We all remember the spooky stories we first heard while gathered around a campfire or snuggled in a sleeping bag. Those tales frightened and thrilled us, prompting screams and exhilarated giggles.
The ubiquitous experience of sharing ghost stories can be traced back to the earliest oral traditions of many ancient cultures and a universal curiosity about death and the afterlife. Some scholars believe that an ancient Babylonian tablet from roughly 1500 BCE shows the first known depiction of a ghost. In a collection of letters written around the first century CE, Roman writer and magistrate Pliny the Younger recorded one of the first ghost stories, describing a “ghost rattling its chains over [a man’s] head.”
Stories about ghosts are grounded in the belief that our spirits are separate from our bodies and can continue to exist even after death. From novels and movies to podcasts and TV shows, pop culture is chock-full of paranormal tales about wandering spirits, haunted houses, and the supernatural. Sometimes a ghostly narrative serves as a cautionary tale that unresolved conflicts in this lifetime may carry over into the next realm. Others, such as the Charles Dickens classic A Christmas Carol, serve as allegories that reflect the darker parts of society and warn of their consequences.
Here are some haunting and atmospheric quotes about ghosts — spectral, ephemeral, and even metaphorical — to remind us of the enduring and entertaining traditions they’ve inspired.
From ghoulies and ghosties and long-leggety beasties and things that go bump in the night, Good Lord deliver us.Scottish folk prayer
We are all the ghosts of yesterday, and the phantom of tomorrow awaits us alike in sunshine or in shadow, dimly perceived at times, never entirely lost.Daphne du Maurier
Our revels now are ended. These our actors, / As I foretold you, were all spirits and / Are melted into air, into thin air.William Shakespeare
The rain / Is full of ghosts tonight, that tap and sigh / Upon the glass and listen for reply, / And in my heart there stirs a quiet pain / For unremembered lads that not again / Will turn to me at midnight with a cry.Edna St. Vincent Millay
I don’t want to have to drive ten miles to see somebody else’s ghost. I want one of my own on the premises.Edith Wharton
Millions of spiritual creatures walk the Earth / Unseen, both when we wake, and when we sleep.John Milton
The world is big enough for us. No ghosts need apply.Arthur Conan Doyle
And as to being in a fright, / Allow me to remark / That Ghosts have just as good a right / In every way, to fear the light, / As Men to fear the dark.Lewis Carroll
Well, the highway is alive tonight / But nobody’s kidding nobody about where it goes / I’m sitting down here in the campfire light / Searching for the ghost of Tom Joad.Bruce Springsteen
To be haunted is to glimpse a truth that might best be hidden.James Herbert
Her beauty climbed the rolling slope, it came into the room, rustling ghost-like through the curtains.F. Scott Fitzgerald
I know what a ghost is … And I know what it isn’t, too … it isn’t a scarification or a flapping sheet, so pooh and pish to all that bunkum. What’s a ghost? Unfinished business, is what.Salman Rushdie
Ghosts may be a part of the terror of Halloween, but our love of ghost stories betrays a far more fragile desire: that we do not fade so easily from this life.Katherine May
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