An apparition, from Latin apparere (to appear), is in its literal
sense merely an appearance—a sense perception of any
kind, but as used in psychical research and parapsychology
the word denotes an abnormal or paranormal appearance or
perception, which cannot be explained by any mundane objective
cause. Taken in this sense the word covers all visionary appearances,
hallucinations, clairvoyance, and similar unusual
Sometimes the human soul was represented as a bird—an
eagle, a dove, a raven—or as an animal of some sort, just as the
soul of a river might be in the form of a horse or a serpent, or
the soul of a tree in human shape; but among most peoples the
belief was that the soul was an exact reproduction of the body
resembling it in every feature, even to details of dress.
When a person saw another in a dream, it was thought either
that the soul of the dreamer had visited the person dreamed
of, or that the soul of the latter had visited the dreamer. By an
easy process of reasoning, this theory was extended to include
dreams of animals and inanimate things, which also were endowed
with souls.
Telepathy and clairvoyance have been described as appearing
in pre-industrial indigenous cultures and have a powerful
effect in the development of a belief in apparitions. It is believed
that the apparition of a deceased person suggested to
some the continuance of the soul’s existence beyond the grave;
the apparition of a sick person, or one in some other grave crisis
could also be regarded as the soul, which at such times was
absent from the body.
There is a widely diffused opinion that ghosts are of a filmy,
unsubstantial nature, a belief also present in the earliest speculations
concerning apparitions. At a very early period (as, for
example, in the early chapters of the biblical book of Genesis)
we find ‘‘spirit’’ and ‘‘breath’’ identified with each other—an
identification continued in the Latin spiritus and the Greek
pneuma, as well as appearing in other languages. It is possible
that the breath, which in some climates readily condenses in
cold air to a white mist, might be regarded as the stuff that
ghosts are made of.
The ‘‘misty’’ nature of the ghost may also have resulted from
an early speculation that the shadow is related to soul. Thus
‘‘animistic’’ ideas of the soul offer an explanation of apparitions.
Ancient religion also had a belief in a host of spirits that
had never taken bodies—true supernatural beings, as distinct
from souls, i.e., gods, elementary spirits, and those ‘‘evil’’ spirits
to which were attributed disease, disaster, possession, and
bewitchment. The ancient deities may have evolved into the
fairies, elves, brownies, bogies, and goblins of popular folklore,
of which many apparitions are recorded.
Primitive Concepts of Apparitions
It is only within the last few generations that scientific investigation
of apparitions has begun, growing out of the new postEnlightenment
scientific mythologies, and resulting from the
new level of skepticism towards paranormal occurrences that
developed in the nineteenth century. There was an almost universal
belief in ghosts, a belief which European explorers found
among the peoples they encountered as they set out on their
empire-building expansions.
One of the most noteworthy features of ghosts in indigenous
cultures was the fear and antagonism with which many regarded
them. The spirits of the deceased were frequently thought
to be unfriendly towards the living, desirous of drawing their
souls into the spirit-world. Sometimes, as with the Australian
Aborigines, they were represented as malignant demons. Naturally,
everything possible was done to keep such ghosts at a distance
from the habitations of the living.
Barriers to ghosts were constructed of thorn bushes planted
around the beds of surviving relatives. Persons returning from
a funeral might pass through a cleft tree, or other narrow aperture,
to free themselves from the ghost of the person they just
buried. The same reason has been given for the practice, common
among Hottentots, Hindus, Native Americans, and many
other peoples, of carrying the dead out through a hole in the
wall and closing the aperture immediately afterward. The custom
of closing the eyes of the dead may have arisen from the
fear that the ghost would find its way back again.
To the contrary, the Mayas of the Yucatan (Mexico), used to
draw a line with chalk from the tomb to the hearth, so that the
soul might return if it desired to do so.
Among many peoples, the names of the departed (in some
mysterious manner bound up with the soul, if not identified
with it) are not mentioned by the survivors, and any among
them possessing the same name change it for another.
Apparitions appeared in many shapes; it might take a
human form, or the form of a beast, bird, or fish. Animal ghosts
were common among Native Americans in both North and
South America. Certain African tribes believed that the souls of
evil-doers became jackals (a scavenger animal) on the death of
the body. The Tapuya Indians of Brazil thought the souls of the
good entered into birds, and this belief was of rather wide diffusion.
When the apparition was in human shape it was generally
an exact counterpart of the person it represented, and, like the
apparitions reported in more recent times, its dress was that
worn by the deceased in its lifetime. It was generally accepted
in indigenous cultures that the spirits of the departed mingled
with the living, coming and going with no particular object in
view or, on occasion, with the special purpose of visiting the
scene of his earthly life. It may be that the spirit was demanding
its body be buried with the proper ceremonial rites, if this had
not been done, for a spirit cannot have any rest until the burial
rite has been duly performed.
In China, the most common ghost was that of a person who
had been murdered, and sought revenge on his murderer. In
Australia, the spirit of one who had been murdered, or had
died a violent death, was also considered likely to walk abroad.
In many lands, the souls of women who died in childbirth were
supposed to become spirits of a particularly malignant type
that dwelled in trees and tormented passers-by. The Eastern
Europeans believed the neglect of proper burial procedures
led the deceased to continued existence as a vampire.
Such attention to burial procedures had several very practical
benefits. The family in charge of the burial of a deceased
relative was provided the opportunity of completing any emotional
business they had with the deceased—a process today
generally termed grief work. Burial rites of today are designed
for the living, not the deceased, and provide a means of affirming
life in the community in the face of death.
In many cultures, it is thought that ghosts haunt certain localities.
The favorite spot seems to be the burial place, of which
there is an almost universal superstitious dread (an emotional
reaction to the implied threat of death). However, the Indians
of Guyana (South America) believed that every place where
anyone had died was haunted. Among the Kaffirs and the Maoris
of New Zealand, a hut where a death has occurred was taboo,
and was often burned or deserted. Sometimes, even a whole village
would be abandoned on account of a death.
In most ancient accounts of apparitions, as well as those
from more recent indigenous peoples, ghosts seldom manifest
articulate human speech. They chirp like crickets, for instance,
among the Algonquin Indians, and their ‘‘voices’’ are only intelligible
to the trained ear of the shaman. The ghosts of the
Zulus and New Zealander Maoris speak to the magicians in
thin, whistling tones. This idea of the semiarticulate nature of
ghosts is not confined to anthropological treatises; in his play
Julius Ceasar, William Shakespeare spoke of ‘‘the sheeted
dead,’’ who, ‘‘did squeak and gibber in the streets of Rome,’’
and the ‘‘gibbering’’ ghost appeared in other connections.
Naturally an articulate apparition would be doubly convincing,
since it appealed to two separate senses. Nineteenthcentury
anthropologist E. B. Tylor argued, ‘‘Men who perceive
evidently that souls do talk when they present themselves in
dream or vision, naturally take for granted at once the objective
reality of the ghostly voice, and of the ghostly form from which
it proceeds.’’ Spirits that are generally invisible may appear
only to selected persons and under certain circumstances. In
the Antilles, it was believed that one person traveling alone
could see a ghost that would be invisible to a number of people.
The various religious functionaries—shamans, medicine men,
and magicians—were often able to perceive apparitions that
Apparitions Encyclopedia of Occultism & Parapsychology • 5th Ed.
none but they could see. The induction of hallucinations by
means of various techniques—fasts, rigid asceticism, solitude,
the use of narcotics and intoxicants, dancing, and the performance
of elaborate ceremonial rites—was known all over the
world. These rituals are still performed today.
Ancient and Modern Ideas Concerning Apparitions
The belief in apparitions was very common in the ancient
Middle East. The early Hebrews attributed them to angels, demons,
and the souls of the dead, as is shown in the numerous
Scriptural instances of apparitions. Dreams (see, for example
Genesis 41) were regarded as apparitions if the predictions
made in them were fulfilled, or if the dream-figure revealed
anything unknown to the dreamer which afterwards proved to
be true. That the Hebrews believed in the possibility of the
souls of the dead returning is evident from the tale of the witch
of Endor (I Samuel 28). In this connection, French biblical
scholar Augustin Calmet wrote in his classic study, Dissertations
upon the Apparitions of Angels, Demons & Ghosts (1759), ‘‘Whether
Samuel was raised up or not, whether his soul, or only a shadow,
or even nothing at all appeared to the woman, it is still certain
that Saul and his attendants, with the generality of the Hebrews,
believed the thing to be possible.’’ Similar beliefs were
held by other Mediterranean nations. Among the Greeks and
Romans of the classic period apparitions of gods and men seem
to have been fairly common. As Calmet further noted,
‘‘The ancient Greeks, who had derived their religion and
theology from the Egyptians and Eastern nations, and the Latins,
who had borrowed theirs from the Greeks, were all firmly
persuaded that the souls of the dead appeared sometimes to
the living—that they could be called up by necromancers, that
they answered questions, and gave notice of future events; that
Apollo gave oracles, and that the priestess, filled with his spirit,
and transported with a holy enthusiasm, uttered infallible predictions
of things to come. Homer, the most ancient of all the
Greek writers, and their greatest divine, relates several apparitions,
not only of gods, but of dead men and heroes. In the Odyssey,
he introduces Ulysses consulting Teresias, who, having
prepared a pit full of blood, in order to call up the Manes, Ulysses
draws his sword to hinder them from drinking the blood for
which they were very thirsty, till they had answered the questions
proposed to them. It was also a prevailing opinion that
the souls of men enjoyed no repose, but wandered about near
their carcasses as long as they continued unburied. Even after
they were buried, it was a custom to offer them something to
eat, especially honey, upon the supposition that after having
left their graves, they came to feed upon what was brought
them. They believed also, that the demons were fond of the
smoke of sacrifices, of music, of the blood of victims, and the
commerce of women; and that they were confined for a determinate
time to certain houses or other places, which they
haunted, and in which they appeared.
‘‘They held that souls, when separated from their gross and
terrestrial bodies, still retained a finer and more subtle body,
of the same form with that which they had quitted; that these
bodies were luminous like the stars; and they retained an inclination
for the things which they had loved in their life time,
and frequently appeared about their graves. When the soul of
Patroclus appeared to Achilles, it had his voice, his shape, his
eyes, and his dress, but not the same tangible body.’’
Calmet added of the early Christian church fathers,
‘‘We find that Origen, Tertullian, and St. Irenaus, were
clearly of this opinion. Origen, in his second book against Celsus,
relates and subscribes to the opinion of Plato, who says,
that the shadows and images of the dead, which are seen near
sepulchres, are nothing but the soul disengaged from its gross
body, but not yet entirely freed from matter; that these souls
become in time luminous, transparent, and subtle, or rather
are carried in luminous and transparent bodies, as in a vehicle,
in which they appeal to the living. . . . Tertullian, in his book
concerning the soul, asserts that it is corporeal, and of a certain
figure, and appeals to the experience of those who have seen
apparitions of departed souls, and to whom they have appeared
as corporeal and tangible, though of an aerial colour
and consistence. He defines the soul to be a breath from God,
immortal, corporeal, and of a certain figure.’’
It is interesting to note that some of these widely read classic
accounts of specters became the model of the melodramatic
conceptions of more modern times. The younger Pliny tells of
haunted houses whose main features correspond with those of
later hauntings—houses haunted by dismal, chained specters,
and the ghosts of murdered men who could not rest till their
mortal remains had been properly buried.
In the early centuries of Christendom there was no diminution
in the number of apparitions witnessed. Visions of saints
were frequently seen; their appearances were stimulated by the
fasts, rigid austerities, and severe penances practiced by Christian
ascetics and penitents. The saints regularly saw visions, and
were attended by guardian angels, as well as being harassed by
the unwelcome attention of demons, or of their master, the
These beliefs continued into the Middle Ages, when, without
decreasing in vigor, they began to assume a more romantic
aspect. The witch and werewolf superstitions led to many tales
of animal apparitions. The poltergeist flourished in a congenial
atmosphere. Vampires were familiar in Slavonic and African
lands, and analogous beings such as the incubus and succubus
were widespread throughout Northern and Western
In the northern countries, familiar spirits or goblins, similar
to the Roman lares, or the wicked and mischievous lemures,
haunted the domestic hearth, and bestowed well-meant, but
not always desirable, attentions on the families to which they attached
themselves. These beings were accountable for a vast
number of apparitions, but the spirits of the dead also walked
abroad. Generally they wished to unburden their minds of
some weighty secret that hindered them from resting in their
graves. The criminal came to confess his guilt, the miser to reveal
the spot where he had hidden his gold. The cowled monk
walked the dim aisles of a monastery, or haunted the passages
of some Rhenish castle until the prayers of the devout won release
for his tortured soul.
Tales of apparitions began to emerge in this period. For example,
a maiden in white might flit through the corridor of an
old mansion, moaning and wringing her hands, enacting in
pantomime some long-forgotten tragedy. At the crossroads lingered
the ghost of the poor suicide, uncertain which way to
take. The old belief in the dread potency of the unburied dead
continued to exercise sway. Another story, of German origin,
tells of the Bleeding Nun. Many and ghastly had been her
crimes during her lifetime, until finally she was murdered by
one of her paramours, and her body was left unburied. The castle
where she was slain became the scene of her nocturnal wanderings.
One traditional story tells of a young woman who
wished to elope with her lover and decided to disguise herself
as this ghostly specter in order to facilitate their escape. But the
unfortunate lover eloped with the veritable Bleeding Nun herself,
mistaking her for his mistress!
This, and other traditional tales of apparitions—the Wild
Huntsman, the Phantom Coach, and the Flying Dutchman, to
mention a few of the more widespread and famous—either
originated in this period or acquired in it a wildly romantic
character which lent itself to treatment by ballad writers. It is
in ballad form that many of these stories survived.
Such tales of the apparitions gave way in the eighteenth century
to a skepticism among the more educated elements of
Western society about the objective nature of apparitions—a
skepticism that was destined two centuries later to assume almost
universal proportions. Hallucinations, although not yet
very well understood, began to be referred to as the ‘‘power of
imagination.’’ Many apparitions were also attributed to illusion.
The belief in apparitions was sustained and given new
Encyclopedia of Occultism & Parapsychology • 5th Ed. Apparitions
strength by the clairvoyant powers demonstrated by magnetized
subjects and somnambules. Emanuel Swedenborg, who
had many disciples, did much to encourage the idea that apparitions
were both objective and supernatural. To explain the
fact that only the seer saw these beings and heard their voices,
he argued,
‘‘The speech of an angel or of a spirit with man is heard as
sonorously as the speech of one man with another yet it is not
heard by others who stand near, but by the man himself alone.
The reason is, the speech of an angel or of a spirit flows in first
into the man’s thought, and by an internal way into the organ
of hearing, and thus actuates it from within, whereas the speech
of man flows first into the air, and by an external way into the
organ of hearing which it actuates from without. Hence, it is evident,
that the speech of an angel and of a spirit with man is
heard in man, and, since it equally affects the organ of hearing,
that it is equally sonorous.’’
Ancient and modern ideas on apparitions differed very little
in essential particulars, though they were colored by the culture
in which they were reported and the time to which they belong.
In times past they were thin, gibbering shadows; now they tend
to be solid, full-bodied creatures, hardly to be distinguished
from real flesh and blood, or again they are rich in romantic
accessories; but the laws governing their appearance are the
same, and the beliefs concerning them are not greatly different,
in whatever culture or time period they may be found.
The belief in apparitions is as old as humanity, but modern
culture tends to reduce the phantoms to human shapes. Rare
indeed, though not unknown, are accounts like that Plutarch
told of Brutus,
‘‘A little before he left Asia he was sitting alone in his tent,
by a dim light, and at a late hour. The whole army lay in sleep
and silence, while the general, wrapped in meditation, thought
he perceived something enter his tent; turning towards the
door he saw a horrible and monstrous specter standing silently
by his side. ‘What art thou,’ said he boldly. ‘Art thou God or
man, and what is thy business with me’ The specter answered,
‘I am thy evil genius, Brutus! Thou wilt see me at Philippi.’ To
which he calmly replied, ‘I’ll meet thee there.’ When the apparition
was gone he called his servants, who told him they had
neither heard any voice, nor seen any vision.’’
Types of Apparitions
Psychical research divided apparitions broadly into two
classes—induced and spontaneous. To the former class belong
hypnotic and post-hypnotic hallucinations and visions induced
by the use of narcotics and intoxicants, fasts, ascetic practices,
incense, narcotic salves, and various forms of hypnotism. The
hallucinatory appearances seen in the mediumistic or somnambulistic
trance are allied to those of hypnotism, but usually arise
spontaneously, and are often associated with clairvoyance.
Crystallomancy or crystal gazing is a form of apparition
that is believed to be frequently clairvoyant, and in this case the
theory of telepathy is especially applicable. Crystal visions fall
under the heading of induced apparitions, since gazing in a
crystal globe induces in some persons an altered or slight dissociation
of consciousness, without which hallucination is impossible.
Another form of clairvoyance is second sight, a faculty commonly
reported among the Scottish Highlanders. Persons gifted
with second sight often see symbolical apparitions; for instance,
the vision of a funeral or a coffin when a death is about
to occur in the community. Symbolical appearances are indeed
a feature of clairvoyance and visions generally. Clairvoyance includes
retrocognition and premonition—visions of the past
and the future respectively—as well as apparitions of contemporary
events happening at a distance. Clairvoyant powers are
often attributed to the dying. Dreams are, strictly speaking, apparitions,
but in ordinary usage the term is applied only to coincidental
or genuine dreams, or to those ‘‘visions of the
night,’’ which are of peculiar vividness.
These subjective apparitions lead quite naturally to a consideration
of the question of ghosts. The belief in ghosts has
come to us, as has been indicated, from the remotest antiquity,
and innumerable theories have been formulated to account for
it, from older conceptions of the apparition as an actual soul
to modern theories of which the chief are telepathy and spirit
materialization. Apparitions of the living also offer a wide field
for research, perhaps the most favored hypothesis being that
of telepathic hallucination.
Another type of apparition is the wraith or double, of which
the Irish fetch is a variant. The wraith is an exact facsimile of
a living person, who may himself see it; Goethe, Shelley, and
other famous men are said to have seen their own wraiths. The
fetch makes its appearance shortly before the death of the person
it represents, either to himself or his friends, or both. Another
Irish spirit which foretells death is the banshee, a being
which, according to legend, attaches itself to certain ancient
families, and is regularly seen or heard before the death of one
of its members.
To the same class of spirits belong the omens of death, in
the form of certain animals or birds, which follow some families.
The poltergeist, whose playful manifestations must certainly
be included among apparitions is suggested as another
classification of these as visual, auditory, and tactile, since poltergeist
hauntings—or indeed hauntings of any kind—are not
confined to apparitions touching any one sense.
Apparitions of the Virgin Mary
One characteristic type of apparition is the appearance of
the Virgin Mary, who is usually seen by young girls in Catholic
countries. Such appearances involve messages for mankind as
a whole, usually admonitions against sin and exhortations to
repentance. The apparitions are not sought by the children
and youths concerned, and often the messages are well beyond
their intellectual capacity. The visions occur in an ecstatic state.
Typical of such apparitions were those at Lourdes, in southern
France, Fatima in Portugal, and Garabandal in Spain. Such
apparitions have reinforced the faith of thousands of Catholics,
though many have pointed out that similar visitations have
been recorded widely within non-Catholic Christianity and
among most or all of the world’s religions and peoples. It is natural
that sincere devotees envision a divine figure in the form
familiar through the iconography of their own religion. The
nineteenth-century Hindu mystic Sri Ramakrishna frequently
had ecstatic visions of the goddess Kali.
While the unreligious might dismiss such visions as religious
hysteria, contemporary psychology has rescued them from the
realms of the abnormal and mapped their ecstatic nature along
with other transpersonal psychological states, and religious
scholars have noted the predominantly meaningful messages
they deliver. One might also group such visitations with phenomena
like the appearance of fairies, who are said to have a
changeable aspect, taking on a form to suit the convention of
the percipient. Additionally, in the twentieth century, there
have been frequent reports by UFO contactees of ‘‘shining visitors
from outer space’’ arriving in flying saucers.
Universality of Belief in Apparitions
It is clear that the belief in apparitions, and the varied forms
under which this belief exhibits itself in various times and countries,
is universal. Both ancient and modern peoples believe in
hauntings and the basic principles of the phenomena—the existence
of a spiritual world capable of manifesting itself in the
sphere of matter, and the survival of the human soul after the
dissolution of the body—are the same.
While the beliefs in ancient and medieval times may arouse
interest and curiosity for their own sakes, psychical researchers
have valued them chiefly as throwing light on modern occurrences
and beliefs. The belief in apparitions, for example, has
been a root principle of Spiritualism and is characteristic of religions
that postulate the existence of a human soul. Many indiApparitions
Encyclopedia of Occultism & Parapsychology • 5th Ed.
viduals who are not Spiritualists in the accepted sense have had
experiences that render belief in apparitions inevitable.
Some Typical Examples of Apparitions
The true nature of apparitions is not really known. As Andrew
Lang stated ‘‘Only one thing is certain about apparitions,
namely this, that they do appear. They really are perceived.’’
How are they seen When Lord Adare submitted this question
to the control of the famous medium D. D. Home, he received
the following answer
‘‘At times we make passes over the individual to cause him
to see us, sometimes we make the actual resemblance of our former
clothing, and of what we were, so that we appear exactly
as we were known to you on earth; sometimes we project an
image that you see, sometimes you see us as we are, with a
cloudlike aura of light around us.’’
The perception is not restricted to the small hours of the
night or to times of seclusion. It may occur publicly and at the
most unexpected moments, a fact demonstrated by a ghost in
evening dress seen one morning in a London street in 1878. As
the Daily Telegraph reported ‘‘A woman fled in affright, the figure
had a most cadaverous look, but the next person the apparition
encountered recognized it as that of a friend, a foreigner.’’
Later, this next person, Dr. Armand Leslie, learned the his
close friend was found dead in evening clothes in a foreign city
at the time his phantasm was seen; but such occurrences are
very rare. In the majority of cases there is some mediumistic intervention
or some sufficiently potent driving motive to achieve
the manifestation to nonsensitive people provided they happen
to be in a receptive state.
An instance of the first is Cromwell Varley’s oft-quoted testimony
before the London Dialectical Society in 1869
‘‘In the Winter of 1864–5 I was busy with the Atlantic cable.
I left a gentleman at Birmingham to test the iron wire. He had
seen something of Spiritualism but he did not believe in it. He
had a brother whom I had never seen in life. One night in my
room there were a great number of loud raps. When at length
I sat up in bed I saw a man in the air—a spirit—in military
dress. I could see the pattern of the paper on the wall through
him. Mrs. Varley did not see it. She was in a peculiar state and
became entranced. The spirit spoke to me through her. He told
me his name and said that he had seen his brother in Birmingham
but that what he had to communicate was not understood.
He asked me to write a message to his brother, which I did, and
received an answer from Birmingham ‘Yes, I know my brother
has seen you, for he came to me and was able to make known
as much.’ The spirit informed me that when at school in France
he was stabbed. This fact was only known to his eldest surviving
brother and his mother. When I narrated this to the survivor
he turned very pale and confirmed it.’’
Why Do They Appear
Apparitions often occur because they possess an urgent message
of extreme danger, worry, illness, or death on the part of
the agent. But it is also often a warning of impending danger
of death of someone closely connected to the percipient. The
mode of delivery in the first group may disclose a confused,
perturbed mentality. A phantom form may rush into a room
and alarm individuals by its sudden appearance or by its noises.
The purpose, nevertheless, is mostly clear and the apparition
may come back more than once as if to make sure that the information
of the fact of decease was duly understood. Sometimes
more is conveyed, especially in cases of accidental or violent
death. Successive pictures may arise as if in a vision of the
state of the body or of subsequent steps taken in regard to it.
The announcement of death may be quite explicit, as in the
case described in the Proceedings Society for Psychical Research
(vol. 10, pp. 380–82),
‘‘On June 5th, 1887, a Sunday evening, between eleven and
twelve at night, being awake, my name was called three times.
I answered twice, thinking it was my uncle, ‘Come in, Uncle
George, I am awake,’ but the third time I recognized the voice
as that of my mother, who had been dead sixteen years. I said
‘Mamma!’ She then came round a screen near my bedside with
two children in her arms, and placed them in my arms and put
the bedclothes over them, and said ‘Lucy, promise me to take
care of them, for their mother is just dead.’ I said ‘Yes,
Mamma.’ She repeated ‘Promise me to take care of them.’ I replied
‘Yes, I promise you,’ and I added ‘Oh, Mamma, stay and
speak to me. I am so wretched.’ She replied ‘Not yet, my child.’
Then she seemed to go round the screen again, and I remained,
feeling the children to be still in my arms, and fell
asleep. When I awoke, there was nothing. Tuesday morning,
June 7th, I received the news of my sister-in-law’s death. She
had given birth to a child three weeks before which I did not
know till after her death.’’
In a similar case a mother brought the news of the death of
her grandson by drowning, the drowned man also appearing
to the percipient. In an instance quoted by Camille Flammarion
in The Unknown (1900), the percipient, whose brother was
killed in the attack at Sedan, awoke suddenly during the night
and saw,
‘‘. . . opposite to the window and beside my bed my brother
on his knees surrounded by a sort of luminous mist. I tried to
speak to him but I could not. I jumped out of bed. I looked out
of the window and I saw there was no moonlight. The night was
dark and it was raining heavily, great drops pattering on the
window panes. My poor Oliver was still there. Then I drew
near. I walked right through the apparition. I reached my
chamber door, and as I turned the knob to open I looked back
once more. The apparition slowly turned its head towards me,
and gave me another look full of anguish and love. Then for
the first time I observed a wound on his right temple, and from
it trickled a little stream of blood. The face was pale as wax, but
it was transparent.’’
A letter later received proved that the dead man had a
wound corresponding to that shown by the apparition.
The warning of death is sometimes veiled, an account of
which is well illustrated by the instance recorded by the American
Society for Psychical Research of a salesman, who, in a
distant city, had suddenly seen the phantasmal appearance of
his sister, full of life and natural, with a bright red scratch on
the right side of her face. Perturbed by the vision he immediately
broke his journey. At home his mother nearly fainted
when he mentioned the scar. She had accidentally scratched
her daughter’s face after her death and carefully obliterated all
its traces with powder. A few weeks later the mother died; but
for the vision her son would not have seen her in life again. It
is known that Josephine appeared to Napoleon at St. Helena
and warned him of his approaching death.
The message left by an apparition is usually brief, as if the
power to convey it is limited. The apparition seems to be drawn
to the spot by the personality of the percipient. The place may
have been totally unknown to him in life. The pictorial and
often symbolic nature of the communication has been suggestive
of the more subjective explanations of apparitions. In a curious
group of cases images are seen instead of the lifelike figure.
Anna Blackwell testified to such an experience before the
London Dialectical Committee in 1870. The face of a beloved
relative, like a life-size daguerreotype, appeared on a window
pane of the house opposite to her window. It faded away several
times, and appeared again. There seemed to be upon the pane
a sort of dark iridescence out of which the face evolved, each
appearance lasting about eight seconds, and each being darker
and fainter than the preceding one. She also quoted the case
of a Mrs. M. G. who saw in the tortoiseshell handle of a new
parasol the face of Charles Dickens soon after his death. The
face was small but with every feature perfectly distinct; and as
she gazed upon it in utter amazement, the eyes moved and the
mouth smiled.
Such images usually appear on polished surfaces. They may
be seen by several people and then disappear after a while. In
Encyclopedia of Occultism & Parapsychology • 5th Ed. Apparitions
volume 2 of Phantasms of the Living there is a record of an apparition
of this kind, of one Capt. Towns, witnessed by eight people.
His face was seen on the polished surface of a wardrobe six
weeks after his death.
The explorer Ernest Shackleton’s experience, recorded in
his book South (1919), borders on abnormal perception,
‘‘I know that during that long and racking march of thirtysix
hours over the unnamed mountains and glaciers of South
Georgia it seemed to me often that we were four, not three. I
said nothing to my companions on the point, but afterwards
Worsley said to me ‘Boss, I had a curious feeling on the march
that there was another person with us.’’’
Crean confessed to the same idea. Being interviewed by the
Daily Telegraph (February 1, 1922) on this point, he said ‘‘None
of us cares to speak about that. There are some things which
can never be spoken of. Almost to hint about them comes perilously
near sacrilege. This experience was eminently one of
those things.’’
Apparitions may be accompanied by bright light. A case in
the Proceedings of the American Society for Psychical Research
(vol. 1, p. 405) suggests the objectivity of the occurrence. A physician
and his wife, sleeping in separate but adjoining rooms,
were awakened by a bright light. The physician saw a figure,
and his wife got up and went into her husband’s room to see
what the light was. By that time the figure had disappeared.
In the Rev. Charles Tweedale’s house the disappearance of
a phantom on November 14, 1908, was accompanied by a big
flash of light and a cloud of smoke that filled the kitchen and
the passage. The smoke had no ordinary smell. On another occasion
the figure touched and spoke to his wife, then dissolved
into a pillar of black vapor.
There are some cases in which the apparition is behind the
percipient, yet clearly seen. Again, the phantom may appear
quite solid, yet objects may be seen beyond it. Occasionally, it
is a reflection only. As reported in Phantasms of the Living (vol.
2, p. 35), a Mrs. Searle fainted. Her husband saw her head and
face white and bloodless about the same time in a mirror upon
a window opposite him.
Meeting Cases
Apparitions seen at deathbeds are in a class of their own. In
these so-called ‘‘meeting cases,’’ a type of near-death experience,
it appears as if deceased friends and relatives hasten to
the borderland to extend a welcome to the dying.
In Peak in Darien (1882), Frances Power Cobbe writes,
‘‘The dying person is lying quietly, when suddenly, in the
very act of expiring, he looks up—sometimes starts up in bed—
and gazes on what appears to be vacancy, with an expression
of astonishment, sometimes developing instantly into joy, and
sometimes cut short in the first emotion of solemn wonder and
awe. If the dying man were to see some utterly unexpected but
instantly recognized vision, causing him great surprise, or rapturous
joy, his face could not better reveal the fact. The very instant
this phenomenon occurs, death is actually taking place,
and the eyes glaze even while they gaze at the unknown sight.’’
In many cases on record such paranormal perception and
death are not simultaneous. ‘‘Among all the facts adduced to
prove survival these seem to me to be the most disquieting,’’
wrote Charles Richet, a psychical researcher who wished to explain
all the Spiritistic occurrences by his theory of cryptesthesia.
Hallucination is effectively barred out by those cases in
which others in the room also perceive the phantom forms, but
there is sufficient evidence for a genuine phenomenon if the
person was not known to be dead to the dying at the moment
of perception, or if independent evidence comes forth to prove
that the perception was veridical. A striking illustration of the
latter instance is the case of Elisa Mannors whose near relatives
and friends, concerned in the communications received
through Leonora Piper, were known to Richard Hodgson. His
account, published in the Proceedings of the Society for Psychical
Research(vol. 13, p. 378), states
‘‘The notice of his [F., an uncle of Elisa Mannors] death was
in a Boston morning paper, and I happened to see it on my way
to the sitting. The first writing of the sitting came from Madame
Elisa, without my expecting it. She wrote clearly and
strongly, explaining that F. was there with her, but unable to
speak directly, that she wished to give me an account of how she
had helped F. to reach her. She said that she had been present
at his deathbed, and had spoken to him, and she repeated what
she had said, an unusual form of expression, and indicated that
he had heard and recognized her. This was confirmed in detail
in the only way possible at the time, by a very intimate friend
of Mme. Elisa and myself, and also of the nearest surviving relative
of F. I showed my friend the account of the sitting, and to
this friend, a day or two later, the relative, who was present at
the deathbed, stated spontaneously that F. when dying said
that he saw Madame Elisa who was speaking to him, and he repeated
what she was saying. The expression so repeated, which
the relative quoted to my friend, was that which I had received
from Madame Elisa through Mrs. Piper’s trance when the
death-bed incident was, of course, entirely unknown to me.’’
As Ernesto Bozzano pointed out, a curious feature of these
visions is that the dying only claim to see deceased persons,
whereas, if his thoughts alone would be concerned in it, he
might be expected to see living persons as frequently as deceased
ones. Again, even people who have been skeptical of
survival all their lives sometimes have given evidence of such
visions. The effect on those who witness such rending of the veil
is very dramatic. A Dr. Wilson of New York who was present at
the death of the well-known American tenor, James Moore,
‘‘Then something which I shall never forget to my dying day
happened, something which is utterly indescribable. While he
appeared perfectly rational and as sane as any man I have ever
seen, the only way that I can express it is that he was transported
into another world, and although I cannot satisfactorily explain
the matter to myself, I am fully convinced that he had entered
the Golden City—for he said in a stronger voice than he
had used since I had attended him ‘There is Mother. Why
Mother, have you come here to see me No, no, I’m coming to
see you. Just wait, Mother, I am almost over. I can jump it. Wait,
Mother.’ On his face there was a look of inexpressible happiness,
and the way in which he said the words impressed me as
I have never been before, and I am as firmly convinced that he
saw and talked with his mother as I am that I am sitting here.’’
In his Psychic Facts and Theories (1893), Minot J. Savage quoted
the following instance in which the death in question was not
known to the dying,
‘‘In a neighbouring city were two little girls, Jennie and
Edith, one about eight years of age, and the other but a little
older. They were schoolmates and intimate friends. In June,
1889, both were taken ill with diphtheria. At noon on Wednesday
Jennie died. Then the parents of Edith, and her physician
as well, took particular pains to keep from her the fact that her
little playmate was gone. They feared the effect of the knowledge
on her own condition. To prove that they succeeded and
that she did not know, it may be mentioned that on Saturday,
June 8th, at noon, just before she became unconscious of all
that was passing about her, she selected two of her photographs
to be sent to Jennie, and also told her attendants to bid her
goodbye. She died at half-past six o’clock on the evening of Saturday,
June 8th. She had roused and bidden her friends goodbye,
and was talking of dying and seemed to have no fear. She
appeared to see one and another of the friends she knew were
dead. So far it was like the common cases. But now suddenly,
and with every appearance of surprise, she turned to her father
and exclaimed ‘Why, papa, I am going to take Jennie with me!’
Then she added ‘Why, papa, why, papa, you did not tell me that
Jennie was here.’ And immediately she reached out her arms
as if in welcome, and said ‘Oh, Jennie, I am so glad you are
here. . . .‘’’
Apparitions Encyclopedia of Occultism & Parapsychology • 5th Ed.
Stainton Moses was quoted by Richet as the source of the
following case Miss H., the daughter of an English clergyman,
was tending a dying child. His little brother, aged three to four
years, was in a little bed in the same room. As the former was
dying, the child woke up, and pointing to the ceiling with every
expression of joy, said ‘‘Mother, look at the beautiful ladies
round my brother. How lovely they are, they want to take him.’’
The elder child died at that moment.
There is a group of cases in which only some sort of a presence
is felt or a cloud of depression experienced, which becomes
instantly relieved when the actual news of death arrives.
Phenomena of sound are often recorded in place of a visual apparition.
Sometimes they attempt to prove identity, imitating
the professional work of the departed. They differ from poltergeist
phenomena, as the latter do not coincide with death.
If no definite message is conveyed, the apparition may be
explained by a spirit’s continued interest in earthly occupations.
Spiritualists often suggest that some spirits of the deceased
apparently cannot adjust immediately to their new surroundings,
and they may be seen for a while in favorite haunts
or at their usual work, being somehow enabled, when recently
freed from the body, to enjoy a fuller perception of earthly
scenes than it is afterward possible to retain.
Knowledge and memory are the two main characteristics of
after-death apparitions. Local apparitions that are not attached
to persons seem to degenerate into mere spectral automations,
as witnessed in haunted houses. Somewhat similar, yet belonging
to a different class, is illustrated by a case of apparitions en
masse originally reported by Eleanor Sidgwick in the Proceedings,
of the Society for Psychical Research (vol. 3, p. 76),
‘‘Two ladies, Mrs. F. and her sister, saw in the street during
a thick fog numerous human forms passing by. Some were tall
persons who seemed to enter the body of one of the two sisters.
The servant who was with the two ladies cried out in terror. In
this crowd of phantoms there were men, women and dogs. The
women wore high bonnets and large shawls of old fashion.
Their faces were livid and cadaverous. The whole phantasmal
troop accompanied Mrs. F. and her sister about three hundred
yards. Sometimes they seemed to be lit up by a kind of yellow
light. When Mrs. F., her sister and the servant reached their
home, only one single individual of the crowd, taller than the
others and hideous in appearance, remained. He then disappeared
Prolonged apparitions are very rare, and possibly serve
some deeper purpose, as in the case of a sailor who saw his father
beside him on the bridge of his ship during a storm for two
hours. The message of the apparition is, as a rule, simple and
appears to be chosen intelligently in the form that may best suit
the percipient’s power of understanding. An apparition with
empty eye sockets perceived by a sailor’s wife, the sound of a
terrific storm, or the image of a coffin conveys the intended
message nearly as efficiently as the spoken words. The percipient
appears to be curiously receptive in such moments and seldom
exhibits astonishment at the most unlikely things.
Death-compacts offer another field of study. There are cases
on record when the apparition concerned was perceived not
after death but before, at the moment of a dangerous accident.
In Phantasms of the Living there are 12 such cases recorded; the
apparitions having appeared within 12 hours of the death. In
three cases the agent was still alive. It appears as if such a compact
would act effectively both on the subconscious before
death and on the spirit after death. How long the efforts as a
result of such a compact may continue we cannot tell. It is usually
fulfilled shortly after death, but in some cases after years.
The living party to the compact may not be sufficiently sensitive
to be successfully impressed and others may see a phantom of
the departed much sooner than the party in question.
The Genesis of Apparitions
If one accepts a paranormal explanation of apparitions, the
primary question then becomes, ‘‘Are apparitions objective,
produced in space, or are they subjectively seen as the result of
a telepathic impact from the agent’’ The answer is a qualified
one—the subjective nature of the apparition being often unquestionable.
The medium Hélène Smith wrote to Theodore
Flournoy in 1926 of an Italian spiritualist from whom she received
a letter. She decided to ask him for details of his life.
Suddenly, she heard a knock at the door, three sharp and distinct
raps. The door opened and she saw a man, holding in
each hand a small wickerwork basket, containing grain of different
kinds. He made a sign, inviting her attention to the baskets.
Two minutes afterwards he disappeared. The door was
found shut. After sending off the intended letter, a photograph
came, bearing the exact reproduction of the man seen, with the
information that the writer was a dealer in corn still living in
The objectivity of any apparition might best be decided by
the means of the camera. Circumstances, however, are very seldom
such that would make possible the acquisition of such evidence.
There is, however, a well-authenticated case, furnished
by Church of England minister Charles L. Tweedale, the vicar
at Weston. He photographed in the breakfast room of the vicarage
an old man who was clairvoyantly seen by his wife Violet
Tweedale. (The photographs obtained by spirit photographers
belong to quite a different class, as there is no perceptible apparition
during the process.)
Nevertheless, the photograph of the Combermere ghost demands
consideration. Lacy C. had rented Combermere Abbey,
in Cheshire, Lord Combermere’s country house, for the summer.
The library in the house was a fine panelled room and the
new tenant was anxious to secure a photograph of it. She
placed her half-plate camera on its stand in a favorable position—fronting
the unoccupied carved oak arm chair on which
Lord Combermere always used to sit. On developing the plate
by herself, she was amazed to find the figure of a legless old
man seated in the carved oak arm chair. The curious coincidence
that Lord Combermere was buried a few miles from his
country house at the very time the photograph was taken led
to the surmise that the ghostly figure resembled the late nobleman.
Opinions of the family differed, but on the whole it was
considered to be like him, especially in the peculiar attitude
that was habitual to him when seated in his chair.
Sir William Barrett, who investigated the case and reported
on it in the Journal of the Society for Psychical Research (December
1895), was not satisfied. Working on the theory that a
manservant may have come in and seated himself in the chair,
he took a test photograph and got a picture that was almost a
duplicate of the Combermere photograph. With this the matter
seemed ended, but, as he told in his book On the Threshold of the
Unseen (1918), some time later he received a letter from Lord
Combermere’s daughter-in-law in which she said
‘‘The face was always too indistinct to be quite convincing to
me, though some of his children had no doubt at all of the
identity. I may add, none of the menservants in the house in
the least resembled the figure and were all young men; whilst
the outside men were all attending the funeral, which was taking
place at the church four miles off, at the very time the photograph
was being done.’’
This testimony induced Barrett to change his opinion.
The famous British conjurer J. N. Maskelyne in his account
of his own experience of drowning (reported in Phantasms of
Living) spoke about whether an objective apparition is simply
an effigy or the actual presence of the person whom it represents.
He stated
‘‘One thing, however, did appear to my mental vision as
plainly as though it were actually before my eyes. That was the
form of my mother, engaged upon her household duties. Upon
returning home, I was utterly astonished to find that she had
been as conscious of my danger as I had been, and at the moment
when I was so near death.’’
It seems that when his past life flashed by in the moment of
drowning the last thoughts of Maskelyne dwelt on his mother
Encyclopedia of Occultism & Parapsychology • 5th Ed. Apparitions
with the effect that he found his mental self gazing at her. Many
other apparitions may be simply thought forms, reflections of
intense mental anguish experienced in some time past in certain
places which are now called haunted or, as F. W. H. Myers
suggested, they may be visible dreams of the dead.
Edmund Gurney, writing in 1888, believed that there were
three conditions that might establish a presumption that an apparition
or other immediate manifestation of a dead person is
something more than a subjective hallucination. Either (1)
more persons than one might be independently affected by the
phenomenon; or (2) the phantasm might convey information,
afterwards discovered to be true, of something the percipient
had never known; or (3) the appearance might be that of a person
the percipient himself had never seen, and of whose aspect
he was ignorant, and yet his description of it might be sufficiently
definite for identification. Gurney also noted that the
high number of phantasmal appearances shortly after death is
also suggestive, as the calculation of probabilities for telepathic
impressions from the living would not result in such a disproportionate
Telepathic explanations of apparitions present many difficulties.
One has to suppose that a dying man can visualize himself
and his condition sufficiently clearly to project a telepathic
image as distinctly as perceived. In experimental thought
transference it is always the idea on which the agent concentrates
that is perceived by the percipients. On the other hand,
in some experiments the agent always concentrates on the person
to whom he wishes to appear and not on himself. But again
in such cases the agent often sees the percipient and brings
back an account that can be verified. Such experiences suggest
the real presence of the agent and argue against the sufficiency
of the telepathic impact theory.
Apparently, this telepathic impulse is first registered on the
unconscious part of the mind. If so, the impression may be latent
for a time. Strong preoccupation of the conscious mind
with the business of life may prevent its emergence. This would
explain why the vision of an apparition does not always coincide
in time with the actual happening. In Phantasms of the Living,
such deferred telepathic perceptions are accepted, if they
occur within a period of 12 hours. On the other hand, the theory
does not bar out the other, that there is an actual presence
that does not always find the mind of the percipient sufficiently
receptive to take cognition. Reciprocal perceptions are also on
record. The telepathic theory has to be twisted and modified
to cover the wide range of supernormal perceptions. In case of
accidental death, the apparition is sometimes seen at the moment
of death, sometimes after it.
Does the mind transform the picture of deadly danger into
a picture of death If this were true, it would suggest that we
might come across many cases in which the vision of death was
premature as the accident did not prove fatal. We do not see
such cases. On the other hand, in cases of suicides the apparition
is often found to precede the actual commission of the act.
It would seem very credible that brooding over the fatal act and
its possible effect on close relations produces a telepathic
By all means, the telepathic theory would account for the
clothes apparently worn by the ghosts and would eliminate suggestions,
like those of d’Assier, of the ghosts of garments. But
it meets with difficulties in cases when animals are stricken with
terror and register alarm before the man suspects anything unusual.
The greatest stumbling block in the way of the telepathic
theory, as an all-inclusive explanation, is presented by those
cases in which the apparition is collectively perceived. Gurney
attempted to explain these cases by a telepathic transmission
that takes place from the percipient’s mind to the mind of his
neighbors. This theory proved inadequate. There is nothing to
prove its possibilities. The hallucinations of the insane or the
visions seen in delirium tremens are never communicated to
those around them. Why should such a communication take
place in cases of apparitions, coinciding with the death of
someone distant What happens when the percipient appears
to have traveled to a distant scene and he is actually perceived
As early as 1885 Myers began to feel the insufficiency of the
telepathic theory. Gurney himself, by the time he died, was
convinced of the genuine character of many an apparition. The
trance phenomena of medium Leonora Piper led Myers to the
belief that the evidence for communications from the departed
is quite as strong as for telepathic communication between the
living. Still there remained a large number of phantasmal manifestations
that even communication from the departed could
not explain. So Myers proposed a theory of psychical invasion—the
creation of a ‘‘Phantasmogenetic centre’’ in the percipient’s
surroundings by some dissociated elements of the
agent’s personality, which in some way are potent enough to affect
and modify space. He considered it a subliminal operation,
resembling the continuous dream life which he supposed to
run concurrently with the waking life, not necessarily a profound
incident but rather a special idiosyncracy on the part of
the agent that tends to make his phantasm easily visible.
From the Greek he coined the word ‘‘psychorrhagy’’ which
means ‘‘to let the soul break loose.’’ He believed he had discovered
a new physiological fact, the psychorrhagic diathesis, essentially
a psychical manifestation by some people born with an
ability to produce phantasmogenetic effect either on the mind
of another person or on a portion of space, in which case several
persons may simultaneously discern the phantasm.
This theory enjoyed great support in the early years of psychical
research. It was a half-way house between telepathic and
Spiritualist explanations of apparitions. The supposition of the
double easily explains many an apparition of the living the
‘‘arrival cases’’ where a man’s attention is fixed on his return
home, the cases in which there is a strong link of emotion between
agent and percipient and the phantom is collectively or
repeatedly seen. But there are cases of phantasmal apparitions
in which the theory of the double offers no satisfactory explanation.
Such was case of Canon Bourne, reported in the Journal
of the Society for Psychical Research (vol. 6, p. 129), as recounted
by Lois Bourne,
‘‘On February 5th, 1887, my father, sister, and I went out
hunting. About the middle of the day my sister and I decided
to return home with the coachman, while my father went on.
Somebody came and spoke to us, and delayed us for a few moments.
As we were turning to go home, we distinctly saw my father,
waving his hat to us and signing us to follow him. He was
on the side of a small hill, and there was a dip between him and
us. My sister, the coachman and myself all recognized my father,
and also the horse. The horse looked so dirty and shaken
that the coachman remarked he thought there had been a nasty
accident. As my father waved his hat I clearly saw the Lincoln
and Bennett mark inside, though from the distance we were
apart it ought to have been utterly impossible for me to have
seen it. At the time I mentioned seeing the mark in the hat,
though the strangeness of seeing it did not strike me till afterwards.
Fearing an accident, we hurried down the hill. From the nature
of the ground we had to lose sight of my father, but it took
us very few seconds to reach the place where we had seen him.
When we got there, there was no sign of him anywhere, nor
could we see anyone in sight at all. We rode about for some time
looking for him, but could not see or hear anything of him. We
all reached home within a quarter of an hour of each other. My
father then told us he had never been in the field, nor near the
field, in which we thought we saw him, the whole of that day.
He had never waved to us, and had met with no accident. My
father was riding the only white horse that was out that day.’’
Myers believes that Canon Bourne was subliminally dreaming
of himself as having had a fall, and as beckoning to his
daughters, an incoherent dream but of quite ordinary type.
Being born with the psychorrhagic diathesis, a certain psychical
Apparitions Encyclopedia of Occultism & Parapsychology • 5th Ed.
element so far detached itself from his organism as to affect a
certain portion of space near the daughters of whom he was
thinking, to effect it not materially nor even optically, but yet
in such a manner that to a certain kind of immaterial and nonoptical
sensitivity a phantasm of himself and his horse became
Myers suggested that hauntings by departed spirits may be
similarly explained and that the modification of space into a
phantasmogenetic center applies to a phantasmal voice as well.
If this alteration of space is more than a theory it may theoretically
happen, so Myers thought, that a bystander may discern
the alteration more clearly than the person for whose benefit
it was made or that the bystander alone may perceive it.
Such seems to be the case of Frances Reddell quoted in Phantasms
of the Living,
‘‘Helen Alexander (maid to Lady Waldegrave) was lying
here very ill with typhoid fever, and was attended by me. I was
standing at the table by her bedside, pouring out her medicine,
at about 4 o’clock in the morning of the 4th October, 1880. I
heard the call bell ring (this had been heard twice before during
the night in that same week) and was attracted by the door
of the room opening, and by seeing a person entering the room
whom I instantly felt to be the mother of the sick woman. She
had a brass candlestick in her hand, a red shawl over her shoulder,
and a flannel petticoat on which had a hole in the front.
I looked at her as much as to say ‘I am glad you have come’ but
the woman looked at me sternly, as much as to say ‘Why wasn’t
I sent for before’ I gave the medicine to Helen Alexander and
then turned round to speak to the vision, but no one was there.
She had gone. She was a short, dark person, and very stout. At
about 6 o’clock that morning Helen Alexander died. Two days
after her parents and a sister came to Antony, and arrived between
1 and 2 o’clock in the morning; I and another maid let
them in, and it gave me a great turn when I saw the living likeness
of the vision I had seen two nights before. I told the sister
about the vision, and she said that the description of the dress
exactly answered to her mother’s, and that they had brass candlesticks
at home exactly like the one described. There was not
the slightest resemblance between the mother and daughter.’’
The account was corroborated. Myers believes the vision was
meant for the daughter by the mother who, in her anxiety, paid
her a psychical visit and affected part of the space with an
image corresponding to the conception of her own aspect latent
in her mind. A bystander, a susceptible person, happened
to see the image while the girl for whom it was meant died without
leaving a sign of having perceived it.
A still more curious but, according to Myers, similarly explainable
case is the sailor’s (Phantasms of the Living (vol. 2, p.
144) who, watching by a dying comrade, saw figures around his
hammock, apparently representing the dying man’s family, in
mourning clothes. The family was alarmed by noises, which
they took as indication of danger to the dying. According to
Myers the wife paid a psychical visit to her husband. The
mourning clothes and the figures of the children were symbolical
expressions of her thought that her children would be orphans.
Would the alteration of space theory account for changes in
physical objects While Myers is silent on this point, Andrew
Lang considers it crucial. For if an apparition can thump, open
a door, or pull a curtain, it must be a ghost—real, objective entity,
filling space. Per contra, ‘‘no ghost who does not do this has
any strict legal claim to be regarded as other than a telepathic
hallucination at best.’’ The statement is rather severe in view of
his quotation from Edward Binn’s Anatomy of Sleep (1842) of the
case of the gentlemen who, in a dream, pushed so strongly
against a door in a distant house that they could hardly hold
it against him.
Apparitions may be produced experimentally by the projection
of the double or powerful suggestion. The first attempts
in the latter class are recorded from Germany in H. M. Wesermanns’
Der Magnetismus und die allgemeine Weltsprache (1822).
On four occasions he succeeded in inducing four separate acquaintances
to dream on matters suggested by himself. On the
fifth occasion he produced a collective apparition. The subject
and a friend who happened to be in his company saw, in the
waking state, the apparition of a woman in accordance with the
operator’s suggestion.
Theories Concerning Apparitions
Various complex and contradictory theories have already
been cited in relation to specific cases of apparitions. From the
late-nineteenth century on, apparitions have usually been ascribed
to hallucination. Even those who advanced a Spiritualistic
view of apparitions frequently inclined to this view, for it was
argued that the discarnate intelligence might, by psychical energy
alone, produce in the brain of a living person a definite
hallucination, corresponding perhaps to the agent’s appearance
in life. Hallucinations might be either coincidental or
noncoincidental. The former, also known as telepathic hallucinations,
were those which coincided with a death, or with some
other crisis in the life of the person represented by the hallucination.
The nineteenth-century psychical researcher Frank Podmore
insisted that apparitions resulted from a telepathic impression
conveyed from the mind of one living person to that
of another, an impression which might be doubly intense in
time of stress or exalted emotion, or at the moment of dissolution.
Apparitions of the dead could be accounted for by a theory
of latent impressions, conveyed to the mind of the percipient
during the agent’s lifetime, but remaining dormant until some
particular train of thought aroused them to activity. This view
still finds some support at the present day.
Hallucinations, whether coincidental or otherwise, may and
do present themselves to persons who are perfectly sane and
normal, but they are also reported by people who are suffering
mental disorders, under hypnosis, or in a state of hysteria. Hallucinations
are also symptomatic of certain pathological conditions
of brain, nerves, and sense-organs. As mentioned earlier,
Myers was of the opinion that an apparition represented an actual
‘‘psychic invasion,’’ that it was a projection of some of the
agent’s psychic force. Such a doctrine was, as Myers himself admitted,
a reverse animism.
Another theory of apparitions, particularly applicable to
haunted houses, was related to psychometry. Sir Oliver
Lodge, in his Man and the Universe (1908) wrote
‘‘Occasionally a person appears able to respond to stimuli
embedded, as it were among psycho-physical surroundings in
a manner at present ill understood and almost incredible—as
if strong emotions could be unconsciously recorded in matter,
so that the deposit shall thereafter affect a sufficiently sensitive
organism, and cause similar emotions to reproduce themselves
in its subconsciousness, in a manner analogous to the customary
conscious interpretation of photographic or phonographic
records, and indeed of pictures or music and artistic embodiment
Take, for example, a haunted house, where one room is the
scene of a ghostly representation of some long past tragedy. On
a psychometric hypothesis the original tragedy has been literally
photographed on its material surroundings, even on the
‘‘ether’’ itself, by reason of the intensity of emotion felt by those
who enacted it; and thenceforth in certain persons an hallucinatory
effect is experienced corresponding to such impression.
It is this theory that accounts for the feeling one has on entering
certain rooms, that there is an alien presence therein,
though it be invisible and inaudible to mortal sense.
The idea of connecting psychometry with apparitions might
seem of considerable interest because of its wide possibilities,
but in the end it belongs to the realm of romance rather than
science; it is hardly to be considered as a serious theory. Not
only is it unsupported by convincing evidence, but it again attempts
to explain one unknown by another.
Encyclopedia of Occultism & Parapsychology • 5th Ed. Apparitions
Spiritualistic theories of apparitions also vary, though they
agree in referring such appearances to discarnate intelligences,
generally to the spirits of the dead. The opinion of some Spiritualist
authorities is that the surviving spirit is produced in the
mind of the percipient by purely psychic means—an hallucination
representing the agent’s former bodily appearance.
Others believe that the discarnate spirit can materialize by
taking ethereal particles from the external world, and building
up a temporary physical organism through which it can communicate
with the living. Still others believe that the materialized
spirit borrows such temporary physical organism from the
medium, and experiments were made which suggested that the
medium lost weight during the materialization. [The various
speculations based on apparitions observed at materialization
seances has had to be discharged as the widespread involvement
of materialization mediums in fraudulently produced
phenomena became widely accepted.]
The ancient belief that the soul itself can become visible is
not generally accepted, since it is thought that pure spirit cannot
be perceptible to the physical senses. But a compromise has
been made in the idea of a ‘‘psychic body,’’ midway between
soul and body, which theosophists and some spiritualists theorize
clothes the soul at the dissolution of the physical body. The
psychic body is said to be composed of very fine and subtle material
particles, perceptible as a rule, only to the eye of the clairvoyant.
It is this astral body, and not the soul, that is seen as an
Experimental evidence for these and various alternative
theories has proven far from conclusive. Since its formation in
1882, the Society for Psychical Research and its sister organizations,
have collected numerous instances of coincidental hallucinations,
many of which were recorded in the monumental
work Phantasms of the Living (1886) by Edmund Gurney, F. W.
H. Myers, and Frank Podmore, from which various cases were
cited above. Some 5,705 individuals, chosen at random, had
been canvassed for phantasmal visions occurring within the
previous 12 years. It concluded ‘‘Between death and apparitions
a connection exists not due to chance alone. This we hold
a proved fact.’’
As the scientific world did not consider the evidence of 702
accepted cases sufficient for such a momentous conclusion, an
international statistical inquiry named the Census of Hallucinations
was decided upon in 1889. A sum of 32,000 answers
were received, 17,000 in English. The report, published in
1894, fills almost the whole of volume 10 of Proceedings of the
Society for Psychical Research. Chance coincidence was more
powerfully ruled out than before, and the previous conclusion
was confirmed. The inquiry of the American Society for Psychical
Research and the census of Camille Flammarion in 1899
gave further confirmation.
With the emergence of parapsychology, which has now
largely superseded psychical research, and the work of J. B.
Rhine and associates in ESP (extrasensory perception) from
1935 on, experimental researches into paranormal phenomena
have placed greater emphasis on telepathy and clairvoyance,
and moved away from the study of survival phenomena
including apparitions.
Surveys of apparitional or hallucinatory experiences have
been carried out in recent decades by parapsychologists, but it
is difficult to establish objective criteria for personal anecdotes,
and the suspicion must remain that many stories of apparitions
may have been consciously or unconsciously invented or embroidered
by the percipients. Statistical evaluation of such censuses
may establish general patterns of claimed phenomena,
but the real meaning of any apparitional experience is primarily
for the individual concerned, and even if the individual cannot
offer objective evidence of such experience, the subjective
aspect can be of great personal importance.
Although spontaneous phenomena like hauntings are not
readily amenable to scientific validation, modern parapsychologists
have shown some ingenuity in new approaches to
such phenomena as apparitions. Besides collecting eyewitness
accounts, several researchers have also made a systematic psychological
investigation of locations at which apparitions occurred.
In one experiment by Michaeleen Maher and Gertrude
Schmeidler, different psychics have been taken to the
location by an individual without knowledge of the claimed
phenomena and therefore unable to color any impressions received.
The accounts of the different psychics were collated and
a total picture of the claimed haunting built up.
Theoretical models for apparitional experience remain
somewhat speculative since early investigators like Frank Podmore
claimed that apparitions resulted from a telepathic impression
conveyed from the mind of one living person to that
of another. More recently, British psychical researcher G. N.
M. Tyrrell, in his monumental survey of Apparitions, suggested
that the sensory apparatus (like the optic nerve) of the percipient
is telepathically affected by other minds. However, from the
variety of evidence and discussion, as well as the wide range of
types of apparitions, it seems reasonable to believe that we are
not dealing with a single phenomenon, and it would be unrealistic
to claim one universal explanation that covers the diverse
facts and claims.
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