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An engraving of the Hammersmith Ghost appears in Roger Kirby's Wonderful and Scientific Museum, a magazine published in 1804. The "ghost" turned out to be an old local cobbler who used a white sheet to get back at his apprentice for scaring his grandchildren.[1]

A ghost is the

soul or spirit of a dead person or animal that is believed to be able to appear to the living. In ghostlore, descriptions of ghosts vary widely, from an invisible presence to translucent or barely visible wispy shapes to realistic, lifelike forms. The deliberate attempt to contact the spirit of a deceased person is known as necromancy, or in spiritism as a séance
. Other terms associated with it are apparition, haunt, phantom, poltergeist, shade, specter, spirit, spook, wraith, demon, and ghoul.

The belief in the existence of an

ritual magic—are specifically designed to rest the spirits of the dead. Ghosts are generally described as solitary, human-like essences, though stories of ghostly armies and the ghosts of animals other than humans have also been recounted.[2][3] They are believed to haunt particular locations, objects, or people they were associated with in life. According to a 2009 study by the Pew Research Center, 18% of Americans say they have seen a ghost.[4]

The overwhelming consensus of science is that there is no proof that ghosts exist.

sleep aids) may also, in rare instances, cause ghost-like hallucinations, particularly zolpidem and diphenhydramine.[13] Older reports linked carbon monoxide poisoning to ghost-like hallucinations.[14]

In folklore studies, ghosts fall within the motif index designation E200–E599 ("Ghosts and other revenants").


The English word

Proto-Indo-European form is reconstructed as *ǵʰéys-d-os, from the root *ǵʰéys-, which is reflected in Old Norse geisa ('to rage') and *geiski ('fear'; cf. geiskafullr 'full of fear'), in Gothic usgaisjan ('to terrify') and usgaisnan ('to be terrified'), as well as in Avestan zōiš- (cf. zōišnu 'shivering, trembling').[15][16][17]

The Germanic word is recorded as masculine only, but likely continues a neuter s-stem. The original meaning of the Germanic word would thus have been an animating principle of the

conductor of the dead and the "lord of fury" leading the Wild Hunt

Besides denoting the human spirit or soul, both of the living and the deceased, the Old English word is used as a synonym of Latin spiritus also in the meaning of "breath" or "blast" from the earliest attestations (9th century). It could also denote any good or evil spirit, such as angels and demons; the

Holy Ghost

The now-prevailing sense of "the soul of a deceased person, spoken of as appearing in a visible form" only emerges in

vital principle", "mind", or "psyche", the seat of feeling, thought, and moral judgement; on the other hand used figuratively of any shadowy outline, or fuzzy or unsubstantial image; in optics, photography, and cinematography especially, a flare, secondary image, or spurious signal.[18]

The synonym spook is a Dutch loanword, akin to Low German spôk (of uncertain etymology); it entered the English language via American English in the 19th century.[19][20][21][22] Alternative words in modern usage include spectre (altn. specter; from Latin spectrum), the Scottish wraith (of obscure origin), phantom (via French ultimately from Greek phantasma, compare fantasy) and apparition. The term shade in classical mythology translates Greek σκιά,[23] or Latin umbra,[24] in reference to the notion of spirits in the Greek underworld. The term poltergeist is a German word, literally a "noisy ghost", for a spirit said to manifest itself by invisibly moving and influencing objects.[25]

OED notes "of obscure origin" only.[26] An association with the verb writhe was the etymology favored by J. R. R. Tolkien.[27] Tolkien's use of the word in the naming of the creatures known as the Ringwraiths has influenced later usage in fantasy literature. Bogey[28] or bogy/bogie is a term for a ghost, and appears in Scottish poet John Mayne's Hallowe'en in 1780.[29][30]

A revenant is a deceased person returning from the dead to haunt the living, either as a disembodied ghost or alternatively as an animated ("undead") corpse. Also related is the concept of a fetch, the visible ghost or spirit of a person yet alive.


Anthropological context

A notion of the

ancestor worship. Some people believe the ghost or spirit never leaves Earth until there is no-one left to remember the one who died.[32]

In many cultures, malignant,

restless ghosts are distinguished from the more benign spirits involved in ancestor worship.[33]

Ancestor worship typically involves rites intended to prevent

tumuli (kurgan) had been ritually bound before burial,[34] and the custom of binding the dead persists, for example, in rural Anatolia.[35]

Nineteenth-century anthropologist

souls were seen as the creature within that animated the body.[36]

Ghosts and the afterlife

Although the human soul was sometimes symbolically or literally depicted in ancient cultures as a bird or other animal, it appears to have been widely held that the soul was an exact reproduction of the body in every feature, even down to clothing the person wore. This is depicted in artwork from various ancient cultures, including such works as the Egyptian Book of the Dead, which shows deceased people in the afterlife appearing much as they did before death, including the style of dress.

Fear of ghosts

Yūrei (Japanese ghost) from the Hyakkai Zukan
, ca. 1737

While deceased ancestors are

dealing with the supernatural.

Common attributes

Another widespread belief concerning ghosts is that they are composed of a misty, airy, or subtle material.

, as a living soul, from the dust of the Earth and the breath of God.

In many traditional accounts, ghosts were often thought to be deceased people looking for vengeance (vengeful ghosts), or imprisoned on earth for bad things they did during life. The appearance of a ghost has often been regarded as an omen or portent of death. Seeing one's own ghostly double or "fetch" is a related omen of death.[37]

needs context

Legends of ghost ships have existed since the 18th century; most notable of these is the Flying Dutchman. This theme has been used in literature in The Rime of the Ancient Mariner by Coleridge.

Ghosts are often depicted as being covered in a shroud and/or dragging chains.[40]


A place where ghosts are reported is described as

', continues to exist. Some religious views argue that the 'spirits' of those who have died have not 'passed over' and are trapped inside the property where their memories and energy are strong.


Underworld by galla

Ancient Near East and Egypt

There are many references to

Abrahamic religions that came to dominate the region.[41]
Ghosts were thought to be created at time of death, taking on the memory and personality of the dead person. They traveled to the netherworld, where they were assigned a position, and led an existence similar in some ways to that of the living. Relatives of the dead were expected to make offerings of food and drink to the dead to ease their conditions. If they did not, the ghosts could inflict misfortune and illness on the living. Traditional healing practices ascribed a variety of illnesses to the action of ghosts, while others were caused by gods or demons.[42]

and spirit re-united after death

There was widespread belief in

ghosts in ancient Egyptian culture
King Saul has the Witch of Endor summon the spirit or ghost of Samuel


soul and spirit were believed to exist after death, with the ability to assist or harm the living, and the possibility of a second death. Over a period of more than 2,500 years, Egyptian beliefs about the nature of the afterlife evolved constantly. Many of these beliefs were recorded in hieroglyph inscriptions, papyrus scrolls and tomb paintings. The Egyptian Book of the Dead compiles some of the beliefs from different periods of ancient Egyptian history.[43]
In modern times, the fanciful concept of a mummy coming back to life and wreaking vengeance when disturbed has spawned a whole genre of horror stories and films.[44]

Classical Antiquity

Archaic and Classical Greece

bell krater depicting the ghost of Clytemnestra waking the Erinyes
, date unknown

Ghosts appeared in Homer's Odyssey and Iliad, in which they were described as vanishing "as a vapor, gibbering and whining into the earth". Homer's ghosts had little interaction with the world of the living. Periodically they were called upon to provide advice or prophecy, but they do not appear to be particularly feared. Ghosts in the classical world often appeared in the form of vapor or smoke, but at other times they were described as being substantial, appearing as they had been at the time of death, complete with the wounds that killed them.[45]

By the 5th century BC, classical Greek ghosts had become haunting, frightening creatures who could work to either good or evil purposes. The spirit of the dead was believed to hover near the resting place of the corpse, and cemeteries were places the living avoided. The dead were to be ritually mourned through public ceremony, sacrifice, and libations, or else they might return to haunt their families. The ancient Greeks held annual feasts to honor and placate the spirits of the dead, to which the family ghosts were invited, and after which they were "firmly invited to leave until the same time next year."[46]

The 5th-century BC play Oresteia includes an appearance of the ghost of Clytemnestra, one of the first ghosts to appear in a work of fiction.[47]

Roman Empire and Late Antiquity

Athenodorus and the Ghost, by Henry Justice Ford
, c.1900