Don’t cross the streams. Never take your hands off a Ouija board without first saying “Goodbye.” The undead has to be invited in. Kill it with fire. Shoot it in the head. Wolfman’s got nards.
When it comes to the entertainment of the unexplained, or paranormal pop culture, humans live in a world(s) populated by all manner of preternatural, supernatural, otherworldly, and extradimensional phenomena. But entertainment also tells us there are rules that bring order to the abnormal – whether it’s a ghost or demon, alien or sasquatch, werewolf or vampire, or even a troll or fairy.
Yet behind every silver bullet solution that makes it into a script, there is typically a wealth of academic study that’s both complicated, and sometimes contradictory. From folklore to grimoire, anthropology to parapsychology, researchers have attempted to document and take a serious look at topics slightly askew from the norm. They are the real-world counterparts of Dr. Spengler, Dr. Van Helsing, and Father Merrin.
(And, perhaps unlike those fictional “experts,” many researchers would likely tell you the more they read up on these topics, the clearer it becomes there is more unknown than known, and more theories than rules.)
With that in mind, we reached out to a few notable figures and esteemed colleagues within the paranormal community to offer reading suggestions that go beyond what pop culture tells us about the unexplained. The following list is a guide for those inspired by the movies and TV shows to take a longer look through the veil, under the bed, at the stars, and into the forest.
(Host/Executive Producer, Travel Channel’s Kindred Spirits; Author, Life With The Afterlife):
ESP, Hauntings and Poltergeists: A Parapsychologist’s Handbook by Loyd Auerbach
“While I think it’s highly important to have a library of paranormal books, and to form your own research and investigative methodologies, I almost always recommend Loyd Auerbach’s ESP, Hauntings and Poltergeists: A Parapsychologist’s Handbook as a must have.
It was published in 1986, and is widely cited as one of the books that inspired many of today’s most well-known investigators to investigate the way they do. A good number of Loyd’s methods and theories still ring true, as well as his healthy dose of skepticism. It’s not the type of investigation you see on television, that’s for sure, but it’s got some great ideas to help distinguish between what could be an actual haunting vs a perceived haunting.”
(Host/Executive Producer, A&E’s Ghost Hunters):
Morphic Resonance & The Presence of the Past: The Memory of Nature by Rupert Sheldrake
“Rupert Sheldrake, Ph.D., and former research fellow of the Royal Society, guides us through his journey to discover if our memories exist outside ourselves, and how that idea could affect our view on how the entire universe operates. Sheldrake gently opens the mind to this idea with solid thinking, educated speculation, and sound experimentation. More than just a mental exercise, his theory proposes that all self-organizing systems, from crystals to human society share a common memory which guides their collective form and behavior. Basically, the more people learn something, the easier it is for others to learn. Which, if true, would have huge implications in the field of paranormal research, not to mention the fields of biology, chemistry, physics, psychology, and sociology. If our memories are collectively shared and stored outside our own brains, are ghosts simply some sort of manifestation of shared memories? I recommend this book to anyone looking to draw their mind out of the box we so comfortably live in and reshape how we think about well, pretty much everything.”
(Author, Writer/Researcher, Ghost Adventures; Host, New England Legends podcast, and TV series):
Confessions of a Ghost-Hunter by Harry Price
“Published in London in 1936, this is a must-read to see how far paranormal investigation has come (and how little it’s actually changed in almost a century). In the book, Harry Price (1881 – 1948) explores some of his favorite cases, how to test a spirit medium, spirit photography, and he delves into his methods of investigating including equipment, trigger objects, interviews, and theories. Harry Price is the original ghost hunter.
Ghosts: True Encounters with the World Beyond by Hans Holzer
Parapsychologist Hans Holzer (1920 – 2009) helped usher the paranormal into the mainstream with his many books and media appearances. Originally published in 1997, Holzer profiles some of his favorite cases and the first-hand experiences encountered by the witnesses he interviewed. By 97’, Holzer had reached the age and point of his career where he believed he pretty much had everything figured out. Though I don’t agree with all of his theories or ideas on the afterlife, I tip my hat at his confidence on spelling out the unknown.”
(Actor; Co-host, Bigfoot Collector’s Club podcast):
Where the Footprints End, High Strangeness and the Bigfoot Phenomenon Volume I: Folklore by Joshua Cutchin and Timothy Renner
“What in the hell is really going on with Bigfoot? Is this just a flesh & blood creature like most think, or is there something more “paranormal” taking place? It’s a great question, and one that Cutchin and Renner (both outside-the-box thinkers) tackle head on. It’s hard to deny that these guys are onto something, and after having read it, I don’t think that I can ever go back to thinking that Sasquatch is just an unconfirmed North American Wood Ape. Instead, what if the big guy/gal is more like a wilderness poltergeist? A “Wildnesgeist” if you will. A term coined by the authors. And while the term does not exactly roll off the tongue, it certainly could help explain the strange lights and orbs, sudden dematerialization, telepathic mind-speak, and the countless varieties of size, shape and colors reported with Bigfoot sightings. Books like the aforementioned are an integral piece of the puzzle if we ever wish to get to the bottom of what is really taking place on this strange planet of ours, and perhaps what Vallee did for the UFO phenomenon, Cutchin & Renner could do for the Bigfoot Phenomenon. Overall Rating 4 Bigfeet out of 5!”
(Comparative religious studies author, The Dictionary of Demons; Paranormal Investigator, Paranormal State, Portals to Hell):
Poltergeist by Colin Wilson
“For those doing research into ghosts and the paranormal, Colin Wilson should be on your bookshelves right next to Hans Holzer. In addition to his landmark eponymous survey, The Occult, Wilson produced numerous books exploring psychic and paranormal phenomena over his decades-long career. My personal favorite is Poltergeist, which explores the concept of destructive hauntings. Extensive, cross-disciplinary research is a hallmark of Wilson’s work, and this book is no exception. Poltergeist includes theories about what these “noisy ghosts” really are, explores psychological and supernatural implications of their manifestations, and recounts numerous documented cases of the phenomena from the ancient through the modern world. Throughout the book, Wilson blends perspectives from psychology, anthropology, folklore, and mythology together with dedicated reporting of modern experiences. I keep my copy next to Harry Price’s book on the same subject.
The Phantom World by Augustin Calmet
“For a deeper dive into the folkloric roots of many of our modern beliefs about ghosts, hauntings, and even vampires, it is worth the search to score a copy of Augustin Calmet’s treatise on the apparitions of spirits and on vampires, often titled simply The Phantom World. This chunky tome covers a wide variety of hauntings, retelling experiences as they were relayed to Calmet himself, often through other members of the clergy. As a French Benedictine monk, Calmet was viewed as an authority on the supernatural and the miraculous, and although he does not apply much in the way of critical analysis to the stories he receives, the fact that he was able to record and publish these tales at all makes up for what modern readers might consider a fairly superstitious nature. As with Glanvill’s Saducismus Triumphatus, it is important to keep in mind that clergy effectively filled the role of paranormal investigators during the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries, collecting, verifying, and disseminating the accounts of their parishioners. Without their writings, credulous as they may in hindsight seem, we would have little access to any record of these strange and frightful encounters. Calmet’s work is of special value because it is one of the fist treatises to collect a wide variety of European vampire encounters, including some of the stories that have proven seminal to vampire folklore as we understand it today.
Demoniality by Lodovico Sinistrari
The final volume I would recommend for modern investigators is a slim treatise produced by another member of the European clergy, this time a Franciscan priest by the name of Lodovico Sinistrari. Sinistrari is arguably where we derive most of our beliefs about incubus and succubus demons, and he collects both his theories on these creatures and several compelling tales in his book, Demoniality. It is a quick and fun read — if, like me, learning about demons is your definition of fun.”
Margee Kerr, Ph.D.
(Sociologist; Author, Scream: Chilling Adventures in the Science of Fear):
On Monsters: An Unnatural History of Our Worst Fears by Stephen T. Asma
“Hailed as “a feast” (Washington Post) and “a modern-day bestiary” (The New Yorker), Stephen Asma’s On Monsters is a wide-ranging cultural and conceptual history of monsters — how they have evolved over time, what functions they have served for us, and what shapes they are likely to take in the future.”
(Author, Haunted Healthcare; Travel Channel’s Paranormal Night Shift):
This House is Haunted by Guy Lyon Playfair
“In a field that’s chock full of sensationalist books, Guy Lyon Playfair’s This House is Haunted is a breath of fresh air. One of the few comprehensive accounts of a poltergeist-type haunting that runs from the very first incident through to the end, Playfair’s book is a masterclass on how to investigate the paranormal. There’s no drama, no theatricality; seasoned investigator Playfair and his partner, Maurice Grosse of the Society for Psychical Research, examine the strange goings-on in a small house in Enfield with a critical eye, always seeking out rational explanations and debunking whatever they can. This House is Haunted works as a page-turning narrative, but also contains a wealth of information for today’s paranormal enthusiast. As such, it deserves a much wider audience.”
Brian J. Cano
(Paranormal Investigator; Travel Channel’s Paranormal Caught on Camera):
The Encyclopedia of Ghost & Spirits by Rosemary Ellen Guiley
“To me, this is a must-have in any serious paranormal library. It references an impressive amount of material, and I use it often. There may be a name or concept that sounds familiar to me and when I need a refresher, it’s the first tome I reach for. Invariably, as I turn the pages, I get sucked in, and end up delving into many other entries. It’s like an academic supernatural “choose your own adventure”!
How to Hunt Ghosts: A Practical Guide by Joshua P. Warren
“This gem of a guide is perfect for anyone looking to get their feet wet in paranormal investigating. It is thoughtful, comprehensive and delivers the necessary information for anyone to begin doing the work while walking the fine line between skepticism and belief. I’ve recommended it many times over the years and the guide has held up to this day.”
Communion by Whitley Strieber
“In the 1980s, author Whitley Strieber was best known for his horror novels such as The Hunger and Wolfen. But below the surface of his fictional works was a story so visceral and bizarre, that it would change the course of his career thereafter. This was the 1987 best-seller, Communion. Many are familiar with the now-famous book cover of a beige-colored alien with big, black orbital eyes. But the contents of the book is what truly stays with readers. The story of a man struggling with fractured memories of being taken in the night by what he calls “visitors” and experimented on. The raw and traumatic string of events is what packs the biggest punch in the book. But even stronger are the bigger questions to be asked of this supposedly true story: If we are not alone, and we are being visited, what do these visitors want, and to what lengths will they go for their true agenda? Communion is well written, brutally honest, terrifying, beautiful, and profound in the most alien of ways. It ushered in the alien abduction controversy for many years to come and has ingrained itself into the annals of both pop culture and UFO history forever.”
Lynne S. McNeill, Ph.D.
(Folklorist; Author, Legend Tripping: A Contemporary Legend Casebook):
Aliens, Ghosts, and Cults: Legends We Live and Lucifer Ascending by Bill Ellis
“These two books present a folklorist’s perspective on the kinds of traditions and phenomena that paranormal investigators are interested in. His perspective highlights that folklorists aren’t looking to debunk or prove anything — they simply want to understand the cultural role that these ever-popular topics are playing.”
(Paranormal Investigator, Haunt ME):
Ghost Hunter by Hans Holzer
“This may not be an obscure text in paranormal circles, but that doesn’t make it any less important. Holzer existed in a liminal time for the paranormal, when the obscure community was in the direct center of a century-long shift between the popularity of the Spiritualism of the late-1800s, and its Hollywood resurgence in the mid-2000s.
This book chronicles some of Holzer’s cases while researching in NYC, as well as providing his commentary. This commentary is particularly important to those studying the field. We’re able to get a snapshot of what early research and curiosity were like, before it was tainted by the entertainment industry. It can be a bit dry, but that is part of the appeal; the book isn’t meant to dazzle or secure ratings. It might not be for everyone, but it was definitely a gateway book for me.
Honorable mention (because it’s fiction) is Ghost Stories by Roald Dahl. He read 749 short stories and narrowed it down to 14 for his book, and they’re great! Who knew the guy who wrote BFG was so macabre!”
(Creator, ParanormalPopCulture.com; Paranormal Journalist, Paranormal Caught on Camera, Paranormal Lockdown; Co-Executive Producer/Host, Paranormal Paparazzi; Co-Host, NightMerica Podcast):
The Mothman Prophecies by John Keel
“Journalist John Keel remains a giant in the paranormal field, and for me personally, he was the first person whose work I discovered that connected the dots between multiple phenomena. He’s described by some as a UFOlogist, but I think he’s so much more. Before it was a 2002 movie that did wonders for the Chapstick brand, The Mothman Prophecies was Keel’s 1975 book that documented strange sightings around Point Pleasant, West Virginia – which culminated with the lethal collapse of the Silver Bridge in 1967. Yes, this book discusses the winged thing (Cryptid? Demon? Alien? Ultraterrestrial?) eyewitnesses described in Point Pleasant, and gives historical and folkloric context to it, but Keel goes deeper into the story. Though he does have his own conclusions, the author’s journalistic approach, and open-mindedness, served as an inspiration and starting point to me within this strange world. For a second helping of Keel, I’d recommend Operation Trojan Horse.
A History of Ghosts: The True Story of Seances, Mediums, Ghosts, and Ghostbusters by Peter Aykroyd
Notice that last name? Yes, Peter Aykroyd is the father of Dan Aykroyd, aka Ray Stantz, Ghostbusters co-writer, UFO aficionado, and entrepreneur of the metaphysically themed Crystal Head vodka. Dan inherited his love of the paranormal honestly, coming from a family of prominent Spiritualists, and in this book, his father discusses the Aykroyds’ role in the belief system popular in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Though it can be a dry read at times, and is not a collection of spooky ghost stories, History takes the reader on a tour of an era of living room seances, mediums, charlatans, eccentric characters, and famous names. I also think there are a lot of parallels to the age of Spiritualism, and the one we’re in now, where reality-TV paranormal programming continues to be a popular genre, and many people seek life answers in the supernatural world.”