The belief in ghosts and thus haunted or haunted phenomena presupposes that there is life after death. Adolescents in particular believe in ghosts, whereas many adults often believe in invisible gods.


According to a worldwide concept, a spirit or spirit being is an immaterial or "subtle" being, to whom superhuman but limited abilities are ascribed. In religious systems, the spirit beings are ranked among God (or several gods). In some cases, ghosts are presented as bound to material objects or living beings, in other cases as unbound. Spirit beings are part of numerous religions and myths and are considered to transmit messages from the afterlife.

Belief in ghosts is usually associated with the idea of their summoning — the "calling" (conjuring up ghosts), contacting in various forms. In almost all non-written cultures there was traditionally a collective belief in spirits and there were traditionally special specialists in conjuring up spirits, who today are mostly referred to as shamans.

Modern forms of belief in ghosts, in which the focus is on the possibility of establishing contact, is called spiritism. These include the individual and often non-religiously located séances to summon the dead in Western cultures, which were widespread in some circles especially around the turn of the 20th century, as well as the collective syncretistic Afro-American new religions such as Voodoo, Umbanda or Candomblé. The followers of spiritism are estimated at over 100 million worldwide.

Typology of ghosts

A distinction is made primarily between ancestral spirits and dead spirits (called ghosts in English literature), who mostly come from people who were not properly buried or who died violently, that is to say from people; as well as natural spirits, which are presented independently of people in nature.

There are different types of such ideas:

  • Nature spirits associated with a specific place in nature. This place can be a plant, a river, a rock or a thunderstorm.
  • Spirits of the deceased in the ancestor cult, also spirits of the dead or ghost
  • House and hearth spirits who inspire and guard the house and yard
  • Angels and demons in different world religions, partly positive, partly negative, partly winged.

Spirits in (but) belief

The idea of ghosts is directly related to the person's personal experience of perceiving himself as a physical and mental being at the same time. The extensive results of worldwide ethnological research demonstrate the great importance of such spiritual imaginations among traditional peoples as necessary "links" in the creation of cosmological patterns of order, which serve as the basis for complete and coherent worldviews.

In this respect, presumably at least parts of the population at all times and in all cultures were deeply convinced of the existence of spirits and immaterial beings. For example, angels, demons (devils), spirits of the dead and even some nature spirits (example of field spirits in the shape of a goat according to Isa. 13:21) are also a reality in Christianity. However, the skepticism and negation of otherworldly beings also has a long tradition that can be traced back to ancient Greece, for example in European history. Homer already lists practically all the arguments that have been used over and over for the existence of spirits.

In the philosophy of the Enlightenment, the existence of God and consequently also of spirit beings is increasingly questioned. But even famous philosophers such as Immanuel Kant ("Dreams of a Ghost Seer" from 1766), despite extensive, subtle arguments, did not really succeed in refuting the "nonexistent fancies".

In the mid-19th century, scientific research into ghosts in industrialized countries began with the founding of parapsychology. With the help of so-called media (people who claim to receive messages from supernatural beings or have different "non-physical" perceptions), conjuring up ghosts was carried out under controlled conditions. Later, photography was used to help visualize and record such phenomena. Already in the first quarter of the 20th century, all of these attempts were exposed as fraud. In the 1980s, a renaissance of occultism took place in the USA and later in England, in which within a few months many people suddenly claim to have been sexually abused in the context of "satanic rituals". However, the subsequent investigations by the police, courts and scientists did not provide any solid evidence for the existence of spiritual beings.

Today, historical descriptions of ghosts in science are understood almost exclusively as naturalized metaphors, as illustrations of processes that people could not explain, process or process better at the time. In this way, intimidating, disturbing phenomena became comprehensible and categorizable for the mind - and consequently they lost much of their menace. For modern, enlightened people, the opposite is true today: the ghost motif moves the familiar and familiar world into the uncanny.

In contrast to the western world, the existence of spirits and other occult powers in Africa is a broad social consensus, although there are also debates about fraudulent intellectual media and the attitudes of modern science to the subject are known. Even in the Christianized and Islamized countries, people assume that these powers have more or less a say in everyday life. The cosmology of the traditional religions is omnipresent; Wizards, witches and spiritual healers are still important people in most African countries and magical actions to influence the spirits and their "deeds" are not unusual in an urban context.


Spooky is a term for not obviously scientifically explainable, uncanny appearances. Natural science explains spooky and ghosts with natural causes, as an illusion or a psychological effect. According to parapsychology, on the other hand, even after all natural explanations have been applied, there remains a residue of inexplicable phenomena that is interpreted as "recurrent spontaneous psychokinesis" (RSPK).

Furthermore, ghosts and haunted phenomena are a scientific subject of investigation in folklore or cultural history.

Personal and local haunted

Parapsychology distinguishes between personal and local hauntings. In person-related hauntings, a person - often either pubescent or dying - can be assumed to be an agent of the haunted phenomena. The local haunted event, apparently without living agents, always occurs in the same place for years, decades, or even centuries. An example is the White Woman observed repeatedly in some castles. Person-related hauntings with their rather short duration, especially if they are of a physical-acoustic nature, are also referred to as poltergeist phenomena, while localized hauntings, often without personal reference to or without direct communication with the observers, are sometimes also referred to as haunted ones Is understood.

Explanatory approach: physical causes

Eerie noises in buildings are often such. B. caused by animals such as mice, rats or martens (z. B. in the roof structure), by gusts of wind or by material stresses due to temperature and moisture-related expansion and contraction processes. Closing doors and windows, swinging curtains and similar phenomena can in most cases be attributed to air currents due to temperature or pressure differences.

Explanatory approach: Psychogeographic cause

The psychogeographical theory is based on the conviction that haunted houses and castles often have an "eerie" atmosphere that affects people's psyche and perception. If you are already tense as a visitor to such a place, physical effects such as a cold breeze, magnetic fields or infrasound can easily trigger anxiety. This approach has been corroborated by large-scale scientific research at Hampton Court Palace and Edinburgh Castle led by British psychologist Richard Wiseman.

Explanatory approach: deceptions

Some reported "haunted phenomena" such as some poltergeist phenomena can also be traced back to manipulations fraudulently carried out by living people. Lies and newspaper ducks are also believed to be the source of information about hauntings.

Supernatural explanations for ghosts

The following theories have been developed in parapsychology to interpret those haunted phenomena that they believe cannot be scientifically explained:

The animistic theory

The animistic theory (from Latin anima "soul") declares haunted phenomena as paranormal caused by the living. This is said to apply to many poltergeist phenomena; however, the animistic interpretation becomes more difficult in the case of localized and sometimes generations-reported hauntings such as the "white woman" in so-called haunted castles.

The spiritistic approach

The spiritistic theory (from the Latin spirit "spirit") assumes that hauntings are caused by independent entities (spirits), specifically by souls of the deceased who are still on earth and are unwilling to let go or die.

Jakob Lorber's followers take this view. They assume that no believing "Christian soul", but more often "unbelieving human soul" spooky after their physical death at their usual place of life in whatever form "noticeable".

Independent psychological components

The Austrian psychologist Alfred Freiherr von Winterstein (1885-1958) as well as Marie-Louise von Franz independently formulated the theory that ghosts and haunted phenomena are caused by the psychological complexes of the deceased that have become autonomous. Winterstein drew the conclusion in an essay after citing some case studies: "The spooky phenomena with their monotonous, automatic repetition of one and the same action give the impression that this is not about the survival of the whole psyche, but only of a complex of ideas that has become autonomous, one fixed idea, a compulsory idea, which urges the constant removal and realization through the haunted phenomena (...)."

Marie-Louise von Franz similarly wrote, based on C.G. Jung: Haunt is caused by independent partial souls or split-off psychic complexes of the living or deceased, who behaved half intelligently, half senselessly or disturbingly.

Stored psychological impressions

The English parapsychologist Eleanor Sidgwick took the view that objects or houses could absorb mental energy and transmit it to sensitive people. Henry Habberly Price assumed in a slightly different way that emotional impressions were not stored in the substance of buildings, but in a "psychic ether" between mind and matter (English: Psychic ether hypothesis). The impressions stored in this way could be perceived again and again; this would give rise to the typical phenomenon that many haunted events repeated crisis events. The natural scientist Fanny Moser explains the so-called mimicry noises that occur in some haunted cases - noises that mimic the past employment of a deceased such as B. steps, back of chairs etc. - with the fact that everyday objects could absorb psychic energy. Hans Bender was of the opinion that violent emotions could create a localized atmosphere that existed independently of humans and that caused or encouraged paranormal events.

William G. Roll, director of the Psychical Research Foundation in Durham, North Carolina, extended the theory of stored psychological impressions to a spectrum theory: spooky can go back to memory-like traces in the material environment; besides, many haunted phenomena would also be generated unconsciously by the recipient (perceiver) in order to satisfy emotional needs. Because even if haunted people scare some recipients, many people are happy with their haunted symptoms. Therefore there is a spectrum with the paranormal impressions on the one hand and the needs of the recipient on the other.

Contact with ghosts (evocation) and medium

Some believe in after-death contacts or that so-called media can establish contacts with deceased people or ghosts who can haunt. This so-called mediumism is particularly widespread in Europe in England, Wales and Switzerland. In England and Wales, Medium is a recognized profession with its own union and schools and training centers. Media appear in many churches in England and Wales. In Switzerland, many media have their own practices, appear on large stages and on television, and work and a. with the police for investigative work. In Brazil, the state recognizes media and uses their skills. In individual cases, statements made by the media are accepted in court. There is no scientific evidence that such skills exist. ∎

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