I’m A Feminist And I’m Scared Of Dying

Hooked you in with that title, didn’t I?

Something interesting often comes up in conversations about my hobbies and passions. The fact that I’m a feminist and a leftist is generally accepted with little more than sought-after reassurance that I’m “not one of the preachy ones” (spoiler: I am). People are equally comfortable with my other passions – ghost hunting, tarot and horror films – and are usually quite enthusiastic (or at least happily indifferent) about them. A small minority of the people I’ve met have been ghost hunting and still fewer have ever attempted to learn tarot, so I get to be the “expert” in the room despite being no such thing.

The interesting point that arises is often expressed like this: “For someone so political, it’s odd that you’d be into such illogical things.”

It’s a fair statement to make. I’m very serious about my politics, but conversely I’ve participated in an activity – namely ghost hunting – which is not widely considered to be a “serious” endeavour. Despite this contrast, I find myself feeling self-conscious about both of these passions. I portray them as something they are not when I talk about them, something frivolous and silly. Ghost hunting is my “weird little hobby”; feminism is “just me being a hairy bra-burner, haha”. Neither of those things really represent how I feel, because I take them both very seriously indeed. There’s also plenty of crossover between the two, because the personal is political for me. I think about feminism in the context of my life every day – for example, my love of horror films has led me to analyse them more deeply and ask myself: how are women depicted in these films and why? How do horror films handle feminist themes? I can combine my “serious” interest with my “silly” interest, and that works for me.

But if we properly psychoanalyse me, if we strip my flag-waving, marching politics and my love of anything spooky back to the barest bones, what do we find?

Someone who has a really weird relationship with the concept of death.

I am not consciously scared of dying. I joke about what I want done at my funeral, I love crypts and cemeteries, and I especially love mummies. I don’t find myself squeamish at corpses in particularly nasty crime documentaries.  I’m relatively comfortable at the top end of exposure – at least as much exposure as an average person who doesn’t have to deal with dead bodies in person can possibly have (perhaps I would change my mind in the presence of an actual cadaver).

It is not physical death that scares me. Like anyone else, I would like to go painlessly one day and, on a more personal level, I like the idea that I could greet Death warmly as a friend like a folk hero might. I think it is the death of my drive, if you like, that unsettles me. The idea that I might pop off one day and leave the cause forever. As someone who wants to make a difference, I am deeply afraid of being cut off and leaving nothing behind. What if all the writing and arguing and campaigning just never pay off? What if I can change nothing about the inequality rampant in our society? You might instead describe that as a fear of impotence or inferiority (and, damn, have I got a lot going on where inferiority complexes are concerned) but that’s what is truly frightening for me.

The relationship between ghost hunting and death is more obvious – who doesn’t want to know if our consciousness can remain on this mortal plane? – although I think politics has a lot to do with death as well. Where you stand on politics has a lot to do with what you consider to be “surviving” and what you consider to be “living”. Feminism and socialism are both movements devoted to improving people’s quality of life. Socialists object to a world in which you (and your labour) are exploited until you die. Feminists object to a world in which women are treated as willing bodies rather than human beings. Women and girls are murdered on our TV screens, over the pages of our crime thrillers and all over the world in real life, and I find that far more upsetting and scary than any amount of standing around in dark tunnels and damp caves, calling out to spirits.

As strange as you might find it, I can comfortably sit in the grey area between “serious” politics and “silly” paranormal pursuits.

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Top Tips for Ghost Hunting

I’ve been on a couple of ghost hunts organised by a local paranormal company, so I wanted to share some tips for anyone thinking of attending their own ghost hunt!

  • DON’T delete any photographs or footage until you’ve looked at it on a larger scale!

This was something our host told us on the very first ghost hunt I attended. The majority of us were using mobile phones to capture any evidence, although there were a few camcorder/digital camera users too. These devices are great, but you’re unlikely to see everything in a photo properly until you transfer it onto a computer. You might miss something potentially groundbreaking if you delete blurry or dark images before you’ve had an opportunity to enhance them.

  • DO take more than one photograph of a certain spot.

Our host advised us to take at least three photos if we saw something or just wanted a photo of a particular area. That way, if something shows up in one photo, you have a precise timeline.You might get nothing in the first photo, something noticeable in the second, and then it might have disappeared by the third. Most importantly, you have a “normal” photo or two with which to compare the “abnormal” photo.

  • DO look at your photos carefully.

Be mindful that it’s easy to get carried away, and not every shadow or light you see in your photos and footage is necessarily an apparition! On one occasion, I was caught out. Having taken photos which appeared to show orbs, I returned to the spot only to find that there were small shiny panels on the walls of the tunnel designed to reflect vehicle headlights.

  • DO bring snacks and drinks!

The company we went with provided crisps and chocolate, but we took our own flasks of tea. I don’t know how common it is for ghost hunt organisers to arrange food, so it’s a good plan to take your own.

  • DO pay attention to any emails you receive from the organisation you’re using.

Provided you choose to go on a pre-arranged ghost hunt run by a company, you’ll likely get an email from them. Make sure you bring anything they ask you to or anything mentioned on their website.

You’re highly likely to need: a decent torch (most camping/outdoors shops will stock the suitable kind – a keyring/phone torch is a no-go!), a small backpack to keep your snacks in, a watch (or a mobile phone) in order to keep track of the time, sensible footwear (flat shoes/trainers, avoid high heels or flimsy pumps), appropriate clothes. To give you a good example, my first two ghost hunts took place in a decommissioned nuclear bunker, so I spent four hours (6pm – 10pm) in the middle of January in underground tunnels. As you can probably imagine, I went fully equipped with a winter coat, gloves and a hat.

  • DON’T feel self-conscious.

Depending on who is organising your ghost hunt and what their company policies/practices are, you may take part in various “experiments” or styles of investigation. Personally, I’ve used or watched other people use ouija boards, angel boards, table-tipping, maglites (torches with a coloured bulb which respond to movement), EMF meters and K-2 meters. You may also participate in group vigils. During some of these practices, you might be asked to call out to the spirits or introduce yourself, and it’s often expected that you ask the spirit/s to perform specific tasks (e.g. move the planchette, light up the torch, make the EMF meter spike, etc.).

It can feel a bit awkward or even unnerving when you first attempt to call out into the darkness to someone that may or may not be there. But the chances are that at least one person in the group will also be a ghost hunt virgin (as they’re affectionately known), so you won’t be the only one thrown in at the deep end! You’d be surprised how quickly you get used to the methods and mysteries of paranormal investigation.

Finally, happy hunting! Be careful, but, crucially, enjoy!