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You gonna eat that ghost or mount it?

Old sketch of Doc RavencraftA while back, someone was talking to someone who was very excited to start their career as an amateur ghost hunter.  It had never struck me before, but suddenly I realized what a strange phrase that was… “Ghost Hunter.”

Depending on your origins, hunting can have different connotations.  The don’t call me the Authentic Texas Mojo Man for nothing!  In Texas hunting has been a tradition since before the Tonkawa and Comanche roamed the hill country around Austin.  (Today we call that land “shopping centers” and it’s all built up with steel and concrete like a pizza oven.)  The hunters I knew ate what they killed and they stalked them honestly.  They didn’t use robotic feeders to train the animals to gather at the kill site at a convenient time.  They had respect for their prey and had as much praise for the ones who got away as the ones that ended up at the dinner table.

Buffalo are rounded up and slaughterd from a train.

Slaughter of American Buffalo

Ah, but there are other kinds of hunters.  There are poachers who use the most aggressive means possible and rape the environment with no concern for balance.  They come in and take the one thing that they value, leaving the rest to rot.  This was the case in the early European settlement of America, where herds of buffalo were slaughtered, skinned and left to rot.  You can read all about it in “The Extermination of the American Bison,” by William T. Hornaday, freely available through Project Gutenberg.  This kind of destruction shows no respect, only a drive to profit.

So, when people talk about “ghost hunting” I first have to ask myself “What kind of hunter are you?”  Frankly, a lot of what I see from people seems to be much more about trophy hunting.  They gather their experiences and trot them out for display, but what have they learned about the nature of the spirits they pursue?  Even the more respected style of hunting is still about dominance.  As a predator you have to win or you don’t eat.  No matter how much you respect your food, you still need it to lose the game.

There is another approach to wildlife that I think is much more in tune with what people say they want to achieve:  bird watching.  I know some people who are birders.  They have traveled far and wide for the express purpose of crossing a species off of their list.  They are immensely knowledgeable about birds, appreciating the nuance of color and shape that separates them.  They know the calls and can tell you a number of things about the birds that make them unique in their environment.  The are damned near ornithologists in their understanding of these creatures.  Their goal?  To see that these animals live.

I’m sure that there are some bad birders out there, but the birds get to largely ignore them.  It doesn’t kill you to be looked at.  On the other hand, the good ones spread a lot of information about habitat and what these animals need to survive.  (Yes, responsible hunters do that too, but it’s lost on some people because of the whole “dead animal” thing.  Don’t get me wrong… I’m a huge fan of venison!)

I guess what it all comes down to for me is respect.  Are you just going for chills and thrills, or do you want to grow closer to these entities that you are seeking?  What are you learning as you go on your encounters?  What are you doing to improve the situation?

I’ve said before that I don’t think… shall we call it “Ghost Watching?”… is all about gadgets.  People are already wired to connect with the spirit world.  We just devoted that energy to video games and managing fantasy football teams.  You need to learn how to quieten yourself so you can experience what is there.  But I’m not going to harp on that right now.

I just want you to consider when you seek a ghost, what you want to take away.  You have an amazing opportunity to make some sort of connection.  What are you going to do with it?  Are you going to get it to tell you the color of your socks? (“Because no one could know that!”)  Are you going to try to get this spirit— who for all we know was a human being just like you and me, with love and pain and joy and sorrow and a real life that they led as best as they could— are you going to get them to do tricks for you?  Or, are you going to do something to find out more about what hold them here?  Are you going to do something to make sure that their memory matters?

Word mean things.  If you are a Ghost Hunter, that says something about you.  Does it say what you mean it to?  Even if you adopt the term Ghost Watcher, which I think is a better description, are you really learning about this phenomena, or just going for the exercise.  Think about it.  Look at that picture of the buffalo and think about it.  What are you going to leave behind?

(I just wanted to let you know that I didn’t come up with the term “Ghost Watching” on my own.  My friend, David, was kind enough to help draw these correspondences during a conversation over adult beverages when I expressed my dissatisfaction.)

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