The Folklore of Ghosts and Hauntings

Haunted Hotels and Modern Ghost-Hunting

‘Ghost tours’ and ghost walks’, as well as ‘haunted’ pubs have become a significant part of the tourist industry, both in the U.K and in the U.S. Though, as Owen Davies notes, in the classic work on the English pub, Thomas Burke’s The English Inn (1930), there are only a few stories of ghosts, though plenty about murders, highwaymen, and the visits of various kings and queens.

But do ghosts exist? Those skeptical of ghosts and the paranormal in general object on many levels to the reality of the numerous hauntings and apparitions recorded over the centuries. They point out that second-hand anecdotal evidence is not scientific proof of the existence of spirits of the dead or any other kind of phantom.

Rather than indicating the existence of an afterlife or a fourth dimension, skeptics argue that all tales of ghosts can be explained by errors in human perception and misunderstood ordinary natural phenomena. While these explanations may very well be true for the majority of sightings, the ghost is such a complicated phenomenon that one or two relatively simplistic explanations cannot hope to account for the whole range of variations within the subject.

In one sense ghost stories are certainly ‘true’. They give us an important insight into the major concerns, the traditions and the psychology of the individuals and the societies in which they circulate. This alone makes them a vital and constantly developing aspect of popular belief.

Further Reading

Briggs, Katherine. A Dictionary of Fairies. Harmondsworth, Middlesex, Penguin Books Ltd. 1977.

Davies, Owen. The Haunted: A Social History of Ghosts. New York, Palgrave Macmillan, 2007.

Finucane, R.C. Appearances of the Dead. A Cultural History of Ghosts. London, Junction books, 1982.

Hole, Christina. Haunted England. London, Fitzhouse Books, 1990 (1940).

Kittredge, George Lyman. ‘Disenchantment by Decapitation’. The Journal of American Folklore, Vol. 18, No. 68. (Jan. – Mar., 1905), pp. 1-14.

Ward, Donald (ed). The German Legends of the Brothers Grimm. London, Millington Books, 1981.

Westwood, Jennifer; Simpson, Jacqueline. The Lore of the Land: A Guide to England’s Legends, from Spring-heeled Jack to the Witches of Warboys. London. Penguin Books Ltd, 2005.

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