Compendium of Horror, Fear, and the Grotesque

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Ghosts and Spirits

Some supernatural enthusiasts try to make a distinction between the concepts of ghost and spirit. As far as we can tell, the two terms are synonymous, so we will treat them as such. Ghosts might be considered to be the energy that remains after a person or an animal loses its physical existence. The ability to perceive this disembodied energy is considered by some a gift of sight or other sense. Individuals who describe themselves as "sensitives" claim they have the ability to perceive this disembodied energy and even interact with it. Some say they are able to communicate with this energy and act as mediums or translators for those who cannot perceive the spirit world.

The rationale for a belief in ghosts and spirits is based on the "law of conservation of energy" which states that energy can neither be created nor destroyed. If a human being or an animal from its incipience is a physical embodiment of energy, it stands to reason that when the physical container (the body) stops functioning as a result of death, the energy is released into the environment. I think that most people can buy into that simple concept. But beyond that point of agreement much work still needs to be done by paranormals and scientists.

Many paranormals and religious believers believe that the energy that leaves the body after death equates to the idea of "soul." They believe that this disembodied energy somehow remains whole after death. A ghost is disembodied energy that has remained attached to the the physical plane; paranormals and religious believers don't seem to dispute the idea that this energy retains much of the original identity of the person or animal that died. Paranormals generally deal only with the challenge of understanding why a ghost chooses to "haunt" or remain in the physical plane. Religious believers often posit that there are two possible destinies for souls (ghosts or disembodied spirits), either heaven or hell. In either case the extension of this belief is that the souls, if in fact they do consist of the energy released by the death of a person or animal, remain intact. That means that whether they go to heaven or to hell they keep their original identities. Some religions prohibit the belief in ghosts entirely, preferring to teach that souls only go to a heaven or to a hell. Others presuppose that ghosts sequestered in the physical plane might be experiencing a kind of hell on earth.

If we assume that ghosts are the life energy released from a dead person or animal, and we assume the integrity of the "law of conservation of energy," must we believe in ghosts? That is a more complicated question. There are two possibilities. First, ghosts are the intact spiritual manifestation of the dead. Sensitives and paranormals can perceive them or communicate with them while these entities remain in the physical plane. But the "law of conservation of energy" does not state that energy must remain intact (retain its original identity) once it is released from its container. The reason we say that ghosts are energy that is intact is because sensitives who claim to see and hear ghosts usually perceive them resembling their final physical form down to the clothes they were buried in.

Second, what if we agree that this disembodied energy exists, but when it is released from a dead body it simply dissipates into the universe? Perhaps this energy follows the Second Law of Thermodynamics and eventually reaches a state of entropy. Could this be the case with the dead who never haunt and who supposedly move on to accept their condition (perhaps those who from the stories of NDE experiencers decide to pass through the white light)? Would we still view that dissipating life energy as retaining the identity of the body that once contained it?

Some sightings of ghostly images might in fact support the idea of a process whereby departed souls or life energy released after death achieve cosmic entropy. Let's begin by investigating the most common types of ghosts and then posit our own theory.

Two sites, and list a variety of ghost types.

Types of Ghosts has a page dedicated to classifying the types of ghosts and ghostly apparitions witnessed by its visitors. The site invites submissions of photos and videos of sightings to aid their research and study of the phenomena. lists some of the same types and provides some background and historical references to classic sightings. Together these sites include the following types of ghosts:

  • Ectoplasm

  • Apparitions

  • Shadows and Dark forms

  • Poltergeists

  • Orbs and globes

  • Vortexes

  • Streamers or Ribbon ghosts

  • Rods and Light rods

Ectoplasm describes an amorphous mass of ethereal mist or vapor that hovers, floats, and sometimes changes shape. Sometimes ectoplasm changes into a recognizable human or animal form. Apparitions are what most people understand as regular ghosts. They are either anthropomorphic or zoomorphic. They appear as living beings except that they are ethereal instead of solid. Shadows and dark or demonic forms sometimes take a human form, but can also appear as elongated, non-specific forms. The Paranormal and Ghost Society site has a page describing what they call "shadow people." Poltergeists are active entities that are associated with mischievous activity. They are the ones responsible for moving objects, making noises, and generally causing minor disruptions. They are generally not considered demonic, but rather playful or energetic. Orbs and globes are translucent spherical objects that hover, float, or dart in open space. Vortexes or funnel-shaped forms resemble tornadic energy; they are often long and slender and reportedly manifest as cold spots. Streamers and ribbon ghosts appear on film generally as time-delayed light trails. They can be non-specific in shape or approximate some recognizable form. Rods and light rods are peculiar in that they are uniform in shape; they look like cigars or flying sticks. Some caught on film appear to have stubby wings or spiral fins, suggesting the they spin on an axis as they move through space. provides photos and videos of these strange ghostly entities.

ScepticThomas Ghost Classification

ScepticThomas prefers to group ghosts into two classifications:

  • Anthropomorphic/Zoomorphic

  • Xenomorphic

Anthropomorphic/Zoomorphic includes any ghostly entity that resembles either a human or an animal form. Xenomorphic includes any ghostly entity that does not resemble anything human or animal. By far the most interesting to us are the types of ghosts that fall into the human/animal category. These are the entities that fascinate us because of their familiarity to us as departed loved ones or beloved pets. They fascinate us also because some are associated with the fear and horror of demonic presence or possession. If the ghosts we encounter appear to be the traces of beings who were once near to us, we are comforted by the notion that perhaps there is some kind of existence after physical death. If the ghosts we encounter appear to be devils or evil spirits, we are entranced by the possibility that our traditional concepts of heaven and hell might have some validity. In either case, we tend to gravitate more to those ethereal beings who seem to be most familiar to us.

Investigating Suspected Ghost Visitations

The apparent presence of anthropomorphic or zoomorphic ghosts in a particular environment should at least be interesting enough to merit some analysis. If you are curious and not squeamish, you might try investigating on your own. Before you start you should be aware of the difference between apparitions and hauntings. Apparitions are ghostly presences with which living human interaction is possible. Hauntings are very different. In "Investigating Hauntings" Lauren Forcella says that "most parapsychologists consider hauntings to be 'recordings' of past events that are repetitiously 'replayed' and 'decoded' by those sensitive enough to perceive them." Consequently, it is impossible to interact with an image that is part of a haunting. All you can do about a haunting is witness it or try to overwrite it by replacing it with an equally emotional event; like a grand party or celebration.

If you prefer to seek professional help with your investigation, you can employ the services of psychics, clairevoyants, claireaudients, parapsychologists, priests, or professionally equipped ghost hunters. You can easily find any of these services on the Web or in your telephone Yellow Pages if you live in a large metropolitan area. If you are brave enough to do an investigation on your own, you should at least ask a couple of friends to accompany you to act as witnesses or assistants.

Equipment for Ghost Hunting

Steve Gonsalves of the television show "Ghost Hunters" provides a video listing the specific gear used in successful ghost hunting. We have summarized the items below, but you can watch his video for costs and details about the following items:

  • EMF tester (Electro Magnetic Field tester)

  • Compass (alternative to EMP tester)

  • Portable tape recorder (for EVPs or Electronic Voice Phenomena)

  • White noise generator (catalyst for EVPs)

  • Digital thermometer (with ambient temperature sensor)

  • Video or DVD recorder

  • External IR illuminator

  • Wireless microphone and receiver (with PC access)/or a baby monitor

  • Ion generator

  • DVR system (IR camera; DVR; monitor)

  • Thermal camera with laser pointer