In at least two of Shakespeare's plays you have ghosts in prominent roles. Here I am thinking of Macbeth and Hamlet. In Hamlet a ghost leads the main character on to revenge and a kind of justice.
If every person who died stuck around as a ghost the world would be overcrowded with the spirits of the dead. It is therefore more probable that only certain people stick around or made a return visit to our realm after death.
Sometimes the living have unfinished business with the dead. Can spiritualists help? Or are all spiritualists con artists of one stripe or another?
Certainly spiritualists were popular in the late 19th Century and also after the First World War. When the war had ended there were a lot of grieving people who had no body of a loved one to bury. Either it had been blown to too many pieces or lost among all the many other dead on the battlefield. Spiritualism promised closure.
Arthur Conan Doyle, author of Sherlock Holmes, wanted to believe that it was possible to communicate while he was still alive with his dead son. He did not, however, succeed in communicating with this ghost.
Doyle, a medical doctor as well as writer, was often seen as being as logical as his famous fictional character. Where his offspring was concerned, however, logic apparently for a while gave way to hope.
Live and death and the beyond have been with us from the beginning. We know that cave men and women, certainly in the latter half of the Stone Age, were careful about how their dead were buried.
We know that the Egyptians believed that great rulers that passed away could help lead others who have also passed away to a better life.
Everyman is a medieval Christian morality play about the journey we must all eventually take from life to the world beyond and what might be of help to us on this journey. There is some controversy as to whether it originated in Germany or England. Also there is a similar play the Dutch performed at the time when it is believed the play came into being. Even so, despite heavy handed morally, it is not without its charm.
One of the earliest ghost stories I have come across is a very old English song, It is about a young man, Sweet William, and a young woman, Barbara Ellen (this is the present day title of the song). They are young would-be lovers that only find expression for their love after death. It is a rather sad and, at the same time, beautiful song. It dates back to at least the 17th Century but is likely to be even older than that.
Just about everyone seems to love a good ghost story. Certainly there have been enough sightings to confirm that there's something going on we have yet to sort out. In Christianity there is the belief in the holy ghost.
Hauntings are found at various locales from the cellars of London pubs to the fields where great armies once clashed to cemeteries or places that once were cemeteries. In temperament, ghosts go from hostile to down right friendly.
Some appear because they are lost and apparently are uncertain of where they should be. Others want to know how their family has been doing without them. A few seek revenge upon the living and may even form an attachment to a particular clan or family. Some take a personal interest in life as it continues around them. Others seem to be in a time loop in which they continually reenact some moment in their own past existence.
In Australia Frederic Fisher's ghost is the most famous of spooks. A man comes back from the dead and reveals the name of his murderer and the details of his death. He apparently turns up every now and then in November. He is not a nasty spirit as spirits go and the locals in Campbelltown, NSW actually look forward to his visits. Between the 4th and the 14th of November they throw a festival in his honor.
In my youth I believe I saw my grandmother late one night beside my bed. She had passed away when I was an infant so I had no clear memory of her. The following night she visited my brother. How do we know who she was? Well, my mother showed me an old photo of her the day after my brother's sighting.
Why did she make those visits? I would say she was checking up on my parents and their children. She wanted to know how we were going. She visited me first because I was the only grandchild she knew about when she was alive. Did she visit my sisters? She probably did though they have never mentioned seeing her.
Ghost are supposed to be cold. This grandmother was warm and friendly. She didn't stay for long when she made her visit to me and she didn't say a word but I got the impression she was glad to see me and know that all was well. She smelled of freshly baked rhubarb pie with cinnamon on top. Not store bought rhubarb pie where they slip in apple as a filler but the real deal. I still think of the smell of freshly baked pie with cinnamon on top as homey and, well, friendly.
In Bathurst, NSW there's an old Inn haunted by the ghost of a young woman who was murdered on the way to the gold fields. She was expecting to meet up with her husband at the Inn and not her killer. Legend has it she is still waiting there for husband to show up.
In London there's a pub built over the top of an old Roman road. Apparently a Centurion with his men in full battle gear are known to walk what is now a phantom road. This means they are occasionally seen walking in and out of the basement. Being spirits the walls don't bother them. They just walk on through.
Ghosts are not always human. In 18th Century England there were sightings of phantom wolves roaming the countryside in and around Cornwall. Since by this stage wolves were extinct in England and had been for some time they were considered to be the spirits of long ago dead predators.
The movies have had a spotted history when it comes to ghosts. Immediately after the First World War, ghosts appeared on the screen in the French movie J'Accuse calling for the complete end of war for all time.
There have been successful romantic comedies such as The Ghost Goes West starring Robert Donat (1935) and abysmal disappointments such as the so-called family comedy Ghost Dad starring Bill Cosby (1990).
There have also been movies that remain eyeopeners to what can be done with a good story. Both The Innocents (1961) and The Turn of the Screw (1974), for example, are based on Henry James' novella, The Turn of the Screw (1898). They take different paths in the cinematic telling of a woman either going mad or battling a number of ghosts for the soul;d of the children in her care. The clinker here is that both movies are excellent cinematic treats faithful to the original tale and are worthy of mention.
Carnival of Souls starring Candice Hilligoss (1962) was a movie that, despite being low budget, haunted me when I was a child. the very idea that a young woman could be dead, caught between this world and the next, and not know it spooked me. Then there were the dead who rose up out of the water to dance the dance of the decomposing in mockery to the dances danced by the living. At age ten I definitely felt a chill.
Ghosts are not always from the world of flesh and blood.
In The Enchanted Cottage starring Robert Young and Dorothy McGuire (1945), a place always used for honeymoons finds itself with a tenant not married and quite unhappy with what life has recently handed him. The tenant, a former fighter pilot horribly disfigured in the war, is deserted by his soon-to-be wife and can only look forward to a very lonely existence. On the other hand, one of his housekeepers, a plain woman, can also only look forward to loneliness.
The cottage, being so used to dealing with and encouraging happy young couples, has other plans for them. Within its walls the disfigured man becomes handsome to the plain woman and the plain woman becomes pretty if not beautiful to the former pilot. The centuries of happiness from the former tenants, absorbed and kept by the cottage as its soul, wash over them and so wedding plans are made. A very strange, haunting and beautiful film.
Television shows such as Bewitched and The Simpsons have had their fun over the years with the spirit world.
Television shows such as The Twilight Zone, The Outer Limits, Ghost Whisperer, Medium, and Dead like Me tend to do fine taking the spirit world seriously or, at times, semi-seriously.
The British detective show Randall and Hopkirk Decreased was somewhat unusual in that one of the partners, Hopkirk (played by Kenneth Cope), dies in the pilot episode but, in ghostly form, continues to be Randall's partner. Randall was played by Mike Pratt and Hopkirk's often perplexed wife/widow was played by Australian actor Annette Andre. There was lots of action coupled with lot of laughs.
GHOSTS IN LITERATURE
Ghosts have had their place in literature and the arts. There is the ghost of Hamlet's father needing his son to obtain revenge for him in Shakespeare's play, Hamlet. Ghost also abound in Shakespeare's Macbeth. Certainly the Elizabethan age was a time for hauntings.
When it comes to American ghostly fiction The Legend of Sleepy Hollow by Washington Irving (1819) with its headless horseman takes prize place as a witty short story with some dark moments.
In the 19th Century A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens (1843) offered readers a new slant on the roving dead. Marley's ghost comes to Scrooge to warn him that if he does not mend his ways he will wander the earth in the emotional chains he forged when alive. He tells Scrooge he will be visited by three spirits and if he heeds well these spirits it may not be too late for him, he might save his already tarnished soul.
The spirits? Why, the spirits of Christmas Present, Past and Future. In one night these spirits tutor Scrooge and transform him into a better human being. Charles Dickens' love of theater meant that this wondrous story was turned into a marvelous play. It has since become a part of our collective cinematic history. There have been many film versions including the off beat and somewhat modern Scrooged starring Bill Murray (1988).
Oscar Wilde's short story The Canterville Ghost (1887) tells the tale of Sir Simon, an English ghost who has a frightful time when these horrid Americans move into his lodgings and simply refuse to be frightened by him.
Writers such as Stephen King (The Shining 1977) and Chuck Palahniuk (Haunted 2005) have made much out of wandering spirits and land occupied by the evil dead.
I have also spent some time with things that creak, groan and go bump in the night. There are some hauntings in my novel Disco Evil. There are most definitely ghosts in my novel Ghost Dance. Also available through Kindle and Amazon USA.
There are also ghosts in my new novel, Desk Job. Included is mention of a rather famous spirit.
That's it for now. If you wish to comment fine. If you wish to add to this piece with your own knowledge or possibly personal memories of haunts, spooks, shades and, of course, ghosts that is more than fine. Hope you enjoyed the read.
Favorite Movie about Ghosts
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