A fantastic question, and one that I wish I get more often. I answered this one a couple months ago, but thought it might be easier to lay it out in a blog.
Caveats of course come in the sense that there’s still dozens upon dozens of wonderful and mind-bending books on the paranormal that I haven’t gotten to yet. But there are a few that I think would be wonderful if people started getting their hands on.
1. Paranormal Technology: Understanding the Science of Ghost Hunting by David Rountree.
If there is one book any serious technical investigator of the paranormal should read, it’s this one. Where in today’s paranormal world many teams are largely ignorant to scientific theories, equipment, and genuine methodologies, this book is quintessential reading to help understand not only how the tools you’re using work, but what they’re measuring. Some is over my head. Some is borderline scientistic and narrow-sighted, but overall required reading. There’s a big part of me that wants to suggest to any investigator to not use any piece of technology again until after reading this book.
2. Psychic Explorations: A Challenge for Science, Understanding the Nature and Power of Consciousness by Edgar D. Mitchell.
The paranormal extends SO much farther than simply ghosts. If you want your mind BLOWN when it comes to the paranormal, you absolutely must read this book. A compilation of articles from psi researchers in 1973, this book synthesizes data collected by three generations of psychical researchers, whose conclusions come up again and again that the existence of psychic abilities have been effectively proven to exist, and that the next step is learning more about how they work. Readable. Mind-bending. Wonderful. It’s thoroughly referenced and footnoted, so opportunities for further reading abound.
(From my reading in this, I’ve got sitting near my headboard my on-deck reading, Human Personality and Its Survival of Bodily Death by FWH Myers and The Conscious Universe: The Scientific Truth of Psychic Phenomena by Dean Radin, which has gotten a wealth of wonderful reader reviews on Amazon.)
3. The Mothman Prophecies by John Keel.
But the paranormal doesn’t stop at spirits and psychic phenomena. In fact, much of my reading list strays away from ghosts on their own entirely. Because of popular culture right now, we all get the general ideas behind the existence of ghosts. How many of us, after watching the first two seasons of Ghost Hunters can relay the three types of haunting and how EVP is different from disembodied voice? Keel’s Mothman Prophecies is a true achievement in paranormal research. Though I’m a big fan of the Pellington-directed movie, the book is fantastic reading. Diving so deeply into the strange events at point pleasant, Keel can’t help but become a part of the story. Despite breaking one of the first rules of journalism, the book then becomes instantly engaging on a level not purely intellectual, but reads as good as a fiction thriller. Mothman Prophecies brings together UFOlogy, some of the earliest reports of the Men in Black phenomena, poltergeist-type happenings, cryptids, and the titular prophecies. Where one phenomena stops and another begins? That’s the real question below this book.
(Note: Keel also wrote the wonderful Our Haunted Planet, which, while eye-opening as it dissects ancient mythology and the potential reality of gods, aliens, and faeries, is poorly referenced throughout, making many of his lofty claims immediately suspect to the careful reader. Though I’ve only read the opening chapters, it seems that Jacques Vallee’s Passport to Magonia–which is available used for $400 dollars on amazon, or as a free PDF on a quick google search–is a much better presented exploration of similar study).
4. Phenomenology and Mysticism: The Verticality of Religious Experience by Anthony Steinbock
Readers familiar with my areas of research know that in much of college, I focused a lot of study on philosophy of religions (both east and west) as well as an emphasis on mysticism. Mysticism is the practice of having an experience of something divine or transcendent of the world around us. Steinbock’s textbook examines what makes a spiritual experience inherently spiritual and where it crosses with the world around us. Indeed, as paranormal researchers, if we are coming into contact with beings or creatures from a plane truly beyond our own, the similarities in experiences immediately come together. If any researchers are interested in the broader implications of what it means to contact beings from “somewhere beyond”, Steinbock is a must read.
(Mystical experience is broadly classified and broadly researched in a way that much of the paranormal hasn’t. Some other books for reading on the subject include William James’s Varieties of Religious Experience. James was one of the founding members of the Society for Psychical research, which is necessarily referenced in Mitchell’s Psychic Explorations book. Funny how they all start linking together again, isn’t it? Also, try Sufism and Taoism: A Comparative Study of Key Philosophical Concepts, Cosmos and Transcendence: Breaking Through the Barrier of Scientistic Belief, and Perceiving God: The Epistemology of Religious Experience.)
5. Hostage to the Devil: The Possession and Exorcism of Five Contemporary Americans by Malachi Martin
It should be noted that I have a problem with fundamental religious belief (which you’ll understand far more deeply if you pursue the mystical readings), but Martin’s book on possession is one of the best. It very thoroughly documents five case studies on various possessions that he researched. Where many television shows today like to throw around the “demon” word to keep their episodes exciting for the audience at home, the reality of demonic possession is shocking and very different. This book explores not only the exorcisms, but the circumstances surrounding the onset of the possession. This can be difficult to digest for the non-religious reader, as its very fundamentalist. But Martin is a professional and does a fine job of presenting the circumstances with very little bias. Even from the 1970s and with deeply religious background, such topics as transgender individuals are handled gracefully, though certain implications do leave a critical reader a bit wary. Regardless, as a study on the fact of possession, there’s much that cannot be denied, and the presentation here borders on masterpiece.
(If demonology is your thing, there is some fascinating reading on the subject. I also recommend The Dark Sacrament by David Kiely and Christina McKenna and The Rite by Matt Baglio).
Honorable Mention: The Golden Bough: A Study in Magic and Religion by James George Frazer.
The first time I tossed out these books on twitter, I added also that you should read anything that John Tenney recommends. If he told me there was insight in the phone book, I’d take to the phone book with a magnifying glass. At the time, his go-to book to add to the list was The Golden Bough. Because of his recommendation, this fat tome is sitting on my shelf patiently waiting my read. Written around the turn of the 20th century, this book is considered a foundation for modern-day Anthropology, studying how beliefs over time have changed from magic to religion, and from religion to science.
Those are my suggestions, caveats and thoughts and all. I do hope these help. If you have any suggestions of your own, feel free to sound off in the comments down below!
Karl Pfeiffer won the first season of Ghost Hunters Academy and went on to work with the Ghost Hunters International team. He’s the author of the novel Hallowtide, writes for the TAPS Paramagazine and Paranormal Pop Culture Blog, works with investigative teams across Colorado, lectures across America, and leads the public ghost hunts at the Stanley Hotel. More can be found at www.KarlPfeiffer.com