Spirits, Apparitions and Ghosts
By Tom Brown
Wed, 12 Nov 2014
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What is a ghost? The idea has a certain allure and a fascination. It should be exactly clear what is meant by a “ghost” in other words one has to work with some kind of definition. Something many stories have in common is a hazy vision in the form of a human that roams and it floats and some weep.
Please be aware that many of the things in this essay are common knowledge. This is meant as a fresh approach, to present and think of and see the facts in a different way, in a new light. I have tried to be completely objective and I have done my best to have my facts in order. The intention really is to entertain and to stimulate curiosity and the imagination. Not to be taken too seriously!
I have done my best to write the essay as factually correct but there would of course be inaccuracies and mistakes.
What is a ghost?
They are usually believed to be souls that cannot find rest and no peace who roam the earth always alone and are punished for great wickedness or crying for avenging injustice.
We might say a ghost is an image or a vision of person who is dead. Strictly speaking this definition would in turn include photos of deceased family members, actors in old motion pictures that have now passed on and so forth, and in that case these examples and many similar would all have to qualify, and indeed then ghosts are commonplace and abundant.
One might want to add that a ghost has to have a conciousness but doesn't exist materially. If we think of literature there are many instances of all these kinds of ghosts. An easy convention is to distinguish between a passive type and an active ghost. Visions such as apparitions would then not qualify because there has to be some response, some reaction from your ghost to prove that it really is there as a consciousness, an entity.
Would one then discern a passive from an interactive ghost? Could we perhaps call a spirit that responds or reacts an “interactive ghost”?
Of course most of us believed to have seen of ghosts as children but a child imagination is boundless so we should exclude these. Until quite recently I myself would scoff at the mere idea but I saw my first real ghost less than a year ago.
It was just after Christmas last year only my brother and I were at home, deep in the night from the bathroom I turned into our passage and there he was he turned round and I followed him
a silverish shimmer half walking half floating. The ghost was clearly not malicious he looked over his shoulder and smiled serenely. Losing courage I turned in to my brother’s bedroom and asked him if there was anyone in the house, he said no and there was no possibility, everything was locked and no-one could get out either so I went on to and into the living room there was nothing, no-one and no ghost.
There is no way I could prove or confirm the sighting but I am quite sure of it for myself. For good reasons there has to be proof, to say a witness. This is a problem actually and you could only be sure that it was simply imagination or not if there was someone else present. Or indeed someone could be simply lying.
Many people have claimed to have seen a ghost. Throughout history people have widely believed in non-material spirits and the factual existence of a spiritual world.
In literature- Fiction and mythology
Examples are many and plenty. Ghosts are typical characters in Shakespeare’s plays for example Prince Hamlet has quite an animated conversation with his late father the murdered King of Denmark telling him of how the Queen and his uncle conspired to poison him and seize the throne. Macbeth sees apparitions, called when he consults the three witches on the heath and Lady Macbeth in sleepwalk is tormented by guilt at her murder of Duncan, King of Scotland.
A bit more recently Charles Dickens in a Christmas Carol tells of how the very rich miser Scrooge is visited by three distinct ghosts who are in essence almost alive and able of transporting Scrooge himself and sequentially taking him to different visions in Christmas past, present and future. In the epic poem the Rime of the Ancient Mariner, the mariner was cursed and doomed for blasphemy and killing a sacred albatross with his crossbow. Ghosts even feature in the popular comic magazines.
From the very beginnings of recorded history and even pre-history in ancient civilisations’ mythology you find elaborate systems of immortals gods and giants and firm belief in a detailed and very diverse spirit world. Many other familiar entities might also well be seen as by different names, manifestations of spirits or ghosts: Phantoms or ghouls, varieties of sprites and such as genies, familiar spirits and muses, sirens and mermaids and an hierarchy of angels, as well as evil spirits, demons and devils and including aliens for that matter.
Legend and Biblical
To give the ghost would mean to give the breath, or to surrender the breath, the life, and die when the spirit departs. If we think of literature there are many instances of all kinds of ghost. Often they are to be souls of dead people who cannot rest, because of some sin or ill or terrible deed they cannot find peace. These souls are punished damned and fated to always roam alone. There are too those that cannot find rest, for deeds and blood that must be avenged.
According to maritime legend the flying Dutchman is a ghost ship that when seen in a storm is a terrible omen and of imminent disaster. The ship and crew can never harbour and were doomed to sail forever. Captain Vanderdecken gambled his soul on a rash wager to round the Cape of Good Hope during a storm and so is condemned to that course for eternity.
In the Bible, it is told of King Saul consulting the Witch of Endor. The woman accordingly conjured a spirit identified by Saul as the deceased prophet Samuel. There are many instances of appearance of angels as heavenly creatures sent as messengers, for example appearing to Jacob, and to Joseph in Bethlehem. As well as the resurrected and glorified body of Jesus which was able to pass through walls and ascended to heaven.
There are many descriptions of demonic possession and of driving out evil spirits.
Also, essential, inherent and undeniable in Christian faith is the Holy Spirit, who also is regarded to be a kind of ghost and is even one of the Trinity and therefore God Himself.
Demons, exorcism and deliverance
The question arises can a ghost actually do you any physical harm, being not material? And also, could a ghost be present but not seen. Is it possible to see a ghost of someone who is alive?
A poltergeist is a noisy and usually mischievous or malevolent ghost held to be responsible for unexplained noises such as rappings. The term is from German, poltern is to knock and a geist is a spirit.
Poltergeist are known to exist and can have physical influence such as moving furniture and breakages of crockery, glasses and other physical damages. Instances have been thoroughly investigated and it is accepted poltergeists do exist but their true nature is unclear. It is not really known what it actually is but usually there are amongst others young children in the household who have emotional problems. It is probably not a ghost.
Even today beliefs of possession by evil spirits are widespread. Apparently in the Catholic as well as other respectable churches, rituals and sacraments of sanctification and deliverance are still practised.
Belief in demons and practice of exorcism have undeniable evidence going back to the stone age and is associated with the then common practice of cannibalism.
In fact cannibalism was very common in stone age early man and to the extent that there is clear evidence of it at almost all the major excavation sites. There was it is a fact. Probably many of our own direct stone age forefathers were cannibals. A sobering thought. One would imagine out of necessity, famine then.
The treatment as a way of curing the patient was performed by drilling a hole in the victim, the patient’s skull in order for the demons to be released. Interesting that they actually did realise the problem manifested in the brain. This medical treatment does remind one of amongst witch hunts in the Middle Ages and more recently early “doctors” treatment of the sick simply was superstition. Bleeding, leeches etc. Homoeopaths. In other words not science.
Ancient African traditions
South Africa must be in the only country in the world where medical aids pay for visits and consultations with herb doctors and traditional healers. A sangoma is what was known as a witchdoctor in the old days. Indeed, there are very prominent figures and leaders, including senior politicians and businessmen who still consult these highly revered sangomas and even on very important decisions.
Especially homoeopaths and herb doctors should not be simply scoffed at without much closer investigation, the reality is that even most of our modern medicines were in fact, and were scientifically discovered originally as of plant origin.
Ancestor worship is today still very common and widespread in Africa. These indigenous beliefs originate from very ancient tribal traditions. Technically an ancestral spirit can surely also be seen as a ghost, but then an invisible one!
Magic and superstition
Of course demons and such evil spirits play a large role in most of fundamentalist religious cult, including the practice of rituals and incantations. Their methods remind of prehistoric methods, and of religious persecution throughout history as in the middle ages, the Spanish inquisition and the similar large scale atrocities by the Calvinistic Protestant church itself.
Such people have to be considered as borderline insane.
It is English custom to give feminine names to ships cars aircraft and so on. A common superstition is that an inanimate object can have a personality as some kind of spirit, as a consciousness a “ghost in the machine”. Motorcars especially are thought to be alive in some way and have individual personalities and personal relations with their owners. Think for example of some popular horror stories and films, such as where a car apparently is possessed by a devil.
There then seems often to be a special bond between an owner-driver and the vehicle. Once with a friend we had a beer at the lakeside nearby and jokingly made a wager that I would make it home without taking my foot off the floor in my battered little Ford. I managed to keep it on the tar for the most part and we made home through about 3km of busy suburb in one piece. At stopping at our house the friend pale as a spook ran for bucket soap water and washing the car fervently: Her name is Christine.
Among our more delinquent friends I was known as hell-driver, but that was because of another incident with that little Ford. She was an old white Ford Escort, the round shape still, built up with the legendary Kent 1600 engine.
Of military origin is the superstition of tiny mischievous little monsters “Gremlins” getting into the works and supposedly maliciously damaging electronics or machines and engines inside.
My PC for example also is infected by a ghost and indeed the computer guy confirmed it as the dreaded “Windows” ghost and he can do nothing for it. Another expert explained the problem really lies between the seat and the keyboard.
In the commonplace practice of Spiritualism certainly it's claimed that there is some kind of a direct communication with the spirits of the deceased.
Hallucination and illusion
Can hallucinations qualify as ghosts? People who are under the influence of hallucinogenic drugs or the mentally ill, and others e.g. delirium for instance of old age senility or fever or exposure or DTs. These I feel are the closest one can get to the idea of “a ghost/-s” and in fact they are inter-active. The fact that other people do not see the apparitions and hallucinations really from a pure logic viewpoint it does not mean that they are not there.
To me these are the most convincing and legitimate examples.
I knew a man who spoke to ghosts and spirits all the time, they talked to them he clearly saw them. This guy was mentally ill I think he had organic brain damage from drug abuse. Like many I’ve known he was always memorising and reciting the Lord’s prayer and Psalm 23 and he drew crosses everywhere. Against the wall the cupboard and all over.
‘During the last decade of his life, Thomas Edison turned to inventing a device that would be capable of communicating with any sentience that existed beyond the grave. He wrote “I have been at work for sometime building an apparatus to see if it is possible for personalities which have left this earth to communicate with us”.
‘This instrument has been dubbed the “Telephone to the Dead”, the actual apparatus that Edison had been working on was not found and to this day the plans have not been discovered. Edison continued to work on the device until he became comatose in 1931, he died shortly after.
“If personality exists, after what we call death, it is reasonable to conclude that those who leave this earth would like to communicate with those they have left here. Accordingly, the thing to do is to furnish the best conceivable means to make it easy for them to open up communication with us, and then see what happens,
“I am proceeding on the theory that in the very nature of things, the degree of material or physical power possessed by those in the next life must be extremely slight; and that, therefore, any instrument designed to be used to communicate with us must be super-delicate – as fine and responsive as human ingenuity can make it”.
Dagobert Runes, ed. The Diary and Sundry Observations of Thomas Alva Edison,
In conclusion then
My discussion was a bit technical really, but you have to admit it helps when you speak of something, that you actually know what that thing is (or what it is supposed to be!) My own contribution here is probably overkill, the whole idea of ghosts and spirits must indeed belong to the realm of religion and mystery and the unexplained. It concerns enigma, the strange and weird.
In that spirit consider the popular statement “There is always a rational explanation.”
I would like to comment as follows on this claim: What is a rational explanation to me might not be rational to you; And the mere fact is that even if there exists such a logical explanation it is certainly not to say it must be correct and true, nor surely even the only of such plausible explanations.
What is more it has to be realised that the claim in itself inherently is already an act of faith.
In order to confirm or disprove stories our biggest problem obviously is insufficient knowledge and absence of evidence as well as availability of reliable witnesses. Apart from the fact that I probably have seen one, without prejudice or any definite convictions personally I do “believe in” ghosts and I don't see sufficient scientific or strictly logical reasons that they do, or do not and cannot exist.
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Interesting piece of writing
Interesting piece of writing and study on the subject.
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