According to a recent poll by Associated Press and Ipsos, 34% of Americans believe in ghosts. A 2005 poll found that 32% of Americans believed in them. I suspect that the pollsters did not define the word “ghost” and that many who said they don’t believe in ghosts probably had in mind a human figure draped with a sheet, or perhaps Casper the Friendly Ghost. I further suspect that a fair percentage of those who said they don’t believe in ghosts said so because they felt that it was the “intelligent” response.
Wikipedia defines ghost as the “apparition of a deceased person, frequently similar in appearance to that person, and usually encountered in places she or he frequented, or in association with the person’s former belongings.” However The Encyclopedia of Parapsychology and Psychical Research states that there is a difference between a ghost and an apparition. A ghost, it says, is usually less purposeful and more somnambulistic than an apparition, and an apparition may be of a living person. Two other words for apparition are phantom and specter, although these words can take on different meanings.
My dictionary’s first definition is that a ghost is “the soul of a dead person.” But that leads to the question of whether soul and spirit are the same thing. Some references give those two words different meanings – soul referring to the guiding principle of the spirit body. The word “ghost” is apparently an old Saxon word somehow derived from the Hebrew nephesh and the Greek pneuma, both meaning breath, life, spirit, and living principle.
The spirit body is sometimes referred to as the etheric body, astral body, double, and doppleganger, although these words can also take on different meanings. The double or doppleganger can also be associated with a living person. Some esoteric schools hold that there are several bodies of different degrees of refinement which are cast off as the spirit awakens. When a person “gives up the ghost,” the spirit body is released from the physical shell, i.e., the person dies. In the “second death,” the spirit, having already released the physical body, may then release another body for a more refined one.
In the Halloween tradition, a ghost seems to be more of an “earthbound” spirit, or a spook, if you will. That is, it is a deceased person who has not fully awakened on the other side. Numerous messages coming from the other side suggest that we awaken on that side in proportion to the degree of enlightenment and goodness realized on this side. “The duration of the state of confusion that follows death varies greatly,” explained Allan Kardec, the pioneering French psychical investigator of the 19th Century, in The Spirits’ Book. “It may be only a few hours, and it may be several months, or even years. Those with whom it lasts the least are they who, during the earthly life, have identified themselves most closely with their future state, because they are soonest able to understand their new situation.”
A very similar message comes from the extensive writings of medium Alice Bailey and her teacher, the Tibetan master, Djwhal Khul. “In the case of the [spiritually] undeveloped person, the etheric body can linger for a long time in the neighborhood of its outer disintegrating shell because the pull of the soul is not potent and the material aspect is,” we read in Death: The Great Adventure. “Where the person is advanced, and therefore detached in his thinking from the physical plane, the dissolution of the vital body can be exceedingly rapid.”
As set forth in God’s Other Door, Edgar Cayce, the “sleeping prophet,” said that “many an individual has remained in that [state] called death for what ye call years without realizing it was dead!” Cayce further explained that the “entity” becomes conscious gradually and that this is contingent upon “how great are the appetites and desires of a physical body.”
In effect, some earthbound spirits don’t seem to know they are “dead.” They are stuck in some kind of bad dream. It is a “fire of the mind,” what some religions call hell or purgatory.
Others earthbound spirits may realize they have passed from the earthly realm but they are somehow tied to it by a strong emotion. “My own conviction is that in the life of each such discarnate entity there has been developed a nucleus of emotional intensity so potent that not even the dissolution of death can completely dissociate the consciousness from the field of its most poignant life-affinities,” Eileen Garrett, the renowned Irish medium, offered in her 1949 book, Adventures in the Supernatural. She goes on to say that they often seem to be held back because of some moral injury or wrong that has been done to them which they can neither forget nor forgive.
Garrett mentions several cases from her mediumistic experiences. In one case, a widow experienced strange poltergeist phenomena around the house – loud rappings and other disturbances. Through Garrett’s mediumship it was communicated that her deceased husband was very upset about her having squandered what money he left behind to care for her and his daughter by living a “gay and frivolous” lifestyle with the lawyer who handled the estate.
In another case, a retired British Navy officer was extremely upset when his youngest son began reporting strange sounds from his closet and saying that his shoes were being disarranged by some mysterious force. The admiral sent his son off to a boarding school. However, the admiral’s wife then began to hear strange footsteps, and then one day, while the admiral was sitting alone, his glass began to mysteriously move away from him. The older son also experienced things similar to his brother. Finally, Garrett was called in. Through her, the wife’s brother, who had died two years earlier, communicated that he was very upset about leaving the greater part of his estate to his cousin rather than to his wife. He explained that he was not mentally competent when he made a second will in favor of his cousin and that he wanted his widow to have most of it. He pointed out that he had made an earlier will, which left most of his estate to his wife, but he could not remember where he left it. Some clues, however, resulted in the earlier will being found in a cupboard. Fortunately, the cousin turned over the estate to the wife without any litigation. The brother was not heard from again in the admiral’s house.
Sometimes, spirits are held earthbound because of crimes committed. Garrett recalled the case of the youngest son of a family reporting seeing a “dark, swarthy, threatening man” about the house on a number of occasions. The boy would frequently run from his room “screaming with shock” in the middle of the night. Through Garrett’s mediueventmship, it was determined that a distant uncle who had lived in the house several generations before was responsible. He said that he had killed his brother over a treasure, which he had buried in the garden and suggested that some digging would verify his story. A number of old coins and some human bones were then unearthed, although it could not be verified that they belonged to the murdered man. But the ghost was not repentant. He said the house was his and he resented other people living in it.
Eventually, however, he was persuaded that he was “dead” and that he had to move on. Garrett noted that all the communications from the ghost were given in a spirit of braggadocio and boasting. “That’s the kind of man he was in life, and that’s the kind of ‘ghost’ he was,” she wrote. “He loved himself and he loved his life, and he clung to it decade after decade of our time though time as we understand it would not seem to exist outside of bodily sensation. Those who return in such fashion would appear to be in a half-world of confusion – a world caught between waking and sleeping, where the dream experience becomes a reality and too often a nightmare.”
Through this experience and many others, Garrett came to realize that “the ghostly visitant can be released from the world of substance not by force of any kind, but by patient suggestion coupled with loving reasoning.”
Michael Tymn’s latest book Transcending the Titanic: Beyond Death’s Door is published by White Crow Books and available from Amazon and all good online book stores, along with The Afterlife Revealed: What Happens After we Die.
Transcending the Titanic by Michael Tymn