The forms and habits of ghosts may be incredibly varied, but their reason for returning, the basic purposes behind their presence among us, tend according to folklore to be fairly limited.
Many of the reasons for ghosts suggested by past and primitive societies can still be found in modern legend and urban myths.
Return for a purpose
- Ghosts that return to seek vengeance on their slayers, to punish the living from crimes against them or their descendants (Shakespeare’s Hamlet father)
- Ghosts that seek proper burial. Ghosts are supposed to be souls that remain when their bodies have been improperly buried, or not buried at all as with Odysseus’s friend Elpenor. Harry Price the famous ghost buster of the 30s pretended that the main ghost of Borley Rectory departed when he gave Christian burial to some old bones he found under the Rectory.
- Ghosts that come to complete some task left undone or to continue one. The ghost of an american farmer returned for the specific purpose of informing his heirs where he had hidden his will.
- Ghosts that appears to announce their own death’s or somebody else’s. (doppelgangers and crisis apparitions).
Omen of death
The appearance of a ghost has often been regarded as an omen or portent of death. Seeing one’s own ghostly double or “fetch” is a related omen of death.
Love that went wrong
White ladies were reported to appear in many rural areas, and supposed to have died tragically or suffered trauma in life. White Lady legends are found around the world. Common to many of them is the theme of losing or being betrayed by a husband or fiancé. They are often associated with an individual family line, as a harbinger of death. When one of these ghosts is seen it indicates that someone in the family is going to die, similar to a banshee.