A ghost is a non-corporeal manifestation of a dead person (or, rarely, an animal or a vehicle). It is often thought to be a manifestation of the spirit or soul of a person which has remained on Earth after death. According to some beliefs, a ghost may be the personality of a person after his or her death, and not directly tied to the soul or spirit. Every culture in the world carries stories about ghosts, though they often disagree as to what ghosts are and whether they are just figments of imagination or a part of reality.
Ghosts are often depicted of a human size and shape (although some accounts also mention animal ghosts), but typically described as "silvery", "shadowy", "semitransparent", "misty", "human-like", "big", "scary" or "fog-like". Parapsychologists refer to the "substance" of which ghosts and other spirits are made as "ectoplasm". Ghosts do not have a physical body like human beings, but only a subtle astral body. Sometimes they do not manifest themselves visually but in terms of other phenomena, such as the movements of an object, spontaneous throwing of a light switch, noises, etc., which supposedly have no natural explanation.
In the West, those who believe in ghosts sometimes hold them to be souls that could not find rest after death, and so linger on Earth. The inability to find rest is often explained by unfinished business, such as a victim seeking justice or revenge after death. Criminals sometimes supposedly linger to avoid Purgatory or Hell. It is sometimes held that ghosts reside in Limbo or Purgatory. Although this view was once propounded by some Catholic theologians, it is no longer believed according to the Catechism of the Catholic Church. It is worth noting that while mainstream Protestants and Evangelical Christians]believe in the existence of principalities, they do not believe in ghosts (as spiritual manifestations of the dead) and would generally attribute more violent ghosts, such as poltergeists, to the actions of demons.
Some ghost researchers approach the possibility of ghosts from a more scientific standpoint, seeking to find correlations and causal relationships between recordable phenomena and the supposed presence of ghosts. Those who follow this approach most often believe that ghosts are not actual disembodied souls or spirits, but rather they are impressions of psychic energy left behind by a deceased (or in some rare cases, still living) person. They assert that traumatic events (such as a murder or suicide) cause mental energy to be released into the world, where it may be experienced by other people who are sensitive to its presence. This way of thinking classifies ghosts in the same category of preternatural unexplained phenomena as poltergeists/telekinesis, ESP, and telepathy. Theories from this approach often encounter difficulties in explaining ghosts that appear to be sentient, such as those which answer questions or react to specific actions from people present. However, it may be possible that enough of a dead person's psyche might be imprinted on an environment so as to give the likeness of thought or autonomy.
In Asian cultures, such as China, there are some people who hold a belief in reincarnation. Ghosts are those souls that refused to be "recycled" because they have unfinished business, similar to those in the West. Exorcists can either help a ghost to be driven away or reincarnated. In Chinese tradition, apart from being reincarnated, a ghost can also become immortal and become a demigod, or it can go to hell and suffer for eternity, or it can die again and become "ghost of ghost". The Chinese also believe that some ghosts, especially those who died of drowning, kill people in order to rob them of their rights to reincarnation. The victims of such paranormal "murders" are called tìsíguǐ (替死鬼), literally "substitute death ghost" or "substitute devil" which in Chinese is a synonym for scapegoat. Also in China, particularly in the Guangzhou area, the Chinese people usually hold a Chinese version of the Day of the Dead ritual for their ancestors in autumn. The ritual consists of burning Hell Bank Notes and other luxury items made of paper mache as well as pouring wine three times on their grave and leaving food. An older ritual is for the living family to prepare a grand feast for their dead relatives "returning" home. During the time of feast, those relatives amongst the living are not allowed to leave their bedrooms regardless of how much noise the ghost makes.
Very detailed information about ghosts is given in Garuda Purana, a scripture from Vedic (Hindu) tradition. How ghosts fit into this worldview is shown here.
Buddhist Samsara includes the concept of the hungry ghost realm. Sentient beings in that realm are referred to as "hungry ghosts" because of their attachment to this world. Asuras are also referred to as "fighting ghosts".
Both the West and the East share some fundamental beliefs about ghosts. They may wander around places they frequented when alive or where they died. Such places are known as "haunted"; the rounds they go on are known as "hauntings". They often wear the sort of clothing in which they would have been seen when alive.
While some accept ghosts as a reality, many others are skeptical of the existence of ghosts. For example, the vast majority of the scientific community believes that ghosts, as well as other supernatural and paranormal entities, do not exist.
Skeptics often explain ghost sightings with the principle of Occam's razor, which argues that explanations should maximize parsimony with the rest of our knowledge]. They may suggest that, since few to none of us have ever had an interpersonal relationship with a ghost, but most or all of us have had an experience of self-delusion or have attributed a false cause to an event, that these options should be preferred in the absence of a great abundance of evidence. They are also keen to note that most ghost sightings happen when our senses are impaired, and that the evidence is unreliable because it doesn't occur when we have full use of our faculties.
Occasionally, the sincerity and motive of the claimant will be questioned. They might make up a haunting for a personal reason. For example, lingering of ghosts is typically associated with seeking justice or revenge. Ascribing such motives and powers to dead people could be interpreted as a scare tactic. Also, a person might claim a haunting for personal popularity and income.
Human physiology may make us more susceptible to ghost sightings. Ghosts are often associated with a chilling sensation, but a natural animal response to fear is hair raising, which can be mistaken for chill. Also, the peripheral vision is very sensitive to motion, but does not contain much color or focused shapes. Any random motion outside the focused view can create a strong illusion of an eerie figure. Also, sound waves with frequencies lower than 20 hertz are called infrasound; they are formally inaudible, but British scientists Richard Lord and Richard Wiseman have concluded that infrasound can cause humans to feel a "presence" in the room, or unexplained feelings of anxiety or dread.
Sometimes ghosts are associated with electromagnetic disturbances, which suggests that they might be attributable to the electromagnetic field and not to a presently dead person. Often, videos of paranormal investigators will show them using E-field or B-field detectors and finding "ghostly" results near wall outlets and electrical appliances.
Psychological factors may also relate to ghost sightings. Many people exaggerate their interpretation of their own perceptions, either when visiting a place they believe to be haunted, or when visiting a site which they know has seen unpleasant historical events. Certain images such as paintings and movies might "program" a person to automatically associate a certain structure or area as haunted because of what they have seen in the movies. As well, the psychological phenomenon of pareidolia may cause people to perceive human-like faces or figures in the otherwise mundane surroundings of their environments, particularly in conditions where vision is partly obscured, as in a dark corridor or at night.
The earliest literature to rationally discuss the issue comes from the Chinese philosopher, Mo Tzu (470-391 BC)
"Since we must understand whether ghosts and spirits exist or not, how can we find out? Mo Tzu said: The way to find out whether anything exists or not is to depend on the testimony of the ears and eyes of the multitude. If some have heard it or some have seen it then we have to say it exists. If no one has heard it and no one has seen it then we have to say it does not exist. So, then, why not go to some village or some district and inquire? If from antiquity to the present, and since the beginning of man, there are men who have seen the bodies of ghosts and spirits and heard their voices, how can we say that they do not exist? If none have heard them and none have seen them, then how can we say they do? But those who deny the existence of the spirits say: "Many in the world have heard and seen something of ghosts and spirits. Since they vary in testimony, who are to be accepted as really having heard and seen them? Mo Tzu said: As we are to rely on what many have jointly seen and what many have jointly heard, the case of Tu Po is to be accepted. (note: King Hsuan (827-783 BC executed his minister, Tu Po, on false charges even after being warned that Tu Po's ghost would seek revenge. Three years later, according to historical chronicles, Tu's ghost shot and killed Hsuan with a bow and arrow before an assembly of feudal lords)" — Taken from Chapter 31, translated by Yi-pao Mei
Ghost stories date back to before even the Common Era. Perhaps one of the earliest known ghost sightings took place in Athens, Greece. Pliny the Younger (c.63 - 113 CE) described it in a letter to Sura: Athenodoros Cananites (c. 74 BCE – 7 CE), a Stoic philosopher, decided to rent a large, Athenian house, to investigate widespread rumours that it was haunted. Athenodoros staked out at the house that night, and, sure enough, a dishevelled, aged spectre, bound at feet and hands with rattling chains, eventually appeared. The spirit then beckoned for Athenodoros to follow him; Athenodoros complied, but the ghost soon vanished. The philosopher marked the spot where the old man had disappeared, and, on the next day, advised the magistrates to dig there. The man's shackled bones were reportedly uncovered when this was done. After a proper burial, the hauntings ceased.
It seems likely that the building with the most distinguished ghosts as rumored tenants is the Tower of London, which is reported to be haunted by:
- The headless ghost of Anne Boleyn;
- The ghost of Thomas Becket, which allegedly appeared during the construction of the Traitor's Gate;
- The ghosts of King Edward V of England and Richard of Shrewsbury, 1st Duke of York, the "Princes in the Tower";
- The ghost of Lady Jane Grey;
- The ghost of Sir Walter Raleigh;
- A troupe of ghosts who allegedly reenact the execution of Margaret Pole, 8th Countess of Salisbury;
- The Ghost of Warren Hastings
Several other ghosts are said to make the Tower their home; phantom troops of soldiers reportedly appear there, as well as a lady in mourning with no face.
The cities of York and Derby in England are also reputed to be a center of ghostly manifestations; consequently, they both thrive on hugely successful ghost tour industries. Indeed, the presence of many centuries-old buildings has given England the reputation of the most haunted country in the world. Whether this is due to the age of the buildings, or the fact that many are still inhabited is questionable.
The Brown Lady of Raynham Hall has been seen quite a few times over the years. She is called the "Brown Lady" due to the brown brocade dress that the ghost has often been seen wearing while wandering the halls and staircase of Raynham Hall. In 1849 Major Loftus and a friend named Hawkins saw the ghost one night after retiring to bed. They both saw the woman and were amazed by the old fashioned clothing that she wore. The following night the Major was lucky enough to see the figure once again, this time he took note of her empty eye-sockets. The incident resulted in several members of staff resigning and a full investigation being done of Raynham Hall involving local detectives. For more accounts and information, see:
Biggin Hill (London, England) is also reported haunted by many ghosts, which many believe is probably because it was the site of a World War II airbase.
The White House in Washington, D.C., is said to be haunted by the ghost of Abraham Lincoln and by several lesser spectres.
The ghost of the Roman Emperor Caligula was said to haunt the Lamian Gardens of Rome, where his body had been hastily and unceremoniously buried after his assassination.
In the Biblical account of the Witch of Endor, King Saul of Israel has the witch conjure up the ghost of the prophet Samuel to consult with him on his precarious situation. The prophet's spirit gives the king no assistance, but rebukes him and foretells his doom instead.
The former prison island of Alcatraz off the coast of San Francisco is said to be home to a number of ghosts of prisoners who died there.
Athens, Ohio is named one of the most haunted places in America, and is reputed to contain many ghosts. One oft-made claim is that, when drawing a line from each of the 5 (or, in some versions, 10) graveyards, one creates a pentagram; this claim is false. Ohio University is, for many reasons independent of that claim, considered by some the most haunted campus in America, as it is former state hospital, Athens State Mental Hospital .
The city of New Orleans is sometimes called 'America's most haunted city' with numerous ghost reports, especially in the French Quarter. New Orleans' ghosts include pirates from the 18th century, through to 20th century spectres.
The Museum of Natural Science in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada is said to be haunted by the ghost of the Canadian Prime Minister Sir Wilfrid Laurier, whose body laid there in state after his death in 1919. Many workers in the museum have noted the presence of a spirit after the museum has closed for the day.
The Kuchisake-onna was said to have caused mass hysteria throughout Japan during the spring and summer of 1979.
Hollywood, California has been home to many of the great stars and there are those who believe that their ghosts remain there after death, earning it the name Haunted Hollywood.
The ocean liner RMS Queen Mary, now permanently moored in Long Beach, California, is reputed to be haunted by several ghosts. Two of the more famous hauntings are in the ship's swimming pool and in Shaft Alley, the area behind the engine room, containing the ship's propeller shafts. Recent investigations have failed to prove any presence or activity of ghosts, and most of the phenomenon has been attributed to the basic mechanical workings of the ship.
Blankenfeldes manor, an old manor near the Latvian - Lithuanian border, is believed to be the most terrible and haunted place in the whole Baltic region.
Ghosts in fiction
A popular genre of literature from the early Renaissance to the early twentieth century was the Dialogues of the Dead. These were based upon the Witch of Endor story and the visions of Hades found in both Homer's Odyssey and Virgil's Aeneid.
In Odyssey, Odysseus travels to Hades and sees the shades of his former colleagues, including some he did not know were dead, and pours out fresh blood, which the dead hunger for, until he can find Tiresias and get guidance on his voyages. In the Dialogues of the Dead genre, authors would somehow contrive a device for summoning the dead to a character who would then speak with them and ask them questions about philosophy or current events. These "ghosts" were under control of a great sorcerer or otherwise compelled to speak. The genre was most popular in the 18th century, and examples were written by many. Jonathan Swift satirized the genre in the third book of Gulliver's Travels by having Gulliver summon the ghosts of former kings and great conquerors and finding, instead of nobility, petty, childish, and stupid people who possessed no wisdom and who accomplished their great deeds for mean and selfish reasons. Further, he finds that the ancestors of many great lords and ladies of his day were stable boys, servants, etc.
In each of these cases, the fictional ghost offers counsel to the living and thus acts as a messenger from the implicitly greater world beyond. However, the ghost messenger can also act in a way reminiscent of the guardian angel in fiction. In some fictions, a departed relative (usually) or friend guides the living to either a moral or material benefit. Such ghosts can either act as a deus ex machina by resolving plot points with supernatural power or as a mentor who offers sagacity to the characters with a limited point of view.
Finally, the ghost messenger features in fiction as a ghost in disguise. A character otherwise regarded as living turns out, in the fiction's denouement, to be a supernatural agent. In folk music, there are songs featuring lovers and objects of affection who must leave before dawn (a variant on the Cupid and Psyche story) because they are ghosts. Additionally, some urban legends, such as the "Hitchhiking ghost", turn upon an anonymous stranger (or Elvis Presley in a common variant) who is revealed to be a ghost in the clinch of the story. Such a ghost in disguise usually, in fiction, offers statements or visions that are relevant to the plot, but not in a way comprehensible to the characters. Such gnomic or oracular statements reward the reader with knowledge greater than the fiction's participants.
The malign ghost whose intent is either to set right an injustice or to be avenged upon the living, either in general or on a specific person, features in many fictions. In the Elizabethan and Jacobean stage, the vengeful ghost is a commonplace who sets plots in motion. However, the haunting and mystery/adversarial acts of the ghost appears later in the "ghost story". Hauntings feature in Eyrbyggja Saga for a section of the work, but the "Gothic novel" and later "Gothic fiction" introduced the use of ghosts for fear to literature. Horace Walpole's 1764 The Castle of Otranto was among the first to set up the rational but malign actions of a ghost to create an atmosphere of foreboding, mystery, and fear. After Edgar Allan Poe, the "ghost story" began an independent generic history, and today the genre of Horror continues the use of ghosts as villains in fiction.
Other uses of ghosts in fiction
In many stories, ghosts are often depicted as haunting the living until a certain desire is met or some grievance was settled by the haunted.
In William Shakespeare's play Hamlet, a ghost, taking the form of Hamlet's recently deceased father, appears to Prince Hamlet one night. The ghost says that he was, in fact, murdered by his brother Claudius, who now (by virtue of having married Hamlet's mother Gertrude) occupies the throne. The ghost exhorts Hamlet to take revenge on Claudius. When Hamlet sees the ghost, he is not sure if it is, in fact, his father's spirit or a demon whose aim is to deceive him. Julius Caesar's ghost appears to Brutus in Shakespeare's Julius Caesar to warn Brutus of his impending defeat. In Shakespeare's Macbeth, the title character believes he sees the "blood-bolter'd" ghost of his former friend Banquo sitting in his chair during a feast. Finally, in the play Richard III, the title character is visited by the angry ghosts of those he has killed, foretelling his doom and blessing his opponent, Richmond, later to become Henry VII.
In the anime/manga BLEACH, ghosts appear in two types, pluses, good ghosts, and hollows, evil ghosts which the main character Ichigo Kurosaki has to fight.
Casper the Friendly Ghost is a cartoon character from Harvey Comics. Despite his ghostliness, the good-natured Casper tries to befriend people rather than scare them.
There are ghost superheroes who fight for justice, such as DC Comics' The Spectre, Deadman, Ghostfreak from Ben 10, and Nickelodeon's Danny Phantom.
In the film The Sixth Sense, actor Bruce Willis plays a child psychologist working with a young boy (Haley Joel Osment) who can see the spirits of the dead among the living.
In the sci-fi/comedy Ghostbusters films and television cartoon, the protagonists use special technology of their own design to hunt and capture/exile the ghosts they encounter.
In the controversial BBC film Ghostwatch, a ghost invades the world of the living.
Other famous ghosts in fiction include the Headless Horseman, who appears in Washington Irving's The Legend of Sleepy Hollow. Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn visit a haunted house in Mark Twain's The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. Boag-Munroe is the fictional ghosthunter from A Haunted Man by horror writer Stuart Neild. Algernon Blackwood was a British writer who is well known for writing ghost stories. Other authors in the field include Oscar Wilde (The Canterville Ghost, 1887), M. R. James, J. Sheridan Le Fanu, H. R. Wakefield, and E. F. Benson.
Theatre productions sometimes feature ghosts. One way to make the phantom appear on stage is Pepper's ghost technique.
In Asian horror cinema, the ghost stories often include adaptations of old oriental folklore set in a present day city. The recent Japanese movie The Ring and the Hong Kong movie The Eye are both inspired by old legends about haunting spirits.
In popular 1990 academy award winning film Ghost, the ghost of a murdered man (played by Patrick Swayze) returns to earth to find out more about his murder and seek revenge on his killer. With the help of a psychic medium, he contacts his wife and learns the truth.
The Disneyland attraction, The Haunted Mansion supposedly features 999 happy haunts with room for 1,000.
Awa, the keyboardist of the finnish hard-rock band Lordi, is a ghost.
- Bloody Mary
- Borley Rectory
- Churel (Indian female ghost)
- Electronic voice phenomenon
- Ghost dance
- Ghost Festival
- Ghost Hunters
- Ghosts in Malay culture
- Ghost movies
- Ghost ship
- Ghost train
- Gidim (Sumerian ghosts)
- Halloween traditions
- Haunted Hollywood
- Holy Ghost
- Hungry ghost realm
- Hypnopompic imagery
- La Llorona
- Legend tripping
- List of haunted locations
- Phantom vehicle
- Spectral evidence
- Shadow People
- Vanishing hitchhiker
- The Ghost Club - Founded 1851, the first ghost investigation group
- Ghosts 'all in the mind' - BBC report on a scientific explanation of ghosts
- The Spirit Society - A research community studying ghosts, spirits, and hauntings.
- Real Haunts: Ghost stories and haunted houses
- Science vs. Séance - Victorian photographic images of ghosts form the American Museum of Photography
- Apparitions and Hauntings at Infidels.org
- Articles and Picture Galleries of Ghosts at Thesupernaturalworld.co.uk
- Ghost Hunting Mockumentary