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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 person, 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. Not all apparitions are associated with danger; many, especially those occurring within various religious traditions, 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 divinationdivination,
practice of foreseeing future events or obtaining secret knowledge through communication with divine sources and through omens, oracles, signs, and portents.
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. See spiritismspiritism
or spiritualism,
belief that the human personality continues to exist after death and can communicate with the living through the agency of a medium or psychic.
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See also A. MacKenzie, A Gallery of Ghosts (1973); R. Clarke, Ghosts: A Natural History (2014).

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia™ Copyright © 2013, Columbia University Press. Licensed from Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.


(ap-ă-rish -ŏn) The period of time during which a particular celestial object can be observed. The term is particularly applied to planets and periodic comets.
Collins Dictionary of Astronomy © Market House Books Ltd, 2006


(religion, spiritualism, and occult)

Another name for a ghost, an apparition is the appearance of persons or animals when they are not physically present. Contrary to popular opinion, apparitions are not always of the dead; they can also be of the living. Where a ghost is thought of as a vague shadowy figure or a transparent figure in white, apparitions generally seem solid like a normal living being. As many as one person in sixteen sees an apparition at least once in his or her lifetime, according to a survey taken in 1899.

During all the major wars, many people have reported seeing apparitions of fighting men and women appearing many miles from the battle scene. These appearances frequently coincided with the actual person’s sudden death, wounding, or traumatic event.

Shortly after the founding of the Society for Psychical Research in 1882, there was a systematic attempt to collect firsthand reports of apparitions. The vast majority of these were of the “crisis” variety mentioned above; the appearance of a loved one at the moment of crisis. The full report was published in book form as Phantasms of the Living (1886). Typical was one such report from a Mrs. Taunton, of Birmingham, England:

On Thursday evening, 14 November, 1867, I was sitting in the Birmingham Town Hall with my husband at a concert, when there came over me the icy chill which usually accompanies these occurrences. Almost immediately, I saw with perfect distinctness, between myself and the orchestra, my uncle, Mr. W., lying in bed with an appealing look on his face, like one dying. I had not heard anything of him for several months, and had no reason to think he was ill. The appearance was not transparent or filmy, but perfectly solid-looking; and yet I could somehow see the orchestra, not through, but behind it. I did not try turning my eyes to see whether the figure moved with them, but looked at it with a fascinated expression that made my husband ask if I was ill. I asked him not to speak to me for a minute or two; the vision gradually disappeared, and I told my husband, after the concert was over, what I had seen. A letter came shortly after telling of my uncle’s death. He died at exactly the time when I saw the vision.

Her husband verified the report. Another similar report came from the Rev. F. Barker, Rector of Cottenham, Cambridge, England:

At about 11 o’clock on the night of December 6, 1873, I had just got into bed, and had certainly not fallen asleep, or even into a doze, when I suddenly startled my wife by a deep groan, and when she asked the reason, I said, ‘I have just seen my aunt. She came and stood beside me, and smiled with her old kind smile, and disappeared.’ A muchloved aunt, my mother’s sister, was at that time in Madeira for her health, accompanied by my cousin, her niece. I had no reason to think that she was critically ill at this time, but the impression made upon me was so great that the next day I told her family (my mother among them) what I had seen. Within a week afterwards we heard that she had died on that very night, and, making all allowance for longitude, at about that very time. When my cousin, who was with her to the last, heard what I had seen, she said, ‘I am not at all surprised, for she was calling out for you all the time she was dying.’ This is the only time I have experienced anything of this nature. I think, perhaps, this story firsthand may interest you. I can only say that the vivid impression I received that night has never left me.

Rev. Barker’s wife, verifying his account, added the details that “He said she had ‘something black, it might have been lace, thrown over her head.’” These and similar reports seem to indicate that the majority of apparitions are there for the purpose of giving a message—of a death or accident, for example.

The story of Rev. Russell H. Conwell, founder of Philadelphia’s Temple University, is given in the Reader’s Digest book Quest For the Unknown—Life Beyond Death. Shortly after his wife’s death in the early 1900s, Conwell would see his deceased wife standing at the foot of his bed every morning. He said that she seemed completely real and solid and that she even spoke to him. He decided to put the apparition to a few tests. He asked it where his army discharge papers were kept. The figure answered correctly. Then he had his housemaid hide a pen, without telling him where. The next day the apparition of his wife told him, correctly, where it had been placed. Eventually he said to the figure “I know you aren’t really there.” His ghostly wife replied, “Oh, but I am!”

Apparitions have been seen by a number of people at the same time. Frequently when this happens the observers see the apparition from different viewpoints, depending upon where they are standing at the time. It is, therefore, as though there is an actual person present, rather than something similar to a projected figure. One may see the full face, another the side of the face, and another the back of the head.

Apparitions of long-dead people have been seen, often on a regular or irregular basis. Also, some apparitions speak (or the observer “hears” words in his or her head) and even responds to questions and observations. Not all apparitions are visual. It is not uncommon to hear sounds or voices, to smell particular scents, and to be touched by invisible hands. These latter points tie in with the experiences of Spiritualist mediums, when they contact spirits of deceased persons. Clairvoyants usually “see” the spirit as though a solid person. Clairaudiants hear the voice.

Apparitions of religious figures are often reported by devout followers. As many as one in thirty apparitions are of the religious type, and generally referred to as “visions.” The Roman Catholic Church, however, is slow to accept such sightings on faith. A.R.G. Owen (Man, Myth & Magic—Visions) points out that there are “fashions” in visions: “In the Middle Ages visionaries saw saints and martyrs and, in certain limited circles, apparitions of the child Jesus were extremely frequent. Later, visions of the suffering and wounded Jesus or of his Sacred Heart were favored. In recent times the Virgin Mary has almost monopolized the field.” Despite the number of reported visions—some by saints and other holy persons—the Roman Catholic Church only accepts the possibility of their being true.

Apparitions have appeared in a large number of photographs. They have not been visible to the people present but have shown up in photographs developed later. In 1865, after the assassination of President Lincoln, his widow Mary Todd Lincoln went incognito to a Boston photographer named William Mumler. He took her photograph and when developed it showed a clear image of her late husband standing behind her chair (see Spirit Photography).


Auerbach, Lloyd: ESP, Hauntings and Poltergeists: A Parapsychologist’s Handbook. New York: Warner Books, 1986
Gurney, Edmund; Frederick W. H. Myers; and Frank Podmore: Phantasms of the Living. London: The Society for Psychical Research and Trubner & Co., 1886
Leonard, Sue (ed): Quest For the Unknown—Life Beyond Death. Pleasantville: Reader’s Digest, 1992
Owen, A. R. G.: Man, Myth & Magic: Visions. London: BPC Publishing, 1970
Steiger, Brad: Real Ghosts, Restless Spirits, and Haunted Places. Detroit: Visible Ink Press, 2003
The Spirit Book © 2006 Visible Ink Press®. All rights reserved.


A period during which a planet, asteroid, or comet is observable, generally between two successive conjunctions of the body with the sun.
McGraw-Hill Dictionary of Scientific & Technical Terms, 6E, Copyright © 2003 by The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.
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