Home Archives Perceptual Stratigraphy: Making Sense of Ghostly Manifestations

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Each of us lives in a patterned world in which we uniquely perceive, experience, and interpret our interactions with others and our physical surroundings. Perceptual stratigraphy is
that sequence of events and activities experienced by an individual. Each stratigraphic layer has its own ghostly memories that “haunt” us throughout our lives. At physical death,
the ghosts inside of us survive and are free to haunt the locations one experienced during life. This ghostly phenomena is an interactive and interrelated multi-directional system that may (in the case of interactive apparitions) respond to specific environmental stimuli. The goal of the ghost researcher is to isolate, identify, map, and analyze the haunt patterns of these individual sub-personalities contained within a ghostly haunting.

I had come to understand (and appreciate) the importance of an interactive sensory system while growing-up in the anthracite coal region of Northeastern Pennsylvania. Here my perceptual world was continuously stimulated throughout the seasonal cycles by a bombardment of visual, auditory, and olfactory variations. The rich ethnic traditions of the region provided a variety of natural stimulants. The sources were many and varied. Each of these experiences deposited a sensual layer of awareness that helped to develop my own sense of importance. At the same time, I became aware of the large, complex, and inter-related haunted stratigraphy of the Mahanoy Area landscape. They were:

1.)- The flavorful weekend summer bazaars of the ethnic churches and volunteer fire companies. Two things were constants: the ethnic food and the beer. Many of these 
festivals also included ethnic bands and music;

2.)- The traveling food vendors: the donut truck, the vegetable truck, the ice cream truck, and (now) the frozen foods truck. Each of these trucks would traverse, street by 
street, through the town. Each one had a distinct horn or musical tune to announce its arrival;

3.)- The coal delivery trucks and the ice man: In my youth, this was the same individual, shapeshifting functions depending upon the season of the year. The sound of coal descending down the “shoot” into the cellar bin continues to echo frequently in my mind. The contrast between perceived cold and sensed heat produced conflicting sensory

Does this perceptual stratigraphy, accumulated through years of experiences, end at physical death? If ghosts do indeed exist, do the sensory manifestations at haunted locations attest to the continuing existence of the ghost’s perceptual stratigraphy? If so, how can we objectively record, analyze, and interpret this stratified perceptual world? First, we need to understand that what we are observing, recording, and measuring (after all “natural” causes have been exhausted) is the perceptual world of the interactive apparition (or ghostly residue).

It is the apparition’s conceptualization of, and reaction to, the environmental stimuli that they experienced during their lifetime. Our perceptions, as investigators, at these haunted locations, can only be based on the perceptual world of the ghost. We have to understand that we are observing a multi-layered stratigraphic world with at least three different cultures that are simultaneously interacting at a haunted location (if this is a multiple haunting and occupation from different time periods, there may be more than three cultural traditions that are interacting):

A).- We have the cultural tradition into which the ghost perceived their environment while alive. This is what I call the “emic” view, derived from cultural anthropology. It is the
“ghostly” view;

B).- We have our, the investigator’s, perceptual view, based on our cultural traditions. This is called the “etic” view;

C).- We also have what I call the “investigative culture” of methods and procedures into which we sort, label, and organize our data for interpretive analysis.

Is it any wonder that we encounter multiple, and confusing, sensory stimuli when we visit, occupy, or investigate locations of long occupational history and diversity, and/or sites of
tragic or traumatic events. We are encountering a similar bombardment (as I experienced in my youth) of sensory manifestations. Our goal is to analyze and interpret our findings based on the “emic” view of the ghost. How can we do this objectively, without integrating (and incorporating) an “etic” view to the haunting phenomena, thereby “mixing” conceptual stratigraphic layers?

The analysis of cultural and ethnic traditions, such as those I experienced throughout my youth in the Mahanoy Area, is a key investigative ingredient. Why? One should be aware that what is perceived (as a strange sensation or feeling) in one culture or ethnic tradition ("etic" view), may be quite “normal” or “natural” in another culture. Consider this: that other culture may be the “worldview” of the ghost we are investigating. Our perception of that “worldview”, manifesting as sensory phenomena, should be viewed in that “emic” light! We need to temper our field perceptions with reflective pauses and analyze what it is that we are “really” perceiving. Is it the ghost’s world? It certainly isn’t ours! More importantly, we need to differentiate between our conceptions of ghostly phenomena (derived from whatever source), and the sensory phenomena that we are observing, both in terms of cultural and ethnic traditions and historico-technological development. When we consider this, we become aware of and react to other sensoria, albeit in a different way than our contemporary “etic” view. Through an “emic” view, we discover not only other perceptual worlds (not supernatural or even paranormal), but other ways of lives lived. It is a living history capsule of the past, one more fully developed and conceptualized than any history book. We become chroniclers of a “living” ongoing history, as evidenced by the continuing sensory manifestations of our ghosts.

If a major part of one’s perceptions is environmental observations, do physical changes in the environment lead to a change in ghostly manifestations ("emic" view)? Do our investigative perceptions ("etic" view) change? Does one affect the other? Does an interactive apparition adapt to change? To analyze these possibilities, an investigator has to conduct in-depth (stratigraphic), contiguous, long-term investigations to determine changes in perceptual worlds of both the ghost and investigator; and, at the same time, not allow the “etic” view of the investigation to confuse the analysis.

Most investigations detect and record at least (hopefully) “bits and pieces” of potentially more complex sensory assemblages, largely because of the use of unobtrusive field methods ("walk watch and wait”). The field investigation is usually not intensive (multi-variate), perceptually stimulating (to the interactive ghost) I.e., no resonating elements, or temporally-extensive or time-sensitive explorations of a haunted location. We, in the final analysis, should be focusing on the “emic” perception of hauntings as interactive systems of sensory attributes, not as individual sense manifestations. Furthermore, the sensory manifestations we are attempting to record and measure are etically conceived within too narrow a focus (usually visually or auditory), lack complexity, and are treated as isolated phenomena, having “etically” assumed that the manifestations are unrelated to one another. Furthermore, some important perceptual sensory elements in “etic” analysis have largely been ignored. These include the equilibroceptive (the sense of perceived balance), the proprioceptive (the sense of perceived movement), and the nocioceptive ( the sense of perceived “wellness”). Instead, we rely too heavily on “instrument sensing”.

We need to use a form of multimodal sense integration to combine the three perceptual worlds of our investigative universe. This includes the interpretation of an haunting event in its sociocultural context ("emic" view), irregardless of the contemporary spatial parameters, utilizing both individual perception ("etic" view), and instrument measurements and recordings ("investigative culture”). Finally, we have to complete this stratigraphic framing by identifying which sensory manifestations were absent. The search continues for ghosts, so should our understanding of the senses of importance. 

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