What better time than Halloween to think about ghosts.

It is such an odd celebration. Halloween is the one time of year when it is generally acceptable to propose the possibility that there may be invisible, mysterious, celestial forces at work in the world. Even though all other beliefs have forsaken the majority of our community, some hint of transcendence persists and is expressed every year in Halloween.

It seems that a belief in something beyond the merely material realm dies hard. When more traditional forms of belief are abandoned, they tend to transform into other convictions.

Andrew Higgins reports from deeply secular Norway that,

Ghosts, or at least belief in them, have been around for centuries but they have now found a particularly strong following in highly secular modern countries like Norway, places that are otherwise in the vanguard of what was once seen as Europe’s inexorable, science-led march away from superstition and religion.

While churches here may be largely empty and belief in God, according to opinion polls, in steady decline, belief in, or at least fascination with, ghosts and spirits is surging.

Roar Fotland, a Methodist preacher and assistant professor at the Norwegian School of Theology in Oslo says simply,

God is out but spirits and ghosts are filling the vacuum.

Higgins explains,

Instead of slowly eliminating religion, as Sigmund Freud, Karl Marx and other theorists predicted, modernity has only channeled religious feelings in unexpected ways.

“Belief in God, or at least a Christian God, is decreasing but belief in spirits is increasing,” Fotland added, describing this as part of a general resurgence of “premodern religion.”

Arild Romarheim, a Lutheran priest and recently retired theology lecturer, described the conviction of well-educated atheists and agnostics that ghosts exist as “the paradox of modernity” — a revival of old beliefs to slake an innate human thirst for a spiritual life left unsatisfied by the decline of the church.

Belief in ghosts, he said, has become so strong that even the Lutheran Church, to which most Norwegians formally belong, has adopted a so-called “ghost liturgy” for use by preachers who get asked by parishioners to help cleanse haunted houses.

Unn Bohm Tveito, also from Moss, recalled how she had never believed in or even thought about ghosts until she started working as the manager of the town’s tourism information office. She kept noticing that German-language brochures always ended up being the most prominently displayed, which was odd since few tourists who visit Moss speak German.

In 2013, she raised the issue with other staff members, who said they had noticed the same thing. “Ghosts are not the first thing you think of, but we decided that this could not be explained in a normal way,” she said.

A clairvoyant sent by the ghost television show, she said, solved the mystery: a dead German soldier who had worked in the same building during the 1940-45 Nazi occupation of Norway was still on the premises and kept messing with the brochures.

“Whether you call them ghosts or spirits or something else, they exist,” Tveito said. The dead German, she added, has now moved on.


When it comes to a toss up between ghosts and God, the concept of God may seem quaint and outmoded. But the possibility of transcendence still haunts human consciousness and pops to the surface particularly at this time of year.