Paranormal Activity: The Language of Ghastly Ghouls

Who ya gonna call?

When strange things go “bump” in the night, your first thought might be “I need to fix the water heater” not “What’s the number for the Ghostbusters, again?” But in the event you’d prefer a supernatural explanation—like, a spooky ghost is communicating with you through your water heater— we’re at the ready. Here’s our toolkit of paranormal vocabulary to sort out what’s going down in that basement. Just don’t go alone!

Astral Projection

Astral projection is the process of separating the astral body, the body’s spirit or consciousness, from the physical body. It’s an OOB, or out-of-body experience. Deriving from the Latin astralisastral projection can also be called astral travel, because it’s believed the spirit traverses the entire universe. Spiritualists use astral projection to communicate with those beyond the earthly realm.


Channeling is an example of a term with different significations depending on the field in which it’s being used. In spiritualism, channeling is communicating with the paranormal in a state of trance or meditation. Spiritualists describe the action as “plugging into a switchboard” or a “grid frequency” to receive information from the ‘other side.’


Any ability to perceive psychic phenomena would mean you possess the power of clairvoyance. In spiritualism, clair (“clear”) can be prefixed before any of the other four ‘normal’ senses, resulting in terminology that applies to a medium’s super-sensitive perception of a spirit: clairaudience is “clear hearing,” clairsentience “clear feeling,” clairalience “clear smelling,” and clairgustance “clear tasting.” Seeing a spirit alone would make most people queasy, but smelling and tasting it, too? That’s a bit much.

Cold spot

Cold spots are found in human physiology, but in the paranormal world, cold spots are indications of spirit activity. They aren’t sensed by everyone; the ones that do feel the chill are said to be more sensitive to the preternatural. Whether or not they exist, the first thing you should do in the basement is check for drafts.


Adopting a biological term originating in the late 1800s, spiritualists define ectoplasm as a cloudy mist, “usually a milky white vaporous color,” that halos before an apparition appears. From Greek ecto (“outside”) and plasma (“something developed or created”), this mystical mist is like a protective skin through which the specter shimmers into view.


Whether you converse with spirits the old-fashioned way or by exchanging telepathic thought-waves, communicating with the deceased is an example of necromancy. The word traces back to the Ancient Greek nekromanteia, where nekros meant “dead body” and manteia “divination” or “oracle.” In effect, a necromancer, someone who practices necromancy, is divining or discovering information from the deceased about the past, the future, or the world beyond.


Another paranormal power is psychokinesis or telekinesis, where objects are moved without physical contact with them. In Greek, kinesis means “movement” or “motion.” The psycho– prefix highlights the “mental,” “spirit,” or “unconscious” force behind the movement (movement with the mind), while tele- references the “distance” between the mover and the thing moved (movement without being close to or touching the object).


Just as a natural vortex is a whirling mass of water, fire, or air, a paranormal vortex is a spinning swirl. But it’s composed of supernatural elements, which can apparently only be captured in photographs—they appear as refractions or corkscrews of light. Hmm, are we sure these aren’t specks of dust caught in the camera’s flash?


Merging the prefix psycho- and metria, a measure of psychometry is the alleged art of divining information about people and objects (taking a ‘measure’ of them) through touch alone.

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