Ghost, AKA Intelligent Haunting, "Disembodied Intellect", "Disembodied Spirit", "Disincarnate Spirit", Spectre, Apparition, Phantom, Wraith, Presence, "Astral Body"...
Origin: the concept of Ghosts is one of homo sapiens' most ancient supernatural inventions, long predating (in real life) the Cthulhu Mythos
"...[The] externally similar but psychologically widely different... literature of mere physical fear and the mundanely gruesome, [and] the conventional or even whimsical or humorous ghost story (where formalism or the author's knowing wink removes the true sense of the morbidly unnatural)... are not the literature of cosmic fear in its purest sense. The true weird tale has something more than secret murder, bloody bones, or a sheeted form clanking chains according to rule. A certain atmosphere of breathless and unexplainable dread of outer, unknown forces must be present; and there must be a hint, expressed with a seriousness and portentousness becoming its subject, of that most terrible conception of the human brain — a malign and particular suspension or defeat of those fixed laws of Nature which are our only safeguard against the assaults of chaos and the daemons of unplumbed space...."
The [ghost story] of Dr. James is by no means haphazard, and in the preface to one of his collections he has formulated three very sound rules for macabre composition. A ghost story, he believes, should:
- Have a familiar setting in the modern period, in order to approach closely the reader’s sphere of experience.
- Its spectral phenomena, moreover, should be malevolent rather than beneficent; since fear is the emotion primarily to be excited.
- The technical patois of "occultism" or pseudo-science ought carefully to be avoided; lest the charm of casual verisimilitude be smothered in unconvincing pedantry....
In inventing a new type of ghost, he has departed considerably from the conventional Gothic tradition; for where the older stock ghosts were pale and stately, and apprehended chiefly through the sense of sight, the average James ghost is lean, dwarfish, and hairy — a sluggish, hellish night-abomination midway betwixt beast and man — and usually touched before it is seen. Sometimes the spectre is of still more eccentric composition; a roll of flannel with spidery eyes, or an invisible entity which moulds itself in bedding and shews a face of crumpled linen....
— H.P. Lovecraft, "Supernatural Horror in Literature"
Conventionally, "ghost" and related terms refer generally to any of a number of largely intangible spirits, most commonly those that are believed to be the disembodied image or intelligence of departed human beings.
To the occultist, mystic, or parapsychologist, such terms are used somewhat more specifically to describe an intelligent haunting by the disembodied spirit, soul, and intellect of a formerly (or sometimes currently) living human being, while in religion a ghost can be considered synonymous with an immortal human soul, whether departed from its physical body, or still living. The term "Intelligent Haunting" may be used to help differentiate a haunting by a disembodied human spirit from a Residual Haunting or a haunting involving non-human Spirits such as Elementals and Demons.
Human Spirits and Intelligent Hauntings
The term "Intelligent Haunting" refers to the conscious will and intellect that drives the haunting in the form of a disembodied spirit, here assumed to be human (or comparatively human) in origin. This, opposed to a Residual Haunting or a "Haunting" driven by mindless, unconscious physical or supernatural forces independent of will, consciousness, or intelligence.
Within the Cthulhu Mythos, the concept of a Ghost, used in the sense of an Intelligent Haunting or Astral Body, can be regarded as the disembodied intellect of a human being - perhaps a powerful wizard, witch, or occultists - which has departed from its body, either in death, or in Astral Projection or "Dreaming", or as the result of a "spell" or manipulation of reality allowing the wizard to separate the wizard's own (or some other person's) consciousness from its body for any of a variety of purposes, such as transplanting that ghost into a new body or into an artificial construct or fetish object (such as a doll, mannequin, Brain Jar, etc.) In this sense, the concept of a "Ghost" might be considered as something quite separate from more conventional ideas of life or death - after all, as hinted through the Arab's strange couplet in the Necronomicon: "That is not dead / Which can eternal lie / And with strange aeons / Even death may die".
Ghosts are typically invisible in the material world, though psychics, mediums, and sensitives might be able to see Ghosts in "visions" of the Other Side or other locations on the Seven Planes. Ghosts can sometimes choose to manifest in the world in visible forms, though occultists believe that doing so requires a great deal of effort or the exertion of energy by the Ghost; see Wraiths, Phantoms, Spectres below for more information on visible manifestations.
This sort of human Ghost may, after departing from its body, contribute to an Intelligent Haunting, in which the Ghost acts in an intelligent manner reflecting a capacity for free will and interaction with its environment: a Ghost will acknowledge its surroundings, and may choose (or be compelled) to communicate with psychics and mediums, or other people sensitive to the Ghost's presence. In some cases, a Ghost may interact more tangibly with its environment, such as alterations in temperature (believed by occultists to be caused by the Ghost drawing energy from the environment), physical contact with or movement of people and objects, the production of audible voices on electronic media ("Electronic Voice Phenomena" or "EVPs"), guidance of a medium's hand in the production of Automatic Writing or Ouija boards, or even physical attacks or spiritual possessions against the bodies of living victims.
In the case of spiritual possessions, the "Ghost" of a living victim is not uncommonly forcefully (or sometimes voluntarily) ejected from the victim's body, allowing the possessing Ghost to replace the intellect and personality of the victim, wearing and using the victim's living body as if it were the possessing spirit's own, in the most advanced and severe cases of possession ultimately replacing the victim altogether until the original spirit is lost and effectively left to replace the possessing spirit in death.
Occultists often believe that it is the natural order of things for a Ghost, upon departing from its dead body, to spiritually evolve, ascending from the physical, material universe into a different, spiritual, Astral plane, or beyond, until the spirit has attained peace and perfection somewhere in the afterlife - see Seven Planes. To the occultist, a Ghost which chooses to remain tied to the material world to interact with the living is an aberration or abomination: a diseased, damaged, misguided, lost, or immature spirit which refuses to move forward with its development into the afterlife and cling desperately to its former life, perhaps due to some "unfinished business" or trauma in life.
The Ghosts of some powerful wizards in this damaged, diseased, immature, lost, or misguided condition thus consciously refuse to "move on" into their afterlife, and instead plague the material world for the purposes of continuing their meddling with the material world in pursuit of knowledge, power, the satisfaction of unnatural lust for material pleasure and sensation, fear of the unknown or sometimes fear of known horrors that await the Ghost on the Astral or other planes in consequence of the Ghost's bargains or sins in life, service to Mythos monsters, or countless other abnormal reasons and obsessions that would bind these powerful wills to the material world.
See Residual Haunting for more details about a type of "haunting" that does not involve a ghost or spirit, though ghostly forms may be present as part of the nature of this haunting, which instead behaves more like a spectral recording of a past event; the "Ghosts" or "Spirits" in this type of haunting do not acknowledge or interact with the material world, and cannot be said to be "intelligent" as no actual will, consciousness, or intellect directly populates and animates this type of haunting.
Note that it is possible and not uncommon for multiple types of hauntings to be present at the same location, such that a separate intelligent haunting might occur alongside a separate residual haunting.
These multiple hauntings may be coincidental, or they may be related to each other in some more or less obvious manner.
For example, in some cases, the presence and activity of a Ghost in an intelligent haunting may trigger images from an older residual haunting (which might be powered by the psychic energy of powerful emotions which drew the Ghost to the site to begin with).
For another example, the presence of a Mythos entity can affect an area in many ways, resulting in a patchwork of different sorts of hauntings: a cultist's ritual to summon the entity might tear a hole between worlds, introducing or drawing various Elemental spirits to the location or inspiring those spirits to act in unnatural ways; the Ghosts of one or more cultists bound to the entity they summoned may linger in the area, as might the Ghosts of sacrifices or other victims of the cultists and the mythos entity; furthermore, the mythos entity itself may seem like a superficially "ghostly" or "demonic" presence in the haunted area, in that such an entity might be invisible, immaterial, and capable of many mysterious and supernatural things.
(TO DO) Terms like "Phantom", or "Spectre" may be applied in various ways to visible spirits or other supernatural phenomena, commonly referring to Intelligent Hauntings (see above), or sometimes to visible human figures seen in Residual Hauntings. Uncommonly, other phenomena mistaken for Ghosts might be described with terms such as these.
A Fetch (wraith, doppelgänger, vardøger, etc.) is a supernatural double or an apparition of a living person in Irish folklore, sometimes regarded as omens, usually for impending death. The term "Ghost" used in this sense might refer to the Astral Body of a living, Dreaming person, or perhaps for a Psychopomp (creatures or spirits acting to guide or drag a departed soul to the afterlife), which has taken human form.
The phrase "Non-Human Spirits" might be used to describe any of a disparate variety of intelligent spectral entities which were never living human beings, such as:
- Elementals, a broad class of "alien" spirits which were never alive, and never human, often natives of environments in Immaterial Planes
- Ghosts of intelligent animals or aliens
- "living" Mythos entities, such as Mi-Go, Yithians, Star Spawn of Cthulhu, Great Old Ones, Colours Out of Space, etc.
Heresies and Controversies
- Many Call of Cthulhu groups dismiss Ghosts as unsuitable for the types of cosmic horror stories they believe would be "true to Lovecraft", however Lovecraft appears to have greatly enjoyed ghost stories written by masters of the form, and there are many points in Lovecraft's stories where Lovecraft directly or indirectly refers to things that can be considered to be ghosts in one form or another, such as the spirit of Joseph Curwen in "The Case of Charles Dexter Ward (fiction)", the spirit that possessed Edward Derby in "The Thing on the Doorstep (fiction)", the vampiric entity in "The Shunned House (fiction)", the "souls of the devil-bought" mentioned in the quote from the Necronomicon in "The Festival (fiction)", and even Cthulhu in "The Call of Cthulhu (fiction)" - not dead, but dreaming in its tomb in the sunken necropolis of R'lyeh and seemingly risen from its grave at the story's climax in the ghostly form of an immaterial and ectoplasmic body....
- "The Haunting (aka The Haunted House) (Scenario)" is just one of many ways that something that seems like a classic haunting might turn out to be something else entirely. Scenarios that appear to be "simple hauntings" my draw in would-be Ghost Hunters, only for hidden depths in the case to reveal the presence of anything from natural causes to the activities of Mythos monsters.
- Lovecraft endorsed three rules set by M.R. James on ghost stories, which are as applicable for Mythos ghost stories in Call of Cthulhu today as they were in either Lovecraft's or James' time:
- Use a modern setting that your audience can readily identify with.
- The haunting should be malevolent and malignant, to most easily excite a sense of fear.
- Avoid the technical jargon of ghost hunters and mystics as much as possible ("non-human spirits", "intelligent haunting", "residual haunting", and the like are used above largely as pedantic, technical terms for the pedantic, technical purpose of designing a fictional haunting, but are best avoided when actually presenting the haunting to your audience, the players....)
- As a bonus rule, stay clear of traditional rules for ghostly behavior and appearance: note the eccentric appearances of M.R. James' ghosts, as described by Lovecraft: "the average James ghost is lean, dwarfish, and hairy — a sluggish, hellish night-abomination midway betwixt beast and man — and usually touched before it is seen... sometimes the spectre is of still more eccentric composition; a roll of flannel with spidery eyes, or an invisible entity which moulds itself in bedding and shews a face of crumpled linen...."
Associated Mythos Elements
- race: Elementals
- race: Demons
- race: Residual Hauntings
- cult: the Carnacki Institute or any other "ghost-finder" outfit
- place: Seven Planes (Ghosts and other Spirits may originate on, be found in, or be destined for any of the places represented as "the Seven Planes")
- H.P. Lovecraft appears to have disdained mainstream ghost stories, while admiring unconventional ghost stories that shared qualities with Lovecraft's taste in cosmic/weird fiction; Lovecraft himself included many idiosyncratic versions of what are essentially ghosts in his fiction
- William Hope Hodgson's occult detective Carnacki: the Ghost-Finder, one of Lovecraft's inspirations, was called to investigate a number of ghostly cases
- M.R. James' ghost stories were greatly admired by Lovecraft
- Edgar Allan Poe's ghost stories were greatly admired by Lovecraft