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Every few years (maybe more frequent) I have an urge to write about ghosts. Hallowe’en is a good time to do so, as the holiday is based on the belief spirits are about this night. I think it was Robertson Davies who said about ghosts: “All evidence is against them, while all experience is for them”. I recently read a large minority of Americans believe in ghosts. I remember an interview with a literal ghostbuster who reported not once in his experience has he come across an actual ghost but every so-called hauntings were explained by mundane matters. I was both not surprised and disappointed. More on that later.

What makes us go to ghosts as an explanation for things in the dark? Our wiring has two built-in go-tos:

  1. We see patterns and make meaning out of the unknown.
  2. We want to avoid risk.

It’s easy to disregard paranormal interpretations in the daylight but everything changes when we head into that dark basement. Unfamiliar and possibly threatening places kick in our autonomic system to go into survival mode. Few people can go into the woods at night and not become vigilant towards ‘what may be there”. Predators are one thing but something uncanny really gives us the heebie-jeebies.

Speaking as a shrink, when I hear of people experiencing ghosts I wonder if they have mental illness. I see patients all the time who believe they hear voices and see ghosts. In the context of active depression or schizophrenia or drugs, these reports sound like symptoms, not sightings. People with/without mental illness often attribute their encounters with ghosts to ‘being psychic’ or their loved-ones getting into contact with them. This is often sounds like bereavement and loneliness. These ghosts seem conjured up for folks yearning for the company. To quote from ‘The Secret Garden”:

“Does everyone who die become a ghost?
“They’re only ghosts if someone alive is holding onto them”

“This place is haunted!” often ends up having environmental hazards to them. Mr. Mentioned Ghostbuster often finds contaminants like mold or low frequency sounds that cause one to feel ill and perturbe

I think the main reasons why we see ghosts is we want to. Let’s admit it, believing in ghosts is jolly good fun. Ghost stories started from the get-go and they have never gone out of style. We pay money to visit haunted spots and go on ghost tours and see plays and movies with ghosts in them. We want to believe.

Despite all logic and reason I eagerly await October to get out the ghosts. Henrik (the dear!), despite his shortcoming as a proper phantom, is welcome to stay as long he wants. He and his ilk make life fun.


Spo-fans: Do you believe ghosts exist? Have you seen a ghost?

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October 2021

Spo-Reflections 2006-2018