“I’m too old to be believing in ghost stories,” says Elizabeth Turner in Pirates of the Caribbean.
The old pirate captain responds: “You’d best start believing in ghost stories, Miss Turner—you’re in one!”
The truth is, there are such things as ghosts—but not (as Miss Turner would be pleased to discover) the outlandish sort portrayed in that fantasy film. The culturally-popular idea of ghosts draped in white sheets or lurking about in half-decayed forms are just that: a popular (not accurate) concept.
Properly defined, “ghosts” are the disembodied spirits of dead humans, and yes, these do on rare occasions appear to living humans.
These spirits can be souls in Purgatory—coming to ask for prayers—or the souls of the damned, whom God has permitted to appear to the living as a warning of the results of a sinful life. St. Thomas Aquinas mentions this in his writings.
A realistic portrayal of a real-world ghost might be the ghost of Ebenezer Scrooge’s deceased business partner in Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, who comes to warn the miserly Scrooge of the consequences of greed.
Now, this doesn’t mean that every report of ghostly activity is genuine. Most can be attributed to natural causes, wild imaginations, or, unfortunately, demonic activity.
Yes, some things that are often called “ghosts” inhabiting places that people call “haunted” are not really ghosts, but demons. A demon can even falsely present itself as the “ghost” of a departed person.
Regarding the few true ghosts, remember why many of them appear: to ask for prayers. This time of Allhallowtide—All Hallows’ Eve, All Saints Day, and All Souls Day—is a special time for remembering the faithful departed. This Holy Souls in Purgatory Rosary is a beautiful and inspiring way to keep the Holy Souls in your prayers always. This piece is inspired by the visions of Blessed Anne Catherine Emmerich, who saw suffering souls move from dark to light as she prayed fervently for them. Available today at The Catholic Company!