views updated May 29 2018


GHOSTS . In western Germanic languages words similar to the modern English ghost and the German Geist seem to be derived from roots indicating fury, wounding, or tearing in pieces. The spelling with gh in English appeared first in a work printed by William Caxton in the fifteenth century, influenced probably by a similar Flemish form. The term ghost has been used in various ways, to mean soul, spirit, breath, the immaterial part of man, moral nature, a good spirit, an evil spirit, and, in liturgical and dogmatic language, to designate the spirit of God as the "Holy Ghost." It has chiefly signified the soul of a deceased person appearing in a visible form, and hence has given rise to such phrases as a ghost walking, raising a ghost, or laying a ghost. It may be called "an apparition" or "a specter." In any case, the prevailing modern sense is that of a dead person manifesting its presence visibly to the living.

Other words are used to describe comparable phenomena, but with some differences. A fetch is, like the German Doppelgänger, the apparition of a living person. A wraith is an apparition or specter of a dead person or an immaterial appearance of someone living forewarning his own death. The Irish often speak of fetches, and the Scottish of wraiths. More generally, a phantom, from the Greek phantasma, is sometimes unreal or immaterial, an illusion or dream-image, a specter or ghost. A phantasm may be the same thing, but Edmund Gurney and others in Phantasms of the Living (1886) discussed as phantasms "all classes of cases where the mind of one human being has affected the mind of another by other means than through the recognized channels of sense" (vol. 1, p. 35). A poltergeist, from the German poltern ("to make noise") and Geist ("spirit") is regarded as a noisy spirit remarkable for throwing things about. Since the nineteenth century the French world revenant (lit., "one who comes back"), has been used in English to describe a being who returns from the dead.

The word ghost most commonly refers to a dead person who haunts or simply appears before the living, sometimes with a message or warning. The notion has been popular in literature. While Shakespeare wrote one play involving fairies and another involving witches, ghosts were an important feature in several of his works: Hamlet's father, Caesar, and Banquo all appear as ghosts. Hamlet's fathercalled a ghost, a spirit, an apparition, an illusion, and more than fantasyexpresses a belief in the activities of ghosts: "I am thy father's spirit; / Doom'd for a certain term to walk the night, / And for the day confin'd to fast in fires, / Till the foul crimes done in my days of nature / Are burnt and purg'd away" (1.5.913).

The Bible and the QurʾĀn

The Hebrew scriptures have few references to ghosts. Isaiah attacked the practice of consulting "the mediums and the wizards who chirp and mutter" (Is. 8:19). This refers to the spiritualistic séance, forbidden but vividly illustrated in the story of the medium of Endor, consulted by Saul. She was said to raise up the dead prophet Samuel out of the earth, saying "An old man comes up, and he is covered with a robe" (1 Sm. 28:14). Samuel was not a haunting ghost, although he brought a fatal warning for Saul.

In Psalm 88:12 the grave is called the land of forgetfulness, and later Judas Maccabaeus makes sacrifices to free the dead from their sins (2 Mc. 12:45). In the apocryphal Wisdom of Solomon (17:15) lawless men are said to be troubled in their sleep by specters, apparitions, and phantoms. Otherwise ghosts are not mentioned except in the older translations where death is described as surrendering the spirit, "giving up the ghost."

In the New Testament there are also few references. When the disciples saw Jesus by night, on or by the sea, they were afraid, thinking him an apparition or ghost (phantasma; Mark 6:49; this is the only occurrence of this word in the New Testament). In one of Luke's accounts of the resurrection the disciples were terrified, supposing that they had seen a spirit (pneuma ), but Jesus assured them that this could not be so, for he had flesh and bones that a spirit had not (Lk. 24:3739). Lazarus might be called a revenant, but he was not, strictly speaking, a ghost, since he came out of the grave alive (Jn. 11:44). Later Christian insistence upon the "resurrection of the flesh" (sarx ), as in the Apostles' Creed, also precluded "ghostly" survival and postulated instead a restoration of the full personality.

In developing Christian doctrine theologians discussed the nature of angels, good spirits, bad spirits, the resurrection of the dead, heaven, hell, and purgatory. But belief in ghosts and their possible return to earth was left indeterminate, neither accepted nor rejected. All Souls' Day, the commemoration of the faithful departed, has been universally celebrated in the Western church since the tenth century, and prayers at Mass request "to the souls of all thy servants a place of cool repose, the blessedness of quiet, the brightness of light forgiveness and everlasting rest."

In practice many Christians have believed in ghosts and in haunted places, and this is said to have been particularly true among Germanic peoples. The survivors owed numerous duties to the departed, and unless honor and rituals were accorded, it was thought that the dead might return to take vengeance or reclaim their former property. Those who had died untimely or unnatural deaths, such as women in childbirth, might become wandering spirits. To this day stories are related in Europe about old monasteries or rectories where restless spirits are said to appear. Rituals of exorcism have been practiced, with restrictions, both to cast out evil spirits and to lay wandering ghosts to rest.

In the Islamic world the soul or self (Arab., nafs; cf. Heb. nefesh ) was at first distinguished from the breath or wind (Arab., rū; cf. Heb. rua ), but the words came to be used interchangeably and are applied to the human spirit, angels, and genii (jinn ). Theologians teach that at death the soul goes to a first judgment and then remains in the grave until the final resurrection. Edward A. Westermarck stated in Ritual and Belief in Morocco (1926, vol. 2, p. 246) that while it was believed that dead saints might appear to the living and the dead might come to see their friends but remain invisible, "as to ordinary dead people I have been assured over and over again that the dead do not walk, and I remember how heartily my friends laughed when I told them that many Christians believe in ghosts." However, the Moroccans believed that the dead would be angry if they were offended by anyone and would punish him, and if children did not visit the graves of their parents they would be cursed by them. The voices of some of the dead were thought to be audible in cemeteries, though only good people, children, and animals could hear them. If a person had been killed, the spot would be regarded as haunted, and passersby might hear him groan.

Among Berber-speaking tribes there were said to be more traces of the belief in apparitions of the dead than among Arabic-speaking Moroccans. Some of the Tuareg of the Sahara claimed that ghosts had been seen at night near cemeteries. In Egypt many stories have been told of apparitions of dead people, and Arabian bedouin believe that spirits of the wicked haunt the places of their burial and that the living should avoid passing cemeteries in the dark.

The jinn may be thought to haunt burial grounds and many other places, but they are fiery spirits and not dead people. Ghouls (Arab., ghūl) are monsters thought to haunt cemeteries and feed on dead bodies. An ʿifrit is mentioned in the Qurʾān (27:39) as "one of the jinn," and in the Thousand and One Nights, in the story of the second shaykh, it is said that a benevolent Muslim woman "turned into an ʿifritah, a jinniyah. " She changed her shape, saved her husband from drowning by carrying him on her shoulders, and told him that she had delivered him from death by the grace of God, since she believed in him and in his Prophet. In Egypt the word ʿifrit came to mean the ghost of a man who had been murdered or suffered a violent death.


In many parts of Africa ghosts are thought to appear to give warning or seek vengeance. Among the Ashanti of Ghana, a man who has committed suicide is called a wandering spirit, unable to find rest and refused entry into the land of spirits, roaming between this world and the next until his appointed time of death. If such a suicide is reborn, he will come back as a cruel man who might again suffer a bad end. At one time criminals who were executed had powerful charms tied on them to prevent their ghosts returning to harm the executioners. Some of the dead had their heads shaved and painted red, white, and black so that they would be recognized if they walked as ghosts.

The Ga of the Ghana coastline think that the spirit of one who dies violently or prematurely wanders about for forty days as a ghost, angry at his early death and jealous of other people's pleasures. Those who go out late at night pursuing such pleasures may be pursued in turn by ghosts until they die of heart failure. Ghosts are said to be recognizable by their fiery breath and red mouths: red is the color of witches, fairies, and ghosts, but ghosts dislike white and may be kept away if one throws white cloths on the ground.

A common belief in the Ivory Coast is that the dead may return to their homes at night to steal children from their mothers' arms. Here and elsewhere widows must keep in mourning for months or years, often in rags, lest their dead husbands return and have sexual intercourse with them, which would have fatal results. Fishermen drowned at sea, hunters lost in the forest, people struck by lightning or burnt in fires, and others who die of diseases like smallpox or leprosy may not receive burial rites and so become ghosts, living in the "bad bush." Months after the death or disappearance, the family performs mourning ceremonies and lays the ghost to rest.

When infant mortality is high, a succession of dying children may be thought to be incarnations of the same child over and over again. The Yoruba of Nigeria call such babies "born to die" (abiku ), and if one comes a third time and dies it is said that "there is no hoe" to bury it with. Marks are made on the body of the stillborn or dying baby to prevent the ghost from returning or to make the ghost recognizable.

In central Africa the Ila of Zambia think that some spirits are captured by witches and become their ghost-slaves, causing disease and sometimes possessing people. Like poltergeists, such ghosts reputedly attack people, knock burdens off their heads, or break axes and hoes. Ghosts are often thought to speak in unnatural ways, in guttural voices or twittering like birds, and some are said to be very small, with bodies reversed so that their faces are at the back of their heads. They appear in dreams, show anger at neglect, demand sacrifice, or cause sickness. Although stories are told that seem to imply that ghosts have objective or even physical existence, they are regarded as spiritual entities who only take the essence or heart of sacrifices.

In the region of Zaire the word zumbi is used for spirits of the dead and ghosts, and in Haiti it becomes zombie, a revenant, or one of the "living dead," whose soul has been eaten by a witch or whose corpse has been revived by a sorcerer for evil purposes.

South and East Asia

In popular Indian belief various words may be used for ghosts. The term bhūta, something that has been or has become, refers to the ghost of a dead person, one who has died a violent death or has not had a proper funeral ceremony, or it may apply generally to a good or evil spirit. In the Bhagavadgītā (9.25) the bhūta is a ghost or goblin, an inferior but not necessarily an evil being. A preta ("departed") is the spirit of a dead person before the obsequies are performed or an evil ghost; it also may be the spirit of a deformed person or of a child that died prematurely. A yaka is generally a benevolent spirit although sometimes classed with piśāca s and other malignant spirits and ghosts; such terms are used loosely and often overlap.

Ghosts and demons in India are believed to haunt cemeteries or live in trees, appearing in ugly or beautiful forms and requiring food and blood. The special guardian against ghosts is the monkey god Hanuman, the "large-jawed"; his worshipers offer coconuts to him and pour oil and red lead over his images, taking some of the oil that drips off to mark their eyes as a protection. The lighting of lamps at the Dīvālī or Dīpavālī festival at the new year is also said to drive away ghosts and evil spirits.

Performance of Śraddha funeral ceremonies is essential in India for the rest of the departed spirit, in order to provide food for it and to prevent it from becoming an evil spirit. Special Śraddha is performed for those who died violently, as they would be likely to become haunting ghosts. Infants who die do not receive ordinary Śraddha, but presents are given to brahmans on their behalf.

Buddhist dialogues discuss various states after death. In the Milindapañha (294) there are said to be four classes of ancestors (peta ), only one of which lives on offerings from benefactors; the others feed on vomit, are tormented by hunger and thirst, or are consumed by craving. Any of these may be ghosts. In Sinhala another word (holman ) indicates similar dangerous beings. These appear at night as naked white figures, especially in cemeteries, and sunset, midnight, and dawn are the most dangerous times for their activities. One of them, Mahasōnā, perhaps meaning "great cemetery," puts his hand on the backs of wanderers in graveyards at midnight, marks them with his imprint, and kills them with shock. Peta may be offered inferior food, as well as drugs or excrement, and if they act as troublesome poltergeists they are exorcized. Another term for ghostly creatures, bhūtayā ("has been") may be substituted for peta and other words for demons and harmful spirits.

Burmese Buddhists believe that although all beings pass on to rebirth, most go first to one of four "states of woe" as an animal, demon, ghost, or inhabitant of hell. Rebirth as a human being is an exception, one of "five rarities." Monks may be reborn as ghosts. One account of five heads of a monastery who died in quick succession attributed the premature deaths to the ghost of the original incumbent, who had owned the monastery personally and died before appointing a successor. Those who followed were usurpers, and as a ghost he caused their deaths. As a consequence the villagers decided to abandon that monastery and build a new one for the next abbot.

In Thailand the Indian word preta is used for the ghosts of the recently dead, who may have been condemned to hell or to wander the earth. Although not harmful to humans they may be disgusting and gigantic in appearance. Because of their tiny mouths they suffer from constant hunger and thirst. Relatives may transfer merit to the preta s by extra gifts to monks; some writers consider preta s to be the inversion of the Buddhist monk. Mural paintings in Buddhist temples of South Asia often depict both the joys of paradise and the sufferings of unhappy spirits.

In China a ghost (kuei; f., yao ) was the spirit of someone who had died an unusual death, often as the result of crime. Ghosts of bandits were thought to linger near the place of their execution, and if a woman had a difficult labor it was attributed to her having passed near such a place during pregnancy and having offended one of the bandit ghosts. The ghost might try to oust the rightful soul during labor and be born as the woman's son.

Under Buddhist influence souls were thought to live in zones of formlessness until the time of rebirth. They were fed by surviving relatives, and if nobody cared for them they would haunt people. In the seventh month after death there was a great festival for "hungry souls," when the priests would recite texts not only for relatives but for the souls of strangers and those without anyone to care for them. Meals, models of houses, and paper money were dedicated to the dead and burned as offerings. Especially in southern China, paper boats, often with a host of deities aboard or with lanterns in the shape of lotus flowers, were set drifting down rivers to light the way for spirits and ghosts to cross the river of transmigration. If sickness or calamity afflicted the community, however, it was attributed to inadequate propitiation of ghosts.

In Japanese belief one category of the ancestral dead is that of wandering angry ghosts. Neglected ancestors may quickly change from benevolent beings to vicious, cursing tyrants, attacking their families in painful ways until proper food and potent texts are offered to them. There are also spirits with no particular affinity (muenbotoke ), those who die childless or without kin to worship them, and they may attack any stranger whose weakness lays him open to spiritual possession.

The most dangerous ghosts are those of people who die violently, are murdered, or die in disgrace. They become angry spirits (onryō) requiring rituals for appeasement. In the literature of the eighth to the tenth century there are striking examples of these furious ghosts, such as the story of Prince Sawara. After horrifying starvation, exile, and death by poison, he was said to have brought a whole series of calamities on the country. And a minister who died in 903 in disgrace and exile was credited with a succession of natural disasters thanks to his furious ghost. In early times discontented ghosts were depicted in animal or natural form, but in later nō plays they appear as ordinary men and women who are finally revealed as ghosts in horned masks and long red wigs.

Notions of ghosts and spirits as restless, perhaps unburied or unavenged, beings with a message to convey or a task to fulfill abound in popular belief in many countries, although there may be little formal doctrine or orthodox teaching in the scriptures to support these ideas.

See Also

Afterlife; Soul.


The larger dictionaries provide examples of the ways in which ghost and similar words have been used, especially the complete or the "compact" edition of the Oxford English Dictionary, 2 vols. (Oxford, 1971). Biblical and ecclesiastical dictionaries rarely discuss ghosts, but the Shorter Encyclopaedia of Islam (1953; reprint, Leiden, 1974) has a useful article on the soul (nafs). Edward A. Westermarck's Ritual and Belief in Morocco, 2 vols. (1926; reprint, New Hyde Park, N. Y., 1968), is a treasury of popular beliefs. African beliefs have been collected in my West African Psychology (London, 1951). For Indian rituals Margaret S. Stevenson's The Rites of the Twice-Born (1920; reprint, New Delhi, 1971) is still valuable. There have been more recent studies of Buddhist countries: Richard F. Gombrich's Precept and Practice (Oxford, 1971) on Sri Lanka; Melford E. Spiro's Buddhism and Society, 2d ed. (Berkeley, Calif., 1982) on Burma; Stanley J. Tambiah's Buddhism and the Spirit Cults in North-East Thailand (Cambridge, 1970) on Thailand; and Carmen Blacker's The Catalpa Bow (London, 1975) on Japan.

Geoffrey Parrinder (1987)


views updated May 18 2018


Ghost lore has a long and colorful history. The word ghost has been in use since the late sixteenth century. It derives from a more ancient term, gast, in the language that evolved into modern German. For some time, ghost has usually signified the disembodied spirit of a deceased person. Earlier meanings still cling to this word, however. Gast originally referred to a terrifying rage. A person who experiences shock and terror can still be described as aghast (i.e., frightened by an angry ghost). Fear of angry ghosts is built into the word itself.

Etymology explains even more about the characteristics attributed to ghosts through the centuries. Ghost is created in part by way of spirit, and spirit by way of breath. The book of Genesis and many other world mythologies tell a similar story: God breathed into an inert form, and the creature then stirred with life. There has also been a widespread belief that each newborn becomes one of us in drawing its first breath. Each dying person leaves the world by exhaling the last breath, sometimes depicted as a soul bird. The breath is seen as life. Expelling the final breath is "giving up the ghost." The spirit is on its way, the body stays behind. So in traditional accounts, spirit was breath, but more than breath: It became a subtle, immaterial essence that departs from a person at death. This idea is at the core of theological dualism, the belief that a person is composed of a material, perishable body and an immaterial, imperishable essence. Greek and Christian thought held that imagination, judgment, appreciation of beauty, and moral sense are functions of the spirit within humans. The spirit is an individual's higher self, something of which survives bodily death in many religious accounts. In Western societies, people tend to speak of this surviving element as the soul.

Ghosts, however, do not necessarily emanate from the refined spirit of divinity within. It is fairly common among world cultures to believe in another spirit that accompanies them throughout life. This is a shadowy sort of spirit that could be thought of as a duplicate image of the physical body. The German term doppelganger clearly conveys the idea of a second spirit that moves mysteriously through one's life, sometimes serving as the ruthless Mr. Hyde to the everyday cultivated Dr. Jekyll. This shadow spirit is apt to leave the body from time to time and linger around a person's place of death and burial. A ghost, then, might either be a blessed spirit on a mission of mercy, or the tortured and malevolent image of a body that suffered an anguished death.

Varieties of Ghosts

Two sharply contrasting beliefs about ghosts have long coexisted, sometimes in the same society. The good ghost appears to be related to the higher spirit of a deceased person; the dangerous ghost, though, might be the shadowy doppelganger or a higher soul that has turned evil. The two opposing ghostly prototypes are the angry ghost, dangerous because it is angry about being dead, having been killed in an unacceptable way, having been treated badly by family and community, or just plain inveterate nastiness; or the emotionally neutral ghost, the spiritual essence of the deceased that lingers or returns in order to warn, comfort, inspire, and protect the living, making its rounds amiably and harmlessly.

It is not unusual to have a mixed concept of ghosts because the influence of both traditions persists in the twenty-first century in popular media. Ghosts themselves can have mixed feelings. There are lost souls who cannot find rest, and others, like Wagner's Flying Dutchman, who are condemned to a weary and aimless exile that can end only with the discovery of pure love. Such sad ghosts are capable of either good or evil, depending on how they are treated.

Funeral rites and prayers often have had the double function of providing safe conduct for the soul of the deceased while also preventing it from lingering or returning as a dangerous ghost. Candles or torches, for example, help guide the departing soul and at the same time discourage wandering evil spirits from entering the corpse or its attendants. Elaborate precautions are taken when the person has died by violence. An executed murderer, for example, might have all his body orifices sealed and his limbs amputated so the vengeful ghost cannot return to continue its evil career.

Ghost prevention remains a major concern in many world cultures. A Hindu ceremony conducted in Katmandu, Nepal, in June 2001 was intended to banish the ghost of the recently slain monarch. The ashes of the late King Birendra were mixed into the luncheon food, and a Brahmin priest, dressed to impersonate the king, rode astride an elephant as crowds of people chased him and the monarch's ghost away.

Encounters with Ghosts

According to lore, there is more than one way in which a ghost can present itself. The visual visitation is most common. Visible ghosts are often elusive, appearing only in glimpses, but some linger. Specialists in folklore and paranormal phenomena tend to speak instead of apparitions (from Latin for "appearances" or "presentations"). Apparitions include ghosts of deceased persons but can also represent living people who are physically absent, animals, objects, and unusual beings that resist classification. Phantoms can also include visions of either a deceased or an absent living person. Specter and shade, terms seldomly used in the twenty-first century, refer to ghosts or spirits.

Some ghosts are heard rather than seen. Poltergeists (noisy ghosts) are notorious for dragging their chains, dropping dishes from a shelf, or even hurling objects across a room. Unseen spirits that communicated by rapping on walls or tables became especially popular during the heyday of Spiritualism. In reports of haunted houses, poltergeists are usually the chief perpetrators.

A more subtle type of ghost is neither seen nor heard. One "feels" its presence. This sense of presence is perhaps the most common type of ghost-related experience reported. Most common among the recently bereaved, these visitations often take the form of a sense of the deceased's uncanny presence. Interestingly, the pattern found in the late nineteenth century is much the same as in current reports: the more recent the death, the more frequent the incidents in which a ghostly presence was felt.

The "felt" ghost was encountered in a wider variety of situations at the end of Christianity's first millennium. Mystical experiences of an invisible presence were frequently reported and made their way into the historical record. A new liturgy for the dead had been introduced in which symbolism became inseparable from physical reality. Praying for the dead became a prime responsibility for Christians, and these intensified symbolic interactions with the dead seemed to attract ghosts.

Dream ghosts have been reported in many times and places. These nocturnal visitations often have been taken as revealing past, present, or future realities. Even in contemporary reports, a dream visitation from a deceased person is sometimes accepted as a "real ghost."

The famous confrontation between Hamlet the king and Hamlet the prince demonstrates the witness's quandary. Was the prince only dreaming that the ghost of his father had appeared to him? And how could he be sure that this was a reliable ghost and not a demon or deceitful spirit who had impersonated the king in order to urge Hamlet to murderand therefore to damn the young prince's own soul? Whether ghosts have appeared in dreams, visions, or daily life, they have often suffered from a credibility problem. Are they a misperception, a trick of the mind, a hallucination, or the real thing?

Ghosts are most commonly reported as solo acts, but sometimes they bring a supporting cast. The medieval mind occasionally encountered hordes of ghosts arising from their graves. Witnesses have sworn that they have beheld the apparitions of numerous slain soldiers arising from a battlefield such as Gettysburg. By contrast, some people have met an entire family of ghosts ensconced comfortably in an ordinary home. Several women who reported having seen or heard domestic ghosts had this explanation to offer:

As they see it, the events and emotions of former residents' lives remain locked in the form of "energy" or "waves" or an "aura" in the house where they lived. If it is pleasant, the present resident can absorb and benefit from the atmosphere; the memories in the house will make those who live in it happy, healthy, and wise. If the spirit is malignant, however, and the memories violent, the energy may transform itself into a force which can throw or displace objects or echo the events of real life by sighing, walking about, switching lights on and off, closing doors, flushing toilets, and so on. (Bennett 1999, pp. 4748)

These domestic ghosts have become, literally, "the spirit of the house," as Bennett adds.

The conjured ghost is a commercial product, brought forth in return for a fee. Some nineteenth- and early twentieth-century mediums attracted participants to their séances by guest appearances from visual ghosts. After interest started to decline in spirit visitors, one could only hear ghosts. If the participants were sufficiently receptive and the ghost was in the right mood, they would be rewarded with the sight of a white ectoplasmic figure hovering, floating, or simply walking. (Ectoplasm is what ghosts wear or become when they allow themselves to be materialized; investigators discovered that the ectoplasm bore a remarkable similarity to the bladder of a goat.)

The Bible is almost devoid of ghosts. The strongest candidate for a ghost is the apparition that was conjured from the grave of Samuel by the necromancing Witch of Endor. Whether or not this figure was truly the ghost of Samuel remains a subject of controversy. Early Christian belief was not receptive to ghosts, in contrast to many of the popular cults of the time. Hamlet's chronic uncertainty was inculcated by a long tradition that cautioned against taking apparent ghostly visitors at face value.

Ghostly Functions

What is the ghost's vocation? "To haunt" is the answer that first comes to mind. Many reports tell of a ghost that appears in a particular location, sometimes repeatedly for generations. In some instances the witnesses identify the apparition as a person who once lived in that home or vicinity; in other instances the ghost is unknown to the witnesses, but the same assumption is made. Ghosts have also been encountered in the wilderness along the Cumberland Trail, for example. Members of numerous folk cultures would not be surprised that ghosts have been observed both around the household and in the wilds. Some firmly believe that the spirit does linger for a while before undertaking its postmortem journey, and some may be unwilling or unable to leave until unfinished business has been completed. The roving ghost that might be encountered could be lost and disoriented because the person died far from home and has not been sanctified by purification and other mortuary rituals. The "skinwalkers" reported in Native American lore are among these restless souls.

Usually, then, ghosts have unfinished business to complete or an inability to move on. Being a ghost is usually a transitional status. When somebody or something succeeds in "laying the ghost," then this unfortunate spirit can finally desist from its hauntings and wanderings, and advance toward its fate.

There is another kind of ghost, however, whose origin is an unfortunate rebirth. Hungry ghosts (e-kuei ) are Chinese Buddhist ancestors who are in constant torment because they are starving and thirsty but cannot receive nourishment. Whatever they try to eat or drink bursts into fire and then turns into ashes. There is hope for them, however. The Festival of Ghosts includes a ritual designed specifically to provide them with sanctified water that, accompanied by chant and magic, can release them from their terrible plight.

Fear of ghostly possession has haunted many societies. In these instances the disembodied spirit not only appears but also moves right in and takes over. Fortunately, the ghost often can be persuaded to leave once its demands are met. The ghosts of North India, for example, often require that they be given sweets. In the first phase of ghost possession, according to Freed and Freed, "A victim shivers, moans, and then falls down unconscious" (1993, p. 305). Next, the victim engages in various dissociative actions such as talking nonsense, running around wildly, and even attempting suicide.

These functions of North Indian ghosts vary with the stages of the life cycle: different ones appear in childhood, adulthood, middle age, and old age. Because ghost possession is one of the expected hazards of life, North India villagers have developed first-aid techniques to reduce the disturbance until an exorcist arrives. The victims are wrapped in quilts, propped in a sitting position, guarded against suicide attempts, and administered a series of shock treatments (e.g., hair pulling, slapping, and placing peppers in their eyes and mouths). The intrusive ghost is also engaged in conversation while other villagers fling cow dung and incense on a fire so their fumes might help to dislodge the unwelcome spirit. Exorcism is the most dependable cure, however, if the ghost is to be banished without carrying off the victim's soul.

One of the most learned scholars ever to devote himself to ghosts, phantoms, and survival has a different perspective to offer. Frederick W. H. Myers studied thousands of ghost-sighting reports. His conclusion: most ghosts do not do much of anything. This statement contrasts strongly with the usual belief that ghosts have intentions and missions. The typical sighting was of an apparently aimless, drifting entity that seemed to have nothing in particular on its mind. So the average ghost is not engaging in meaningful or purposeful behavior, according to Myers's studies.

Explaining Ghosts

Myers offers two noncontradictory explanations for the do-nothing apparitions that were most commonly reported. First, he emphasizes their difference from the lurid ghouls described in many ghost stories. The more reliable human testimony seems to pertain to more pedestrian hauntings. Myers next tries to fathom the nature of these oddly lackadaisical apparitions. These are not ghosts at all, in the traditional sense of the term; rather, they are "a manifestation of persistent personal energy after death" (1975, p. 32). It is not an independent, free-roaming spirit, nor is it a hallucination or other trick of the mind. What we have seen is a kind of after-image of the deceased person. We might compare these strange flashes with the light that comes to across from distant stars that have long since ceased to exist.

Myers's views were later seconded by Hornell Hart, who had another half century of material to analyze. Hart observed that most apparitions were "tongue-tied" and exhibited no sense of purpose. This line of explanation has the merit of sticking close to witness reports. It does not satisfy either side in the controversy about the reality of ghosts that gathered steam when science and technology started to challenge folk belief and religious dogma. Staunch critics are reluctant to admit the possibility that even a sparkle of energy might persist after death. This highly attenuated form of survival does not include the personality of the deceased, and so it fails to support the faith and hopes of some traditionalists.

The crisis apparition offers a partial explanation that lies somewhere between the Myers/Hart thesis and the more traditional view. The image of an absent person suddenly appears to a friend or family member. This is not a vague, wispy apparition; it seems to be the very person. In some reports the phantom appears at the time of the person's death, sometimes thousands of miles away. These reports could be taken as support for a personal form of survival, but this notion would not extend to all the legions of ghosts that have been perceived or imagined. Furthermore, a brief, onetime apparition offers no evidence of prolonged survival.

Ghosts have often been explained as hallucinations. Green and McCreery, for example, make an interesting case for the possibility that ghost sightings include hallucinations of the entire scene, not just the spirit figure. Defenders have tried to offer evidence that ghosts are not to be dismissed as hallucinations. So-called spirit photography was a popular effort in this direction. Thousands of photographs were produced in which deceased humans and animals appeared among the living. Several photographs even revealed a ghostly figure moving through a séance in all her ectoplasmic glory. Notwithstanding the adage that "seeing is believing," the credibility of spirit photography succumbed rapidly to critical investigations into the wiles of trick photography.

The purported acquisition of unusual but accurate information from ghosts has also been offered as proof of their authenticity. Many of these examples pertain to prophecies of warning. For example, a ghost tells warns a family not to go on their planned trip or confides where they can find the old strongbox filled with money and valuable gems. If events prove the information to have been trustworthy, one might then feel entitled to reward the ghost with a vote of authenticity.

These and other possible contacts with ghosts invite skepticism and outright derision in the mainstream of a culture with an essentially rationalist, materialist worldview. But few contest the vividness and tenacity of ghostly visitations in the human imagination.

See also: African Religions; Communication with the Dead; Ghost Dance; Immortality; Shakespeare, William; Soul Birds


Bennett, Gillian. Alas, Poor Ghost! Traditions of Belief in Story and Discourse. Logan: Utah State University Press, 1999.

Davidson, Hilda, R. Ellis, and W. M. S. Russell, eds., The Folklore of Ghosts. Bury St. Edmunds: D. S. Folklore Society, 1981.

Emmons, Charles F. Chinese Ghosts and ESP. Metuchen, NJ: Scarecrow Press, 1982.

Freed, Ruth S., and Stanley A. Freed. Ghosts: Life and Death in North India. New York: American Museum of Natural History, 1993.

Gauld, Alan. "Discarnate Survival." In Benjamin B. Wolman ed., Handbook of Parapsychology. New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold, 1977.

Green, Celia, and Charles McCreery. Apparitions. Oxford: Institute for Psychophysical Research, 1989.

Guiley, Rosemary Ellen. Harper's Encyclopedia of Mystical & Paranormal Experience. Edison, NJ: Castle, 1991.

Gurney, E., Frederick W. H. Myers, and Frank Podmore. Phantasms of the Living. London: Trubner, 1886.

Kalish, Richard A., and David K. Reynolds. "Phenomenological Reality and PostDeath Contact." Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion 12 (1973):209221.

Kastenbaum, Robert. Is There Life After Death? revised edition. London: Prion, 1995.

Lindley, Charles. The Ghost Book of Charles Lindley, Viscount Halifax. New York: Carroll & Graf, 1994.

Montrell, William Lynwood. Ghosts along the Cumberland: Deathlore in the Kentucky Foothills. Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1987.

Mulholland, John. Beware Familiar Spirits. New York: Arno Press, 1975.

Myers, Frederick W. H. Human Personality and Its Survival of Bodily Death, 2 vols. New York: Arno Press, 1975.

Roll, William G. "Poltergeists." In Benjamin B. Wolman ed., Handbook of Parapsychology. New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold, 1977.

Schmitt, Jean-Claude. Ghosts in the Middle Ages. The Living and the Dead in Medieval Society. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1998.



views updated May 17 2018


British fashion house

Founded: in 1984 by Tanya Sarne. Company History: Opened London shop, 1994; opened flagship London store, 1997; launched G2 collection, 1997; opened boutiques in Paris, Los Angeles, and Amsterdam, 1998; signed licensing agreement with Oliver Goldsmith for eyewear, 1998; introduced shoe and knitwear lines, 1999; launched signature fragrance Ghost, 2000; planned second women's fragrance, 2001-02. Awards: British Apparel Export award, 1992. Company Address: The Chapel, 263 Kensal Rd., London W10 5DB, England.




Stegemeyer, Anne, Who's Who in Fashion, Third Edition, New York,1996.


Fallon, James, "Ghost: Getting the U.S. Spirit," in WWD, 11 January 1993.

Spindler, Amy M., "Color It with Silver and Spice," in the New York Times, 4 November 1993.

"New York UpdateGhost," in WWD, 11 April 1994.

Orlean, Susan, "The Talk of the Town: Fashion Designers Uptown and Downtown Get Ready for This Week's Shows in Bryant Park," in the New Yorker, 7 November 1994.

Fallon, James, "Ghost readies Trendy G2 for Spring-Summer 1997," in WWD, 20 August 1996.

, "Ghost Focuses on Growth," in WWD, 18 June 1998.

Hammond, Teena, "L.A.'s a Ghost Town," in WWD, 24 June 1998.

"GhostFashion Designer Tanya Sarne," in WWD, 29 September 1998.

Watson, Shane, "Tanya Boards the Ghost Train," from London Life, available online at, 1999.

"Ghost Story," in Soap, Perfumery & Cosmetics, February 2000.

"Fashion Marches On," in WWD, 23 February 2001.


The British label Ghost was founded in 1984 by Tanya Sarne and has since become a firmly established name in the fashion industry. The company's signature use of flowing fabric, with its softly crinkled look cut in loose, flowing shapes, forms the basis of each collection. Ghost designs are not usually viewed as the cutting edge of fashion; this was particularly true during the power-dressing period of the 1980s, when strict tailoring and padded shoulders were a major element in fashion. A label such as Ghost offered an individual and alternative way of dressing.

Fabrics are the hallmark of each Ghost collection and almost all of them are woven from viscose yarns derived from specially-grown soft wools with a fluid, crêpe-like texture. An intricate process of washing, shrinking, and dyeing is applied to each garment, which is constructed from the unfinished material or "grey cloth" and dyed at the final stage. These "grey cloth" garments are cut several sizes bigger to allow for the ensuing process of shrinking that occurs when the viscose is boiled to the consistency of vintage crêpe fabric.

The traditional dyeing and shrinking process employed by Ghost is rarely used in production today, due to its cost and the fact that it is extremely time-consuming. Another feature of Ghost design is its richly varied use of color, which can achieve great depth on the viscose fabric and changes each season from softest pastels and pale powdery shades to rich autumnal and spicy tones. The signature fabric is also treated with surface decoration such as embroidery, cutwork, and broderie anglaise lace effects. Due to the soft, fluid nature of the fabric, Ghost was initially perceived as being primarily summerwear. Over the years, however, new fabrics have been introduced, such as in the autumn-winter collections which have included quilted satin, velours, and mohair wool mixes.

Like many of its British counterparts, the vast majority of Ghost's business is export, of which America and Japan represent around half of its sales volume (Europe, Australia, the Caribbean, and the Middle East make up the rest). Sarne began selling her designs in New York through high-end department and specialty stores in 1987, and Ghost' winning of the British Apparel Export award in 1992 gave the company a much higher profile. The following year, 1993, Sarne began showing her collections in New York.

According to Sarne, her philosophy of creating clothes (which she describes as "by women, for women,") is the key to the considerable success of the Ghost label and its appeal to a wide-ranging age group. The revolutionary nature of each Ghost collection, which means existing pieces can be added to each season, is another appealing feature of the company's designs and may be the key to dressing in the 1990s. "It's a unique product and very feminine," says Sarne of the Ghost label. "It also has a very 'antipower dressing' stancea look I believe will only increase in importance as the decade progresses."

Sarne and Ghost were very busy in the mid-and late 1990s. A London store was opened in 1994, followed by a 3,500-foot flagship store three years later. Sarne expanded her design range to include knitwear, eyewear (through a license with Oliver Goldsmith), and shoes. In 1998 came new boutiques in Paris, Amersterdam, and Los Angeles, with future plans for a New York store.

Sarne's lovely, hardly-there viscose dresses have remained a favorite for women around the world, but especially in California. To mark the opening of her Los Angeles shop, Sarne threw a festive bash well attended by the area's glitterati. Though the company's roots are still firmly planted in the UK, Sarne much admires her American clientéle. "Our clothing is perfect for the L.A. climate and the L.A. mentality," Sarne told Women's Wear Daily in June 1998. In New York, stores like Neiman Marcus, Henri Bendel, and Barneys do a brisk business selling Ghost designs, but as Sarne explained, "People in New York think they're trendier and sharper, but our best sales have always been in L.A."

So just who wears Ghost designs? As Sarne told Shane Watson of London Life, from the This is London website in 1999, "I can find any woman a Ghost outfit that will make her look wonderful. Guaranteed, any shape, any size, any age." In 2000 Sarne admirers had a new way to wear Ghost, with the debut of a signature fragrance, with another women's scent planned for the next year or so. Back in London, Sarne and her new head designer, Amy Roberts, showed a winning collection of dresses and separates in February 2001. Women's Wear Dailycommented (23 February 2001), "This collection should definitely give the label a boost."

Catherine Woram;

updated by Nelly Rhodes


views updated May 18 2018

182. Ghosts

See also 114. DEMONS ; 384. SPIRITS and SPIRITUALISM .

Doppelgänger, doubleganger
a supposedly ghostly counterpart or double of a living person.
a belief in ghosts.
a phantom or apparition.
a vision or other perception of something that has no physical or objective reality, especially in the sense of a ghost or other supernatural apparition. Also phantasma. See also 218. IMAGES ; 312. PHILOSOPHY .
an abnormal fear of ghosts.
fortunetelling through communication with the spirits of the dead. sciomantic, adj.
a religion in which ghosts are worshiped instead of gods.
the study of ghosts, phantoms, or apparitions. Also called phantasmology, spookology. spectrological, adj.
an abnormal fear of specters or phantoms.
1 . the condition or quality of existing outside the known experience of man or caused by forces beyond those of nature.
2 . belief in supernatural events or forces. Also supranaturalism. supernaturalist, n., adj. supernatural, supernaturalistic, adj.
supernaturalism. supranaturalist, n., adj. supranatural, supranaturalistic, adj.