A common question on the minds of those who believe in ghosts, is what causes a dead person to reappear as a ghost? Unfortunately, this topic isn’t as well researched as the topic of whether or not ghosts actually exist, so there is no real scientific data to back it up—but there is plenty of folklore and a bounty of ghost culture to draw appropriate conclusions from. If you have friends like mine, you’ve likely heard the words, “if I die, I’m coming back to haunt you!” This is largely due to the extensive amount of lore that exists about ghosts and what may have caused the deceased person to turn into a ghost after passing. There are reasons that are not quantifiable by science that cause the spirit to linger after death, whether it be justice or revenge—as was displayed in The Tale of the Red Skeleton, as well as The Ghost’s Tea Kettle, the ghost usually has a reason to come back—soul-consuming grief or simply unfinished business that needs to be attended to, or settled before they can rest.
Common Apparitions That Haunt the Living
These are, of course, assumptions based on select ghost sightings, most of these sightings are ones that can be considered common, where the history corroborates any reason for the ghost to be there at all.
The White Lady
As can be assumed by their moniker, a White Lady or Lady in White is a female ghost, whose apparition is always fully clothed in white. Her appearance is always associated with a local tragic legend and she appears in areas that used to be either rural or continue to be rural. The White Lady apparitions are found across the world and are especially prominent in English-speaking countries, or places where there used to be a large English-speaking community. The appearance of one of these spirits follows the history of a woman committing suicide after the heartbreak of losing a child, husband, or father—with a heavy emphasis of innocence on the part of the woman who ends up becoming the White Lady. It is theorized by ghost hunters and enthusiasts alike, that the appearance of these spirits is due to a lingering connection to the world of the living, even after death, due to the magnitude of the grief that they experienced just prior to their deaths.
The Lady in Red
In what would appear to be direct opposition to the White Lady, the Red Lady is also a female ghost, but her sightings are attributed to a woman that was not quite as chaste. The Red Lady or Lady in Red is always associated with a woman who displayed vanity in life, a prostitute that was the victim of passion gone wrong, or a jilted lover. Not unlike the White Lady, the Red Lady is found worldwide. She does haunt different types of locations though; places that have historic value, such as old hotels, theatres, and other public venues. There is a particularly large concentration of them that are located in old mining communities, due to the commonality of brothels being such a booming business. It is important to note that in the case of this kind of apparition, the woman is wearing a red dress and is commonly thought of as a victim of objectification. Despite her poor treatment in life, she is never really described as a hostile spirit, but may not be overly friendly all the time.
The Witte Wieven
The folklore of the Witte Wieven dates back to the pre-Christian era of what is now known as the Netherlands, Belgium, and France—they are the spirits of wise women, who in life were the highly regarded female herbalists and healers, who cared for the physical and mental ailments of their people. Much like the White Lady, the Witte Wieven is said to appear as a pure white apparition, but instead of a clear figure, she is more of a fog or a mist the engulfs the entirety of the location she appears in. More often than not, when the Witte Wieven is mentioned in the text, it is often cited that they were known for their ability of prophecy and generally looking into the future. These women held such a high status that upon their deaths, a celebration would be held at their burial site in their honor. With the trend of other spirits lingering on due to some type of woe, or unfinished business, it might seem strange that the Witte Wieven, according to their mythology, remain on the earthly plane in order to help and sometimes hinder those who encounter them at their gravesites and other sacred locations.
What Haunts the Dead?
It’s not quite clear if there is always a reason for a spirit to remain behind, as the spirits mentioned above are just common cases that have been reported and can easily be tracked by their notoriety. It’s important to keep an open mind to the idea that there may be another reason why these spirits are unable to move on—but with the limited information that is available on the where, why, and how of spirits and their manifestations, it is commonly believed that these spirits are equally haunted by the living as the living are haunted by the dead.