A ghost is someone who died but whose spirit did not "move on" and who still haunts the Earth. Belief in ghosts is widespread and there are ghost stories from many different countries and cultures. However, the existence of ghosts has not be proven by science and there are usually simple and mundane explanations behind accounts of hauntings.
Ghosts in culture
In fiction and folklore, ghosts may be always visible, always invisible or able to make themselves either visible or invisible at will. In popular culture, ghosts are often depicted as being covered by white sheets. The sheets originally represented shrouds, in which the dead were wrapped before burial. Ghosts are sometimes depicted as being completely white or another pale color, from head to foot but otherwise looking like ordinary people. Similarly, ghosts are sometimes depicted as people who look quite normal except for the fact that they are transparent. Ghosts may even look exactly the same as living people, although possibly distinguished by strange or old-fashioned clothes, and only be revealed to be ghosts when they do something unusual, such as suddenly vanishing.
Ghosts are sometimes said to appear as they looked at the moment of their death. Consequently, people who died violently or in horrific accidents may appear to look especially frightening, having blood stains about them or appearing to be horribly deformed. There are many stories of headless ghosts, the spirits of people who died after they were beheaded. The Headless Horseman from Washington Irving's "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow" is a famous fictional example. Headless ghosts are often said to carry their heads beneath their arms. In Britain, there are many stories of phantom stage coaches which usually have both headless drivers and horses.
Depending on the story, ghosts may be either tangible, and therefore capable of touching and being touched by living people, or completely intangible. Even if ghosts are not capable of physically touching anything, they may be able to produce energy which can move objects. In most accounts, ghost do not cause people physical harm but simply terrify them by their very presence, possibly to the point of scaring people to death. Ghost lore usually holds that they are able to pass through walls and move more by gliding or floating than walking or other human modes of transportation.
An explanation which has been put forward for the strange way in which ghosts are said to move is that they follow the same route which they followed while they were alive, although the layout of the building may have changed since their deaths. As a result, ghosts may appear to go up and down stairs which are no longer there, walk on floors which are higher or lower than the floors in the building now and walk through walls simply because those walls were not there during their lifetimes.
As a sign of their presence, ghosts are often said to leave behind ectoplasm: a gelatinous substance similar to berry jam.
During the 19th century, ghosts became increasingly popular in fiction. Many con artists sold phony photographs of ghosts during that time. Many of those photographs appear laughable today, clearly showing people wearing unconvincing looking masks.
According to tradition, one method of warding off ghosts is to place your shoes at the foot of your bed with the toes of one shoe pointed away and the other pointed toward the bed.
Very few weapons are capable of repelling them. However, two special swords have shown to be able to repel them: the Sword of Abomination vanquished an evil spirit in The Super Babies and the Sword of Gryffindor obliterated several Horcruxes in Harry Potter.
- Casper the Friendly Ghost (the character) and Casper (the 1995 movie)
- ghost costume
- Ghostbusters and Ghostbusters II
- Stingy Jack, the ghostly inventor of the jack-o-lantern