Ghosts: Spirits of the Dead around the World

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Ghosts are, perhaps, the only true universal monster... the only one believed of worldwide. A ghost is said to be the spirit of a dead person or animal which has returned to the world of the living in a disembodied form. Beyond this, ghosts can be different from country to country, person to person. Sometimes a figure of a person is seen, hazy or distinct; sometimes a voice is heard, or a presence felt; sometimes a ghost is even something as simple as a scent that shouldn’t be there, but is known to be associated with a departed person.

Many ghosts appear only once, to just one or two people. These brief visits usually have a distinct purpose behind them, as if to say that those who have departed cannot truly rest until one last job is taken care of. A common behavior of this type of ghost are those that appear as a notifier of the person’s death to their loved ones, generally appearing shortly before or after the dying person has finally passed on. Carolus Linnaeus [1707 - 1778 CE], famed Swedish scientist, left behind an account of such an encounter. In papers found after his death, he described how, on the night of July 12, 1765, his wife was awakened by the sound of footsteps in their locked museum. She woke her husband, who listened for a short while before remarking that it sounded just like the steps of his old friend Carl Clerk, whose steps Linnaeus use to always recognize upon hearing in Stolkholm. He investigated, but the museum was empty. A few days later, Linnaeus received notice that Clerk had died on the night of July 12, at the same time that the footsteps were heard in the museum.

Osono's Ghost

Some ghosts return to ask for help in finishing a task that has prevented them from resting. At least 140 years ago, a priest named Daigen Osho was called to a house in the area of modern day Kyoto, Japan, to quiet the spirit of a young woman named O-Sono who had died a few days earlier. An apparition of her, solid looking above the waist but fading to invisible by the feet, had appeared in front of a chest of drawers every night since her death, worrying her family. Daigen Osho asked to be left alone for the night in the room and, a little after midnight, the ghost appeared. With the ghost’s permission, the priest searched through the dresser until he found a hidden letter ― a love note O-Sono had received before her marriage. Asked if this was what she was worried about, the ghost nodded... so Daigen Osho promised to burn the letter at his temple the following morning. O-Sono’s ghost never appeared again.

Hauntings: Ghosts that Stay

Some ghosts don’t go away; instead, they continue to visit places they either knew in life, or became associated with through death. When a location is regularly visited by activity that is believed to be caused by ghosts, that place is said to be “haunted.” Some hauntings are quiet and benign; the ghost makes a few noises or sometimes moves things, but does nothing that really bothers the people living or working near it.

Despard Haunting

Just such a quiet ghost was observed for many years by a studious young woman named Rosina Despard, who wrote down her observations of a phantom woman in black. The site of the haunting was a large house called St. Anne’s, located in Cheltenham, England, and the ghost was observed for several years starting in 1882. Ms. Despard saw the figure of the woman in black several times and attempted to talk to her, but to no avail. If she followed the figure, it would simply disappear. She tried to touch the ghost several times, but it always seemed to be just out of reach. Ms. Despard even tied thin cords across the steps of the staircase in the house, which would be broken by a normal visitor; but the figure always walked through the cords without disturbing them. On one occasion, the family dog approached the stairs, clearly expecting to be petted by something unseen. The dog jumped up in a friendly greeting... then immediately slunk away with its tail between its legs to hide.

Ghost on Stairs

The woman in black never disturbed the residents of St. Anne’s purposely, and was observed by several of Ms. Despard’s friends. They were all convinced that the ghost was that of the wife of the former occupant of the house.

Unfriendly Hauntings

Some hauntings are impossible to live or work near. Sites of hauntings can become a battleground between living people who currently own a property and the ghosts of the dead who see the living as invaders into their chosen residence. A bad haunting can drive people away, or even destroy the structure.

One of the most famous such hauntings happened in the township of Borley, in Suffolk, England. The Rectory, as it was called, had been built in 1863 on the site of two older buildings. It seemed that the Rectory had inherited many ghosts from the earlier settlements, as local reports of strange occurrences were common. The two families that lived in the Rectory previous to 1929 claimed to have seen phantoms of a nun, an old man, a coach and horses, and a headless man. They said they heard footsteps, taps, bells, and whispers when no one could have made them.

Borley Rectory

In 1929, objects started to move of their own accord. Pebbles, keys, and medals appeared from nowhere. Stones fell out of nowhere, strange smells permeated the air, and the woman of the house was attacked by an invisible assailant. On February 27, 1939, the Rectory burned down under mysterious circumstances. Five years later, the skeleton of a young woman was found in the basement of the building’s remains; some people believe this was the body of the ghostly nun that was so often reported.

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  • Carolus Linnaeus: Ein Lebensbild, by Dr. Johannes Fr. X. Gistel, 1878 J.D. Sauerlander's Verlag, Frankfurt, Germany. Pg. 198. Online in German: Click Here!
  • The End of Borley Rectory, By Harry Price, 2008 Read Books (reprint of the 1946 edition of the book). ISBN: 1443723479, 9781443723473. Oniline: Click Here!
  • Forgotten Mysteries, by R. DeWitt Miller, 1947 Cloud Inc., Chicago, USA. Pg. 52-53
  • Kwaidan, by Lafcadio Hearn, 1930 Houghton Mifflin and Company, Boston and New York, USA. pg. 83-99. Online: Click Here!
  • Strange Stories, Amazing Facts, 1976 The Reader’s Digest Association, Inc., USA. ISBN: 0-89577-028-8 - borley
  • True Ghost Stories, by Hereward Carrington, 1915 The J.S. Ogilvie Publishing Company, New York, USA. pg. 164-169. Online: Click Here!
  • The World of the Unexplained, by Janet and Colin Bord, 1998 Blandford, London, England. ISBN: 0-7137-2746-2. pg. 72-73, 78
  • The World's Greatest Unsolved Mysteries, By Lionel Fanthorpe & Patricia Fanthorpe, 1977 Hounslow Press, Toronto, Canada. ISBN: 0-88882-194-8. pg. 52-53

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