Ghosts – Truth or Tripe?

Is there anyone on this earth who can deny themselves indulging on a truly spooky story? Whether you’re a believer in the afterlife, paranormal or are a complete skeptic, I believe it goes without saying that we as humans are fascinated by tales of ghostly hauntings and unexplained events.

By ancient definition, a  ghost is depicted as the spirit of a person that continues to exist separately from their body, after the death of said physical form. By laying those who have departed to “rest”, funerals were considered a way of closing any portal from the afterlife to the physical; thus there’d be no ability for the spirit to return and “haunt” the living. However, when hauntings have taken place it is believed to be because the specter’s involvement is due to an attachment of emotion or occurrence linked to their past life. For example, an old house may consider to be haunted if the previous owner died there. Sometimes spirits are considered earthbound because they have unfinished business with the living too, such as to warn them about potential dangers in a certain situation. Ghosts may not always make themselves known in their human-like form, but instead may create noises, smells, lights, breezes and also move or “play” with inanimate objects.

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As early as the first century A.D., Pliny the Younger recorded one of the most famous ghost stories in one of his letters, in which he spoke of being haunted in his Grecian home by an old man with a long beard who rattled chains. Over recent years there have even been first hand accounts of famous ghostly figures, such as Henry VIII’s 2nd wife, Anne Boleyn, at the Tower of London where she was executed, and even America’s 16th president, Abraham Lincoln, is a notoriously spotted ghost at the White House in Washington D.C. The concept of ghosts is something that has been observed over hundreds of years (if not experienced for many more), and the accounts of such spooky claims have advanced to being captured on audio and even video. So, with all of that rich history and physical evidence, why are we not all convinced?

Much like religious views, the theory of ghosts suffers the same skepticism, for not everyone has experienced such sightings and therefore are reluctant to believe the hype. And since science can often explain the unexplained, we have further reason to be cynical. Since the advancement of science and medicine and its role in the human brain, we can see how our own perceptions and memories are not always the most reliable. For example, in times of extreme tiredness we can experience our dreams merging into reality, by which pictures from inside our heads can project into our physical world. This may look real and scary upon reflection, but it is something that can be proven to happen to many of us in our sleep. See cases on “sleep paralysis” and you’ll understand exactly what I mean!

Furthermore, some recollected ghostly accounts are often so extreme that we are often inclined to believe the person is ill, more than being haunted. Take the idea of poltergeists, for example. The famous Enfield haunting documents some seriously frightening events, including objects being thrown with great force and the 11-year-old daughter, Janet Hodgson, being used as a mouthpiece by which the spirit communicated to those in the house. There are recordings of her speaking in an unnatural way for a young girl, ways in which her vocal chords could not have easily manipulated. This is probably one of the most notorious cases in history, but the evidence is still challenged today. Did Janet make it up? Was she suffering mental health issues? Only those in the investigation claimed to see anything unmistakably paranormal, such as wardrobes moving of their own accord, but there is little proof that can’t be denied by those who didn’t experience it first-hand.

Let’s face it, us humans are imaginative creatures. We can spin stories about leprechauns, fairies, elves and orcs and create fantasy worlds in which they all live and anything is possible. So, why is a ghost any more real than all of this that we conjure up? The best evidence we have of it all can still be put down to anything from the individual suffering the effects of mental disturbances, dream-states, uncertainty of memories right up to environmental variables like atmospheric pressure, natural noises, electrical faults etc. But, just because it can be challenged doesn’t mean to say that it is false either.

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Although I’m not a great believer in the demonic possession or poltergeist activity side of things, I do believe there’s something to this whole sixth sense business. When I was younger I experienced strange occurrences in our old house, such as objects moving from their original place, lights being turned off, doors being shut etc. I wasn’t sure if it was because I was young and had an active imagination, but I had never experienced anything too astounding until one of my mum’s old boyfriend’s moved in with us. He was a Buddhist and said his daily prayer to his Gohonzon each evening. For the first year or so, everything was fine. But, over time things began to change.

The first experience I remember began late one night where I felt like I was being watched. Now, again, I was young and imaginative and therefore believed I was spooking myself. However, I decided to leave the purple lamp on above my TV anyway, as a means to keep me “safe” from whatever I couldn’t see. After a while, I managed to relax and fall asleep. That same night I woke up bolt upright. My body felt like it was being pulled into position, like I was being forced to see what was in front of me. I was not scared, but I couldn’t move either. My eyes felt like a rabbit’s in the headlights; I was suddenly wide awake. At the end of my bed was a woman. She was not young, but looked youthful for her years. She was looking straight at me with a gentle gaze. She slowly cocked her head onto her right shoulder and sweetly smiled at me. For those few seconds I was fixated. We continued to look directly at one another, right up until the moment she slowly dissolved into the darkness. Once she was gone, I was released from my immobility. I let out a huge breath and turned on the light. I tried to understand what had just happened. I wanted to believe it was all just an odd dream. I also wondered who had turned off my purple lamp. I guessed it was either my mum or her boyfriend who may have seen it on whilst they were up in the night. After reassuring myself, I went back to sleep.

In the morning I decided not to speak of the woman at the end of my bed and instead asked who switched off my lamp, to which nobody owned up. I knew they weren’t lying, because why would they? From then on, more strange events occurred and I was convinced there was something ghostly about it but didn’t know why. I put up with it all for years, and it even became a “normal” part of life at the time. When my mum and her then partner split when I was 15, he moved out and took his Gohonzon with him. And with his departure, the haunting events in the house also disappeared.

In the last decade my experiences with the paranormal have been somewhat seldom; anything unusual I tend to put down to something more logical. I do not spend my life in fear of the dark, and am usually pretty unlikely to believe odd things are caused by the paranormal. But, that doesn’t mean to say that I disbelieve in their existence. How can I after what I experienced in my younger days? However, I am skeptical at the legitimacy of many events and try to look at things with a more rational view. After all, I have no physical evidence of even my most convincing memories, and without the ability to replicate them easily, how can I even be sure they were anything more than just mere coincidences? Unless we can gather hard-hitting evidence of the supernatural, we’ll always seek to defy ghostly recollections or findings with something that we have previously proved to be more “real”.

We are a susceptible being; with minds molded for creativity and questionable perceptions of the world, and our evidence to prove veracity for anything else is limited. Whether or not ghosts are indeed fact or phony, one thing is for sure: we still have much to discover.

Just because we know what we know doesn’t mean that we know it all.

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