The ghosts which are best authenticated and which seem to possess the greatest longevity, so to speak, - that is, the greatest persistency of power and purpose, - are of those who have died violent deaths. There are exceptions to this rule, which will be noted later on.
The generally accepted theory which has been employed to account for this coincidence is that the soul, thus torn suddenly and prematurely from the body, retains more of the material elements of the body than it does when death is the result of gradual disintegration and the natural separation of the material from the immaterial. It is thought that the physical elements thus retained temporarily by the spirit enable it to make itself visible to the living, as well as to perform certain feats of physical strength attributed to some spirits. This is very plausible at first glance, and in the absence of any facts to the contrary might be accepted as the true theory. But, as before intimated, there are exceptions to the supposed rule. It is not true that all ghosts are those of persons who have died violent deaths. On the contrary, many of the best authenticated ghosts are of persons who have died at a good old age and in the due course of nature. Moreover, there is nothing to distinguish the one class of ghosts from the other, although it is true that those who have met death by violence far outnumber the others. This theory, therefore, accounts for nothing. Nevertheless, the fact that the majority of ghosts are of those who belong to a particular class must possess some significance.
Now, if we can discover some state of facts which appears to accompany all, or to precede all, ghostly phenomena, a great point will be gained, and the real significance of the other facts may become apparent.
In looking the field over with this end in view, the first fact which forces itself upon our attention, and which seems to be universal and to possess a veritable significance, is that all phantasms of the dead are of those who have died under circumstances of great mental stress or emotion. No one whose death was peaceful and quiet, no one who left this life with no unsatisfied longing or desire present in the mind at the time of death, ever projected a phantasm upon the living objective world.
Again, the strength, persistency, and objectivity of the phantasm seem to be in exact proportion to the intensity of the emotion experienced at the moment of death.
It will thus be apparent why it happens that ghosts of those who have died violent deaths more frequently "revisit the glimpses of the moon" than those whose deaths have been less tragic and less calculated to inspire an intense desire or emotion. The murdered man feels, at the supreme moment, an intense longing to acquaint the world with the circumstances of his "taking off;" and he conceives the thought of reproducing the scene on the spot until its significance is understood and the murderer is brought to justice. The result is a haunted house; and those whose nerves are strong enough to withstand the shock may nightly witness a realistic reproduction of the tragedy. This may continue for days, months, or even years, but invariably ceases when the object is accomplished.
The character of the manifestations is as varied as are the phases of human emotion or the objects of human desire; but when the facts of a tragedy once come to light, the phantasm is always found to be significant of their important features.
When a mother dies at a distance from her children, she is often filled with an intense longing to see them once more before she passes away. The result often is that she projects a phantasm into their presence which takes a lingering look into the faces of the loved ones, and then fades away.
Two persons agree that whichever passes away first shall show himself to the other at or soon after the hour of death.
The result often is that the agreement is carried out with startling fidelity. The object accomplished, the phantasm disappears forever.
Another salient characteristic, which seems to be universal and which possesses the utmost interest and importance in determining the true source of the phantasm, is that it possesses no general intelligence. That is to say, a ghost was never known to have more than one idea or purpose. That one idea or purpose it will follow with the greatest pertinacity, but utterly ignores everything else. In the rare instances where the phantasm has been conversed with, it manifests perfect intelligence on the one subject, but pays not the slightest attention to any question pertaining to any other, not even to cognate subjects. This characteristic pertains to every form and phase of visions which are tangible to the objective senses. Subjective hallucinations are governed by different laws, and are not taken into account in this connection.
M. Adolphe d'Assier, in his intensely interesting work entitled "Posthumous Humanity," mentions this peculiarity in a number of instances. Thus, on page 272 he says:
"The shade only talks about its personal predilections, and remains deaf to every question outside the limits it has prescribed for itself. All the colloquies that have been gathered upon this subject resemble that of Bezuel and Desfontaine (1697), reported by Dr. Briere de Boismont. They were two college comrades, two intimate friends, who had sworn to each other that the first who died should appear to the other to give him some news about himself".
Accordingly, the year following, the shade of Desfontaine appeared to Bezuel, and addressed him as follows: -
" I agreed with you that if I died first I should come and tell you. I was drowned in the Caen River the day before yesterday, at this same hour, in company of Such and Such;' and he related the circumstances which caused his death. 'It was his very voice,' says Bezuel. 'He requested me, when his brother should return, to tell him certain things to be communicated to his father and mother. He gave me other commissions, then bade me farewell and disappeared. I soon learned that everything he had told me was but too true, and I was able to verify some details that he had given. In our conversation he refused to answer all the questions I put to him as to his actual situation, especially whether he was in heaven, in hell, or in purgatory. One would have said that he did not hear me when I put such questions, and he persisted in talking to me of that which was upon his mind about his brother, his family, or the circumstances which had preceded his death.' "