Hello again, and welcome back to the next installment of Shocktoberfest. Today’s monster is one that is nearly as old as humanity itself: the ghost.
Universally across cultures, ghosts are believed to be visual manifestations of the souls of those who have died and continue to exist in some form amongst the living, typically incorporeal (although sometimes they leave behind cytoplasm). While the term “ghost” is typically the go-to word, they have also been referred to as specters, spirits, apparitions, ghouls, phantoms, bogies and spooks to name a few. Whatever name they’re given is usually done as a judgment of their character (specters/spirits = good, ghouls/bogies = bad). The word “ghost” has come to be a generic term for the creatures, but when uncovering its origins, it yielded some interesting definitions.
In English, “ghost” is rooted in old Germanic and Norse languages as a derivative to words that denoted anger, fury and rage. However, other translations from other languages denote more positive qualities. The Latin word “spiritus” means breath, as in the breath of life and does not necessarily reflect negativity of a weary dead soul. In modern German, the word “Geist” has two meanings. One is a literal translation of the word “ghost,” but it also is the same word they use to describe the mind and intellect. But this is Shocktoberfest; we aren’t here to talk about friendly ghosts.
Mean-spirited ghosts tend to fall under certain subtypes. The kinds we most likely think of whenever we think of haunting situations are either revenants or poltergeist.
A revenant is a deceased person who has returned from the dead specifically to torment the living. This, however, is not a term that is used exclusively towards ghosts. In fact, when talking about revenants, the word has come to be more associated with vampires since they’re seen more as hunters of humans and also because they can take on a more tangible physical form.
Poltergeist (“noisy ghost” in German) are ghosts who haunt the living by moving invisibly or influencing random objects, hence floating furniture and doors opening and closing on their own.
So whenever you find yourself in a ghost story, how do deal with them? You can’t shoot them with silver. You can’t drive stakes through their hearts. You can’t destroy their brains. Being immaterial creatures means that unorthodox methods need to be used and nearly every ghost story has its own method. Some people try speaking directly to the spirit in order to reason with it through a ritual known as a séance.
If the ghost is malevolent and possessing a living person, sometimes an exorcism is performed to remove the spirit from the host and potentially either set it to rest or send it to another dimension where it can face punishment.
But then there are times when there’s something strange in your neighborhood, and the ghosts need to be treated like common pests. By which they are removed from the premises with proton packs and the proper containment unit. (Just be sure not to cross the streams.)
What makes ghosts different from the other monsters we’ve covered so far is that many people don’t believe that ghosts are a myth. Some might even claim to have a personal experience with being haunted. Whether or not you believe in ghosts is going to depend on how accepting you are to the idea of an afterlife. If you’re like me, you probably don’t believe in ghosts. If not, the notion of ghosts is comforting because it reinforces the belief that we still continue to exist in some form after we die. But regardless of whether or not ghosts are real, their popularity as characters in stories is obviously clear. That’s why they make such great villains; they’re bad guys who can kill you, but you can’t kill them. And since they’re dead, there’s an uncomfortable feeling about them since they no longer belong in this world. Their mere presence is usually enough to paralyze their victims with fear.
With the ability to shock and maim while coming out without a scratch on them, it’s no wonder why these ghouls have been one of the oldest and most prolific monsters of all time.