Fear of Ghosts from Ancient to Modern Times

Fear of Ghosts Has a Long History

Approx. reading time 6 minutes.

How the Ancients Viewed Ghosts

Indeed, there’s no doubt that a fear of ghosts has existed since time immemorial. From ancient Mesopotamia to today, the idea of ghosts remains cemented in societies worldwide. Intriguingly, not only has there been a universal fear of ghosts, not surprisingly, numerous ancient societies devised elaborate funeral rituals to ensure that the dead would not return to harm the living.

Belief in Ghosts and Early Cave Dwellers

Notably, archeologists have given credibility to the idea that early cave dwellers believed in spirits of the dead. For one thing, they suggest that the cave people believed in an afterlife due to wall paintings. Adding credence to this, their understanding became more apparent when it was discovered that cave dwellers buried their loved ones with tools and flowers. Surprisingly, for the time, it was theorized the ancient cave dwellers believed deceased relatives carried their possessions with them to the afterlife. Did this idea trickle down to the ancient Egyptians and other civilizations? It seems so.

Ancient Mesopotamia

Significantly, in most ancient Mesopotamian religions, including Sumer, Babylon, and Assyria, archeology suggests that people in those cultures also believed in ghosts. Likewise, there are scattered reports of ghost sightings in records of old Abrahamic beliefs. Similarly, these ancient cultures thought that the deceased assumed a ghostly shape as soon as a person passed away. Thus, the revenant retained the memory and disposition of the dead person after traveling to the netherworld.

The Ancient Egyptians Believed in Ghosts

Harking back millennia, some ancient cultures believed that a return from the underworld brought about a ghost’s existence — case in point, the ancient Egyptians. In particular, the ancient Egyptians were obsessed with the afterlife.

Even so, not all Egyptians could afford the process of mummification. So, they did the next best thing. For a person’s afterlife journey to happen seamlessly, Egyptians buried with them gifts of food, flowers, and their favorite belongings. Consequently, if a family didn’t perform this ritual properly, accordingly to belief, the deceased person would not reach the afterlife.

The Ancient Greeks Feared Ghosts

Predominantly, the ancient Greeks, archival records suggest that ghosts frightened the Greeks as a whole. It seems that the Greeks believed that the spirits of the dead lingered in cemeteries, which they assiduously avoided. They, too, practiced mourning the dead through communal rituals, sacrifices, and offerings out of fear that the deceased’s ghosts might haunt them.  

The Ancient Romans Believed All Ghosts Were Evil 

In point of fact, the Roman civilization believed in two kinds of ghosts. First, there was the ‘Lemure.’ Lemure were thought to be mean-spirited ghosts that haunted people. The second category of ghosts were the ‘Manes.’ The Manes, it was believed, existed to guide and protect their living relatives. Due to this belief, the Romans held Parentelia’s Festival every year to celebrate the Manes. They made offerings of foods and drink at the gravesite, or in a catacomb niche after the 2nd century AD to please the spirits. Sound familiar?


Ghosts in Medieval Times in Western Society

In Europe during the late Middle Ages, people started believing in a range of fearsome entities, including vampires, werewolves, and even demon-like creatures such as black dogs with red glowing eyes. Often, evil-type creatures were used to accuse others of dabbling in witchcraft. Unfortunately, these false accusations led to a gruesome and fiery death at stake for the wrongly blamed.

Ghosts and The Age of Reason

With the advent of the Age of Reason in the early decades of the eighteenth century, preoccupation with ghosts and demons diminished. The witchcraft mania which had upended Europe had begun to peter out. Instead of ghosts and devils, now was the time for scientific enlightenment. It seemed that the luminaries of the day had no time for ghosts. 

Yet, for some, investigating reports of hauntings held a significant place. These documented cases involved The Drummer of Tedworth covered later in the book, the infamous case of the Cock Lane Ghost, the Dudleytown Hauntings, and the Epworth Rectory Haunting. 

Ghosts and The Age of Romanticism

Before long, the age of Romanticism, starting around 1685, produced some of the most prolific poets and writers that we still read today. Simultaneously, an obsessive interest in ghosts emerged, and these literary geniuses’ telling of ghost stories became a favorite theme for this new genre of gothic writers. Primarily, these individuals included Percy Shelley, Mary Shelly, author of Frankenstein, John Keats, and Lord Byron. Not long after, American author Edgar Allen Poe wrote extensively on the macabre and featured musings on the nature of death and the afterlife. 

The Rise of Spiritualism

The rise of Spiritualism and a renewed belief in the afterlife brought back the idea of ghosts. This craze was due, in part, to the Fox Sisters, Kate and Margaret Fox, who inadvertently launched the Spiritualist movement in the United States. 

The Spiritualist movement quickly spread across America and then to Europe and beyond. Scores of individuals believed that the two girls could communicate with the dead. This was accomplished by spirits intelligently responding to questions with a code of the alphabet via rapping sounds. Although Spiritualism is not as prevalent as it once was, Spiritualist Churches and people who call themselves Spiritualists still exist worldwide.

The Surprising Popularity of Ghost Hunter Shows

A belief in ghosts was not at the forefront of the public’s awareness until a handful of ghost-hunting shows hit the scene in the early 2000s. This ignited a new rage of interest in the paranormal and a strong belief in ghosts. Slowly, individuals worldwide started ghost hunting themselves, which remains a popular pastime.

Surprisingly, in this age of technology, little has changed regarding the belief that ghosts exist and that a ghost sighting can happen to just about anyone. Furthermore, it’s been estimated that one in ten individuals will see a ghost in their lifetime.

In addition, due to the Age of Technology, some extraordinary devices are now available to document the reality of ghosts. These include Spirit Boxes, Ghost BoxesDigital Recording Devices, and a plethora of many other excellent tools for the modern ghost hunter to utilize and aid in paranormal investigations.


From the earliest cave dwellers, to the Romans, and down the Ages of Romanticism and Spiritualism, there existed a fascination with ghosts. In my opinion, ghosts and ghostly tales will probably captivate people’s interest in some form or another for centuries to come. Whether you believe in ghosts or not, someway and somehow, they’ll always be a part of any culture’s consciousness.

You might be interested in: Fear of Ghosts


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Carol Nicholson is thirty-five years a professional Psychic Medium and author of numerous Psychic and Spiritual courses since 2001.
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