apparition, spiritualistic manifestation of a person or object in which a form not actually present is seen with such intensity that belief in its reality is created. The ancient and widespread belief in apparitions and ghosts (specters of dead persons) is based on the idea that the spirit of a man, or of any object, is endowed with volition and motion of its own. Apparitions, especially particular shapes attached to certain legends or superstitions, are often considered as premonitions or warnings. They may appear in any form and may manifest themselves to any or all the senses. The most evil apparitions are said to be those of persons who have died violent or unnatural deaths, those with guilty secrets, and those who were improperly buried. However, not all apparitions are believed to be dangerous; many, especially those associated with a particular religion, are thought to be signs of divine intervention. Summoning apparitions by means of incantations, crystal gazing, polished stones, hypnotic suggestion, and various other ways is one of the oldest practices of divination. See spiritism.
See also A. MacKenzie, A Gallery of Ghosts (1973).
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.