Updated: Aug 16, 2018
A belief in ghosts goes back thousands of years and is a feature of many cultures across the
Whether in folk traditions, religious rituals or spiritual beliefs. Today, it continues to be as prevalent as ever. Ghost hunting tours have become very popular, with groups gathering to explore haunted locations, Numerous websites advertise an array of gadgetry to monitor paranormal activity, such as filming and recording phenomena to measure electro-magnetic fields and log changes in temperature. Advice is also offered on how to analyze findings from photos, recordings, and log books, after the events have taken place.
The huge interest in ghosts is exemplified by the sheer volume of reality television shows based around the supernatural. Investigative programs are immensely popular, where ghost hunters are filmed in a variety of locations either simply tracking down ghosts and monitoring their activity or actively trying to exorcise them, using a variety of means from persuasion to displays of aggression.
These reality T.V shows in turn have taken their cue from such landmark films as:
The Exorcist and Ghost Busters. Several of the paranormal investigation programmes currently airing on TV purport to be scientifically based, while others function more as entertainment than rigorous scientific enquiry. But whatever their approach, it remains clear from their continuing popularity that the subject of ghosts and paranormal activity continues to fascinate people today, in the 21st century, just as it did our ancestors thousands of years ago...
THE RESTLESS GHOST..
The belief in ghosts stems from a basic, and very human, fear of death and the unknown, and can be traced back to many acncient religions and folk traditions. In all these different cultures it is commonly believed that when we die our souls live on,k not in bodily form,
but as 'Spirits','Essences,' 'Phantoms', 'Ghosts', or other disembodied beings.
This idea appears to be central to most human civilisations, although there are many different conceptions as to how ghosts live and behave. In some cultures, they appear to return from the afterlife as revenants, sometimes looking exactly as they did in life, to visit friends and family.
While in others stories, the ghosts never leave the land of the living, but remain present in the household or work place where they once resided, watching over the activities of those that they left behind..
Yet despite all the variations in the stories of how ghosts come into being and what they do once they begin to live on as Spirits, we find many similarities across different cultures. It is widely believed that a 'Wandering Ghost', one who travels ceaselessly and cannot find rest, is the spirit of a person who has been wronged in some way in his or her lifetime.
Such people include those who may not have been buried with the proper rites, or may have been badly treated by their family, lovers or friends. As well as this, it is believed that people who have met with terrible accidents, or who have been murdered, may be forced to wander the earth looking for redress. In terms of human psychology, the ghost of a person may function as a reminder of the wrong committed, and can cause a great deal of guilt to be felt on the part of the living. The ghost may be seen as an embodiment of a human feeling of regret, guilt or sense of loss, conjured up by our imagination so that we can continue the relationship with the deceased.
CRIMES OF THE PAST..
People who have been victims of crime or mistreatement are often believed to become restless spirts after death; as are those who committed crimes against others. In the past, murderers, thieves and other miscreants were thought to become wandering ghosts when they died, condemned to an afterlife of constant loneliness and misery. Those who were judged to have lived an immoral life, such as prositurtes, might also be thought of as failing to find rest after death. Such ghosts were often conceived of as revenants who had become jealous of the living and who would do everything in thier power to do them harm. For this reason, ghosts in many cultures were greatly feared, and thought of as highly dangerous to the living,
because of their supernatural evil powers.
GOOD AND EVIL..
This leads us to the question of whether ghosts are seen as malevolent, evil beings who seak to wreak vengeance on the living, or whether we think of them as benevolent spirits of loved ones who remain with us for company; guidance and strange as it seems companionship.
Both types of ghosts are widely believed in, although the malevolent kind, by their nature, gain a great deal more attention. In particular, the idea that a ghost can, in some cases, inhabit a living human being, possessing them and making them commit dreadful crimes, is a common and very disturbing theme, These kind of spirits can cause harm and even rare cases can cause death.
DEMONIC POSSESSION & EXORCISM..
We know from history, particularly in medieval times, that societies often attributed instances of severe mental illness in an individual to demonic possession. Such a belief might be a superstition from the folklore of a certain region, but it is also a common thread in major worldwide religions such as Christianity, especially within the Catholic church. However, some denominations within the Christian church have also condemned this belief and see the fascination with ghosts and the paranormal as unhealthy and immoral. 'Necromancy' or 'bone conjuring' - the attempt to raise the dead through incantations and spells - has been roundly condemned as sinful by various church administrations at different times in history, and continues to be looked on with suspicion in many quarters, especially, among those of a religious persuasion..
Today the belief in demonic possession persists and is a stock motif of much horror fiction, whether in books, films or on TV. It takes on a more sinister aspect, though, when we come to real instances in which indiviuals - often children or young people - have been believed to be possessed by a devil. In Some cases such as: the story of Robbie Mannheim on who the film excorcist was based, as well as that of Anneliese Michel, a young German woman from a dvout Catholic family.
In robbie Mannheim's case, the exorcisms appeared to do him no harm, and he went on to lead a normal life; in Anneliese Michel's, she was subjected to so many rites of purgation and exorcism that she eventually died of starvation and exhaustion. After a long delay, Michel's parents and the two priests that performed the exorcisms were taken to court and charged with neglectful homicide.
The sad case of Anneliese Michel demonstrates that what may appear to be harmless supersition or fervently held religiousl belief, can in fact result in horrific tragedy..
THE SEANCES AND THE OUIJA BOARDS..
While the reality of these cases, in which the belief in demonic possession is taken to an extreme, may be appealing, they are most unusual in modern times. For most of us, the belief in ghosts and the paranormal is nothing to do with demonic possession, but is more akin to the thrill we get from a horror film, or the pleasantly scary sensation of entering an old building reputed to be haunted.
However, there are those who wish to investigate further, among them the mediums and psychics who believe themselves able to contact the dead and who conduct seances using ouija boards and other devices, whether in private, for friends and family or as a form of public entertainment.
This idea of conversing with the dead has its roots in very ancient pracices, across many cultures, but today it is still prevalent. In the West, it became especially popular in the late 19th and early 20th century, when spiritualism arose. There were many kinds of spirutlaist movements, including what was known as 'Spiritism', which was based on five books written by Allan Kardec, who real name was Hypolite Rivail. In these books, he wrote about a series of phenomena that he thought were evidence of disembodied intelligence, or spirits. Kardec had many followers, including the author of the Sherlock Holmes series, (Arthur Conan Doyle.)
Even today the movement continues to be a force in many parts of the world, especially in Latin America, where it is known as 'Espiritismo'. Adherents believe that spirits affect our health, our luck and other aspects of our lives, and that they can be contacted through 'Espiritistas' or mediums. The mediums attempt to contact the dead in 'misas', which are rather like seances, but also contains elements of magic and ritual..
INVESTIGATING THE PARANORMAL..
The idea of contacting the dead and possibly encountering benevolent ghosts who have some thing to tell us, either about their past lives or our own future, fascinates the public today, not just in the West, but all over the world. Paranormal phenomena such as ghostly presences, explainable sounds of knocking or footsteps, pinpoints of light, cold spots, shadows or unusual currents of air or wind, are constantly being probed and challenged, both from a scientific and intellectual point of view. This is partly because the technology for measuring such phenomena has vastly improved, so that sounds, images, chnages in air temperature and alterations in
electro-magnectic fiels though to be caused by the presence of ghosts are now all subject to careful calibration and analysis. yet the accuracy of these findings and continues to be a constant source of controversy, often from scientists who believe that such attempts to measure paranormal phenomena are inherently flawed. Despite these misgivings, these continue to be scientists who are open to the concept of the paranormal realm, and view it as a suitable subject for continuing scientific investigation..
FESTIVAL AND CELEBRATIONS.
It has been argued by anthropologists that in Western culture not enough attention is paid,
on an emotional or practical level, to the death of a loved one. Mourning may take place in a hurried way and after the funeral there may be no further acknowledgement of the death, at least in public. In other cultures, as many commentators have pointed out, this is not the case.
Ancestors are revered and the deaths of family members remembered in elaborate annual ritual and ceremonies, which often include an element of entertainment as well as grief and mourning..
HONOURING THE DEAD..
Examples of such ceremonies include the Hungry Ghost Festival that takes place among Taoist and Buddhist followers in many countries, particularly in the East. A ritual that takes place in Mexico is the Day of the Dead, which honour deceased family members in festivities that sometimes last all day and night, and include holding picnics and vigils at the graveside of lost loved ones.
In comparison, the European and American festival of Halloween seems much more oriented towards folklore, with an emphasis on enjoyable, non-religious traditions aimed manly at entertaining children with games such as apple bobbing, carving jack 'o' lanterns from pumpkins and 'trick or treating'..
MAGIC AND GHOSTS..
The festival of Halloween draws much of its appeal from remnants of occult traditions such as sorcery and witchcraft, rather than from religious rites and rituals. This is partly because the connection between magic and raising the dead, known as necromancy, was frowned upon by the Christian church as sinful and evil during the medieval period. Such an attitude still prevails today in some quarters, whether among religious folk, non-believers or scientists, yet this does not prevent many people from continuing to try to contact dead relatives in the hope that communication with the dead will help them to solve pressing problems in their own lives, or assuage their guilt about how they treated loves ones in life..
In fact, the belief in magic as a way of controlling events in the afterlife goes back centuries, to the Egyptian book of the dead, a funerary text used up until about 50 Bc. This text includes a number of magic spells that could be used to help a recently deceased person travel through the underworld, called the 'Duat'. The book was written in hieroglyphic scipt on a papyrus scroll, often illustrated with pictures of the dead person and the story of their travels into the afterlife, and placed in the burial chamber with the body. The spells might also be written up on the chamber walls, so that the living could keep track of the journey that they deceased made after burial.
PHANTOMS OF THE IMAGINATION..
For most of us, the realm of the paranormal is a fascinating subject, rather than one that we wish to investigate in any intensive way. We may prefer to learn about it through ghost stories, novels, films and TV shows, rather than setting out on a hunt to discover the truth for ourselves. That may be because we are sceptical, or perhaps because even the most rational among us may be a little wary of delving too far into the occult. Whatever the reason, today there is continuing focus on what one might call 'Phantoms of the imagination' - that is;
images and tales of ghosts that we find in all areas of popular media.
As well as the numerous 'ghost hunting' reality TV shows, there have been some extraordinary successes in this area in the world of publishing. Among them are the fictional works of authors such as Stephen King and J.K.Rowling, who both deal in the world of the supernatural, albeit from different angles. King included a ghost in his novel Bag of Bones, published in 1998, which tells of the ghosts of a blues singer haunting the house of a troubled writer, while J.K Rowling gives ghosts an important part to play in her Harry Potter series. Unlike most ghosts, her phantoms are friendly advisers who appear as silvery, translucent entities rather than frightening ghouls. They are usually the dead souls of wizards, rather than those of ordinary people. Among her east of generally amicable ghosts are Moaning Myrtle, nearly Headless Nick, The Bloody Baron, professor Bins, The Grey Lady and The Fat Friar.
In much modern literature the ghosts described are not literal phantoms but are more likely to be psychological entities, so that the reader is never sure whether the characters in the novel have actually seen a ghost, or whether they are simply suffering from psychotic delusions. This play between the real and the imaginary, between sanity and madness, between the corporeal and the disembodied, has proved to be a very fruitful subject for literature and art since the days of the Romantics in the 18th century. It continues to lie at the heart of many ghost tales in modern fiction, whether in short stories, novels, films or TV..
GHOSTS ON SCREEN..
In recent years, many ghost stories and novels have also been adapted for the screen.
The story by Washington Irving, first published in 1820 as The Legend of Sleepy Hollow,
concerns a headless horseman who commits a series of murders. In 1999, it was released on film with the shortened title of Sleepy Hollow. In conclusion, it seems that our fascination with the paranormal realm, including ghosts and other phenomena, looks set to continue into the future.
Whether or not we actually believe in the existence of ghosts, many of us are curious to know more about the world of the supernatural, and especially what happens to us after we die......
Before we finally find out the truth for ourselves.