Ghosts, specters, phantoms, poltergeists, spooks, apparitions, and spirits… So many names for what are, essentially, the same creature though many of those names are often applied to a certain types. By their dictionary definition, ghosts are the supposed spirit of somebody who has died and are often believed to appear as a shadowy form or to cause sounds, the movement of objects, or a frightening atmosphere in a place.
A rather cut and dry definition but an adequate one.
There are many variations as to how one can become a ghost and no I don’t mean just the act of dying. If death were all that was necessary to create a ghost, we’d be drowning in a sea of souls. No, it is often either the manner in which the living had died or how they had lived that creates a ghost. Going on towards the safer route, those ghosts that are often named as specters, spooks, and apparitions, these types of ghosts are the result of someone who has died with unfinished business or with an extremely strong obsession.
Using one of my favorite cartoon series, Danny Phantom, to cite a few examples we have the ghostly genie Desiree who was a harem girl in life and whose appearance beguiled the heart of a sultan. The sultan promised Desiree everything that her heart desired but the sultan’s wife, jealous of Desiree’s beauty and of the sultan’s affections towards her, had her banished from the land.
Upon death, Desiree arose as a djinn, a genie, forever cursed to grant any wish that she heard though she has the leeway of turning them into a sort of “monkey’s paw” type of wish. Case in point, “I wish for a million bucks!” Congrats, you now own a herd of spectral deer. In a way, Desiree was essentially damned as a ghost to forever witness those attaining her heart’s desire but never really receiving her own because who would ever wish for a genie’s happiness instead of their own?
Another good example of obsession is in the ghost Nicolai Technus, the self-proclaimed master of technology who is so obsessed with proving his brilliance to the world that he will utilize every hair-brained scheme he can conceive of to take and adapt any piece of technology he manages to find in order to take over the world. What makes it particularly saddening for him is that he acts every bit the stereotypical braggart, taking the time to literally broadcast his plans for world domination before he actually acts any of the said plans out.
In the case of unfinished business, this was primarily featured in the film adaptation to the most popular ghost of them all Casper the Friendly Ghost. In the film, it is shown that in order for a ghost to manifest and remain in the living world, they must have some type of unfinished business and, upon completing that business, will immediately continue on towards the afterlife.
Another aspect of ghosts that wasn’t really touched upon that much in the film itself but more like hinted towards is the idea that ghosts “age.” Not in the literal sense but as they continue to haunt the world they slowly forget more and more of whom they were in life and so steadily start to degenerate in appearance. In the case of Casper and his uncles… well just take a good look at them. Casper is the only one of the group to remember his actual name whereas his uncles refer to themselves as Stretch, Stinky, and Fatso, based entirely upon their appearance/mannerisms as ghosts.
Ghosts that are arisen from how they died, those ghosts which are often labeled as phantoms, poltergeists, or simply vengeful spirits… They are the spirits of those whom did not die a natural death. Most commonly as murdered victims or those whose life was a hellish torment, these types of ghost are by far the most dangerous of the lot.
Poltergeists, by their very name, are the type of ghosts that cause noise and can physically interact with the world around them. They are also the type of ghost to not strictly haunt a specific location but certain individuals, either those who caused them grief in life or are able to perceive them better than most, i.e. psychics. While not outright malignant, poltergeists are still one of the more violent type of ghosts and reports of their activity date back as far as 856 AD in Germany where the name first originated.
Vengeful spirits… Oh boy, vengeful spirits… A good many of you have no doubt heard of such films as The Grudge, ParaNorman, or 13 Ghosts (the original and the remake) then let me be clear in stating that the ghosts present in those films are but the bloodied tip of the crimson iceberg that makes up the entirety of vengeful spirits.
A ghost made of vengeance is oftentimes little more than a rabid animal, attacking and even killing anyone that stands in their way whether or not those in their way were responsible for their deaths. Taking the aforementioned films as a few examples…
There is the Grudge, which in itself is not the spirits of the dead but using them to enact its curse born from when someone is killed with extreme sorrow or a powerful rage. The instigator of the Grude was Kayako Saeki whose mother, an exorcist, had her daughter consume the spirits that she exorcised in order to contain them, which in itself provided the catalyst to create the Grudge curse. Though Kayako and her son are often the ones seen killing their victims, their victims themselves can arise to kill and further spread the curse.
In the film ParaNorman, the primary antagonist, though I hesitate to really call her that, Agatha Prenderghast was an eleven-year-old girl who could commune with the dead and whom was wrongly convicted of witchcraft and executed. Though possessing no such power in life, in death Agatha became the very witch that the townsfolk claimed her to be and so cursed the council that convicted her to arise as zombies and when confronted by the titular Norman himself, displays reality-warping powers to the extreme.
As for the films Thireen Ghosts both the original and remake… Virtually every ghost in the films died a violent death and/or lived a violent life. In point of fact, in the remake of the film all but one ghost actively go out of their way to either terrorize if not outright kill anyone they see with one ghost in particular, the aptly named Juggernaut, killing more people in death than he had in life.
This leads to a particular conundrum that most films and stories very rarely bring up. That being whether a ghost can still be affected by deeds, good or bad, which it commits. Basically, would a ghost that was, essentially, a neutral soul that didn’t immediately go to Heaven or Hell be damned if it commits a murder or blessed if it saves the life of another?
Theology though is a subject for men and women far wiser than I so let’s move on towards the strengths and weaknesses of ghosts. Strength wise ghosts are variable in so many ways that it makes vampires look tame by comparison. Oh sure, there’s the stereotypical invisibility, intangibility, and even telekinesis but beyond that it truly depends on the ghost in question.
Looking back at the ghosts present in Danny Phantom for example, Ember McLain, whom quite likely perished in a fire, uses fire and musical abilities whereas the Ghost Writer, and yes that is his title, can make anyone do anything he wants them to do so long as he writes it out on his keyboard. It isn’t until he stops writing that his victims are free to do what they want or if he breaks any of the rules he sets for his literary piece. Case in point, if he is writing a poem that rhymed, he’d have to keep writing in rhyme otherwise his hold on his victims would break.
Likewise, what can and cannot hurt a ghost is variable by the story but such things as salt and talismans are said to keep them out of places and/or lock them in. It should be noted though that there is nothing capable of killing a ghost though one can be “destroyed.” A ghost, being dead, can be forced out of the mortal world by various means again depending on how the ghost in question came to be. In the television series Supernatural, one of the most common methods of dealing with a lingering spirit is to salt and burn the body of the ghost. In same cases, a ghost may be put to rest by way of having their body go through the proper burial rights but this is oftentimes a hit-or-miss, particularly if the ghost is a vengeful one.
Ghosts are virtually the mascots of Halloween itself, one of if not the first thing to come to mind when thinking of this particular holiday. Yet, in more recent years, it has become more popular of films to feature vengeful ghosts rather than those of a more neutral if not beneficial nature. Not every lingering spirit has it out against the living nor does the living need to fear or hate the departed. However, there is something of a delightfully horrific surprise to be found in the recent film Crimson Peak…