The Ghosts That Linger

Written By Avra Margariti

Avra Margariti is a queer author and Pushcart-nominated poet with a fondness for the dark and the darling. Avra’s work haunts publications such as Strange Horizons, F&SF, The Deadlands, Vastarien, and Reckoning. Avra lives and studies in Athens, Greece. You can find Avra on twitter (@avramargariti).

So many horror films and books are dedicated to ghosts, especially when they are rooted to a specific place they haunt, most commonly lingering inside the haunted house. But how many types of ghosts are there in popular media and culture? And why are so many categories needed in order to explore human reactions to grief, guilt, and loss to its fullest?


A loud, angry ghost. The word poltergeist comes from the German poltern which means “to rumble, make noise or cause a disturbance” and Geist, which translates to “spirit.” The poltergeist is a type of supernatural entity of the deceased that can manipulate its environment. It can make objects move and cause a ruckus, disturb the physical realm, and interact with the humans the poltergeist haunts. Occasionally, this rumble escalates into harm coming to the humans within the haunted house as a direct result of the poltergeist’s force on the physical realm.


In the original Greek: σκιά / shadow, and umbra in Latin. Shades were the ghosts of the deceased that resided in the Underworld. The name shade refers to the fact that these ghosts are not what they once were. Only extant echoes of everything they desired and held dear on Earth while they remained alive. When Odysseus descends into the Underworld, the dead he meets are shades, including his own mother. So are the dead in Dante’s Divine Comedy, and the spirit of Eurydice that Orpheus is tasked with leading out of the Underworld. These spirits do not move on, but rather stay there in a forever liminal state of shadow.

The Common Specter

In some cultures, a house’s mirrors are sheathed in black veils after a death in the family, to avoid having the spirit trapped in the mirror forever. In other instances across the spectrum of ghost lore, haunted houses are sometimes plagued by mysterious phenomena. Most commonly, a vortex of cold wind or displaced air in certain parts of the house where disaster struck in the past. That way, the ghost, or what remains of it, is making itself known to the house’s new occupiers, although it can be an involuntary process on the spirit’s part. Ghosts also tend to appear in the shape of ectoplasm, particularly when seances are involved. According to occultists, ectoplasm is a thick substance of magical or supernatural origin exuded when a spirit is near during a summoning.

The Revenant

Opinions vary as to whether the revenant (the one who returns) is a ghost, ghoul, or animated corpus. In some stories of European origin, the revenant haunts the graveyard they are buried in, acting as a deterrent to the invasion perpetrated by tomb raiders and looters of fortunes and body parts. In other myths, the revenant wanders, walking aimlessly as long as they have unfinished business with the living that keeps them from the quiet of the grave.

The Doppelgänger

A wraith and portent of doom, this “double goer” can assume a person’s shape and size, copy their facial features in perfect imitation. This apparition can fool others into thinking it is you as it walks through your life, turning you into the metaphorical, and literal, ghost instead. To see your own double is to face an imminent death or doom. According to various myths and legends, all living beings on earth have their own spirit double, but rarely do the two meet.

The Hungry Ghosts

Ghosts whose desires were never spoken while they lived, or whose needs were never met. Spirits with unfinished business, with a bottomless ache to devour, often the psychic energy of the living. These ghosts can be spiritual leeches in some cultures, while others, particularly in a Buddhist context, regard hungry ghosts as beings of such emotional cravings they lose sight of who they are and all that remains is that insatiable hunger. When they die, they are reborn as beings of need, of hunger.

The Headless Ghost

Just as several cultures have stories of hungry ghosts, so are the headless ghosts often found in oral and written tradition. Queens beheaded while their former subjects cheered on and hanged witches and heretics whose necks broke as they dropped from the gallows, headless horsemen and riders of the apocalypse. The Dullahan, for example, is an unseelie being who rides a black horse through the Irish countryside, carrying its own severed head, as well as a whip made out of a human’s skin.

These are only a few types of ghosts or spirit-like creatures found in mythology and incorporated into popular culture. Perhaps the existence of such an extensive list of beings is related to all the many, different ways human beings know to express the fear of death and the inescapability of loss. If not two humans love alike, then not two humans grieve alike, either. The ghostly spectrum explored above is proof of that.