Fascination with Ghosts throughout History

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Be the Expert on Ghosts and Hauntings

Ghosts and Hauntings have fascinated people from prehistory to modern day. Ghosts are believed to appear typically as a nebulous image or some other form. Synonyms for ghosts include specter, phantom, wraith, spirit, soul, or presence. 

Since ancient times, people have been reporting encounters with ghosts, also called spirits. While some people rationalize their ghost experience as something explainable, others pursue them by trying to capture evidence of their existence. Despite science dismissing the possibility of ghosts, people continue to have paranormal experiences that invoke fear, curiosity, or an insatiable need to find out more.

The Afterlife and Ghosts and Hauntings

The subject of an afterlife and ghosts has a universal appeal that transcends time and culture. Who doesn’t love a scary ghost story shared around a fire? Yet, the subject of ghosts and resultant hauntings is complex. People usually envision an abandoned Victorian house with boarded-up windows and claw-like tree branches hanging over it when thinking of ghosts. However, this isn’t always the case. Sightings of ghosts and reports of haunted dwellings can occur anytime and anywhere in the world. Reports of ghosts happen in brand new homes, apartment houses, high-rise buildings, and properties with abundant land.

Whether ancient or modern, places reputed to be haunted are frequently a location where something tragic occurred. Or, it’s a residence that a former owner loved so much that they can’t bear to leave it. As a result, new residents might hear footsteps on the stairs or notice a rocking chair moving back and forth with no one in it. Or perhaps, the apparition of the former owner appears to them and startles the wits out of the new residents.

Traditional Signs of Ghosts and Hauntings

Aside from ghostly apparitions and phantom sounds, other traditional signs of a haunting range from unexplainable lights or mists, cold breezes to the movement of objects. More indicators of a ghost might include crashing noises, loud knocking sounds, and even musical instruments that play on their own.

Wispy Looking or Lifelike Ghosts?

Categorically, a ghost is the spirit of a deceased individual or animal seen by the living. Descriptions of ghosts vary widely from an unseen presence to translucent or barely visible wispy shapes to natural, lifelike forms. Ghostly apparitions can manifest in colors ranging from white to grey to blue. Moreover, ghosts tend to haunt specific locations, objects, or people. Finally, these earthbound spirits may be residual, that is, a replay of a particular event in time, or intelligent–meaning they can somehow interact with the living.

Clearly, there’s no doubt that individuals have long debated the existence of ghosts. Whether it’s the ghost of Queen Anne Boleyn missing her head, seeing unexplainable spooky lights in a swamp, or the spirit of a relative visiting from the afterlife, many individuals can’t help but be fascinated by the idea that ghosts actually exist. This begs the question, “If ghosts exist, does this prove that there’s an afterlife awaiting us?”

According to the website ‘Ghosts and Gravestones,’ 50% of Americans believed in ghosts and life after death. Moreover, many religions talk about the afterlife and ghosts. For instance, Hinduism and Buddhism believe in reincarnation. While Islam, Christianity, and Judaism believe that the soul is eternal and lives on even after an individual’s death.

Skeptics, science, and disbelievers of ghosts usually shrug them off as a delusion, a waking dream, or just swamp lights. Perhaps they feel it’s safer not to believe in ghosts than to believe in them.

Literature is Filled with Ghosts and Hauntings

When Scrooge encountered the ghost of Jacob Marley in Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol, he dismissed the apparition as something else. Famously he muttered, “You may be an undigested bit of beef, a blot of mustard, a crumb of cheese, a fragment of underdone potato.” Nevertheless, whether an individual is a non-believer, a hardened skeptic, or embraces the idea of ghosts wholeheartedly, the existence of ghosts remains a persistent part of our reality.

Notably, Elizabethan playwright, William Shakespeare, included ghosts in his plays. These specters include the ghost of Hamlet’s father in Hamlet, the Ghost of Banquo in Macbeth, the Ghosts of the “Tower Princes” murdered by Richard the Third, the Fortune-Telling Spirit in Henry VI, and the ghost of Julius Caesar in Julius Caesar. Thus, it seems that Shakespeare had a penchant for spirits. 

murder-of-princes-in-tower-by-richard iii

Ancient Civilizations’ Belief in Ghosts

The belief of an afterlife and manifestations of the dead’s spirits dates back to time immemorial. Archeologists speculate that cave-dwellers had a primal fear that ghosts of the dead could come back and haunt the living.

Archeologists have given credibility to the idea that early cave dwellers believed in spirits of the dead. They also suggest that the cave people seemed to believe in an afterlife, which is evident in their wall paintings. This became more evident when it was discovered that cave dweller buried their loved ones with tools and flowers. It’s believed that this ritual provided a way for ancient man to have their possessions in the afterlife. Did this idea trickle down to the ancient Egyptians and other civilizations? It’s highly plausible.

The concept of a ghost is founded on the ancient belief that a person’s spirit exists separately from their body and continues to exist after a person passes. Because of this idea, many societies began to use elaborate funeral rituals to ensure that the dead person’s spirit would not return to haunt the living.

Ancient Egyptians’ Belief in Ghosts

Numerous ancient cultures believed that a return from the underworld brought about a ghost’s existence—case in point, the ancient Egyptians. The Egyptians of long ago were obsessed with the afterlife. They, too, believed that the human spirit separated from the body at the time of death. The Egyptians called this spirit essence the Ka, and the Ka of the deceased person traveled to a beautiful paradise.

The realm of Ghosts in Ancient Egypt was the domain of their God, Anubis. This God of the Underworld also oversaw the process of mummification.

Not all Egyptians could afford the process of mummification. So, they did the next best thing. For a person’s afterlife journey to be successful, food gifts, and their favorite belongings ended up in the coffin. If the family didn’t perform this ritual properly, the deceased person would not reach the afterlife and might return as a ghost to harm the living.

Interestingly, a papyrus uncovered by archeologists tells the story of the dead king, Amenemha, whose ghost tells his son how he died and gives him advice on how to rule successfully. This instruction by Amenemhat text mirrors the belief of the time that the dead could communicate directly. During this period of Egyptian history, the dead were now writing letters, and the living were the recipients.


Ghosts and Hauntings in Other Ancient Religions

In other ancient Mesopotamian religions – Sumer, Babylon, Assyria, and more – archeology hints that people in those times believed in ghosts. Even in the Abrahamic beliefs, there are smatterings of reports of ghost sightings. These ancient cultures similarly thought that the deceased assumed a ghostly shape as soon as a person passed away. As believed, the revenant supposedly retained the memory and disposition of the dead person after traveling to the netherworld.

In classical antiquity, Homer’s Odyssey and Iliad serve as two noteworthy accounts of ghost sightings. Creepily, ghosts of those times are characterized as “building upon a vapor of smoke which quickly vanishes.” However, Homer’s ghosts barely interacted with the living. Ultimately, according to Homer’s writings, spirits served as the vehicle to seek advice from or prophesize the future. Along with this, the first appearance of ghosts in fiction can be traced back to a trilogy of Greek tragedy plays in the 5th century BC. In one of the trilogies, a spirit named Clytemnestra sought revenge on her son, who had savagely murdered her. The character’s role helped researchers understand that the ancient Greeks believed in life after death and a spirit’s ability to haunt the living.

Ghosts Mentioned in the Christian Bible

Notably, in the First Book of Samuel in the Bible, King Saul commands the Witch of Endor to summon Samuel’s spirit. This reference clearly demonstrates that people of those times believed in the existence of ghosts and a netherworld.
Archival records suggest that ghosts frightened the Greeks. Greeks as a whole believed that the spirits of the dead lingered around cemeteries, which they assiduously avoided. They, too, practiced mourning the dead through rituals and offerings out of fear that the deceased’s ghosts might haunt them.

Ancient Romans Believed in Ghosts

Numerous letters from antiquity suggest that a majority of Romans believed in ghosts. In particular, Pliny the Younger, the great Roman chronicler, wrote an account of an Athens villa that was extremely haunted. Things didn’t change much after the Romans converted to Christianity. A Christian priest, Constantius, recorded the tale of a ghost that came back after death to haunt the living.

In the early times of the Roman Empire, Romans believed in two kinds of ghosts. First, there was the ‘Lemure.’ Lemure were mean-spirited ghosts that haunted people. The second category of the ghosts was the ‘Manes.’ The Manes existed to guide and protect their living relatives. The Romans held Parentelia’s festival every year to celebrate the Manes. After the 2nd Century AD, to please the spirits, offerings of foods and drinks are commonly left at the gravesite.

Ghosts and Hauntings in the Dark Ages

By the Dark Ages, Europeans had separated the concept of ghosts into two categories: spirits of the deceased and demons. The former returned for particular resolves while the latter existed merely to inflict torment upon the living. One way a person could tell them apart was by a priest forcing them to disclose their purpose in the name of Jesus Christ. Upon doing so, the deceased’s spirit would reveal its mission while the Holy Name expelled a demon.

In the late Middle Ages, people started believing in a range of fearsome phenomena. Vampires, werewolves, and even demon-like creatures such as black dogs with red glowing eyes became commonplace. They often used these fearsome phantasms to accuse others of dabbling in witchcraft. Often wrongly accused, the victims experienced a gruesome and fiery death at the stake.

Ghosts in More Recent Times

By the 16th century, in Europe and the New World, the two Christianity branches, the Protestants and Catholics, hotly debated whether the living could see the dead. Initially, Protestants argued that souls were relegated to heaven or hell and were incapable of haunting the living. Conversely, the Catholic Church took that stance that the deceased’s spirits could leave the intermediary place called purgatory. Allegedly, they did so to pester the living. However, in time, the Protestants caved in on their perspective and soon grudgingly admitted that ghosts could exist.

Around 1685, the Age of Reason, also called the Age of Enlightenment, the belief in hauntings started to wane. This was caused in part by the new views of rationalism and the influence of science. Despite this, documented accounts of serious hauntings emerged. A prime example is the case of The Drummer of Tedworth.

The Ghost Drummer of Tedworth

In Wiltshire, England, an unfortunate Magistrate, plagued by a troublesome spirit that manifested itself in the form of a noisy drum, endured constant sounds of the drum playing itself. Other strange phenomena occurred as well. Unfortunately, for the Magistrate, the drum was confiscated from a criminal vagrant drummer, proclaimed himself as a witch.


The haunting events of the Tedworth Drummer lasted from 1661 to 1663 and are highly documented. One person investigating the strange phenomena at Tedworth was Joseph Glanvill. Joseph Glanvill was Chaplain to King Charles the Second. It just so happened that Glanvill was a man who firmly believed that witches and ghosts were real. As Chaplain, he was sent by the King to investigate numerous reports of hauntings. The Drummer of Tedworth is one of these cases.

In a letter to Glanvill, John Mompresson, the hapless Magistrate whose home was at the center of the haunting, wrote of the ghost: ‘It made Chairs, Tables, Trunks and all moveables walk up and down the Rooms. Even fore frightening, often come tumbling down the stairs. It sometimes makes a noise as if pulling a chain after it.’

Thus, began the age of ghosts in earnest and with it, a newly minted kind of spirit called a poltergeist. Of particular note, the tale of The Drummer of Tedworth is the first recorded poltergeist haunting. Some may be surprised to learn that Joseph Glanvill, the prime investigator of the Tedworth ghost, is now considered by many to be the first-ever psychical researcher, aka “ghost hunter.”

Writers and Ghosts in the Age of Romanticism

Before long, the age of Romanticism, starting around 1798, yielded some of the most prolific poets and writers that we still read today. Simultaneously, there emerged an obsessive interest in ghosts and the telling of ghost stories by many literary geniuses. These included Percy Shelley, Mary Shelly, author of Frankenstein, John Keats, and Lord Byron.

In America, the author of horror, Edgar Allen Poe, wrote extensively on the macabre and featured musings on the nature of death and questions about the afterlife. Additionally, in the mid-19th century, the rise of Spiritualism and a renewed belief in the afterlife brought back the idea of ghosts. Ghosts subsequently became a favorite theme for the new genre of gothic writers. Moreover, in the mid-19th century, the advent of Spiritualism, renewed a ‘belief in ghosts more than ever.

To add to this, in 1849, the Fox Sisters, Kate and Margaret Fox, launched the Spiritualism movement in the United States. Scores of people were convinced these two girls could communicate with the dead by demonstrating that spirits could intelligently respond to questions with a unique alphabet of rapping sounds.

Britain and America Share Ghostly Lore

Ghost lore has remained popular in almost all corners of the world. The British Isles, in particular, seem to be inundated with all types of spirits. Perhaps it’s because of the country’s long and bloody history. Replete with crumbling mansions, spooky abbey ruins, and many ancient battle sites, England has its fair share of ghost stories. However, British Isles aren’t the only geographic location full of ghostly lore. The United States likewise has its own tradition of ghost sightings and hauntings.


Called the “Bloody Tower,” the Tower in London Has Countless Tales of Ghosts and Ghost Animals

An American Haunting

Ghost lore in America has its own famous cases of ghosts. Specifically, the mystery of the “Bell Witch” of Tennessee is one of the most perplexing ghost stories in American history. No less notable are the specters of Presidents Abraham Lincoln, Andrew Jackson, and William H. Harrison that reportedly haunt the White House in Washington D.C. Credible witnesses of these ghostly sightings include Queen Wilhelmina of the Netherlands and Prime Minister Winston Churchill. Not Surprising, other American presidents and their families report seeing ghosts as well.

The Current Rage of Hunting Ghosts

A belief in ghosts is existent in almost all societies, and people fear being haunted by their dead. The idea of ghosts in various cultures proves that there remains a fascination with spirits and the spirit world. Not only that, but with the emergence of ghost hunting shows, people can’t seem to get enough of watching paranormal investigations of hauntings. Enough so, that countless groups have formed around the world to do their own ghost investigations.


Modern Day Countries Honor Ghosts

Numerous countries, including the United States, hold public holidays to pay homage to the deceased. In America, it’s the day of Halloween. Halloween, as we know it today, originated from an ancient Celtic harvest festival of All Hallows’ Eve. This day was originally celebrated to keep evil spirits away.

In similar fashion, the Chinese celebrate the ‘Ghost Day’ on the fifteenth day of the seventh month of the lunar calendar. Particularly, the seventh month is regarded as the ‘Ghost Month.’ This is the time of the year, according to Chinese belief, when ghosts and spirits come out and visit their relatives. During the festival, a concerted effort is made by the living to pay homage to their deceased ancestors in order to appease them.

In conclusion:

There’s no doubt that the idea of ghosts and the hauntings that produce them, is something that’s been around for millennia. So, whether you believe in ghosts or find people’s belief in ghosts amusing, there’s a large segment of individuals worldwide who this subject very seriously. Skeptics and Ghost Hunter shows aside, you’ll find website upon website hosts images of alleged ghosts, and videos of groups of people ghost hunting. And, we can’t dismiss all the civilizations that have held strong beliefs in the existence of ghosts. Generally speaking, if ghosts don’t actually exist, how is it that we find countless reports of spirits and hauntings through the ages? More interestingly, for those who once disbelieved, many become true believers after having an encounter with a ghost. Are you one of them? Leave a comment below.

Image Sources: 

Anubis Image:

The Ghosts of Two Young Princes Are Often Seen in the Tower of London

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»Theories and Explanations about the Existence of Ghosts
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