs are apparently children (or something in the guise of children) who behave oddly, have unusually black eyes and seem to exude a feeling of sheer terror. Their modus operandi is to request help from the witness who is usually too frightened to accede. Theories explaining them abound.

See Urban Myths



Channelling is the name given to the process of a spirit communicating to an audience via a medium. The medium is said to ‘channel’ the spirit.


A skill supposedly possessed by some mediums. It gives them the ability to hear sounds and voices that are said to come from the spirit world or other supernatural sources.


The ability of a medium to see a spirit or image either in their ‘mind’s eye’, or as a projection in front of them. Taken from the French clair meaning ‘clear’ and voyance meaning ‘vision’. The terms clairvoyance and clairaudience are sometimes grouped together under the name ‘clairsentience’.

Cold Reading

A technique employed by magicians, mentalists and bogus mind-readers (among others) to convince their audience that they are able to discern personal or otherwise hidden information about them—as if from thin air. Basically, it involves the use of statements that seem to be specific but are in fact very general.

Cold Spot

Usually found inside supposedly haunted buildings, a cold spot is an area of varying size where the temperature is considerably lower than that surrounding it. Not to be confused with a draught.

Crisis Apparition

An image or apparition witnessed when the subject is about to die, or has just died. The crisis apparition usually appears to a loved one.

Crop Circles

Curious patterns (usually incorporating circles, hence the name) that are occasionally found in some farmers’ fields. Despite many hoaxers having publicly admitted making the Circles since the 1980s, ‘Cerealogy’ is still studied by those who believe that other forces are at work.


See Cryptozoology


This is the study of ‘cryptids’. These are animals that are currently not known to or recognized by science. Possible cryptids include Bigfoot, the Loch Ness Monster, Gef the Talking Mongoose, and many more besides.



The doppelgänger is a ‘double’ of a subject; the identical duplication of a person.


Dowsers believe that using pendulums, bent metal rods, or forked twigs will help them locate fresh supplies of water, mineral deposits, electrical currents or even lost objects.



A substance allegedly produced by a medium during a trance. It can take a variety of shapes, from intangible mists to solid rods. Ectoplasm is derived from the Greek words ‘ektos’, meaning ‘outside’, and ‘plasma’, meaning ‘formed’.

Electromagnetic Field

Often shortened to just ‘EMF’, an electromagnetic field is produced by electrically charged objects. Depending upon its strength and frequency, it can have a wide range of effects upon human beings which is why some people think that electromagnetic fields are the root cause of some hauntings or ghost sightings.

See EMF Detector

Electronic Voice Phenomenon

Recordings of voices or similar sounds that were not heard by investigators at the time the recordings took place. Whether the voices actually belong to spirits or some other entity is open to interpretation.


These are thought to be nature spirits with strong connections to the four basic elements of earth, fire, air and water. “Elemental spirits possess supernatural powers and are usually invisible to humans, living among the trees, rivers, plants, bogs, mountains, and minerals.”—Wikipedia. Elves, fairies, gnomes and the like.


See Electromagnetic Field

EMF Detector

An electronic, handheld instrument for measuring the potency and direction of any electromagnetic fields within its vicinity. Sometimes referred to as a magnetometer or a gauss meter.

See Electromagnetic Field


See Extrasensory Perception


See Electronic Voice Phenomenon


This is the ritualised expulsion of an unwanted spiritual or demonic entity. Exorcisms assume many differing forms across a multitude of religions.

Extrasensory Perception

ESP is a term first used by Frederic Myers, the founder of the SPR. Simply put, it is the capability to sense something without using the ‘traditional’ five senses of taste, touch, sight, hearing and smell. Also called ‘the sixth sense’.

See Society for Psychical Research


Fortean Phenomena

Named after the American writer Charles Fort, this is a term meaning a “general bag of weird phenomena”. The UK magazine Fortean Times is very popular.

Fraudulent Mediums Act

Introduced in 1951, the Act repealed the out-dated 1735 Witchcraft Act and introduced new legislation for prosecuting those who intended to profit from deceit. Repealed in 2008.



This is where a subject’s hearing and sight senses are deprived with the intention of creating a “state between full wakefulness and sleep”, hopefully then inducing ESP.

See Extrasensory Perception


The manifestation of a dead person.

See Haunting

The Ghost Club

Founded in 1962, the Ghost Club claims to be “the oldest organisation in the world associated with psychical research”. Some big names have been members of this non-profit organisation: Charles Dickens, Siegfried Sassoon, Harry Price, Donald Campbell, Peter Cushing, Peter Underwood, Maurice Grosse.

Ghost Lights

Generally; unexplainable bright lights. Might also refer to the folkloric Will-o’-the-wisp.

See Will-o’-the-wisp

Ghost Ship

The reappearance of a ship that has been sunk or otherwise disappeared in mysterious circumstances. The phrase also applies to vessels that are discovered still afloat but with no crew.  The Flying Dutchman, the Marie Celeste and the SS Ourang Medan are popular examples of ghost ships.


See Speaking in Tongues

Grey Lady

See Ghost

See Haunting

See Apparition



Linked with the ancient Celtic festival Samhain, Hallowe’en is an annual festival that is celebrated on the 31st of October. It has shed many of its more traditional roots and is now very much commercialised. The name is a contraction of All Hallows’ Evening.


Put simply, a haunting is a series of unexplained events that occur at a location. There are a great many of these ‘unexplained events’, including: the movement of furniture and objects, seemingly by themselves; disembodied footsteps, voices, screams; the presence of incongruous smells; the manifestation of apparitions; and so on. The list is a long one. Of course, not all alleged hauntings are the same and there are even different types of hauntings, categorised thusly:

“Residual: The most common type of haunting; the spirit is either partially or completely unaware of current events or people, but has remained behind for any reason or reasons.

“Recursive: Also known as a pattern haunting, often confused with residual hauntings, these are hauntings that follow a general pattern of events, usually at specific times. These hauntings, like residuals, often reflect the spirit being partially or totally unaware of current events and people.

“Intelligent: These hauntings usually involve interaction with humans, and can be anywhere from friendly and benign to frightening and severely aggressive.

“Possession: Basically, the occupation of a human by a spirit. Not necessarily a haunting, but often confused as one, which is why it’s placed in this list.”*

Hypnagogic Hallucinations

Vivid images produced as the mind moves into sleep are described as being Hypnagogic.

See Hypnopompic Hallucinations

Hypnopompic Hallucinations

When moving to wakefulness, the mind passes through the hypnopompic state. Sometimes, especially when the person was experiencing rapid eye movement sleep (in which most dreams are said to take place), dream-like imagery can remain and become dragged into semi-consciousness. This has been proposed as a possible explanation for reports of apparitions, out-of-body experiences and sleep paralysis. The term hypnagogia has become a general description for both hypnopompic and hypnogogic states.

See Hypnagogic Hallucinations


Ideomotor Effect

The conversion of an ‘idea’ into ‘movement’. This is the theory that suggestion and subconscious thought can have a physical effect on a subject, this effect manifesting as muscular movements. The ideomotor effect has been put forward as a scientific explanation for the movements of dowsing rods and pendulums, Ouija board glasses and planchettes, table tipping and more besides.


A male demonic entity who, some say, endeavours to have sexual intercourse with slumbering humans—especially females. The ‘succubus’ is the name for the demon’s female counterpart.

See Succubus


Infrasound is sound that is lower in frequency than what humans can normally hear. The lecturer and engineer Vic Tandy researched infrasound and discovered that at some frequencies it was able to affect eyesight and even move inanimate objects. He added that “an infrasonic signal of 19 Hz might be responsible for some ghost sightings and ghost phenomena”.


Kirlian Photography

This form of photography—used to photograph auras—was discovered accidentally in 1939 by the USSR’s Semyon Kirlian. The resulting photographs sometimes show colourful auras surrounding both living things and inanimate objects.



A Finnish ghost that appears to be identical to a living, breathing person until it vanishes. It is similar in that respect to the phantom hitchhiker.

See Phantom Hitchhiker


Once a staple trick of the Victorian medium, levitation is “[suspension] by a physical force against gravity, without solid physical contact”.

Ley Lines

Some people think leys are straight lines that criss-cross the country, allowing the passage of energy. The existence of these mysterious leys was first suggested in the early 1920s by Alfred Watkins.


A devil who throws stones.

See Poltergeist.



See EMF Detector


The physical manifestation of a dead person’s spirit. This is said to often take place during a séance when the medium emits ectoplasm so that the spirit can use it to assume a physical form.


“Often interchangeable with ‘psychic’, the term implies that the medium acts as an intermediary between worlds, a conduit for messages from the Beyond, a channel for healing powers and so on.”**

Metal Bending

This is an area most people would associate with Uri Geller who still professes to be able to bend spoons (and more) using only a light stroking or pinching action and his very own ‘psychic powers’. Many investigators have accused Geller of deception over the years.


This is surely the most common and rational reason for explaining away supernatural phenomena. The mind often plays tricks on us and, coupled with the power of suggestion and/or a lack of knowledge, is frequently behind reports of paranormal activity—whether those involved know it or not.


Night-Vision Equipment

Designed for use in low light conditions, night-vision can form an important part of a ghost hunter’s equipment bag.



See Out-of-body Experience

Old Hag Syndrome

See Sleep Paralysis


This is a photographic anomaly, the merits of which are hotly debated. It usually appears as a two dimensional circle of light on digital photographs. Some people claim to be able to see faces in them, and even believe they are in fact the remnants of a dead person. However, doubters draw upon many arguments to disprove this theory, insisting that orbs are merely dust, water droplets, lens flares and so on.

Ouija Board

A board game that takes its name from the French and German words for yes. It features numbers, some words and the letters of the alphabet. The idea is that a spirit would move a glass or planchette to spell out words and thereby communicate with the players. Some people maintain staunchly that the Ouija Board is a dangerous tool—a gateway to demonic forces. Others dismiss it entirely. Whatever the truth, it’s rather telling that even to this day it continues to be stocked by shops such as Toys ‘R’ Us and marketed towards children.

Out-of-body Experience

An OBE is sometimes referred to as an ‘astral projection’. Simply put, a subject reports being able to view his own body, or other people, from a perspective outside of his usual viewpoint.



The human mind is programmed to perceive patterns and shapes all around it—and is especially good at recognising facial structure. The example usually offered to illustrate pareidolia is the identification of shapes in cloud formations. Pareidolia is the rationalisation behind why some people see ghosts in some perfectly unsupernatural photographs.

See also Simulacra


Something that is beyond what is accepted as scientifically measurable or explainable.


Parapsychologists study the world of the paranormal. The term tends to be used as a replacement for the older phrase ‘psychical research’.

Phantom Hitchhiker

A ‘classic’ haunting, the phantom hitchhiker seems real enough to be offered a lift by some unsuspecting motorist, only to vanish inexplicably.

See Lepke

Philosopher’s Stone

An item of potent magical power that was long sought after by alchemists.

Photographic Anomalies

Basically, these are weird things that show up on camera. Some might say they are ghosts, orbs, supernatural mists or demons; others might insist that they are lens flares, dust particles or water droplets.


A triangular, wheeled instrument for use with Ouija Boards or automatic writing.


A troublesome and sometimes powerful entity that typically seems to emanate or be linked to a person (the ‘focus’). Poltergeist cases have been reported for many centuries in many countries. As with most of these things, theories about what they actually are abound. Famous cases include the Black Monk of Pontefract and the Rosenheim Poltergeist.


The ‘invasion’ of a person by a spirit or demon.

See Exorcism


The ability to see into the future


Things that are unusual or appearing miraculous yet have natural or rational explanations.


There are a multitude of types of psychic, but generally, a psychic is someone who possesses extrasensory perception of some kind.

Psychical Research

An older name that refers to the study of all things that go bump in the night.

See Parapsychology


See Automatic Writing


The ability to cause an object to move without physically touching it.


The ability to discern hidden information simply by touching an object related to the information.


The capacity to conjure up fire and control it using only the mind.



Banging and knocking noises that are associated with hauntings and poltergeist cases.

Remote Viewing

To see or sense an object or person from afar using the mind.



The process of attempting to discern things psychically.


A (usually) small gathering of people who use various techniques to attempt to contact the dead.


See Spontaneous Human Combustion


Objects (and more) that, purely by chance, have the appearance of something else. For example, toast that looks like it has a picture of the Virgin Mary burnt into it.

See also Pareidolia

Sleep Paralysis

Sometimes called Old Hag Syndrome, sleep paralysis can take hold either when falling asleep and entering into REM sleep or when waking up. It can be accompanied by quite vivid hallucinations.

See Hypnopompic Hallucinations

Society for Psychical Research

Commonly abbreviated to SPR, the Society was formed in with the intention of “learning more about events and abilities commonly described as ‘psychic’ or ‘paranormal’ by supporting research, sharing information and encouraging debate.”***

Speaking in Tongues

Otherwise known as glossolalia, speaking in tongues is the practice of speaking (or writing) in an entirely made up language. Xenoglossia is a similar thing, except in this case the language is not made up.

Spirit Guide

In Spiritualism, a spirit guide is an otherworldly being that aids a medium.

Spirit Photography

The image of a spirit captured on camera. Spirit photography flourished in the late Victorian era thanks in part to the popular use of the double exposure.

Spontaneous Human Combustion

The consumption of a body, or part of it, by a mysterious and very hot, yet localised, burning.

Spoon Bending

See Metal Bending


See Society for Psychical Research


Wounds or marks that appear seemingly without cause on an otherwise healthy person and correspond to the wounds received by Jesus Christ.

Stone Tape Theory

This is an interesting explanation for some types of hauntings. The theory is that the materials that comprise the building are somehow capable of recording the image of a person or even an event. Some trigger then causes this recording to be played back.


In Romanian folklore, the strigoi is a deceased person returned from the grave.


Said to be a female demon that seduces men, the male counterpart being the incubus.

See Incubus


Beyond what is accepted or explained by science (or ‘nature’).


A coincidence that seems to be meaningful in some way.


Table Tilting

Table-tipping involved séance-goers standing around a table and placing their fingertips on it lightly. They would then ask questions of the spirit world—the answers coming in the form of a tipping of the table. Fairly conclusively debunked by Michael Faraday.


See Psychokinesis


The capability to read another person’s mind.


The technique of transferring an image onto camera film using only the power of the mind.


The transportation of a witness or witnesses backwards or forwards in time, the reasons for which are unknown.


Urban Myths

Urban myths are essentially made-up stories that are passed around friends, colleagues and relatives. Sometimes their origins lie in fact, although any kernel of truth that might have been part of the original story has long been obscured. Most often than not they are pure fiction.



Usually held at night, vigils can form part of the ghost hunter’s investigative process. It involves staying up through the night and quietly observing a supposedly haunted property.


White Lady

See Ghost

See Haunting

See Apparition


The mysterious will-o’-the-wisp is, according to folklore, a phantom light seen by travellers. It is said to lure the unwary into dangerous ground such as swamps or bogs. Also known by many other colourful names, including jack-o’-lantern, hinkypunk and hobby lantern.



See Speaking in Tongues


Zener Cards

Designed by psychologist Karl Zener in the early 1930s, these twenty-five cards each depict one of 5 different symbols: a star, circle, square, cross and, three wavy lines. They are often used in experiments into clairvoyancey and telepathy.

*List quoted from


*** From

For more research into real-life paranormal cases please check out my ebooks.

About MBForde

Writer. Excels at staring blankly, having bad hair and storing food in cheeks. Wrote Eerie Britain, amongst other things.
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