In traditional belief and fiction, a ghost is the soul or spirit of a deceased person or animal that can appear, in visible form or other manifestation, to the living.
Descriptions of the apparition of ghosts vary widely from an invisible presence to translucent or barely visible wispy shapes, to realistic, life-like visions.
Certain religious practices—funeral rites, exorcisms, and some practices of spiritualism and ritual magic—are specifically designed to appease the spirits of the dead.
Ghosts are generally described as solitary essences that haunt particular locations, objects, or people they were associated with in life, though stories of the phantom armies, ghost trains, phantom ships, and even ghost animals have also been recounted.
Template: See The English word ghost continues Old English gást, from a hypothetical Common Germanic *gaistaz.
It is common to West Germanic, but lacking in North and East Germanic (the equivalent word in Gothic is ahma, Old Norse has andi m., önd f.).
The pre-Germanic form was Template: PIE, apparently from a root denoting "fury, anger" reflected in Old Norse geisa "to rage".
The Germanic word is recorded as masculine only, but likely continues a neuter s-stem.
The original meaning of the Germanic word would thus have been an animating principle of the mind, in particular capable of excitation and fury (compare óðr).
In Germanic paganism, "Germanic Mercury", and the later Odin, was at the same time the conductor of the dead and the "lord of fury" leading the Wild Hunt.
Besides denoting the human spirit or soul, both of the living and the deceased, the Old English word is used as a synonym of Latin spiritus also in the meaning of "breath" or "blast" from the earliest attestations (9th century). angels and demons; the Anglo-Saxon gospel refers to the demonic possession of Matthew as se unclæna gast.
Also from the Old English period, the word could denote the spirit of God, viz. The now prevailing sense of "the soul of a deceased person, spoken of as appearing in a visible form" only emerges in Middle English (14th century).
The modern noun does, however, retain a wider field of application, extending on one hand to "soul", "spirit", "vital principle", "mind" or "psyche", the seat of feeling, thought and moral judgement; on the other hand used figuratively of any shadowy outline, fuzzy or unsubstantial image, in optics, photography and cinematography especially a flare, secondary image or spurious signal.