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Are Ghosts Hallucinations Or Tormented Souls?

Updated on July 8, 2019
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Welcome to Spirit's blog. The place where we find the beauty in the hidden, occult, mythologies of our world. Blessed be.

Hi all and welcome to Spirit's blog. Lately I have been seeing things out of the corner of my eye. It could be my mind playing tricks on me, or a ghost or spirit from another realm. So because honestly my mind playing tricks is a more mundane explanation, let's talk about ghosts. In this post I will be sharing my research of, what a ghost is, how do they haunt you, and history maybe even a good ghost story. Now I know it's only July and not October but, in the world of the occult, there is no better time than now. So sit by your campfire or your flashlight, this may get scary.

What Is a Ghost?

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines the word ghost as, "the seat of life or intelligence", "a disembodied soul" and "a spirit or demon". In folklore ghosts go by many names such as, apparition, haunt, phantom, poltergeist, specter and many more. In basically all folklore these words are used to represent the soul of a person or animal that is deceased, but seen in the living realm. There are even practitioners that claim to be able to contact these souls, necromancers. The scientific society has denounced that ghosts exist. Nevertheless people still search with fancy gadgets and claimed powers or gifts. This is such a popular belief that ghost hunting has become a pseudoscience.

Ancient Near East Ghost Beliefs

In the Ancient Near East or Mesopotamian beliefs, ghosts were created at the time of death and the being takes on the memory and personality of the deceased. These ghosts would travel to the netherworld and be given in a sense a mission. Relatives of the dead were encouraged to bring food and drink to them, this was believed to help them on their mission. When a person fell ill, they either blamed it on ghosts, deities or demons.

Ancient Egyptian Ghost Beliefs

In Ancient Egyptian times there was a widespread belief in ghosts. The belief was that these specters were the soul of the dead. The soul of a person was believed to be an eternal force, that dwells within all living creatures. The soul or spirit was believed to exist after death, it could either help or hurt the living. In the "Book of the dead" there were collections of magic spells. These spells were intended to help the deceased go through the underworld and into the after life.

Classic Greek Ghost Tales

In Classical Greece ghosts were depicted as a vapor or an entity that vanished without a trace. In "The Illiad" and "The Odyssey", Homer claimed they would simply grind into the earth and vanish, having little interaction with people. The people of this time would call upon ghosts for advice, and use their knowledge for prophecies. These apparitions were never feared, if anything their appearance was sought after. Another depiction from this era was that ghosts would appear in the same condition as they had died in, fatal wounds and all. As a result of this rather gruesome depiction, ghosts began to be feared. They were believed to stay around the final resting place of the body, therefore cemeteries were avoided. If the person was not publicly mourned with food, libations and sacrifice, they would come back to haunt the living in a malevolent way. To do this there was a yearly celebration, to commemorate the dead and afterwards they were asked to not return until the same time the following year.

Ancient Roman Ghost Stories

The Ancient Romans believed they could engrave a curse in lead or pottery and place it in the grave with the deceased. They would do this to exact revenge on others, the ghost would therefore haunt that person. Plutarch (a Greek biographer and essayist) told of a haunting at the Chaeronea ( a village in Greece). The ghost he claimed was haunting that area was that of a murdered man. Plutarch claimed the moans from this ghost at night, caused people of the village to barricade their doors closed. Pliny the Younger ( a lawyer, author and magistrate of ancient Rome) spoke of a haunted house in Athens. This tale was about a Stoic (a religion of the time), philosopher Athenodorus. Athenodorus had purchased a house, upon hearing of it's haunting, he placed his studio in the very room the ghost was said to be in. He supposedly was writing when he was interrupted by a ghost in chains. According to the tale Athenodorus followed the ghost out to the lawn, where the ghost pointed to a spot on the ground. When Athenodorus dug in that spot he found a skeleton bound by chains. Once the skeleton was given a proper burial, the ghost never reappeared.

Medieval Europe Ghost Beliefs

In Medieval Europe, ghosts were said to be the souls of the dead or demons. In this time the ghosts of the dead would only return for specific purposes or unfinished business. Demons only wanted to torture and tempt the living. The people of this time would ask their purpose, while invoking the name of a deity. Those that were souls would state their need while demons would be banished upon hearing the Holy name. Most ghosts were souls that had to enter Purgatory for a specified amount of time, to atone for their wrong doings.

Medieval Europe Ghost Stories

Examples from Medieval Europe of punishment to the soul would be, the man who was abusive to his servants would therefore be in Purgatory and have to tear off and swallow pieces of his own tongue. The ghosts in Purgatory would appear to the living to ask for prayer, to end their torment. Other ghosts appeared to the living to warn them to atone their sins, before their death, as to avoid Purgatory and torture. There were stories of ghosts being physically restrained until a priest could hear their confession. They were depicted as being able to move through walls, this is a sad and pale version of the person who had passed. There were reports of ghost armies or ghost knights that challenged living knights to battle, and vanished into thin air when they were defeated.

European Renaissance Ghost Tales

In the era of the European Renaissance, practitioners of magic also practiced necromancy. There was much controversy over those who practiced the dark arts, necromancy included. In the "Sweet William's Ghost" a song and poem of English descent, it tells a story of a deceased man returning to his former fiance. The ghost of this man begs the woman to free him of his promise to marry her. In this story her refusal means his damnation. In "The Unquiet Grave", an English folk song, a young man mourns the death of his love. His incessant mourning, prevents his love from resting in peace, therefore creating her ghost.

Worldwide Ghost Story

Many folk tales from around the world tell the story of a warrior who buries a dead man. After the burial, the warrior is accompanied by a man who helps him and guides him. In the end of this tale, the companion reveals himself as the dead man. Some writings are an example of this tale, for example the Italian folk tale "The Fair Brow".


Spiritualism is a belief in a single deity, but that spirits of the dead can be contacted through mediums. This religion was wide spread throughout the world, but grew in popularity in the US, during the 1840's, lasting until roughly the 1920's. This belief system started it's downfall due to the fraudulence of mediums.


Spiritism is a religious movement that started in France in the 19th century. The basis of this religion, is five books of "Spiritist Codification". This collection was written by Hypolite Leon Denizard Rivail, a French educator. Rivail wrote of having seances, in which he witnessed paranormal activity, to which he attributed to ghosts.

Scientific Explanation of Ghosts

John Ferriar a Scottish physician and poet, wrote "An Essay Towards a Theory of Apparitions", in 1813. In his essay Ferriar claimed that all ghost sightings were an optical illusion. Alexandre Jacques Francois Briere de Boismont wrote "On Hallucinations; Or the Rational History of Apparitions, Dreams, Ecstasy, Magnetism, and Somnambulism", in 1845. In this article he claimed that ghosts were hallucinations. The scientific society has coined the term Pareidolia, this is the tendency to interpret vague happenings as something as something known to the observer. Scientists of the 19th century attributed all paranormal activity to Pareidolia. According to Joe Nickell of the Committee of Skeptical Inquiry, peripheral vision can be mislead, therefore explaining seeing things out of the corner of your eye. Nickell claims that people are more prone to being mislead by peripheral at night, when the brain is tired.

Recent Scientific Research of Ghosts

In 2017 Benjamin Radford of the Committee of Skeptical Inquiry, wrote "Investigating Ghosts: The Scientific Search for Spirits". In this book Radford alleged that ghost hunting is the most popular of paranormal activities. He also states that most people don't know what a ghost is, even though they search for them. He claims that ghost hunting is speculation and guessing. Some in the study of anomalistic psychology, claim that ghost sightings are hypnagogic hallucinations. This means hallucinations that occur during the transition from being awake to being asleep. Researchers like Michael Persinger from the Laurentian University in Canada, theorize that changes in geomagnetic fields, can stimulate the temporal lobe of the brain, causing the appearance of a haunting in specific areas. Neuroscientists have recently theorized that people with sleep paralysis, hallucinate ghosts during episodes of sleep paralysis. They blame the parietal lobe and mirror neurons (neurons that fire when an animal acts and observes), for causing ghost like hallucinations.

Now that we have looked at the history of ghosts, the science behind them and heard a couple of different ones. I am confident in saying that as long as there are questions about ghosts, ghost stories will always exist. Take for example "The Vanishing Hitchhiker", "The Ghost of Christmas Past" and "Bloody Mary". The majority of people have heard of these, and in certain cases take "Bloody Mary", we question it's truthfulness at a young age. As long as people are curious about death and the afterlife, there will always be ghost stories. Blessed be.

© 2019 Occult Spirits


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