I believe in ghosts. I always have. Growing up in the houses where I have lived, working in the places I have worked, it has been hard not to. They have always been old places, grumbling with history. There has always been an energy, and whether that is a ghost as in the spirit of a dead person or just something that comes with time – creaking floorboards, shadowy staircases, stories that have been passed from mouth-to-mouth – it has always given me the belief that there is something more. Sometimes this energy is just a passing presence. At other times it is something to fear, just as a child fears the dark. Very rarely has it been something menacing, that pins me to the spot, my breath caught in my mouth.
The Oxford English Dictionary defines a ghost as ‘an apparition of a dead person which is believed to appear or become manifest to the living, typically as a nebulous image’. Ghosts are said to haunt places, objects or people they were associated with in life, and the belief in them is widespread across the world and over time. Ghosts go by many different names including spectre, phantom, shade and wraith, although Seventh Day Adventists and Muslims believe that ghosts are actually demons.
Ghosts are usually depicted in the precise human form of the dead person (or animal), down to the clothes they were wearing at death. This is in accordance with the widespread belief that the soul retains the exact reproduction of the body, although in some cultures the soul is symbolically represented by a bird or other animal.
Fear of ghosts has come about because the spirit of a dead person that remains behind on our world is seen as unnatural. Traditionally they have been thought to remain behind to seek vengeance, or also as a punishment for sin, hence reference to certain ghosts as omens and harbingers of death. But there are also suggestions that ghosts remain behind to complete unfinished business – be it good or bad. However, not all ghostly hauntings are on sites associated with violence and deaths, and even if a ghost appears violent, many cultures and religions belive that the soul or essence of being still exists and for whatever reason that person is struggling to pass over into the afterlife. In fact, it is said that ghosts are not usually aware that they are dead.
Ghosts in many forms appear in numerous books and films. Across the ages, seances, ghost stories, ghost tours have tickled our fancy, fuelling an innate curiosity to be closer to the dead. Ghosts, like Heaven, exist. But whether they actually exist, or if they are just in our mind, is something we can only prove to ourselves when we die.