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Ghosts and Superstitions

Updated on June 19, 2013

Example of how a ghost town is depicted. Would you walk through this old town alone at sundown?

What do you think you see in this photo? What does your imagination suggest otherwise?

Over the passage of time, a person's view on the topic of ghosts because of one study or another has changed in value.


For centuries, people have entertained beliefs in ghosts and superstitions. Anything that involves wonder, mistrust or doubt can give rise to one's belief system to entertain such ongoing beliefs. Superstitions have existed for centuries and basically come from a fear of something unknown. Whether it is a ghost, apparition or spirit, or some superstition, either become a conditioned belief, which becomes a practice from habit for many and this belief can be influenced simply by some object or objects, or from custom. Indeed, there is a superstition that can be linked to almost anything. There are numerous accountings of ghost sightings and a whole host of lists of superstitions, including superstitions that are relative to ghosts. There are too many examples on either topic to name them all, and there is also too much interest involved to name just one.

A ghost is essentially what used to be a human being in body form. A similar term is spirit. A ghost has been defined as an apparition and is said to be viewed as a cloudy mass or a duplicate of the person who used to be among the living in body form. In some religions, there is the belief that the spirit can leave the body when it is in an unconscious state. Indeed, people who hold these beliefs, groups of them may gather to invite the spirits to visit. Some believe that a ghost and spirit are the same while others say there is a distinction. Rosemary Ellen Guiley in The Encyclopedia of Ghosts and Spirits states that a "spirit is not accurately a ghost, or a spirit of the dead, though the distinction between the two is often vague....nor is a spirit precisely the soul, though the term 'spirit' is often used in describing the soul."

How many times have you avoided being circled by a black cat?

At one time, it was believed to be unlucky to hold a mirror under water.

It's a well known belief that a broken mirror can bring seven years bad luck, but if it is broken without human assistance, it only serves to present the belief

Age Old Superstitions

It is unknown where a lot of superstitions were born, but it is known that a lot of them were believed for one reason or another because of fear or doubt, that they must be believed in order to prevent bad fortune.

Superstitions can include topics such as clairvoyance and the casting of certain spells. It can involve the belief in a simple good luck charm such as a rabbit's foot. It can involve certain concocted medicines to serve as remedy for some ailment. It can also involve the belief in the practice of future telling by way of some crystal ball. Whatever the case, it entails the apprehension of misfortunes that can be delivered, on ongoing ritual to practice and some simple restriction to commit to memory so as to avoid any bad misfortune.

Iona Opie and Moira Tatem edited a very interesting book entitled, A Dictionary of Superstitions. Their works include many superstitions that evolved from Great Britain. For example, it was believed that a fern seed could make one invisible. Even Shakespeare wrote in The First Part of Henry the Fourth, with Chamberlain speaking to Gadshill, "...I think you are more beholding to the night than to fern-seed for your walking invisible." Supposedly, this plant carried seeds that were naked to the eye, thus if one was to have possession of the plant, to the best of my understanding, then one had the powers to become invisible.

In marriage, it was believed at one time that the youngest within a family should be married before the oldest and that the oldest should dance at their wedding without any shoes. In Shakespeare's The Taming of the Shrew, Katherina says to her father, Baptista, of her sister, "...She is your treasure, she must have a husband; I must dance barefoot on her wedding day ...."

A many faceted example was, and still is, the mirror. It used to be deemed that it could bring a person bad luck if they were to look into it while being ill, or that a reflection of a deceased person in a mirror could bring about bad fortune. The mirrors were to be covered in those set of circumstances as well as during a thunderstorm because it was bad luck to see the reflection of lightning in a mirror. It was also believed that there were powers of foretelling while gazing into a mirror. Additionally, it was believed that one could see their future spouse in the mirror while combing their hair with one hand and eating an apple with the other. It was believed that one could receive a visit from the devil if he or she were to hold vanity dearly while staring in the mirror too long. It was considered dangerous, too, for a child to look into a mirror before turning the age of one. And, it was considered unlucky for any bride to look into the mirror after she was all dressed in preparation for her event. A person was not to look at their face by candlelight, or to let a cat look into the mirror, and that if a woman looked into the mirror after putting on her nightcap, she would become an old maid. Finally, if two people looked into a mirror at the same time, it was believed they would have an argument.

A common method used in the 16th Century to rid of a ghost included fasting, praying and consuming wine that was mixed with holy oil as well as carrying around

It cannot be set aside that opinions in regard to ghosts or spirits were regarded with a religious view in the 16th Century.

The Fear Not to Believe

For similar reasons why people believe in superstitions, they believe in ghosts, spirits or apparitions. We had the classical ghosts going back to Homer's time all the way to the ghosts of our modern century's time. In Appearances of the Dead--A Cultural History of Ghosts by R.C. Finucane, he shares of one incident that allegedly occurred in 1587. A Hertfordshire woman named Mary Cocker stated she was visited by a "bright thing of long proportion without shape, closed as it were in white silk, which ... passed by her bedside where she lay." Allegedly, Mary was supposed to give Queen Elizabeth a warning. The author notes with particularity how this experience was a bit unusual due to the Reformation, in part, as well as how every religious sect in that time could argue the occurrence. Finucane writes about Louis Lavater's De Spectris, a Protestant book about apparitions written in 1570 (translated in 1572), "Of ghostes and spirites walking by nyght, and of strange noyses, crackes and sundry forewarnynges." In Lavater's writings, he stated "some thinking every small motion and noyse to be spirits" or "some so fondly perswaded that there are not spirits." In regard to other causes of apparitions, Lavater states that "Wemen, which for the most parte are naturally given to feare more than men ... do more often suppose they see or heare this or that thing, than men do."

In the 16th Century, Protestants believed that such things were delusions or hallucinations, or that they were good or evil spirits. Catholics believed these things were souls coming back from the dead. With the Protestants, there were so many reports of alleged incidents of apparitions, that it played on their belief system. Lavater had suggested that the viewers of such things probably had too much to drink or were physically ill. Also, that it was simply based on a vivid imagination, an untruth or just a mistake in what was seen. A humorous Catholic example was with Cardinal de Retz who was frightened one night by discovering black shapes coming from a river. As it turns out, these shapes were only Augustinian friars having a good time taking a nighttime bath. The Catholics, however, believed in their doctrine of purgatory and that the dead could return form it. Needless to say, there was much controversy on this topic during the Reformation period as to whether or not such entities actually existed.

Would you stay alone in this house one night if it were rumored to be haunted?

The Tower of London is noted for being haunted.

Technology has presented today's society with equipment to seek these apparitions. Regardless, such things are still a mystery and because the validity of someone's story of experience cannot always be disproved, it also cannot be explained away. It comes down to a matter of believing in the existence of ghosts or not.

Patricia Telesco explains about the different types of ghosts in her words in Ghosts, Spirits and Hauntings. Her discussion includes topics on spirits who are angry, concerned, evolved, fearful, fettered, malevolent or even those whom have stories to tell. She talks about the spirits who suffered an untimely death or have an unresolved issue. She shares about one of the most haunted places being the Tower of London. For example, she writes about the ghosts of Edward and Richard Plantagenet whom she states were murdered in 1483 at the word of their uncle. Supposedly, they can be seen walking the halls in the tower. Sir Walter Raleigh allegedly has appeared in spirit form. Anne Boleyn is said to have appeared without her head.

Telesco defines a ghost as being "an apparition, often shadowy, of a dead person. The word comes from the Anglo-saxon gaest--a shadow or trace of breath or spirit, or a faint secondary image. Researchers reserve this term for recurrent apparitions of spirits believed trapped between the worlds. Most ghost sightings are visual. One third of sightings are also auditory. Most ghosts seem dimly aware of the living beings who see them."

Telesco defines an apparition as "A supernatural occurrence, such as a ghost sighting, that cannot be explained as a natural occurrence. Apparitions of humans, animals, vehicles, and various objects have been seen. The Titanic's ghostly images is a notable example."

She defines a spirit as "A disembodied intelligence or consciousness, with a definite personality, will and disposition. From the Latin spiritus, meaning breath. This term may also refer to supernatural beings such as fairies and spirits."

A superstition in regard to the habits of tea drinkers in England. If one wants to avoid an argument, one should never stir the tea from right to left.

How many times have we crossed our fingers for good luck?

Ghost: Investigating the Other Side

Superstitions by Peter Lorie

We may shun when we see a ladder in our path, but one would hesitate to take a risk of walking under it mostly due to the way the mind was conditioned.

Good Luck Charms and Other Beliefs

Zolar in Encyclopedia of Signs, Omens and Superstitions, indicated not only is the rabbit's foot said to bring luck, so is a fox tail, which if attached to a child's bicycle, can increase the speed. If one was to wear animal teeth, he or she will have more courage. These good luck charms, or amulets, are supposed to be worn to have any power such as a birthstone ring. One humorous superstition was that if a child was measured with a strong or some form of tape measure, that the child would stop growing, and that if a child is passed through an open window, this method will deliver the same result. Also, one was promised to have a well-behaved child if said child were to urinate into a fireplace.

Superstition holds that a banshee spirit, which was believed to be feminine, would attach itself to a particular family and if death was believed to occur soon, this spirit would let out a scream that could be heard far and near.

Old England held the belief that if someone's boots were placed on a chair or table that the owner of said boots would face death by hanging. It was also believed, however, if the boots were placed on a table that it served as a sign that an argument would ensue between the parties living in the household. In regard to the latter, I should think that anyone even in modern day would become incited if they saw someone's boots on the table.

Noteworthy, there is a society in London called the Ghost Club that devotes its efforts towards the study of psychic occurrences and has been around since 1862. One of its members was Charles Dickens. For a period of time, there was little to not activity with the group, but it became alive again on All Souls' Day in 1882. No women were allowed to join; it was a private club of 82 men. After the club dissolved, its documentations were given to the British Museum in 1936 and remained unopened for 25 years. A man by the name of Harry Price began the organization again to a membership that was limited to 500 people and would include women. The club was interrupted by World War II and later in 1947 when Price died. Today, one can only join by invitation. In 1963, the documents were finally disclosed to the public.

What may be viewed as a complete normalcy to one, may be deemed as a superstition to another. For example, Peter Lorie writes in Superstitions that:"To Christian the original 'pagan' beliefs were superstitions while to the Protestants the use of rosaries was a superstition, and to the Puritans the decorations carefully displayed in any cozy house during Christmas were superstitions, especially the use of ivy or mistletoe or holly."

In present day due to scientific advances, where we know that an illness comes from a virus, it used to be believed that it was because the body was possessed with a demon. It is interesting to note, however, that even today, we will cling to past sources in the field of medicine. For example, because black is associated with death, one will rarely pick up a prescription for black pills and that oftentimes because red is associated with blood, this is the color that can be found with iron pills.

As far as ghosts are concerned, again, it involves a fear of the unknown, but could it be the belief that one standing alone in a room knows by instinct that he or she is not "alone?" So many of the beginnings of these beliefs, although seemingly complicated, will remain a mystery as well as part of the elements of who we are.

Have you ever had an experience where you believed you saw an apparition, or something you could not explain away?

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Submit a Comment

  • ytsenoh profile imageAUTHOR


    5 years ago from Louisiana, Idaho, Kauai, Nebraska, South Dakota, Missouri

    Paraphernalia, thank you for stopping by. I agree that it's challenging to not be superstitious at all and I also think it depends on how we define that term individually. I think we're certainly conditioned to develop patterns of thought based on what we hear growing up such as the black cat and not walking under a ladder, or stepping on a crack in the sidewalk. I think it's funny when we say we don't believe these things and yet when we're alone, I wonder if we're affected by them. Thank you for your comment and have an awesome lucky week!

  • Paraphernalia profile image


    5 years ago

    I will bookmark this article so that I can read it again. I think that it is very difficult for even the most educated and rational person to avoid superstitious thinking. We humans seem to be prone to it, especially when knowledge and a sense of control is lacking. Very interesting hub!

  • ytsenoh profile imageAUTHOR


    5 years ago from Louisiana, Idaho, Kauai, Nebraska, South Dakota, Missouri

    Dear shiningirisheyes, thanks very much for the read and your kind comment. Have a great day!

  • shiningirisheyes profile image

    Shining Irish Eyes 

    5 years ago from Upstate, New York

    I thoroughly enjoyed this interesting hub. I was raised Catholic and am Irish to boot, so you can imagine the superstitions I grew up listening to! Needless to say, this was fantastic!

  • ytsenoh profile imageAUTHOR


    5 years ago from Louisiana, Idaho, Kauai, Nebraska, South Dakota, Missouri

    drbj, thanks very much! I appreciate you taking the time. Have a great week!

  • drbj profile image

    drbj and sherry 

    5 years ago from south Florida

    Congrats on your excellent research, ytsenoh. You have produced a fascinating exploration of the paranormal. Voted up.

  • ytsenoh profile imageAUTHOR


    5 years ago from Louisiana, Idaho, Kauai, Nebraska, South Dakota, Missouri

    Minnetonka, thanks very much for the visit and comment. I'm glad you enjoyed this read. The subjects are always intriguing and interesting. Have a great week!

  • Minnetonka Twin profile image

    Linda Rogers 

    5 years ago from Minnesota

    I really enjoyed your paranormal hub on ghosts and apparitions. There is No Way I would stay at that house in the picture above if it was known to be haunted. I also would not go to that old west ghost town at night. I am curious what the lights are in that picture up above. Do you know what it is? voted up and hit many buttons on this fascinating topic.

    I actually just wrote a paranormal article if you'd like to check it out. It's called "face within the fire."

    I am a total believer of ghosts/apparitions etc...because I've experience paranormal events and sightings first hand.

  • ytsenoh profile imageAUTHOR


    5 years ago from Louisiana, Idaho, Kauai, Nebraska, South Dakota, Missouri

    Thank you much, xstatic, from Oregon. Very interesting subjects. Have a great productive writing week!

  • xstatic profile image

    Jim Higgins 

    5 years ago from Eugene, Oregon

    A fascinating and compact history of supernatural beliefs. There are may good hubs about ghostly matters and spirts on HP. I hope some of the authors read this interesting hub.


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