I just saw on my FB page “The most haunted place in your state.” I didn’t even read it, actually. Why? Because I’ve been to many of those places and I never quite agree with the opinions of others on the quality of their “terrifying experiences”. My first thought, when hearing about a paranormal experience being particularly unpleasant to an investigator/medium/urban explorer/blunderer in the woods is this: “How did you approach this encounter?” We tend to forget (as the living often do) that the places that we have come to for an exciting time with the spooks are many times Places Where Horrible Things Have Happened. The best example I have of this are abandoned mental hospitals/insane asylums. These are places where people have suffered, THOUSANDS of people. The agony these people went through is soaked into the walls. As a visitor, you breathe it in with the crumbling dust in the air. Like a concentration camp, you have no idea where all of the bodies might have been buried over the years so any of the steps you take could be upon some individual’s only sacred ground.

Although I quip and inject humor into most of my writing, this is a sacredly serious subject. As a mental health professional, especially one who has spent time as a crisis counselor and in working with people in residential treatment, I have seen the plights of the mentally ill both in present time and in researching the sins of the past. The media has made a horror mockery of many of the stories surrounding incidents where people have died as victims of horrific abuse and torment, starved, neglected, physically restrained, electrocuted, sexually assaulted and treated as though they were less than human. Then after death, they were given little to no ceremony before being dumped in an unmarked grave in a field, their family possibly never knowing their true fate. My question is this: can you blame them for being angry and vengeful as spirits? Can you fault them for not wanting you to be there, to leave them alone. Is it understandable that these spirits might see any of the living as a threat? People coming into their space when they were living came only when they were going to hurt them, is it no wonder why as spirits they wield the only power they have to make them leave them alone?

In this instance, I’m speaking of a place local to those of us that live in the state of Pennsylvania. There is a documentary called “Suffer the Little Children” made in the mid-80’s about Pennhurst before it was closed in 1987. I personally would require anyone wanting to trespass there to watch it with me before I would take them there to go “ghost hunting”. Let them see the spirits that linger there because they feel as though they were forever forgotten. Let them gaze into those fuzzy images of hollow eyes and bare chests rising and falling like those of baby birds. Then I would ask them again how much of a thrill seeking moment this was going to be.

We ignore these people when they are living unless they commit a heinous crime and after they are dead, we mock their pain by making them into movie demons and their places of torture into entertainment venues. There are battlefields that no one can ever turn into developed land because “it’s hallowed ground, men died here fighting for their lives.” These people were fighting their own wars and these buildings were their battlefields, and yet these places of struggle are made into apartment buildings, their bones thrown into mass graves or worse, abandoned wells or midden heaps and forgotten about once again.

Is the thrill of poking around in these places getting less?

And honestly, I’m not trying to totally dissuade people from going. Many of the spirits like visitors. They get more attention paid to them now in death than they ever had in life. My emphasis is on being respectful. Know what these people have been through. Respectfully ask to come onto the property just as you would ask to come into a person’s home. Bring gifts of candy for the children and cups of coffee for the overworked, underpaid staff that tried to keep them safe and now in death feel too guilty to leave them. While you are there light candles, sing songs, anything to help these people to elevate, to get them back to the ancestors that miss them, anything that will help to chase back the darkness for a while.

Places where people have suffered should be places of pilgrimage, hallowed gardens of flowers and bones, not parking lots and college dorms.

And like places of pilgrimage, they should be visited. My issues are not with people going to these places, but in how they act toward the spirits when they get there. Shouting at them, challenging them, insulting them, daring them to touch them, make noise “prove that they are there.” When I see this behavior on certain TV shows, I want to reach through the screen and knock their teeth in. I want to write and ask them if they would do this at Auschwitz or a POW campsite. I want to ask those that express excitement at visiting these places to tell me why they are excited. If they are excited to interact and celebrate and elevate these spirits, then ok. But if they are all about “going to a scary place”, they can enjoy media sensation right in their own living room. If they want to “go talk to dead people”, I’d be asking “Why would they want to talk to you?” This goes for not only abandoned mental hospitals but battlefields, sacred native ground, sites of massacres and lynchings, hanging trees, old plantations and cemeteries.

“What are you offering the Dead out of respect? That they will appreciate? That shows that you come with good intent instead of gawking.”

Of course, as stated before, this is my opinion. people are going to do what they are going to do. This unfortunately just makes my job and that of my brethren more difficult. Those of us who feel a sacred duty to heal and elevate the Forgotten Dead are familiar with uphill battles, but those that feel that tormented spirits are entertaining are slightly more than simply sociopathic. They have put one more rock in the way of those that are suffering to find peace.

Hope this has been some food for thought. Please share this post and/or write down your opinions below. I am always up for lively debate and I know that while most people will agree with what I said, there are different extremes that encompass people’s perspectives on the issue. Just be respectful to each other.