Thursday, July 29, 2010


In folklore, fiction, philosophy, and popular culture, a ghost is the soul or spirit of a deceased person, taken to be capable of appearing in visible form or otherwise manifesting itself to the living. Descriptions of the apparition of ghosts vary widely: the mode of manifestation can range from an invisible presence to translucent or 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 with which they were associated in life, though stories of phantom armies, ghost trains, phantom ships, and even ghost animals have also been recounted.

Anthropological context
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 shared by all human cultures. 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 which are the subject of 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. the provision of the dead with food and drink in order to pacify them, or the magical banishment of the deceased, preventing them from returning by force. 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,[17] and the custom of binding the dead persists, for example, in rural Anatolia.[18]

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
Further information: Soul, Psyche (psychology), Underworld, Hungry ghost, and Psychopomp
Further information: Ghost Festival, All Souls' Day, and Day of the Dead
Although the human soul was sometimes symbolically or literally depicted in ancient cultures as a bird or other animal, it was 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.

Common attributes
Another widespread belief concerning ghosts is that they were composed of a misty, airy, or subtle material. Anthropologists speculate that this may also stem from 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, as a harbinger of death. When one of these ghosts is seen it indicates that someone in the family is going to die, 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. Amongst many cultures and religions it is believed that 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.

Main article: Ghosts in Mesopotamian religions
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 movies.

Biblical references & Judæo–Christian belief
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:

Now Samuel was dead, and all Israel had lamented him, and buried him in Ramah, even in his own city. And Saul had put away those that had familiar spirits, and the wizards, out of the land. 4And the Philistines gathered themselves together, and came and pitched in Shunem: and Saul gathered all Israel together, and they pitched in Gilboa. 5And when Saul saw the host of the Philistines, he was afraid, and his heart greatly trembled. 6And when Saul enquired of the LORD, the LORD answered him not, neither by dreams, nor by Urim, nor by prophets. 7Then said Saul unto his servants, Seek me a woman that hath a familiar spirit, that I may go to her, and enquire of her. And his servants said to him, Behold, there is a woman that hath a familiar spirit at Endor. 8And Saul disguised himself, and put on other raiment, and he went, and two men with him, and they came to the woman by night: and he said, I pray thee, divine unto me by the familiar spirit, and bring me him up, whom I shall name unto thee. 9And the woman said unto him, Behold, thou knowest what Saul hath done, how he hath cut off those that have familiar spirits, and the wizards, out of the land: wherefore then layest thou a snare for my life, to cause me to die? 10And Saul sware to her by the LORD, saying, As the LORD liveth, there shall no punishment happen to thee for this thing. 11Then said the woman, Whom shall I bring up unto thee? And he said, Bring me up Samuel. 12And when the woman saw Samuel, she cried with a loud voice: and the woman spake to Saul, saying, Why hast thou deceived me? for thou art Saul. 13And the king said unto her, Be not afraid: for what sawest thou? And the woman said unto Saul, I saw gods ascending out of the earth. 14And he said unto her, What form is he of? And she said, An old man cometh up; and he is covered with a mantle. And Saul perceived that it was Samuel, and he stooped with his face to the ground, and bowed himself. 15And Samuel said to Saul, Why hast thou disquieted me, to bring me up? And Saul answered, I am sore distressed; for the Philistines make war against me, and God is departed from me, and answereth me no more, neither by prophets, nor by dreams: therefore I have called thee, that thou mayest make known unto me what I shall do. 16Then said Samuel, Wherefore then dost thou ask of me, seeing the LORD is departed from thee, and is become thine enemy? 17And the LORD hath done to him, as he spake by me: for the LORD hath rent the kingdom out of thine hand, and given it to thy neighbour, even to David: 18Because thou obeyedst not the voice of the LORD, nor executedst his fierce wrath upon Amalek, therefore hath the LORD done this thing unto thee this day. 19Moreover the LORD will also deliver Israel with thee into the hand of the Philistines: and to morrow shalt thou and thy sons be with me: the LORD also shall deliver the host of Israel into the hand of the Philistines.

– I Samuel 28:3-19, KJV

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.[23] Furthermore, some Christian denominations teach that ghosts are beings who linger in an interim state before continuing their journey to heaven.[23][24][25][26] On occasion, God would allow the souls in this state to return to earth to warn the living of the need for repentance.[27] Nevertheless, Jews and Christians are taught that it is sinful to attempt to conjure or control spirits in accordance with Deuteronomy XVIII: 9–12.[28][29]

Accepting, but moving beyond this position, some ghosts are actually said to be demons in disguise,[30] 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."[31] 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.[32]

According to Christian belief, appearances of orbs of light, a common paranormal phenomenon attributed to ghosts,[33] can be explained by II Corinthians 11:14, which states that "even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light" (NRSV).[34]

[edit] 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.[35]

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”.[36]

The 5th century BC play Oresteia contains one of the first ghosts to appear in a work of fiction.

Roman empire
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.[38] Another celebrated account of a haunted house from the ancient classical world is given by Pliny the Younger (c. 50 AD).[39] 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.[40] The writers Plautus and Lucian also wrote stories about haunted houses.

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 in order 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 in order to give him a fright.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.

[edit] European Middle Ages
Ghosts reported in medieval Europe tended to fall into two categories: the souls of the dead, or demons. The souls of the dead returned for a specific purpose. Demonic ghosts were those which existed only to torment or tempt the living. The living could tell them apart by demanding their purpose in the name of Jesus Christ. The soul of a dead person would divulge their mission, while a demonic ghost would be banished at the sound of the Holy Name.

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.[47] 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.

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 would haunt their lovers if they took up with a new love without some formal release.[51] 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.[52] 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'.


My Big TOE: I loved this seminar....please follow it all the way through!

Courses / Seminars