Have you ever wondered what happens after you die? Of course, you have, don’t lie. You’re human, aren’t you? We are all curious as to what lies beyond the great beyond. If you have spent many a night lying awake, paralyzed by the idea of what comes after this life, you are in luck. After spending dozens and dozens of months carefully watching and analyzing ghost-themed shows and film, I have come up with some of most popular ghost rules and lore that only exists in Hollywood.
1. Ghosts have unfinished business, obviously! It’s what keeps them Earthbound. Whether they died unnaturally, naturally, or before their time, all ghosts have something they need to do or need to discover about themselves before they can move on. And most of the time, they have no idea what that is. In Ghost Whisperer, it is the job of Melinda to help the dearly departed fix their shit before they can move on. She is determined to get them into the light and most of the time, she’s able to do so successfully. Still, there are those ghosts who refuse, who Darby from Darby and the Dead call Stayers. It’s definitely easier when the ghosts can be heard and can manage to avoid forming attachments with their medium. But when feelings get involved, things get complicated- looking at you Ghosts.
2. It is genetics- or a brush with death- that grants one the ability to see ghosts…. We see that in Ghost Whisperer, Darby and the Dead, and Ghosts, the ability to see ghosts is something that must be earned. In Ghost Whisperer, Melinda gains the ability to see ghosts honestly. Bother her parents could see and talk to the dead, as well as her maternal grandmother. In Darby and the Dead and Ghosts, Darby and Sam, respectively gain their powers after a brush with death. Both technically died for some time before waking up to a new found ability. It is a power bestowed upon those who are deemed worthy. Whether it’s the power of sight, sound, or both, these ghost whisperers have been chosen to help their dearly departed friends find peace and eventually move on to the great unknown.
3. …Unless you are a child, or a dog. Popular ghost lore also reasons that children and animals are able to sense the presence of a ghost, whether its by sight, sound, or something else. In The Sixth Sense, Cole is able to see and communicate with the dead and, spoiler alert, is the one to tell Dr. Malcolm Crow that he is indeed also dead. In The Shining, Danny Torrance, son of the main character Jack, is able to telepathically communicate with ghosts. He receives messages and visions from a ghost he calls “Tony,” whom his parents call his imaginary friend. In Ghosts, in both the American and OG British versions, we see plenty of times where an animal or a child can interact with the dead. Pat, the 80s era, scout leader ghost from the BBC’s Ghosts even attempts to pet a Labrador Retriever as it is barking at him, much to his own intense discomfort. When Mike, husband of “ghost whisperer” Allison, invites his family for Christmas, we see that his niece, who is maybe shy of 1, can also see ghosts and finds joy in their entertaining her. In CBS’ Ghosts, the young son of contractor Mark points to Isaac, the Revolutionary War-era ghost and calls him a “pirate” while Pete, America’s 80’s era, Scout leader ghost remarks that a young living girl saw him and called him a “monster” The ghosts don’t seem to understand why babies and young children can see them, but apparently not all children have the gift of sight, and the ones that do eventually lose it as they grow up. Perhaps it’s young children’s vivid imagination, or their readiness to believe in the unbelievable.
4. Ghosts are either very powerful or extremely defensiveness- there is no in-between. In life, it’s all about balance. Everything should be in moderation, as they say. It’s no good to go to the extreme on anything. But this is not the case in the afterlife. Ghosts can be extremely powerful, such as those in Harry Potter, Casper, Beetlejuice, American Horror Story, or Darby and the Dead. Here, we’ve seen the dead effect change in the battle between good and dark magic, encourage the living to off themselves, turn a perfectly normal dinner party into a possessed dance, impregnate a living woman, and terrorize a former classmate because they are bored. We also see that they can be very strong, often moving things effortlessly and causing all kinds of chaos in the living world. According to Darby from Darby and the Dead, ghosts are a form of energy that, with intense focus and practice, can manipulate things in the living.
Others are stuck merely bearing witness to the goings on of their environment without any kind of intervention. In Ghosts we see that these former livings cannot be seen, heard, or touched at all. Only one has the power to touch anything and that takes an extreme amount of focus and strength. One is able to be heard but only when singing, or talking to an electronic assistance device. And if you were to accidentally touch or walk through them, it is extremely painful to them. It is through this show that we learn that ghosts are actually more scared of us than we are of them. Ghosts are bees.
5. Ghosts are bound to where they died. This one is debatable, as there is plenty of media that negates this theory. In Casper, Ghost Whisperer, and Darby in the Dead, these “deados” were free to come and go as they pleased. In Ghosts and American Horror Story, these spirits are trapped in the place that saw their demise. According to americanhorrorstory.fandom.com:
“Generally, ghosts tend to exist in places where many horrible, disturbing events have taken place. Billie Jean Howard (played by Sarah Paulson) describes these locations like a “battery” for evil energy, absorbing the negative feelings, emotions, and events of the heinous crimes that have occurred in their depths. As a result, these locations become a trap for individuals that die on their premises, ensnaring their spirits to the mortal world due to unfinished business they have in life. To avoid becoming trapped in one such location, one must not only leave the inside of a cursed building before dying, but also the building’s outside perimeter, such as a garden or sidewalk, as these places are still affected by the restriction.”
And in 13 Ghosts, they are trapped in a house by a horrible curse that feeds on their anger and makes them even angrier and more violent. Beetlejuice was interesting, however. We saw that certain ghosts could travel more freely than others. While newly deceased Barbara and Adam are stuck in their house for the most part, they can still travel to death’s waiting room and to see their “case manager”. They just cannot go anywhere else in the living world.
6. Ghosts are stuck looking the same way as the day they died… One of the more consistent things we’ve seen in ghost lore, it’s that ghosts look the same way they did at the moment of death. In some media, this is done more deliberately, especially if the show or movie is scary such as American Horror Story or 13 Ghosts. These ghosts carry the wounds that show exactly how they passed. In other media, like Ghosts, there are some clues like Flower’s bear print, or Pete’s arrow that show how they died. But there is a conscious choice to keep those wounds PG so as to not scare the audience. It’s a family show, don’t you know. It really makes you think twice before getting dressed in the morning. You don’t want to be stuck in something super ugly or comfortable for all of eternity!
7. … OR Ghosts can take on different forms. While the above is true, there are some ghosts who take on a totally different form all together in death. In both Casper and Ghostbusters, the ghosts we meet are the ones who are typically displayed on Halloween decorations and my favorite water bottle. They are either white, clear, or green and are shapeless with a tail. They also float as they lack legs and feet. In Beetlejuice, the title character can transform into anything so long as it still includes some of the more prominent features of his face. He turns himself into a version of the popular “strong man” carnival attraction. He also has his head shrunk at the end of the movie after trying to dupe a witch doctor into switching waiting room call numbers.
8. Ghost biology is weird. Going along with the last two points, the physical needs and/or abilities of a ghost’s body, or lack thereof, is very confusing. In Ghosts, we see that each spirit has a bedroom and goes to sleep, but why? This question is asked throughout the series by the ghosts (Why do we sleep?) but ghosts don’t have working nervous systems that depend on sleep to rest and recalibrate. They can also can have sex which means certain parts have to be able to function as they would on a living human’s body in order to make that happen. But if there is no blood flow… how? And while some senses, like sight, sound, and smell seem to all be in working order, the ability to taste or touch is not. Does it have to make sense? No? But it’s fun to speculate why that might be.
9. Ghosts have feelings. Big, big feelings. It sucks to die. Especially when you are young and have your whole life ahead of you. And for the most part, ghosts are pissed. Some of them wish to inflict pain on the living, while others find joy in playing pranks. Once they get over the anger, sadness, and overall confusion of what is going on while trying to get used to their new strange reality, ghosts also experience a lot of the same emotions as livings do. They love and hurt. They experience apathy and joy. They scheme and strategize. They get pissed off and can sometimes get very violent. And they are afraid. No one knows what’s on the other side, and of course, they aren’t sure what to expect, which means sometimes they are hesitant to go anywhere. And that’s where the mediums and whisperers come into play.
10. Ghost powers are specific to the person who holds them. A power a ghost possesses (pun definitely intended) is typically related to what they did in life, is demonstrative of their personality, or even might be tied to how they met their untimely demise. In Ghosts, the most modern ghost can touch objects in the living world, even though it’s extremely painful and tiring for him to do so. We can assume this is because, being the most modern ghost, he had more access to different modern amenities. Furthermore, this character is the lothario of the group, so his ability to touch made be tied to his specific love language, if you will. In the same breath, we can talk about another ghost who died from dysentery and as a result, he produces a very distinctive and malodorous smell when someone walks through him. But ghost powers are only specific in this way when ghosts are powerless in every other aspect of their afterlife. Ghosts who are able to easily affect the environment in which they haunt often can do pretty much anything they want.
11. Those who can see ghosts can live a very lonely life. What would you do if you saw someone talking to what appeared to be themselves? First, you may check to see if there’s a phone in their hand or earbuds in their ears. Then, after determining that none of these are true, you might believe that they are a bit out there. Those who can communicate with the living-impaired often have to hide this gift from others for fear of judgment. They might be outcast as witches or accused of dabbling in satanic belief. And it seems that for most of them, no one else they know has this gift so they often have to figure out how to use it on their own. Furthermore, these whisperers take on the role of adoptive moms for these ghosts. They often depend on these individuals to help them move on, and if they aren’t ready to move on, they stick around. In Ghost Whisperer, we see these “stayers” as Darby calls them either in denial that they are dead or afraid to go into the light because of the unknown that lies beyond. However, sometimes they stay behind to watch over their loved ones. In Darby and the Dead, Ghost Gary stays around to wait for his wife so that they can pass on together, while Darby’s mom stays around to watch over her daughter and to make sure she’s okay before moving on.
The mental toll that this takes on someone who has the gift of sight can be incredibly taxing. Not only do they feel alone, but they feel as though they may be going crazy, especially at first. If they have agreed to help the ghosts, whether it’s getting them to move on, or simply making their afterlives more enjoyable, they may need a bit of help in re-learning to care for themselves. And the establishment of boundaries is essential to protecting these seers’ mental health, for many times they can take on a lot of what has been keeping these ghosts Earthbound, causing more stress. It is imperative then that ghost whisperers find some kind of outlet that brings them joy or helps them learn to balance this new responsibility. Also, finding another person who also shares in this gift can be life-changing, giving them another person they can talk to and whom they can trust.
Ghost rules make no sense. If anything is clear, there is zero consistency in ghost rules. This explains why a ghost goes to sleep, or why a ghost is sit on a chair and also walks through it. It explains why some ghosts can make themselves visible, while others have no control of themselves or their environment. And I think that’s what makes them so much fun to work with. Ghosts can be anyone and do anything. It doesn’t have to make sense or be consistent. That’s what realistic fiction or non-fiction is for. The possibilities are endless for ghost lore. There are no rules. And if anything, having so much out there to “educate” us on paranormal activity may in fact help us to rid the belief that there’s something to be scared of.
Ghosts are just like us, and need help sometimes. Who knows? Maybe it’ll be you to answer the call, next.
Did I miss anything? Let me know down in the comments. Stay Earthbound, friends.