Update: Article now includes classifications of EVP and the psychology related to the results.
No shortage of strangers garbed as spooks and spirits wander the streets on All Hallows Eve. The ancient Celts believed that the eve of their new year (November 1st) was when the world of the dead and the world of the living overlapped. This time of year was also when Celtic priests would attempt to consult the spirits for guidance through the winter season.
The practice of attempting to communicate with those who have passed away continues to this day, with modern audio equipment, whether it be professional ghost hunters, television’s Ghost Hunters, or hobbyists like Northampton Resident Robert Danylieko, who has sought out EVP (electronic voice phenomena) , the supposed voices of the dead, for 12 years now.
“I was bored one night and decided to do a Google search on the term ‘paranormal,’” said Danylieko, on how he got into the practice. “The first site I came upon was a spirit photography site. Can’t recall the name of it, but I do remember the photo of a woman holding her little kid in front of her home, and in the background was the front porch, and on the glass of the door was a face of an elderly lady, which was said to be that of the kid’s grandmother.
“After this, I went on and found sites on EVP and it made me curious to try this out for myself.”
In September of 2004, he went out into an area cemetery, equipped with a GE shoebox tape recorder and an American Idol microphone that he picked up from Big Lots.
“I asked three questions and gave pauses in between the questions, while sort of feeling like I was foolish with aiming a microphone into dead air, and expecting something to happen.”
When he transferred the audio to his computer, he heard two whistles and a “Shhh” sound.
“The whistle had the same likeness and characteristic of that of my late grandmother, Helen, who passed away in 1998.”
Since then, Danylieko has been recording his talks with ghosts in a number of locations.
“Cemeteries and such aren't the only places to record for evp: hospital, stores, school, abandoned building, even your own home.”
For Danylieko, the process of seeking out EVP is both a scientific and spiritual one.
“Each time I work with EVP, I get reassurance of the possibility of life going on after the spirit leaves the physical body. My mind is opened to this concept. Since spirit is comprised of energy, energy cannot be destroyed, only changed, so technically something that once was a “person” could still linger about.”
“One place where EVP can help is with bereavement. Capturing an EVP of a loved one who has passed on reinforces those going through the mourning process that their loved ones are always with them, by their side.
“It also gives relief to people who have mental illnesses and claim to hear voices that what they are experiencing is not entirely in their heads. I think with certain cases, the mental circuitry is narrowed in some parts of the brain, but then other parts of the brain become more hardwired to pickup on these extrasensory phenomenon.”
Skeptics of recorded EVP phenomenon point out that what some may be heard as disembodied voices could be equipment interference caused by nearby radio waves or other sources of electromagnetic frequencies, since one popular theory, according to Danylieko, is that spirits interfere with the circuitry in recording devices to leave behind words or messages. Anything that may sound like human language could be a case of the listener hearing only what they want to hear.
“Results from EVPs can, a good deal of times, relate to the conversations people are having or of the surroundings that a person is at. This would subtract the interference part out from the equation. Also when more than one person can identify as to what an EVP might be saying, without any one person giving of what is believed that the EVP is saying, then this increases the validity of an EVP.”
EVP results, according to Danylieko, come in three different classes: A, B, and C.
"Most people can agree on what is being said in the Class A results without any audio cleanup. Class B's sound like talking to most who listen, but not everyone can agree on what is being said. The Class C's require amplification to be heard well, and need audio cleaning, removing of artifacts, in order to be heard clearly.
"In this case, less is more. You don't want to alter the audio so much that you end up changing the actual supposed ghost voice entirely."
Danylieko verbally notes in the recording when any outside noise is picked up, such as a branch snapping if in an outdoor location.
Also, EVP's can function much like an audio version of a Rorschach ink blot test.
"Most people who hear will bring their own mental and emotional baggage when listening. They may have been through some past trauma, like a relative passing away. Sometimes, it may be the voice of that relative, but other times, it may not be that, and it is important to be as objective as possible while listening to the recording."
Danylieko is also cautious to avoid confirmation bias when determining the results of his recording sessions. Before releasing his findings publicly, he asks opinions from "friends online, offline . . . those who are interested in the paranormal, people who aren't" what they make of the recordings. He says he does not mention his opinion to them before they listen, lest he might influence their opinions. He posts them online with the most agreed upon interpretation.
EVP results, says Danylieko, harder to replicate in multiple sessions, even under the exact same circumstances. “There are no guarantees of receiving the same results; not even a guarantee that you will receive any result from any particular session.
“Think of ghost hunting sort of like fishing. A fish may be close by, but you will not really know when something of paranormal nature will take a bite on your line. At least in fishing, it is possible to see a fish approach your line, not so with the paranormal. That fish is invisible but yet may take the bait on your line, but when that should happen would be anyone’s guess.”
Danylieko has faced criticism from members of the Christian community, even having lost a couple friends. The Bible does warn against “consulter[s] of familiar spirits.” To Danylieko, this illustrates an underlying flaw in humanity: the fear of the unknown.
“If the Disciples were around today, they would probably be boggled by the recording equipment that we have today. They would probably look at a microwave and think it’s witchcraft.”
He maintains to still have his faith in God and a relationship with Jesus.
“I’m not hurting anyone. I’m not dancing on a rock holding a stick summoning lightning from the heavens.”
For him, its just a falling out with the dogma of church doctrine in general.
“Technically though the bible advises against anything paranormal but, that would seem like hypocrisy seeing that Jesus is a holy spirit and performed impossible feats, etc, etc. Yet spirits don't exist? I'm lost on that one."
“It's not okay to talk to spirits, but we can pray to the holy spirit?"