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Ghost stories are nothing new. In fact, ghosts and spirits have populated literature for centuries. In Shakespeare’s Hamlet, the ghost of King Hamlet appears no less than three times in the telling of the tale. By their very definition, ghosts can’t technically hurt us–at least not physically. Yes there are reports of ghosts throwing objects, but in most stories ghosts are limited in their ability to interact with the physical world.

In fact, ghosts that do interact with the physical world are not called spirits so much as poltergeists. And spirits are not necessarily ghosts, insomuch as a ghost is the remnant of a living being where the spirit may always have been a spirit.

So why then are we so afraid of them?

Head over to Charles Dickens A Christmas Carol, and we discover the effect that four potent ghosts have on Ebenezer Scrooge. The first is Jacob Marley, who appears to Scrooge all wrapped in chains and dragging his past regrets along with him. While Marley does not actually physically hurt Scrooge, he does warn him that he faces a similar fate. No one wants to imagine that they will pass away and wake up to an afterlife in which they suffer.

It can be argued that a ghost’s greatest threat is psychological.

After Marley’s visit, Scrooge is visited by the ghost of Christmas past, present, and future. Of these three only the ghost of Christmas future is scary, for the spirit says nothing. Yet, he points to Scrooge’s future…a lonely death. The benefit of this visitation or “haunting” is Scrooge’s chance to change.

In fiction, ghosts are guideposts or catalysts for change. They may also be a punishment to torment the wicked. Still in other tales, ghosts or spirits linger behind because their work or their lives are left unfinished… they either have some task that needs to be completed or they’re unwilling to abandon their loved ones.

Whether you’re sitting around the campfire, staying in an old hotel, or visiting a notorious location, the idea of ghosts lingering to share their tales is provocative. So much so, that people make a living of searching for or hunting for ghosts.

Do you believe in ghosts?

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