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Vol. 17 JULY 1913 No. 4

Copyright 1913 by H. W. PERCIVAL


NO country is free from the belief in ghosts. In some parts of the world much time is given to ghosts; in other parts, few people think about them. Ghosts have a strong hold on the minds of the people of Europe, Asia and Africa. In America are comparatively few believers in ghosts. But indigenous and imported ghost cults are on the increase, new ones are being developed, and America may, in the development of ghosts and their cults, succeed to or improve on what the old world has thereof.

In the older countries ghosts are stronger and more numerous than in America, because the populations of those countries have kept their ghosts alive through long ages, while in America the waters of the ocean washed over great portions of the land; and the remaining inhabitants of the dry parts were not numerous enough to keep the ghosts of the old civilizations alive.

Belief in ghosts is not of modern origin, but reaches back to the childhood of man, and the night of time. Try as they may, skepticism, disbelief and civilization cannot dislodge nor efface the belief in ghosts, as ghosts exist and have their origin in man. They are in him and of him, his own progeny. They follow him through age and race and, whether he does or does not believe in them, will, according to his kind, follow or precede him as do his shadows.

In the old world, races and tribes have given place to other races and tribes in wars and conquests and periods of civilization, and the ghosts and gods and devils have continued with them. Ghosts of the past and the present swarm and hover over the old world lands, especially in mountain ranges and heaths, places rich in traditions, myth and legend. Ghosts continue to fight their battles of the past, to dream through periods of peace amid familiar scenes, and hatch in the minds of the people the seeds of future action. The land of the old world has not been under the ocean for many ages, and the ocean has not been able to purify it by the action of its waters and to free it from ghosts of the living dead and dead men’s ghosts and ghosts that were never man.

In America, earlier civilizations are blotted out or buried; the ocean has washed over large tracts of the land; the waves have broken up and effaced the ghosts and most of the evil of man’s work. When the land came up again it was purified and free. Forests wave and murmur over tracts once cultivated; desert sands glisten where the ruins of proud and populous cities lie buried. The peaks of mountain chains were islands with scattered remnants of indigenous tribes, which repeopled the sunken land on its emergence from the deep, free from its ancient ghosts. That is one of the reasons why America feels free. There is freedom in the air. In the old world such freedom is not felt. The air is not free. The atmosphere is filled with ghosts of the past.

Ghosts frequent certain localities more than they do others. Generally, the accounts of ghosts are fewer in the city than in the country, where the dwellers are few and far between. In the country districts the mind turns more readily to thoughts of nature sprites and elves and fairies, and re-tells tales of them, and keeps alive ghosts that are born of man. In the city, the rush of business and pleasure holds men’s thought. Men have no time for ghosts. Lombard Street’s and Wall Street’s ghosts do not, as such, attract man’s thought. Yet there ghosts influence and make their presence felt, as surely as do the ghosts of a hamlet, nestling on the side of a mountain near a dark forest, and the heaths at the border of a bog.

The city man is not in sympathy with ghosts. Not so the mountaineer, peasant and sailor. Strange shapes which give signs are seen in clouds. Dim forms move over forest floors. They tread lightly along the brink of precipice and marsh, beckon the traveler into perils or give him warning. Dark and airy figures walk moors and plains or lonely shores. They go again through some happening on land; they re-enact a fateful drama of the seas. The man of the city unaccustomed to such ghost tales, laughs at them; he knows they cannot be true. Yet disbelief and ridicule by many such, have given place to firm conviction and awe, after visiting haunts where environment favors the appearance of ghosts.

At certain times the belief in ghosts is wider spread than at others. Usually this is so after or during wars, pestilences, plagues. The reason is that calamity and death are in the air. With little time and untrained by study, the mind is turned to thoughts of death, and after. It gives audience and gives life to shades of the dead. The Middle Ages were such a time. In times of peace, when drunkenness, murder and crime are on the decrease—such acts give birth to and perpetuate ghosts—ghosts are less plentiful and less in evidence. The mind is turned from the death world to this world and its life.

Ghosts come into and pass out of being whether or not man knows of their being, whether he gives much or little thought to them. Because of man, ghosts exist. While man continues as a thinking being and has desires, ghosts will continue to exist.

With all the ghost tales told, records kept and books written about ghosts, there seems to be no order as to kinds and varieties of ghosts. No classification of ghosts has been given. No information of a science of ghosts is at hand, that if one sees a ghost he might know what kind of a ghost it is. One may learn to know and be unafraid of ghosts as of his shadows without giving them too much attention or being unduly influenced by them.

The subject is one of interest, and information thereof which has its bearing upon the progress of man, is of value.

(To be continued)