In folklore, fiction, philosophy, and popular culture, a ghost is the soul or spirit of a deceased person, taken to be capable of appearing in visible form or otherwise manifesting itself to the living. Descriptions of the apparition of ghosts vary widely: the mode of manifestation can range from an invisible presence to translucent or wispy shapes, to realistic, life-like visions. The deliberate attempt to contact the spirit of a deceased person is known as necromancy, or in spiritism as a séance.
The belief in manifestations of the spirits of the dead is widespread, dating back to animism or ancestor worship in pre-literate cultures. Certain religious practices—funeral rites, exorcisms, and some practices of spiritualism and ritual magic—are specifically designed to appease the spirits of the dead. Ghosts are generally described as solitary essences that haunt particular locations, objects, or people with which they were associated in life, though stories of phantom armies, ghost trains, phantom ships, and even ghost animals have also been recounted.
According to the Gallup Poll News Service, belief in haunted houses, ghosts, communication with the dead, and witches had an especially steep increase over the 1990s. A 2005 Gallup poll found that about 32 percent of Americans believe in ghosts.
photography by Edouard Plongeon
excerpt from "Myths and Mysteries of Washington State" by Lynn Bragg