Ghosts in history

The belief in ghosts can be traced back as far as 2000 B.C. This first record of a ghost comes from the Babylonian story The Epic of Gilgamesh, and is etched in clay tablets. The story tells of the hero Gilgamesh and the ghost of his dead friend, Enkidu.

And Nergal, accustomed to absurd orders, obeyed as soldiers do. He freed Enkidu to speak once to kin and showed Gilgamesh how to descend halfway to Hell through the bowels of earth. Enkidu's shadow rose slowly toward the living and the brothers, tearful and weak, tried to hug, tried to speak, tried and failed to do anything but sob.

"Speak to me please, dear brother," whispered Gilgamesh.
"Tell me of death and where you are."
"Not willingly do I speak of death," said Enkidu in slow reply.
"But if you wish to sit for a brief time, I will describe where I do stay."
"Yes," his brother said in early grief.
"All my skin and all my bones are dead now. All my skin and all my bones are now dead."
"Oh no," cried Gilgamesh without relief.
"Oh no," sobbed one enclosed by grief.

Roman history has many ghost tales. In 44 B.C., Brutus, an army general, spearheaded a plot to murder Julius Ceasar, and on March 15, he and his co-conspirators stabbed Caesar to death. Brutus was subsequently visited by a huge phantom which claimed to be the ghost of his evil genius, and who then revisited him the night before battle. The purpose of the spectre became clear to Brutus, who took it as an omen of doom. The battle was lost and Brutus killed himself afterwards. In Shakespeare's Julius Caesar, the phantom is described as being that of Julius Caesar.

Why, this, Volumnius:
The ghost of Caesar hath appear'd to me
Two several times by night; at Sardis once,
And, this last night, here in Philippi fields:
I know my hour is come.

- Brutus, in Julius Caesar by Shakespeare

Ancient Romans were careful to avoid lemures, the ghosts of people who had led evil lives, or hungry and neglected ghosts with no kin, who would prowl around houses to pick up what they could. Special festivals and rites, the Lemuria, were held in May to feed and then banish the lemures. Drums were pounded, as the ghosts were believed to be afraid of the noise.

Similarly, the Chinese festival, Da Jui or The Hungry Ghost Festival, occuring on the 15th day of the seventh moon, seeks to appease the ghosts of the unloved or uncared for. According to Chinese mythology, the gates of hell open during the seventh month, allowing spirits to roam the earth. Spirits of those who have died at their own hands, in accidents, by drowning, or hanging, seek souls on earth to take their place in hell. Lanterns in water are used to guide these bad spirits away, and offerings of fruit and coins are left for the ghosts to take on their wanderings.

Japan's Obon Festival uses drums and dancing to ward off the evil dead, much in the same manner of the Hungry Ghost Festival.