An extraordinarily large number of ghost and other paranormal stories have been around since ancient times not only in India but in societies and cultures spanning the entire world. Today, Wikipedia lists 46 countries, including the most powerful like America, Germany and so on with haunted places and this list is by no means exhaustive. According to history.com, “a rich subset of these tales involve historical figures ranging from queens and politicians to writers and gangsters, many of whom died early, violent or mysterious deaths.”

But how ancient or old are the ghosts reported to be still active today?  In this highly interactive age of the Internet and the social media, many readers have been raising probing, incisive questions and have started very interesting “threads” on the paranormal, mysteries, ghosts etc. In one of these “threads” for instance, contributors wondered how come no ghosts of early cavemen have ever been seen, or early homo-sapiens when humans still lived in nomadic hunter gatherer societies some ten-thousand years ago. And what about spirits from ancient Greece, Rome and Egypt?

Often, the responses are as interesting as the questions. Here’s a sampling. Would we recognise ghosts from an ancient era if we saw them? When a ghost is sighted how do we know what era it comes from? What are ghosts? Energy. In time energy usually dissipates into the environment so ghosts probably don’t stay around for too long.The lack of communication with ghosts makes it hard to determine the oldest one… many of the older spirits would have moved on by now because they have completed their unfinished business. Places that are haunted are usually believed to be associated with some occurrence or emotion in the ghost’s past.

In actuality, there are several well documented accounts of very, very ancient ghosts who have not moved on. Some years ago,  the Daily Mail in UK reported that “Britain’s oldest ghost appears to have been caught on camera at the country’s most ancient inhabited site…The ‘spook’ was snapped in a prehistoric cave at Kent’s Cavern in Torquay, Devon, looming from a wall and surrounded by an eerie mist… Archaeologists have been digging up the prehistoric caves hoping to unearth evidence of our ancestors for almost two hundred years… Now, it seems, there could be fresh evidence of the early inhabitants of the caves—but no excavations were needed for this new ‘find.’… In the image, taken by a tourist, the ghostly face of the caveman seems to hover in mid air staring in to the distance…” Before this too, down the years there were strange and unexplained happenings in these caves.

And as for Roman and Greek ghosts, history.com and other sources zero in on Pliny the Younger, the acclaimed first century A.D. Roman author and statesman who recorded one of the first notable ghost stories in his letters. Pliny wrote that the specter of an old man with a long beard, rattling chains, was haunting his house in Athens.

In India, ancient scriptures provide fascinating details of an amazing variety of spirits. And in Brian Innes book Ghost Sightings, the oldest written report of a ghost comes from the Bible. An ancient Greek writer named Pausanius, the book reveals, wrote around 150 AD about a haunting at the site of the battle of Marathon (490 BC). In the words of Pausanius: “At this place you can hear all night horses whinnying and men fighting. No one who stays there just to have this experience gets any good out of it, but the ghosts do not get angry with anyone who happens to be there against his will.” Over the centuries, sightings of spectral armies have been reported on famous battlefields around the world.

In 856 A.D., the first poltergeist—a ghost that causes physical disturbances such as loud noises or objects falling or being thrown around—was reported at a farmhouse in Germany. The poltergeist tormented the family living there by throwing stones and starting fires, among other things. Whether ancient or not so ancient, ghosts, other paranormal activity and tales about the other world seem to have had a mesmerising appeal down the years for both believers and non-believers,  prompting even highly respected and objective media leaders like the BBC and National Geographic to carry lengthy stories on such subjects. As the BBC’s History Magazine noted in its introduction to the “top five hauntings in history”, “tales of ghosts and ghouls have, for centuries, captured the imagination.”

The National Geographic carried a photo feature on the most haunted places in the United States. “Discover the paranormal at these spine-chilling historical haunts” they wrote. Live Science featured “10 Ghost Stories That Will Haunt You for Life” with the this intro: “From a spooky 3,200-year-old tale written on broken pottery pieces to amateur YouTube videos of “ghost chases,” frightening tales of apparitions, demons and goblins have been documented since ancient times and continue to fascinate people today. Although these paranormal events aren’t supported by science, they have persisted throughout history.”In 2003, a CCTV camera at Hampton Court Palace in Surrey, England, caught an image of a skeletal figure, clad in centuries-old clothes, closing a sturdy fire door that had flung open. The ghost, nicknamed “skeletor,” attracted a great deal of media attention.

Amongst cities, London and New York are especially rich with ghost stories. In New York, the author Mark Twain is believed to haunt the stairwell of his onetime Village apartment building, while the ghost of poet Dylan Thomas is said to “sometimes occupy his usual corner table at the West Village’s White Horse Tavern, where he drank a fatal 18 shots of scotch in 1953”. Ancient Origins points out that “belief in ghosts is actually relatively common—with 38% of people classifying themselves as believers and a similar number having actually reported seeing one.” As Sarah Chumacero, a paranormal investigator, wrote last year, “just because they didn’t witness anything while they were there, doesn’t mean that it didn’t happen.” An article entitled “The top three scientific explanations for ghost sightings” offers “toxic hallucination” as one of the explanations. But whether a “toxic hallucination” or a mesmerising reality, accounts and stories clearly point at ghosts being ageless.  Yet despite being ageless, ghosts can choose to fade away or be made to have their haunts.

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