Wednesday, May 28, 2008

What Are Ghosts?

To many, a ghost is the non-corporeal consciousness (or soul) of an individual. It is thought that this spirit can linger long after the body has expired. When this consciousness lingers instead of, as many believe, ascending to another level of existence, we say that this ghost is haunting. However, a haunting can have a much broader meaning. It may be generally defined as the presence of one or more of the following phenomena at a single locale (be it a structure, geographic area, or object): apparitions, autokinetic manifestations, disembodied voices, and inexplicable sounds or smells.

I have based the following descriptions upon repeated motifs in witness testimony and most of the following terminoloy is my own. The nomenclature and categories herein are drawn from description and not from inferences of any physical or metaphysical compositions. About this, we have no clue, so trying to define these matters in non-experiential terms would be fruitless. However, we can speak in terms of what we have perceived with our senses. We cannot yet speak of "ectoplasm" or "spiritual energy" but we can begin where science dictates we must: observation. From there, we can hypothesize and test but we must always be willing to reject these hypotheses and begin anew.

Types of Ghosts:

Apparition is the term used to describe a ghost that appears to the percipient (as opposed to an auditory, olfactory or kinetic manifestation), often in a recognizable or semi-recognizable form. This can vary from a solid-looking individual (or object) no different from anyone else (often termed “full-body” apparitions), to transparent, semi-solid or even vague, misty forms.
It may be ultimately realized that the apparition is merely a psychic projection. It may only appear to the percipient in the manner the spirit wishes the living to see it, which may go a long way in explaining why some can see ghosts while others cannot. There is evidence to attest that those individuals most psychologically attuned to the phenomenon will have the greatest success at witnessing it. This psychic projection theory can best be exemplified by the argument that if clothing and other objects do not have spirits (souls), then how can they manifest along with the corporeal visage of the deceased? Yet, if this is the case, how can film and video capture apparitions as well? Or do they?

Non-recurrent Apparitions (Crisis Apparition, Class I) – A surprisingly common occurrence, these apparitions generally appear within a short time of their death. They are said to manifest themselves in order to deliver messages to the percipient, often a loved one. These apparitions do not necessarily appear at the moment of death. Sometimes they can manifest themselves hours, days or even years afterward – often at a significant moment or anniversary. However, not all “non-repeaters” (as they are sometimes termed) are deceased. Others can appear at a crucial or dire moment, sometimes just prior to death. These apparitions are known as Anxiety-related, Non-recurrent Apparitions.

Anxiety-related, Non-recurrent Apparition (Crisis Apparition, Class II) – Believed to be a sort of stress-induced telepathy, this type of apparition is circumstantially identical to the first category except the individual whose apparition is witnessed is still alive. However, at the instant their apparition was perceived, they were frequently found to have been enduring a traumatic situation. This type of apparition is tantamount to astral projection (bi-location) or an out-of-body experience; the supposed ability to psychically project one’s self through space-time to either another person’s mind or to actually corporealize. This is thought to explain situations of Doppelgangers and the like.

Recurrent Residual Apparition – An apparition that can be seen by many different people over the course of many days, weeks, months, years and even centuries. Their actions and appearance are often repetitive and they show little or no awareness of their surroundings. They appear like a video loop, repeating the same situation over and over. This has caused some investigators to theorize that what is actually being witnessed is some sort of quantum anomaly – a window that opens onto a specific moment in time.

Or perhaps, like videotape, a moment in time can be imprinted upon the environment and repeat itself long afterward. I term this phenomenon an Environmentally Imprinted Anomaly (EIA). Work has been done that may validate this theory.

In 1982, researchers John Marke and Allan Jenkins performed an experiment at an ancient, “haunted” Kenfig pub in Mid-Glamorgan, Wales. Their theory was that the stone walls, containing substances similar to those used in magnetic recording tapes (such as silica and ferric salts), could conceivably have become imprinted upon by past sounds, which accumulate like an aural patina. The researchers theorized that by applying the proper electrical stimulus, these stones could “play back” their recorded sounds. The two men connected electrodes to the walls and introduced 20,000 volts of electricity for several hours overnight while tape recorders documented every sound. When the tapes were reviewed, the researchers discovered they contained various anomalous sounds such as unintelligible voices (thought to be in an ancient Welsh dialect), an organ and a ticking clock (when no clock was present).

Recurrent Cognizant Apparition – Unlike a residual, these apparitions can move about more freely and interact with their environment in much the same way a non-recurrent apparition might. These “Spirits,” as they are often called, are frequently aware of their surroundings and any person therein, although they may seem a bit confused at times. It is believed by many investigators that this type of apparition is the disenfranchised soul of a deceased individual. Occasionally, witnesses attest to these manifestations exhibiting a degree of clairvoyance or telepathic prowess.

“The Unredeemed” – A cognizant apparition that seems to bear an unresolved emotional crisis. It is believed that these apparitions cannot “move on” until their crisis has been resolved. They are the most active at communicating with the living, however, they may not always know how or why. Often times, they seem to be as confused about their situation as the living witnesses are.

Auditory Manifestations

The following phenomena are more likely to be witnessed than an apparition and comprise the bulk of most hauntings. Auditory Manifestations are characterized by sounds such as disembodied voices, knocks, footsteps and pretty much any other conceivable sound. Like apparitions, auditory manifestations can be either residual or cognizant. For example at many battlefields, such as the famous Civil War battlefield of Gettysburg, witnesses have claimed to hear cannon fire and the sound of galloping horses. These dislocated sounds do not respond to their modern environment, they exist as an EIA or perhaps as a “window in time.”

However, other sounds seem to respond to percipients. For example, a woman hears phantom footsteps and yells, “Go away!” In response, she hears retreating footsteps. There are also the countless cases of those who have “communicated” with the disincarnate entity via knocking on walls or furniture. Although many of these stories tend to tie back to the early days of the Spiritualist Movement and the “rappings” heard at séances, a mediumistic trick that stuck around as a paranormal leitmotif.

These auditory manifestations behave much like cognizant apparitions, simply without the appearance. The hallmark of this type of ghost is its ability to interact with the witnesses, who may ask it questions to which it might reply. But they do not always converse, if you will. Sometimes, though conscious of their state or environs, they may only say one or a few words but those that seem to carry some portent such as “get out.” Since the voice is seemingly responding to the percipients presence, it is logical to assume that this phenomenon is not an environmentally imprinted anomaly, rather a cognizant entity wishing to express a thought.
Olfactory Manifestations Like manifestations of sound, this phenomenon is experienced by one sense only, the sense of smell. Throughout history, witnesses have reported the smell of roses, perfume, sulfur and a slew of other phantom scents that seem to defy logical explanation.

Kinetic Manifestations

Many ghosts may exhibit a degree of impact upon their environment: footsteps are not only heard but felt, vibrating floorboards, a door is opened, a touch felt, or the imprint of a person forms upon a newly-made bed. But primarily they aren’t known for greatly affecting the physical world. One type of ghost is far more energetic than others.

True Poltergeists can best be described as a Recurrent Cognizant but are offset by their ability to manipulate the environment (though rarely with much violence). These seemingly autokinetic manifestations often reveal themselves by moving objects or physically interacting with the environment or witnesses. For instance, a picture frame might be thrown against the wall by an unseen hand, a phantom hand may pinch an arm, or dishes could be dropped from their cupboards. The term, poltergeist, comes from the German meaning “noisy ghost,” which describes its actions accurately. However, German lore describes the spirit as a prankster with a playful orneriness.

Recurrent Spontaneous Psychokinesis is a syndrome similar in all outward appearances to a True Poltergeist. However, this phenomenon is decidedly different in origin. The causative agent in such manifestations is frequently (but not always) an adolescent or pre-adolescent involved in the happenings. It is believed that unexpressed psychosexual or emotional turmoil within this individual can manifest itself subconsciously as psychokinetic phenomena.
Statistically speaking, females 9 – 17 are the most prone to exhibiting RSP but males and even individuals much younger and older have been described as catalysts for this phenomena. Often one can distinguish between RSP and a True Poltergeist by the severity of the incidents. RSP appears to present itself far more vigorously.

I would advise that in cases such as these (when a True Poltergeist has been eliminated as the cause), the agent, their family and their friends should be urged to speak with a reputable and professional psychotherapist. I would not recommend that amateur investigators attempt to “exorcise” any spirit since the causative agent could very well be a living individual’s extraordinary psyche. If, for whatever reason, that does not seem feasible, rest assured that, by all reputable accounts, RSP rarely lasts more than a few months. Furthermore, aside from a few dubious tales, no one has ever been seriously harmed by such manifestations.

Because of their theoretically psychic origins, I am hesitant to classify RSP cases and cases of Anxiety-Related, Non-Repetitive Apparitions as ghosts in the truest since of the word. However, since correlations between the spirit, the psychic mind, and ghosts of the dead have never been confirmed, these phenomena belong here as much as anywhere else.

Combinative Manifestations
Combinative manifestations are essentially that, a combination of phenomena exhibited by other manifestations. For instance, one may see an apparition and smell her ghostly perfume and she may speak to the witness or knock a chair over. Or a residual apparition might break from its incessant routine to impact physical reality by touching someone or speaking to them. It is these anomalies within anomalies (which are actually pretty common) that make up many of the stumbling blocks investigators face in trying to characterize and classify these phenomena. Therefore, I present the preceding as merely a general guide.


RRRGroup said...

This is encyclopedic, Curran.

Classifying ghosts should take the fear factor out of the phenomena, but I'm still spooked when I see something strange, in the night, in our house.

(And we hear no one died traumatically or otherwise in the place -- but we do have ghosts. Go figure.)


Cullan Hudson said...

It could be that tragic deaths are not requisite to the manifestation of spectral phenomena. Anecdotal evidence exists to corrobarate very joyous entities that seem to remain on Earth as a way to be close to people or places they love.

Another theory is that hauntings are spots in the fabric of space-time worn thin by causes unknown. allowing for abutting dimensions to co-mingle. In effect, the "ghosts" we see might merely be the denizens of an alternate reality.

RRRGroup said...


You see, the ghosts here typed your name as Curran when I know full well that the spelling is Cullan.

These things are impish but scary just the same.

(The ghost or ghosts here often throw my wash cloth off the shower bar. Why? I haven't a clue but it happens often.)


Buck said...

Excellent post Cullan! I'm going to post the link at the SPI forums for our folks to read!