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Ghost Train. Photo: Jesse Draper

Ghost Train. Photo: Jesse Draper

What Is It Like To Meet A Ghost?

If you’ve seen, heard, or felt a ghost, you are far from alone. Plenty of people in our own time as well as throughout centuries past have reported some sort of contact with a disembodied spirit. For just one example, around 80 percent of elderly people who have lost a spouse say they’ve seen their dead partner at least once since she or he passed away.

In addition, scientific research tells us that most people’s haunted experiences share many similarities with those of others. The research, conducted in the form of surveys taken by Britain’s Institute of Psychophysical Research in the late 1960s and early 1970s, reveals broad consensus concerning what it’s like to see a ghost, hear a ghost, or be touched by a ghost.

Also similar are many of the conditions under which ghosts have made their presence known. In a book called Apparitions, in which the results of the British surveys were published, authors Celia Green and Charles McCreery report that it is relatively common for ghosts to be seen by more than one person at the same time. Groups of up to eight people experiencing the same apparition have been documented—but no groups of more that eight have been verified. Nor is it uncommon for a person to see the same apparition more than once—or many times, over the course of weeks, or years.

A quarter of 1,800 people who told researchers they had experienced apparitions said they sensed them just after waking up—and of that quarter, 20 to 25 percent said that rather than waking on their own, they had been roused by something in their environment. Some in this interesting subgroup reported being woken by a “radiance” in the room, while others said it was a drop in temperature that had ended their sleep. Still others reported such rousing occurrences as hearing a door open, hearing their name spoken, feeling someone touching them, or sensing a presence in the room. Most bedtime apparitions occur in the middle of the night, with few reported upon normal waking in the morning.

Fewer than half of the 1,800 survey respondents—46 percent—said they were immediately aware that they were perceiving an apparition. Nearly a third, or 31 percent, said they didn’t realize they had seen, heard, or felt a ghost until the experience was over, and 23 percent said they had not understood what was happening until some point near the middle or end of the experience.

An especially interesting research result was one indicating that 83 percent of all apparitions occur indoors. In addition, in spite of the seeming abundance these days of ghost hunters seeking spirits far and wide, 61 percent of people who claimed to have had contact with a ghost said the paranormal event occurred in or very near their own homes. Only 12 percent of supernatural experiences happened in a place the person had never visited before, and workplaces turned out to be unlikely spots for a haunting, with only 4 percent of respondents saying they had experienced a ghost while on the job.

Visual apparitions usually appear very close to the person seeing them. A plurality—41 percent—of people who reported having seen a ghost said it was no more than three feet away. A range of 3 to 6 feet was reported by 27 percent of respondents, with from 6 to 12 feet estimated by 16 percent of people taking the survey, another 10 percent saying their ghost appeared from 12 to 30 feet away, and only 6 percent telling researchers that a ghost had appeared more than 30 feet from them.

As one might guess from the relatively large portion of respondents who experienced ghosts immediately upon waking, over a third—38 percent—said they were lying down when their apparition arrived. Another 23 percent said they were sitting; 19 percent said they were standing still; 18 percent were walking, and 1 percent reported that they were riding in a car, or on a bike or a horse, during the event. A small number of respondents—3 percent—reported a feeling of paralysis when the apparition was around them.

As for the duration of an apparition, more than half the people surveyed estimated that their experience lasted less than a minute—and 42 percent said their ghost had stuck around for 15 seconds or less. However, around 20 percent said their visitation lasted 5 or more minutes, and people who reported multiple paranormal experiences often told researchers that each experience lasted a different length of time.

The manner of apparitional appearances and disappearances was another area investigated by the researchers. Almost everyone—97 percent—said their apparition showed up completely without warning. Regarding visual apparitions, most were described as appearing to people fully formed, rather than developing top to bottom or bottom to top, or by “fading in” as some movies have suggested. In fact, the majority of respondents said that rather than witnessing their apparition materialize, they suddenly noticed it standing, sitting, or walking nearby.

But there seems to be more variety in the ways ghosts disappear. Some respondents reported ghosts who took their leave abruptly, like the popping of a bubble. Others reported a fading to invisibility. Sometimes this fading occurred uniformly; in other cases the ghost was erased from bottom to top, until only its head remained—and then the head faded away.

There are also ghosts who vanish by simply turning and either walking or gliding out of the room.

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