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Researchers report that the rapid increase in ghost forests represents a dramatic visual picture of environmental changes along coastal plains located at or near sea level. In many areas, rising sea levels combine with land sinking from the last ice age, as is currently happening in the Chesapeake Bay watershed.
A ghost is the soul or spirit of a dead person or animal that is believed to be able to appear to the living. In ghostlore, descriptions of ghosts vary widely, from an invisible presence to translucent or barely visible wispy shapes to realistic, lifelike forms. The deliberate attempt to contact the spirit of a deceased person is known as necromancy, or in spiritism as a séance. Other terms associated with it are apparition, haunt, phantom, poltergeist, shade, specter, spirit, spook, wraith, demon, and ghoul.
The overwhelming consensus of science is that there is no proof that ghosts exist. Their existence is impossible to falsify, and ghost hunting has been classified as pseudoscience. Despite centuries of investigation, there is no scientific evidence that any location is inhabited by the spirits of the dead. Historically, certain toxic and psychoactive plants (such as datura and hyoscyamus niger), whose use has long been associated with necromancy and the underworld, have been shown to contain anticholinergic compounds that are pharmacologically linked to dementia (specifically DLB) as well as histological patterns of neurodegeneration. Recent research has indicated that ghost sightings may be related to degenerative brain diseases such as Alzheimer's disease. Common prescription medication and over-the-counter drugs (such as sleep aids) may also, in rare instances, cause ghost-like hallucinations, particularly zolpidem and diphenhydramine. Older reports linked carbon monoxide poisoning to ghost-like hallucinations.
The English word ghost continues Old English gāst. Stemming from Proto-Germanic *gaistaz, it is cognate with Old Frisian gāst, Old Saxon gēst, Old Dutch gēst, and Old High German geist. Although this form is not attested in North Germanic and East Germanic languages (the equivalent word in Gothic is ahma, Old Norse has andi m., önd f.), it appears to be a dental suffix derivative of pre-Germanic *ghois-d-oz ('fury, anger'), which is comparable to Sanskrit héḍas ('anger') and Avestan zōižda- ('terrible, ugly'). The prior Proto-Indo-European form is reconstructed as *ǵʰéys-d-os, from the root *ǵʰéys-, which is reflected in Old Norse geisa ('to rage') and *geiski ('fear'; cf. geiskafullr 'full of fear'), in Gothic usgaisjan ('to terrify') and usgaisnan ('to be terrified'), as well as in Avestan zōiš- (cf. zōišnu 'shivering, trembling').
The synonym spook is a Dutch loanword, akin to Low German spôk (of uncertain etymology); it entered the English language via American English in the 19th century. Alternative words in modern usage include spectre (altn. specter; from Latin spectrum), the Scottish wraith (of obscure origin), phantom (via French ultimately from Greek phantasma, compare fantasy) and apparition. The term shade in classical mythology translates Greek σκιά, or Latin umbra, in reference to the notion of spirits in the Greek underworld. The term poltergeist is a German word, literally a "noisy ghost", for a spirit said to manifest itself by invisibly moving and influencing objects.
Wraith is a Scots word for ghost, spectre, or apparition. It appeared in Scottish Romanticist literature, and acquired the more general or figurative sense of portent or omen. In 18th- to 19th-century Scottish literature, it also applied to aquatic spirits. The word has no commonly accepted etymology; the OED notes "of obscure origin" only. An association with the verb writhe was the etymology favored by J. R. R. Tolkien. Tolkien's use of the word in the naming of the creatures known as the Ringwraiths has influenced later usage in fantasy literature. Bogey or bogy/bogie is a term for a ghost, and appears in Scottish poet John Mayne's Hallowe'en in 1780.
A revenant is a deceased person returning from the dead to haunt the living, either as a disembodied ghost or alternatively as an animated ("undead") corpse. Also related is the concept of a fetch, the visible ghost or spirit of a person yet alive.
A notion of the transcendent, supernatural, or numinous, usually involving entities like ghosts, demons, or deities, is a cultural universal. In pre-literate folk religions, these beliefs are often summarized under animism and ancestor worship. Some people believe the ghost or spirit never leaves Earth until there is no-one left to remember the one who died.
While deceased ancestors are universally regarded as venerable, and often believed to have a continued presence in some form of afterlife, the spirit of a deceased person that persists in the material world (a ghost) is regarded as an unnatural or undesirable state of affairs and the idea of ghosts or revenants is associated with a reaction of fear. This is universally the case in pre-modern folk cultures, but fear of ghosts also remains an integral aspect of the modern ghost story, Gothic horror, and other horror fiction dealing with the supernatural.
Another widespread belief concerning ghosts is that they are composed of a misty, airy, or subtle material. Anthropologists link this idea to early beliefs that ghosts were the person within the person (the person's spirit), most noticeable in ancient cultures as a person's breath, which upon exhaling in colder climates appears visibly as a white mist. This belief may have also fostered the metaphorical meaning of "breath" in certain languages, such as the Latin spiritus and the Greek pneuma, which by analogy became extended to mean the soul. In the Bible, God is depicted as synthesising Adam, as a living soul, from the dust of the Earth and the breath of God.
In many traditional accounts, ghosts were often thought to be deceased people looking for vengeance (vengeful ghosts), or imprisoned on earth for bad things they did during life. The appearance of a ghost has often been regarded as an omen or portent of death. Seeing one's own ghostly double or "fetch" is a related omen of death.
White ladies were reported to appear in many rural areas, and supposed to have died tragically or suffered trauma in life. White Lady legends are found around the world. Common to many of them is the theme of losing a child or husband and a sense of purity, as opposed to the Lady in Red ghost that is mostly attributed to a jilted lover or prostitute. The White Lady ghost is often associated with an individual family line or regarded as a harbinger of death similar to a banshee.[needs context]
Legends of ghost ships have existed since the 18th century; most notable of these is the Flying Dutchman. This theme has been used in literature in The Rime of the Ancient Mariner by Coleridge.
Ghosts appeared in Homer's Odyssey and Iliad, in which they were described as vanishing "as a vapor, gibbering and whining into the earth". Homer's ghosts had little interaction with the world of the living. Periodically they were called upon to provide advice or prophecy, but they do not appear to be particularly feared. Ghosts in the classical world often appeared in the form of vapor or smoke, but at other times they were described as being substantial, appearing as they had been at the time of death, complete with the wounds that killed them.
By the 5th century BC, classical Greek ghosts had become haunting, frightening creatures who could work to either good or evil purposes. The spirit of the dead was believed to hover near the resting place of the corpse, and cemeteries were places the living avoided. The dead were to be ritually mourned through public ceremony, sacrifice, and libations, or else they might return to haunt their families. The ancient Greeks held annual feasts to honor and placate the spirits of the dead, to which the family ghosts were invited, and after which they were "firmly invited to leave until the same time next year."
Plutarch, in the 1st century AD, described the haunting of the baths at Chaeronea by the ghost of a murdered man. The ghost's loud and frightful groans caused the people of the town to seal up the doors of the building. Another celebrated account of a haunted house from the ancient classical world is given by Pliny the Younger (c. 50 AD). Pliny describes the haunting of a house in Athens, which was bought by the Stoic philosopher Athenodorus, who lived about 100 years before Pliny. Knowing that the house was supposedly haunted, Athenodorus intentionally set up his writing desk in the room where the apparition was said to appear and sat there writing until late at night when he was disturbed by a ghost bound in chains. He followed the ghost outside where it indicated a spot on the ground. When Athenodorus later excavated the area, a shackled skeleton was unearthed. The haunting ceased when the skeleton was given a proper reburial. The writers Plautus and Lucian also wrote stories about haunted houses.
One of the first persons to express disbelief in ghosts was Lucian of Samosata in the 2nd century AD. In his satirical novel The Lover of Lies (circa 150 AD), he relates how Democritus "the learned man from Abdera in Thrace" lived in a tomb outside the city gates to prove that cemeteries were not haunted by the spirits of the departed. Lucian relates how he persisted in his disbelief despite practical jokes perpetrated by "some young men of Abdera" who dressed up in black robes with skull masks to frighten him. This account by Lucian notes something about the popular classical expectation of how a ghost should look. 781b155fdc