Clarissa Johal: Ghosts

Sunday, September 30, 2012


The other day, I took a break from writing to do what I rarely do--watch television.  It's not that I hate television, it's just there are very few shows I have the patience to sit through. While channel surfing, I came across not one, but seven different shows on something that's always fascinated me--ghosts. My paranormal novel, Between, is about a woman that can see ghosts. They don't necessarily frighten her, spirits are a part of her "normal" world, but they do pose problems from time-to-time.
One thing I noticed was that a common theme in these television shows, save for Ghost Hunters and Ghost Hunters International, was a "scare" factor. I've always been confused by the thought of ghosts being scary. I don't understand why they would be, at one time they were human. Are humans scary?  Not usually.
Unless they're wearing polyester and eating tuna fish sandwiches.

I'm also amazed with the amount of effort people put out to quantify and prove their existence. Once they prove ghosts exist--then what?
I'm going to go out on a limb here and just say; "Yes. I believe in ghosts." I've seen them, I've heard them, blah, blah, blah. And after ruling out every logical explanation, I'm still left with; "Yes. I believe in ghosts."  Is it scary to see a ghost?  Not really. I've always been of the ilk, "It is what it is." Do I believe that ghosts can harm the living?
I have to say "no" to that too. But then, I've never been harmed by a ghost so perhaps it's a mindset. Maybe if I had been, I would feel differently.

So why people afraid of ghosts? In this culture you could attribute a fear of the unknown as the main reason. Not helpful either, are claims of people being harmed by ghosts and overly-dramatic television shows. Different cultures define ghosts different ways. There are the ghosts that were once human, and ghosts that are something else entirely (which would be another blog post). And while most cultures regard ancestral spirits as innocuous, they can also be regarded as undesirable if they continue to be present.


Ghosts: the soul or spirit of a deceased person or animal that can appear to the living. The belief is wide-spread in most cultures and dates back to pre-literate cultures and folk religions, animism and ancestor worship. It can also reference a good or evil spirit (ie. angel or demon) in some belief systems. 

The appearance and ideas of ghosts vary according to culture.

The ancient Egyptians believed that ghosts were created at the time of death. They took on the memories and appearance of the dead and traveled to the Netherworld to continue a life similar to that of the living.
Historical writings of pre-5th century Greece mentioned that ghosts could appear as vapor offering advice and prophecies to the living, but they weren't to be feared.
The Aztec believed that souls of the fallen warriors and women who died in childbirth would be transformed into hummingbirds that would follow the sun on its journey through the sky. Spirit and soul were two different things, however. The soul of a woman who died in childbirth may be transformed into a hummingbird, but the spirit became Cihuateteo. For five days out of the year, the Cihuateteo descended to earth and haunted crossroads to steal children. 
In India, ghosts or bhoots are restless spirits with unfinished business. They can shape shift into various animals. Most appear human, but with one telling trait: their feet are backwards and sometimes certain features are upside-down. They also tend to lurk in trees and wear white clothing.
Ghosts in many Asian cultures are often seen as harmful. Ancestral ghosts can be helpful as long as they're appeased and rewarded for their help. Hungry ghosts, however, are seen as beings driven by intense emotional needs in an animalistic way. They are the ghosts of greedy or jealous people who were unable to appreciate what they had in life.
In the Amazon rainforest, the Wari believe that the spirits of dead people may appear as jima. The jima have cold, poisonous hands and can pull a person's spirit away.
In South Africa there are many beliefs about ghosts and evil spirits. The Bantu people speak of the tokoloshe. An evil spirit summoned by those wanting to make trouble for others. The tokoloshe can create illness or even death.
The Indigenous Australians believe that after death, relatives or close friends must sit by the grave of the deceased to ensure that the spirit of the deceased would go to the spirit place. Once this was completed (or the mourning was completed) the persons name was never to be mentioned again.

In view of this, one can see that there are many different beliefs pertaining to ghosts. In this culture, ghosts seem to break down into three categories; ghosts with unfinished business, ghosts that repeat a moment in time, and then the third; the ones with issues. Ghosts with issues choose to scare or annoy the living for various reasons. I look on these entities as bullies of the spiritual playground. Stand tall and they tend to leave you alone. Let them push you around and you are setting yourself up to be bullied.

So, what are your thoughts and experiences with ghosts? Real or imaginary? Scary or something we have yet to discover?


Holley Trent said...

Real, and yes: scary. I like the friendly ones to give me a pretty wide berth, too. I'd like to not have a heart attack before 40.

Rita Monette, Writer said...

I don't know how I feel about ghosts. I've never seen one, and I guess I'd prefer them to leave me alone, even the friendly ones, like Casper.

Clarissa Johal, Author said...

Rita and Holley-both your comments made me laugh. Casper was so cute though, lol. Thanks for stopping by (:

Sloane Taylor said...

Excellent post, Clarissa.

I believe in ghosts and those mean, scary poltergeist. Even lived with a ghost who refused to believe he was dead. People are usually afraid of the unknown that might explain why some are scared of ghosts.

Clarissa Johal, Author said...

Definitely, Sloane (and would be interested in hearing more about your experience). Thanks for stopping by. (:

Sharon Ledwith said...

It amazes me the research you do for your blog, kudos for that, Clarissa! Interesting post. Makes me want shows like Medium and The Ghostwhisperer back on the tube. Actually, I do believe in ghosts or spirits, and have waken up on a number of occaisions where I caught 'something' hovering over me before it vanishes. Bahaha. True story! Cheers for a great post!

Clarissa Johal, Author said...

I know, Sharon--I'm a research junkie, what can I say? lol I haven't seen those shows, are they good? Thanks for stopping by!

Rhea Rhodan said...

Firmly in the believer camp. I've only actually seen one, and that was just a glimpse (a friend I'd never told saw her as well, a year later). I've had a couple talk to me though, and very distinctly felt a few more. Two made me very nervous, one because I think she'd been very unhappy and met a tragic end (I later found out my apartment building had been a brothel), another who was creepy (he was in life, too, the neighbors told my boyfriend about him--after I'd complained about someone watching us when we were, er, engaged and when I was in the shower).

Great post, as always, Clarissa! I love how you apply your anthropological leanings. Am looking forward to Between.

Clarissa Johal, Author said...

I love hearing other people's experiences! Thanks for sharing yours, Rhea. I appreciate it! I think a lot of people have experiences but are hesitant to share.

Unknown said...

True that ghosts in the strictest definition should not be considered scary or harmful. Too many people lump them together with malevolent spirits, demons and the like.

Clarissa Johal, Author said...

I've never thought them scary either. Thank you for stopping by and commenting (:

Joanna Fay said...

Nice post, Clarissa. The clearest I ever saw was so 'solid' looking I didn't realize it was a ghost...but later found out that a number of people had seen this one in the same spot...on a mezzanine floor in an old building, where a man had hung himself in the 1970s....

Clarissa Johal, Author said...

Wow--so cool you were able to see that (I'm sorry for the poor man but you know what I mean). It makes me sad when I hear of a ghost/person repeating something like that over and over. Thanks for commenting and stopping by Joanna!