What is a Ghost, Anyway? Where to Look for Answers

What is a ghost, really? Is it a dead person who’s “stuck” here? Is it someone who died and just won’t leave? Or is it something else altogether?

Busy? You can listen to the following article. It’s a five-minute recording.

Defining Ghosts

In this five-minute version of a June 2019 article at HollowHill.com, Fiona Broome explains the importance of defining what is – and isn’t – a ghost. That’s a personal decision, but it’s an essential basic when we talk about ghosts and ghost hunting.

How can you tell if something is a ghost?

That’s not an easy question to answer.

First, you’ll need to decide how you define the word “ghost.” Is it the same as a “spirit,” or are there different categories of spirits, and ghosts are just one of them?

  • If your great-grandmother visits you in your sleep, is that a ghost?
  • If something keeps moving your keys or the TV remote, is a ghost responsible?
  • At a haunted site, when you ask something to rap on a table as a yes/no response, is that a ghost?
  • If you see a fleeting, shadowy figure, is that a shadow person and – if so – is that a kind of ghost?

Some ghost hunters claim to know the difference between a ghost and… well, something that’s not a ghost. Maybe it’s a faerie, a demon, an alien, or some other entity.

The truth is, we don’t know what ghosts are. Here’s why.

Most experienced ghost hunters admit we’re just using labels to describe phenomena.

When people comment at my articles and want to me to tell them if they’re haunted, or their home is, or if a ghost followed them from a haunted site… I can’t tell you that.

Many ghosts can be explainedI’m not sure anyone can. Not with total confidence.

Think of it this way: Imagine that the power went out in your home, and it’s a dark, moonless summer night. Your flashlight batteries are dead, and you’re not sure where your phone is.

It’s a warm night and the a/c went out when the power did. You’d like a cold beverage before everything in the refrigerator starts getting warm.

When you open the refrigerator door, of course the light doesn’t go on. So, you feel your way around the shelf where you think you keep soft drinks or beer or whatever. And, you find something that might be a beverage.

Or it might be a ketchup bottle. Or the sweet and sour sauce. Or your little cousin’s creepy science experiment that she asked you to refrigerate for safekeeping, while she’s at summer camp.

In this case, you can smell or taste whatever-it-is and hope for the best. Within seconds, you’ll know if it’s a beverage, a condiment, or something that requires a trip to the nearest hospital emergency room.

But, in ghost hunting, it’s not that simple.

Especially in the dark, and when something is there for a minute – and then gone – we can’t throw a label on the phenomenon. We certainly can’t run tests and say, “Oh, yes, that’s definitely a ghost.”

No one can. Not me. Not the eager person you met online, who wants to impress you with his or her research expertise. Not the person on TV, either.

Maybe it is the spirit of a deceased person – what most of us call a “ghost” – but maybe it isn’t.

What is a ghost?

If you’re looking for 100% reliable answers… well, the best we can do is eliminate logical things, like squirrels in the walls, or clanging plumbing, and other phenomena – normal and paranormal – that definitely aren’t what most people call “ghostly.”

After ruling those things out, if whatever-it-is still seems like a ghost, maybe it is a ghost.

But, it all starts with defining the term “ghost,” and deciding what you do – and don’t – believe in.

That’s a personal decision, and it’s something that will probably evolve as you study paranormal phenomena.

Are you afraid?

If you’re worried that something is a malicious spirit – whether it’s a ghost or not – talk with someone you trust in your community, not online. A face-to-face conversation with an expert in spiritual matters, like a minister who’s studied theology for years, is a good place to start.

(Yes, I’ve made that recommendation before. People keep asking me to diagnose their paranormal experiences anyway.)

If it’s a noise that worries you, and you hear it regularly, you’ll probably start by calling a home repair expert.

Meanwhile, it’s important to know that, in ghost hunting, most of us use the term “ghost” to describe phenomena that suggest a lingering spirit of a deceased person.

But, the fact is, we don’t know. Maybe it’s a dead person. Maybe it isn’t.

And that’s why we keep investigating: So we get closer to understanding what’s going on at haunted places.