Ghost Stories Thrive in a World of Skepticism

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Horror Mystery and Lore Lifestyle

Within the paranormal community, there are always going to be skeptics, but some of those skeptics actually err on the side of disbelievers—this is a good thing, it’s always better to have a healthy level of doubt in order to pursue evidence without any bias. There have been numerous theories to explain the paranormal phenomena that affect certain people, including but not limited to the natural phenomenon of sleep paralysis, sleep deprivation, drug use, temporal lobe epilepsy, and a psychotic state. This explanation states that ghosts are simply the result of hallucinations or illusions that are produced by the brain when it’s not in a fully alert state. So, what does this mean for the whopping 45% of Americans who believe in ghosts and other supernatural beings?

Evidence Collection in Paranormal Investigation

Something that is considered part of a range of scientific data collection and regularly used among those who are seeking to find evidence of the existence of ghosts, is the EVP, or electronic voice phenomena. EVPs utilize audio recordings to capture ambient sounds during an investigation, then are later reviewed for messages from the beyond. The general consensus is that these audio recordings can register sounds that are inaudible to the human ear, with the understanding that any voices or brief sounds being captured would be ghostly in nature. To believers, EVP recordings seem like incontrovertible evidence of communications from beyond. The problem with this is that, given the opportunity for bias, the content of a recording can be highly suggestive. Without any suggestion from peers, research shows that people cannot agree to what they hear in “conclusive” EVP recordings. This brings down the ability to rely upon recordings as evidence since there can be no clear consensus upon what it is really evidence of aside from pareidolia—the tendency to perceive human characteristics in meaningless perceptual patterns. Combining the illusory quality of EVPs, as well as the misuse of other scientific equipment to investigate ghosts, it’s not difficult to see how scientists can easily debunk any evidence that has been provided by amateur and professional paranormal investigators alike.

Hunting ghosts in the dark
Photography by LuckyLouie

Considering all of the scientific data to back the assertion that ghosts don’t exist, there are substantial numbers of people who still believe in them worldwide. The beginning of televised paranormal investigations has broadened that number significantly and opened up the ability to talk about paranormal subjects without too much blowback from skeptics. There are, however, tendencies to overdramatize events and investigations by some televised paranormal investigative teams—such people seem to be more oriented in the publicity and making events more fantastical than they truly are, which ends up leading to more skepticism instead of belief in the tangible evidence. What does this mean for the believability factor of investigative teams that are supposedly attempting to gather evidence while staying unbiased in the end result? It really means that any factual evidence that may be provided to give any credibility to the existence of ghosts or spirits. Unfortunately, some shows that continue to air are clearly for entertainment purposes only, such as Ghost Adventures, where any evidence being collected is presented with positive bias in favor of those who collected it. The problem with these shows is that they present themselves as true investigative paranormal teams but go to lengths to overdramatize everything they do. This is not to say that they don’t have their own basic value as entertainment alone, they just don’t possess merit as a source of proof when their evidence is bias-skewed EVP recordings.

Telling ghost stories around the bonfire
Photography by Kevin Wolf

So, if ghosts aren’t real, then why do ghost stories seem so common? Well—there are justifiable explanations for ghost stories, whether or not you believe in ghosts it’s pretty much the same answer. Ghost stories exist because people have always needed the ability to relate their real-life experiences. Whether the reports of ghosts have been a result of scientifically explained phenomena, or they’re actual occurrences, these experiences can be incredibly emotional. Were the original tellers of the tale communicating their experiences due to an incredibly heart-warming reunion with their beloved late spouse, or was it a frightening confrontation with a ghostly predator? These are stories that people ache to tell others as if to get a weight off of their chest, or to stop feeling so alone in their experiences. Human connection drives ghost stories and it doesn’t hurt that they’re an amazing source of entertainment.

Ghost, Demon, or Poltergeist?

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Horror Mystery and Lore
Silhouette Behind the Door
Photography by MontyLov

Haunted by Ghosts

As was discussed in our article Ghosts Can Be More Than Just Dead People, ghosts are generally the spirits of humans and animals that have passed away. What people assume or claim are ghosts are not necessarily fitting of their description, but it’s easy to understand why the whole thing might be a little bit confusing. The truth is, is that ghosts, demons, and poltergeists are often mislabeled and it, therefore, makes it more difficult to really know what kind of being the evidence acquired actually points to. Ghosts, spirits, and apparitions all point to the same thing—the spirit or soul of a human or animal that has passed on. These spirits haunt locations, objects, and most importantly other living creatures. Haunting living creatures is not to be confused with possessing living creatures, not to say they are unable to possess, but not all possessions are ghostly in nature—and this is an important distinction to be made.

Possessed by Demons

A lady screaming in the dark
Photography by Camila Quintero Franco

Another topic for confusion is how demons are perceived, this is unfortunate because much of the evidence for demons seems to simply be cases of malevolent ghosts and not entities that are truly demonic in nature. One such misinformed definition, from Rosemary Ellen Guiley’s The Encyclopedia of Ghosts and Spirits, is that demons are, “a type of spirit that may be either good or evil that allegedly has the ability to intervene in the affairs of humankind.” While it’s true that many cultures perceive some demonic entities to be good, the word spirit was a poor choice in attempting to define what a demon actually is.

Religious definitions, such as the one from Christianity, assert that demons are evil minions of Satan and that their sole purpose is to torment people, then inevitably lead them into sin. The strategic takeover of pagan cultures turned their deities into demons in Christianity. Other religions, however, suggest that demons can be good or evil entities—or indeed have a dual nature like human beings. Regardless of the nature of the entity, good or evil, demons quite often exercise their ability to possess or inhabit living creatures. There are instances reported where demons have possessed inanimate objects, but this can be chalked up to another case of a ghost that has been mislabeled as a demonic entity.

Terrorized by Poltergeists

Demons and poltergeists are also quite frequently confused for one another—the main reason for this is because Poltergeists are mischievous and often malicious spirits or energy. Ghosts and poltergeists also confused for each other, but poltergeists, in particular, are entities or energies identified by their consistent abilities to interact in a vigorous way with their environment. It would be unfair to say that poltergeists are not, in fact, a type of ghost or spirit, but if they are to be classified as ghosts in any sense, they are in a league of their own entirely.

The earliest reports of poltergeists tell of the different types of interactions they have within the environment that they inhabit. These interactions include, but were not limited to, throwing rocks or other objects, loud noises (such as shrieking, and knocking or rapping), inexplicable lights and apparitions, as well as in rare cases sexual assaults. Later cases would grow to include technology-related events, such as phone numbers being dialed repeatedly or televisions turning on. The speculation that remains with poltergeists relates to the scientific data that has been collected in pursuit of evidence of their existence—many cases of poltergeist activity have clear indications of mental problems within the agent (or the primary person being affected) that even support theories of psychokinesis.

Some examples of poltergeist activity caught on camera.

Hopefully, this helps answer an age-old question we often see: “What is the difference between a ghost, a demon, and a poltergeist?” Below are a few scary movie recommendations related to ghosts, demons, and poltergeists.

Ghosts Are More Than Just the Spirits of the Dead

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Horror Mystery and Lore
Take a walk through a creepy forest
Photography by Jack Cain

What Are Ghosts?

Are they the benevolent spirits of our loved ones who have passed on? Or are they malevolent specters haunting the shadows, waiting for the moment to attack unwitting victims? Modern folklore says that ghosts are the souls or spirits of a dead person or animal that can often be perceived by the living. These apparitions vary widely in descriptions, whether they be completely disembodied sounds, translucent forms of a person who has passed, or wisps, orbs, shapes, and other realistic silhouettes. From firsthand experiences and stories passed down through the ages, it seems that these entities can be fully aware of their surroundings, or simply faded recordings tragically repeating moments from within their own lifetime.

There is a widespread belief in the afterlife, including the manifestation of spirits which is highly intertwined in the ancestor worship that has appeared in cultures across the world since before the written word. These beliefs have led to funeral rites, exorcisms, and attempts to contact those who have passed as a means to put the spirits of the dead to rest. Contacting those who haunt your halls can be done in a number of ways, most notably through a séance wherein participants use Ouija boards or mediums.

Disembodied spirits are identified not necessarily by their appearance as apparitions, but by the displacement of objects, strange or flickering lights, as well as an auditory presence—laughter or screams with no origin, footsteps when there is no one else around, ringing bells or other spontaneous music that comes from untouched musical instruments. Haunted locations are believed to be associated with possessing spirits who still have a strong attachment to the location from their own past, whether it be sorrow, fear, or distress due to a violent death. People can be haunted as well—not entirely unlike possession, but the person being haunted does not have their body inhabited by the spirit itself, instead, they are likely associated in some way to the unhappy experience that keeps the spirit tethered to the world of the living.

Ghosts walking down the road
Photography by JR Korpa

There are multiple types of spirits that are known to haunt the living, even in the modern age. First, is called the interactive personality—these are considered the most common of all and are often human in nature. Whether it’s your deceased Aunt Sally coming to tell you that she’s not happy that you took her vintage jade brooch or a person lost to history they’re not always kind apparitions. These personalities can make themselves known in a variety of different ways, whether visible or not, some can speak, make noises, touch you, or even cause odors reminiscent of when they were alive (i.e. a perfume they used to wear, or cigar smoke). Those who study and hunt for ghosts are convinced that these spirits retain their personality and can still feel the emotions that would have been relevant to them during life.

Not all of the commonly acknowledged apparitions go out of their way to communicate with people—if you’ve ever heard of the White Ladies, you know that most if not all of these women keep to themselves, by lingering mournfully in a cemetery, or an aging historical building. These White Ladies are described as being dressed entirely in white and can be heard sobbing, crying, or wailing over the painful loss that drove them to take their own lives. They’re not known to necessarily interact with their environment, so much as to be painfully aware of where they are and continue to wallow in the depth of grief that keeps them stuck where they died.

The term poltergeist would most likely conjure images of a swirling vortex and alternate dimensions resulting from disrespecting ancient burial grounds of Native Americans, but it’s not the most accurate portrayal. Poltergeist is actually one of the most common names for a ghost that can interact with their environment—except that instances of these spirits are more often associated with violent interaction with their physical environment. They can knock items off of shelves, open cabinet doors, slam doors, stack chairs, or generally displace objects from their original resting place. Not too surprisingly, poltergeists are the most terrifying because they give us the impression that if they can move things around us, then they can also take physical action upon us.

So, whether you’re experiencing unnatural phenomena throughout your house or are out hunting ghosts in an abandoned building, you may find that there are multiple types of entities that you come across. Ghosts are herein described as the spirits of people or animals that have passed away that may have an unordinary attachment to the world of the living–good or bad, it depends on the person they were in life. Due to the lack of documentation that has been proven to be authenticated, it’s unlikely that you will be able to capture viable evidence that would declare with finality that ghosts are real. It is, however, important to continue to try to document proof of the existence of ghosts, because otherwise, we may never know.