Do you Believe in Ghosts?




While yet a boy I sought for ghosts, and sped
Through many a listening chamber, cave and ruin,
And starlight wood, with fearful steps pursuing 
Hopes of high talk with the departed dead.
PERCY BYSSHE SHELLEY, Hymn to Intellectual Beauty





 Tales of ghosts stretch back thousands of years. Pliny the Younger wrote one:
 There was in Athens a house, spacious and open, but with an infamous reputation, as if filled with pestilence. For in the dead of night, a noise like the clashing of iron could be heard. And if one listened carefully, it sounded like the rattling of chains. At first the noise seemed to be at a distance, but then it would approach, nearer, nearer, nearer. Suddenly a phantom would appear, an old man, pale and emaciated, with a long beard, and hair that appeared driven by the wind. The fetters on his feet and hands rattled as he moved them.


For who can wonder that man should feel a vague belief in tales of disembodied spirits wandering through those places which they once dearly affected, when he himself, scarcely less separated from his old world than they, is for ever lingering upon past emotions and bygone times, and hovering, the ghost of his former self, about the places and people that warmed his heart of old?
CHARLES DICKENS, Master Humphrey's Clock




Written about 900 BCE, a ghost story is recorded in the Old Testament, 1 Samuel 28:
Now Samuel was dead, and all Israel had lamented him, and buried him in Ramah, even in his own city. And Saul had put away those that had familiar spirits, and the wizards, out of the land.
[...]
Then said Saul unto his servants, Seek me a woman that hath a familiar spirit, that I may go to her, and enquire of her. And his servants said to him, Behold, there is a woman that hath a familiar spirit at Endor.
And Saul disguised himself, and put on other raiment, and he went, and two men with him, and they came to the woman by night: and he said, I pray thee, divine unto me by the familiar spirit, and bring me him up, whom I shall name unto thee.
And the woman said unto him, Behold, thou knowest what Saul hath done, how he hath cut off those that have familiar spirits, and the wizards, out of the land: wherefore then layest thou a snare for my life, to cause me to die?
10 And Saul sware to her by the Lord, saying, As the Lord liveth, there shall no punishment happen to thee for this thing.
11 Then said the woman, Whom shall I bring up unto thee? And he said, Bring me up Samuel.
12 And when the woman saw Samuel, she cried with a loud voice: and the woman spake to Saul, saying, Why hast thou deceived me? for thou art Saul.
13 And the king said unto her, Be not afraid: for what sawest thou? And the woman said unto Saul, I saw gods ascending out of the earth.
14 And he said unto her, What form is he of? And she said, An old man cometh up; and he is covered with a mantle. And Saul perceived that it was Samuel, and he stooped with his face to the ground, and bowed himself.
15 And Samuel said to Saul, Why hast thou disquieted me, to bring me up? And Saul answered, I am sore distressed; for the Philistines make war against me, and God is departed from me, and answereth me no more, neither by prophets, nor by dreams: therefore I have called thee, that thou mayest make known unto me what I shall do.
16 Then said Samuel, Wherefore then dost thou ask of me, seeing the Lord is departed from thee, and is become thine enemy?
17 And the Lord hath done to him, as he spake by me: for the Lord hath rent the kingdom out of thine hand, and given it to thy neighbour, even to David:
18 Because thou obeyedst not the voice of the Lord, nor executedst his fierce wrath upon Amalek, therefore hath the Lord done this thing unto thee this day.
19 Moreover the Lord will also deliver Israel with thee into the hand of the Philistines: and to morrow shalt thou and thy sons be with me: the Lord also shall deliver the host of Israel into the hand of the Philistines.
20 Then Saul fell straightway all along on the earth, and was sore afraid, because of the words of Samuel: and there was no strength in him; for he had eaten no bread all the day, nor all the night.

Interestingly enough, the Epic of Gilgamesh has what may be the world's oldest "fanfiction" story associated with it. Scholars refer to the tale as "non-canonical side chapters" or a "sequel" to the Epic of Gilgamesh, which details the adventures of the ghost of the king's friend, Enkidu, through the underworld.


As long as there have been cameras, people have been taking pictures of ghosts.

There was a fad in the Victorian era for "spirit photography" in which people would pose at a studio and when the photo was developed, it would contain an image of their deceased loved ones.

Mary Lincoln with the "ghost" of her husband, Abraham.



The photo above was taken by William H. Mumler. P.T. Barnum testified against him when Mumler was brought up on charges as a fraud. The judge reluctantly dismissed the case for lack of evidence, but Mumler's reputation was destroyed and he died in poverty. Other "spirit photographers" continued to operate all the way up until after WWI.

Some of them are downright creepy:



Today, they look like obvious fakes, but in the days before Photoshop, it was difficult to figure out how these photos could have been forged. The photographers used double-exposure techniques which weren't well-known except to professional photographers.


Now it is the time of night 
That the graves, all gaping wide, 
Every one lets forth his sprite 
In the church-way paths to glide.


WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE, A Midsummer Night's Dream

So, what about you? Do you believe in ghosts? Answer here, on my Goodreads forum.
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