Chapter 10: Introduction

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Aghost is believed to be a physical manifestation of the surviving spirit of a person who is known to be deceased. The spirit form of the ghost may appear as a mistlike, amorphous mass; a lifelike, but transparent, image of a person; or an exact physical replica of an individual known to be dead. Even if the person represented by the manifestation is well known or loved by those who encounter its presence, the appearance of a ghost most often provokes feelings of fear or awe.

Although the terms "ghosts" and "phantoms" are generally interchangeable in popular usage, many psychical researchers who specialize in such areas of the unknown draw the distinction that phantoms are most often associated with locales that over the years have built up unique atmospheres, such as places of battle, tragedy, or great suffering. In such hauntings, certain ethereal figures may be reported so often over so many years that they seem almost to have assumed an independent life force that has enabled them to continue to exist within the context of a specific battlefield, the ruins of a burned building, or the shadowed places in a hospital corridor. In this chapter the many categories of ghosts and phantoms will be explored, such as apparitions of the dead, the possibility of animal spirits, the phenomenon of "spooklights ," and the disrupting energy of the poltergeist, a noisy, rambunctious ghost. In addition, the details of such classic hauntings as the Bell Witch's Cave , the Borley Rectory , the Whaley House , and the Myrtle Plantation will be examined.

A Gallup Poll conducted in May 2001 revealed that 38 percent of Americans surveyed believed in the existence of ghosts. Responding to another question in the same survey, 42 percent of the respondents admitted that they believed in the reality of haunted houses, a 13 percent increase since a poll conducted in 1990. In the largest survey of paranormal beliefs ever conducted in the United Kingdom, the Consumer Analysis Group found that 57 percent of the British public believe in ghosts.

Television documentaries, such as the "Haunted History" series on The History Channel and the remaking of "In Search Of" on the Sci Fi Channel, present evidence of ghosts and hauntings that the viewing public is eager to accept as proof of spirits existing in castles, cottages, and taverns around the world. Motion picture producers have found vast audiences eager for such stylish ghost stories as The Sixth Sense (1999), Sleepy Hollow (1999), and The Others (2001).

Books about ghostsboth fiction and nonfictionremain high on readers' lists of popular titles. Barnes & carries 8,102 books with the key words "ghost stories."

And then there is the Internet. There are more than 650,000 websites devoted to the topics of ghosts and hauntings.

In spite of such remarkable interest in ghosts by a large segment of the general public, one of the main reasons why neither science nor society at large has seriously considered the question of ghosts and phantoms is the lack of what scientists consider to be tangible physical evidence that proves that there is anything other than a void waiting for humans upon death. Skeptics remain untouched by the most moving, frightening, or inspirational anecdotes of personal encounters with spirits, and even the most open-minded of contemporary scientists are reluctant to get involved in "ghost hunting" for fear of tarnishing their shields of objectivity. And since ghosts are allegedly spirits of the once-living who have survived physical death, many scientists wish to avoid what they believe to be areas that transgress into abstract and esoteric elements of faith and religion.

But however relentlessly science strives to ignore the evidence for ghosts or to deny the existence of a life after death, the more popular ghost stories seem to become among the general public. The more that science seeks to demystify the world, the more that average people wish to retain a sense of mystery and wonder through belief in ghosts and the supernatural. In such works as Leaps of Faith: Science, Miracles, and the Search for Supernatural Consolation (1999), psychologist Nicholas Humphrey insists that science will never be able to explain the world and reassure men and women that there is meaning to life as completely as can belief in the supernatural or the divine.

Delving Deeper

associated press. "haunted experiences draw skeptical society together." Boston Globe, july 22, 2001. [online]

denning, hazel m. True Hauntings. st. paul, minn.: llewellyn publications, 1996.

murphy, gardner. The Challenge of Psychical Research. new york: harper & row, 1970.

"spooky! we're still haunted by ghosts." Sydney Morning Herald, july 23, 2001. [online]

steinour, harold. Exploring the Unseen World. new york: citadel press, 1959.

sullivan, lawrence e., ed. Death, Afterlife, and the Soul. new york: macmillan publishing, 1989.

tyrrell, g. n. m. Apparitions. new york: collier books, 1963.

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Chapter 10: Introduction

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