Ghosts: An Unexpected View
By: J. Marlando
I remember when I was seven or eight years old and going to my cousins Don and Dave’s house to play. I was always supposed to be home before dark but sometimes we’d forget the time and I wouldn’t start the walk home until late evening. It was around four or five blocks between my cousins’ house and where I lived with my grandmother. There was a long stretch of alleyway to pass on my way.
The alleyway had bushes, trees and vines that became very spooky looking in the twilight of evening since, to me, every shadow possessed a ghost, demon or monster of some kind. In fact, now and then I would see what I was sure were glowing eyes or forms of some evil thing just waiting to grab me. Nevertheless, I would somehow muster the courage to run past the dangers and find my way home.
Everyone has done this kind of thing even as adults: we hear a strange sound in another part of the house or that “something” is in the room with us. Even some grownups suffer from Achluophobia (the fear of darkness) and countless adults have had encounters with what they deem to be ghosts or spirits, my own wife included. I was in the hospital in an extremely serious condition when my wife drove home under the stress of thinking I would not make it. Once home she sat in the living room and suddenly felt someone (unseen) touching her—not once but time and time again.
She began questioning her own sanity, was she losing it as a result of the previous two months of stress and worry? The touching actually scared her as she was quite alone and yet she felt these invisible caresses. Had a doctor been there he would have told her that she was having a nervous reaction and that would have suggested a logical answer for the phenomenon. What actually happened was that a neighbor lady dropped by and of course my wife was grateful for the company. The lady was there for around five minutes when suddenly she jerked in her seat. “Something just touched me,” she said, “there…there its touching me again.”
My wife suddenly began to look at the situation as being friendly, the touching was telling her that all would be well by ((something) spiritual. Because Her friend was also touched she knew it wasn’t just her imagination working. And, as it turned out, I had one of the most miraculous recoveries in the hospital’s history and was home within the next two weeks.
Most scientific thinkers and other reductionist would scoff at the story I just told, just as they scoff at anything they cannot measure. This is why they absolutely place near death experiences and other spiritualistic phenomena like seeing ghosts as mere hallucinations. The question is, are they right in their dead world views? I will attempt to answer this question in the article.
Ghosts & History
The idea of a spiritual world no doubt goes back to prehistoric times, just as the concepts of “supernatural powers” do. The cave painters were certainly ritualistic and might have been amidst the first shamans. Shamans have always been those select people with the power to travel between the physical world and the spiritual world. In view of this, knowledge of a spiritual world (or realm) has, it appears, always belonged to us. Indeed, not only for our own distant cousins the Cro-Magnons but also for our near-relatives the Neanderthals and, I would guess, before either of them evolved.
The spiritual seems to belong to our innate knowledge—some of today’s scientists even suggest that we are all born with a “god gene.” The truth is that the belief in spirituality belongs to every tribe and culture on the planet and has long before so-called civilization emerged.
What is most baffling, at least to me, is when and how the concept (or knowledge) of the spiritual (or consciousness) flowing through nature turned into goblin-type ghosts that can do evil or good. In ancient Egypt, for example, it was believed that the deceased gained divine powers but still cared about their families and would/could respond to letters to the dead or prayers. These ideas were held by the Old Kingdom starting around 2300 BC. In the mid-1300s BC the Pharaoh Akhenaten came along and abolished the old religion by demolishing temples and getting rid of the priests and establishing his faith which was to follow (one) god Aten, the sun god. He declared himself and his wife as Aten's sole representatives on earth. Here he is seen as a sphinx in direct contact with the sun god. When Akhenaten died the old religion was replaced with the priests cursing Akhenaten to remain a ghost for all time and to this day, people report seeing his ghost wondering the deserts of Egypt.
The early Mesopotamian people believed that a person’s spirit was created at the time of death. Thus, that person could then descend to the netherworld, called Irkalla. After the “ghost” spent time wondering about the netherworld and facing a few obstacles he stood before Anunnali. The court of the netherworld welcomed each ghost, explained the rules to each ghost and assigned them to their fate. The Babylonian netherworld was also populated by monsters so it wasn’t all heavenly. And the ghosts lived in houses much akin to when they were alive.
Jumping ahead, ghosts appear in Homer’s Odyssey and the Iliad but his ghosts had little to do with the living. Yet, they were now and then called upon for advice. In Homer’s time ghosts were not at all harmful but helpful appearing in forms of smoke or vapor.
By the 5th century, Greece’s intellectual heyday, ghosts were once again frightening and potentially dangerous. The spirits of the dead were known to hang around their own graves so most Greeks stayed away from the burial places. Also, the dead were ritually and publically mourned through a ceremony that included sacrifice and praise for the dead person/ Otherwise the ghost my return to haunt the family.
Ghosts were certainly believed in the time of Jesus in Israel. Recall his speech to his disciples who saw him after the crucifixion. Luke says: “They were startled and frightened, thinking they saw a ghost. He said to them, ‘Why are you troubled, and why do doubts rise in your minds? Look at my hands and my feet. It is me. Touch me and see; a ghost does not have flesh and bones, as you see, I have.”
By 50 AD Pliny the Younger was writing some of the world’s first ghost stories. Other writers of those times began writing tales about hunted houses. Also, the war-lording Romans believed that a ghost could be used to revenge an enemy. Ghosts were real for the folks of Rome. Indeed, Plutarch in the 1st century AD, tells us about the ghost of a murdered man haunting the public baths at Chaeronea. The ghost’s loud, agonizing screams caused the doors of the building to be shut and later sealed.
Ghosts by the medieval period were absolutely acknowledged as being real. They arrived from two sources, however. Either as the souls of the dead or wicked demons, no doubt belonging to the Devil’s troops! One thing ghosts were known to do was to return to the world of the living to ask for prayers to end their suffering and/or remind the living to confess their sins before they too died. (These particular beliefs are too blatantly Catholic propaganda to be taken seriously but, at the time, the belief of having one’s sin forgiven by the authority of a priest was absolute and the only sure way of not being condemned to the fires of hell).
Not a great vacation spot
During this same time there were reports of ghosts being seen were fairly plentiful. A most famous of these “sightings” was stated by the Marshall of Arles. He said that the apparition of Guilhem, a boy recently murdered, appeared in his cousins house near Avignon.
As the story goes the boy, who had been killed in the forest, spent the summer visiting at his cousin and having conversations with anyone who wished to speak to him. Intriguing tale to say the least but…whoops, that old propaganda machine was in full gear again. One of the reports the boy gave was that God was pleased with the ongoing Crusade against the Cathar heretics.
When we explore “ghost stories” old and modern we typically find alternative motives behind the tales of the dead returning to visit the living. As we have seen, like the gates of hell themselves, such (ghostly) images have been a favorite for controlling the population by the demagogues who rule. The declaration of reward or punishment after death was used by the old god-kings and their high priests to keep the population of their kingdoms obedient. Bottom line, there is really no evidence that any of the historic ghost stories (or theories) were true. Yet, there are very few of even us moderns that do not believe in “spirits” or “souls” as being real and that some form of life exists in an afterlife.
Ghosts and other Contemplations
People are fickle, no doubt about that. I have a friend of mine, a college professor who used to josh me for “claiming” I’d seen an UFO. I in fact did see an UFO back in the late 1980s along with a number of witnesses. In any case, whenever I talked about the incident my professor friend scoffed at me and had a great time telling me how I had been tricked by some illusion. Then, he happened to witness a strange object in the sky and that, so to speak, changed his tune and we now enjoy long conversations about the possibilities of UFO origins.
A great many people are like this including many scientists and other scholars—they scoff at ghost stories, UFOs, aliens and everything else that they don’t deem as objectively real. This includes God and consciousness since none of these things can be measured or reduced to their smallest parts. In this regard, when my grandmother passed away, her last words were, “why are all the leprechauns here?”
Although she was Irish, I had never heard her use the term “leprechauns” before but even with that aside, was she actually seeing them? Were they their perhaps to guide her back to her Irish ancestry or was she experiencing a mere hallucination? This question brings us to another question: how real or unreal is psyche phenomenon anyway?
Not too many years ago there was a study of ghost sightings and as it turned out both Britain and Ireland were the highest in reports of seeing apparitions. There was, at the time, 5000 British people who said they had seen a ghost. In any case, today’s scientists seem to be infatuated with the term “hallucination” and they are willing to attribute anything seen or experienced that is out of the ordinary to, what else…hallucination. However, hallucination and apparition does not always refer to the same thing and, for that matter, science knows no more about the nature of apparitions than any of the rest of us.
I witnessed an apparition some 15 years ago while living in Mexico—a woman “popped” into existence and casually walked across the room carrying a tray. She was wearing what appeared to be clothing from the 1800s. I kept my eyes on her until she vanished again. While we were in that same house my wife saw two apparitions of males—ghostly white forms—for a few seconds before they vanished. As a result of these experiences, both my wife and believe that where we lived (so close to the ocean) that we might have been in a kind of psi field or, in other words, a place conducive to psyche phenomena. Other people in the area also reported unusual sightings! (My own contemplation gave me the conclusion that my sighting of the 1800s lady might have been an accidental glimpse into another dimension as this would not at all be a farfetched conclusion from the viewpoint of some quantum theorists).
There are a great many individuals but also entire peoples as well that accept apparitions as simply an extension of everyday reality. A deceased person will appear in a dream to a family member into which it will be born. These dreams occur frequently for the Native Northwest American tribes and in Turkey, Burma and Thailand. I know of a lady whose deceased son came to her in a dream, telling her the name he wanted when he was born back into the family. (He was given that name by his parents at the lady’s request). I suggest that this sort of thing happens to people all the time but since so many people believe such things are nonsense, they simply bury or disregard the experiences as meaningless.
Speaking of psi experiences—a census was done in France, Germany and the United States a few years back. It polled 27,329 people with 11.96 of them reporting that they had apparitional experiences. In the 1980s polls in the U.S. was conducted by the University of Chicago’s National Opinion Research Council (NORC). 42% of the adult population and 67% of widows reported apparitions of the dead.
In regard to all this there was a ghostly phenomenon photographed near Edinburgh airport in Scotland where a lot of paranormal activity has been reported. Indeed, a bus driver known to be highly responsible and respected reported several sightings of apparitions around the airport like this woman dressed in white.
Jumping across the ocean, for over 80 years a young girl’s ghost has been reported being seen wandering the Archer Avenue Streets of Chicago.
For me, the countless sightings of apparitions (ghosts) have occurred, (I am convinced since the first man-like creatures roamed the planet) there has to be a better, more substantial explanation for the phenomenon than labeling it mere “hallucination” or tricks of the mind. Also, we cannot know what reality animals live in when it comes to the spiritual: According to the Encyclopedia of Mystical & Paranormal Experience, “American parapsychologist J.B. Rhine pursued animal psi tests at Duke University. From five hundred unsolicited stories reported by animal owners, Rhine found five basic types of animal psi: the ability to sense at a distance the death or harm to, a beloved human or fellow animal, the ability to sense the impending return of a master; the ability to find the way home and the ability to psi trail.”
I mention this because if we humans have psi ability than we can safely assume that all living things do too to at least one level or another. We may ask then, why doesn’t everyone see “ghosts” by any other name, instead of only a portion of the people?
The answer is given us by physicist Jeremy W. Hayward who says: “There has been some fascinating work in the past ten years on the role of the brain in the way our body-mind creates its world.” The vital point that he makes is that, “…the final image the brain makes available to your awareness is tremendously mixed up with your emotions; what you want to see and what you don’t want to see, your preconceived ideas about the world.”
The key for purposes here are the “preconceived ideas (we have) about the world.
That is, we are far more in charge of what we see and what we don’t than you’ve ever thought possible. Remember we are all indoctrinated to believe or disbelieve in certain phenomena, ideas, myths and superstitions. It can be said that we see a lot of our world and what is in it through those indoctrinations. As my old standby example tells us, if you deem the rose bush a thorn bush then that is what it will become…for you. And so, if you happen to get a glimpse of a ghost or spirit and call it a “trick of your eyes” or a hallucination, well then, that is what it will be for you.
Do I believe in ghosts? I believe that our world is far more enchanted and magical than most people permit themselves to believe that it is. In our age the technician and scientist is given the center-fold for reality. And the reality they represent is clearly the Newtonian observation of a clock-work universe. In this regard, we tend to forget that no matter how marvelous and amazing our technology is, it is still a product of the mind’s imagination just as the belief in the Big Bang remains a mere story given us by science.
In modernism the so-called civilized do not believe in Nature Spirits anymore—when the philosopher Descartes (1596-1650) took God out of Nature and made him into an observer living somewhere beyond us. Nevertheless, the belief in Nature Spirits have been around since pre-history and belonged to ancient China, Japan (Study Shinto Religion); to the ancient Greeks and Romans. The beliefs persist today for indigenous peoples worldwide. Our own North American tribes offer that Nature Spirits in forms of “little people” occupy streams, rivers and lakes as well as inhabiting the forests and mountains. These include fairies gnomes
elves and wood nymph types when made manifest.
Is belief in such mystical beings mere pagan ignorance and superstitions? Perhaps! On the other hand, as Serena Roney-Dougal reminds us, “The Celtic fairy faith is part of a worldwide animism which forms the background for all religions. The Australian Aboriginal spirit race is virtually identical to fairies in that they are always youthful, frequent sacred sites, are only seen by psychics, control human affairs and natural phenomena…” (The Australian Aboriginal tribal culture is the most ancient culture on earth and one that is best known for maintaining the secrets of the past).
While most people do not believe in images like this it is probably safe to assume that the same amount believe in these images:
(I pray and talk to my guardian angel all the time!)
The point again, is that what we see and so believe is often directly attached to our emotions—I for example, see God in everything while someone else sees God in this image or this or this or this . Will the real God please stand up? And when they all stand what do we see? We see the god we believe in from the doctrines and dogmas we’ve been taught to believe in.
Again, how we project the world to be, it becomes. I personally believe that we live in a reality that is manifold with realities and that the so-called paranormal is not outside normality but an extension of it. Seeing a ghost is considered a paranormal experience by those who believe in paranormal experiences. Seeing a ghost is considered to be a hallucination by those who do not believe in paranormal experiences. Yet, in both cases, a ghost has been seen!
References and suggested further reading:
Hayworth, Jeremy W.* Letters to Vanessa * Shambala
Guiley * Harper’s Encyclopedia of Mystical & Paranormal Experiences * Harper Collins
Roney-Dougal, Serena *Where Science & Magic Meet
Wilson, Colin * The Occult *Barnes & Noble