Lesson No. 1: Don't believe what you see on TV. Ghost hunting is boring. There is no traipsing loudly through cemeteries. No spooky séances. No startling at every sound.
Real ghost hunting requires hours of sitting in silence and a skeptical mind, explains Jan Gregory, founder of Vancouver Paranormal, to her students.
They have gathered in a dark house on a Thursday evening for a four-hour crash course on the basics of tracking and detecting paranormal activity.
Ms. Gregory has little regard for ghost-hunting television shows in which paranormal investigators holler for ghosts to show themselves and raise alarm at any strange noise for dramatic effect.
But the popularity of shows such as Most Haunted, Paranormal State, Ghost Hunters and Ghost Trackers has proven to be a double-edged sword for real-life ghost hunters.
It has brought a legion of new people to the pastime, but most of them are going about it all wrong.
"I'm tired of people doing it the way they do it on TV," Ms. Gregory says. "All they do is give ghost hunting a bad name."
Vancouver Paranormal, which considers itself one of Canada's largest paranormal investigative groups, began offering courses this month, covering everything from ghost-hunting etiquette to recording EVPs (Electronic Voice Phenomena).
The lessons take place at the purportedly haunted home of senior Vancouver Paranormal investigator Marlena Fairbourne. Situated in a suburban neighbourhood of Richmond, B.C., her house has been remodelled to look like a medieval lair - gothic antiques everywhere, stained glass on all the windows. It seems an apt location for discussions about otherworldly phenomena.
Despite the eerie atmosphere, Ms. Gregory stresses the importance of remaining calm during a ghost hunt. Panic not only clouds a hunter's judgment, she says, it can needlessly frighten people who are scared enough already.
Lesson No. 2: Ninety-eight per cent of things that go bump in the night can be fixed with a hammer or a screwdriver.
A good ghost hunter explores all possible rational explanations for strange occurrences: rusty hinges, faulty electrical wiring, even mental illness and alcohol- or drug-induced hallucinations.
"We're not doing anyone any favours going around saying everything's a ghost," Ms. Gregory says.
To rule out errors of perception, she advises against conducting hunts in the rain, since poor weather conditions can cause optical tricks.
Similarly, when taking photos of supposedly haunted sites, ghost hunters should hold their breath and keep their cameras at arm's length to avoid fogging the lens and creating a ghost-like image. Multiple photos should be taken over repeated visits to rule out anomalies such as dust or pollen in the air, which can create orb-like shapes.
In the seven years that Vancouver Paranormal has been around, police, doctors, psychiatrists, and the Canadian military have called on the group's volunteer paranormal investigators, Ms. Gregory says.
Their job does not involve "ghost busting." Rather, they record and witness mysterious happenings. In fact, ghost hunting is somewhat of a misnomer, says Ms. Gregory, a self-described skeptic, since no one is able to prove whether ghosts exist.
But, she adds, "I can tell you without a doubt that strange things happen."
In one case, the group's investigators failed in repeated attempts at photographing a child's handprint that could nevertheless be plainly seen on the ceiling of a new apartment complex in Delta, B.C.
On another investigation, members of the group watched as a stool followed an eight-year-old girl around the kitchen in her Chilliwack, B.C., home "like a dog," Ms. Gregory says.
Lesson No. 3: Never go alone on a ghost hunt.
Having company makes good safety sense, Ms. Gregory says, since ghost hunting often requires walking through cemeteries and empty properties at night. It also means there will be multiple witnesses to corroborate your story.
If student Patricia Taylor, 37, decides to head out on a hunt, she can count on others to join her. "All my friends are totally fascinated. They can't wait to hear all about [the course]when I get home," the environmental consultant says. Vancouver neuroscientist Nina, 31, may have to hunt solo. She asked to withhold her full name for fear of mockery from her colleagues. She enrolled in the $100 class because she was intrigued by Vancouver Paranormal's reserved and methodical approach.
"I'm very open-minded. I want to bring some legitimacy to this field," Nina says, adding that she has been interested in the paranormal ever since she was a child.
Nina says she used to play Ouija with her father but has learned that trying to summon spirits is a no-no.
Lesson No. 4: Ghost hunting is passive.
Although séances and Ouija are commonly shown on television, Vancouver Paranormal discourages them, lest they disturb unknown forces, Ms. Gregory says.
Similarly, she adds, "It's never okay to challenge or dare a spirit. Be polite at all times."
As the tutorial draws to a close and the shadows in Ms. Fairbourne's house grow eerier, Ms. Gregory reminds the class of one of the most important lessons of good ghost hunting.
"Take everything with a grain of salt," she says, "including what I say."
How to track spirits
"Ghost hunting doesn't have to make you broke," says Jan Gregory, founder of Vancouver Paranormal. She says all you need is some basic equipment and these "common sense" guidelines:
Film and digital cameras capture images equally well, but film offers the advantage of allowing ghost hunters to compare prints with the original negatives.
Wear black. Light-coloured clothing may cause strange reflections in photos.
Tie up long hair, since stray hairs under certain lighting can appear as strands of orbs.
Don't ghost hunt in a freshly cleaned house. Cleaning can unsettle dust, which can show up as orbs in photos.Conducting EVPs
(Electronic Voice Phenomena)
Use a standard tape recorder or video camera with an external microphone, since internal microphones can pick up sounds such as the whirring of gears within the machinery.
Keep questions simple and ask the supposed ghost for information that can be validated using census records or archives. For example: What is your name? Where did you live?
Use several recording devices at the same time so recordings can be checked against each other.
Every noise on a recording must be identified. For instance, if you drop your flashlight, state what happened aloud so you don't misinterpret the sound for ghostly activity when you review the recording hours or days later.
Detecting "ecto" or
Forget fancy electromagnetic devices, which pick up energy emitted from light bulbs, fridges and other appliances. A simple compass will detect unusual magnetic forces, which may or may not be associated with the paranormal.