How Much Have Ghosts Changed in 150 Years?

Ghosts are one of those things that are always supposed to be constant.  As we die if we are forced to remain on this mortal coil as ethereal beings of energy, we can’t possibly be anything outside of the predetermined and stringent rules of haunting.  To diverge even slightly from what we know as proper and possible behavior for a ghost is simply unheard of.  Or is it?  In the past 150 years the image of the phantasmal figure has changed quite a bit.  So how much of it is cultural or perceptive and how much is actually real?  And why, even after so many years do some things about our ghostly guests never change?

In 2011 we are seeing expert television programs declaring very objective rules about a phenomenon that is still admittedly very much a mystery.  Though you may be able to perceive an Electronic voice signal emitting from an unknown source, the conversations taking place suggest a level of intelligence on the part of the ghost itself.  And to appear on film you likely have to either affect the videotape being run through or reflect light like any other object that can be seen by the human eye.  But looking through the history of hauntings, it wasn’t always this way.

In the year 1890 the spiritualist movement was in full swing.  Psychics, paranormal hounds, and the wealthy patrons to these often elaborate parlor shows would each profess an intimate knowledge of the supernatural.  And indeed as time went on a narrative began to emerge.  Psychics would produce from their pores and orifices a substance known as ectoplasm.  This ectoplasm would then, much to the horror of those assembled, take on an animate form and even show the faces of loved ones who had been lost or famous individuals with whom those assembled wished to speak.  Rapping sounds would often report back to the spiritualists and communication would happen through this simple form.

As time went on, however, the spiritualist narrative changed.  Many have attributed this to the increasing popularity of spiritualism itself.  As shows had to outdo one another, they had to become increasingly elaborate.  And the narrative of what a ghost was had to support this move.  But there is at least one other possibility.

Just as ghosts are manifestations of a person’s consciousness, it might be possible that a person’s perception can affect both the consciousness of the spirit being summoned and therefore how it interacts with the world around it.  If we are to study the paranormal objectively, we may have to take into consideration the possibility that it is an ever changing and ‘living’ phenomenon that will change as consciousness around the world does.  And this means as soon as new information – such as a perfect understanding of how ghosts work suddenly springs forth, it may then change dramatically making it even more difficult to understand in the future.  The end result would by a landscape of theories that are subsequently “proven” beyond a reasonable doubt and then discarded.

Of course throughout it all there is one constant we can never deny.  People see these strange apparitions, and even the staunchest of skeptics can be transformed quickly by a full apparition appearing right before their very eyes.