In the past week, I watched two shows regarding ghosts. One was the movie, “The Awakening” and the other was the hit musical, “Next to Normal.” “The Awakening” was a horror film about a skeptic who disproved the existence of spirits, though deep down inside, she wanted them to exist. In the movie she said, “We all want ghosts to be real but that doesn’t mean they are.” “Next to Normal” never made any reference to ghosts. It was about a family dealing with a Mother who suffered from psychotic delusions. She believed her son who had been dead for years, was still alive.
Ghost stories could fall into three categories, horror, paranormal drama or realistic drama. People who love horror get off on being frightened out of their wits by malicious ghosts who have the ability to terrify them to death. Lovers of paranormal drama fall in love with ghosts, want them to be real, and are touched when the dead are reunited with their loved ones. Realistic stories such as “Next to Normal” may never mention ghosts. The ghosts are memories or hallucinations. In “Next to Normal,” a family is torn apart by a ghost they know is not real and the mother goes through a series of horrible psychiatric treatments to help her get rid of her delusions.
Btw, I love ghost stories of every kind. I feel there is always something deep and archetypal about every type of ghost. They appeal to our own wishes and dreams much like vampires do. I think it is because we truly want ghosts to be real. I can’t think of how many times my door opened on its own. I realize it was just a draft but deep down inside, I was wishing it was the spirit of my long dead Grandfather watching over me. We want to believe that there is a connection to our souls that transcends death. Also, if ghosts are real, it would mean that we aren’t alone, even during our darkest days. They are our imaginary friends.
Harry Houdini, the greatest magician that ever lived, made it his life’s mission to expose mediums to be frauds. However, his initial intent was to contact his dead mother. He offered large amounts of money to find a medium that was real, but he proved them to be frauds each time. Here we have an example of someone who knows too much about magic tricks to be fooled. However, if someone did turn out to be the real thing, he was willing to offer them large sums of money. Deep down inside, he was looking for the genuine article. He never found him or her.
Until modern times, almost every society that ever existed; from ancient pagan cultures, to native tribal cultures, to Christian religions, believed in an afterlife. Coincidentally, most cultures attribute the start of winter or the end of fall as a time for the spirits to visit the living or to move on to the afterlife. I always find it fascinating that my Pagan, Christian and Native American friends celebrate a day where they give reverence to the dead all around the same time. In American culture, children dress up in costumes and haunt other people’s houses. They get candy in exchange for not playing tricks on the members of the household. Are we training our children to become mafia leaders when they grow up? Just kidding, I digress. While Halloween is a commercialized version of all these holidays, the truth is we all seem to need one day or more to pay homage the paranormal.
So the question that arises in my creative, rambling mind is: Just because ghosts aren’t real, does that mean they don’t exist? In the musical I just watched, “Next to Normal,” a ghost that didn’t exist was able to cause trauma to a family. If he wasn’t real, how did he manage to do this? To the writer of the musical, he was very real. He even cast an actor to play him. He wasn’t just a delusion; he was a metaphor. He didn’t just haunt the psychotic woman. In the end, we see how he haunted everybody. Yet, it was very clear that he wasn’t real. At some point in the musical, the mother complained that taking the delusion out of her head didn’t work because it wasn’t in her mind. It was in her soul. Who can blame a grieving mother for harboring a ghost of a child she loves in the deepest parts of her spirit?
In Buddhism, no one really dies. We all share the same energy. Buddhists learn to accept death as an inevitable cycle, but there is no need to let go because nothing ever leaves and nothing ever dies. Death itself is an illusion. So if death doesn’t exist, is it real?
When I went on the Ghost Tours during my visit to New Orleans, I learned that ghosts are a powerful energy of something traumatic left behind. The haunted areas were more like historical landmarks where very bad things happened. Something still existed, a horrible memory that refused to die.
To those of us who write fiction, we create ghosts. We use them as metaphors. They remind us of people we loved. They help us let go or deal with the unknown. Malicious ghosts represent what we abhor or can’t face. We use them as archetypes and create myths and legends around them. They help us explain concepts that can only be understood through the use of stories. We shape them out of thin air even though they aren’t real. Yet, in the worlds we create, they exist.