Annekatrin Puhle, Dr.phil. / PhD

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

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

Paper: Message of the Ghost


Annekatrin Puhle: The Message of the Ghost: Getting Beyond the Trappings of Cultural History

In: The Christian Parapsychologist, volume 16 No 5, March 2005, pp.142-150

A paper delivered at the Sixth Ecumenical Conference on Christian Parapsychology

at Lincoln on September 2003. Dr Puhle is a philosopher and health consultant.

The author wishes to thank the Society for Psychical Research for supporting the

research on which this paper is based.


Who has seen ghost?

Who has seen a ghost? Some contemporary surveys tell us that about a third of us have had ghostly experience in our own life 1. Great Britain has traditionally had a reputation of being a paradise for ghosts, apparitions, and spirits – but if we look at the historical literature, what does this actually tell us about them? Well-documented cases are not just from the last century but can be also found in the 1700s and 1800s. Indeed, the sighting of spirits and ghosts has been reported since the beginnings of documented history.

However, as well as the accounts describing what are taken to be concrete appearances of the dead, there are early theoretical interpretations of ghosts and of hauntings by Homer, Plato, and Pliny. Iamblichos, the neo-platonic philosopher, tells us of lights and spirits seen entering the body of a medium. According to him, such lights can sometimes be seen by all present at the moment the medium enters and leaves the trance state 2.

In dealing with the enormous literature about ghosts, one becomes aware of the astronomic numbers of individuals who during history have reported seeing a ghost. Some of the most of ten quoted ghost seers and seeresses are:

John Donne (1573-1631, London)

Duncan Campbell (1680-1730, London) 3

Elisabeth Hobson (bom 1744 in Sunderland) 4

Friederike Hauffe (1801-1829, Germany) 5.

I have given details of some authors of historical ghost-books in an end­note 6.

Different types of apparitions

There are mainly visual experiences of ghosts, apparitions and spirits in

various forms:

  • Apparitions in human form (identified and unidentified – white ladies,

people from folklore like banshees)

  • Apparitions in human-like form (figures from folklore and religion:

angels, fairies, dwarfs, goblins)

  • Apparitions in animal form
  • Apparitions in animal-like form
  • Apparitions in unspecified forms (clouds, shadows, lights).

Another important distinction that is more apparent from looking at the older literature, concerns the different senses that are involved in perceiving apparitions. We have reports of:

  • Seeing ghosts,
  • Hearing ghosts,
  • Smelling ghosts,
  • Touching ghosts (on the skin), and
  • Feeling ghosts (Le. sensing a presence).

A further characteristic relates to the states of mind in which apparitions are perceived. Dream states are of course problematic because of the difficulty of distinguishing apparitions from ordinary dream figures. Occasionally apparitions can be seen even in two state s at the same time, for example during full awareness and also in an altered state of consciousness, which was the case with so-called seeresses such as Eileen Garrett and Ania Teillard 7.

The specific area of ghosts in which science today is interested, concerns apparitions in human form. Even here we find a great variety in their appearance and apparent purpose. For instance, Tyrrell’s classical distinction 8 refers to the situation in which ghosts occur, and to the time and continuity of their appearance:

  • experimental apparitions (provoked, intentionally produced)
  • crisis apparitions (most of ten at death)
  • post-mortem apparitions (after death)
  • ghosts (by which is meant hauntings, sometimes continuing over



The core experience of apparitions

The search for the experience of apparitions of humans has, of course, relevance for the survival issue. When we try to get an overview of the extended field of apparitions we find certain patterns recur in many of the accounts about them. The main point is this: There are no ghosts which only relate to themselves. Ghosts always affect us, our lives and our Weltanschauung, even if they only appear to inform us about themselves, about their state, their death, or the afterlife.

Ghosts appear to have an intention and motivational basis. Hans Bender and others 9 have remarked that there seems to be an intelligent intention in special poltergeist phenomena 10, for instance in the direction of the movement of flying objects and in the joking manner of poltergeists 11. Furthermore, we have a lot of so-called as if phenomena, where flying objects behave as if they were transported 12. Archie Roy repeats the idea of the intentional ghost in his book Archives of the Mind 13 in the con text of his list of twenty-six challenging cases of mediumship collected from the l800s and 1900s. Among the pertinent questions he asks, is: Was there an ostensible motive for the intruder to return? 14 An affirmative answer that there was such a motive ~as clearly evident in 21 of the 26 cases l5:

  • Life cut short (in 17 cases)
  • Unfinished business (in 6 cases)
  • To give proof of survival (in 9 cases)
  • Loneliness (in l case).16

Information and intentionality – these are then the key words of ghosts. Ghosts are messengers, and the core of the ghost is his message.

Cases suggestive of survival

When Socrates was condemned to death, he claimed before the court that it would be impossible for death to be something bad but rather the opposite: death is something good and would be, like it is of ten said, just a shift, a move of the soul from this world here to another place 17.

But where is the bridge from such a superior idea to those of the world in which we live? And what type of case could support the spirit theory by suggesting a survival of physical death by some part of a person? Would it be in the form of some action from the side of the dead, some reaction to the current events in our lives occurring after their death? Such cases, if they were to be found, would demand a more and more complicated so ­called ‘normality’. Ultimately we would then reach the limit imposed by Occam’s razor: always choose the simplest of possible explanations.

At present, Scandinavian countries like Norway, Sweden, and Denmark – and also Holland – have started a TV series about mediums who have been enlisted in order to help the police with old unsolved murder cases. In England, a current report concerns one of the most – if not the most ­striking example of the success of a medium in solving a murder. This murder took place on Il February 1983 in Ruislip, West London, and the victim was the 25 year old Jacqueline Poole. The case was only recently solved by DNA matching (LCN-DNA technology) resulting in a life sentence for the murderer. However, in principle, this case was solved 20 years ago at the time when it was first investigated when the medium, a young Irish woman, Christine Holohan, gave the police the correct information about the circumstances of the victim’s death, which she claimed to have got directly from the deceased victim herself. Christine described some 150 details of the place where the murder occurred, and of these, only one detail was wrong 18.

One outstanding feature is that Christine could give the specific name ­- the nickname – of the murderer, ‘Pookie’, as well as two other names important to the victim. One of these names was Barbara Stone, the best friend of Jacqui, who the police only very recently discovered had died in a car crash one year before Jacqui’s murder; another was Jacqui’s favourite brother, who is still living. An interesting side-note was that Christine got the name ‘Pookie’, not by hearing the voice of the ghost of Jacqui, as was the case with all the other information received, but by writing it in trance. Christine has now returned to her native Ireland, where she works as a medium.

In fact, the evidence for an afterlife given by such a brilliant case gets clearer and stronger when we discover there are other equivalent case reports in the historical literature. But the murder-solving cases are only one of the categories of historical apparitional cases giving suggestive material for post mortem survival.

Here is an overview of the types of cases suggestive of survival in the historical literature:

Cases of ghosts predicting the future; prophecies 19

Will- and testament-cases 20

Court cases (cases in which justice has been done or has to be done) 21

Discovering of hidden money 22

Wamings (successful and unsuccessful) 23

Preventing a murder 24

Solving murder. 25

An example of this last category is the extraordinary case of Mrs Clark which took place in 1613 in the then already very old inn, the Blue Boar, Leicester. The owner of this inn had a special bed fitted with a double bottom said to be filled with gold. The restless ghost of Mrs Clarke appeared to the Mayor of Leicester several months after the murder, saying how she was murdered by her maid and seven accomplices, and this subsequently led to their execution 26.


The final question: survival or afterlife?

The question of short-term survival of physical death is only the initial part of the larger question. It should be noted that even if there is only a limited survival beyond the deadline of death, we would still need to re-address the question about the final limitations of human life, albeit at a later stage. Investigating such an issue in terms of providing final answers is an impossible task for modem science. All that we can do in order to evaluate the c1aims of visionaries is to carry out the analysis and comparison of the accounts from supposed survivors found in the numerous case reports from all countries and time periods.

Some of the most well-known visionaries are

Anskar of Bremen (801-865, Germany)

Hildegard of Bingen (1098-1179, Germany)

Julian of Norwich (ca. 1340-ca. 1413, England)

Catherine of Siena (1347-1380, Ita1y)

Jeanne d’ Arc (1412-1431, France)

Catherine of Ricci (1522-1590, Ita1y)

Jacob Böhme (1575-1624, Germany)

Emanuel Swedenborg (1688-1772, Sweden)

Ania Teillard (1889-1978, Germany)

Paramahansa Yogananda (1893-1952, India and USA)

Omraam Mikhael Aivanhov (1900-1986, Bulgaria and France).

We could take into account all the numerous descriptions of encounters from near-death experiences and other altered states of consciousness ­- encounters with beings obviously not only from ordinary humankind, but creatures such as beings of light, or angels, or religious figures like Jesus or Buddha. Some examples of the appearance of beautiful, angel-like children and glorious music are given with the report of Apparitions of Good Spirits from the 1700s in Wales 27.

In considering the above cases, we should remember that the very old examples in the literature are an expression of the belief that there is not only a survival of our consciousness or some part of it but that there is also a larger eternal part of us. There seems to exist, world-wide and throughout the history of mankind, a strong belief in humans as eternal beings and a belief that death is only a preliminary stage which separates us from our godly source. In western cultures, we can go back to the Greek antiquities, to Plato who speaks of an immortal soul, then on to the 1500s in Germany to find in Paracelsus the viewpoint that there are three parts of our selves from which one passes over after death to an everlasting afterlife 28.

The eastern philosophies are even more specific concerning survival and an afterlife such that, according to their philosophies, there exists not only an eternal soul, but many parts of the human body which are said to survive death to some extent on different levels (astral body, mental body, causal body and even ‘higher’ bodies).

The idea of having not only one type of body after physical death throws new light on apparitional experiences by raising the question concerning the different forms that the ghost of a human takes: Does spiritual development after death influence the appearance of ghosts?

Ghosts who are carrying messages to the living and influencing their lives in positive ways should obviously leave a lasting impression on those who encounter them. That this can be so, we know for instance from the study of near-death experiences and, in reviewing these, Peter Fenwick 29 has given us the keyword: transformation.

Apparitions and current survival research

Historical accounts of apparitions could enlighten much of the modem research in this field. They could confirm the patterns of experiences we see today, leading us to the core of what we call ‘the ghost’. This seemed to be true also from my earlier research on poltergeist cases, where old and new accounts during different centuries follow similar patterns, and show the same types of phenomena and case structure. More research would be needed to confirm the above claims for the recurring nature of ghosts. We have many thousands of such reports available in Germany, and certainly similar amounts exist in Great Britain – the SPR library contains 7000 monographs of which a great part exclusively or partly concerns apparitions. Other European countries like Greece, Italy, France, Holland, and Spain offer classic works from antiquity onwards about ghosts. If we could collate this vast literature, we could then start to put into place the colourful stones of the shimmering ghost-mosaic.

History should also caution us from over-interpreting new results from current research. Recent experiments like Persinger’s or Blanke’s 30 showed that a ghost sighting can occur in the con text of the stimulation of the right cortex of the human brain. Those examples are easily seductive with respect to the conclusion that they have literally hit the core and the cause of the ghostly and apparition al experiences. It is however of ten overlooked that Blanke had no more than one single patient having an out-of-body experience during his procedure. To explain away ghosts as brain reactions is not justified, although of course the brain might very well play a role in the perception of apparitions.

To come to the point: By putting the accounts together – old and new ­- the core of the ghost comes to light. Apparitions carry important information relevant to the here and now, and they connect the reality of time and space with a wider reality which is neither bound to these categories nor does it follow the law of cause and effect. The core of the ghost is this: the messenger-ghost. While poltergeists are destructive, frightening and disturbing, producing a lot of disorder – I like to call them fallen angels – the messenger ghost is the opposite; it is constructive, creates harmony, order, and justice – and in this it resembles angels.

The message of the ghost is a reminiscence of what the Greek philosophers understood by the term logos – which can be translated as cosmic and divine harmony.



1 Haraldsson, Erlendur; ‘Representative National Surveys of Psychic Phenomena: Iceland, Great Britain, USA and Gallup’s Multinational Survey’ Journal of the SPRVol. 53, No. 801 (1985) pp. 145-158; Haraldsson, Erlendur and Houtkooper, Joop M; ‘Psychic Experiences in the Multinational Human Values Study. Who reports thern?’ Journal of the American SPRVol. 85 (Aprill991), pp. 145-165.

2 Dodds, E. R.; ‘Supernormal Phenomena in Classical Antiquity’ Proceedings of the SPRVol. 55, Part 203 (March 1971); Iamblichos, de myst. (edition of 1570) III 5,

p,.112.2; III 6, p. 112.10.

3 Defoe, Daniel; Life of Duncan Campbell, London, Curll, 1720.

Relation of Apparitions of Spirits, in the Principality of Wales, to which is added the remarkable account of the apparition in Sunderland, … (Published anonymously, i.e. by Thomas Roborts), 1780.

5 Kerner, Justinus; Die Seherin von Prevorst Stuttgart, Cotta, 1829. Translation by Catherine Crowe; The Secrets of Prevorst London, J.C. Moore, 1845.

John Dee (13 July 1527 – December 1608, London). Dee, John; Relation between John Dee and Some Spirits London, D. Maxwell, 1659.

Richard Baxter (12[?] November 1615 – 8 December 1691, from Shropshire). Baxter, Richard; The Certainty of the Worlds of Spirits fully evinced. To which is added, The Wonders of the lnvisible World by Cotton Mather London, Smith, 1691, 1834.

Joseph Glanvill (1636 – 4 November 1680, from Plymouth). Glanvill, Joseph; Full and Plain Evidence concerning Witches and Apparitions John ColIins, 1681. Glanvill, Joseph; Sadducismus Triumphatus London, Baskerville, 1689; Bettesworth, 1726.

Daniel Defoe (1660 or 1661 – 26 April 1731, London); Life of Duncan Campbell (vide n. 3, supra). Defoe, Daniel; An Essay on the History and Reality of

Apparitions London, l st edition D Steel, 1727. Defoe, Daniel; The Secrets of the lnvisible World Laid Open, or a General History of Apparitions, Sacred and Profane… 1729,1770.

Iohann Beaumont (before 1676 – 1731, Somerset). Beaumont, John; A Historical, Physiological, and Theological Treatise of Spirits, Apparitions, Witchcraft, and other Magical Practices London, privately printed, 1705.

Catherine Crowe (ca. 1800 – 1876, Kent). Kerner (vide n. 5, supra). Crowe, Catherine; The Night-Side of Nature or, Ghosts and Ghost-seers 2 Volumes, first published in London by Newby, 1848; Aquarian Press, Wellingborough, 1986.

Fanny Moser (1872 – 1953, Switzerland and Germany). Moser, Fanny; Der Okkultismus 2 Volumes, Orel Fussli, Zürich, 1935. Moser, Fanny; Spuk Gyr Verlag, Baden, Zürich, 1950.

Aniela Jaffé (1903-1991, Switzerland). Jaffe, Aniela; Geistererscheinungen und Vorzeichen. Mit einem Vorwort von eG. Jung Rascher, Ziirich, 1958; third edition, Daimon Verlag, Einsiedeln, 1995 (English translation in the SPR library, London).

7 Puhle, Annekatrin; Mit Goethe durch die Welt der Geister. Berichte von Geistererscheinungen aus vier Jahrtausenden (‘With Goethe through the world of ghosts. Reports from four millennia’). 4 volumes, Reichl Verlag Der Leuchter, St Goar, 2005. Vol. 1,11.3,11.10; Vol. 3, IV. (See also the short version.)

8 Tyrrell, G.N.M.; Apparitions London, SPR, 1943, reprinted 1973.

9 Schriever, in Huesmann, Monika & Schriever, Friederike; ‘Steckbrief des Spuks ­Darstellung und Diskussion einer Sammlung von 54 RSPK-Berichten des Freiburger Instituts für Grenzgebeite der Psychologie und Psychohygiene aus den Jahren 1947-1986’ Zeitschrift flir Parapsychologie und Grenzgebeite der Psychologie, 31, Nr 1/2, 1989; pp. 52-107.

10 Huesmann & Schriever, op. cit. n. supra, p.67.

11 Puhle, Annekatrin; ‘Learning from Historical Cases: Six Selected Poltergeist Cases from the 1700s in Germany’ , European Journal of Parapsychology, 16, 2001, pp. 61-72. See especially case No. 6, p. 67.

12 Bender, Hans; Telepathie, Hellsehen und Psycohkinese Aufsätze zur Parapsychologie, Mtinchen, Piper & Co, 1972; sixth edition 1989, p. 42.

13 Roy, Archie E.; Archives of the Mind Redwoods, Essex, SNU Publications, 1996.

14 ibid., p. 302.

15 ibid., pp. 303-7.

16 ibid.. p. 312.

17 Plato; Apology, St. 40C.

18 For a complete report of this case, see Guy Lyon Playfair and Montague Keen, ‘A possibly unique case of psychic detection’, in JSPR 68: 1 No.874 (2004), pp. 1-17.

19 The Unseen World: Communications with it, Real or lmaginary, including Apparitions, Warnings, Haunted Places, Prophecies, Aerial Visions, Astrology, &c., &c. London, James Bums, 1847. Relation of Apparitions (op. cit. n. supra), rg.116-7.

20 The Compleat Wizzard: being a Collection of authentic and entertaining Narratives of the real Existence and Appearance of Ghosts, Demons, and Spectres … London, W. Oxlade, 1770, pp. 66-67. Proceedings of the SPRVol. 36, pp. 517ff. Storm, Theodor, edited by Karl Ernst Laage; Neues Gespensterbuch. Bei­träge zur Geschichte des Spuks. Insel, Frankfurt a. M. & Leipzig, 1991, case nr. 10.

22 The History of Witches, Ghosts. and Highland Seers; containing many wonderful well-attested Relations of supernatural Appearances… Taylor, Berwick, ca. 1775, pp. 51-58. Kemer (op. cit., n. supra). The Compleat Wizzard (op. cit. n. 20 supra), pp. 68-72.

22 The History of Witches (op. cit. n. 21 supra).

23 Relation (op. cit. n. sup ra), pp. 133-4. The Unseen World (op.cit. n. 19 supra). The History of Witches (op. cit. n. 21 supra), pp. 81-87,99-112. Compleat Wizzard (op. cit. n. 20 supra), pp. 59-61. Revisits from the World of Spirits, &c Bailey, London, 1790,pp.25-40.

24 Revisits (op. cit. n. 24 supra), p. 6.

25 Compleat Wizzard (op. cit. n. 20 supra), pp 63-65. The History of Witches (op. cit. n. 21 supra), pp. 31-34, 252-254. Scott, Sir Walter; Letters on Demonology and Witchcraft, addressed to J.G. Lockhart, Esq. Murray, London, 20d edition 1831; A. & W. Galignani, Paris, 1831. Revisits (op. cit. n. 24 supra), pp. 30-35.

26 Revisits (op. cit. n. 24 supra), 21-23.

27 Relation (op. cit. n. supra), pp. 105-111.

28 Puhle (op.cit. n.7 supra), Vol. 1, lA.

29 Fenwick, Peter; ‘Spiritual medicine and the near-death experience’, THE CHRISTIAN PARAPSYCHOLOGlST 15:8 [December 2003], pp. 250-261.

30 Nature No. 419,19 September 2002, pp. 269-270.

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