When did people start believing in ghosts?

References to spirits and ghosts predate the Bible.

priestWhether or not people believed those were spirits of dead people… That’s another matter.

Historians have documented attempts to release or banish ghosts in ancient Greece.

Earlier accounts of ghosts appear in Mesopotamian records. Search for information about the “gidim.” You may be surprised at the amount of ghost lore before Abrahamic history.

Some translations of gidim suggest malicious, demonic entities. Others, breaking the word into giplus dim, translate it to “shadow person.”

In extant Babylonian lore, many people became ghosts. Noted exceptions included those who died in a fire, and those whose bodies were left to rot in the desert. That may account for the practice of burning corpses or setting them out to rot in elevated locations “closer to the heavens.”

Records from the Epic of Gilgamesh (ca. 15th century BCE) describe the ghostly experiences of Enkidu after his death. In that era, people may have tried to help or appease ancestral ghosts and other spirits.

For many centuries, the topic of ghosts was controversial and dangerous. People avoided specific references to them. Especially during the most extreme years of the Inquisition, the word “ghost” suggested something demonic. Studying old diaries and correspondence, you may need to read between the lines to recognize hauntings.

We can’t be sure when people began to think of ghosts as we describe them today. However, spirits of the dead may have wandered in this world as far back as recorded history.

Trivia: The Inquisition started in France in the 12th century. The Spanish Inquisition wasn’t outlawed until 1834. The Papal Inquisition was never outlawed. It was called the Supreme Sacred Congregation of the Roman and Universal Inquisition.

In 1965, it became the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (SCDF). Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (Pope Benedict XVI) became its prefect.

In 1985, the word “sacred” was dropped from the title.

The organization still exists, and it’s the oldest congregation among the nine in the Roman Curia.


Can a ghost follow you from place to place?

If you feel like a ghost is following you, here’s what you need to know. Most ghosts can’t (or won’t) leave the place they haunt, but there have been exceptions.

Can ghosts follow you?

The simple answer is: no, not usually. At least 99% of the time, no ghost follows you – or anyone else – from place to place.

Ghostly phenomena seem tied to specific locations.

In most cases, I believe that if ghosts could go somewhere else, they probably would. (If you had a choice, would you spend relentless years at a site where people ignore you, or are afraid of you? Probably not.)

Yes, some ghosts remain at a location by choice. Green ladies are among the most famous. They protect the homes they once lived in.

More often, the ghosts simply haven’t moved on, literally or figuratively. Something from their past – often a grudge or unfinished business – holds them there. They’re not going anywhere until that’s resolved.

So, if something seems to follow you from a haunted site… it may not be a ghost. Ghosts rarely change locations.

Of course, there are other kinds of entities. Many could be described, generally, as “spirits.”  They include angels, spirit guides, benevolent entities, faeries, and – yes – demons.

And, for all we know, visitors from other worlds and times could be visiting us, and have the power to remain invisible. (I’m reminded of the “prime directive” in Star Trek.)

My point is: we use the word “ghosts” to describe a category of phenomena, and perhaps a kind of entity. And, when they really are people who lived in this world, then died, but haven’t left this plane of existence yet… they don’t move from location to location.

Exceptions to this rule are rare.

Judith Thompson Tyng’s revenge

In my entire ghost hunting career – spanning decades – I’ve heard of just a few ghosts that moved from one location to another. They’re that rare.

One of them is Judith Thompson Tyng. Her ghost moved around Tyngsboro, Massachusetts (USA) for many years.

Witnesses say her ghost still lingers there, over 200 years later.

According to folklore, Judith tormented (and perhaps killed) two 18th century men she held responsible for her death.

One of them was John Alford Tyng, the father of her child. He killed her and buried her under the hearth of their home.

Then, when Judith haunted him, he moved to another house. Judith’s ghost followed him.

He moved again, but the results were the same. Judith’s ghost would not leave him alone.

Finally, when John Alford Tyng was dying, Judith’s ghost stood at his door and prevented anyone from helping him. (That’s not just folklore. It’s from the handwritten diary of a Revolutionary War hero – a friend of John Alford Tyng – who tried to help the dying Tyng, but was blocked by Judith’s ghost.)

Judith’s other victim was an itinerant doctor – actually, a quack – nicknamed “Dr. Blood” because he bled people and adminstered “snake oil” type remedies.

In this case, Dr. Blood pretended to be a minister or a Justice of the Peace, and conducted the marriage ceremony between Judith Thompson and John Alford Tyng.

The whole thing was a sham set up by Tyng and Blood, and Dr. Blood may have been involved in Judith’s murder, as well.

That’s why Judith’s second victim was the infamous Dr. Blood.

When he was found dead on a country road, Judith’s distinctive boot print was on his back. Folklore claims her ghost had forced his head into a puddle, and held him there – with her ghostly foot on his back – until he drowned.

(You can read further details of the story at my Hollow Hill article, The Haunting of John Alford Tyng.)

And, as I said, Judith may still haunt Tyngsboro, Massachusetts and nearby Nashua, NH.

At the very least, Judith Thompson Tyng’s curse has caused continuing problems at the grave of John Alford Tyng.

Other Entities Can Change Location

Of course, stories like those must be studied closely. As I said, about 99% of ghosts seem to stay in one place.  Anything that moves from one location to another might be something else.

101 Ghost Hunting Questions, Answered

For example, poltergeists can follow and torment the people they select as targets. That’s why many researchers don’t believe poltergeists are just ghosts.

Demons can follow people or even become attached to them. Demons can mimic ghosts.

Few credible stories describe a ghost changing locations.

Even the Bell Witch was probably the product of several entities. Those included at least one opportunistic (and, at the time, very alive) person in that community.

So, if you’re worried about going on a ghost tour – or visiting a haunted place – and are afraid that a ghost might follow you, you probably have nothing to worry about.

(However, if you’re that anxious about ghosts, perhaps you shouldn’t go on ghost tours or visit haunted places. Perhaps you are more vulnerable to spiritual influences, and you should pay attention to your “gut feeling.”)

If You Think a Ghost Is Following You

sympathetic and comforting handsIf you think a ghost has followed you from a haunted location, visit a priest or spiritual minister immediately.

Chances are, the problem isn’t a ghost.

It might be a guardian spirit… an angel, for example.

It could be some other benign spirit.

Or, it could be something worse, and you might be at risk.

Please, don’t seek help from strangers, online.

Not even me.

Offline (in real life), find a priest or full-time minister to help you, even if you are not a religious person or a member of that congregation, and even if you don’t believe in God.

(A good minister won’t care.  His or her job is to help with spiritual matters, period and full stop. Ghosts, angels, and demons are spirits, and that’s what the clergy study – and deal with – every day.)

Most important: if you think a ghost is following you, get help right away. As I said, you could be at risk.

That’s a danger you should rule out as quickly as possible.

You’ll get the best results by talking with someone who’s spent years studying all kinds of spiritual matters.  Also, genuine priests and ministers provide this kind of help free of charge. It’s part of their religious calling.

But anyway…

If you’re simply worried about ghosts following you, the answer is: no, you’re more likely to win the lottery than be followed by a ghost.

However, if you think you’re already being followed by an entity – possibly a ghost – get help immediately.

Recommended reading: The Ghost Hunter’s Survival Guide: Protection Techniques for Encounters with the Paranormal, by Michelle Belanger.

You may also like:

Can ghost hunting groups investigate things other than ghosts?

Most ghost hunting groups investigate ghosts, and nothing else.

ghostly castle or hotelWhen I’m with a ghost hunting team, I might note something odd but definitely not ghostly.

(If you can’t tell the difference, see my book, Ghosts – What They Are and What They Aren’t.)

Generally, focus on one kind of paranormal energy per investigation. In my opinion, it’s a mistake to spread yourself too thin.

In fact, with recent (and extreme) dangers from demonic activity, it’s smart to limit your research to ghosts.

My advice…? Until you’re a confident ghost hunter, avoid demons, UFOs, crop circles, crypto zoology, and so on.

Or, switch your focus altogether. If you’re not really looking for ghosts, specialize in what you are looking for.

Many ghost hunters are trying to answer questions they’ve had for a long time. Many investigate until they find the answer. Others decide there is no answer.

Then, they move on to some other interest.

Tips: In general, and especially during an investigation, focus on one kind of entity at a time. Even if you’ve become interested in UFOs, ignore the skies when you’re on a ghost hunt. You might miss something important. Also, for some people, the shotgun approach can be overwhelming.

Decide what you are looking for and why. If you blur the lines between different kinds of phenomena, you may not know what you’re looking at.

It’s a relief when I see something weird and can say, “Nope. Not a ghost.“  I leave it alone and — at least during that ghost investigation — I look elsewhere.

Of course, ghost hunting groups can investigate things other than ghosts. But, it’s best to narrow your focus to just one group of phenomena at a time.

If you’re at a haunted location and something else is manifesting, complete your ghost investigation first.

Later, you can go back to see what else was there.

Keep the two investigations distinct.

Also, be sure to allow team members to leave at the conclusion of the ghost research. 

Just like some baseball fans have no interest in football, your ghost hunting team members may not be interested anything except ghosts.