22nd September 2019. Reading Time: 11 minutes Paranormal Theories, Stuff paranormal investigators need to know, General. 3712 page views. 1 comments.

Apparition is a common term used by paranormal investigators to describe a sighting of a 'spirit'. From seeing people before they die to a full-bodied apparition in period clothing, let's look at the different kinds of apparitions.

Apparition is a common term used by paranormal investigators to describe a sighting of a 'spirit'. While there are common associations we all make with this term, it may surprise you to know that there are several categories under this word. While a lot of people think of a 'spirit' to be a see-through opaque view of a person, there is no one size fits all when it comes to these kinds of experiences. Sometimes, the apparition is not even a 'spirit' but a living person from another location. The question of course becomes not why are we seeing them, but how?

And thus, absurdly enough, we sometimes hear men ridicule the phenomena which actually do happen, simply because those phenomena do not suit their preconceived notions of what ghostly phenomena ought to be;


'Human personality and its survival of of bodily death'

So let's look at some of the different forms of 'apparitions'.

Full Bodied Apparition

This is probably one of the most common terms I know I have heard during my time in the paranormal field. A full-bodied apparition basically appears as a solid person. It is almost like there is a real person standing in front of them. One example here I can give you is a story I often tell at Black Rock House. There was a council worker sitting in the dining room filling out paperwork and he looked up and in the doorway saw a woman dressed in period clothing. He thought nothing of it at the time as the staff often dress up in costume to conduct tours. Shortly after he mentioned to a volunteer asking where the woman in the period dress was, only to find out there was no one on-site dressed in a costume that day. Needless to say, he was a little freaked out and never returned. This is a commonly reported scenario in historical locations. From a lot of interviews I have done with staff and volunteers over the years at various historical locations, there is a bit of a common theme. A person sees someone who is described as 'dressed in period clothing' and in a split second, they are gone. Often they believe it is a fellow staff member until they realize they are either alone or no one else is dressed in this clothing. This in itself is an important thing to keep in mind. Often people will investigate a location at night for a variety of reasons more out of convenience than anything else. Daytime investigations should not be underestimated, especially when common sightings like the above are occurring during the day. Even if a location is not available for you to hire out to attend an investigation during the day, there is nothing stopping you from attending a location during the day for a tour or to walk around on an open day. You never know what you may experience or even 'see' with your own eyes.

When it comes to full-bodied apparitions, the next question is how are we seeing them? Is it an intelligent spirit trying to communicate with us? It is a form of residual playback? Is it some sort of time slip where we are given a small window into the past? Is this why it only seems to last for seconds? In most reported cases, the apparition does not speak unless it is to deliver some sort of warning or to say goodbye which will be covered below under crisis apparition.

Partial Body Apparitions

There are also reported to be what is called partial apparitions where a person will see only part of a body such as a head or an arm, such as a hand appearing out of a cupboard, or even just seeing a head and shoulders. These are not as commonly reported as above and are considered to be rare.

The account is taken from Phantasms of the Living, vol. ii. p. 213. It is given by Mr. Charles A. W. Lett, of the Military and Royal Naval Club, Albemarle Street, W.{242}

December 3rd, 1885.

On the 5th April 1873 my wife's father, Captain Towns, died at his residence, Cranbrook, Rose Bay, near Sidney, N. S. Wales. About six weeks after his death my wife had occasion, one evening about nine o'clock, to go to one of the bedrooms in the house. She was accompanied by a young lady, Miss Berthon, and as they entered the room—the gas was burning all the time—they were amazed to see, reflected as it were on the polished surface of the wardrobe, the image of Captain Towns. It was barely half figure, the head, shoulders, and part of the arms only showing—in fact, it was like an ordinary medallion portrait, but life-size. The face appeared wan and pale, as it did before his death, and he wore a kind of grey flannel jacket, in which he had been accustomed to sleep. Surprised and half alarmed at what they saw, their first idea was that a portrait had been hung in the room, and that what they saw was its reflection; but there was no picture of the kind.

Whilst they were looking and wondering, my wife's sister, Miss Towns, came into the room, and before either of the others had time to speak she exclaimed, "Good gracious! Do you see papa?" One of the housemaids happened to be passing downstairs at the moment, and she was called in, and asked if she saw anything, and her reply was, "Oh, miss! the master." Graham—Captain Towns' old body servant—was then sent for, and he also immediately exclaimed, "Oh, Lord save us! Mrs. Lett, it's the Captain!" The butler was called, and then Mrs. Crane, my wife's nurse, and they both said what they saw. Finally, Mrs. Towns was sent for, and, seeing the apparition, she advanced towards it with her arm extended as if to touch it, and as she passed her hand over the panel of the wardrobe the figure gradually faded away, and never again appeared, though the room was regularly occupied for a long time after.

These are the simple facts of the case, and they admit of no doubt; no kind of intimation was given to any of the witnesses; the same question was put to each one as they came into the room, and the reply was given without hesitation by each. It was by the merest accident that I did not see the apparition. I was in the house at the time, but did not hear when I was called.

C. A. W. LETT.

Quote from


'Human personality and its survival of of bodily death'

Transparent Apparitions

This matches what is probably the most widely conceived consensus of what a 'spirit' would look like. It is either a mist in the shape of a human form or a human form that is 'see-through'. While often reported as seen with their own eyes, this also commonly appears on photos and videos. It is important to note that it is quite easy for a camera to replicate this 'see-through' image with things like motion blur and pareidolia causing us to see a face in what is just mist. While as investigators we like to have 'visual proof' of what we are witnessing, a sighting of a transparent apparition is in a lot of ways more credible than a photo of it that can usually be debunked. If it is not something that you witnessed with your own eyes, it may just be the camera. This of course doesn't discount the fact that there have been a lot of sightings of what people report as these transparent apparitions. I guess it is why it has become the most common image people think of when we think of what a 'spirit' might look like.

Crisis Apparitions

This is a less common yet extremely interesting phenomenon. It is a sighting of an apparition of a person that is near death or in some sort of critical situation. In the book, 'Human personality and its survival of bodily death' by FREDERIC W. H. MYERS talks about cases of people who have witnessed a friend or family members in the hours directly before or directly after their death (before they were aware they had passed). These apparitions have appeared to people both while conscious and in other cases in dreams. It could be argued that the dream was more precognition than a visitation but the outcome, in any case, was the same. They saw the form a person who was very near to death who then died shortly afterward.

We gradually discovered that the accounts of apparitions at the moment of death—testifying to a supersensory communication between the dying man and the friend who sees him—led on without perceptible break to apparitions occurring after the death of the person seen, but while that death was yet unknown to the percipient, and thus apparently due, not to mere brooding memory, but to a continued action of that departed spirit.


Other sightings have been within the 12 hour period after death which is also described as post mortem apparitions.

Experimental Apparitions

A person is purposely creating an apparition. Common reports of this are of people doing this by using astral projection or meditation in order for their consciousness to leave their body and travel elsewhere. Their form appears to another as an apparition. These are also referred to as Astral Bodies.

Much like the Philip Experiment, there are also reports of people who create their own apparitions at will. The Australian Institute of Parapsychological Research states:

Ruth was persecuted by the apparition of her father who raped her when she was ten (26,27). Ruth learnt to summon and dismiss it, and other apparitions, at will. Ruth (but not the therapist) could see an apparition; both could not see it on a video screen nor hear it on tape. Ruth twice produced apparitions seen by others. When Ruth produced an apparition in front of a screen, her EEG brain electrical pattern showed that the apparition blocked the screen behind it. This test confirmed Ruth’s belief that she was seeing a “real” apparition rather than it being an hysterical hallucination.

Ruth was eidetic, a good hypnotic subject, and very traumatised. Similar apparitions, however, are reported by fantasy-prone persons over-involved in some activity. Dickens was plagued by them as he wrote his novels (14). David-Neel created her own tulpa of a monk after instruction in Tantric Buddhism (16). Hill created apparitions of famous people to help him become a millionaire (15). Estabrooks used auto-suggestion to create a bear apparition; it became so lifelike he at times mistook it for a real bear – it jumped out at him from dark corners (7). “Sitter groups” of non-psychic, non-spiritualistic persons, in the absence of a “spirit control”, have produced raps from a self-created ghost (the Philip experiment, refs 2,22). This ability to create apparitions is a coping mechanism of therapeutic value.

Why do we see apparitions?

One of the most thought-provoking discussions I have been researching and which is covered in Myer's book above is theory as to how is it we are able to see these apparitions. Some argue that the apparitions would be there regardless if we are there to observe them or not as they are a part of our external world. Myers goes on to talk about it other possibilities within us ourselves that make it possible for us to see these apparitions. While hallucination is discussed, so too is the concept of telepathic communication as well as retrocognition. If we are hallucinating, what is it causing us to hallucinate? Some speculate that perhaps even though we are experiencing what could be considered a hallucination, what is causing it? Could something potentially paranormal be causing us to have these visions? Is this why only certain people see an apparition? I myself have not seen one with my own eyes in all of my years of investigating, yet a person next to me has. Are they tapping into some sort of past event using retrocognition and getting that 'glimpse' of the past? Are people who are seeing their loved ones before they have passed telepathically connected? When a loved one passes and we so desperately wish we could see them one last time, are we manifesting this ourselves out of our love and grief?

I know personally I love exploring the how rather than the why. When it comes to spirit communication, the why can probably be much more easily speculated or explained - especially if it is a loved one delivering a message. What I am more interested in is how is it that we are able to receive that message?

Have you had an experience with an apparition?  Would you please help me by taking 5 minutes to fill out the following form? Results will be published at a later date and your response is anonymous unless you wish to include your name.


I highly recommend reading:


'Human personality and its survival of bodily death'

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  • Emile 5 years ago

    Wow because this is great job! Congrats and keep it up.