Know Your Ghosts or Get Spooked

Ghostly Spirits

From the time of the pharaohs, ghosts have haunted the human psyche in various forms. The spirits may be benevolent or malicious depending on which side of the grave they wake up on. In an effort to prevent a mass haunting, here’s a list of uniquely-named spectral spirits that every good mortal needs to know. Trust us, this list is a life-saver.

Doppelgänger

In the ghostly realm, a doppelgänger is an exceptional spirit, possessing the unique ability to appear in more than one place at once. This talent is reflected in its German name, which means “double goer” or “double walker.” Usually, a person’s doppelgänger appears as a sign of something bad to come, or as an omen of the viewer’s impending death. The poet Percy Bysshe Shelley is said to have seen his doppelgänger a week before he drowned.

Wraith

In Scottish lore, doppelgängers or fetches were called wraiths. The wraith can be a water spirit portending a sailor’s death at sea, or a more general prophesy of demise, taking shape in the exhalation of a dying person’s breath.

The etymology of the word is unclear, but it’s likely related to the Old English verb writhan (“to writhe”), a word evoking physical distortion, but also linguistically associated with twistedness. Think wreath (twisted formations of twigs) and wrath (twisted emotions and fiery rage).

Etheric Revenants

Ever felt your knees go weak or your body slacken uncomfortably in a location that gives you the willies? Cynics, fess up! Such sensations might be the influence of etheric revenants (or fear, if you’re a skeptic). From the Latin ether (ironically, “upper pure, bright air”) and the French revenir (“to come back”), these undead beings take shape as “black masses” or “shadows in the shadow” and siphon off human energy fields. Dude.

Manes

Romans believed people’s souls were demons, which were categorized in the afterlife. Good souls were called lares, bad souls lemures (we’ll get to them), and the in-betweeners were the manes. These are “the thin or unsubstantial” souls. They’re not axe-murderers, but they’re not angels either. Having a mane haunt your house probably wouldn’t involve much terrorizing; maybe a couple stolen cookies, a toilet seat left up, and some disorderly conduct in the closet.

Eidolon

In Ancient Greece, eidolons were spirits of the dead who possessed the living. Not always menacing, they would inhabit a living individual to convey a message, carry out an action for one of the gods, or tie up loose ends leftover after they died.

In one story, a woman describes to a sage how her son was possessed by a hateful eidolon (a bitter soldier who died in battle and lost his wife to another man). The eidolon decided to use her son “as a mask.” The boy’s mother weeps that her son is so controlled by the eidolon he’s lost his reason and doesn’t even “retain his own voice.”

Bogey

Bogey is yet another word for evil spirit. The word probably traces back to the Middle English bugge, “frightening specter,”—a word, which, by the way, is fittingly related to today’s bug (indeed, cockroaches are frightening specters that are tangible, which is even scarier).

For centuries, parents the world over have used some form of bogey to frighten their children into not sucking their thumbs, going to bed on time, or washing their hands after potty time. The bogeyman, like the ghost of its name, doesn’t have a particular shape, but this isn’t a problem for very imaginative kiddies when the lights go out.

Poltergeist

In German, poltergeist means “noisy ghost,” the ‘noise” in question produced by the sounds objects make when hurled and smashed against walls, ceilings, other objects, and screaming human beings (who might also be spectrally pinched, slapped, or tripped).

Poltergeists are maestros of orchestral horror. Nevertheless, the following advice carries weight: “When confronted with poltergeist activity, one should not rule out such natural factors as drafts of wind,” mischievous pets, and human clumsiness.

Boggart

Related to bogey and bugge, boggarts can haunt domestic or geographic areas. They’re worse than your bored-but-angsty manes (the ones who mess around for a while, then feel guilty for not being ‘good’ ghosts). Boggarts are always mean. It doesn’t matter where a plagued family tries to move, the boggart will follow, with full intentions to curdle every carton of milk and lay cold clammy hands over defenseless sleeping faces.

Kobold

We’ve covered poltergeists and boggarts, both decidedly malevolent household haunts. Kobolds are like the Germanic manes of the domestic ghost world. Meaning “hut goblins,” kobolds can be kind or conniving depending on their mood. They’re also entirely changeable in appearance, with the option to materialize in human, animal, or object form.

Lemures

Lemures are the unequivocally bad ghosts of Ancient Rome, whose violent tempers and deeds in life mean eternal punishment to roam the limbo between worlds. Unfortunately, the land of the living has to put up with the lemures’ wickedness, which doesn’t seem fair. To keep lemures’ at bay, Romans would fling spit-soaked black beans into the night shouting, “Be gone, you specters of the house!”

Sign up for our Newsletter!
Start your day with weird words, fun quizzes, and language stories.
  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

The Dictionary Is More Than The Word Of The Day

Enter your email for quizzes, quotes, and word facts in your inbox every day.
  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.