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Are Ghosts Real? Theories and a Real-Life Story

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Mr. Cheese (Nick Ortman) is a Graduate of Columbia University's MFA program. He's a drummer and frequently writes about the music industry.

Explore some theoretical explanations for ghost stories.

Explore some theoretical explanations for ghost stories.

Stories about ghosts and the spirit realm are as old as the written word. While direct, clear evidence has not yet proven the existence of ghosts as a physical phenomenon, the sheer number of ghost stories in the ether should not be discounted. Whether they are psychological projections, waking dream states, quantum projections, or simply sensory confusion, these stories tell us something important about the human experience and the nature of how we perceive reality. This article will explore our understanding of ghosts from multiple perspectives.

Questions This Article Will Answer

  1. What's the history behind ghost stories?
  2. What is a ghost?
  3. What are the theories about ghosts?
  4. What are shadow people?
  5. What are some famous ghosts throughout history?
  6. What are some famous haunted places?

1. What's the History Behind Ghost Stories?

Virtually every culture has a tradition of ghosts and haunting stories. Ghosts are inseparable from memory, history, and loss. Ghosts are thought to represent how individuals and groups internalize their history, how we hold on to unshakable past events. There seems to be something innate across all human cultures that leads us to explore the notion of the paranormal. Ghost stories demonstrate just how similar humans are across the world.

In the United States, most ghost stories are frightening or a sign of a traumatic event. However, in many cultural traditions, ghosts are connected to the spirit realm and usually represent the personality of a lost loved one. The spirit realm is thought to be a continuation of the family line and not the end of one's essence. Ghosts were usually thought to be a communication between loved ones, who, usually, were attempting to help guide a person through a trying experience.

Media has profited off of the notion that ghosts are terrifying or wish us ill will. However, how a ghost behaves is dependent on the history of the setting in which it appears and the relationship the ghost had with people present. That means ghosts can be kind, compassionate, helpful, or down right horrifying. It really depends.

What Triggers a Ghost to Appear?

  • Recurring history/an event happening at a location that is similar to what the ghost experienced
  • Trauma
  • Loss
  • Mistreatment of family or a home
  • A need to warn someone about a coming event

2. What Is a Ghost?

Definition: An apparition of a dead person that is believed to appear or become manifest to the living, typically as a nebulous image.

The belief in the existence of an afterlife, as well as manifestations of the spirits of the dead, is widespread, dating back to animism or ancestor worship in pre-literate cultures. Certain religious practices—funeral rites, exorcisms, and some practices of spiritualism and 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 rather than humans have also been recounted. Ghosts are believed to haunt certain locations, objects, or people they were associated with in life.

Ghosts From Different Cultures



Malaysia and Indonesia

A Toyol or Tuyul is a mythical spirit in Malay mythology of South-East Asia, especially in Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, and Singapore.


Bengal, India

The headless ghosts of people decapitated in train accidents, skondhokatas haunt the places where they died.



In the same supernatural genus as the vampire, strigoi are the ghosts of people who lived or died under unhappy circumstances: suicides, the illegitimate, the unbaptized. Strigoi live on human blood

La Llorona


La Llorona is a ghost of a woman who lost her children and now cries while looking for them in the river, often causing misfortune to those who are near.

Jiang Shi


A reanimated corpse in Chinese legends and folklore.

3. What Are the Theories About Ghosts?

Universal Memory

Some folks believe that the universe stores all information. For example, a friend of mine used to see her aunt periodically walking into her kitchen long after she died. She said the scene was always the same, as if she was watching a stored moment, as if it was a memory projected into the present.

Some believe that every event that has ever happened is stored in a universal mind and the scenes from the past can be projected into the present because of some quantum disruption, or the mind's ability to travel in time due to it's quantum connections.

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Interdimensional Travelers

The concept of a multiverse is contemplated by many theoretical physicists. Other physicists theorize there may be many different dimensions besides ours, as well as many different timelines. It could be possible that some ghosts are apparitions or projections from an alternate timeline that has momentarily bled into our own.

4. What Are Shadow People?

A shadow person is the perception of a patch of shadow as a living, human-like figure, particularly as interpreted by believers in the paranormal as the presence of a spirit or other entity. They often appear in dreams and to those who suffer from sleep paralysis.

5. What Are Some Famous Ghosts Throughout History?


Portrait of Theodosia Burr

South Carolina

After the death of Aaron Burr's wife on a ship, a famous portrait of her turned up at a South Carolina man's house. The portrait is said to bemoan the death of its children.

Sarah Soule

Ghost ship from Portland, Maine

This ship was destroyed in the port of Portland by another mysterious ship, Don Pedro Salazar. The ghosts of the Sarah are said to haunt the high seas.

Dolley Madison

Washington D.C.

“Dolley” Madison was the wife of James Madison, the fourth president of the United States. Workmen at the White House were about to upend a garden she had planted. Her ghost arrived in all her nineteenth century glory to upbraid the workmen for what they were about to do.

Andrew “Old Hickory” Jackson

The Rose Room, White House

Twenty years after Jackson’s death, Mary Todd Lincoln, a devout believer in the spirit world, told friends that she’d heard him stomping through the White House corridors and swearing.

The Flying Dutchman

South Africa

The Flying Dutchman (Dutch: De Vliegende Hollander) is a legendary ghost ship that can never make port and is doomed to sail the oceans forever.

6. What Are Some Famous Haunted Places?


Raynham Hall

Norfolk, England

The Brown Lady of Raynham Hall is a ghost that reportedly haunts Raynham Hall in Norfolk, England. It became one of the most famous hauntings in Great Britain when photographers from Country Life magazine claimed to have captured its image.

Poveglia Island

Venice, Italy

In 1348 the Bubonic Plague arrived in Venice and Poveglia, like many other small islands, became a quarantine colony. The ghosts of those afflicted still haunt the island.

Bhangarh Fort


One legend claims that Princess Ratnavati of Bhangarh was responsible for the apocalyptic situation which befell the fort. A local black magician fell in love with her. Suspecting that the magician was purely seeking power, she is thought to have killed him, dooming the fort to be cursed forever.

Ancient Ram Inn

Wotton-under-Edge, England

One of the most well-known legends surrounding this haunted English house is that of a witch who was burned at the stake. Her ghost is thought to linger and bring more evil spirits into the estate.

Myrtles Plantation

St. Francisville, Louisiana

In 1992, the proprietress of the Myrtles photographed what appeared to be a slave girl standing between two of the buildings on the plantation. If ghosts are real, then I can only imagine how haunted plantations must be—and for good reason.

My Experience With a Ghost

My Skepticism

In all honesty, I've always been skeptical of the paranormal. It's not that I don't want to believe, but that with all the good of the paranormal also comes the evil. It's easy to accept the happy side of the afterlife, but I'd rather not believe in the other side. Needless to say, I don't take its existence lightly, and I require as much evidence as possible. That said, I've definitely had my share of wild experiences with the paranormal.

My Ghost Story

It was a sweaty night in Southeast Michigan, the kind of Midwestern humidity that causes you to sleep without the covers on. I tossed and turned and struggled to get comfortable. I got up and opened the window, letting in the orange glow of the streetlight. I lay there, the sweat evaporating off my body, when a slight wind blew passed me, bringing goosebumps across my whole body. These lingered for a second, but the breeze dissipated and the room grew even hotter than before.

To cool down, I got up and went into the closet to look for another fan. While rummaging through some boxes, I knocked my grandfather's Purple Heart onto the floor. Feeling awful, as if I had dropped my grandfather onto the floor, I picked up the award and brought it into my room with me, placing it on my nightstand.

I sat up in bed, deciding to read a little to help me sleep. Suddenly, I felt my left side start leaning. I could feel a presence in the bed next to me. The bed appeared to be slightly pressed in, as if someone was sitting next to me. Startled, I quickly sunk down and pulled the covers over my head. That's when I felt a hand rest on my back.

I'll probably never know why I felt that presence, or who that presence was, but I think it could have been my grandfather. Maybe he was thanking me for bringing out a memory from his life. Was I just hallucinating?


MrTKennedy1981 on February 15, 2019:

The times that I have experienced a "ghost", I did research and it was fallen angels. They pose as deceased friends and relatives. They are spirits- EVIL spirits. They can perfectly reproduce exact smell, feel, appearance, sound. They deceived people in the bible by charading as deceased loved ones and friends. Holy angels never did that. Ecclesiastes chapter 9.

Besides, they are DEAD. DEAD! Therefore, being dead...they cannot be roaming spirits. The life returns to God. Please, dont let yourself be deceived. Don't put yourself through that.

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