APPARITIONS. An apparition, strictly speaking, is merely an appearance (Lat. apparere, to appear), the result of perception exercised on any stimulus of any of the senses. But in ordinary usage the word apparition denotes a perception (generally through the sense of sight) which cannot, as a rule, be shown to be occasioned by an object in external nature. We say "as a rule" because many so-called apparitions are merely illusions, i.e. misconstructions of the perceptive processes, as when a person in a bad light sees a number of small children leading a horse, and finds, on nearer approach, that he sees two men carrying bee-hives suspended from a pole. Again, Sir Walter Scott's vision of Byron, then lately dead, proved to be a misconstruction of certain plaids and cloaks hanging in the hall at Abbotsford, or so Sir Walter declared. Had he not discovered the physical basis of this illusion (which, while it lasted, was an apparition, technically speaking), he and others might have thought that it was an apparition in the popular sense of the word, a ghost. In popular phraseology a ghost is understood to be a phantasm produced in some way by the spirit of a dead person, the impression being usually visual, though the ghost, or apparition, may also affect the sense of hearing (by words, knocks, whistles, groans and so forth), or the sense of touch, or of weight, as in the case of the "incubus." In ordinary speech an apparition of a person not known to the percipient to be dead is called a wraith, in the Highland phrase, a spirit of the living. The terms ghost and wraith involve the hypothesis that the false perceptions are caused by spirits, a survival of the archaic animistic hypothesis (see Animism), an hypothesis as difficult to prove as to disprove. Apparitions, of course, are not confined to anthropomorphic phantasms; we hear of phantom coaches (sometimes seen, but more frequently heard), of phantom dogs, cats, horses, cattle, deer, and even of phantom houses.
Whatever may be the causes of these and other false perceptions, - most curious when the impression is shared by several witnesses, - they may best be considered under the head of hallucination (q.v.). Hallucinations may be pathological, i.e. the result of morbid conditions of brain or nerve, of disease, of fever, of insanity, of alcoholism, of the abuse of drugs. Again, they may be the result of dissociation, or may occur in the borderland of sleep or waking, and in this case they partake of the hallucinatory nature of dreams (q.v.). Again, hallucinations may, once or twice in a lifetime, come into the experience of the sane, the healthy, and, as far as any tests can be applied, of the wide-awake. In such instances the apparition (whether it take the form of a visual phantasm, of a recognized voice, of a touch, or what not) may be coincidental or non-coincidental. The phantasm is called coincidental if it represents a known and distant person who is later found to have been dying or in some other crisis at the moment of the percipient's experience. When the false perception coincides with nothing of the sort, it is styled non-coincidental. Coincidental apparitions have been explained by the theory of telepathy (q.v.), one mind or brain impressing another in some unknown way so as to beget an hallucinatory apparition or phantasm. On the evidence, so far as it has been collected and analysed, it seems that the mind which, on the hypothesis, begets the hallucinations, usually does so without conscious effort (see Subliminal Self). There are, however, a few cases in which the experiment of begetting, in another, an hallucination from a distance, is said to have been experimentally and consciously made, with success.
If the telepathic theory of coincidental hallucinations be accepted, we have still to account for the much more common non-coincidental apparitions of the living who do not happen to be in any particular crisis. In these instances it cannot be demonstrated that telepathy has not been at work, as when a person is seen at a place which he thought of visiting, but did not visit. F.W. Myers even upheld a theory of psychorhagy, holding that the spirits of some persons have a way of manifesting themselves at a distance by a psychic invasion. This involves, as he remarked, paleolithic psychology, and the old savage doctrine of animism, rather than telepathy (see Myers, Human Personality). Of belief in coincidental hallucinations or wraiths among savages, records are scanty; the belief, however, is found among Maoris and Fuegians (see Lang, Making of Religions). The perception of apparitions of distant but actual scenes and occurrences is usually called clairvoyance (q.v.). The belief is also familiar under the name of second sight (see Second Sight), a term of Scots usage, though the belief in it, and the facts if accepted, are of world-wide diffusion. The apparitions may either represent actual persons and places, or may be symbolical, taking the form of phantasmic lights, coffins, skeletons, shrouds and so forth. Again, the appearances may either represent things, persons and occurrences of the past (see Retrocognition), or of the present (clairvoyance), or of the future (see Premonition). When the apparitions produce themselves in given rooms, houses or localities, and are exhibited to various persons at various times, the locality is popularly said to be haunted by spirits, that is, of the dead, on the animistic hypothesis (see Hauntings). Like the other alleged facts, these are of world-wide diffusion, or the belief in them is world-wide, and peculiar to no race, age, or period of culture. A haunted place is a centre of permanent possibilities of hallucinations, or is believed to be so. A distinct species of hauntings are those in which unexplained sounds and movements of objects, apparently untouched, occur. The German term Poltergeist (q.v.) has been given to the supposed cause of these occurrences where the cause is not ascertained to be sportive imposture. In the performances of modern spiritualists the Poltergeist appears, as it were, to be domesticated, and to come at the call of the medium.
An intermittent kind of ominous haunting attached, not to places, but to families, is that of the banshee (Celtic) or family death omen, such as the white bird of the Oxenhams, the Airlie drummer, the spectral rider of Clan Gilzean, the rappings of the Woodde family. These apparitions, with fairies and djinns (the Arab form of fairy), haunt the borderland between folk-lore and psychical research.
So far we have been concerned with spontaneous apparitions, or with the belief in them. Among induced apparitions may be reckoned the materialized forms of spiritual séances, which have a material basis of veils, false moustaches, wigs and the corpus vile of the medium. It is also possible that mere expectancy and suggestion induce hallucinatory perceptions among the members of the circle. That apparitions of a sort can be induced by hypnotic and posthypnotic suggestion is certain enough (see Hypnotism). Savages produce apparitions in similar ways by suggestion, accompanied by dances, fumigations, darkness, fasting, drugs, and whatever can affect the imaginations of the onlookers (see Magic). Both in savage and civilized life, some persons can provoke themselves into beholding apparitions usually fantastic, but occasionally coincidental, by sedulously staring into any clear deep water, a fragment of rock crystal, a piece of polished basalt or obsidian, a mirror, a ring, a sword blade, or a glass of sherry (see Crystal Gazing). Indeed any object, a wall, the palm of the hand, the shoulder-blade-bone of a sheep, may be, and has been used to this end (see Divination).
Almost all known apparitions may accommodate themselves to one or other of the categories given, whether they be pathological, coincidental or spontaneous, induced, permanently localized, or sporadic.
See generally, Spiritualism and Psychical Research.
Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)