By the author of Anatomy of a Ghost: A Guide to Analyzing the Dead
I attended a speaking event one evening with a Parapsychologist. I remember distinctly that a woman in the audience asked him if ghosts were the souls of a dead people. He hedged from admitting that bold statement. Then the woman became combative, basically halting the presentation so that she could pepper the speaker with questions. She believed ghosts were the souls of the dead and why wouldn’t he confirm that? Why? Why? Why wouldn’t he just say it? It amazed me just how emotionally invested she was in the belief, that if anyone dissented, especially if a subject matter expert on the subject disagreed, that she would get that upset.
As rude as she was, I wondered if she hadn’t lost someone close to her. When this happens this question becomes far less academic, and far more personal. Because if ghosts exist (A), and they’re the soul of a dead person (B), then my loved one might come back to me as a ghost (C). And there you have the spiritual ABC’s. People often believe in this premise simply because they want so strongly to believe.
I was taking a course in Psychology, while working on my latest degree. The professor had all of the students stand up and introduce themselves, tell the class what your major was and a little about yourself etc. I was one of only three older adults in a large class of essentially teenagers. When my turn came I did the requisite, “hi, I’m Robin and I’m studying…and in my spare time I’m a ghost hunter.” You would have thought I had said my made my living pole dancing, by the sea of shocked and disgusted faces I had looking back at me. One young man was even so bold as to announce to the class that there is “no such thing as ghosts.” Old, slow, and now apparently a freak as well, I didn’t find my classmates overly friendly throughout the rest of the course. (However, the professor, was fascinated and we would often converse about our experiences.) I learned more than just psychology in that course. I learned to pick and choose carefully who I told about my passion.
I share these two stories to demonstrate either extreme of the spectrum, between those are completely closed to the idea that anything paranormal could ever be real versus those who so vehemently wish to believe that ghosts are proof that we survive death that they resist any other theories.
For the true skeptics the question of the paranormal is absurd, because there are no such things as ghosts. Not surprisingly, most staunch non-believers never have a paranormal experience, because they’re vehemently closed to the very idea. I’ve often attributed this to the sheep-goat theory.
Very briefly, Professor of Psychology at City University of New York, Gertrude Schmeidler first coined the phrase in 1942. She was trying to explain the disparity in psi test results between people who believed in psi (formerly extra-sensory perception or ESP) or were at least open to the idea versus those who denied the very possibility of psi. The subjects that believed in psi she called sheep. The sheep, when given an ESP card test tended to score statistically above chance by a significant margin. Goats, who said they did not believe in psi tended to score statistically below the level of chance, again by a significant margin.
When it comes to belief in the paranormal adamant non-believers (goats) of psychic experiences rarely have such an experience. They deny or block their otherwise natural psi abilities. I’m talking about psychic abilities now because researchers have suggested that when someone experiences something paranormal they’re actually experiencing it via their sixth sense – their psi ability which parapsychology researchers believe we all possess to some degree or another. Thus if you see an apparition of a woman in white, you’re not actually seeing it with your eyes, but with your mind. This helps explain the anomaly where not everyone in a group sees a ghost, but only one or two do.
This also accounts for the fact that children, especially small children, appear to have more experiences with the paranormal than older adults. I.e. that imaginary friend may be more than simply imaginary. Children have psychic experiences because they haven’t yet been conditioned to the idea that they can’t have them. (Also, it is believed that psi abilities are stronger in the young, and decrease as we age.) Thus young Caiden in Chapter Five playing Peek-a-boo with his grandfather is not uncommon - despite the fact that Grandpa is deceased.
One learned psychologist, a skeptic, suggested that ghosts existed only in one place, a person’s mind. He speculated that we made up ghosts to fill a need within ourselves. In one of his cases he met with a young married couple who felt their house was haunted. The wife kept seeing a child apparition in the home. It turned out the young woman was desirous of having children of her own, and when she became pregnant the child apparition disappeared. Poof. How neat and tidy is that explanation?
Of course psychologists have also suggested that when we get caught and punished for a crime, it’s because we wanted to be caught. Hence, when I get stopped by a cop and handed a very expensive speeding ticket I make sure to always thank him for fulfilling my unspoken need. (By the way it hasn’t escaped my notice that I got far more warnings when I was in my twenties, and far more tickets when I was in my forties, despite my vast pole dancing fame.)
I digress. Back to the learned psychologist that suggested that ghosts were purely a figment of our imagination created to fill a need. I have met people that want so very much to have an experience that they grasp at anything and everything as evidence. Whether they just crave the thrill or have lost a loved one with whom they wish to connect. But while this may be true in some cases, I disagree that it’s true in all cases. Just as I don’t honestly need another speeding ticket, not all of my clients desire a haunting. The sometimes panicked voices I’ve heard on the phone imploring me to, “please come as soon as you can. I’m afraid to stay in my own house!” These are people, not seeking attention, but relief.
For many Christians a ghost is a demon. All souls get dispersed of course, upon death, and either take the escalator up or down, you either get household goods or women’s lingerie depending on your proclivities. Hence anything of a paranormal nature gets labeled as evil. I once had such a person request membership in the group. He made it through two investigations before having a major melt down. I felt bad for him. How could you have that belief system and ever knowingly walk into a building that you believe was haunted? It would have to be terrifying.
Ghosts may also be a series of misinterpretations of natural phenomenon. One of my investigators, Maya, often recalls moving into a new house, where when the wood floors made a crazy popping sound every time the temperature changed. It took a couple of sleepless nights before she and her husband figured out that it was the floors and not an interloper in their house. The banging of pipes, loose windows that rattle, things that fall over because of gravity and not a ghost, all these can be labeled a ghost. I have a haunted house theory which suggests a snow ball effect. Many people, once they think a building is haunted, henceforward believe that everything that happens is because of the ghost. And of course each new bit of evidence gets weighed in with the old as the mound of misinterpretation mounts. I once had a woman ask me to do an investigation because she’d seen an orb in a picture, and a small child in the home would walk up to the staircase and put his hands out like he wanted to be carried up the stairs. Now that’s a mole hill and not a mound of evidence. Of course she started the conversation by telling me when such and such family member passed. So I guessed we were talking about a combination of soul of the dead guy and misinterpretation.
So what is a ghost?
a) A figment of our imagination
b) A figment of our imagination created by our imagination to fulfill a need
c) The soul of a dead guy who somehow became earthbound
d) A demon
e) Misinterpretation of natural phenomenon
Let’s consider F for a moment. In my own studies, readings and writings, I’ve found a strong correlation between what the ancients believed about ghosts, (in particular the Egyptians who as we all know made the afterlife their main area of focus) what parapsychologists suggest about ghosts, and what those in the magical studies propose a ghost to be. It was a revelation I had one day, that these three disparate groups, while labeling them with different names, were essentially all saying the same thing. After more than a decade of study, debate and writing I found that while the terms vary greatly, the ideas at their basest elements were very similar.
The Dead of Egypt
No one can deny that one of the most supernaturally predisposed culture was that of the ancient Egyptians with their elaborate traditions of mummification and their monolithic pyramids filled with treasure built to shelter the pharaohs in their never ending afterlife.
For the Egyptian’s no human was merely physical, but consisted of several elements. Each human had a body or physical presence as well as a shadow, a double, a soul, a heart, a spirit, a name, a power and a spiritual body. After death the shadow departed, and could only be brought back with a mystical ceremony. There were subtleties to the different entities that are hard to describe with our western terms such as soul.
The double or ka (the double or image or character) of the deceased lived with the body in the tomb, or didn’t if ceremonies were not performed properly. So it was the ka that was the immortal dweller of the tomb, and was believed to be the one to inhabit the statue of the deceased. A statue closely resembling the deceased was thoughtfully left for that purpose. So important to keeping the double satisfied that special priests, called priests of the ka were called in to minister to the ka, and there was a special room of the tomb set aside for the ka, called the house of the ka (3).
It was the ka, who if not properly maintained became a wandering spirit after death. Apparently the ka had an insatiable appetite and needed to be fed with offerings of meat and drink. Should the offerings not be performed, the ka might depart the tomb in search of food. Apparently the ka did not have a refined palette and would consume any dung or filthy water it came across.
The ba (or soul) resided in heaven with Osiris or Ra. It was capable of returning to the tomb at will, however, and could also partake of the offerings of food and drink that were left for the ka. It could assume a material or semi-material form sometimes.
At times the ba and ka might become united, into a being that was called the Akh or khu or akhu, which was an enlightened being. Earlier Egyptians believed that only Pharaoh could achieve this union, but later interpretations declared that people of higher moral character could as well. To become an akh or enlightened spirit one must be judged just. These souls were allowed to live among the gods or among the pole stars which never set. However, the akh spirit could interact with the living as well, and it was the akh that returned as an unhappy spirit to harass the living. If proper burial rites had been neglected or if someone close to the akh had sinned against him or her, then the akh could return briefly to the Earth to seek restitution.
Notice the disparity between the ka and the ba. The ka, while sharing some of the characteristics of the deceased, served more as a kind of caricature of the deceased. It really didn’t exhibit sound critical thinking skills, choosing to drink fetid water and eat poo. The ba, which did go to a type of heaven, could come back briefly only to redress issues, and then had to return. Most ancient cultures believed that the soul of a person departed to some other plane of existence after death, especially if the burial rites were performed properly.
Students of the magical disciplines are taught as well that a human is an entity comprised of several elements or levels.
On the lowest level is our physical being. The body is the densest and lowest of the levels of existence. We perceive it with our five senses: sight, smell, hearing, touching or tasting, although I wouldn’t suggest you start licking people, nor eating poo for that matter. (And you thought you’d get no sage advice from reading this book!)
The etheric level is our life force, that energy that animates the clay of our bodies. Often associated with the breath, it is also the organ of subtle energies. It is our aura the mediums often talk about, that energy that surrounds us and emanates from us. The etheric plane is limited to time and space as the body in the physical plane. Entities in the etheric plane are tied to the body while the body lives and cannot have an independent existence outside the physical body, but occupy the same space and are the same shape as the body. Sometimes the etheric body can be spotted by those sensitive and/or trained in the art. When they do appear, away from the body, they look like gray shadowy figures in the form of the person they represent.
At this level is our concrete consciousness. It is the realm of our dreams, our imagination, our creativity, but also our ordinary mental activity. This level of existence is bound to space and time, but not limited by them. Everything that exists on the physical plane, every rock, tree, frog or person has a corresponding astral body as well. But the astral level is more malleable. The power of willful thinking can reshape the astral body, though it eventually returns to its natural appearance. Now this is starkly in line with some quantum theories, which suggest that the mind and willful consciousness can shape reality, or our perceptions of reality.
This is the level of abstract consciousness, a dimension which is both timeless and space less. Such fundamentals such as the laws of math and the fundamental pattern of the cosmos exist on this level. For a human, this level is where our fundamental and immortal pattern of ourselves exists. One this plane one can view the past and also view possible futures. The building material in the mental plane is fluid and changeable; shaped by mental will.
This is the level of primal unity, from which everything in the universe emanates and to which they return. At this level is our monad or spiritual body, which sheds its individuality to become one with the universe, the transcendent core of the self.
In order to keep this brief we will content ourselves with a quick discussion of the etheric level. The etheric level being the closest to the physical level, it is a level of existence that is limited by time and space. It is close to the material world, matter, and can affect matter. The energy of the etheric realm can be focused and directed and shaped for that matter by conscious will. They can also be focused or diffused by different methods. When in concentration these energies can take on almost a physical solidity. They can be felt, for example, by the nerve endings of human skin. Hence the hair raising heebie jeebies we sometimes feel when in a haunted location. They may coalesce into a visible shape that appears solid or nearly solid. They can exert energy on matter, affect physical objects, and appear to have mass and inertia. When diffused, however, the energies become intangible and difficult to detect.
Magical teachings also talk about the three levels of death. The first of course being the death of the physical body, separating the etheric body and the attached other levels. Slower deaths can cause a gradual separation of the etheric body from the physical that last weeks or even months. Abrupt or violent death causes an abrupt separation and confusion. The second death normally takes from one to three days, before the etheric body disintegrates allowing the other levels to disperse. It can be delayed however, depending on the strength of the etheric body and the attitude of the dying person. The third death involves the disintegration of the etheric body and the release of the astral body to the astral plane.
The etheric body is mortal and weak. Sunlight causes further disintegration. Often within three days the etheric body will decay, the astral body will separate from it and return to the astral plane. Now the etheric body is a shell without real intelligence (think ka again) but with a desire towards preserving itself. It is a ghost, in effect. Sometimes it will remain near its physical remains, where it tries to glean energy for survival from the body that housed it and fed it in the past. Other times it will return to a favored place, attempting to reassert itself, and gleaning energy from the people that now live in the space – trying to prolong its existence. Eventually it disintegrates fully.
This may seem a bit extraordinary to someone not of the magical sphere. However, studies of Near Death Experiences indicate a similar progression. When a person dies, the etheric body, like the ka, is separated permanently from the physical body. In accounts of Near Death Experiences (NDE’s), one of the first things reported by respondents is seeing their body from another location. They almost always report looking down at their lifeless bodies from somewhere near the ceiling. What’s even more remarkable is that many of them accurately recall events that were going on around them when they were clinically dead (I.e. they had no detectable brain functioning). The magical disciplines also speak of this, noting that the etheric body will stay awhile near the physical body.
Those that recall a deeper NDE experience, report going through a dark tunnel, and arriving at another plane of existence, just as magical philosophy teaches that we ascend to a higher level of existence, the astral plane.
But what happens when all does not goes as planned? Apparently an entity can stall out between the first and second deaths, according to magical teachings. And this is when ghostly activity occurs. Most of the time the etheric body is in a kind of dream state, and doesn’t interact with the living. Sometimes, however, the sleep state is disrupted. If the etheric body feels it has tasks yet to accomplish, messages to impart, it may linger to perform them. Messages delivered it then departs. This accounts for the number of people that report having their departed loved one make one final appearance to say goodbye.
But sometimes the etheric body gets trapped for a longer period between the second and third deaths. Sudden or violent death, especially if the deceased is feeling strong negative emotions, causes the etheric body to be torn from the body while it’s unadulterated. A dying person who is experiencing very strong emotions such as fear, anger, extreme pain, sadness can also, unwittingly forge a link with etheric ally receptive objects in the environment. Similarly if they spend a long period of time in one location and they’re fixated on negative emotions the bond between etheric body and object can be made. In effect the dying person becomes anchored in the material world.
Finally, sometimes only the emotions, usually strong emotions, can imprint on the environment, long after the person or persons have died. This then is a residual haunting, which is merely a replaying of past events recorded into the environment. The events never change, never deviate, the apparition if one appears never interacts with the living. Many former battlefields and hospitals, mental institutions, places where people have suffered therefore are often imprinted in this manner.
What Parapsychologists Suggest
You may be wondering what a parapsychologist is, and why I keep bandying about the term. Parapsychology is actually a branch of psychology which attempts to scientifically study paranormal and psychic phenomena. Begun during the Spiritualist Movement in the 1880’s, parapsychologists originally investigated hauntings, tested psychics and studied such things as clairvoyance, psychokinesis, Near-death experiences and the like. In the 1900’s they turned their attention primarily to the study of psi abilities, because these could be studied in a laboratory setting under careful scrutiny. Remember Dr. Peter Venkman (played by Bill Murray) in Ghost Busters? In the first scene of the movie Murray is performing a test for psychic abilities by holding up cards (called Rhine cards after J.P. Rhine who invented them) and having the students try to guess the symbol. Venkman and the boys were parapsychologists. Under constant disdain and ridicule from the rest of the scientific world, which considers anything that can’t touched, seen or tasted as a fabrication of the imagination, sadly, parapsychology appears to be a dying breed, with the youngest parapsychologist in his 40’s. (Don’t start licking scientists either, though they might have it coming.)