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The statue of Anna Chromý at the entrance to the Estates Theatre in Prague(The statue of Anna Chromý at the entrance to the Estates Theatre in Prague, where took place the first performance of Don Giovanni in 1787, https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Prag10p.jpg)

A ghost is an apparition, a vision or illusion, interpreted as a supernatural manifestation of a deceased person.

Ghosts can take a specific name because of their origins and their characteristics, such as the Roman lemurs or Slavic Wilis.

Often referred to as “phantom” the phenomenon known as poltergeist, manifested by inexplicable noises and moving objects, and is generally related to the presence of a disturbed child, but does does not imply a relationship with the deceased.

The term “ghost” is frequently associated with other forms of appearances, such as auto-hiker ghost, ghost ship or ghost airship. By extension, the term is often added to names of abandoned material things (ghost town, ghost stations of the Paris Metro), missings (phantom, ghost island), or outside the direct perception (shadow cabinet, shadow energy, ghost food), underground (ghost detainees). In archives and libraries, it is allowed a “ghost record” instead of a document withdrawn from a fund until his return.


According to Professor Charles Richet: ”ghosts, except in rare appearances of animals, have a human form, dressed in clothes they were wearing at the time of their earthly life. Sometimes they have the perfect appearance of life, sometimes they are transparent and cloudy like shadows; generally they seem to enter a door, and continue their journey to another room, where they disappear. Often they arise unexpectedly and are resolved into vapor, passing through walls and closed doors. Sometimes they work, sometimes they are like suspended in the air. The arrival of the ghost is almost always a vague sense of horror, the feeling of a presence, coinciding with an icy breath: they almost always seem to be totally indifferent to living people who are there to watch them. Sometimes they indulge in some domestic occupation, sometimes they do desperate things. Large differences are observed in their pace.”

According to tradition, the apparitions are dressed in white, the probable cause is that the dead come back, quite logically, wrapped in the shroud in which they were buried. In fact, almost all outfits are identified, with the notable exception that the nudity is rare. The ghosts are most often woring the suit they usually wore during their lifetime. To explain this, Frank Podmore, board member of the Society for Psychical Research Committee of England, argued that the apparitions, existing only in the mind of visionary, seems to wear the outfit that suit the character.

The classic image of the ghost dragging chains is due to the ancient description of Pliny the Younger, and almost never appears in subsequent stories. The white shroud has appeared in medieval iconography from the thirteenth century.

Belief in ghosts

According to various surveys conducted worldwide since 1980, it appears that the belief in the existence of ghosts is widespread in the population, while varying greatly between countries: 13% in France (2000), 21% in Quebec (2001 ), 50% in Hong Kong Chinese (1981), 51% in the US (2009) (18% have already met), 52% in the UK (2013).

A survey conducted in 1991 among French youth aged 8 to 16 years showed that 16% felt “that ghosts may exist.” In some countries, such as Thailand, the belief in ghosts is almost universal. It seems that the opinion of many people could be summarized in the tasty answer to Madame du Deffand: “Do I believe in ghosts? No, but I’m afraid! “.


Duality and return dead

The soul (ba) above of an Egyptian mummy(The soul (ba) above of an Egyptian mummy – Illustration of the Papyrus of Ani.)

Since the dawn of time, most traditions, religions and philosophies consider the human being consists of a mortal body and an immortal soul or of a body, a mind and a soul. Ancient Egypt thought the human as being much more complex, but distinguished between the body (djet) and the soul ba. There is a similar thought in most of world civilizations, with links more or less established between the concepts of soul, spirit, shadow or double.

The theme of returning dead haunting the living is as ancient as universal. The Egyptian ba has the ability to manifest on the earth plane to avenge the deceased.

Ancient roots

Athenodorus and his ghostAthenodorus and his ghost. – Burning of Justice Henry Ford, 1900.)

In the West, we find traces of the myth of ghosts in antiquity: Ulysses dialogue with them in the song XI of the Odyssey in the late eighth century BC, and they have a role in the tragedies Electra and Ajax, written by Sophocles in the fourth century BC: “I see that we are, all of us living here, nothing more than ghosts or light shadows.”

One of the oldest concrete stories that has survived is due to Pliny the Younger (61-114). To ask his opinion to his friend Sura on the existence of ghosts, he recounts in one of his Letters the incident occurred to philosopher Athenodorus Cananites, in a house he had just rented very cheaply because it was haunted by a terrible specter that was fleeing its inhabitants: “in the silence of the night, we heard a rustling irons, and, listening attentively, the impact of rough chains. The noise seemed to come first from afar, and then approach; soon appeared the spectrum: it was a lean and ugly old man with a long beard, with spiky hair; his feet and hands were bound in chains he shook.”

Athenodorus moved into the house and wait for the arrival of the ghost. It does not take long to manifest loudly and invited him to follow: “the ghost walked with slow steps; he seemed overwhelmed by the weight of the chains. Arrived in the courtyard of the house, he fainted suddenly the eyes of the philosopher. This marks the place where he disappeared through a pile of grass and leaves. The next day he will find the judges and asked them to dig in there. They find bones still entwined in chains, body, consumed by time and by the earth, was left in chains such naked and stripped remains only. They bring them together, they buried them publicly, and after these duties, the dead no longer disturbed the rest of the house.”

Hauntings and apparitions are events that are reported in all times and in all places, not only among the Greeks and Romans of antiquity, but also throughout medieval Europe, until today.

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