This article is about the paranormal. For other meanings, see Ghost (disambiguation).


Reputed ghost of a monk. Taken in a church in .
Reputed ghost of a monk. Taken in a church in England.

Ghosts are the supposed apparitions of the dead. A ghost is often thought to be the spirit or soul of a person who has remained on Earth after death. According to some sources, a ghost may be the personality of a person after their death, and not tied directly to the soul or spirit. Every culture in the world carries stories about ghosts, but they vary across time and place, with disagreements both as to what ghosts are and whether they exist in reality.


Beliefs about ghosts

Ghosts are often depicted of a human size and shape (although some accounts also mention animal ghosts), but typically described as "silvery", "shadowy", "semi-transparent", "fog-like", or similar. Ghosts do not have a gross physical body like human beings, only the 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 lightswitch, 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, a place, according to non-orthodox Catholic doctrine, between Heaven and Hell where the souls of unbaptized infants go.

In Asian cultures (such as China), many people believe 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 ti4si2gui3 (替死鬼) which in Chinese is a synomyn for scapegoat.

Very detailed information about ghosts is given in Garuda Purana, a scripture from Vedic (Hindu) tradition.

Both the West and the East share some fundamentals about ghosts. They may wander around places where they frequent when alive, or where they have 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.

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".

Skeptical analysis

While some accept ghosts as a reality, many others are skeptical of ghosts' actuality.

Skeptics may seek to explain ghost sightings by applying the principle of Occam's razor, which argues that the simplest adequate explanation for any event or phenomenon is the most likely explanation.

This usually means that first, the sincerity and motive of the person reporting will be called into question. 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 directed at those who might consider murdering someone.

Second, the possibility of a hoax or con will be considered, with the reporting person assumed to be the victim. It seems possible that, sometimes, the telling of ghost stories might have been a way for secluded communities to scare off intruders. It is also conceivable that, when unsuccessful, this tactic could have been backed up by more or less elaborate setups with members of that community playing ghosts.

Third, explanations grounded in knowledge about human physiology will be proffered. For instance, the appearance of ghosts is often associated with a chilling sensation and pale, semitransparent figures. But a natural animal response to fear is hair-raising which can be mistaken for chill.

The visual aspects of ghost reports could also be accounted for by human physiology: the peripheral vision is very sensitive in detecting motion, but does not contain much color or provide focused shapes; therefore, a moving curtain or other movement outside the focused view can create a strong illusion of an eerie figure.

The natural occurrence of infrasound, which are sounds below human auditory frequencies (below 20 hertz), could possibly explain the notions of feeling a 'presence' in the room, or unexplained feelings of anxiety or dread, as certain infrasonic frequencies are known to have these effects on the body.

Psychological factors are also often cited as natural explanations for ghost sightings: susceptible people might be prone to exaggerated interpretations of perceptions when visiting a site of 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.

Famous ghosts

It seems likely that the building with the most distinguished ghosts as rumoured tenants is the Tower of London, which is reported to be haunted by:

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 city of York in England is also reputed to be a centre of ghostly manifestations.

The White House in Washington, DC 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 him on his precarious situation. The prophet's spirit gives the king no assistance, and foretells his doom instead.

Ghosts in fiction

Ghost messengers

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 sorceror 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 as 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.

Ghost stories

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 forboding, 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. (See Horror fiction for more on the haunted/ghost-driven 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 the fiction Harry Potter, there are numbers of ghost including Nearly Headless Nick, Peeves, The Bloody Baron, The Fat Friar and the Grey Lady, who believe is from the origin of Jane Grey. Ghosts in the novel are also keen on having Deathday Party on anniversary of their death.

In 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.

There are ghost superheroes who fight for justice, such as DC Comics' The Spectre and Deadman.

In the Ghostbusters film and television cartoon, the protagonists use special technology of their own design to hunt and capture/exile the ghosts they encounter.

In Ghost in the Shell, ghost is a word used to describe a person's inner being, similar to the concept of a soul.

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. 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.

In the science fiction book The Restaurant at the End of the Universe by Douglas Adams, the one of the main characters, Zaphod Beeblebrox, holds a seance to summon the ghost of his great-great grandfather to save their ship from being blown up. Also, Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency, another book by Douglas Adams, included a sub-plot about possesion by the ghost of a recently deceased software tycoon.

Theatre productions sometimes feature ghosts. One way to make the phantom appear on stage is Pepper's ghost technique.

See also

External links and references

Ghost investigation organizations:

es:Fantasma fr:Fantme he:רוח רפאים it:Fantasma ja:亡霊 nl:Spook no:Spkelse pl:Duch pt:Fantasma simple:Ghost fi:Kummitus sv:Spke zh:鬼


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