Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Why People Tell Ghost Stories

On this blog I tell two very distinct types of ghost stories. The first type is eyewitness accounts from people who have seen or experienced a spirit, ghost or haunting in some way that convinces them that there is something beyond the living realm that is not yet understood. * 

The second type of ghost story I retell is more fanciful—based in local legends or myths. This type is told to entertain or scare etc. But what is surprising is this type of ghost story has a purpose that goes far beyond entertainment. **

Storytelling throughout history has been used to define peoples’ identity as well as to define their behavior. Some ghost stories are cautionary tales. In this type of ghost tale the reoccurring theme is one of action and consequence. 

The ghost returns in these tales to settle unfinished business because they did something wrong while alive or someone did something wrong to them—hence they haunt. The result is a haunting where the memory of the wrong done is kept in the forefront in order to show there are consequences to pay.

Another prevalent theme in ghost tales is to point out behavior that goes against the grain of what people expect. Around the world ghost stories have been used to teach what is acceptable and what is not within a group or society. Many traditional ghost stories impart some kind of moral lesson. How they impart these lessons is unique. 

They often teach their lesson by scaring people into believing or behaving in a certain way etc. This method is archaic but a very effective way to get a message across. 

Another message they sent in ancient times was the proper way to grieve and bury the dead.

Ghost tales often present a moral dilemma that we as humans face in our everyday lives. The fear of death and what happens afterwards is at the forefront of many ghost stories. But what most of these ghost tales reflect are our nightmares about death and not the reality –since death remains a mystery.

Ghost stories also reflect the cultural beliefs and fears at the time they originated. This was especially true in early history when people did not have readily available explanations for the natural occurrences around them-- this caused anxiety which sometimes resulted in a ghost story, legend, myth or superstition being presented in order to explain the occurrence and ease people's fears.

As mentioned above, an overriding theme in many ghost stories is how we deal with our own mortality—regardless of whether it is from a religious or secular point of view. Ghost stories were and are often told to comfort and alleviate people’s fear of death. Tales of family members that return as spirits are told for this purpose.  

Another characteristic that is ignored about ghost stories is they often fulfill a very basic human need. They are a way to vent the anxieties we encounter in our daily lives. 

They sometimes revolve around violence and horror in order to help us cope with our own human condition. But what is most unusual is that many of these scary tales actually provide comfort. Since they provide us with one avenue to face our fears. 

So it is not an overstatement to say ghost stories help us to better understand the world we live in.

* I try to share as many stories as possible that reflect paranormal activity that has occurred and been witnessed for many years.

**  Often these two are mixed—both folk legend and real sightings.

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