AskDefine | Define ghosts

User Contributed Dictionary




  1. Plural of ghost


  1. third-person singular of ghost

Extensive Definition

A ghost is said to be the apparition of a dead person. They are usually seen to be similar in appearance to that person, and are often encountered in places he or she frequented, or in association with the person's former belongings. The word "ghost" may also refer to the spirit or soul of a deceased person, or any spirit or demon. Ghosts are often associated with hauntings, which is, according to the Parapsychological Association, "the more or less regular occurrence of paranormal phenomena associated with a particular locality (especially a building) and usually attributed to the activities of a discarnate entity; the phenomena may include apparitions, poltergeist disturbances, cold drafts, sounds of footsteps and voices, and various odors." The term ghost has been replaced by apparition in parapsychology, because the word ghost is deemed insufficiently precise.

Historical background

The belief in ghosts as souls of the departed is closely related to the ancient concept of animism, which attributed souls to everything in nature, including human beings, animals, plants, rocks, etc. As the nineteenth-century anthropologist James Frazer explained in his classic work, The Golden Bough, souls were seen as the creature within that animated the body:
"If a man lives and moves, it can only be because he has a little man or animal inside, who moves him. The animal inside the animal, the man inside the man, is the soul. And as the activity of an animal or man is explained by the presence of the soul, so the repose of sleep or death is explained by its absence; sleep or trance being the temporary, death being the permanent absence of the soul... "
Although the human soul was sometimes symbolically or literally depicted in ancient cultures as a bird or other animal, it was widely held that the soul was an exact reproduction of the body in every feature, even down to clothing the person wore. This is depicted in artwork from various ancient cultures, including such works as the Egyptian Book of the Dead, which shows deceased people in the afterlife appearing much as they did before death, including the style of dress.
Another widespread belief concerning ghosts is that they were composed of a misty, airy, or subtle material. Anthropologists speculate that this may also stem from early beliefs that ghosts were the person within the person, most noticeable in ancient cultures as a person's breath, which upon exhaling in colder climates appears visibly as a white mist. This belief may have also fostered the metaphorical meaning of "breath" in certain languages, such as the Latin spiritus and the Greek pneuma, which by analogy became extended to mean the soul. In the Bible, God is depicted as animating Adam with a breath.
Ghosts are prominent in the popular cultures of various nations. The ghost story is ubiquitous across all cultures from oral folktales to works of literature.
Perhaps the most recognizable ghost in English literature is the shade of Hamlet's father in the play The Tragical History of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark. In Hamlet, it is the ghost that encourages the title character to investigate his "murder most foul" and seek revenge upon King Claudius, the suspected murderer of Hamlet's father.
Possibly the next most famous apparitions are the ghosts of A Christmas Carol, where the ghost of Jacob Marley, The Ghost of Christmas Past, The Ghost of Christmas Present and The Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come help Ebenezer Scrooge see the error of his ways.
Oscar Wilde's The Canterville Ghost has been adapted for film and television on several occasions. Henry James's The Turn of the Screw has also appeared in a number of adaptations, notably the film The Innocents and Benjamin Britten's opera The Turn of the Screw. Noel Coward's play Blithe Spirit, later made into a film, places a more humorous slant on the phenomenon of haunting of individuals and specific locations.
Films including or centering on ghosts are common, and span a variety of genres. Ghosts can also be found in various television programs.
The ghost hunting theme has also become prevalent in reality television series particularly Ghost Hunters and Ghost Hunters International, but also Most Haunted, and A Haunting. It is also represented in children's television by such programmes as The Ghost Hunter.
The Grateful Dead adopted their name and iconography from a series of traditional ghost stories known as Grateful Dead (folktale).


  • The Face in the Window and Other Alabama Ghostlore, Alan Brown, University of Alabama Press (1997), ISBN 978-0817308131
  • The Vermont Ghost Guide, Joseph A. Citro, University Press of New England (2000), ISBN 978-1584650096


External links

ghosts in Afrikaans: Spook
ghosts in Arabic: شبح
ghosts in Bengali: ভুত
ghosts in Bulgarian: Дух (призрак)
ghosts in Catalan: Fantasma
ghosts in Czech: Duch
ghosts in Danish: Spøgelse
ghosts in German: Gespenst
ghosts in Modern Greek (1453-): Φάντασμα
ghosts in Spanish: Fantasma
ghosts in Esperanto: Fantomo
ghosts in French: Fantôme
ghosts in Indonesian: Hantu
ghosts in Italian: Fantasma
ghosts in Hebrew: רוח רפאים
ghosts in Latin: Larva
ghosts in Lithuanian: Vaiduoklis
ghosts in Hungarian: Kísértet
ghosts in Malay (macrolanguage): Hantu
ghosts in Dutch: Spook
ghosts in Dutch Low Saxon: Spoek
ghosts in Japanese: 亡霊
ghosts in Norwegian: Spøkelse
ghosts in Occitan (post 1500): Fantauma
ghosts in Polish: Duch (spirytyzm)
ghosts in Portuguese: Fantasma
ghosts in Russian: Привидения
ghosts in Simple English: Ghost
ghosts in Slovak: Duch (prízrak)
ghosts in Slovenian: Duh
ghosts in Finnish: Kummitus
ghosts in Swedish: Spöke
ghosts in Tatar: Öräk
ghosts in Thai: ผี
ghosts in Vietnamese: Ma
ghosts in Cherokee: ᎠᏂᏣᏍᎩᎵ
ghosts in Chinese: 鬼
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