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A ghost is a visual apparition of a deceased human being, and the term implies that it is the spirit of the person it represents Apparitions of animals and of inanimate objects are also sufficiently frequent. All apparitions do not take the form of visual images; auditory and tactile false perceptions, though less common, are not unknown, and there is record of a house that was " haunted " with the perpetual odor of violets.
Evolution of the Belief in Apparitions
There is no doubt that the belief which identifies an apparition with the spirit of the creature it represents—a belief widely current in all nations and all times—is directly traceable to the ancient doctrine of animism, which endowed everything in nature, from man himself to the smallest insect, from the heavenly bodies to an insignificant plant or stone, with a separable soul. It is not difficult to understand how the conception of souls may have arisen.
Sir J. Frazer, in his Golden Bough, says:
As the savage commonly explains the processes of inanimate nature by supposing that they are produced by living beings working in or behind the phenomena, so he explains the phenomena of life itself. If an animal lives and moves, it can only be, he thinks, because there is a little animal inside which moves it. If a man lives and moves, it can only be because he has a little man or animal inside, who moves him. The animal inside the animal, the man inside the man, is the soul. And as the activity of an animal or man is explained by the presence of the soul, so the repose of sleep or death is explained by its absence; sleep or trance being the temporary, death being the permanent absence of the soul."
Sometimes the human soul was represented as a bird—an eagle, a dove, a raven—or as an animal of some sort, just as the soul of a river might be in the form of a horse or a serpent, or the soul of a tree in human shape; but among most peoples the belief was that the soul was an exact reproduction of the body resembling it in every feature, even to details of dress, etc. Thus, when a man saw another in dream, it was thought either that the soul of the dreamer had visited the person dreamed of, or that the soul of the latter had visited the dreamer. By an easy process of reasoning, the theory was extended to include dreams of animals and inanimate things, which also were endowed with souls. And thus it is quite probable that the hallucinations with which primitive peoples as well as those at a later stage of culture were at times visited, and which they doubtless knew well how to induce, should be regarded as the souls of the things they represent. If it be granted that telepathy and clairvoyance operate sometimes at the present day, and among civilized peoples, it may be conceded on still more abundant testimony that they were known to primitive races. And it is obvious that these faculties would have a powerful effect in the development of a belief in apparitions. The apparition of a deceased person, again, would inevitably suggest the continuance of the soul's existence beyond the grave, and the apparition of a sick person, or one in some other grave crisis—such as might now-a-days be accounted for telepathically—would also be regarded as the soul, which at such times was absent from the body.
There is a widely diffused opinion that ghosts are of a filmy, unsubstantial nature, and this also would seem to have taken its rise in the first animistic concepts of primitive man. At a very early stage of culture we find spirit and breath confused—they are identified in the Latin spiritus and the Greek pneuma, as well as in other languages. How natural it is, therefore, that the breath, condensed in the cold air to a white mist, should be regarded as the stuff that ghosts are made of. On another hypothesis, the shadowy nature of the ghost may have resulted from an early confusion of the soul with the shadow. Thus animistic ideas of the soul have given rise to the belief in apparitions. But animism has a further contribution to make towards this belief in the host of spirits which have not, and never have had, bodies, true supernatural beings, as distinct from souls—gods, elementary spirits, and those evil spirits to which were attributed disease, disaster, possession, and bewitchment. This class of beings has evolved into the fairies, elves, brownies, bogies, and goblins of popular folklore, of which many apparitions are recorded. Savage Instances of Apparitions. In classic and mediaeval times the concept of the ghost was practically identical with that of savage peoples. It is only within the last two generations that scientific investigation was deemed necessary, as the result of the birth of a skepticism hitherto confined to the few, and in the general mind weak or non-existent. (For details of such research see Spiritualism and Psychical Research.)
One of the most noteworthy features of ghosts in savage lands is the fear and antagonism with which they are regarded. Almost invariably the spirits of the deceased are thought to be unfriendly towards the living, desirous of drawing the souls of the latter, or their shadows, into the spirit-world. Sometimes, as with the Australian aborigines, they are represented as malignant demons. Naturally, everything possible is done to keep the ghost at a distance from the habitation of the living. With some peoples thorn bushes are planted round the beds of the surviving relatives. Persons returning from a funeral pass through a cleft tree, or other narrow aperture, to free themselves from the ghost of him whom they have buried. Others plunge into water to achieve the same purpose. The custom of closing the eyes of the dead is said to have arisen from the fear that the ghost would find its way back again, and the same reason is given for the practice, common among Hottentots, Hindus, North American Indians, and many other peoples, of carrying the dead out through a hole in the wall, the aperture being immediately afterwards closed. The Mayas of Yucatan, however, draw a line with chalk from the tomb to the hearth, so that the soul may return if it desires to do so.
Among uncultured races, the names of the departed, in some mysterious manner bound up with the soul, if not identified with it, are not mentioned by the survivors, and any among them possessing the same name, changes it for another. The shape in which apparitions appear among savages may be the human form, or the form of a beast, bird, or fish. Animal ghosts are common among the Indians of North and South America. Certain African tribes believe that the souls of evil-doers become jackals on the death of the body. The Tapuya Indians of Brazil think that the souls of the good enter into birds, and this belief is of rather wide diffusion. When the apparition is in human shape it is generally an exact counterpart of the person it represents, and, like the apparitions of more civilized countries, its dress is that worn by the deceased in his lifetime. This last feature, of course, implies the doctrine of object-souls, which has its roots in animism. Though it is generally accepted by savage peoples that the shades of the departed mingle with the living, coming and going with no particular object in view, yet the revenant may on occasion have a special purpose in visiting the scene of his earthly life. It may be that the spirit desires that its body be buried with the proper ceremonial rites, if these have been omitted.
In savage, as in civilized countries, it is believed that the spirits of those who have not been buried at all, cannot have any rest till the rite has been duly performed. In China, the commonest ghost is that of a person who has been murdered, and who seeks to be avenged on his murderer. The spirit of one who has been murdered, or has died a violent death, is considered in Australia also to be especially likely to walk abroad, while in many barbarous or semi-barbarous lands, the souls of women who have died in childbirth, are supposed to become spirits of a particularly malignant type, dwelling in trees, tormenting and molesting passers-by.
There is another reason for which apparitions sometimes appear: to reveal the site of hidden treasure. The guardians of buried hoards are, however, supernatural beings rather than human souls, and the shapes they take are often grotesque or terrible. It is customary for ghosts to haunt certain localities. The favorite spot seems to be the burial-place, of which there is an almost universal superstitious dread; but the Indians of Guiana go a step farther in maintaining that every place where anyone has died is haunted. Among the Kaffirs and the Maoris of New Zealand a hut wherein a death has occurred is taboo, and is often burnt or deserted. Sometimes, even a whole village is abandoned on account of a death—a practice, this, which must be attended with some inconvenience.
There is one point on which the apparitions of primitive peoples differ from those of more advanced races—the former seldom attain to the dignity of articulate human speech. They chirp like crickets, for instance, among the Algonquin Indians, and their " voices " are only intelligible to the trained ear of the shaman. The ghosts of the Zulus and New Zealanders, again, speak to the magicians in thin, whistling tones. This idea of the semi-articulate nature of ghosts is not confined to savage concepts; Shakespeare speaks of the sheeted dead, who, did squeak and gibber in the streets of Rome, and the gibbering ghost appears in other connections. Naturally the articulate apparition is doubly convincing, since it appeals to two separate senses. Dr. Tylor says:
Men who perceive evidently that souls do talk when they present themselves in dream or vision, naturally take for granted at once the objective reality of the ghostly voice, and of the ghostly form from which it proceeds
Spirits which are generally invisible may appear to certain persons and under certain circumstances. Thus in the Antilles, it is believed that one person traveling alone may see a ghost which would be invisible to a number of people. The shamans, or medicine-men, and magicians are able to perceive apparitions which none but they can see. The induction of hallucinations by means of fasts, rigid asceticism, solitude, the use of narcotics and intoxicants, dances, and the performing of elaborate ceremonial rites, is known all over the world, and among uncultured as well as cultured peoples. Coincidental apparitions, it may be remarked en passant, are comparatively rare in savage countries. Naturally, a great many savage instances of apparitions are concerned with supernatural beings other than human souls, but such cases are dealt with elsewhere. Ancient and Modern Ideas Concerning Apparitions.
The belief in apparitions was very vivid among ancient Oriental peoples. The early Hebrews attributed them to angels, demons, or the souls of the dead, as is shown in the numerous Scriptural instances of apparitions.
Dreams were regarded as apparitions if the predictions made in them were fulfilled, or if the dream-figure revealed anything unknown to the dreamer which afterwards proved to be true. That the Hebrews believed in the possibility of the souls of the dead returning, is evident from the tale of the Witch of Endor. Calmet says, in this connection:
Whether Samuel was raised up or not, whether his soul, or only a shadow, or even nothing at all appeared to the woman, it is still certain that Saul and his attendants, with the generality of the Hebrews, believed the thing to be possible.
Similar beliefs were held by other Eastern nations. Among the Greeks and Romans of the classic period apparitions of gods and men would seem to have been fairly common. Calmet, in his Dissertation on Apparitions, says:
The ancient Greeks, who had derived their religion and theology from the Egyptians and Eastern nations, and the Latins, who had borrowed theirs from the Greeks, were all firmly persuaded that the souls of the dead appeared sometimes to the living—that they could be called up by necromancers, that they answered questions, and gave notice of future events; that Apollo gave oracles, and that the priestess, filled with his spirit, and transported with a holy enthusiasm, uttered infallible predictions of things to come. Homer, the most ancient of all the Greek writers, and their greatest divine, relates several apparitions, not only of gods, but of dead men and heroes. In the Odyssey, he introduces Ulysses consulting Teresias, who, having prepared a pit full of blood, in order to call up the Manes, Ulysses draws his sword to hinder them from drinking the blood for which they were very thirsty, till they had answered the questions proposed to them. It was also a prevailing opinion, that the souls of men enjoyed no repose, but wandered about near their carcasses as long as they continued unburied. Even after they were buried, it was a custom to offer them something to eat, especially honey, upon the supposition that after having left their graves, they came to feed upon what was brought them. They believed also, that the demons were fond of the smoke of sacrifices, of music, of the blood of victims, and the commerce of women; and that they were confined for a determinate time to certain houses or other places, which they haunted, and in which they appeared.
They held that souls, when separated from their gross and terrestial bodies, still retained a finer and more subtile body, of the same form with that which they had quitted ; that these bodies were luminous like the stars ; that they retained an inclination for the things which they had loved in their life-time, and frequently appeared about their graves. When the soul of Patroclus appeared to Achilles, it had his voice, his shape, his eyes, and his dress, but not the same tangible body. Ulysses relates, that when he went down into hell, he saw the divine Hercules, that is, adds he, his image: for he himself is admitted to the banquets of the immortal gods. Dido says, that after death she, that is, her image bigger than the life, shall go down to the infernal regions.
And Eneas knew his wife Creusa, who appeared to him in her usual shape, but of a taller and nobler stature than when she was alive.
In the speech which Titus made to his soldiers, to persuade them to mount to the assault of the Tower Antonia at Jerusalem, he uses this argument:
Who knows not that tire souls of those who bravely expose themselves to danger, and die in war, are exalted to the stars, are there received into the highest region of heaven, and appear as good genii to their relations; while they who die of sickness, though they have lived good lives, are plunged into oblivion and darkness under earth, and are no more remembered after death, than if they had never existed.
Again he says.
We find that Origen, Tertullian, and St. Irenaus, were clear of this opinion. Origen, in his second book against Celsus, relates and subscribes to the opinion of Plato, who says, that the shadows and images of the dead, which are seen near sepulchres, are nothing but the soul disengaged from its gross body, but not yet entirely freed from matter; that these souls become in time luminous, transparent, and subtile, or rather are carried in luminous and transparent bodies, as in a vehicle, in which they appeal to the livine;. . . . Tertullian, in his book concerning the soul, asserts that it is corporeal, and of a certain figure, and appeals to the experience of those who have seen apparitions of departed souls, and to whom they have appeared as corporeal and tangible, though of an aerial color and consistence. He defines the sool to be a breath from God, immortal, corporeal, and of a certain figure.
It is interesting to note that some of these classic specters are nearly akin to the melodramatic conceptions of more modern times. The younger Pliny tells of haunted houses whose main features correspond with those of later hauntings—houses haunted by dismal, chained specters, the ghosts of murdered men who could not rest till their mortal remains had been properly buried.
In the early centuries of the Christian era there was no diminution in the number of apparitions witnessed. Visions of saints were frequently seen, and were doubtless induced by the fasts, rigid asceticism, and severe penances practiced in the name of religion. The saints themselves saw visions, and were attended by guardian angels, and harassed by the unwelcome attentions of demons, or of their master, the devil. These beliefs continued into the Middle Ages, when, without undergoing any abatement in vigour, they began to take on a more romantic aspect.
The witch and werewolf superstitions were responsible for many tales of animal apparitions. The poltergeist flourished in a congenial atmosphere. Vampires were terribly familiar in Slavonic lands, and nowhere in Europe were they quite unknown.
The malignant demons, known as incubi and succubi, were no less common. In the northern countries familiar spirits or goblins, approximating to the Roman lares, or the wicked and more mischievous lemures, haunted the domestic hearth, and bestowed well-meant, but not always desirable, attentions on the families to which they attached themselves. These beings were accountable for a vast number of apparitions, but the spirits of the dead also walked abroad in the Dark Ages. Generally they wished to unburden their minds of some weighty secret which hindered them from resting in their graves. The criminal came to confess his guilt, the miser to reveal the spot where he had hidden his gold. The cowled monk walked the dim aisles of a monastery, or haunted the passages of some Rhenish castle, till the prayers of the devout had won release for his tortured soul. Perchance, a maiden in white flitted through the corridor of some old mansion, moaning and wringing her hands, enacting in pantomime some long-forgotten tragedy.
At the cross-roads lingered the ghost of the poor suicide, uncertain which way to take. The -old belief in the dread potency of the unburied dead continued to exercise sway. There is, for example, the German story of the Bleeding Nun. Many and ghastly had been her crimes during her lifetime, and finally she was murdered by one of her paramours, her body being left unburied. The castle wherein she was slain became the scene of her nocturnal wanderings. It is related that a young woman who wished to elope with her lover decided to disguise herself as this ghostly specter in order to facilitate their escape. But the unfortunate lover eloped with the veritable Bleeding Nun herself, mistaking her for his mistress. This, and other traditional apparitions, such as the Wild Huntsman, the Phantom Coach, the Flying Dutchman, which were not confined to any one locality, either originated in this period or acquired in it a wildly romantic character which lent itself to treatment by ballad-writers, and it is in ballad form that many of them have come down to us.
This hey-day of the apparition passed., however, at length, and in the eighteenth century we find among the cultured classes a skepticism as regards the objective nature of apparitions, which was destined two centuries later to become almost universal.
Hallucination, though not yet very well understood, began to be called the power of imagination. Many apparitions, too, were attributed to illusion.. Nevertheless, the belief in apparitions was sustained and strengthened by the clairvoyant powers of magnetic subjects and somnambules. Swedenborg, who had, and still has many disciples, did much to encourage the idea that apparitions were objective and supernatural. To explain the fact that only the seer saw these beings and heard their voices, he says:
The speech of an angel or of a spirit with man is heard as sonorously as the speech of one man with another: yet it is not heard by others who stand near, but by the man himself alone. The reason is, the speech of an angel or of a spirit flows in first into the man's thought, and by an internal way into the organ of hearing, and thus actuates it from within, whereas the speech of mm flows first into the air, and by an external way into the organ of hearing which it actuates from without. Hence, it is evident, that the speech of an angel and of a spirit with man is heard in man, and, since it equally affects the organ of hearing, that it is equally sonorous.
Thus it will be seen that ancient and modern ideas on apparitions differ very little in essential particulars, though they take color from the race and time to which they belong. Now they are thin, gibbering shadows; now they are solid, full-bodied creatures, hardly to be distinguished from real flesh and blood; again they are rich in romantic accessories; but the laws which govern their appearance are the same, and the beliefs concerning them are not greatly different, in whatever race or age they may be found.
Present-Day Theories Concerning Apparitions
At the present time apparitions are generally, though by no means universally, referred to hallucination. Even those who advance a spiritualistic theory of apparitions frequently incline to this view, for it is argued that the discarnate intelligence may, by psychical energy alone, produce in the brain of a living person a definite hallucination, corresponding perhaps to the agent's appearance in life. Hallucinations may be either coincidental or non-coincidental. The former, also known as telepathic hallucinations, are those which coincide with a death, or with some other crisis in the life of the person represented by the hallucination.
The Society for Psychical Research has been instrumental in collecting numerous instances of coincidental hallucinations, many of which are recorded in Phantasms of the Living, by Messrs. Myers, Podmore and Gurney.
Mr. Podmore was indeed the chief exponent of the telepathic theory of ghosts (for which see also Telepathy) which he had adopted after many years of research and experiment. He suggested that apparitions result from a telepathic impression conveyed from the mind of one living person to that of another, an impression which may be- doubly intense in time of stress or exalted emotion, or at the moment of dissolution. Apparitions of the dead he would account for by a theory of latent impressions, conveyed to the mind of the percipient during the agent's lifetime, but remaining dormant until some particular train of thought rouses them to activity. This view is largely supported at the present day.
Hallucinations, whether coincidental or otherwise, may, and do present themselves to persons who are perfectly sane and normal, but they are also a feature of insanity, hypnotism and hysteria, and of certain pathological conditions of brain, nerves, and sense-organs. The late Mr. Myers was of opinion that an apparition represented an actual " psychicinvasion," that it was a projection of some of the agent's psychic force. Such a doctrine is, as Mr. Myers himself admitted, a reversion to animism. There is another modern theory of apparitions, particularly applicable to haunted houses. This is the theory of psychometry. Sir Oliver Lodge, in his Man and the Universe, says:
"Occasionally a person appears able to respond to stimuli embedded, as it were, among psycho-physical surroundings in a manner at present ill understood and almost incredible:—as if strong emotions could be unconsciously recorded in matter, so that the deposit shall thereafter affect a sufficiently sensitive organism, and cause similar emotions to reproduce themselves in its sub-consciousness, in a manner analogous to the customary conscious interpretation of photographic or phonographic records, and indeed of pictures or music and artistic embodiment generally."
Take, for example, a haunted house of the traditional Christmas-number type, wherein some one room is the scene of a ghostly representation of some long past tragedy. On a psychometric hypothesis the original tragedy has been literally photographed on its' material surroundings, nay, even on the ether itself, by reason of the intensity of emotion felt by those who enacted it; and thenceforth in certain persons an hallucinatory effect is experienced corresponding to such impression. It is this theory which is made to account for the feeling one has on entering certain rooms, that there is an alien presence therein, though it be invisible and inaudible to mortal sense.' The doctrine of psychometry in its connection with apparitions is of considerable interest because of its wide possibilities, but it belongs to the region of romance rather than to that of science, and is hardly to be considered as a serious theory of apparitions at least, until it is supported by bettor evidence than its protagonists can show at present.
Spiritualistic theories of apparitions also vary, though they agree in referring such appearances to discarnate intelligences, generally to the spirits of the dead. The opinion of some spiritualistic authorities is, as has been said, that the surviving spirit produces in the mind of the percipient, by purely psychic means, an hallucination representing his (the agent's) former bodily appearance. Others believe that the discarnate spirit can materialize by taking to itself ethereal particles from the external world, and thus build up a temporary physical organism through which it can communicate with the living. Still others consider that the materialized spirit borrows such temporary physical organism from that of the medium, and experiments have been made to prove that the medium loses weight during the materialization. (See Materialization.)
The animistic belief that the soul itself can become visible is not now generally credited, since it is thought that pure spirit cannot be perceptible to the physical senses. But a compromise has been made in the 'psychic body,' (q.v.), midway between soul and body, which some spiritualists consider clothes the soul at the dissolution of the physical body. The psychic body is composed of material particles, very fine and subtle, and perceptible as a rule, only to the eye of the clairvoyant. It is this, and not the spirit, which is seen as an apparition.
We must not overlook the theory held by some Continental investigators, that " spirit materializations" so-called are manifestations of psychic force emanating from the medium.
Different Classes of Apparitions
Many of the various classes of apparitions having been considered above, and others being dealt with under their separate headings, it is hardly necessary to do more than enumerate them here. Apparitions may be divided broadly into two classes— induced and spontaneous. To the former class belong hypnotic and post-hypnotic hallucinations (see Hypnotism) and visions induced by the use of narcotics and intoxicants, fasts, ascetic practices, incense, narcotic salves, and auto-hypnotization. The hallucinatory appearances seen in the mediumistic or somnambulistic trance are, of course, allied to those of hypnotism, but usually arise spontaneously, and are often associated with clairvoyance.
Crystallomancy (q.v.) or crystal vision is a form of apparition which is stated to be frequently clairvoyant, and in this case the theory of telepathy is especially applicable. Crystal visions fall under the heading of induced apparitions, since gazing in a crystal globe induces in some persons a species of hypnotism, a more or less slight dissociation of consciousness, without which hallucination is impossible. Another form of clairvoyance is second sight (q.v.). a faculty common among the Scottish Highlanders. Persons gifted with the second sight often see symbolical apparitions, as, for instance, the vision of a funeral or a comn when a death is about to occur in the community. Symbolical appearances are indeed a feature of clairvoyance and visions generally. Clairvoyance includes retrocognition and premonition—visions of the past and the future respectively—as well as apparitions of contemporary events happening at a distance. Clairvoyant powers are often attributed to the dying. Dreams are, strictly speaking, apparitions, but in ordinary usage the term is applied only to coincidental or veridical dreams, or to those " visions of the night," which are of peculiar vividness.
From these subjective apparitions let us turn to the ghost proper. The belief in ghosts has come to us, as has been indicated, from the remotest antiquity, and innumerable theories have been formulated to account for it, from the primitive animistic conception of the apparition as an actual soul to the modern theories enumerated above, of which the chief are telepathy and spirit materialization.
Apparitions of the living also offer a wide field for research, perhaps the most favored hypothesis at the present day being that of the telepathic hallucination. A peculiarly weird type of apparition is the wraith (q.v.) or double, of which the Irish fetch is a variant. The wraith is an exact facsimile of a living person, who may himself see it; Goethe, Shelley, and other famous men are said to have seen their own wraiths. The fetch makes its appearance shortly before the death of the person it represents, either to himself or his friends, or both.
Another Irish spirit which foretells death is the banshee (q.v.), a being which attaches itself to certain ancient families, and is regularly seen or heard before the death of one of its members. To the same class belong the omens of death, in the form of certain animals or birds, which follow some families.
Hauntings or localized apparitions are dealt with under the heading " Haunted Houses."
The poltergeist (q.v.), whose playful manifestations must certainly be included among apparitions, suggests another classification of these as visual, auditory, tactile, etc., since poltergeist hauntings—or indeed hauntings of any kind— are not confine i to apparitions touching any one sense. For apparitions of fairies, brownies, and others of the creatures of folk-lore, see Fairies.
In this article an attempt has been made to show as briefly as possible the universality of the belief in apparitions, and the varied forms under which this belief exhibits itself in various times and countries among savage and civilized peoples; and to indicate the basic principles on which it rests namely, the existence of a spiritual world capable of manifesting itself in the sphere of matter, and the survival of the human soul after the dissolution of the body. While the beliefs in this connection of savage races and of Europeans in early and mediaeval times may arouse interest and curiosity for their own sakes, the scientific investigator of the present day values them chiefly as throwing light on modern beliefs. The belief in apparitions is a root principle of spiritualism. Many who are not spiritualists in the accepted sense have had experiences which render the belief in apparitions almost inevitable.
A subject which touches so nearly a considerable percentage of the community, including many people of culture and education, and concerning which there is a vast quantity of evidence extending back into antiquity, cannot be a matter of indifference to science, and the investigations made by scientific men within recent years arouse surprise that such investigation has been so long delayed.
The Society for Psychical Research has gathered many well attested instances of coincidental apparitions, clairvoyance, and apparitions of the dead. As yet, however, the problem remains unsolved, and the various hypotheses advanced are conflicting and sometimes obscure.
The theory of telepathic hallucination offered by Mr. Podmore seems on the whole to be the most conformable to known natural laws, while a't the same time covering the ground with fair completeness. But perhaps the best course to take at the present stage of our knowledge is to suspend judgment in the meanwhile, until further light has been cast on the subject.
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