Ghost stories have been a part of humankind’s mindset ever since people had a few minutes to spare to spin the tale. They are a part of mythology from a number of different cultures, a part of some of the first stories ever written down, and still occupy a steady niche in the pop culture of today. Still there are plenty of skeptics about the real existence of ghosts, those who only believe in the here and now. I’ve always taken the opposite stance. I tend to think that if an idea has existed this long and so widespread then there has to be an element of truth in it whether it can be proven or not.
It’s impossible to say what the origins of ghost stories are. It’s been theorized that they started out of a fear of the unknown, or as cautionary tales similar to fairy tales. One of the oldest written stories is from ancient Sumer, the Epic of Gilgamesh, and was recorded on cuneiform about 2000 BC. The saga features an encounter with a ghost. After Gilgamesh’s friend Enkidu dies, Gilgamesh seeks out his spirit. After much prodding Enkidu admits that there is a land of the dead and that the dead who aren’t remembered exist in misery. In Homer’s the Iliad, Patroclus’s ghost came to Achilles and chastises him for not having Patroclus buried.
Similar ideas exist in Chinese ghost culture where a spirit can starve and live in misery if they aren’t attended to and remembered by their families. Many cultures developed elaborate funeral rites to keep spirits appeased and away from the living. The Greeks and Romans held to the idea of ghosts lingering in places. Pliny the Younger wrote about a haunted house in his letters around 29 BC. The Egyptians held elaborate funerary rites to ensure immortality after death. The idea of ghost sickness afflicts some Native American tribes, where if a person doesn’t receive the proper burial or mourning rituals then the living can become obsessed with the recent dead. They could experience dizziness, or hallucinations, sometimes even a feeling of suffocation.
Nowadays ghost stories are still a part of our everyday culture. I cannot watch “The Grudge” with its traditional Japanese vengeful ghost, the onryo without losing a bit of sleep. There are a number of ghost hunting shows on TV. My son’s favorite is “Ghost Adventures.” He studies the episodes with devotion and has already prepared plans for his own ghost hunting career with his two best friends. Shows like these seek to either prove or debunk ghost stories. Even during Christmas time there are mentions of ghosts. Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol is a favorite holiday ghost story of mine and Andy William’s song “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year” mentions scary ghost stories in the lyrics.
Most people that I’ve talked to can speak of an experience they’ve had with a ghost. A personal story that touched me deeply, happened just before I got married. I’d just had my wedding shower and was unpacking my gifts in my new apartment. I remember thinking how much I missed my Grammy Noyes and how I wished that she and my fiancé’s Big Dad could be there for the wedding. One of the gifts I’d been given was a recipe box, filled with favorites by the people who’d attended the shower. And tucked in amongst all the rest was a recipe for my Grammy’s chocolate cake with fudge icing in her handwriting. I sensed her presence beside me, her hand on my shoulder so strongly that I burst into tears.
I love hearing other people’s own ghost stories. Please leave a comment and share them with me.