Types of Ghosts

By Shannon Baker | E-Mail

Learning the Lingo

A ghost is a ghost is a ghost? Not by a long shot. Ghosts differ by type and here for your edification I have compiled a list of commonly seen (and to give skeptics their due, “not really seen”) kinds of ghosts, with accompanying explanations:

Traditional apparition (think Casper): This is a ghost who interacts with the living, either for better or worse. These are the spirits who can playfully hide objects, sit on your bed and frighten you awake, throw sharp objects, or plea for help. Apparitions such as these are thought to be held over in this world because of unfinished business or due to a violent death and need help from the living to resolve their issues before passing on to the next realm. This is considered “intelligent” haunting because the ghosts appear to be aware of the people around them as well as their surroundings.

Residual haunting (imprints): These are basically recorded images of past events that replay over and over again in the same place. These ghosts never vary their routine and do not seem to be aware of the presence of others. These “recordings” are thought to be imprints left over from strong emotion at the time of death or created by magnetic fields that literally tape-record an event. There are interesting occurrences in residual haunting, particularly in ancient cities such as London where buildings have been built over other buildings for centuries. A ghost known to haunt a particular room in a building that has an older foundation underneath it is only seen from the calves up, as if it is walking on the floor it is familiar with, the one under the present day floor. This is considered “unintelligent” haunting because the ghost is not aware of people or surroundings.

Anniversary ghost: This is a type of residual haunting where ghosts are seen on the anniversary of their death, originally caused by some tragic event. These are particularly common in castle hauntings and relate back to legends of tragedies from centuries past. An example of this type of haunting is the legend of the “Ghostly Bridal Party” of Featherstonhaugh Castle, Northumberland. The story goes that a bridal party, riding out for a celebratory hunt after the wedding, was ambushed by enemies and killed. When their bloodless corpses appeared before the family in the banquet hall (right at midnight, of course), the lord of the manor collapsed and became a madman from that day until his death. On the anniversary of that date you can supposedly see the phantom hunting party making its way back to the castle gates (Marsden, 1987).

Poltergeist: A disorderly spirit, whose activities very often center on an adolescent member of a household, who creates violent havoc by moving objects, making loud noises, and generally creating unpleasant and potentially dangerous situations.

Messenger (think Banshees): This type of ghost is often a family ghost, often appearing to family members to herald the death of another family member. An example of this type of visitation is given by Simon Marsden in his The Haunted Realm, “Another ghost is that of the ‘Green Lady’ [of Ethie Castle, Angus, Scotland] who appeared when a member of the Northesk family was about to die. The most recent occurrence was when the Earl of Northesk died in London and she appeared to several members of the family in the ‘tapestry room.’” Ireland has its own messenger ghosts, female spirits called banshees that let out a distinct wailing cry which is known to herald death.

Projection: This is the theory that ghosts are all in the mind and are merely a projection of thoughts and fears of the human subconscious.

Demon: A spirit that possesses a human being and causes him or her to do evil acts.

Orbs and light ghosts (think will o’ the wisp): unexplainable mysterious lights, sometimes orb shaped, that seem to move of their own volition, appearing and disappearing at will. See Weird NJ (http://www.weirdnj.com/_ghosts/hookerman.html) for accounts pertaining to lights and orbs that appear along railway lines, leading to so-called “Hookerman” legends. Also for more about will o’ the wisps check outhttp://www.mysteriousbritain.co.uk/folklore/will_o_the_wisp.html.


A gallery of useful ghosts (1999). Skeptic, 7(3), 98.

Marsden, S. (1987). The haunted realm: Ghosts, spirits and their uncanny abodes. New York: E.P. Dutton.

Paranormal phenomenon (2005). Retrieved March 29, 2005 from About.com on the World Wide Web: http://paranormal.about.com/library/weekly/aa082701a.htm.

Shadowlands (2005). Retrieved March 27, 2005 from Shadowlands on the World Wide Web: http://theshadowlands.net.

Types of ghosts and hauntings (2005). Retrieved March 29, 2005 from The W-files on the World Wide Web:http://www.ufowisconsin.com/wfiles/ghosts/typesofghosts.html.