Definition of ghost
Let's start our history of ghosts with the word 'ghost' itself. It comes from the Old English word 'gast' which originally meant a disembodied 'spirit' or 'soul'. This meaning is remembered in the adjective, 'ghastly'. However the modern meaning of the word is any observed apparition or, in some cases, something that is not actually seen but is heard, smelt or felt.
First recorded ghost?
It seems fitting that the person who said, 'one thing seems certain - that nothing certain exists', should have given what is probably the oldest proper account of a ghost. Pliny the Younger (61 C.E. - 112 C.E.) wrote of a house in Athens that was haunted by a phantom that made the house virtually uninhabitable by walking around and rattling the chains it wore. Eventually, the philosopher Athenodorus followed the ghost and discovered a body buried beneath the place where it vanished. The ghost was laid to rest when the body was buried with the proper religious observances. Here you can read Pliny the Younger's account.
Edgehill Battle ghosts
In December 1662, upon hearing that large numbers of the public were travelling to to witness the recent Battle of Edgehill being re-enacted in all its bloody detail by phantom troops, King Charles I, sent his Royal Commission to investigate.
The conclusion of that enquiry are held in the Public Record Office.
Cock Lane ghost
It is a pity that the history of ghosts contains some hauntings that turn out to be hoaxes. The Cock Lane ghost is a case in point.
In 1762 occurred the alleged haunting that has come to be known as the Cock Lane Ghost. Large crowds would gather outside the house in the hope of being allowed into the house, for an entrance fee of course. Once inside, they could attempt to communicate with the ghost by knocking, 'once for yes, twice for no!'. Eventually fraud was discovered and the instigator was imprisoned for two years. Despite this, As the Cock Lane ghost so infamous, I don't think that any history of ghosts would be complete without a mention.
Society for Psychical Research
Established in 1882, it was, to quote the SPR website, 'the first organisation established to examine allegedly paranormal phenomena using scientific principles'. Although they are concerned mainly with 'parapsychology', studying psychic abilities and life after death, they have investigated many important hauntings such as those at Borley Rectory and the Enfield Poltergeist.
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