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Why Do Ghosts Wear Clothes?

Original musings by
Nathan Gregory

I have always been fascinated by ghosts. I grew up in a haunted house, and family tales of supernatural happenings1 are widespread. One thing has always fascinated me, though. When visits from the beyond are described, the spectral visitor has been most often described as wearing clothes.

     I have trouble understanding this. We do not arrive on this mortal coil fully dressed, and when our spirits depart, the clothing we are wearing remains attached to the earthly remains. So, where do the ghostly clothes come from?

     Indeed, all ghosts do not appear in formal attire. Instead, many appear simply as amorphous featureless, misty forms devoid of genitalia or any sexual characteristics that might require modesty. It occurred to me that these apparitions might have less attachment to their clothing than others. Perhaps in their human existence, they were nudists and preferred to eschew clothing in the hereafter.

     Casper the Friendly Ghost may have been a dedicated nudist before becoming a ghost, as he never needed clothing. He went about as a pale, slightly luminescent, nude being devoid of genitalia. Since ghosts, whether formerly male or female, would have little use for genitalia, I suppose this lack should be expected. His nudity never really became an issue, as most people who saw him ran from his ghostly appearance, apparently not even noticing his nudity. I seriously doubt any policeman would attempt to cite or arrest a ghost on an indecent exposure charge. However, I suppose they might conceivably be placed on the sexual predator list.

     The scientific study recounted in the 1984 movie "Ghostbusters" shows us ghosts in this same natural form as depicted on the original poster. However, not all the spirits went about au natural. Ghosts have been documented to take various forms, from amoeboid-like monstrous entities to the animated skeletons on Jack Sparrow's ship in "Pirates of the Caribbean." Furthermore, the appearance exhibited by ghosts seems to be rather subject to whimsey. With seeming complete freedom to appear any way they chose, and without much fear of consequences, sometimes ghosts still appear to wear ordinary clothing. Although they can seemingly materialize any style at will from the basic ectoplasm of their being, might they also, in some cases, wear actual material clothing?

     In his 1997 afterlife studies as published in Analog Magazine1, Dr. Jerry Oltion explained how, among their other abilities, ghosts could, by the expenditure of energy, "thicken up" their basic ectoplasm until they are nearly as solid as the living. Thus, it appears that when completely at rest and not making any effort, a ghost is essentially invisible and insubstantial. But then, as they focus their willpower, they can become increasingly visible and solid.

     If Dr. Oliton is correct, then, obviously, this is how they can, in one instant, walk through walls and then mere moments later hoist up various items and throw them, move them about and otherwise interact with the physical world. There have been many reports of assault, even rape by ghosts. Neat trick without genitalia, I suppose, but perhaps some never lack for trying. I have never heard of any spirit searching for the metaphysical equivalent of Viagra, but I presume firming up a bit of ectoplasm by sheer willpower can suffice.

     By dint of sufficient mental effort, a ghost can seemingly maintain adequate solidarity to such actions. However, this effort would seem difficult to maintain for any length of time, and as their efforts wane, they allow physical objects to slip from their grasp. Thus, we often hear of ghosts carrying an object across a room, for example, only to see it fall from their ghostly fingers as their effort fades.

     If Dr. Oltion's work is accepted at face value, perhaps powerful ghosts can make themselves seem as substantial as they were before assuming their ghostly temperament. Maybe even pass for the living briefly, interacting with the material world in a manner no different than the rest of us. We can only presume that those who undertake such demanding efforts have significant unfinished business on this earth.

Maintaining sufficient solidarity for holding objects or supporting physical clothing requires unbroken concentration. The slightest inattention, the slightest blink, can result in firmly held things suddenly slipping through immaterial fingers, or perhaps, a sudden, unintended catastrophic disrobing as unsupported clothes fall to the floor.

     Not having actual skin, one suspects ghosts probably have a minimal sense of touch. Ectoplasm seems to lack the necessary nerve endings, at least so it seems. Perhaps they are often not aware of their lack until someone reacts to their public nudity. The results of such an unexpected disrobing can vary from the comical to the absurd.

There have been countless sightings of nudes in public. San Francisco has been a hot spot for such activity in recent years. The phenomenon has even been given a name, the "Urban Nudist Movement." Indeed, most of these folks are doubtless counter-culture types, actual living nudists simply pushing the social boundaries, seeking a broader acceptance of their unconventional lifestyle.


     Yet, given San Francisco's rich history2 of the Supernatural and the many hauntings and supernatural events, might a few of these nudes be real ghosts who have opted to manifest a physical body but carelessly lost or just opting not to bother with clothing? Is that so incredible?

1"The Spectral Stardrive" Analog, Jan 17, 1997



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