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Because no-one has conclusively proven that ghosts exist (or that they don’t either), there are can no comprehensive list of the types of ghosts that we can encounter.  But ghost hunters and parapsychologists have formed some general terms to describe the commonly encounter types of ghost and what to expect from them.

Intelligent vs residual

Brown Lady of Raynham Hall - probably a residual haunting

Brown Lady of Raynham Hall – probably a residual haunting – By Anonymous [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

An intelligent haunting or ghost has nothing to do with how clever the ghost is in the traditional sense and the ghost hunter doesn’t attempt to give the wraith an IQ test.  What the term refers to is that this type of ghost is aware of its surroundings and interacts with them, in contrast to a residual haunting.  Ghosts of this type can communicate with the living by talking and also by moving objects, so some classify poltergeists as a type of intelligent ghost.

A residual ghost is a bit like a tape recording in a paranormal form – the ghost goes through a set of actions or movements that are repeated each time without variation.  The idea of a residual ghost first came about in the 1970s with the Stone Tape theory that suggested buildings can somehow record events and play them back, particular traumatic events.  This makes these ghosts more like a video recording being played back than an intelligent spirit and this type of ghost will also replay their actions without regard to changes in their environment.  Examples of this include walking through a wall when a door used to be there but has since been bricked up – the ghost is unaware of changes and follows the route it has always taken.

Vengeful ghosts

Vengeful ghosts are perhaps the scariest type of ghost – they are driven, they have a purpose and they are out for blood, sometimes literally.  The idea of a vengeful ghost has its origins in many of mankind’s oldest cultures including the Chinese, Roman, Greek and Indian folklore.  Beliefs around how they come to be vary but the general idea is that they died wrongfully or before their time, sometimes that they weren’t given the proper funeral or that they have unfinished business.

Exorcism was a commonly used method to lay them to rest while if the body hadn’t been buried correctly, it would often be exhumed and the mistake rectified.  Some cultures were to extremes to prevent the creation of a vengeful ghost, for example the Ache people of Paraguay cremated all of their old people when they died, as they believed the body housed vengeful spirits that would be released if the body were merely buried.

A connected idea is that of the hungry ghost.  These come from the folklore of the Chinese and Buddhists and involves a spirit that returns after death and is driven in an animalistic way to seek something.  These ghosts often come into being because the person was evil or cruel in life and was a punishment after death.

Ghosts of a location

The most common type of ghost is the one that haunts a specific location and is the cause of a haunted house, hotel or other building.  These ghosts can be either intelligent or residual in nature but are tied to the location they haunt, rarely moving away from it.  This is often thought to be because they died there, were happy there during their life or suffered a traumatic event at the location.  Ghosts in cemeteries and graveyards are also common, often because the spirit’s body or that of a loved one is interred there.

Highway ghosts are a subcategory of this type of haunting and tend to hang around a part of a road, or a series of interconnected roads.  The phantom hitchhiker can be a highway ghost as they travel along a specific road, appearing in vehicles or thumbing a lift with passing motorists.

Ghosts can both haunt anything from a car to a cruise ship and can even be a phantom vehicle or craft.  There are stories dating back thousands of years of phantom ships, such as the Flying Dutchman, while in more recent years phantom cars, trucks and trains have been added to the list.  A car, for example, can also be haunted and despite changing owners, the spirit can remain in it.

While a house or a hotel seems logical to haunt, ghosts can also haunt something as small as a painting or even a piece of jewellery.  Haunted objects take their ghosts with them when passed from owner to owner and continue to cause trouble in their new location.


The poltergeist is perhaps the most well-known type of ghost, its name coming from a German term meaning ‘noisy ghost’.  A poltergeist is never seen but certainly makes its presence felt and can cause complete havoc to a home.  From levitating people to moving objects and furniture along with physically assaulting people, making noise and even creating strange smells, the repertoire of the poltergeist is extensive but rarely involves anything visual.  Many experts think that these spirits are attracted to people of a certain age, usually teenagers, and gain some kind of energy from them that they in turn use to create their chaos.  Famous cases include Epworth Rectory, the Great Amherst Mystery, Borley Rectory, the Enfield poltergeist and the Rosenheim Poltergeist.


This is just a taste of the world of ghosts with a note to say that often, a ghost can combine elements of these types.  An intelligent haunting can also be location based or a highway ghost is often a residual spirit.  There are many types of haunting that defy simple terms and until science finally decides how to categorise the unknown, we may never truly understand exactly what type of ghost is haunting us.

Ghosts are like people - there are all different types.  But how do you find out what type of ghost is haunting you?  Learn about residual hauntings, poltergeists and more.  Click to read about them