In traditional belief and fiction, a ghost is the soul or spirit of a deceased person or animal that can appear, in visible form or other manifestation, to the living. Descriptions of the apparition of ghosts vary widely from an invisible presence to translucent or barely visible wispy shapes, to realistic, life-like visions. The deliberate attempt to contact the spirit of a deceased person is known as necromancy, or in spiritism as a séance.
The belief in manifestations of the spirits of the dead is widespread, dating back to animism or ancestor worship in pre-literate cultures. Certain religious practices—funeral rites, exorcisms, and some practices of spiritualism and ritual magic—are specifically designed to appease the spirits of the dead. Ghosts are generally described as solitary essences that haunt particular locations, objects, or people they were associated with in life, though stories of phantom armies, ghost trains, phantom ships, and even ghost animals have also
The English word ghost continues Old English gást, from a hypothetical Common Germanic *gaistaz. It is common to West Germanic, but lacking in North and East Germanic (the equivalent word in Gothic is ahma, Old Norse has andi m., önd f.). The pre-Germanic form was *ghoisdo-s, apparently from a root denoting "fury, anger" reflected in Old Norse geisa "to rage". The Germanic word is recorded as masculine only, but likely continues a neuter s-stem. The original meaning of the Germanic word would thus have been an animating principle of the mind, in particular capable of excitation and fury (compare óðr). In Germanic paganism, "Germanic Mercury", and the later Odin, was at the same time the conductor of the dead and the "lord of fury" leading the Wild Hunt.
Besides denoting the human spirit or soul, both of the living and the deceased, the Old English word is used as a synonym of Latin spiritus also in the meaning of "breath" or "blast" from the earliest attestations (9th century). It could also denote any good or evil spirit, i.e. angels and demons; the Anglo-Saxon gospel refers to the demonic possession of Matthew 12:43 as se unclæna gast. Also from the Old English period, the word could denote the spirit of God, viz. the "Holy Ghost". The now prevailing sense of "the soul of a deceased person, spoken of as appearing in a visible form" only emerges in Middle English (14th century). The modern noun does, however, retain a wider field of application, extending on one hand to "soul", "spirit", "vital principle", "mind" or "psyche", the seat of feeling, thought and moral judgement; on the other hand used figuratively of any shadowy outline, fuzzy or unsubstantial image, in optics, photography and cinematography especially a flare, secondary image or spurious signal.
The synonym spook is a Dutch loanword, akin to Low German spôk (of uncertain etymology); it entered the English language via the United States in the 19th century. Alternative words in modern usage include spectre (from Latin spectrum), the Scottish wraith (of obscure origin), phantom (via French ultimately from Greek phantasma, compare fantasy) and apparition. The term shade in classical mythology translates Greek σκιά, or Latin umbra, in reference to the notion of spirits in the Greek underworld. "Haint" is a synonym for ghost used in regional English of the southern United States, and the "haint tale" is a common feature of southern oral and literary tradition. The term poltergeist is a German word, literally a "noisy ghost", for a spirit said to manifest itself by invisibly moving and influencing objects.
Wraith is a Scottish dialectal word for "ghost", "spectre" or "apparition". It came to be used in Scottish Romanticist literature, and acquired the more general or figurative sense of "portent" or "omen". In 18th- to 19th-century Scottish literature, it was also applied to aquatic spirits. The word has no commonly accepted etymology; OED notes "of obscure origin" only. An association with the verb writhe was the etymology favored by J. R. R. Tolkien. Tolkien's use of the word in the naming of the creatures known as the Ringwraiths has influenced later usage in fantasy literature. Bogie is an Ulster Scots term for a ghost, and appears in Scottish poet John Mayne's Hallowe'en in 1780.
A revenant is a deceased person returning from the dead to haunt the living, either as a disembodied ghost or alternatively as an animated ("undead") corpse. Also related is the concept of a fetch, the visible ghost or spirit of a person yet alive.
Further information: Animism, Ancestor worship, Origin of religion, and Anthropology of religion
A notion of the transcendent, supernatural or numinous, usually involving entities like ghosts, demons or deities, is a cultural universal. In pre-literate folk religions, these beliefs are often summarized under animism and ancestor worship.
In many cultures malignant, restless ghosts are distinguished from the more benign spirits involved in ancestor worship.
Ancestor worship typically involves rites intended to prevent revenants, vengeful spirits of the dead, imagined as starving and envious of the living. Strategies for preventing revenants may either include sacrifice, i.e., giving the dead food and drink to pacify them, or magical banishment of the deceased to force them not to return. Ritual feeding of the dead is performed in traditions like the Chinese Ghost Festival or the Western All Souls' Day. Magical banishment of the dead is present in many of the world's burial customs. The bodies found in many tumuli (kurgan) had been ritually bound before burial, and the custom of binding the dead persists, for example, in rural Anatolia.
Nineteenth-century anthropologist James Frazer stated in his classic work, The Golden Bough, that souls were seen as the creature within that animated the body.
Ghosts and the afterlife.
Although the human soul was sometimes symbolically or literally depicted in ancient cultures as a bird or other animal, it appears to have been widely held that the soul was an exact reproduction of the body in every feature, even down to clothing the person wore. This is depicted in artwork from various ancient cultures, including such works as the Egyptian Book of the Dead, which shows deceased people in the afterlife appearing much as they did before death, including the style of dress.
Fear of ghostWhile deceased ancestors are universally regarded as venerable, and often imagined as having a continued presence in some sort of afterlife, the spirit of a deceased person which remains present in the material world (viz. a ghost) is regarded as an unnatural or undesirable state of affairs and the idea of ghosts or revenants is associated with a reaction of fear. This is universally the case in pre-modern folk cultures, but fear of ghost also remains an integral aspect of the modern ghost story, Gothic horror and other horror fiction dealing with the supernatural.
Another widespread belief concerning ghosts is that they are composed of a misty, airy, or subtle material. Anthropologists link this idea to early beliefs that ghosts were the person within the person (the person's spirit), most noticeable in ancient cultures as a person's breath, which upon exhaling in colder climates appears visibly as a white mist. This belief may have also fostered the metaphorical meaning of "breath" in certain languages, such as the Latin spiritus and the Greek pneuma, which by analogy became extended to mean the soul. In the Bible, God is depicted as animating Adam with a breath.
In many traditional accounts, ghosts were often thought to be deceased people looking for vengeance, or imprisoned on earth for bad things they did during life. The appearance of a ghost has often been regarded as an omen or portent of death. Seeing one's own ghostly double or "fetch" is a related omen of death.
White ladies were reported to appear in many rural areas, and supposed to have died tragically or suffered trauma in life. White Lady legends are found around the world. Common to many of them is the theme of losing or being betrayed by a husband or fiancé. They are often associated with an individual family line or regarded as a harbinger of death similar to a banshee.
Legends of ghost ships have existed since the 18th century; most notable of these is the Flying Dutchman. This theme has been used in literature in The Rime of the Ancient Mariner by Coleridge.
A place where ghosts are reported is described as haunted, and often seen as being inhabited by spirits of deceased who may have been former residents or were familiar with the property. Supernatural activity inside homes is said to be mainly associated with violent or tragic events in the building's past such as murder, accidental death, or suicide — sometimes in the recent or ancient past. But not all hauntings are at a place of a violent death, or even on violent grounds. Many cultures and religions believe the essence of a being, such as the 'soul', continues to exist. Some philosophical and religious views argue that the 'spirits' of those who have died have not 'passed over' and are trapped inside the property where their memories and energy are strong.
Ancient Near East and Egypt
There are many references to ghosts in Mesopotamian religions - the religions of Sumer, Babylon, Assyria and other early states in Mesopotamia. Traces of these beliefs survive in the later Abrahamic religions that came to dominate the region. Ghosts were thought to be created at time of death, taking on the memory and personality of the dead person. They traveled to the netherworld, where they were assigned a position, and led an existence similar in some ways to that of the living. Relatives of the dead were expected to make offerings of food and drink to the dead to ease their conditions. If they did not, the ghosts could inflict misfortune and illness on the living. Traditional healing practices ascribed a variety of illnesses to the action of ghosts, while others were caused by gods or demons.
The Hebrew Bible contains few references to ghosts, associating spiritism with forbidden occult activities cf. Deuteronomy 18:11. The most notable reference is in the First Book of Samuel (I Samuel 28:3-19 KJV), in which a disguised King Saul has the Witch of Endor summon the spirit/ghost of Samuel.
Egyptian Akh glyph - The soul and spirit re-united after death
There was widespread belief in ghosts in ancient Egyptian culture in the sense of the continued existence of the soul and spirit after death, with the ability to assist or harm the living, and the possibility of a second death. Over a period of more than 2,500 years, Egyptian beliefs about the nature of the afterlife evolved constantly. Many of these beliefs were recorded in inscriptions, papyrus scrolls and tomb paintings. The Egyptian Book of the Dead compiles some of the beliefs from different periods of ancient Egyptian history. In modern times, the fanciful concept of a mummy coming back to life and wreaking vengeance when disturbed has spawned a whole genre of horror stories and films.
Archaic and Classical Greece
Ghosts appeared in Homer's Odyssey and Iliad, in which they were described as vanishing "as a vapor, gibbering and whining into the earth". Homer’s ghosts had little interaction with the world of the living. Periodically they were called upon to provide advice or prophecy, but they do not appear to be particularly feared. Ghosts in the classical world often appeared in the form of vapor or smoke, but at other times they were described as being substantial, appearing as they had been at the time of death, complete with the wounds that killed them.
By the 5th century BC, classical Greek ghosts had become haunting, frightening creatures who could work to either good or evil purposes. The spirit of the dead was believed to hover near the resting place of the corpse, and cemeteries were places the living avoided. The dead were to be ritually mourned through public ceremony, sacrifice and libations, or they might return to haunt their families. The ancient Greeks held annual feasts to honor and placate the spirits of the dead, to which the family ghosts were invited, and after which they were “firmly invited to leave until the same time next year”.
The 5th century BC play Oresteia contains one of the first ghosts to appear in a work of fiction.
Roman Empire and Late Antiquity
The ancient Romans believed a ghost could be used to exact revenge on an enemy by scratching a curse on a piece of lead or pottery and placing it into a grave.
Plutarch,in the 1st century AD, described the haunting of the baths at Chaeronea by the ghost of a murdered man. The ghost’s loud and frightful groans caused the people of the town to seal up the doors of the building. Another celebrated account of a haunted house from the ancient classical world is given by Pliny the Younger (c. 50 AD). Pliny describes the haunting of a house in Athens by a ghost bound in chains. The hauntings ceased when the ghost's shackled skeleton was unearthed, and given a proper reburial. The writers Plautus and Lucian also wrote stories about haunted houses.
In the New Testament, Jesus has to persuade the Disciples that he is not a ghost following the resurrection, Luke 24:37-39 (note that some versions of the Bible, such as the KJV and NKJV, use the term "spirit"). In a similar vein, Jesus' followers at first believe him to be a ghost (spirit) when they see him walking on water.
One of the first persons to express disbelief in ghosts was Lucian of Samosata in the 2nd century AD. In his tale "The Doubter" (circa 150 AD) he relates how Democritus "the learned man from Abdera in Thrace" lived in a tomb outside the city gates to prove that cemeteries were not haunted by the spirits of the departed. Lucian relates how he persisted in his disbelief despite practical jokes perpetrated by "some young men of Abdera" who dressed up in black robes with skull masks to frighten him. This account by Lucian notes something about the popular classical expectation of how a ghost should look.
In the 5th century AD, the Christian priest Constantius of Lyon recorded an instance of the recurring theme of the improperly buried dead who come back to haunt the living, and who can only cease their haunting when their bones have been discovered and properly reburied.
Most ghosts were souls assigned to Purgatory, condemned for a specific period to atone for their transgressions in life. Their penance was generally related to their sin. For example, the ghost of a man who had been abusive to his servants was condemned to tear off and swallow bits of his own tongue; the ghost of another man, who had neglected to leave his cloak to the poor, was condemned to wear the cloak, now "heavy as a church tower". These ghosts appeared to the living to ask for prayers to end their suffering. Other dead souls returned to urge the living to confess their sins before their own deaths.
Medieval European ghosts were more substantial than ghosts described in the Victorian age, and there are accounts of ghosts being wrestled with and physically restrained until a priest could arrive to hear its confession. Some were less solid, and could move through walls. Often they were described as paler and sadder versions of the person they had been while alive, and dressed in tattered gray rags. The vast majority of reported sightings were male.
There were some reported cases of ghostly armies, fighting battles at night in the forest, or in the remains of an Iron Age hillfort, as at Wandlebury, near Cambridge, England. Living knights were sometimes challenged to single combat by phantom knights, which vanished when defeated.
From the medieval period an apparition of a ghost is recorded from 1211, at the time of the Albigensian Crusade. Gervase of Tilbury, Marshal of Arles, wrote that the image of Guilhem, a boy recently murdered in the forest, appeared in his cousin's home in Beaucaire, near Avignon. This series of "visits" lasted all of the summer. Through his cousin, who spoke for him, the boy allegedly held conversations with anyone who wished, until the local priest requested to speak to the boy directly, leading to an extended disquisition on theology. The boy narrated the trauma of death and the unhappiness of his fellow souls in Purgatory, and reported that God was most pleased with the ongoing Crusade against the Cathar heretics, launched three years earlier. The time of the Albigensian Crusade in southern France was marked by intense and prolonged warfare, this constant bloodshed and dislocation of populations being the context for these reported visits by the murdered boy.
Haunted houses are featured in the 9th century Arabian Nights (such as the tale of Ali the Cairene and the Haunted House in Baghdad).
European Renaissance to Romanticism
"Hamlet and his father's ghost" by Henry Fuseli (1780s drawing). The ghost is wearing stylized plate armour in 17th century style, including a morion type helmet and tassets. Depicting ghosts as wearing armour, to suggest a sense of antiquity, was common in Elizabethan theater.
Renaissance magic took a revived interest in the occult, including necromancy. In the era of the Reformation and Counter Reformation, there was frequently a backlash against unwholesome interest in the dark arts, typified by writers such as Thomas Erastus. The Swiss Reformed pastor Ludwig Lavater supplied one of the most frequently reprinted books of the period with his Of Ghosts and Spirits Walking By Night.
The Child ballad "Sweet William's Ghost" (1868) recounts the story of a ghost returning to beg a woman to free him from his promise to marry her, as he obviously cannot being dead. Her refusal would mean his damnation. This reflects a popular British belief that the dead haunted their lovers if they took up with a new love without some formal release. "The Unquiet Grave" expresses a belief even more widespread, found in various locations over Europe: ghosts can stem from the excessive grief of the living, whose mourning interferes with the dead's peaceful rest. In many folktales from around the world, the hero arranges for the burial of a dead man. Soon after, he gains a companion who aids him and, in the end, the hero's companion reveals that he is in fact the dead man. Instances of this include the Italian fairy tale "Fair Brow" and the Swedish "The Bird 'Grip'".
Spiritualism is a monotheistic belief system or religion, postulating a belief in God, but with a distinguishing feature of belief that spirits of the dead residing in the spirit world can be contacted by "mediums", who can then provide information about the afterlife.
Spiritualism developed in the United States and reached its peak growth in membership from the 1840s to the 1920s, especially in English-language countries, By 1897, it was said to have more than eight million followers in the United States and Europe, mostly drawn from the middle and upper classes, while the corresponding movement in continental Europe and Latin America is known as Spiritism.
The religion flourished for a half century without canonical texts or formal organization, attaining cohesion by periodicals, tours by trance lecturers, camp meetings, and the missionary activities of accomplished mediums. Many prominent Spiritualists were women. Most followers supported causes such as the abolition of slavery and women's suffrage. By the late 1880s, credibility of the informal movement weakened, due to accusations of fraud among mediums, and formal Spiritualist organizations began to appear. Spiritualism is currently practiced primarily through various denominational Spiritualist Churches in the United States and United Kingdom.
Spiritism, or French spiritualism, is based on the five books of the Spiritist Codification written by French educator Hypolite Léon Denizard Rivail under the pseudonym Allan Kardec reporting séances in which he observed a series of phenomena that he attributed to incorporeal intelligence (spirits). His assumption of spirit communication was validated by many contemporaries, among them many scientists and philosophers who attended séances and studied the phenomena. His work was later extended by writers like Leon Denis, Arthur Conan Doyle, Camille Flammarion, Ernesto Bozzano, Chico Xavier, Divaldo Pereira Franco, Waldo Vieira, Johannes Greber and others.
Spiritism has adherents in many countries throughout the world, including Spain, United States, CanadaJapan, Germany, France, England, Argentina, Portugal and especially Brazil, which has the largest proportion and greatest number of followers.
The physician John Ferriar wrote An essay towards a theory of apparitions in 1813 in which he argued that sightings of ghosts were the result of optical illusions. Later the French physician Alexandre Jacques François Brière de Boismont published On Hallucinations: Or, the Rational History of Apparitions, Dreams, Ecstasy, Magnetism, and Somnambulism in 1845 in which he claimed sightings of ghosts were the result of hallucinations.
Joe Nickell of the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry, wrote that there was no credible scientific evidence that any location was inhabited by spirits of the dead. Limitations of human perception and ordinary physical explanations can account for ghost sightings; for example, air pressure changes in a home causing doors to slam, or lights from a passing car reflected through a window at night. Pareidolia, an innate tendency to recognize patterns in random perceptions, is what some skeptics believe causes people to believe that they have 'seen ghosts'. Reports of ghosts "seen out of the corner of the eye" may be accounted for by the sensitivity of human peripheral vision. According to Nickell, peripheral vision can easily mislead, especially late at night when the brain is tired and more likely to misinterpret sights and sounds."
Some researchers, such as Michael Persinger of Laurentian University, Canada, have speculated that changes in geomagnetic fields (created, e.g., by tectonic stresses in the Earth's crust or solar activity) could stimulate the brain's temporal lobes and produce many of the experiences associated with hauntings. Sound is thought to be another cause of supposed sightings. Richard Lord and Richard Wiseman have concluded that infrasound can cause humans to experience bizarre feelings in a room, such as anxiety, extreme sorrow, a feeling of being watched, or even the chills. Carbon monoxide poisoning, which can cause changes in perception of the visual and auditory systems, was speculated upon as a possible explanation for haunted houses as early as 1921.
In the early days of the Society for Psychical Research many researchers investigated reportings of ghosts and apparitions and were seeking a scientific explanation for such phenomena. Some of the psychical researchers had rejected that ghosts were spirits of the deceased and instead claimed ghosts and apparitions were not real entities but were hallucinations caused by a telepathic mechanism. Frank Podmore was a main advocate of the telepathic theory of ghosts, he discussed this theory in his book Telepathic Hallucinations (1909). Other researchers disagreed with the telepathy theory and instead advocated the widely known spirit theory of ghosts, the belief that ghosts are discarnate spirits which was most popular amongst spiritualists.
The psychical researcher Thomson Jay Hudson also developed his own theory about ghosts which involved telepathy however Hudson did not claim ghosts are hallucinations. Instead he claimed ghosts and apparitions are memories or thoughtforms from the mind of the subject materialising or "projecting" themselves externally. Hudson also explained that where more than one person had visualised the same ghost then it can be explained by telepathic communication. The paranormal writer Paul Roland in his book The Complete Book of Ghosts (2007) argues that ghosts are the "manifestation of people still living, proving that out-of-body experiences are not as rare or as impossible as some people might think".
Ernest Holmes suggested two explanations for ghosts, that they are spirits of the deceased or a form of thought that can materialize itself then gradually fade away. Holmes wrote that further investigation was needed to prove which explanation is correct.
According to (Willin, 2005) Peter Underwood favours the "electronic impulse wave theory" which claims brain waves become more active in higher stress rates and that at a certain level will produce a ghost which is a "telepathic image that is capable of being picked up by someone else" and will fade away when people are not experiencing it. The parapsychologist George N. M. Tyrrell argued that apparitions and ghosts were telepathic hallucinations which emanate from the subconscious mind.
Jeff Danelek in The Case for Ghosts: An Objective Look at the Paranormal (2006) wrote that another explanation of ghosts is the Stone Tape theory which claims that ghosts are collections of energy that can become stored in physical matter which can be released resulting in a display of recorded activity. According to this hypothesis, ghosts are not spirits but simply non-interactive recordings similar to a movie. The parapsychologist William G. Roll agreed with the Stone Tape theory, he claimed that a person's mind can create an apparition from "psychic traces" left from the past.
Paul Devereux claims that many ghost sightings can be explained by "earthlights", clouds of plasma being charged by strong electromagnetic fields occurring in areas of seismic activity, he claims that that such natural phenenoma "can respond to witness movement and thought". He explores these ideas in his book Haunted Land (2003).
The spirit theory of ghosts in recent years has been termed the survival hypothesis and is advocated by some psychical researchers over the other alternative explanations.
The Hebrew Torah and the Bible contain few references to ghosts, associating spiritism with forbidden occult activities cf. Deuteronomy 18:11. The most notable reference is in the First Book of Samuel (I Samuel 28:3-19 KJV), in which a disguised King Saul has the Witch of Endor summon the spirit/ghost of Samuel.
In the New Testament, Jesus has to persuade the Disciples that He is not a ghost following the resurrection, Luke 24:37-39 (note that some versions of the Bible, such as the KJV and NKJV, use the term "spirit"). In a similar vein, Jesus' followers at first believe Him to be a ghost (spirit) when they see him walking on water.
As such, much of the Christian Church considers ghosts as beings who while tied to earth, no longer live on the material plain. Furthermore, some Christian denominations teach that ghosts are beings who linger in an interim state before continuing their journey to heaven. On occasion, God would allow the souls in this state to return to earth to warn the living of the need for repentance. Nevertheless, Jews and Christians are taught that it is sinful to attempt to conjure or control spirits in accordance with Deuteronomy XVIII: 9–12.
Accepting, but moving beyond this position, some ghosts are actually said to be demons in disguise, who the Church teaches, in accordance with I Timothy 4:1, that they "come to deceive people and draw them away from God and into bondage." As a result, attempts to contact the dead may lead to unwanted contact with a demon or an unclean spirit, as was said to occur in the case of Robbie Mannheim, a fourteen year old Maryland youth.
Belief in ghosts in European folklore is characterized by the recurring fear of "returning" or revenant deceased who may harm the living. This includes the Scandinavian gjenganger, the Romanian strigoi, the Serbian vampir, the Greek vrykolakas, etc. British folklore is particularly notable for its numerous haunted locations.
Belief in the soul and an afterlife remained near universal until the emergence of atheism in the 18th century. In the 19th century, spiritism resurrected "belief in ghosts" as the object of systematic inquiry, and popular opinion in Western culture remains divided.
South and Southeast Asia
IndiaMain article: Bhoot (ghost)
A bhoot or bhut (भूत, ભૂત, or بهوت) is a supernatural creature, usually the ghost of a deceased person, in the popular culture, literature and some ancient texts of the Indian subcontinent. Interpretations of how bhoots come into existence vary by region and community, but they are usually considered to be perturbed and restless due to some factor that prevents them from moving on (to transmigration, non-being, nirvana, or heaven or hell, depending on tradition). This could be a violent death, unsettled matters in their lives, or simply the failure of their survivors to perform proper funerals.
In Central and Northern India, Shaman spirit guides play a central role. It duly happens when in the night someone sleeps and decorates something on the wall and they say that if one sees the spirit the next thing in the morning he will become a spirit to and that to a skondho kata which means a spirit without a head and the soul of the body will remain the dark with the dark lord from the spirits who reside in the body of every human in Central and Northern India. It is also believed that if someone calls you from behind never turn back and see because the spirit may catch the human to make it a spirit. Other types of spirits in Hindu Mythology include Baital, an evil spirit who haunts cemeteries and takes demonic possession of corpses, and Pishacha, a type of flesh-eating demon.