8 Types of Ghost Sightings (and What They Mean)

Updated June 23, 2021
apparition in an abandoned building

Have you ever seen a ghost? Would you know if you had? You may be surprised to learn that ghosts don't always appear like they do in the movies. In fact, sometimes they look just like a normal, solid, living, breathing person, and it's not until you recognize something is off that you realize you just met a ghost. So, don't be caught off-guard. Explore the different types of ghost sightings so you're prepared if you ever encounter a spirit.


Parapsychologists refer to intelligent and interactive spirits as apparitions. This is what most people term a "ghost." Apparitions seem to interact with their environment, demonstrating intelligent responsiveness to things occurring in the present time. For example, an apparition may respond appropriately to a question in an EVP session. Visible apparitions may be full-bodied; that is, they look like a whole person, or they may be partial body, appearing as just a part of a person such as a head, an arm, or the torso. They may also appear as a ghost mist, or you may not see them at all but interact with them in a meaningful way that lets you know they are there.

Crisis Apparitions

Crisis apparitions appear to loved ones within 12 to 24 hours of death and sometimes even when the person is still alive but close to death. These spirits typically come to loved ones to convey an important message, such as one of comfort or love. In some cases, the appearance of a crisis apparition is the first time the loved one is aware the person has died.

Living Apparitions

This one is a little weird for some people, but it does occur. A living apparition is when the spirit of a person who is still alive appears to someone in a place that is different from the location their body currently inhabits. In these cases, the spirit may be traveling during astral projection, meditation, or dreaming.

Deathbed Visions

Deathbed visions occur when someone is dying. Sometimes family members, caregivers, and others in the area may experience visions of people who have passed or beings they describe as angels. Afterlife researcher Dr. Raymond Moody calls these "shared death experiences" in his book Paranormal: My Life in Pursuit of the Afterlife.

Post mortem apparition


While many people use the term "haunting" to describe any type of ghostly paranormal activity, parapsychologists use the term in a much more specific fashion. In parapsychology, a haunting occurs as a sort of historical and energetic imprint, often called place memory.

Like active, intelligent types of apparitions, hauntings may affect any of the senses. For example, a haunting may cause a phantom smell, sightings of spirits, disembodied voices, electronic voice phenomena, or phantom touches. However, unlike apparitions, these hauntings are neither intelligent nor interactive. Instead, they are like replaying a film of an event that once occurred.

full body apparition


Poltergeists are not necessarily ghosts, although they can be. They are often called "noisy ghosts" because of the loud and violent nature of the activity surrounding their energy. And while a spirit can cause this type of activity, it most frequently occurs as the result of a living person. The common belief is that the poltergeist agent is most often a teenage girl, but in fact any person of any sex or age can act unintentionally create a poltergeist.

During a poltergeist haunting, the living agent experiences repressed and/or unexpressed deep emotions which cause a sudden release of psychokinetic energy. Resultantly, strange happenings often attributed to ghosts may occur such as lights flickering, objects flying through the air, or the manifestation of strange substances. While these occurrences may possibly be attributable to an apparition using telekinetic energy, parapsychologists try to first rule out a living agent before seeking paranormal explanations.


Demons are often lumped in with ghosts. Certain religions believe demons to be evil spirits or tormentors from Hell. However, parapsychologists like Loyd Auerbach believe demons to be a religious construct occurring beyond the scope of expertise of the paranormal investigator. Instead, demons fall within the realm of the church and should be investigated by trained and experienced clergy.

It's also important to recognize that sometimes encounters that appear demonic are merely spirits that are kind of jerks. Many spirits retain their living characteristics after death. So, if they were mean, nasty, dark, or evil when they were alive, then there's a good chance their ghost is going to behave in the same manner. So while they aren't technically demons, someone who comes across them may think they are because of their bad behavior.

Thought Forms

Living people can create what appears to be a ghost with the power of their thoughts. There is a famous experiment called the Philip Experiment, which describes this action perfectly. In the 1970s, a group of Canadian researchers gathered and tried over the course of several months to create a spirit. To do this, they met regularly to hold a seance to create a very specific spirit, whom they called Philip. They all established certain characteristics of the spirit, which, after time, did appear to the research team. The research raises interesting questions about whether people create and manifest spirit activity in haunted locations out of expectation, desire, or belief.

Living With Ghosts and Spirits

If you have an experience you believe is an encounter with a ghost, treat the spirit respectfully as you would any other living human being. If persistent activity frightens you, seek help from qualified investigators or psychic mediums. If, on the other hand, your encounter with a spirit is a onetime thing, you'll have a great story to share for the rest of your life.

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8 Types of Ghost Sightings (and What They Mean)