Which Country Has The Most Ghosts?
Britain, the nation that invented both the gothic ghost story and the eccentric pastime of ghost hunting, is the world’s most haunted country, with more ghosts per square mile than anywhere else on earth. This of course is not a provable assertion, but the Brits themselves are sure of it.
In the Introduction to his 2007 book, The Haunted: A Social History of Ghosts, writer and academic Owen Davies tells us that in the 1940’s a folklorist in Warwickshire “calculated that there was one ghost to the square mile in his district.” According to Davies, if we assume the same density of disembodied spirits throughout all of England, we’d come of up with a ghostly population of around 50,000. And of course Scotland’s lonely expanses—the setting for Shakespeare’s Macbeth—are no less haunted than England.
“There are more ghosts seen, reported, and accepted in the British Isles than anywhere else on earth,” declares noted British ghost hunter Peter Underwood in his 1971 book, A Gazetteer of British Ghosts.
Swiss psychologist Carl Jung once remarked upon the British predisposition to see and hear ghosts, and over the centuries other writers have made similar observations. Davies provides the following quote about British enthusiasm for ghost stories from the 18th century writer Anthony Hilliar: “If you tell them that a spirit carry’d away the side of a House, or played Football with a half dozen Chairs and as many Pewter Dishes, you win their Hearts and Assent.
. . . Whole Towns and Villages have e’er now been depopulated, upon a white Horse being seen within half a mile of them, and near a Church Yard in the nighttime.”
Underwood says, “I am often asked why this is so and can only suggest that a unique ancestry with Mediterranean, Scandinavian, Celtic and other strains, an intrinsic island detachment, an inquiring nature, and perhaps our readiness to accept a supernormal explanation for curious happenings may all have played their part in bringing about this curious state of affairs.”
Other thinkers on the issue say that prior to the British Reformation, Catholic clerics actively encouraged credence in ghosts—thought to be restless visitors from purgatory—at least in part so that ghost-believers would pay for prayers to sooth the tormented souls of their departed loved ones. The violent Reformation’s victorious Protestants abolished the concept of purgatory and also tried to stamp out open talk of earthbound spirits—but these actions had the counterproductive effect of driving ghosts deeper into the woodwork of British homes and castles, where they seemed to thrive and multiply.
Certainly people in other countries—most notably in Asia—are every bit as conscious of ghosts as are the British. For a couple of examples, people in Thailand and people of Chinese descent throughout Asia set out food and even build houses for spirits. However, the predominant Asian attitude toward ghosts seems quite different from that of the British: Ghosts are their ancestors, relatives, and friends, as well as a ubiquitous element of the environment. Asians seldom see ghosts, but sense and contentedly accept their (usually benign) presence.
In other words, many Asians believe in ghosts, but don’t feel haunted; many British believe in ghosts, and do.