Ghost Explained (Part 4)

Plasma and Psychospheres

by Marinus Anthony van der Sluijs

A Field Phenomenon

Perhaps one of the most intriguing mysteries to make it into the 21st century without ever having been resolved is the ghost phenomenon.[1] Such a vast literature has been written on the subject that I will not expound on anything in this brief paper, but straightforwardly introduce a possible working hypothesis that may guide us in future investigations.

In every ghost apparition essentially two participants can be identified:

• the percipient is the one and sometimes the group undergoing the experience;
• the agent is the ghost itself or the person who is represented by the ghost, himself often deceased.

The most fundamental issue at stake in the ghost phenomenon appears to be the question who or what triggers the apparition: who takes the initiative? Subjective theories argue that the percipient himself initiates the apparition, for example as the effect of his unconscious on his sensory organs. Objective theories, on the other hand, advocate the view that there really is physical substance and actuality in the apparition, in other words, that the ghost itself may really operate on the percipient.[2]

Taking all the evidence together it would seem that there are certain arguments in favour of both explanations. Given the strong neurological resemblance between ghost apparitions and hallucinations, for example, it sounds likely to assume that the ghost apparition is essentially a between-the-ears process. Yet other considerations vouch for the physical existence of the ghost:

• the ghost is frequently observed by more than one person, all in their right minds, and appears to each of them in the correct perspective;
• the percipient generally does not even remotely expect to see anything of the kind, as most ghosts come completely ‘out of the blue’;
• many percipients have skeptical views of the paranormal and are greatly surprised by what they see;
• the ghost often appears opaque, blotting out objects behind it;
• the ghost is sometimes reflected in a mirror;
• the ghost often looks exactly like the agent, wearing clothes or having physical characteristics that are by no means known to the observer;
• the ghost is occasionally seen by animals as well, who sometimes even point the apparition out to the human percipient.

Thus, on one hand there is no denying that the ghost apparition is connected with hallucinatory processes in the brain,[3] whilst on the other hand there really appears to be some sort of external trigger. It seems warranted, then, to assume in the final analysis that both objective and subjective explanations play a part in the process. Now, how could this be envisioned?

I think a theory of ghosts could greatly benefit from the use of a field model. Field theory is especially common in physics, where it is used to account for the simultaneous presence or operation of certain forces in different places at the same time. The best known fields are the gravitational and the electromagnetic fields. Fields have a number of basic properties which will turn out to be of great help in a theory of ghosts:

#1. A field is typically generated by a single object.

#2. Fields can only be felt or experienced if you are properly attuned to them.

#3. Two or more different fields can overlap if they are close enough or the spheres are large enough. The resulting force in the overlapping area will be the sum of the forces of the overlapping fields.

#4. The field radiates outwards from this objects with a gradual decline in strength. The strength of the field declines in space and time – in space, because the further you are removed from the centre the weaker the field becomes, and in time, because the longer after the original generation of the field, the weaker the field becomes.

These characteristics seem to make sense of many aspects commonly involved in ghost experiences:

#1. A large class of ghost apparitions, most notably the deathbed and near-death apparitions and so-called crisis apparitions, take place on occasion of extreme emotional stress, usually of a negative kind, but occasionally of a delightful nature. It would seem, then, that the psychological crisis experienced by the agent generates a field of some kind, which forms the basis of the apparition. I will provisionally call this field a psychic field or a psychosphere.[4]

#2. Many people never see ghosts and it even occurs that some people in a group see it, but one in the group misses it. There appears to be a selection of people who can observe a ghost. This could be explained by a field model, in which persons whose senses pick up the right wavelengths can see a ghost. This notion bears a close resemblance to Rupert Sheldrake’s suggestion of morphic fields, which convey information relevant to select groups of individuals, as well as to theories of telepathy. As a rule of thumb you could say that people who are closely related or know each other well seem to be better ‘tuned in’ to each other and that might help explain why so many ghosts are identified as family members of the percipient, dead or alive.[5]

#3. The discrepancy between the objective and subjective theories of ghosts could now be overcome by invoking the principle of an overlap of fields. If we might posit for the moment that every human being – or every animal with a brain – has his own psychosphere, then all types of non-verbal, non-visual and distant communication could be understood as the result of an overlap of psychospheres,[6] facilitated if the persons involved are tuned in to the same wavelengths. Thus, if someone sees a ghost it is neither enough to suppose that the agent is sending out signals nor to suppose that the percipient is hallucinating, but both are true at once, as it is a mutual process triggered by this overlap of psychospheres. The agent, typically on occasion of crisis, broadcasts strong signals constituting his own psychosphere, which are picked up by the percipient if he is tuned in properly.[7] The psychosphere must somehow be supposed to convey all the necessary information to ‘make a ghost’ and ‘deliver a message’, for which issue see below.

#4. The gradual decline of a field in time and space works well for the ghost phenomenon. Naturally, you would expect that the psychosphere is at its strongest close to the agent and at the moment of the crisis itself. This is, of course, why deathbed apparitions are such a common class of ghost observations. The two other dominant classes of ghost apparitions are haunters and crisis apparitions. Haunters and to a lesser degree revenants are classes of ghosts who are bound to one particular place and appear more than once in that area for an extended period of time. Many people can see the same haunters, including people who have no idea who the haunter is. Unlike haunters, crisis apparitions are ghosts who are seen in a different place than the place of trauma, often far removed from it, but this time almost exclusively by close relatives and friends of the agent. Thus, haunters and crisis apparitions appear to be each other’s opposites in terms of distance and familiarity:

location: seen by:
haunters: same place anyone
crisis apparitions: anywhere close family and friends

These observations receive an excellent explanation in terms of a field, as the two classes of ghost apparitions correspond to the peaks of field strength in space and time respectively. That is, whilst the field strength gradually declines after the crisis it can still be picked up either by being close to the centre of the field, where it was generated (haunters) or by being well attuned to the correct wavelength (crisis apparitions). If you are far removed from the source and are not tuned in to the particular person you will miss the signals.

This explanation requires, almost as a corollary, that a psychosphere imprinted by someone in mental crisis can linger on after the person’s death. This imprint could then be identified with a ‘soul’ or ‘astral double’, if you like.[8] It supposedly forms a double of the agent in crisis himself and sometimes even of his environment.

What Type of Field?

The upshot is that a field theory of some sort would seem able to make sense of the communication aspect of the ghost experience. The next step from here would be to determine what type of field this is and how exactly it can convey information about the form, the behaviour and the message of the ghost. In the large majority of cases the ghost turns out to look exactly like the agent, often displaying features of which the percipient was by no means aware. Does the field somehow contain a three-dimensional image of a visual type, so that the percipient’s brain, receiving these data turns them into a hallucinatory vision, giving the percipient the feeling that he has actually observed the ghost with his eyes and other senses?[9]

A first step towards the answer is to remember that the human brain and nervous system are of an electric nature.[10] The impulses sent from our eyes, ears, nose and skin to our brain are electrical signals transported through our nerves. Thus, the information constituting a ghost experience always ends up in an electric format in our brains, but if we want to find out whether the ghost is merely a set of field parameters picked up by our brain or a real observed object, we need to know if the psychosphere itself could be an electromagnetic field. Now, interestingly, there are telling clues that ghosts do indeed have a close connection with electromagnetic phenomena:

A neighbour boy enlisted to the Marines, and was serving in the Pacific. His parents heard nothing for about six weeks, his mother was wild with anxiety. One morning I stood looking across our yard toward our neighbor’s mailbox thinking ‘If only Bob’s mother could get a letter’. As if in answer to my prayer, there stood Bob, right near the mailbox, in his Marine uniform. He and his uniform appeared pale in colour and fuzzy in outline. He neither moved nor spoke … After Bob stood there for a minute or two impressing his thought on my mind, his ‘body’ started to rise. It stretched out longer and thinner – not straight into the sky, but at an angle of perhaps 30 degrees from the vertical. When the head and shoulders were perhaps 3 metres above where they had been at first they suddenly turned into (or went into) a bright shaft of light, like a very bright electrical bolt. The balance of the figure followed the head and shoulders into the light and disappeared. The bolt appeared about a metre long and 12 centimetres in diameter. The queer thing was the sparks of blue and green light that appeared to radiate from the lower edge of the bolt, and the yellow and red sparks that came from the upper end … Bob’s last two letters came that day, and in September came a ‘missing in action’ telegram.[11]

Filmed for a television documentary, investigators headed by William Roll and Andrew Nichols, both of them professors of parapsychology in American universities, found significant electromagnetic readings in houses where hauntings were claimed.[12]

Eastman, Chief Engineer at the Rhodes Electrical Company, London, was working with his colleague Harold Woodew in a darkened room, arranging high-tension wires to form a magnetic field. To their astonishment, a luminous blue sphere began to form over a dynamo revolving near them. Then, as the light grew brighter, they saw a form resembling a human hand appear in the centre of the sphere. They watched it for several minutes, until it faded away. For four days, the two men worked to re-create the conditions in which the phenomenon had occurred. When they eventually succeeded, the sphere again appeared, but this time the form which appeared in the magnetic field resembled a human head, white in colour and slowly revolving.[13]

During an apparition the percipient’s hair is often raised and the person frequently feels a chilling passing wind as well:

Percipients quite often tell us they have a feeling of something strange before they actually see their ghost … At one point during the Cheltenham case, Rosina Despard notes, ‘I felt a cold icy shiver’ when the ghost bends over her while she is playing the piano. On another occasion five of the witnesses feel ‘a cold wind, though their candles were not blown about’.[14]

Ghosts sometimes produce Poltergeist effects, such as lifting tables, or closing windows or doors. These observations could be explained in terms of electromagnetism as well.

It would seem, then, that the psychosphere is an electromagnetic field or at least has an influence on electromagnetism. But how could an electromagnetic field possibly take on the visual appearance of a ghost? This question has to my knowledge never been answered in existing literature and it is at this point that I would like to introduce plasma as the possible key to decipherment of the ghost enigma.[15] A plasma is an ionised gas, which is by definition located in an electromagnetic field. The particles of the plasma rearrange themselves according to the field lines of the magnetic field, so that a plasma in a field with a sufficiently strong current becomes a visible manifestation of the magnetic field. The shape a plasma takes on, therefore, is the shape of the magnetic field. It is now generally acknowledged that plasma accounts for 99.9 % of the universe; well-known examples of plasma formations are stars, the sun, the auroras, lightning, and fire. I would now propose the following working hypothesis for a new theory of ghosts:

A ghost is a plasma formed when the percipient’s electromagnetic field overlaps with the electromagnetic ‘psychosphere’ of the – often distant – agent and the combined field strength ionises the gas particles in the air.

This hypothesis could be tested by a detailed comparison of the morphology of ghosts with plasma physics. Although I am in no way a specialist in plasma physics, a general reading of literature would support the following observations:

• Ghosts often glow or are visible in the dark. This is a property of plasma.
• Ghosts run the gamut of sometimes being completely transparent and sometimes being completely opaque. Opacity is a function of the density of the plasma.
• Ghosts occasionally produce sound, but they often have difficulty with it, fail to say something, or merely utter an eerie cry. Plasmas, such as auroras and lightings, are frequently accompanied by sound.
• Most ghosts are stationary, but some are engaged in some activity or move around. Plasmas could be either stationary or mobile.
• Ghosts are sometimes seen passing through walls, but often open doors like ordinary people. There would be no boundaries for moving plasmas, although it appears that the agent urges the plasma to react as a living person would do.
• Ghosts never leave physical objects behind. Plasmas are simply ionised gases.
• Many ghosts start off as a ball, then become a ring or a humanoid form. Witness the following examples:

A party of young people and myself determined on All Hallow’s Eve to play at the childish game of sitting separately in dark rooms, with supper laid for two, with the intention of awaiting the appearance of a future husband or wife. Thinking the whole thing a joke, and not in the least expecting to see anything, I distinctly saw, first, a flimsy cloud which rose up at the other end of the room, then the head and shoulders of a man, middle-aged, stout, with iron-grey hair and blue eyes – not in the least the picture which a young girl would imagine she saw on such an occasion.[16]

Frau Schmidt-Falk is climbing alone, when she happens to miss her way: ‘… Having started a little late for the return, and light beginning to fade, all of a sudden I found myself in a really dangerous position … All of a sudden I noticed a sort of a big ball of light, and this condensed to the shape of a tall, rather Chinese looking gentleman … The gentleman bowed, spoke a few words, led me a small path to the tourists’ way, and disappeared as a ball of light.[17]

When we were about five, Aunt Sarah died … About two weeks later, Bud and I were playing by the side of the house at twilight (sic!). I happened to look up and saw a cloudy, swirling vapour. It became Aunt Sarah, standing there by the house.[18]

(While working with medium Marthe Béraud) ‘I see something like a white vapour, about 40 centimetres from me. It is like a white veil or handkerchief on the ground. This whiteness rises, becomes rounded. Soon it is a head, level with the ground: it rises further, grows, and becomes a human figure, a short man, wearing a turban and a white robe, with a beard …[19]

I was lying on a divan, reading, at about 5 p. m., when I saw at the doorway a little luminous circle, like the reflection of a mirror. I could see nothing that would cause such a light. The luminous circle became larger, and when it was as big as the door itself, a kind of dark shadow appeared in the middle of it. A human figure formed more and more distinctly, then detached itself from the wall and advanced towards me.[20]

Other than the visible plasma, the intruding psychosphere might contain additional electromagnetic information to be read by the brain of the percipient, which could perhaps account for the missing information, important advice, correct hiding place and so forth transmitted by the ghost in many ghost experiences. Needless to say that the investigation has only just begun.


The following is a very brief extract of the findings of Hilary Evans’ detailed study of ghost apparitions:

Types of ghosts[21]

#1 from the past:
#1a revenants
#1b deathbed and near-death
#1c haunters
#2 of the present:
#2a crisis apparitions
#2b living ghosts
#2c autophany and bi-location
#3 of the future
#4 out of time:
#4a aerial battles and other events
#4b archetypal ghosts

Characteristics of ghosts[22]

#1 a ghost is generally life-like in appearance;
#2 a ghost is usually ‘seen’ in much the same way as if it was real;
#3 a ghost may be seen either collectively or selectively;
#4 a ghost may change its appearance during the sighting;
#5 a ghost generally adapts to its surroundings (by minding doors and so on)
#6 a ghost may appear by forming from a luminous or misty shape;
#7 a ghost is generally dressed naturally … but sometimes not;
#8 a ghost may be clearly defined … or fuzzy;
#9 a ghost may be seen in whole or in part;
#10 a ghost’s appearance may contain details unknown to the percipient;
#11 a ghost may be opaque or transparent, may reflect or not, cast a shadow or not;
#12 a ghost may or may not be seen by its own luminosity;
#13 ghosts can make sounds;
#14 a ghost may perform a physical action … but if so, the action is trivial;
#15 a ghost may be touched and felt … but lack material substance;
#16 a ghost may respond to the percipient or act as though s/he isn’t there;
#17 a ghost generally makes a once-only visit … but sometimes returns;
#18 a ghost may appear in two places simultaneously, or within an impossibly short space of time;
#19 a ghost may depart naturally, or vanish abruptly, or simply fade away;
#20 a ghost never leaves any souvenir, memento or trace;
#21 a ghost may be seen by the ‘wrong’ person;
#22 a ghost frequently fails to establish its identity;
#23 ghosts are frequently sensed.

Purposes of the ghost experience[23]

#1 apparitions offering comfort, counsel, help
#2 apparitions requesting comfort, counsel, help
#3 apparitions warning of danger
#4 apparitions seeking to complete ‘unfinished business’
#5 apparitions manifesting malevolence
#6 apparitions as messengers of doom.

Marginally related phenomena[24]

#1 dreams
#2 hallucinations
#3 religious visions
#4 battlefield helpers
#5 folklore entities
#6 angels and women in white
#7 demons and men in black
#8 bedroom visitors
#9 extraterrestrial beings
#10 séance-room materialisations

Those who have the ghost experience[25]

#1 exceptional people
#2 sensitive people
#3 ‘encounter-prone’ people
#4 exceptional states
#5 mystical states
#6 exceptional circumstances
#7 violent death and reincarnation
#8 immediate circumstances
#9 geophysical parameters.

So, if a person experiences a severe electric shock, or his house is built on clay, or he is susceptible to thunderstorms, or he is laid low by fever, or eats the wrong food or no food, or dallies with drugs or abuses alcoholic beverages, or pushes himself too hard at the office, or drives alone at night or sails alone across an ocean, or undergoes a spiritual transformation or quarrels with his partner at the breakfast table – in these or a hundred other situations, he may be rendered more likely to have a ghost experience.[26]


• Because we know that the subconscious … can visualize a hallucination, we may accept this as the process whereby an apparition is perceived, the suggestion either originating in the individual’s own subconscious, or suggested to it by an external agent.

• Because we know no limits to the creativity of the human mind, we may accept the possibility that many ghosts … are visualizations, exteriorized by the percipient’s own subconscious and accepted as real by his conscious mind.

• Because we know that the mind is occasionally capable of remote viewing we know that psi exists, and because the mind can be capable of precognition, we know that super-psi exists; and because we know no limits to super-psi, we may conceive it possible that the mind can obtain unlimited access to information of every kind.

• Because we know that projection takes place, we know that the extended self, or something like it, must exist. If so, it is a likely candidate for many types of apparition, notably living ghosts and those which seem to involve bi-location.

• Because the extended self, in the course of projections, displays memory, awareness and other indications of intelligence … we may accept that these faculties can exist apart from the physical body.

• Because the extended self, possessing awareness, intelligence and memory, can seemingly exist apart from the physical body, we may further conceive that it could survive the death of the physical body, and even continue to display signs of individual personality.

• Because we know that ghosts sometimes communicate information known to no living person, and utter veridical warnings, we know that whatever causes them enjoys seemingly unlimited access to knowledge; this could be the percipient’s own subconscious, or the extended self of the surviving dead, using super-psi.

• Because there are cases in which more than one person sees the same ghost in natural perspective, we may conceive that the subconscious, or the extended self, or the two in collaboration, can create a short-lived apparition which has some degree of material substance.[27]


[1] Along with a host of closely related phenomena such as UFOs, saintly visions, battlefield helpers, folklore entities, angels, demons, women in white and men in black, extraterrestrial visitors, séance-room materialisations, and bedroom visitors, see H. Evans, Seeing ghosts; experiences of the paranormal, John Murray, London, 2002: 130-165

[2] Compare: We have basically two models for the experience: • The subjective model, originating with the subconscious of the percipient. Either of its own accord, or in response to information obtained via psi or super-psi – comprising telepathy, clairvoyance, and unlimited access to information including precognition and retrocognition – the subconscious initiates a visualization process whereby it exteriorizes an image which can be perceived consciously by the percipient, and perhaps by others, as an apparition. • The external model, originating with an external agent – by which we generally mean the extended self of a person still living, or the surviving extended self of a person once living but now dead – which is able either to manifest as an apparition, or to impose an image by suggestion on to the subconscious of the percipient(s) and cause it to exteriorize an apparition … in H. Evans, Seeing ghosts; experiences of the paranormal, John Murray, London, 2002: 235f.

[3] Compare: Psychological variables of many kinds are the building blocks of the ghost experience: hallucination is no more than the process which enables them to find visual expression as the devil, an extraterrestrial alien or Aunt Jane’s ghost, in H. Evans, Seeing ghosts; experiences of the paranormal, John Murray, London, 2002: 137

[4] William Roll calls this a psi field: Because the ‘telepathic charge’ of a haunted house is similar to the magnetic, gravitational, and other fields that surround physical objects, I have used the concept of psi field to describe psi phenomena that seem to depend on such objects. We can think of the psi field of an object, whether animate or inanimate, as a pattern of associations … In the same way as a magnet may magnetize another piece of metal and then be destroyed without affecting the new magnet, so may the images, ideas, and so on of a person continue to exist as part of the psi fields of objects with which he was once in contact, after he has gone. The image of a person seen in an apparition, whether this image was produced by him or someone else, may survive his death without being inhabited by his consciousness, William Roll, in H. Evans, Seeing ghosts; experiences of the paranormal, John Murray, London, 2002: 250

[5] James Crenshaw has toyed extensively with the idea of different realities with different wavelengths, as the following quotes show: Aside from the considerations of pure spirit, the same kind of vibrating energy, the same kind of dancing wave patterns that we encounter here are to be found there. Only the wavelengths, the incredibly rapid rate of vibration – frequencies of high orders unimagined in our world – appear to be different, in H. Evans, Seeing ghosts; experiences of the paranormal, John Murray, London, 2002: 271. The residents of the next world are able to take on a lower frequency, allowing them to manifest in our space and time. This is like a different radio or TV frequency, to which you need to be attuned if you are to receive the signal, in H. Evans, Seeing ghosts; experiences of the paranormal, John Murray, London, 2002: 271

[6] Compare: What happens when a witness perceives a haunter, in Price’s view, is that there takes place an ‘overlapping or interpenetration of two psychic atmospheres, the one which surrounds the percipient’s body and the one which pervades the room’ (which he supposes has been, as it were, left behind by the haunter after her death), in H. Evans, Seeing ghosts; experiences of the paranormal, John Murray, London, 2002: 232

[7] Compare: One way of accounting for the crisis apparition would be if our subconscious is continually scanning the cosmos, like the radar scanner at an airfield, and picks up on happenings relevant to itself …, in H. Evans, Seeing ghosts; experiences of the paranormal, John Murray, London, 2002: 233

[8] Adolphe d’Assier in 1887 deemed this the ‘post-sepulchral spectre’: It is the phantasmal replica of all the organs of the human body. It has been seen, in fact, to move, speak, take nourishment, accomplish, in a word, the different functions of animal life. The molecules which constitute it are evidently borrowed from the organism which gave it birth. It may then be defined as a gaseous tissue offering a certain resistance, in H. Evans, Seeing ghosts; experiences of the paranormal, John Murray, London, 2002: 258

[9] This view is defended by Hilary Evans: It is attractive to suppose that the subconscious of some percipients – those that are, as it were, on the same wavelength as the psi field – may pick up a message from the psi field and externalize it as an apparition, in H. Evans, Seeing ghosts; experiences of the paranormal, John Murray, London, 2002: 250

[10] Compare: Like any brain process, hallucinations are essentially electrical; so in principle they can be recorded, in H. Evans, Seeing ghosts; experiences of the paranormal, John Murray, London, 2002: 142

[11] Pearl Ullrich, Bellingham, Washington State, 3 July 1944, in H. Evans, Seeing ghosts; experiences of the paranormal, John Murray, London, 2002: 88f.

[12] H. Evans, Seeing ghosts; experiences of the paranormal, John Murray, London, 2002: 187

[13] Eastman, Woodew, London, circa 1930?, in H. Evans, Seeing ghosts; experiences of the paranormal, John Murray, London, 2002: 188

[14] H. Evans, Seeing ghosts; experiences of the paranormal, John Murray, London, 2002: 92

[15] James Crenshaw’s theories came very close, but James had apparently never heard of plasma. He postulates fields of force as the basic building blocks of the universe: the particles which make up reality as we know it are merely ‘evanescent indicators’ of the emergence of these fields of force into our physical world of space and time. It is these fields which control the kind of growth and development exemplified by, say, the directive process of cell division, and – I suppose – the whole forward-progressing course of evolution. Crenshaw suggests that similar processes may result in apparitions and materializations: ‘the apparition appears to be made up of the same kind of transitory, emerging matter. It appears and disappears, can sometimes be seen and felt before disappearing, occasionally moves objects and leaves material traces …’ in H. Evans, Seeing ghosts; experiences of the paranormal, John Murray, London, 2002: 270

[16] Mrs Gordon Jones, Anerley, England, Autumn, 1881, in H. Evans, Seeing ghosts; experiences of the paranormal, John Murray, London, 2002: 70

[17] Elsa Schmidt-Falk, Bavarian Alps, 1950s, in H. Evans, Seeing ghosts; experiences of the paranormal, John Murray, London, 2002: 109f.

[18] De Leon, Bonham, Texas, 1889, in H. Evans, Seeing ghosts; experiences of the paranormal, John Murray, London, 2002: 127

[19] Charles Richet, Villa Carmen, France, 1904, in H. Evans, Seeing ghosts; experiences of the paranormal, John Murray, London, 2002: 163

[20] N. Heintze, Moscow, Russia, 15 April 1884, in H. Evans, Seeing ghosts; experiences of the paranormal, John Murray, London, 2002: 163

[21] H. Evans, Seeing ghosts; experiences of the paranormal, John Murray, London, 2002: 13-57

[22] H. Evans, Seeing ghosts; experiences of the paranormal, John Murray, London, 2002: 58-94

[23] H. Evans, Seeing ghosts; experiences of the paranormal, John Murray, London, 2002: 105

[24] H. Evans, Seeing ghosts; experiences of the paranormal, John Murray, London, 2002: 130-165

[25] H. Evans, Seeing ghosts; experiences of the paranormal, John Murray, London, 2002: 192-214

[26] H. Evans, Seeing ghosts; experiences of the paranormal, John Murray, London, 2002: 213

[27] H. Evans, Seeing ghosts; experiences of the paranormal, John Murray, London, 2002: 273

Types of Ghosts

Types of Ghosts

It is indeed a tough job to precisely classify ghosts.  There are lots of different types of ghost, which behave in lots of different ways.  The variety of reported hauntings spells trouble for theories about where ghosts come from, because any theory that claims to be able to ‘explain’ ghosts also has to explain a mass of contradictory ‘ghost facts’.  For instance, one may believe that ghosts are only spiritual forces that influence mind to induce hallucination or vision of ghosts.  Then what about Poltergeists that are able to generate noise and move things?

In general, a ghost is a spirit, apparition, or presence of something or someone that isn’t really there.  Ghosts have been reported by every culture throughout history.  The stereotypical ghost is the spirit of a dead person that appears as a transparent mage, but there are many other types of ghost – they don’t have to be of people (they don’t even have to be dead).  Ghosts typically, but not always, haunt a specific location or person.

Given such wide variety, we attempt to define several general types of ghosts as shown below.  This classification is limited only to those pertaining to dead, and ordinary level of spirits often intertwining with human beings.  That means, it does not include a full domain of spirits such as deity, fairy, angel, devil, demon, goblin, or goddess etc.

  • Human ghosts
    • The unquiet dead
    • Re-enactment ghosts
    • Cyclic ghosts
    • Ghosts of the living
      • Crisis apparitions
      • Doppelgangers
  • Inhuman ghosts
    • Creepy critters
    • Planes, trains, and ghost ships
  • Poltergeists

Human Ghosts

The unquiet dead

The most usual theory is that ghosts are the souls of the departed, trapped on Earth for some reason.  This theory explains why ghosts might appear, and also why they disappear when laid, but it doesn’t explain ghosts of the living, ghosts of inanimate objects, or ‘boring’ ghosts that seem to have no purpose.

Here we have one example of classic ghost.  One of the earliest and famous ghost stories is the tale of Athenodorus, as told by Roman writer Pliny the Younger (61-113CE).  According to Pliny, there was a house in Athens haunted by the spectre of an old man in rags, who would moan and rattle his chains.  This terrible apparition frightened off all potential tenants until a visiting philosopher, named Athenodorus, decided to spend the night.  A few hours after dark, Athenodorus duly heard the clanking of chains and saw the ghost.  He followed it to a spot in the courtyard – digging the next day revealed a human skeleton in chains.  The bones were given a proper burial, and the ghost was never seen again.

Pliny’s classic tale illustrates many of the elements of the stereotypical ghost.  The typical ghost is the spirit of a dead person, which appears as a pale or transparent version of its living self.  Usually the apparition is wearing clothes and if it interacts with living people at all it does so in a limited way (it may not be able to speak, or it may only be able to repeat a few words).

Often a ghost seems to have a motive in appearing – to get the living to perform whatever ritual or process is necessary to let the ghost rest in peace.  This is known as ‘laying a ghost’.  In Pliny’s tale, the ghost’s original body was not properly buried, so its spirit was condemned to haunt the night.  This motif is found in ghost stories as far back as the ancient Assyrians and Egyptians, and as for afield as Asia and Europe.

Re-enactment ghosts

Not all ghosts act with a purpose.  In fact many of them seem oblivious to the real world or living people, and display no form of intelligence or consciousness.  An example of this sort is the ghost that re-enacts a sequence of actions when it appears, passing through walls and closed doors and sometimes appearing to stand above or below the level of the floor.

Re-enactment ghosts are thought to be following a route they took in life.  They are usually linked to violent or traumatic events – battles, murders, executions, accidents or suicides.

A famous example is the Treasurer’s House in York, England.  Witnesses have described troops of Roman soldiers in full armour marching through the cellars of this historic building.  Crucially, the soldiers appeared to be knee-deep in the cellar floor – at the level of an original Roman road through the area.

One popular theory to this is called the Stone Tape theory.  Many ghosts seem to be linked to traumatic or significant events, and this has led to the theory that people and events can somehow leave an impression on their surroundings, as if they were recorded in the stones of a house – hence the ‘stone tape’ theory.  Hauntings are replays of these recordings.  This theory explains why some ghosts seem not to be conscious, e.g. re-enactment ghosts; but not ones that interact with the living, or ones that are seen away from where they lived and died.

Cyclic ghosts

Many ghosts are said to appear ‘cyclically’ on significant anniversaries, these are known as ‘cyclic ghosts’.  Famous examples include Catherine Howard, one of Henry VIII’s wives, who is supposed to be seen running screaming through the halls of Hampton Court Palace on the anniversary of her sentencing to death.

Respected psychical researcher and author Ian Wilson regards such claims with skepticism, pointing out that if ghosts really did reappear that predictably a ghost hunter’s job would be extremely easy.  Another problem is that the calendar was changed in Europe in 1582 (1752 in England), with the loss of 11 days, so that if Howard really does appear she will effectively be 11 days late.

Ghosts of the living

Crisis apparitions:  Ghosts of the living usually involve people who are experiencing or approaching a crisis.  Hence they are known as crisis apparitions.  Typically a friend or relative , possibly many miles away, will see the person, who may look quite real and appear in an unremarkable fashion (e.g. popping in to say hi).  Later they discover that their friend died or experienced a crisis at the same time or very shortly afterwards, and couldn’t have been anywhere near where they were sighted.  Crisis apparitions do not fit into most theories about ghosts; the people are still alive, they are far away and they don’t seem to have much purpose.

However, many people argue that crisis apparitions are actually telepathic projections of some sort, in which sudden physical crisis boots psi power for a moment.

Doppelgangers:  Another type of living ghosts is a double; an apparition that looks exactly like the witness.  These ghosts are known by their German name ‘doppelganger’.  The appearance of a doppelganger can often be a bad omen, but not always.

Many people argue that doppelgangers, like crises apparitions, are actually telepathic projections, not ghosts.  There is also a rare medical condition, known as autoscopy, that causes people to hallucinate a transparent mirror image of themselves.

In Celtric lore, a doppelganger is known as a ‘fetch’.  In Iceland they are known as Fylgja, and in Norway as Vardoger.  These Scandinavian doubles announce someone’s arrival by appearing a few minutes before the actual person.

Inhuman Ghosts

One major problem for the theory that ghosts are spirits or personalities that survived death is that there are many reports of the ghosts of animals and even inanimate objects (mainly vehicles).

Creepy critters

Belief in animal spirits is common in hunting cultures.  Hunters sometimes perform elaborated ceremonies after killing an animal so that its spirit will not be vengeful.  In arctic Siberia, for instance, hunters hold a festival in honor of each whale they kill, so that its ghost will not frighten off other whales.

Ghost dogs are a common feature of western folklore, especially large black dogs with glowing eyes, known as barguests, devil dogs, gyrtrash, or shuck-hounds.  Barguests are usually thought to be bad omens, but can be helpful, protecting travellers in lonely places.

Planes, trains, and ghost ships

Probably the best known ghost vehicle is the Flying Dutchman.  This legendary vessel is said to be a 17-centuary sailing ship crewed by dead men, whose caption is doomed to sail the world forever as punishment for his sins.  Many sailors have reported encounters with the ship, which is usually described as glowing red or ghostly pale.


The most convincing type of haunting, the poltergeist, may not be caused by a ghost at all.  The word poltergeist is the German term for ‘noisy ghost’, and is the name given to a type of haunting in which the ghost, if there is one, is invisible, manifesting itself through a variety of physical phenomena.

Bad behaviour

Common symptoms of a poltergeist haunting or infestation include: objects being moved or thrown about; banging, rapping and knocking; small fires that start mysteriously; appliances going haywire; inexplicable wet patches; and foul smells.  Generally poltergeists are more of a nuisance than a danger, although in at least one case: the infamous Bell Witch of Tennessee, which tormented the Bell family between 1817 and 1821, and eventually poisoned John Bell, the head of the family, a man has been killed.

The epicentre

The other distinguishing feature of a poltergeist haunting is that it tends to be centred on one person, and often follows that person if he or she attempts to move house, for instance.  The focus of a poltergeist haunting is known as the ‘epicentre’.  Epicentres are most commonly children or adolescents.

All in the mind

The things that happen in a poltergeist infestation are very similar to the phenomena produced by psychokinetics and their close relations the physical mediums.  This, and the fact that an epicentre is usually involved, have led many people to argue that poltergeists are not ghosts at all, but instances of psychokinetic powers that are not under conscious control, technically known as ‘recurrent spontaneous psychokinesis’ (RSPK), produced by the epicentre.  One of the theories behind RSPK is that puberty triggers the sudden development of uncontrolled mental powers.

Poltergeists provide convincing evidence that something unusual is really happening, whether it is supernatural or paranormal, for two reasons.  Polergeist hauntings follow the same pattern in most cases, wherever and whenever they occur.  This undermines the cultural source explanation, and suggests a genuinely supernatural or paranormal phenomenon.  Secondly, investigators have exposed many poltergeist hauntings as hoaxes, in many other cases they have observed inexplicable phenomena at first-hand.

The skeptical viewpoint

The skeptical explanation is that ghost sightings are the result of a complex mix of sensory confusion, faulty memory, cultural influence, and exaggerated or false reporting.  In other words, ghosts exist only in the mind.  Skeptics claim that their theory is the only one that accounts for the whole range of ‘ghost facts’, and that the huge variety of ghost reports results from the individual and cultural variety of the witnesses.  But the skeptics can’t explain the hard core of reports of ghosts experienced by more than one witness, or cases where ghosts know things that living people do not.

Theories On Vortexes & Ectoplasm

Theories On Vortexes & Ectoplasm

A common paranormal phenomenon that is encountered are vortexes and ectoplasm.  These are just as common as orbs for the most part.  As in orbs there are also theories on this phenomenon.  We also have our own theories on this just as anyone else would.  Personally, we believe that vortexes are the portal between dimensions in which ghosts travel through, whether that be from their world to ours or between sub-dimensions that may exist in the Hereafter.  We believe that ectoplasm is un-concentrated spirit energy that is dissipated and which can form into orbs too.  Both are commonly captured on film and video.  Listed below are some more theories on these two topics.

Here are some theories on vortexes:

1. Vortexes could very well be portals from dimension to dimension, which is the theory we go with.  This is probably the most well excepted theory at the time of this writing.

2. Another theory is that a vortex may be of an orb or orbs in motion.  Maybe that’s why it sometimes seems to look like that there are orbs forming a contrail in photographs but they could be just traveling through the vortex, either way both are plausible theories.  The orb theory could also explain why the vortex always seems to be bending in different directions.

3. This is another cheap theory that most skeptics go by is that the vortex could just be a camera strap.  We viewed some pictures in which the camera strap got in the way of the lens and it looks pretty convincing to the untrained eye.  We rarely use cameras with a strap and if you do you should keep it out of the way of the lens or simply wear it on your wrist.  Usually when the vortex seems twisting or seems to look fake its probably a strap.  Here is a photo with camera strap.  This does not explain all the strange pictures of transparent vortexes and the orbs moving through them.  Most ghost researchers can explain camera straps away the instant they see them.  For example, if the “vortex” is too dark, has a uniform pattern like stitching, or is bent in such a way to suggest a camera strap!

Here are some theories on ectoplasm:

1. The theory we support is that ectoplasm is un-condensed spirit energy that has simply not yet formed into orbs or even an Apparition.  Many ghost researchers find this theory to be the most plausible.

2. Another theory (well, not a theory but a fact) is that so-called “ectoplasm” is simply clouds or fog which can be outside which effect the lens which can make these supposedly “paranormal” images appear.  This has happened several times to us so make sure you go out when conditions are fine, no wind, fog, rain, dust, snow, etc. and remember to make sure that the lens of your camera is ABSOLUTELY clean.

3. Another theory is that ectoplasm could be electro-magnetic energy from the Earth but we don’t go by this theory since electromagnetic fields are usually are at their strongest during lunar cycles and cannot usually be strong enough energy-wise to be caught on film.  If the electro-magnetic theory is true then why so many authentic ectoplasm photos.

4. Another plausible theory is that ectoplasm is residual spirit energy that is left behind from a spirit that we recently in the area of where the photo was taken; this may coincide with Theory 1.

If you have a different view or want to share more with us, please send us an email.  Selected opinions would be posted here for follow up.

Ghost Explained (Part 3)

Dealing with Ghosts

Playing host to a ghost is not necessarily a bad thing.  Ghosts seldom present any physical threat to the living, after all, and they tend to be self-absorbed, more concerned with their own problems than with causing trouble for anybody else.  Resident spirits can even be comforting, provided they belong to benevolent ancestors or departed friends, or even to a charmingly sorrowful soul who’s just looking for company.

Viewed with a coldly commercial eye, a haunting can even have practical value.  Harmless but interesting haunts add a certain romantic cachet to a house, and that cachet may enhance property value.

All that having been said, however, most of us would probably prefer to confine our households to the living, simply because ghosts are scary.  Faced with the chilling certainty that some stranger is invisibly among us, its nature unknowable and its motives and intentions unknown, our first reflex is to scream.  But to whom?

To a priest is one answer.  In times past, and sometimes even today, spirit infestation was deemed a religious problem, best solved by religious means.  There has never been a society, primitive or modern, pagan or Judeo-Christian, that lacked the necessary technicians, whether witch doctors or shamans or clergy.  Tibetan Buddhists still use a rite called shedur that involves summoning a protective goddess to oust an offending spirit.  And of course, the Roman Catholic Church still occasionally employs the ancient rite of exorcism.

Some purists argue that exorcism aims to out demons, not ghosts.  But other experts dismiss this distinction as mere semantics, contending that a ghost, broadly defined, is any alien spirit that impinges on the world of the living, not just a spirit of the dead.  Demons qualify, therefore, and demonic possession is the invasion of a soul by some foreign entity rather than the invasion of a dwelling.  Indeed, the most ancient human problem with spirits has not been so much with the haunting of property as the haunting of souls, and these spirits, by definition, were evil.

The Catholic Church perfected its rite of exorcism early, in the 4th centaury, and it has changed little since.  Originally, the rite was built into baptism and could be applied both to the faithful and to those outside the Church as necessary.  But not all ecclesiastics could be exorcists; a certain charismatic quality was needed.  Some priests, for example, showed such power that they could drive out evil spirits by the force of their prayers alone, or by the laying on of hands.

As Christianity spread, however, and paganism waned, demonic possession became rare.  “It is only Catholic missionaries laboring in pagan lands,” according to the Catholic Encyclopedia, “who are likely to meet with fairly frequent cases of possession.”  Still, all reports of possession must be taken seriously and closely investigated, but only by those who have led brave and blameless lives and have prepared themselves through prayer and fasting, clergy who have immunized themselves against demonic invasion.

Soothing the Sorrowful

A priest need have no special qualifications, however, to bless a dwelling that may be troubled by restless spirits.  He may visit a home and offer prayers for those who live there.  Sprinkling of holy water and filling various rooms with incense also may be useful.

Malicious spirits sometimes can be persuaded by these techniques to move on.  If they resist, however, it’s possible that they are not malicious at all.  Most ghosts, it is said, cling to Earth because they are troubled souls, not evil ones.

Some experts believe that ghosts respond to exorcists not because the spirit is afraid of the talismans of belief, but because clergy tend to be good listeners, with an aura of emotional tranquility.  In fact, the negative energy of a full-blown exorcism may only enrage the ghost, especially if it’s already angry.

Most ghosts are not mad, merely sorrowful.  It isn’t that they don’t want to leave; their sadness holds them where they are.  More than any other kind of haunter, sorrowful ghosts reflect the living; all they lack is a body.  Because they are so close to live with them as they endlessly relive the moments that define their grief.  Let them brood.  And should they become too much, they generally will depart if asked politely.

Unresolved Issues

The ghosts hunters now summoned by the haunted tend to be less interested in driving away spirits than in understanding them, helping them work through the inner conflicts that keep them forever restive.  There is little room for troupes of bungling, khaki clad “ghostbusters” and their high-tech ectoplasm collectors in the real world of paranormal investigations.  The idea is not to bust ghosts but to counsel and comprehend them, to offer a compassionate solution to their emotional problems.  Like their living counterparts, ghosts have issues of abandonment, self-esteem, loneliness, and anger to resolve.  The language of ghost hunting has altered to reflect this understanding and uses the vocabulary of holistic therapy, not that of confrontation and spectral war.  Today’s professionals must be there for them.

They also must be there for hosts whose kinder, gentler approach hasn’t budged the spirit.  These intransigent ghosts are the plague-rats among haunters, ghosts in whom the touching melancholy of other apparitions seems to have curdled into terrible rage.  They aren’t working through anything familiar to the living, nor do they search for lst love’ they want only to entwine themselves as destructively as possible with the lives of their hosts.

Some of these are down right messy, besides.  Being haunted quickly loses its appeal when decapitated ghost drip blood on a white carpet even when the stain vanishes a moment later.  Slime is devilishly difficult to get out of suede.  A house haunted by such negative spirits is a miserably unhappy house.

China Breaker

And then there are the poltergeists (German for “noisy spirits”).  These demonic whirlwinds of the spirit world seem always to need attention from the living and are willing to go to any extreme to get it.  Some modern ghost haunters say poltergeists are not real ghosts and that the mischief usually attributed to them is actually caused by psychic energy emanating from a troubled member of the household, especially young people.  Whatever the source, however, paranormally flying crockery and slamming cabinets can be problems that need immediate solutions.

Once a poltergeist is sensed, the first step might be to store the family china and other breakables outside the home.  These prankster spirits often seem to have a sense of fun that can make them lively company as long as they are treated well.  They are like pet raccoons, marvelous to watch, often funny, and wondrously destructive.

If you don’t find them amusing, however, the most important tactic for getting rid of them may be to look inward.  Most investigators now believe that ghosts, including poltergeists, are drawn to the projections of the human unconscious.  Thus, before trying to expel an angry ghost or rowdy poltergeist, a certain amount of introspection is in order.  Haunted hosts are often just people under a lot of stress or jangled by a recent emotional ordeal, so they radiate a powerful negativity, a dark flame that draws spectral moths.  Before calling anyone, one must change that aura and deprive the ghost of its negative beacon.


Calling in the Ghost Investigators

If the dark beacon attracting the ghost is external instead of internal, i.e., something to do with the property rather than the host, a trip to the library might reveal what happened there that would leave a ghost-drawing psychic imprint.  A murder?  A suicide?  A memorable injustice or failed romance?  Old houses virtually glow with forgotten violence.

To help erase this psychic residue, you may need to call in the professionals.  Their tactics will vary according to the nature of ghost and the nature of the hunter.  Some excel at tracking, some are eager for discovery.

The Singapore Paranormal Investigators, a registered society that has a website of information on ghost hunting and hauntings, has a large collection of ghost photographs posted on the Internet, a kind of spectral rogues gallery to help the haunted to identify what is plaguing them.  Besides photographs, the society has posted tips on on equipment usage and ghost hunting strategies, along with goose-bump-inducing recording said to be voices of the dead.  There is information about club gathering, research trips and a newsletter for do-it-yourself ghost hunters.  For those seeking additional aid, the society provides links to other useful sources such as exorcists, spiritual healers and so on.

Even if you have good professional help, “laying the ghost” – the unfortunate but traditional term for getting rid of one, can be a long and complicated process.  Eventually, you may have to decide whether your spectral guest is more welcome than the hunters pursuing it.

Intuition and Patience

Because ghosts generally require patience and understanding more than the shock of an all-out exorcism, a good ghost hunter must be intuitive to a fault, a person whose own psychic abilities allow contact with the spirit on an emotional plane.  No one wants an angry banishment that could result in more ghost trouble down the line.  But the client’s instincts are also central here.  Generally, anyone sensitive enough to have a paranormal problem reads underlying psychic vibes well enough to find the right ghost hunter for the job at hand.

Once a professional has been called in, the investigation unfolds step by step in a logical fashion.  First, an interview examines the hauntee’s report, with the experienced hunter wielding skepticism like a machete.  Few reputable practitioners would undertake an investigation before ruling out every possible natural scenario, turning to the paranormal only as a last resort.  Then photographs are taken of the site, and perhaps drawings are made.  If the haunt has a discernible pattern, the investigators may want to stay on site for a while to map it.  Given the intrusive nature of the inquiry, you should never embark on a paranormal investigation lightly, or with investigators who are not sympathetic companions.  Hunters who are too ready to believe, or too skeptical to accept what their senses tell them, should be replaced immediately: Ghost sneer at their psychic inferiors.

Whatever the type of spectral presence, its removal should be under taken with compassion and understanding, or at worst with tough love.  Despite their restless, worrisome ways, ghosts are more like us, more like the living, than not.  They have beliefs, hopes, fears, concerns, and expectations that must be respected.  And they have vast experience.  Many ghosts are believed to have been roaming the world for centuries.

Sometimes they may be gentled into a tolerable domesticity.  But now and then they are so dark, so angry, so destructive that they have to be forced to leave.  Time is on their side, however, and they know it.  Having one’s ghosts removed, even with today’s conciliatory methods, may take a good long time.  Patience is the key.  Patience is what we should be thinking when we finally decide to pick up the telephone and ask for professional help.

Ghost Explained (Part 2)

Exploring the Other Side

While some people sense ghosts or see them, others are driven to sort them out, to discover what they really are.

What are Ghosts?

Ghosts are easy to define, hard to explain.  Almost everybody agrees on the basic proposition that ghosts are spirits of the dead.  But that deceptively simple definition is just a gateway to a thorny thicket of questions, some of them the most profound that humans ever ask.

What exactly is a spirit?  Is it the same thing as a soul?  Does such a thing really exist?  And if it does, can it survive the death of the body?  In what form?  Why do the dead haunt the living, or just some of the living?  Why do some people apparently see ghosts, others not?  Are ghosts vengeful?  Kindly?  Sad?  Should we fear them?  Avoid them?  Seek them out?

The answers depend largely, of course, on whom you ask, and when.  People who believe in ghosts or claim to have encountered them – a minority that hovers between 10 to 20 percent, according to most polls taken over the year, are quick to speculate on the nature and significance of spirits.  For unbelievers, on the other hand, ghosts are merely the stuff of idle chitchat, the quaint fantasies of credulous minds.  But this wasn’t always so.  There was a time, beginning about a century and a half ago, when some of the world’s finest intellects (skeptical intellects, mostly) pursued the subject of ghosts in deadly earnest.  It was for them, one might say, a matter of eternal life or death.

The First Ghost Hunters

It was in England in the 1880s that a group of Cambridge University scholars formed the Society for Psychical Research (SPR) to fix a cold and skeptical eye on paranormal phenomena.  Not given to mysticism, these dons were thoroughly systematic.  They would collect information, collate, analyze, theorize, test.  They began with ghosts.

A trio of SPR founders Edmund Gurney, Frederic Myers and Frank Podmore, interviewed about 6,000 people regarding their experiences with ghosts.  In 1886, they published their results in Phantasms of the Living, a two-volume tome of 1,400 pages.  There Myers coined the word “telepathy”, postulating that some ghosts were really telepathic impulses, which percipients, the people who see or sense ghosts, took to be phantoms.  “Instead of describing a ‘ghost’ as a dead person permitted to communicate with the living,” he wrote, “let us define it as a manifestation of persistent personal energy.”

Eleanor Balfour Sidgwick, a mathematician and the principal of Cambridge’s Newnham College, speculated that inanimate objects might absorb and store psychic impressions from the living in the same way that stones gather heat energy from the sun.  When the impressions were radiated by the object, the figurative hot stones, their energy, she thought, might be perceived as ghosts.  The strength of the apparition, Sidgwick believed, depended on the emotional magnitude of the psychic imprint, the amount of stored energy, and the percipient’s sensitivity.

Ghostly Intentions

Phantasms of the Living was the first great leap into the paranormal unknown.  Based on its findings, the Cambridge group began classifying different types of ghosts.  Motive seemed to be one differentiating feature.

“We were struck,” said Gurney, “with the great predominance of alleged apparitions at or near the moment of death.  And a new light seemed to be thrown on these phenomena by the unexpected frequency of accounts of apparitions of living persons, coincident with moments of danger or crisis.”  As people experienced death or some other extreme condition, he suggested, their psyche became more adept at projecting itself in ghostly guises.

Nor was crisis the only motive.  Some apparitions brought balm for the grief of loved ones; others, comfort for the dying.  Some apparitions appeared to remind the reincarnate of their previous lives, or to give a future family a preview of a reborn person on the way.

Ethereal Theories

Myers kept his belief that human existence didn’t end at death, but he saw flaws in this telepathy hypothesis.  In Human Personality and the Survival of Bodily Death, published in 1903, he theorized that apparitions were a kind of knot of energy emanating from the agent buy strong enough to alter the percipient’s space.  As for the actual substance of ghosts, Myers proposed that specters existed not as material beings but as “metetherial” – a kind of fourth-dimensional domain.

Some years later, SPR president Henry Habberley Price, an emeritus professor of logic at Oxford University, echoed Myers with the notion of a “psychic ether,” which he described as “something intermediate between mind and matter.”  He believed that thought and other types of mental activity generated an image that survived on another plane even after the death of the thinker.  While invisible to everyone, such images might be perceived as ghosts by psychic sensitives.

Ghostly Taxonomy

G. Tyrell, who became SPR president in 1945, devoted 40 years to ghost research.  Tyrell, who held degrees in physics and mathematics from London University, is credited with formulating the four categories of phantoms that are still generally recognized today: crisis apparitions, apparitions of the living, postmortem apparitions, and continual, or recurring, apparitions.  (More details on Types of Ghosts.)

Drawing on modern psychology, Tyrell proposed that ghosts came out of a confluence of creative energy from the unconscious minds of both the agent and the percipient.  He called the result an “apparitional drama,” or “sensory hallucination.”

Researcher Andrew MacKenzie also postulated a link between apparitions and the subconscious mind.  Examing a number of reported hallucinatory experiences, he found that most of them came when the percipient was tuning out the external world and concentrating on something else.  At such times, MacKenzie reckoned the barriers between the conscious and unconscious come down.  The resulting flow from our unknown mental interior sometimes seems to be a ghost.

Inside the Mind and Out

The pioneering work of Tyrell and MacKenzie can still be seen in the work of present day psychical researchers like William Roll, a prominent American parapsychologist.  Like them, he explains haunting as an interactive drama between haunter and observer, as he calls the percipient, but he proposes that the phenomena occur along a sliding scale.

Haunting visions or sounds can be related to a particular situation or event, which Roll contends, seems “to leave an imprint in the environment that lots of people can respond to.”  But he sees no need for such carrier substances as psychic ether.  “All we need to say is that there is no sharp distinction between mind and matter, and that the processes that go on in the human brain may also go on in the human environment.  To me the main interest of these phenomena is that they suggest body and mind and matter are not as clearly distinguished as we have been led to believe, that mind is enfolded in matter, that there is meaning in matter, that the physical environment has mental qualities that come from the people who have lived in that environment.”

“Those qualities imprinted on the environment compose the ghostly side of Roll’s equation.  The percipient composes the other.  Hauntings move on a sliding scale between them, driven by whichever factor, the spectral or the personal, is more active.  If the power lies toward the environmental end, the imprint should be so deeply etched that anyone can discern it.  At the far end on the percipient side of the scale, the observer creates the ghost out of nothing, that is to say, he or she makes it up.

Roll says that the latter type of haunting seems to follow emotional stress; it is often seen, for example, in strife-torn marriages.  Then, according to Roll, the percipient creates “an objective reality” to fill a void.  “It is like a dream that has become real,” he explains, “a strong need that somehow has created a situation that satisfies it.  My impression is that memories will be drawn out in response to needs.  And it is just as likely to happen in a new duplex as in an old mansion.”  Anything, including oneself, can be haunted.

Ghostly Behavior

Today, speculation about ghosts has largely passed out of the academic realm.  Seldom ghost hunters are full-timers who are serious about their subject.  Their language is more casual than that of the academicians, and their scientific tastes tend more toward psychology than physics.  For instance, Troy Taylor, the founder and president of the American Ghost Society, finds it useful to divide phantom encounters into two types: the intelligent haunting and the residual haunting.

The intelligent haunter, according to Taylor, is “the personality of a once-living person who stayed behind in our world instead of passing over to the Other side.”  Such ghosts are self-aware and are able to interact with the living.  The residual haunter, on the other hand, is merely “an imprint that is left on the atmosphere” of a haunted site.  It is the spirit of an event, rather than a personality, that plays out over and over in phantom form.

As to the nature of intelligent ghosts, Taylor reports that generally, they are “very sad.  We have to remember that many of them are very confused over what has happened to them.”  Some, he says, don’t even realize that they are dead.  Ghosts are never evil, he contends, although they do project in their phantom forms whatever personalities they had in life: benevolent, caring, angry, bitter.

David Oester and Sharon Gill, co-founders of the International Ghost Hunters Society, agree.  “A ghost is a mirror of who he or she was in life,” they say.  “If they were happy campers in life, they will happy campers in death.  The reverse is also true.  If they were angry and mean in life, so too in death.”  Whatever their natures, the spirits remain earthbound “because of unfinished business, unresolved issues, or because they have a comfort level and choose to remain here.  In many cases, the soul or spirit has negative earth emotions that were not released while living, and now these negative emotions are creating an anchor that will hold them back until they can release these negative emotions.”

Times have changed.  Pondering a ghost’s “unresolved issues” seems a far less pressing task than trying to validate religion by proving that spirits exist.  Now and then, though, an echo of the old urgency can still be heard: “Ghosts are really the evidence,” say Oester and Gill, “that religion should lean toward as proof of an afterlife.”

Ghost Explained (Part 1)

The Quest to understand life after death

From Spiritualism to quantum physics, the quest persists to find out exactly what haunts us, and how, and why…

Inquiring Minds

The idea that the energy of life just vanishes into nothingness in death has never been comfortable for us humans.  Such potent energy must go somewhere: to Paradise, perhaps, or the Underworld, or some purgatorial holding pattern, or the interstices between the stars.  It must revive secretly on some other side of existence.  And there, many have long supposed, the spirits traverse eternity, reaping whatever good or ill they sowed in life.

Such an explanation accounts nicely for what happens to an individual’s life force.  But not all energy that has gone on to its post-mortem dimension seems content to stay there.  Unfinished business, hatred left unquenched,  revenge uncompleted, one’s murderer gone free, lost or unrequited love, the need to warn or scare or save one’s survivors; there are so many compelling reasons not to rest that one would expect the ether to teem with souls still not quite decoupled from life.  And so they seem to over about us, occasionally visible, often subtly perceptible, just out of earshot, but nevertheless there, palpable enough to prompt never-quite-answered about who they are and what they want.

The questions about the fate of the life force have been asked for thousands of years.  In the 18th and 19th centuries, however, it appeared at times that science was on the verge of providing some definitive answers.  Energy of all sorts was on the verge of providing some definitive answers.  Energy of all sorts was much on people’s minds then: electrical energy, magnetic energy, how to two transferred back and forth, how energy was transformed into light and heat.  Energy never vanished, it seemed, it merely changed forms.  So it might be with the energy of life, some scientists speculated:  Perhaps life was another manifestation of energy, as indestructible as electricity or sunlight, and as quick to take another form.

It made sense, and it carried the advantage that the whole business of an afterlife might be viewed objectively, not through the distorting lenses of superstition or metaphysics.  And if one could quantify the existence of human energy after the body’s death – ghosts and spirits, as it were, why couldn’t one get in touch with them?  Why couldn’t science open a line to the Other side?

Science and the Supernatural

The idea smacked somewhat of hubris; the science of the time (and of today, for that matter) was as yet ill-equipped to unveil nature’s most closely held secret: the mystery of death and what lies beyond it.  Even so, there were pioneers willing to try.  And if they fell short, some were equally willing to cloak their efforts in enough pseudoscientific mumbo jumbo to at least confuse the issue.

One of these was Franz Anton Mesmer, the 18th century Austrian physician whose theory of “animal magnetism” – a natural magnetic energy he believed to exist in all living creatures, suggested the possibility of sensing objects and events beyond ones’ waking ken.  Mesmer was wrong about nearly everything except the technique of hypnotizing or “mesmerizing,” subjects.  Still, his incorporation of magnetism into his spiel imparted a certain learned aura to his work and to the otherworldly pranks of a legion of Mesmerists who sprung up on both sides of the Atlantic.

Emanuel Swedenborg, a renowned Swedish scientist who was a contemporary of Mesmer, offered a philosophical counterpoint to the Austrian’s mind-bending hocus-pocus.  The hidden worlds to which Mesmer clamied to send his hypnotized subjects were familiar ground to Swedenborg, who reported the frequent company of Jesus, a host of spirits, and even God.  He framed the afterlife into six spheres of Spiritualism, which spirits traversed from the lowest (life on Earth) to the highest (unknowable to us).  About equal parts brilliant and deranged, Swedenborg like Mesmer, helped fertilize the occult ground of what would become, in the 19th century, the Spiritualist movement.

Science and the Soul

By the end of 19 centaury, science and mediumship have gone their separate ways, the latter dissolving into the often suspect claptrap of channeling and psychic hot lines, the former searching for spirits in wholly new directions.

These days, the serious scientists speculating on the soul’s possible survival tend to be, of all things, physicists.  Their mystical turn of mind is doubtless linked to quantum mechanics itself, the science describing the cosmos as a mysterious mesh of being and nonbeing in which tiny, invisible bits called quanta – the building blocks of the universe – behave in exotically erratic and unpredictable ways.

All creation is joined “in a state of unending flux of enfoldment and unfoldment,” says the University of London’s David Bohm, a leading authority on quantum mechanics and also a student of Eastern mysticism.  Bohm asserts that human consciousness is part of a unity that includes the whole universe.  If such oneness is indeed the case, it’s logical to assume that somewhere in that universe, disembodied souls exist.

Another physicist influenced by Eastern thought is Brian Josephson, a Nobel laureate and professor at England’s Cambridge University.  “One is not the same as one’s body,” says Josephson, who defines the soul as a nonphysical “organizing center” of the self.  He is convinced that this organizing center survives death.

Mind, Brain, Soul

Other scientists approach the soul by speculating on whether human consciousness is separable from human flesh: Is the mind merely what the brain does?  Or is it more, and other – an entity that can exist independent of the brain and survive the brain’s death?  One renowned thinker who argues for the second proposition is Australian neurophysiologist Sir John Carew Eccles, another Nobel Prize winner.  “I cannot believe,” says Eccles, “that the wonderful gift of a conscious existence has no further future, no possibility of another existence under some unimaginable conditions.”

Eccles has an ally in Sir Karl Popper, the eminent philosopher of science.  Popper posits the existence of three worlds: a material one containing the brain and all other material objects, an abstract world in which the mind dwells, and a world that holds all the mind’s achievements, all the fruits of civilization.  These worlds interact constantly, but they are essentially separate; the mind, therefore, enjoys an existence independent of the brain.

No End in Sight

Inquiring minds, including some of the best minds around, do indeed want to know.  But this side of the grave, will we ever really understand what death is and what the spirit is and whether it survives after the body dies?  The best minds seem to think not.

Physicist Josephson contends that physical science will never, by itself, unravel all reality’s secrets, although he concedes that mystical insight may open new path-ways for rational thought.

Neurophysiologist Eccles is even more modest about the prospects, although a good scientist that he is, he allows for all possibilities.  “I don’t want to claim that I have some extraordinary revelation telling me the answer” says Eccles.  “I keep everything open.  I keep so many doors open because I am, as it were, a lost soul trying to find my way in the unknown.”