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  • Amy MacKinnon

Why Are We So Afraid of Ghosts?

Updated: Nov 30, 2020

In the summertime, when the days are long and the nights are short, it’s pretty easy to scoff at being afraid of ghosts.

Marley's Face as Door Knocker from Dickens Christmas Carol
Marley's Face as Door Knocker

But in the winter, when the nights are long and the days are short…that scoffing is sometimes tinged with bravado.

Why do we have that Fear?

Isn’t this part of the fun of Halloween? That we dress up as ghosts or scary monsters to laugh at and make fun of our fears? To remind ourselves that none of them are “real?”

But Do We Really Believe That?

No, because they are real. Why are we afraid of them? And what is the root of that fear?

Our Fear of the Unknown

We have to admit that in some ways, we’re allowing our inner control freak to be the judge: it’s the very fact that we don't know that makes us afraid, and simply knowing what something is reduces our fear of that thing (potentially, anyway).

What do we Do about Our Fear of Death?

We laugh and make jokes, because it minimizes the fear.

We try to find an explanation so that the fear moves from being unknown and nameless, to something that’s known. By knowing and naming our fears, we are partly attempting to gain control over them.

We dismiss it and pretend that there really is no such thing. This is probably the worst option of the three, because we’re denying a real experience. And of course that fear will come out in other ways.

We become superstitious in our attempt to exert control over death. If I say or do something specific, then I won't die. Ever. Or at least not until some vague point in the far distant future, and I'll be in perfect health and happiness until then.

But we know that's not really true.

And that's why we're afraid of ghosts, because we can't always explain them, and we definitely can't control them.

What are Ghosts?

Are they spirits?

Christmas Carol by Dickens Phantoms image by Arthur Rackham
Phantoms image by Arthur Rackham

First, we have to admit that when we experience something that we think is a ghost, it's really (and usually) just our imagination working overtime on us.

So, not a ghost.

But are ghosts real?


When a human being dies, it's because the soul is separated from the body.

But we weren’t supposed to die

That was not supposed to happen in the beginning: God created human beings with both a body and a soul.

One of the preternatural gifts that God gave to Adam and Eve was that human beings wouldn’t die. We have material bodies, just like plants and animals do, but immortal souls. We're alive because we have a soul, and that soul is united to the body.

When the body and soul are separated, that’s when we die. The soul continues to exist, because it’s immortal, but the body—which takes its f0rm from the type of soul we have—decays. That’s why it’s called a “corpse.”

So what happens to the soul? It continues to exist, but has no body.

That’s when it’s called a spirit: we still have an intellect and will, but no body.

Angels are pure spirit, but they were created that way; they weren’t created with material bodies, and they have both an intellect and a will.

So when we die, where does our spirit go? Our souls are immortal, so they will always continue to exist.

There are only two eternal options for our souls: heaven and hell.

What about Ghost Stories?

We can read them anytime, but for centuries they have been especially popular at Christmastime. That in the Victorian Era (and still are), because that’s when we celebrate the birth of the Savior.

The purpose of many ghost stories in the Christian tradition was to remind us that our time here is shorter than we'd like to think, and the way that we live our lives and the choices we make in the here and now is a large part of how we choose where we go when we die. This is what Charles Dickens was emphasizing in his Christmas stories about ghosts (not just A Christmas Carol).

This is the first entry in the "ghost post" series. To read the others, click on the links below:


If you’re curious about other hidden gems in this wonderful story by Charles Dickens, and especially the Christian references and symbols that he used, check out my digital course:

The course includes commentary on:

  • The characters and their importance in the salvation of Ebeneezer Scrooge

  • Each of the ghosts and why Dickens describes them

  • The story as an intentionally Christian story from beginning to end

  • Complimentary PDF version of the original story by Dickens

Images used from A Christmas Carol in the article are from Arthur Rackham's illustrations in the original version by Charles Dickens. They were published before 1924 in the US and are in the public domain.

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