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Horror Mystery and Lore Lifestyle

Ghost Stories Thrive in a World of Skepticism

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.

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Horror Mystery and Lore

Ghost Tales of the Arctic: Don’t Take What Belongs to the Dead

While attending college in the Interior of Alaska, at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, I was pursuing a bachelor’s degree in Yup’ik—a Central Alaska Native language—on Halloween of my second year, my professor deemed it appropriate to tell us Alaska Native ghost stories. Hearing these stories in Yup’ik gave unique perspective on the particular experience of growing up in such a harsh environment, his soothing rhythm and melodious speech gave it all an otherworldly feeling. It’s important to keep in mind that while this story is told as a folktale, but all folktales begin as oral stories and all of them have honest beginnings.

The Ghost’s Tea Kettle

Snow covered graveyard
Photography by Joy Real

There once was a Yup’ik man and a white man who were traveling from one city to another, during one cold January, by dogsled. The two men came upon an abandoned fishcamp alongside the river, and wishing to avoid the harsh cold of the evening, they made camp in one of the houses for the night. They had forgotten to bring a teakettle, but longed for hot tea to provide relief from the chill of the night—the white man recalled having passed a graveyard near the fishcamp, in which there were several teakettles sitting beside some grave markers. Upon hearing the idea, the Yup’ik man told the white man that it was dangerous to take something out of the graveyard, but this advice fell upon deaf ears.

Once the white man had gotten back from retrieving a kettle from the graveyard, he began to boil snow for their tea, but the Yup’ik man refused to drink any. The two companions began to ready themselves for bed when they heard a snapping sound, the house began to shake, and fog began to drift in through every crack in the house. The white man panicked, he didn’t know what was happening, but the Yup’ik man explained to him that a ghost was trying to get into the house.

Rusty old tea kettle
Photography by Jørgen Håland

Suddenly, the door burst open violently, the ghost seeped into the house like a dense white mist, and the door slammed with a bang behind it. The white man screamed and attempted to run in fear, but his escape route had been sealed off by the ghost and he was trapped. The Yup’ik man approached the ghost without fear and put his hand on the ghost’s head—the ghost was so cold, his hand went numb, but he refused to remove it, knowing what he had to do. He gently applied pressure on the ghost’s head and the ghost began to sink slowly into the ground, but soon he grew anxious and tried to push the ghost down faster, this didn’t work to the Yup’ik man’s benefit and the ghost started to come back up.

The Yup’ik man steadied himself, took a breath, slowed down and pushed down once more with a steady and firm hand, until the ghost slowly disappeared into the ground entirely. Unable to stay in the house any longer, the two men packed up all of their belongings, the Yup’ik man told the white man to return the tea kettle to the grave from which it had been taken. They believed that returning the kettle that it would give them freedom from the ghost, but it continued to follow them as a glowing red orb—the Yup’ik man stopped and made markings in the snow, these prevented the ghost from following them, but ended with them becoming incredibly sick. Once they got to the next village, the Yup’ik man had them roll in garbage to throw the ghost off of their scent and then according to traditional practice when dealing with ghosts, they both urinated around their house to keep the ghost away. Eventually they recovered from their illness and left them with the experience that would help teach others to not take what belonged to the dead.

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Horror Mystery and Lore

Ghosts Are More Than Just the Spirits of the Dead

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.