Annekatrin Puhle, Dr.phil. / PhD

Philosophie, Gesundheitsberatung, Bücher / Philosophy, Health Consulting, Books

Annekatrin Puhle, Dr.phil.  /  PhD header image 3

Schwedische Beiträge

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Annekatrin Puhle

Drömdialog, Medlemsblad für Drömgruppsforum, 2020, pp. 18-20.

Ghosts in Literature

Ghosts are one of the most popular and thrilling topics in literature throughout times reflecting the deep human fascination with death accompanied with fear and awe for “the great unknown”. There are basically two branches of ghost literature: fiction and documentaries and clearly it is the second type that is most valuable for understanding life and its complexities. The oldest serious ghost story was reported by Pliny the Younger during the first century AD. He wrote a letter to Sura concerning the Greek philosopher Athenodoros of Tarsus (1st century BC) who rented an extremely cheap house in Athens, which had a ‘bad name’: One night, when he was working late, he saw a spectre rattling his chains on feet and hands, and suddenly vanishing outside the house. The philosopher marked the spot of its disappearance, and next day he advised the magistrates to dig at this place, which they did: A skeleton in chains was found. It’s bones were then collected and buried along with the appropriate ceremonies with the result that the spectre never appeared again. The case illustrates one of several typical major aspects listed below which are connected with a ghostly appearance as it is documented in literature throughout the millenniums (Puhle 2004):

  • A burial without proper ceremonies
  • A too early death
  • A death by force
  • Unfinished business
  • Proof of survival

There are many thousand monographs and innumerable articles about ‘true’ ghost reports (Puhle 2004; Puhle 2005; Puhle & Parker Reed 2017). Amongst these, the unreliable literature where claims are presented but correct sources of these claims are lacking undoubtedly outnumbers that of the more serious texts. Yet fact is stronger than fiction.

Ghosts in Research

Beginning at the end of the 1800s academic researchers investigated spontaneous experiences with ghosts and apparitions – the second term refers just to appearances of living persons. This is the era of so-called “psychical research” – in contrast to “experimental parapsychology” which is carried out in laboratories. It includes all exceptional experiences, which have not been explained by contemporary science.

A major area of psychical research concerns “deathbed apparitions” and ghosts (Barrett 1926/2011). Dying persons very commonly see their beloved dead ones appearing on their bedside or nearby during the last period of life. They can receive messages from them, sometimes including information, which they had not known, and usually they feel very comforted by the appearances. Almost the reverse of this also can happen in that the dying in their last moment of life can be perceived as apparitions by the living. Many cases concern awakenings in the middle of the night when the dying person appears in their bedroom – in exceptional cases these are found to coincide with the hour of death (Osis & Haraldsson 1977).

Appearances of ghosts typically occur with people who are going through a near-death experience (NDE) (Fenwick & bFenwick 1995/2012; Sartori 2008; van Lommel 2007/2010; Puhle 2013). Those reporting these experiences describe them usually in such positive terms that they are ranked next to those enlightening encounters with divine beings – and they are saddened by the realisation that they have to return to life on earth.

Ghosts in Daily Life

In addition to the above there are various situations in life when ghosts and apparitions occur such as in crises, illness, accidents, life changing situations, and during stress. Not only the ghosts of the dead can appear in those circumstances but also other spirit beings, as for example beings of light or in the Christian context angels.

Ghosts in Dreams

Dreaming and sleep related states of mind provide an ideal opportunity for experiencing ghosts and apparitions. These states include the between five and six periods of REM sleep in which dreams tend to occur but also the hypnagogic and hypnopompic states which occur in the transitional periods between sleep and awakening. Most often, the ghosts of the dead and apparitions of the living are not regarded as ‘real’, but rather ignored as “just dreams”. Yet there are also numerous examples of dreamers who call their dream experiences as real or even as more real than reality. Undoubtedly the experiences of ghosts and apparitions are often confusing for the experiencers, and therefore even NDEs are sometimes labelled as ‘dreams’. Amongst what are now called the “end-of-life experiences” (ELEs), dreams of dead relatives are common, and patients often communicate with an unseen person (Sartori 2014, p.86).

Ghosts in Lucid Dreams

Noticing that one is in a dream while one is dreaming gives the opportunity to create any wished for situation. This type of dreaming, which has a clarity to it and is therefore called “lucid dreaming”, also offers the unique possibility to contact deceased persons or the images of them. If this would happen in real life one would call it a ghosts sighting or an apparition. To ‘awake’ in a dream and still to keep on dreaming, can be trained easily in a few days or latest a week (LaBerge). In order to facilitate their induction, Paul Tholey introduced the “reality check” during day time: Check at least 5 times per day if it is a dream or not, for instance by trying to switch the light on and off or to read a text (Puhle 2017/2019). Lucid dreams offer the special opportunity of meeting other persons who are remote from us in space or in time. Our study of lucid dreamers who wished to seek contact with deceased persons, showed that most of the dreamers felt them to be real and experienced the encounter as helpful and meaningful, and in a few cases even as evidential (Puhle & Parker 2017). This raises of course many more as yet unanswered questions: Who are the figures we are meeting in dreams (Tholey 1987)? Are they merely recreations of the ‘real’ persons we know from current or former life or are they productions of our inner nightly filmmaker? And what about all the other dream figures which we do not recognise from day life? What seems to be true is that some of them develop their own identity, which responds in an unexpected, puzzling and unexplained way.


Barrett, W. (1926 / 2011). Death-Bed Visions. New edition: Guildford: White   Crow, 2011.

Fenwick, P. & Fenwick. E. (1995/2012). The Truth in the Light. Guildford: White Crow, 2012.

Lommel, P. van (2007/2010). Consciousness Beyond Life. New York:             HarperOne, 2010.

Osis, K. & Haraldsson, E. (1977). At the Hour of Death. New York: Avon

Pliny the Younger (1909-1914). Letters. LXX-XIII. To Sura. The Harvard Classics.

Puhle, A. (2004). Das Lexikon der Geister. Muenchen: Atmosphären.

Puhle, A. (2005). Mit Goethe durch die Welt der Geister. St. Goar: Reichl.

Puhle, A. (2013). Light Changes. Experiences in the Presence of Transforming Light. Guildford: White Crow.

Puhle, A. (2017/2019). Lucid Dreaming. Psi Encyclopedia.

Puhle, A. & Parker, A. (2017). An Exploratory Study of Lucid Dreams             Concerning Deceased Persons. Journal of the Society for Psychical Research, Vol. 81, No. 3, 145–161.

Puhle, A. & Parker Reed, A. (2017). Shakespeare’s Ghosts Live. From             Shakespeare’s Ghosts to Psychical Research. Newcastle: Cambridge             Publishing.

Sartori, P. (2008). The Near-Death Experiences of Hospitalized Intensive        Care Patients. The Edwin Mellen Press: Lewiston, Queenston, Lampeter.

Sartori, P. (2014). The Wisdom of Near-Death Experiences. London: Watkins.

Tholey, P. (1985). Haben Traumgestalten ein eigenes Bewusstsein? Gestalt     Theory Vol. 7, No. 1.

Tholey, P. & Utecht, K. (1987). Schöpferisch Träumen. Niedernhausen:             Falkenverlag.

Waggoner, R. & MacCready, C. (2015). Lucid Dreaming. Plain and Simple.      Berkley, CA: Conari Press.

New project: Dream Incubation

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