The fear of ghosts in many human cultures is based on beliefs that some ghosts may be malignant towards people and dangerous (within the range of all possible attitudes, including mischievous, benign, indifferent, etc.).

The fear of ghosts is sometimes referred to as phasmophobia[1] and erroneously spectrophobia, the latter being an established term for fear of mirrors and one's own reflections.

Typical characterEdit

The fear of ghosts is widespread even in post-industrial societies. Philosopher Thomas V. Morris wrote:[2]

"...I am perfectly aware that the fear of ghosts is contrary to science, reason and religion. If I were sentenced to spend a night alone in a graveyard, <...> I should already know that twigs would snap and the wind moan and that there would be half-seen movements in the darkness. And yet, after I had been frog-marched into the graveyard, I should feel a thrill of fear every time one of these things happened..."

In many traditional accounts, ghosts are often thought to be deceased people looking for vengeance, or imprisoned on earth for bad things they did during life. The appearance of a ghost has often been regarded as an omen or portent of death. Seeing one's own ghostly double or doppelgänger is a related omen of death.[3]

The belief in and fear of ghosts and other supernatural beings, such as spirits and gods, has been said by some scholars to be a mechanism of social control.[4]

Anthropologist John Whiting indicates that studies of various cultures show a correlation between the fear of ghosts and low indulgence during infancy and the severity of punishment of children for aggression observed in these cultures, leading to the hypothesis that these cultures have mourning customs designed to protect the living from ancestral ghosts.[4]

Fear of ghosts among various culturesEdit


Wari', an Amazon rainforest tribe, believe that the spirits of dead people may appear as a scaring specters called jima. The jima is said to grab a person with very strong, cold and poisonous hands and try to pull the person's spirit away.[5]


A 19th century missionary describes the fear of ghosts among Papuans as follows:[6]

"That a great fear

of ghosts prevails among the Papuans is intelligible. Even

by day they are reluctant to pass a grave, but nothing

would induce them to do so by night. For the dead

are then roaming about in their search for gambier and

tobacco, and they may also sail out to sea in a canoe.

Some of the departed, above all the so-called Mambrie or

heroes, inspire them with especial fear. In such cases for

some days after the burial you may hear about sunset a

simultaneous and horrible din in all the houses of all the

villages, a yelling, screaming, beating and throwing of sticks;

happily the uproar does not last long: its intention is to

compel the ghost to take himself off: they have given him

all that befits him, namely, a grave, a funeral banquet, and

funeral ornaments; and now they beseech him not to thrust

himself on their observation any more, not to breathe any

sickness upon the survivors, and not to kill them or "fetch"

them, as the Papuans put it."


Onryō (怨霊) is a Japanese ghost (yurei) who is able to return to the physical world in order to seek vengeance. While male onryō can be found, mainly in kabuki theatre, the majority are women. Powerless in the physical world, they often suffer at the capricious whims of their male lovers. In death they become strong. Goryō are vengeance ghosts from the aristocratic classes, especially those who have been martyred.

Literature and artsEdit

Fear of ghosts, their vengeance and mischief is a common base for a plot in the ghost story literary genre and in ghost movies.

See alsoEdit


  1. Template:Cite web
  2. "God and the Philosophers", by Thomas V. Morris (1996) ISBN 0195101197 p. 39
  3. Christina Hole (1950) Haunted England: 13-27
  4. 4.0 4.1 "Culture and Human Development", selected papers by John Whiting, edited by Eleanor Hollenberg Chasdi (1994) ISBN 0521435153, pp. 181-185, "The fear of ghosts"
  5. "Consuming Grief", by Beth A. Conklin ( 2001) ISBN 0292712367, p. 161, "Ghost Fears and Dissociation"
  6. "The Belief in Immortality and the Worship of the Dead", by James George Frazer (1913), [ p. 305] in Google Books



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