Anyone who has watched a paranormal show knows that if you want to find a ghost you look in a graveyard. This is also a trope in horror movies. But where did this belief come from?
Scientist have postulated that the practice of ancestor worship has been around for several thousands of years. There are those who believe that when humans began to bury the dead was the start of ancestor worship (https://www.dailykos.com/stories/2019/4/3/1847528/-Religion-101-Ancestor-Worship-in-Ancient-Europe-and-the-Arctic, https://www.haaretz.com/archaeology/MAGAZINE-skulls-from-11-000-year-cult-found-in-gobekli-tepe-1.5490210, https://www.haaretz.com/archaeology/tiny-brained-humans-buried-dead-quarter-million-years-ago-1.5469990https://www.britannica.com/topic/ancestor-worship ). It is a belief that the creation of grave sites, elaborate burials, placement of the deceased body, and the Cult of the Head give credence to these believes.
What is ancestor worship? According to Merriam=Webster (https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/ancestor%20worship)
“Definition of ancestor worship
: the custom of venerating deceased ancestors who are considered still a part of the family and whose spirits are believed to have the power to intervene in the affairs of the living”
Basically treating the ancestors in the same way modern religions would treat god(s) in so far as they are asked for assistance and it is expected that the ancestors will help in some manner. So if you are experiencing a difficulty in life be it relationship issues, money issues, health etc. you would ask the ancestors for assistance and/or guidance.
In some cultures it was believed that the body of the ancestor must be kept close to the home or they wouldn’t answer. This lead to many ancestors being buried on the property, by the home, and sometimes even under the home. Some cultures built shires and even today in some Asian, African, and South American cultures you can see a shrine to the ancestors within the home. (some sources for information https://www.nationsonline.org/oneworld/Chinese_Customs/taoism_ancestor_worship.htm, https://www.learnreligions.com/ancestor-worship-in-pagan-cultures-2562898, https://www.ancient-origins.net/myths-legends-asia/ancient-practice-tengriism-shamanism-and-ancient-worship-sky-gods-002387, https://www.learnreligions.com/pitri-paksha-annual-ancestor-worship-1770146 ) Not all cultures believed you needed the entire body but just a part. Many times it was the head that was kept but there are examples of hands, hearts, and various other body parts being kept. If you are a Catholic or practice some forms of magic and Voodoo you know what is being spoken of here. ( https://ivarfjeld.com/category/vatican-skulls-and-bones/, https://www.britannica.com/topic/skull-cult, https://www.iflscience.com/editors-blog/gruesome-skull-worship-ritual-revealed-at-world-s-oldest-temple/, https://www.encyclopedia.com/environment/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/head-celtic-head-cult, https://www.ancientvoodoorituals.com/history-of-voodoo.html, https://www.white-magic-help.net/About_White_Magic/Voodoo_History_Basic_Principles_Background.html )
Now granted we have only dealt with the physical body. The funny thing is that even today, when we are supposed to be so far removed from our own ancestors and their beliefs, people still think that the body connects to the spirit after death. How many stories are there on the internet and television shows that claim to have proof of life after death while filming in a cemetery, and old home where bodies were found, old mortuaries, hospitals, psych wards, battlefields? There are literally so many I bet you would loose count. My opinion is that this belief is in reality the continuation of ancestor worship. The belief that the spirit continues to be connected to the physical body has never left human kind despite all of our advances in technology and scientific knowledge. Stories and legends from around the globe talk about spirits and ghosts solving their own murders, protecting treasure (think Draugr of Nordic sagas), giving advice or leading people to things they were looking for. There is also the belief in curses on the mummies of various places (most notably Egypt). How many current religions believe that the body can not be cremated, autopsied, or damaged in any way before burial? For some sources I turn to the folks who do this for a living in the following links:
There is also the belief that the possessions of a person can carry the spirit or ghost with it. Think things like clothing, jewelry, a house, a favorite dress, a toy, and so on. Mirrors are frequently cited as being haunted as well.
Mirrors hold a special meaning for all cultures around the world. The belief that a mirror can steal your soul is not specific to any one group. Mirrors are covered during mourning and funerals in many cultures, a practice believed to have started with the Greeks and Romans (https://www.joincake.com/blog/covering-mirrors-after-death/, https://www.reference.com/world-view/people-cover-mirrors-after-someone-dies-b36280ca1c1c6359 ). The Victorians were notorious for covering mirrors after a death. Irish wakes made certain the mirrors and many reflective surfaces were also covered (they also made certain to not bring the body through the front door to confuse the Sidhe and evil spirits). Jewish, Muslin, and Catholics have specific practices with mirrors.
Due to the belief in some cultures that the possessions of a person can keep the deceased from entering the world of the dead many cultures burned, buried, or gave away the possessions. In many Native American beliefs the giving away of a possession helped to break the bond between the deceased and the item. The Egyptians and Asian cultures were known to bury possessions with the deceased as they would be needed in the after life. The best known example of burning the possessions of the deceased, and is to a certain extent practiced today, is the Romani (Roma). Better known to most people as gypsies (a very derogatory term that is a hold over from the middle ages) these people were known to have very specific beliefs about the possessions of a person. If you obtained a deceased person’s possessions you ran the risk of being haunted by that person, extreme bad luck, curses, among other things (http://www.patrickjasperlee.com/, https://www.oocities.org/~patrin/death.htm, https://www.petulengro.com/our-gypsy-traditions/, https://studentshare.org/culture/1394851-prehistory-death-an-burial-in-iron-age ).
So again we come back to why do we, a supposedly scientific and technologically advanced people, still believe that spirits and ghosts are attached to physical body/items/places? Why do we continue to perpetuate a belief that as far as we can tell has been around since cavemen? Belief in ghosts and spirits is as old as people. We have advanced beyond thinking that the causes of disease, illness, and death are caused by ghosts and spirits but we still think that physical items carry importance to the dead. This creates a question, is the belief in ghost and spirit attachment part of our DNA or is it a cultural idea? It also poses some interesting conundrums. One such conundrum is if a ghost can be in more than one place at a time. If someone has possession of a possession that was very cherished and special to a person and they were really in love with a special place can they be in both places at the same time? This is not a problem if the item happens to be in the special place but if they are thousands of miles away from each other this poses a problem. There is also the conundrum of how the item or place of attachment is determined. Does the spirit decide that they are attached to the item/place or is it simply a reaction to the expectations of the living?
One last thought on this topic, are ghosts caused by this plane of existence actually being the “waiting for judgement” place listed in many religions (also known as purgatory, Hades, Gehanna, A’raf, etc.)? Ancient people through to modern religions believe there is a place that one can go after death to be cleansed of “sin, evil, defilement.” Does that mean that this realm, the physical that we live in ia that place or is it only how some go through this process? If one is following the current research done in Quantum physics they know that the reality of multiple realities/universes is more and more the normal thinking. So are ghost slipping between the realm of the spirit/dead into this one? There is also the belief that ghosts and spirits are interdimentional travelers or even alien beings from other planets. We aren’t going to cover those topics today.