These days the notion of a ghost is usually limited to the world of fiction. Tales of such apparitions have been found in every culture. The ghost hunting theme has been featured in reality television series in the West. The traditional popular image is of something wispy and translucent. Yet we tend not to actually believe in something like a ghost if we haven’t experienced it.
Is there really any nonphysical environment to human existence? After our death can we appear before and haunt the living? Or is this just mumbo jumbo? Fanciful stories to amuse or frighten us on a dark night?
A so-called ghost is thought to be the same figure witnessed in the same locality on a number of occasions often by a number of different individuals. But a ghost is only one type of apparitional experience.
Surveys have shown that claiming to have experienced an apparition is not as uncommon as one might think. One typical survey of people (done in Iceland) put the incidence at 31% who had witnessed an apparition of a dead person. This is fairly typical of such studies.
Alternative explanations of ghost
Despite the high prevalence of these private experiences, you may wonder if seeing a ghost is really due to a disturbed state of mind or drugs.
There are some reasons for thinking there is more to it. About a quarter of those experiencing an apparition say it was noticed by other people at the same time, although not by everybody present. In contrast a psychotic or drug-induced hallucination cannot be shared.
Also an apparition can be clearly identified as someone known; hallucinatory figures typically are anonymous or obviously nonexistent individuals.
Likewise, the experience of an apparition conveys verifiable information of which the person was previously unaware. This generally is lacking in psychotic and drug-induced hallucinations.
Ghost and substantial reality
In 18th century Europe, Emanuel Swedenborg claimed that during the last 27 years of his life, he had a daily experience of hearing and seeing into what he called the ‘spiritual world’ and its inhabitants: these he said looked and sounded like you and me: the spiritual world thus being a real world and not airy-fairy disembodied imagination.
According to his testimony, sights, sounds, touch, of spiritual body and spiritual environment are said to resemble what we perceive with our physical senses. So people still have bodies, and are even men and women, but they take their appearance and form from their inner character. And he said the surroundings work in the same way too, being affected by the people who live there.
Some of this thought regarding apparitions ties in with modern para-psychological research which has found that they are experienced as real and solid. Most of them appear to show awareness of their surroundings although this is less characteristic of a ghost. For example if the observer moves around the room, then the apparition’s head reportedly may turn to follow these movements. Also when the figure moves one cannot see things behind it.
Swedenborg didn’t write about ghosts as such but he did write concerning his experience of spirits and how they are associate with not only people, but places and things.
“I don’t necessarily believe that ghosts are actual spirits trapped in this world…. I believe that something in this world is attached to certain spirits, or events. The appearance or feeling of a “ghost” may be something that is more like a recording in this world associated with the spirit but not actually the spirit itself.” (Grant Schnarr, Swedenborgian spiritual leader)
Veil of materialistic culture
I would say that our inherited disposition and culture orientates us towards the worldly side of things: and that we are consequently pre-occupied with our natural needs and what goes on around us. This, however, arguably distracts us from the inner reality of spirit. If so, during our life in this world, the eyes and other senses of our spirit would be closed, so we wouldn’t consciously experience what Swedenborg said are other spirits immediately present with us.
Can a ghost see what we are doing? Not according to Swedenborg, because he maintains the two dimensions are entirely different. Physical things are as invisible to spirits as the spiritual world is invisible to us here. The reason is based on a necessary freedom that works both ways.
Swedenborg nevertheless maintains that good spirits are able to help us by introducing positive things to our mind. For example by stirring our deep memories and associations and the things we treasure about life. Also inflowing helpful suggestions of relevance to our situation.
Swedenborg warned about the dangers of intentionally trying to contact the dead e.g. in a séance. You can be misled by a malevolent spirit wanting to lead you astray who tells lies and impersonates someone else.
However, he pointed out that there are occasions when people involuntarily become conscious of the presence of benevolent spirits.
“Some who lead a solitary life occasionally hear spirits speaking to them and without danger. The spirit may thus come to a person and communicate some words” (Emanuel Swedenborg)
This seems to be the case particularly with those individuals in a bit of personal crisis needing encouragement, guidance, or comfort. The voices in climber Joe Simpson’s head that saved his life by guiding him off the mountain illustrate this. More about his experience here
Swedenborg does say that there are people who do have contact with angels on occasions and loved ones, especially the elderly who are preparing for the other world. Surveys of the bereaved individuals find that widows commonly experienced the appearance of their dead husbands and that these experiences were usually comforting and helpful. In many cases the women had not told others of this.
Why not read what is a well documented narration of the apparitions seen here?
“The more we know, the more we know there is to know” (Albert Einstein, physicist)
Copyright 2015 Stephen Russell-Lacy
Author Heart, Head & Hands (https://spiritualquestions.org.uk/2012/10/heart-head-hands-ebook/)