Are Ghosts Real?

Photo by Pedro Figueras on

I hate paranormal investigation shows. Whether they are made for network television or a bunch of amateur ghost hunters threw together some tech to legitimize their YouTube channel, I have a deep loathing for most of them. I’ll still watch them, though, because while I can’t stand the way most ‘hunters’ go about getting their ‘evidence’, I am extremely fascinated with the evidence itself. I don’t think I’m alone in that regard, either. For centuries, people have shared anywhere between a curiosity, fascination, or outright obsession with the afterlife. We see it in literature, art, and oral tradition.

Ghost stories are as popular today as they’ve ever been. As a former high school English teacher, I found that most teenagers who don’t like reading can be persuaded to appreciate it if you lead them to the horror genre. Beyond reading, though, scary movies tend to do quite well in the film industry even if, for the most part, each of them follow the same formula. We all complain about cheap jump scares and predictable plot, but we still lined up at the box office to buy a ticket to A Halloween Nightmare on Paranormal Friday X. Why? Well, it boils down to the same reason squishy, fleshy humans will load up into a roller coaster at a carnival that literally just set it up a few hours before. Most of the time, we know what to expect on a roller coaster, it’s not going to surprise you, but that’s not the point! We like to be scared. We like the adrenaline rush. And we like it in a controlled setting.

But when fiction begins to meld with reality, and you are no longer in a controlled situation with a definite resolution, everything changes. We may like terror, but there are limits. In short, a ghost story is not the same as a ghost encounter.

There are a few schools of thought as to what a ghost may or may not be. For skeptics and those who don’t believe in supernatural entities, they usually chalk it up to mental or natural phenomenon. People hallucinate sometimes. Especially in the presence of high electromagnetic fields which are common along cables and other housing installations. Coupled with an active imagination, and suddenly a shadow in the corner of your eye is a full body apparition complete with a backstory and motivations. Some hauntings are also explained away using the residual haunting or stone tape theories. This basically is the belief that certain repeated actions or gestures can be captured in the environment around you and played back like a recording, thus the ‘spirit’ that occupies a certain space is not to be considered intelligent nor are people able to interact with it. Though, it should be said that many people disregard this theory as viable as science has not observed this to be possible. Instead, it makes more sense to credit ghost sightings to a trick of the mind.

For those who do believe in ghosts, short of having their own experience, there is unfortunately little to be done to convince skeptics or those who do not believe. True, it is absolutely certain that there are occurrences that we simply do not understand, yet. After all, we might be able to say what happens to our bodies after we die, but what of our consciousness or soul? Nobody knows the answer to that one, and maybe one day we’ll have a scientific answer, but until then, we can only speculate.

Photo by Emre Kuzu on

So, really, it comes down to how you interpret the passage of the soul after death. One of the commonly repeated beliefs is that ghosts are spirits who, for whatever reason, have not passed on to what comes next. Whether they do not know yet that they are dead, are angry that they are dead, or have unfinished business, they remain behind. They may be friendly or sad though harmless. Or they could be angry and violent, hell-bent on keeping who they perceive to be intruders out of their space. Maybe you happened upon the sight of a murder or a terrible battle, and your haunting is a large scale event rather than an old, ghost figure that stands in the corner of a room and minds their own business. Whatever the case, in this instance, it is accepted that these spirits once inhabited a body.

The next theory stems around more religious roots. In many religious texts, they flat out tell you what becomes of a soul. Could be that the righteous spirits travel to an eternal paradise. A wicked spirit may find themselves in perpetual torment and suffering. In some traditions, there’s an in between — a place to either purge your soul of wickedness or to wander until you find the entrance to the underworld. It’s possible that in your tradition, none of that is true. Sometimes you really do get to feast with the warriors of old or maybe you get to come back in another body or form to continue on with your purpose. Whatever the belief, it’s laid out in your faith. Which means that ghosts cannot be the souls of formerly living people. So what does that leave?

Earlier, when I explained the different types of divination, I touched on spirit/Ouija boards. While I have no issue with people who use them, I stated that I personally would not ever again. Without getting into it too much, the reason is because there is no way of knowing what could be communicating with you from beyond the veil. Thing is, maybe you’re trying to speak with a family member. But a spirit board is not a telephone. You aren’t making a direct call to a celestial cell phone. You’re essentially walking into a public chatroom and hoping everyone in there is going to be nice to you. We’ve all used the internet… We know how this works out. Only, the chat room of the dead contains the kind of troll that isn’t necessarily one you can just mute. This is why most people who use spirit boards would caution people with no knowledge or experience to not jump into it without doing research first. Because sometimes, ghosts aren’t ghosts at all…

I learned this lesson the hard way. I was young and while I knew the rules of the Ouija board because of witches in my family, I was more of a skeptic myself. Despite prior experiences, I sat firmly in the ‘ghosts aren’t real’ camp, and when my family convened to share personal ghost stories, I listened more because they sounded interesting even as I thought they were full of sh**. Even when presented with similar experiences, like a ghost woman on the stairs or a spectral little boy who played in our kitchen, cross-legged on our ugly, green linoleum floor, I didn’t really give it much credence. Stories feed imaginations, and maybe I only thought I saw it because I heard somebody else talk about it before. So, when I say I used a Ouija board, I didn’t really use it seriously. My friend and I were just goofing around… I was convinced she was the one moving the planchette and if it wasn’t her, I had to be doing it unconsciously.

What I invited in was pure accident. Like I said before, I won’t get into it too much, but it was the beginning of a long nightmare. In the end, it took my mother going to the church (who initially denied anything was happening at all) and eventually a cleansing of the home before things calmed down. Point is… this certainly wasn’t a ‘ghost.’ Needless to say, the event was enough for me to swear off the use of spirit boards again, though, as I said before, there are correct ways to use it. You just need to be careful. And it’s also safe to say that after this, I was no longer a skeptic.

This brings me back to my feelings on ghost hunting. Just like with the spirit boards, you have no idea what you are provoking or trying to communicate with. There are some teams that go in with the utmost respect and professionalism, but from what I can tell, they don’t typically televise their investigations because, honestly, a real investigation is boring. The issue I have with the ones on television or YouTube is they have this bad habit of trying to get the ghost or spirit to perform for them like a circus animal. “Move the ball” or “Turn on the flashlight.” They beg for some sort of contact, and in the rare event they get an answer, they spend about three or four minutes shouting and screaming, “Did you see that!? Did you hear that!?” All I can imagine at this point is a ghost just glaring at them, annoyed at being rudely interrupted. My favorite, though, is when they actually take off into a sprint, terrified because of the shadow figure they saw standing at the doorway in front of them. What did you expect to see on your GHOST HUNT?

Photo by Jan Koetsier on

I realize, though, that this isn’t exactly an answer to the question of whether or not ghosts are real? They could be? It seems sort of like a cop out to say that, but there it is. I can’t scientifically prove that they are, and that would honestly be the only way to say with certainty. But I can tell you that I have had my own experiences that I believe are real, and so, in my opinion, yes. They are. You are free to believe me, and you are also free to reserve judgment until/unless you have your own encounter. I would love to hear about your personal encounters if you have any. For the rest of you, be well and don’t worry. I’m sure those strange sounds you’re hearing at three in the morning are indeed just the wind.

What Should We Talk About Next?

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