How does one create a ghost?
Surely, it takes more than just death; hundreds of people die every day. If everybody stayed on Earth in non-corporeal form the evidence of their existence would be irrefutable, overwhelming even. However, ghost sightings seem to be relatively rare, insinuating that the conditions under which a ghost is born must be somewhat specific.
There are many ideas across different cultures for what constitutes these parameters: some believe the death must be particularly grim or gruesome while others believe Earth is purgatory and ghosts are people denied access to the afterlife. There is also the classic trope of ‘unfinished business’ which seems to be the most popular belief. Personally, I think this is the closest answer, but it’s still a ways off.
In my mind, the formula for creating a ghost is simple. Involuntary expenditure of energy + studied, intentional devotion= ghoulish haunting. The devotional part of this is easy: a person cares for something so much that they give their entire self over to it until some part of their essence is imbued within it. This would explain the type of hauntings centered around objects or locations; so much of someone’s mental energy is breathed into a specific physical construct that their spirit stays forever linked to that person, place or thing.
The aforementioned notion of unfinished business also falls within the scope of devotion. Someone becomes so obsessed with something in life that when they die they cannot pass on from this world until all left on their mind that is associated with that thing or idea is purged. This also brings in the issue of closure and the involuntary part of this equation. We never hear about people who lived fulfilling and peaceful lives turning into ghosts. There has to be a reason people's mortal souls are stuck on this plane. Something unexpected has to happen. Whether it’s a gruesome murder, a tragic accident or just a person with too much life to live, nobody who expects to die becomes a ghost.
It’s also worth noting that it isn’t required that someone dies to make a ghost. In fact, I think the majority of ghosts on this planet are still living. How many people do you know in once fruitful relationships who get broken up with and become a shell of their former selves? And what is that process if not a devotion and warmth undercut by an unintentional and unforeseen circumstance?
It is these types of hauntings that are most intriguing to me, what is more frightening than to be haunted by someone still living? To turn every corner in fear not because of a mortal terror or a concern for your life but because of the knowledge that someone on this planet's energy is still attached to yours. To know that someone is still burning for you from a great gulf of pain and longing. What it truly means to be haunted is to be loved.
Art by Ethan Mast