Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Ghosts

Ghosts are basically the centerpiece of the supernatural world. They are all over the place when Halloween comes around and you can't even stop seeing them on the TV when its Christmas. Ghosts are very much a part of our culture whether we know it or not, and many other cultures. Ghosts have apparently been around for a very long time. They are not only mentioned in the Bible but are also part of ancient civilizations and their ancestor worship. Basically legends of ghosts have been around forever, and its very unlikely it's going to go away any time soon. Ghosts are not always people, as people have claimed they have experienced ghost versions of animals, trains, boats, and even whole armies. There are ghosts that look like full bodied people, ones that look translucent, and ones that are invisible and choose to throw things to let it's presence be known. Ghosts come in every shape and size, and for the most part scare the crap out of everyone they come in contact with. Though not all are here to do anyone harm, some have been down right evil. Do I believe in ghosts? I'm not sure, really. Throughout the years I've wavered back and forth but haven't seen or heard anything that has made me a strong believer. Is there a chance they exist? Sure, but most would rather pretend they didn't even if they did. I have been at various haunted establishments throughout my life and experienced odd things, but let's just say that the jury is still out.

There are a ton of theories on how ghosts are made. Many ancient civilizations just believed that all their ancestors were spirits that would totally haunt them if they dishonored their memory. Many people today believe that ghosts are made when a person dies and they have unfinished business. Another popular one is that a person that is really connected to a place, like a house or lighthouse, will continue to stay there after death. The more troubling maker of ghosts is a place of a traumatic episode. This would be the case of a brutal murder or a battlefield. The raw emotion of the ordeal bounds the person or people to that certain place. Then there's the revenge one. Person is murdered or dies really angry at someone and basically wills their spirit to stay on earth and torment someone. There are two main types of ghosts, as least to my knowledge. The first is those as part of a residual haunting.

In a residual haunting, you have a place that has a ghost, but is just going through a loop of sorts. An example is a lighthouse keeper's ghost. Every night or every friday, people will see the ghost walk up the stairs in the lighthouse and look like he's working on lighthouse stuff when he gets to the top. In this case the ghost is just a shell of the person, not any part of who they were when they were living. It's basically like watching a continuous video loop. The ghost cannot do anything else and cannot think. If it is experienced, it will not acknowledge the living, but keep going about it's task, whatever it is. The far more disturbing residual haunts are the ghosts of people that were murdered or killed themselves. In this case, you see a person jump of a roof or hang themselves every once in a while. Or you could even hear a scream and see someone murdered. These are very rare, but people have claimed to have seen them, especially on the night of the murder or some other date that was special to the ghost. While still scary, residual haunts will not hurt you or interact with you. Think of the whole scenario as energy manifesting itself to replay past events. Residual hauntings are also very common on battlefields, like Gettysburg for instance.

The next type of haunting is the scary one: the intelligent haunt. These ghosts know whats up. They know that you are there and they will sometimes reach out to you if they want something. Many cultures think that in this case, the person's soul remains on earth. Some people claim that intelligent haunts manifest themselves to have the living help them pass on to the afterlife, to give clues as to who their murderer was, to simply tell a story or show that they exist, or to just hurt people. Intelligent haunts can be invisible and make their presence known by moving things. Those specific ghosts are called poltergeist. Poltergeist is a German word, polter meaning "to make noise," and geist, which means "ghost." Poltergeist are usually fun-loving ghosts like just want to scare people. Some like to throw things at people however. Watch the movie Poltergeist for a good example. Most other intelligent haunts will make themselves visible, though it does take up a lot of energy. That's why many people claim to feel very cold when they think a ghost is around. The ghost uses energy to manifest itself or move objects. Some people have seen translucent ghosts that hardly appear to be there, and some look just like you and me! Frightening! Intelligent haunts, like residual haunts are usually tied to a specific location and won't follow you around. Notice I said usually. In rare cases, people and objects have been known to be haunted. The movie Paranormal Activity is an example of people being haunted. It has nothing to do with where you live, it's going to follow you around until you can somehow get rid of it. A popular urban legend claims that the painting, The Hands Resist Him (left) is haunted and those who have the painting will be cursed with death. The painting has apparently killed off three of it's owners.

Many things can happen to you if you have a intelligent haunt. First off, it can do nothing and just walk up and down your stairs every night. It can also flush your toilet and turn lights off and on. It can also tickle your feet while you are asleep. This apparently happens a lot in haunted hotels. Or it will just appear in front of you when you wake up suddenly in the middle of the night. In rare cases, the spirit will try to hurt you, most likely throwing an object at you, pinning you down in your bed, or even scratching you. The real spirits you have to worry about are the ones that are apparently not human. Though extremely rare, there have been supposed cases where the spirit haunting the house or location was not a person but a demon. As you can probably assume, a demon haunting a place is extremely bad and should be avoided at all costs. How does one get rid of a ghost? Well, a lot of people believe that you need divine intervention like a priest coming over and blessing the house. Some believe you need a spiritualist to banish the spirit. Then there's the belief that you have to help the ghost move onto the afterlife, however that may be. There's apparently a lot of ways, most have been elaborated on in movies.

People have been trying to contact the dead for hundreds of years, and many believe they have through mediums. Mediums are spiritualists who believe they can communicate with the dead. They hold seances to usher up spirits so that grieving people can communicate with their dearly departed. Mary Todd Lincoln was way into seances and held many after her husbands death. Mediums are usually put in the same realm as fortune tellers, as in they are thought of as con-artists who just want to get your money. I have never met a medium or done a seance so it's hard for me to take them seriously. I think why many don't like the thought of mediums is the Christian belief that we should not conjure up spirits from the dead.

According to a poll done by CBS in 2009, 48 percent of people believe in ghosts, while 45% say they do not. While the side that believes barely wins out, that's still almost half the US population. In the poll it also found that women tended to believe more than men and experiences happened to women more often too. There are groups that are specifically out there to prove that ghosts exists, some of them with TV shows like Ghost Hunters. I used to watch the show all the time as it was pretty entertaining, but since that show started, a bunch of other ones have shown up. Most follow the same premise: group goes into supposedly haunted house or building, walk around in the dark, get spooked by any noises, and sometimes they actually see something that the home audience doesn't see. While Ghost Hunters did the same thing, I liked that they at least tried to take a scientific approach to their investigations, and nine times out of ten they would say that the place wasn't actually haunted. Other shows that I've watched are a bit goofier and some use mediums. I'm honestly not a fan of any of the shows that use mediums but that's just me. How do these people attempt to hunt these ghosts though? It's the general consensus that ghosts have a certain aura of electromagnetic radiation around them. Thus, a EMF meter, or a Electromagnetic field detector will help people determine where ghosts are. Consequently, if you have a product in your house that is giving off a ton of electromagnetic energy, then you think you have a ghost, as the massive amount of energy has been known to cause hallucinations and that sense of someone watching you. The other big tool that ghost hunters use is an EVP recorder, which records sounds that are out of our hearing range. This is how they attempt to hear ghosts. They will usually have the EVP recorder out and ask questions, pausing for responses. After the investigations are done they go over the many hours of EVP recording and see if they hear anything. This is massively creepy when you do hear something, though it's usually kind of garbled. Thermal detectors are also used in investigations, used to detect the heat that ghosts give off when they use up energy. The ghost hunting shows and other groups that hunt ghosts are challenged by skeptic groups who feel that these people are wasting their lives and peoples time with their parlor tricks and pseudo scientific findings. Check out one of the shows sometime! Most are pretty silly, but can be scary! One of freakiest things I've seen was the St. Augustine Lighthouse episode of Ghost Hunters.

Science does usually explain away any evidence that people find of ghosts. Either it's too much electromagnetic energy being emitted from a device in the house or a gas leak that leads people to hallucinate and feel like someones watching them. Orbs, mist, and faces are the fault of the camera due to double exposure and dust. If there was legitimate proof of ghosts out there, I'm pretty sure more people would believe. Most photos you see that claim to have ghosts are issues of double exposure or are just plain photoshopped. There are still a few pictures, old ones, that make you think though.

Ghosts are most likely to show up at night, as that is the scariest time of the day. Figures. Thunderstorms are basically a big battery for ghosts, as they use the energy flying around everywhere to manifest themselves or cause mischief. I'm not sure where we got the white sheet thing from, but that's the first thing that people think of when they hear the word ghost. A floating white/translucent sheet with two eye holes. Ghosts are apparently everywhere: houses, battlefields, lighthouses, prisons/sanitariums, old buildings, graveyards, and basically anywhere you can think of. They're even in our movies and TV! Ghosts show up in Hamlet (left), A Christmas Carol...movies with Patrick Swayze. There are a ton of ghost stories, movies, and TV shows in our culture. So, whether you believe in them or not, they are a big part of our entertainment industry.

Some of my favorite ghost stories:

  • The Others
  • The Sixth Sense
  • The Frighteners
  • Paranormal Activity
  • House on Haunted Hill (1959)
  • Thirteen Ghosts (1960)
  • The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson and the first adaptation of it, The Haunting (1963)
  • The Willows by Algernon Blackwood
  • Poltergeist
  • The Shining
  • The Canterbury Ghost
  • High Spirits (Yes, a silly Steve Guttenberg movie)
  • Ghostbusters 1 & 2 (Couldn't leave these two out)
  • The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman
  • Grave Peril by Jim Butcher
  • The Legend of Sleepy Hollow by Washington Irving (one of my favorite stories of all time)

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