Ghosts – Spirits

Ghost – Old English gast “breath; good or bad spirit, angel, demon; person, man, human being,” in Biblical use “soul, spirit, life,” from Proto-West Germanic *gaistaz (source also of Old Saxon gest, Old Frisian jest, Middle Dutch gheest, Dutch geest, German Geist “spirit, ghost”). This is conjectured to be from a PIE root *gheis-, used in forming words involving the notions of excitement, amazement, or fear (source also of Sanskrit hedah “wrath;” Avestan zaesha- “horrible, frightful;” Gothic usgaisjan, Old English gæstan “to frighten”).

The ancient peoples of the world have always had a perception and interpretation of ghosts and apparitions, but they were rather a connection with long-dead ancestors, respect for the land, nature, homeland, animals, plants, trees (almost everywhere trees are special respect).

However, the modern perception of a ghost, which is mainly shaped by cinema and how they are used in certain genres for the purpose of adrenaline-thriller-shock, is different from the then past perception.

It took shape in the early 20th century, with the renaissance of these types of stories beginning in the 19th century, and they are based on old beliefs. The common plot in late literature and cinema is the ghost-scarecrow or poltergeist. These stories predominate especially in the genres of “fiction”, “horror”, “thriller”. Camp fire ghost stories can often be seen in movies.

Edgar Allan Poe and Sheridan Le Fanu are the founders of the Golden Age of Ghost Stories (first half of the 19th century). Although the mention or use of a ghost as a trope can be traced back to Seneca, who later influenced Thomas Kidd (“Spanish Tragedy”) and Shakespeare (“Hamlet”).

In the 16th and 17th centuries, ghosts were also present in British “border ballads” (on the border between England and Scotland – the long tradition of border ballads defines them as their own genre). The ghosts were mostly lovers or children.

It should be noted, the influence of gothic horror, which shapes the atmosphere of ghost stories to be more frightening, dramatic, gloomy and even slightly nostalgic.

When talking about the chronology of ghost stories, one cannot fail to mention Charles Dickens’s “A Christmas Carol” (1843). The instructive story of Ebenezer Scrooge, who due to his greed is visited by three ghosts – of the past, present and future. And the first ghost that visits him is his deceased business partner Marley, who warns him that bad deeds are accumulating in the Otherworld.

Marley shows Scrooge tortured souls/ghosts, “A Christmas Carol”, 1970

Ancient Connection

Beliefs about ghosts, spirits and the dead have their genesis in old beliefs. As such, Mesopotamia, Egypt, and Semitic texts testify to just such beliefs.
Ghosts are considered to be creatures that come with the death of a certain person. Drinks and food are placed for the dead to facilitate their passage beyond and care for the spirit and soul so that they do not die a second time (second death).

Sumer – gidim” or “shadows” are the dead in Sumerian beliefs (in Akkadian “etemmu“). It was believed that gidim were created at the time of death, taking the characteristics and memories of the deceased. They traveled to the underworld of Irkalla, where they received a purpose and life similar to that of the living. The relatives of the deceased present food and drinks to facilitate the condition of the ghost, otherwise the ghost will harass the living.

Egypt – the ancient Egyptian ghost story “Khonsuemheb and the ghost” tells of a man who goes to the high priest of Amun – Khonsuemheb , disturbed by a ghost. Khonsuemheb summons the ghost, and when he appears, it is understood that this is the ghost of Nebusemekh, the son of Ankhmen. Khonsuemheb tries to appease the ghost with promises of a better sarcophagus, tomb, food and drink as gifts, but the ghost refuses due to previous unfulfilled promises from others. The text of the story is fragmented and incomplete, but it is understood that the priest managed to calm the ghost by finding and (possibly) building a new tomb near the memorial tomb of Pharaoh Mentuhotep II.

Abrahamic Religions – The Hebrew Bible also provides guidance on ghosts, one of the most famous in the First Book of Samuel (28: 3-19), in which King Saul persuades the witch of Endor to summon the spirit of Samuel.

Different Types of Ghosts

We mentioned above that ghosts as a concept have often been revered by the ancients – ghosts are often our loved ones, family and friends to whom we pay homage.
But here are a few different types of ghosts:

Draugr – these creatures from Norse mythology are spirits that inhabit tombs, especially those with rich treasures. They have incredible strength and can change shape; they persecute and devour the living, though they cannot move far from the grave. They are either blue-black or ghostly white.

Ghoul – in Arabic folklore these demons are considered the children of Iblis (the Devil in Islam); they can transform and sometimes appear in the form of hyenas and attack humans (preferring lost children). Over time, the word “rumble” was replaced by the word “zombie”, derived from Haitian voodoo, in which the dead are revived by a magician. (See the article: “Zombie – Origin and Terror”.)

Pretas – also called “hungry spirits”, are found in the cultures of Tibet, Chinese and Vietnamese folklore, as well as the teachings of Hinduism, Buddhism and Taoism. These are believed to be the spirits of corrupt people in their lifetime, lying, envious and greedy. They return tormented by the hunger of the material world, and if the family does not take care of certain rituals, the “pretas” souls may remain “hungry spirits” for the rest of eternity.

Obake – ghostly creatures from Japanese folk beliefs, who present themselves as naughty spirits living in ordinary objects (umbrellas or lamps). Sometimes they can be synonymous with “yokai” (dead people, monsters), but often abakas can be ghostly creatures such as fox, raccoon, beaver or cat.