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Why do some of us believe in ghosts and spirits?

I saw my first ghost when I was just 18. After a late night supper with my friends, I had to climb a flight of stairs, and walk across a block of apartments to reach my building. And there she was. It was not as terrifying as I expected. She was not flying or making ridiculous woo-wooing noises, but the experience still made me tremble. She was just about 5 meters in front of me, and under the block I had to pass through. It was quiet all around the neighborhood, and I first noticed her because the lamplight above her was spoilt. I thought nothing of it at first, and assumed that she was a neighborhood lady, waiting for her friend or daughter. As I slowly walked towards her, I recall wondering if something might be wrong with her. She was dressed in white from neck to floor, and staring unblinkingly away from me. She looked lost yet strangely expressionless. The word ghost flashed through my mind only after I was just about one meter away from her. I walked faster but softly, afraid that I would attract her attention. Praying fervently, I wanted so badly to turn to see if she was following me. But I remembered someone telling me that if I met a ghost, to never turn back, or risk being possessed. The key to surviving an encounter with a ghost is pretending its not there.

I can never forget the way she looked. I know that she was a ghost because she did not move, and didnt seem to breath at all. And she was so very pale. I also remembered that there had been a funeral just a week before under that very same apartment block. And her picture was on the casket.

When I reached my doorstep, my hands were trembling so badly that I could not open the lock at my gate. Luckily, my mother was at home, and still awake. She opened the door, and I told her what happened. Surprisingly, my mother believed everything I told her, and sat me down to pray for Christs protection. I thought that being a staunch Catholic, she did not believe in such things. But she went on to tell me about her own ghostly experiences. Ironically, she had never actually seen a ghost before, but described a strange incident in a church when she was very young. While with my grandparents and feeling bored, she started playing with the pole that the statue of Saint Joseph was holding. The pole fell with a loud clanking sound on the floor, and when she looked up, she saw the statue of Saint Joseph frowning at her for a split second. Frightened, she started crying, and told my grandparents about the incident. This episode became a famous family tale, instilling the belief in all of us that spirits do actually exist. I remember other stories from my grandfather as well. He told the stories so convincingly that his children and grandchildren never doubted his words. We spent many dark nights curled up under our blankets, breathing silently for fear of waking the spirits.

Why do many of us believe in ghosts? There are many great stories, and folktales about ghosts. A lot of times, as kids, we were afraid of venturing into certain parts of our school, or an old neighborhood house because we had heard rumors that it was haunted. During my early teenage years, on a drunken dare, my friends and I had gone to an old house that was rumored to be haunted, and where a horrific murder had taken place. And being teenagers, we screamed, and ran out of the house at the first hint of a sudden noise. During those fun days, the thought that we might meet ghosts kept our adrenalin rushing, and made our hearts pump faster. We also carried on the tradition of telling ghost stories around the campfire as a means of creating a tension-filled atmosphere that teenagers seem to thrive on. Looking back, ghosts were a fun part of our lives when our youth demanded a departure from normal and average routine.

But the older generation held a different attitude altogether. They took ghosts and spirits more seriously, and seldom joked about them. Many accept their own belief in ghosts with open minds, and in some cases, they even honor spirits of the dead. To this day, the seventh month ghost festival is a serious affair for our elders. They burn ceremonial papers and food to appease the spirits. They advise the younger generation not to go out too late at night during the seventh month, and to be careful of stepping on street offerings, just in case the spirits become angry, and give them bad luck. It would seem that ghosts and punishing spirits were also invented to scare kids into behaving and to promote moral behavior. Belief in the supernatural is thus, drummed into the young psyche as a means of indirect control.

Most people, who believe in ghosts and bad spirits, also believe in angels and good spirits. This could be for moral purposes, these people believe that when they do good deeds, angels and good spirits are there to watch over them, and care for them. On the other hand, they also believe that if they do something immoral, ghosts or bad spirits will be there, watching their every move and waiting to punish them. People who belong to certain religions are brought up to believe that entities such as ghosts, spirits, angels, devils and Gods exist to watch over our different needs. It could also be theorized that these religions, which promote the belief in divine forces, make it easier for people to correspondingly, accept a belief in the supernatural. Perhaps our spiritual beliefs open our minds up to believing in spirits.

We may have invented ghosts to explain the unknown, to make sense of unexplainable manifestations. Many times, when we see or hear something unexplainable, we jump to the conclusion that they are ghosts or spirits. The reason behind it could be psychological. We make assumptions about ghosts because we think that many people will come to the same conclusion, and to say otherwise might make us look like outcasts. It has always been human nature to fear the unknown, and to consider that we will disintegrate into nothingness seems a little too much for our fragile egos to accept. What happens after death is unknown as well, and some of us cannot bring ourselves to contemplate that there is nothing after death. From that fearful notion, theories of heaven, hell, ghosts and spirits arise. There are also those who believe in ghosts and spirits for comfort, to relieve the pain of losing their loved ones. They believe in life after death, and that loved ones are living on somewhere else, so that they will get to meet them again. It could be theorized that hope is another reason for our continued belief in the supernatural.

It could also be the feeling of the little hairs rising on our skin, or the chills that a sudden breeze sends down our spine, that make a lot of us, believe in ghosts and spirits. We seek mystery and an element of excitement in the mundane. This would also explain why horror and ghost films attract such a large turnout. We believe in ghosts and spirits for our own excitement, curiosity, spiritual faith, religious observance, and fear of the unknown. And in return, the mass media preys on all these factors, by continually feeding our needs, making money out of them. Perhaps it is a self-renewing cycle in which our fears feed the industry, which in turn, cultivates a continual wave of belief in the supernatural.

There are many reasons why people cling onto their belief in ghosts. These reasons include religion, fear of the unknown, for moral purposes, self-comfort, excitement, tradition, and even personal sightings. But in many cases it is a combination of factors. In this new technological age, where people are moving away from the realm of tradition, into an era where seeing is believing; when we have scientists to explain the unknown, believing in ghosts might soon be a thing of the past. As science marches onward, we could soon be responsible for destroying the ghosts that our ancestors created.