Why Are We Afraid Of Ghosts?

They always run.

Cameras at the ready, flashlights in tow. They walk down long, dusty hallways, climb wretched staircases, and turn those final dark corners. This is it, they think, the moment they’ve been waiting for. The proof! The verifiable evidence!

A ghost!

But they always run.

I’m talking about paranormal investigators. Ghost hunters. The TV ones. Well, some of them, anyway. It makes me wonder: Why do we fear the paranormal? Why are we so frightened by ghosts? Is there, in fact, anything to be afraid of at all?

Is It A Phobia?

There’s an actual phobia associated with ghosts called phasmophobia. It stems from cultural beliefs in malignant spirits, that ghosts are “deceased people looking for vengeance, or imprisoned on earth for bad things they did during life.” It’s easy to understand, then, why certain people and cultures would fear the undead.

There are other, and perhaps more interesting, phobias associated with spirits: Spectrophobia, a fear of ghosts that arises from past trauma, often involving mirrors. And Eisoptrophobia, a fear of mirrors and reflections of oneself.

But these are phobias. There must an explanation for our fear of ghosts that extends beyond phobias.

Is It A Fear Of Death?

Perhaps we fear ghosts because they represent our final state — death — a state which we’d rather not visit prematurely. We see ghosts as morbid reflections of ourselves (and I suppose that’s where eisotrophobia comes in).

To see a ghost is to see your own fate laid bare. Like Little Leota, they beckon you to transfer to that other side of living — the one you can’t even begin to comprehend.

And yet, if ghosts are simply spirits of the dead — ostensibly us — why should we be afraid?

Wouldn’t the existence of ghosts be verification that there is an afterlife, that we do live on after we die? For many, I imagine, ghost hunting and paranormal investigation is exactly that: A search for hope that there’s something beyond this ordinary, mundane world. Something beyond death.

Is It A Fear Of Danger?

Many believe, however, that ghosts aren’t people. They’re something malicious, they say, manifesting to fool and torment the living. Demons or vengeful spirits.

What we fear, then, are not ghosts. They’re not representations of ourselves; they are cruel deceptions, and we are right to fear them.

Hollywood has somewhat perpetuated this mindset, that denizens of the other side are terrible, mischievous entities who will wreak havoc on our lives and ruin all our kitchenware. We’re taught, from an early age, that ghosts are spooky, that witches are evil and monsters lurk in places we should not be. It’s hard to shake that feeling.

If I might also take an alternative route for a moment — if ghosts are neither spirits nor demons, but rather residual hauntings or strange quirks of space and time, perhaps what we truly fear is simply the anomalous. The wrong. When the universe appears to break its own rules.

Is It Evolution?

But maybe it’s not Hollywood. Maybe it’s not culture. Maybe it’s not even the universe. Perhaps we can link our fear of ghosts to our natural, evolutionary fear of the dark.

By default, thanks to evolution and our own human defense mechanisms, we’re afraid of things we can’t see. By extension, we’re also afraid of things we can’t understand.

Ghosts often fall into both categories.

Remember: It’s not the dark you’re afraid of; it’s what may be lurking within it.

So, is a fear of ghosts irrational? To the skeptic, probably. To the believer, I’m not so sure. Ghosts can be a validation of something beyond this life, a hopeful sign. But depending on belief they can also be viewed as negative. I guess it’s up to the individual to decide what to fear, and if that fear is irrational or not.

Rob Schwarz

Writer, blogger, and part-time peddler of mysterious tales. Editor-in-chief of Stranger Dimensions.

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