What, exactly, is a ghost and does everyone become one when they due? Can we communicate with them and how does one go about getting rid of one? These are just a few of the most frequently asked questions regarding ghosts I have received over the years, which has impelled me to bring them all together into one list. I hope you find these answers helpful. Also, please be aware that these are my opinions and not everyone may agree, but they are the cumulation of years of study and, as such, the best I can do. If you don't see your question answered here, please let me know and I'll answer it directly (and, if it warrants, I'll add yours to my list as well).

Q: What, exactly, is a ghost?
A "ghost" is a generic term for the disembodied conscious energy of a once living human being. More specifically, a ghost is the residual personality or ego of a person that continues to linger for a time after death until it is finally reabsorbed back into the greater divine consciousness. As such, things like angels, demons, spirit guides, elementals and other such spiritual entities, being that they have never resided in a physical body, are not considered ghosts. (For more information on this subject, see my article Defining a Ghost or click here.)

Q: Are ghosts dangerous?
Generally speaking, ghosts are harmless. There have been cases of ghosts supposedly attacking a person (usually in the form of face slapping or hair pulling), but such instances are extremely rare. As a rule, however, they are usually benign and pose no threat to people. That being said, for someone who is especially frightened of ghosts, the appearance of one could cause physical problems (heart attack, hyperventilation, running in panic) which could end in injury (or worse) but this is not the ghost's fault but is a result of the viewer's own fears and phobias.

Q: Does everyone become a ghost when they die?
No. Only people who have something holding them back or feel they have some uncompleted business to attend to will become ghosts. (See my article on The Psychology of Ghosts that explains in greater detail why some people make good candidates to become ghosts or click here.) In some cases, a recently deceased person may choose to make a single appearance to a loved one as a means of reassuring them that they are well and doing fine on the "other side," but such one time appearances does not make them a "ghost."

Q: Do ghosts know that they are dead?
: It is reasonable to assume that when a person passes, they quickly realize that they are no longer in their body and so are aware that they are dead (or, at least, that they are no longer residing in the physical realm). As such, we can be fairly confident that ghosts realize they are dead. It is possible, however, that very young children as well as the mentally retarded may not realize what is happening and so are not aware that they are dead, but this is probably the exception rather than the rule. People who die suddenly (such as in an accident) may also need a "moment" to adjust to their new "condition" as well, but they likely figure it out pretty quickly.

Q: Why do ghosts remain behind?
As stated above, a person remains behind either out of fear (they may be afraid of being "judged by God" and so refuse to leave the physical plain, particularly if they died by their own hand), out of concern for others (needing to stay behind to protect someone close to them for instance), out of desire (they may want to explore their new "realm" for awhile) or simply because they don't feel ready to move on yet. If one experiences an especially traumatic death (murder, sudden accident, etc.) the energy associated with that trauma—rage, panic, fear, etc.—might keep them "stuck" in the physical realm for a time as well, at least until they can sort things out. One who dies with a lot of negative energy around them (angry, violent, or severely depressed people, for example) sometimes have trouble moving on because the heaviness of such energy makes it more difficult to move towards reunification with the divine.

Q: Do ghosts perceive time the same way we do?
Some studies suggest that ghosts are unaware of the passage of time. For example, many mediums who are able to communicate with spirits tell us that often the ghost believes it's still a particular year (the year they died, most frequently) and appear entirely oblivious to the fact that years or even whole decades have passed since their death. Most likely they live in a sort of haze or dreamlike state in which time has no meaning to them, keeping them from realizing the passage of time.

Q: How long do ghosts remain "stuck" in the physical realm?
This varies greatly, but as a rule a ghost will remain only as long as it feels it is needed, has a "mission" to accomplish, or until their familiar surroundings have been so altered as to no longer be comfortable to them. As such, they could remain for as little as a few months or stay for literally centuries. As a rule, however, ghosts usually move on after a few decades.

Q: How does a ghost get "unstuck"?
Eventually, whatever it is that has them anchored to the physical plain will be resolved or they will overcome their fear of "what's next" and simply move towards "the light" and reabsorption with the divine. I also believe that there are guides and other entities on the other side who facilitate this process as well. It's also important to realize that since time has no meaning to a ghost, while we may perceive them as being "stuck" for decades of our time, from their perspective they may have been "stuck" for only a short time—possible only a few moments.

Q: Could someone stay a ghost forever?
It doesn't appear so. The energy that drives a ghost is temporal in nature and fades with time, much like batteries grow weaker the longer a flashlight is left on. Eventually, the energy becomes so weak the ghost no longer has the power to manifest and essentially "evaporates" back into the divine much like standing water evaporates back into the atmosphere after awhile.

Q: Can a family pet come back as a ghost?
This is perhaps one of the most common questions I'm asked—especially by pet owners who love their furry friends. The short answer is yes, but with some reservations. First, the pet needs to possess a degree of intelligence to become a ghost or else there's really nothing "there" to manifest (which is why no one ever sees the ghost of a snake or goldfish or some lesser conscious beast), and second, the pet needs to have a close relationship with its owner, as it seems to require the energy from the bereaved owner to manifest. (Sort of like it "feeds" off the owner's energy.) However, it has to be remembered that animals possess only a limited degree of consciousness so manifesting independent of its owner appears to be beyond it. (Plus, many of the usual reasons that humans have for getting "stuck" in the physical realm would not apply to an animal.) Most animal ghosts, then, are short-term and of such subtle energy as to be practically imperceptible, though they do occasionally crop up.

Q: Are poltergeists ghosts?
A poltergeist (literally "noisy ghost" in German) is an interactive entity apparently capable of moving physical objects and creating all sorts of mischief. Opinions are divided as to whether they are true ghosts, however (disembodied human consciousness) or are some other kind of spiritual entity or even subconsciously generated telekinetic energy. It's also possible that all three possibilities could be true, making at least some poltergeists nothing more than mischievous ghosts who are intentionally trying to frighten people. In any case, this is an area that definitely requires more investigation before a final determination can be made if, indeed, it is even possible to know.

Q: What is a "haunting"?
A haunting is the term for any physical location that exhibits an inordinate amount of paranormal activity. Usually it will be a private home, but ghosts are known to haunt places of business, prisons, warehouses, and even ships! Interestingly, ghosts seldom haunt cemeteries or the place where they died (like hospitals) as these places usually hold little personal meaning to them and so are not a place they would normally choose to "hang around" after death. (This is why cemeteries are such a poor place to look for ghosts. Stick to older homes if you want to find them, as one is much more likely to take up residence there than they would at the local graveyard.)

Q: What is a "residual haunting"?
A residual haunting is not a haunting in the truest sense, but more like a "memory" that a building retains long after an event has transpired. In effect, a residual haunting is a "snapshot" or recording from an earlier time that somehow replays itself under the proper circumstances. As such, the sounds of laughter or singing, footsteps, or other inexplicable noises may have occurred decades earlier but are still discernible to us today. How an event can be imprinted into the physical environment remains a mystery, of course, but that it occurs appears to be a fact.

Q: Can one communicate with a ghost?
Absolutely, though unless one is a medium (or has access to a qualified medium) the conversation is likely to be one way. In any case, ghosts appear to be capable of understanding what we say to them and are also apparently capable of communicating with the living through various means. By the way, a ghost that responds to or is willing to communicate with the living is known as an interactive ghost—as opposed to some spirits, who seem to ignore their human hosts.

Q: Some religions teach that ghosts are manifestations of demons. Is that true?
First one has to determine whether there is such a thing as a "demon." Then one needs to determine if a "demon" has the ability to manifest the appearance and mannerisms of a particular deceased person, and then one needs to decide why they might do that (and keep doing it sometimes for centuries at a time). In effect, using a demon as an explanation creates more questions than it answers and appears to be the more complex possibility (as well as one with very little supporting evidence). However, that there may be "angry ghosts" out there and that they might be perceived as being evil is a possibility, but that wouldn't make them a "demon." It would simply make them confused, upset, and generally unpleasant (not unlike many corporeal people we all know).

Q: Can trying to contact ghosts open you up to being "possessed?"
Ghosts have no more ability to "possess" someone than a living person does, so attempting to communicate with a ghost won't lead to possession. However, if one becomes obsessed with contacting the dead, it could open them up to other spiritual entities that feed off of the negative energy that fear generates, potentially causing problems. This is especially the case with young people who fool around with Ouija boards and such, so caution is advised. For someone who is simply trying to talk with a ghost, however, there is no danger of being possessed by it.

Q: Can ghosts follow or otherwise attach itself to a person?
There have been reports of ghosts following a particular individual from one location to another, though this is exceedingly rare. As a rule, ghosts prefer to stay put but, like humans (which they technically are), a few of them can become the etherial equivalent of a stalker. Someone who believes they are experiencing this problem may want to consult a legitimate medium to help rid themselves of the unwanted entity.

Q: Are "orbs" evidence of ghosts?
While most "orbs" are common photo anomalies caused by airborne particles, flying insects, and condensation in the air being too close to the camera's flash, there seems to be a small number of "true orbs" out there that appear to be something other than the result of poor photography. Whether they are ghosts manifesting as simple geometric spheres or something else remains open to debate; one theory is that they are another form of intelligent paranormal life we simply aren't aware of yet (much like bacteria existing before we developed microscopes with which to perceive them). It is curious, however, that whatever they are, they seem to appear most frequently in photos taken in supposedly "haunted" locales.

Q: What is a "cleansing?"
A cleansing is a ceremony that some mediums and paranormal investigators perform that is designed to drive (or, at least, entice) ghosts to move on. It is also designed to remove the negative energy some ghosts emit so as to make a particular locale less inviting for them to stay. Whether it works or not is a matter of opinion, though it is my observation that it doesn't appear to have any effect on especially obstinate ghosts. It may have some psychological benefit to those that believe they're being haunted, however, as it often makes them feel "protected" from the entities that have been frightening them.

Q: How does one get rid of a ghost?
There is no simple answer to this. It often appears that a ghost will stay as long as it wants to and many of them are especially difficult to "exorcise." This is because the ghost haunts a particular location because it feels safe there, and so it has little incentive to leave. However, some people have had success getting a ghost to leave by reminding it that it no longer owns the home it's residing in, informing it that it is frightening people (which it may not be aware it is doing), or by simply asking it to go. The rule of thumb here is that while ghosts can be asked or even induced to leave, they are terribly difficult to force to leave (sort of like unwanted relatives who overstay their welcome).

Q: What if a ghost won't go?
Then you may be stuck with it, in which case you have three options: sell your home and move away, try to get a medium to work with the ghost in an effort to understand what's keeping it "stuck" in your home, or learn to live with it. While the third option sounds the most difficult, people who manage to "make peace" with their etherial tenant often end up being less afraid and even come to look upon the entity with affection. After all, how cool is it to have one's very own live-in ghost?