Do You Believe In Ghosts? Here's What Spirituality Experts Have To Say About Them
The idea that ghosts could be among us has fascinated, perplexed, and of course, spooked people for generations. We asked around to get the history of ghosts, whether there's any evidence they actually exist, and more—here's what to know.
What does the term "ghost" really mean?
According to the Oxford English Dictionary, a ghost is defined as an "apparition of a dead person which is believed to appear or become manifest to the living, typically as a nebulous image." Across different cultures, there are also more nuanced explanations for what ghosts really are.
One of the most generally accepted ideas about ghosts, though, is that they're spirits that used to be in a body, and for whatever reason, feel tied to being Earthbound, explains intuitive Natasha Levinger. "This could be due to anything from feeling unresolved about a relationship or even a location to dying before they felt ready to leave," she says.
And it's important to note that ghosts are not always believed to be inherently bad—despite common misconceptions.
"When I've worked with these spirits, it is usually resolved fairly quickly and has nothing to do with them trying to invoke pain or upset," Levinger says.
Feng shui expert Anjie Cho adds, "From a feng shui perspective, we have this perspective of nonduality, so something is not necessarily good or bad."
The history of the term.
People have been having ghostly experiences (or at least, perceived ghostly experiences) for literally thousands of years. In fact, one tablet from ancient Babylon around 1,500 BCE is believed by some to be the first known depiction of a ghost in human history.
And the ghost stories don't stop there, with cultures around the world believing in, and even embracing, the idea of ghosts. For many Asian cultures, a deep connection with ancestors can explain perceived ghostly experiences, with Cho telling mbg that ghosts or "entities" are often thought of as loved ones passed on, or even the energy of their memory.
The felt presence of a lingering energy has been recorded everywhere from the U.S. to Ghana to China, Thailand, and more. (It's worth noting here that we're talking about people reporting ghostly experiences, not actual evidence of such.)
Why some people believe in ghosts:
It's a cultural belief.
As aforementioned, some cultures embrace the idea of ghosts, particularly if there is a connection with ancestors within the culture, as seen in Chinese and other Asian cultures. Cho tells mbg many believe ghosts to be the energy of ancestors, or even predecessors of the space in question.
They want to believe.
For others, the idea that loved ones could still be with them is comforting. We've all seen clips of shows where mediums claim to communicate with the dead, offering relief to family members, or heard someone say they saw a cardinal and believed it was their grandma saying "Hi," for example.
Though many believe ghosts are inherently bad, for the people who believe their loved ones might be showing up in a ghostly way, it can bring comfort and connection.
They've had a paranormal experience.
Of course, if someone has had an inexplicable paranormal experience, they may believe in ghosts even if logic tells them not to. Some experiences just can't be explained, and for better or worse, will forever change the way people think about ghosts and the afterlife.
They're open to mystical ideas.
And lastly, some people are simply more open to the idea that there are other realms, or forces we can't explain in general, making them more likely to be open to the idea of ghosts.
Why some people don't believe in ghosts:
They don't believe in an afterlife (or anything mystical).
Whether they identify as an atheist, don't believe in the afterlife, or don't believe in the idea of a soul, some people are not open to mystical ideas. To believe in ghosts is to believe that a spirit, soul, entity, etc., can exist without a physical body in some unseen realm, and for nonbelievers, that just doesn't sound possible.
They've never experienced anything paranormal.
Just as feeling or seeing a ghost can make someone a believer, never experiencing anything paranormal isn't going to help convince a skeptic that ghosts could be real. "It's often dismissed in some cultures as imagination," Levinger adds.
There's no "real" proof.
Along similar lines to the points above, tangible proof of ghosts is ultimately lacking. For people who aren't necessarily open to ideas that can't be explained by science, the burden of proof is subsequently too heavy for them to believe in ghosts.
So, are ghosts real?
Cho, Levinger, and professional intuitive and author of Angel Intuition Tanya Carroll Richardson are all open to the idea of ghosts. Levinger and Richardson, in fact, both say they've experienced ghostly energy firsthand.
However, Richardson caveats, "When discussing topics like ghosts, I think it's important to note that no one has all the answers, and I encourage people to make up their own minds. I have seen ghosts a few times with my physical eyes, but they can also be sensed with your feeling or clairsentient psychic pathway."
Levinger concurs, noting that after working as a medium and intuitive for years, she's received enough validation through her readings to believe the information that comes through to her. "If this isn't your line of work or if you aren't used to trusting your intuition, it can be hard to believe that ghosts, which live in a realm where the only way to be aware of them is to trust that intuition exists."
She adds that, again, some people just don't believe that there is an afterlife. "There are so many religious and belief systems that don't include ghosts—and I personally respect that, even if that's not what I believe."
Ultimately, though, the experts in the fields of mysticism, the occult, and the paranormal are (more than likely) going to believe, or at least be open to, the idea of ghosts. Those who are more concerned with the physical realm, and prefer to base belief on science (as well as proof), are going to have a hard time warming up to the idea—unless, of course, they were to experience something ghostly themselves.
No one can say for sure whether ghosts are real, but those who claim to have experienced them will stand by that belief. While science hasn't been able to pin down any concrete proof of the existence of ghosts, their reported presence has been recorded for years upon years and will likely continue to be reported for years to come.
Sarah Regan is a Spirituality & Relationships Editor, a registered yoga instructor, and an avid astrologer and tarot reader. She received her bachelor's in broadcasting and mass communication from State University of New York at Oswego, and lives in Buffalo, New York.