The Maglite Theory

Rob Gallitto



One of the more popular and controversial methods to paranormal investigations over the last few years has been the “Maglite phenomenon”. Whether you’re an actual investigator or you just like watching any of the dozens of paranormal TV shows out there today, you’ve likely heard and seen this before. The Maglite flashlights turn on and off by twisting the top either clockwise or counterclockwise. Once the light is on, you can continue to twist it to adjust the brightness level or unscrew the top all together to have a constant soft light like a candle. Their popularity in the paranormal field comes because of the discovery that if the top of the Maglite is twisted to the point where it is just slightly off, spirits can manipulate the light somehow to turn it on and off; giving answers to simple “yes” or “no” questions.

There are many reasons why the Maglite is so controversial among paranormal investigators. Some use it all of the time while others dismiss it outright. Being in a group that uses the Maglites quite often and being more of a skeptic myself, the lights have both frustrated me to no end and amazed me. I have seen the Maglites turn on and off by themselves with no real consistency as to what questions were being asked and I’ve also seen sessions with the lights that have lasted upwards of an hour with the responses being 100% consistent and accurate with what was being asked at the time. Could it just be coincidence that they work so well sometimes and are all over the place at other times? I don’t see how that would be possible when the responses are so accurate for such a long time. I could see there being a coincidental response here and there, but to have it happen with dozens of questions asked in a row over a lengthy period of time, I can’t imagine what the chances of that are.

Still, I knew that if I could find a logical explanation as to why the Maglites would turn on and off by themselves it would debunk the entire theory for me. I needed a real explanation for them though. As a skeptic, if I can’t explain something, I’ll accept it as being paranormal. I won’t dismiss something without that proven explanation. I’m not a cynic. I have been trying to explain the Maglites for two years now. When I first started, I simply set a Maglite up at my house and waited to see if it would go on and off by itself. I use my home as a control location for all of these experiments because I know it’s not haunted. I’ve lived here for a very long time and if there were any spirits around I’d definitely know by now!




After leaving my Maglite set up for several hours at my house, it didn’t go off by itself a single time. I tried doing this on occasion for about a year and always got the same result. I should note now that I think a lot of the real false reactions from the Maglite could come from not knowing how to set it properly. When you’ve twisted the top of the Maglite so that it is just barely off, you should give it a strong shake. If the light goes on when you shake it, it’s too loose. You need to tighten the grip so it’s not as close to being on. This is the method that everyone in my group and everyone else I trust uses to set their Maglites.

Not being entirely convinced by just setting a Maglite up at my house, I thought about and listened to what other explanations there could be. The two theories I always hear from people who completely roll their eyes at the Maglite is that they are set off by thermodynamics/changes in temperature and natural vibrations in the environment. I’ve heard a lot of people say that these are the reasons why they can’t be trusted, but I don’t know of anyone who actually went ahead and tested these theories. They’re good theories, but again, I can’t accept them until I see them work for myself. I decided to try them both out.

The first thing I did was I went out and bought a fresh batch of Maglites. This way I knew that everything was the same with each light. There was no more use on one than there was with the other. I thought the temperature change theory was conceivable so I did that one first. I’ve heard the explanation that when you hold the Maglite in your hand, your body heats the light up and when you set it down to communicate with a spirit, it naturally cools down and that temperature change is what causes them to go on and off. Just to cover all bases, I used three Maglites for this experiment. The first Maglite I set up at room temperature; which was roughly 70° Fahrenheit. Throughout doing this, I used an infrared thermometer to constantly measure the temperature of the Maglites. The second Maglite I heated up to around 112° F using a flame. The third Maglite I cooled down to 15°F. I set all three Maglites up next to each other using the proper “shaking” method and then waited to see if any of them would turn on.

These were all extreme changes in temperature, but if more subtle changes in temperature were responsible for the Maglite phenomenon, then these larger changes would definitely get a response. The Maglite that was hot ended up cooling off after just a few minutes. The cold Maglite took much longer to warm up so I left all three set without touching them for over an hour while it did. When all of the Maglites finally got back to room temperature, none of them had gone on by themselves.



A few days later I moved on to the theory that vibrations caused the Maglites to go on and off. This time I used two Maglites, a subwoofer, and a seismic geophone. The geophone is another piece of equipment that is sometimes used for paranormal investigations, but here I was using it to see exactly how strong the vibrations were and; if I was able to get the Maglite to go on, how strong they needed to be. I set the Maglites up on top of the subwoofer the same way as usual; using the “shaking” method to make sure they were set properly, and put the geophone directly in front of them. I tried playing about a dozen songs through the subwoofer while the lights were set and no matter how loud or bass-heavy the song was, I got nothing to turn on. Knowing there could be different reactions from different levels of vibration, I wanted to find a way to properly test this since using random songs might not be the most accurate way. I found an MP3 of a THX bass sound test that started at a very high level bass and gradually changed levels of vibrations over its’ minute long length. Once again, while playing the THX sound test, the Maglites would not turn on. The level of vibration from the THX test was very high. My poor geophone looked like it wanted to explode and the entire house literally shook.

The only time I was able to get a Maglite to turn on and off by itself during these tests was when I intentionally set one incorrectly on the subwoofer without using the shaking method. Even then, it was very difficult to get it to work. I only set it wrong once out of curiosity, but it was enough for me to not trust Maglites if they’re not set right. How do I explain the Maglite phenomenon when it happens in allegedly haunted locations with lights that I know are set correctly? I can’t. Since it’s not something that I can explain or prove is a normal or a natural occurrence, I have no choice but to accept it as what it is- something unexplainable or paranormal. I’ll always listen to any theories out there and test them out, but I’ve run out of ideas now.