What ghosts look like: Everything you need to know

All ghosts look different when watching movies, reading books, and watching paranormal shows. Some ghosts are black, some white, some misty, some glowing orbs, and some are not visible to the naked eye. Do all spirits look the same, or do they come in different shapes and forms?

As a general rule, ghosts are translucent and look like a white mist. Other common ways for spirits to manifest are through orbs, light streaks, fogs, or shadows in a 3D shape.

An apparitionOpens in a new tab. is a ghost of a deceased person or animal. In most cases, spirits of human origin look like white transparent mists. But don’t be fooled; it is more complicated than this. As with everything in life, nothing is ever black or white.

What ghosts look like

Ghosts come in different shapes and forms; they do (unfortunately) not all look the same. The most common way for apparitions to visually manifest is through a white transparent mist or fog. They might have full features, but some are undefined.

The most common haunting is a residual haunting. Events in the past are replayed when the circumstances are right. A ghost from a residual haunting doesn’t interact, and the haunting is looping and looks the same every time. Residual hauntings are the most common type of haunting.

It is important to remember that ghosts manifest through other senses than vision. They might be felt through touch, sound, smell, and emotions. It’s not uncommon for spirits to manifest through the scent of tobacco, burned wood, perfume, and flowers.

Some ghosts love to interact by knocking on the walls or footsteps. Some ghosts communicate through disembodied voices. Spirits can move through objects, walls, and constructions. They can also be seen as shadows, and some are reflected in mirrors. There are observations of temperature fluctuations when ghosts are present.

As you notice, there is no clear-cut answer when it comes to paranormal phenomena. We still don’t know that much about ghostly activities. Not all experience them either.

It is important to remember that ghosts manifest through other senses than vision as well. They might not be seen, but felt through touch, smells, and emotions.

Miss claudette

Apparitions and ghosts have been studied since the late 19th century, but there are still more questions than answers. It is hard to give an absolute answer to how ghosts look.

Negative entities and demons

Some negative energies are not part of the spectrum of human or animal-originated ghosts. Demons have different ways of manifesting. Demons have a tricky side and mimic other apparitions or phenomena in an attempt for us to lower our guard.

So you might think you see a ghost when it is something else. I believe this is one of the factors that made many of us afraid of ghosts. It is hard to tell what it is if you are not experienced. Ed and Lorraine Warren, famous demonologists and psychics, always told people to stay away from communicating with spirits. You never know what you get (The Demonologist by Gerard Brittle).

Residual Ghosts

A residual ghost is not usually intelligent and does not interact with the living. Residual spirits often manifest like a white transparent mist with defined features. The haunting is the same and replays over and over. Residual hauntings are the most common type of visual manifestation of ghosts.

In the video below, you can see an example of ghosts manifesting with white mist. The haunting seems to replay an event happening a long time ago.

If you want to learn more about residual hauntings, I invite you to read the article below.

Related article: Residual hauntings: A Ghost Hunter’s GuideOpens in a new tab.

Intelligent Ghosts

Intelligent ghosts can take various forms like mists, lights, shadows, and full- or partial body apparitions. An intelligent spirit might manifest in different shapes from time to time. It is hard to give a clear-cut answer to what they look like.

An intelligent ghost can communicate with the living through all our senses. Many intelligent spirits manifest through gadgets and other senses than just vision. They make themselves known with smells, touch, temperature shifts, electronics going crazy, batteries draining, voice phenomena, etc.

In the video below, an intelligent ghost is communicating through the EMF sensor. The spirit is not visually manifesting but is communicating through electromagnetic fields. The ghost is answering the paranormal investigator’s questions.

Funnel Ghosts

Funnel ghosts manifest like funnels of fog, light, or shadows. They are often milky white transparent with a smell of ozone. Commonly, they show up as “funnels” in photos or videos. Funnel ghosts absorb energy from the surroundings to manifest. Funnel ghosts are often the souls of loved ones and manifest in homes and historical places.

I’m not that familiar with the concept of funnel ghosts, as I tend to categorize this phenomenon more as intelligent haunting. As we know, intelligent ghosts can take many forms and manifest in many ways. While researching this blog, the concept kept showing up on the internet. I have not seen much information about funnel ghosts in my reference literature.


EctoplasmOpens in a new tab. is a substance transmitted by a medium that helps spirits manifest. The ectoplasm is at first translucent but will darken during the manifestation process.

The ectoplasm is transferred when the medium is in a state of trans. There are many types of ectoplasm. Loved ones might induce the funnel ghost with psychic abilities (known or unknown). The ectoplasm ghosts tend to linger a few feet above the ground. You often encounter them on historical sites like battlefields and cemeteries.

There is no proof that ectoplasm exists. It is worth noting that there are mediums faking ectoplasm. Rosemary Ellen Guiley says(Encyclopedia of Ghosts and Spirits): “Fraudulent mediums were known to produce ectoplasm composed of nothing more than strips of muslin, or mixtures of soap, gelatin, and egg white.” I agree with this as many of the photos taken of ectoplasm seem a bit fake overall.

Fraudulent mediums were known to produce ectoplasm composed of nothing more than strips of muslin, or mixtures of soap, gelatin and egg white

Rosemary Ellen Guiley
A picture of ectoplasm from 1912.
By Photographer: Baron von Schrenck-Notzing (1862-1929)

In the photo above, you see an example of when a medium is transmitting ectoplasm, and a ghost manifests.


Ectomist is thought to be an alternate entry form that ghosts use to manifest. They are common phenomena and are often only caught in photos or video recordings. It is often white to gray looking and transparent and quickly shifting form. This phenomenon is not to be confused with ectoplasm (read above).

The ectomist will often linger a couple of feet off the ground. The outlines of the ghost is seldom defined, but at times you can notice a humanoid shape flickering by. You have to be sure you are not confusing ectomist with smoke, vapor, fog, etc. The phenomenon often gets challenged and (sometimes falsely) debunked.

In the video below, you find examples of how ectomist look in action.

Ghost Orbs

Ghost orbs are luminous round lights floating in the air. Some are defined, and some are more irregular in shape. At times ghost orbs have also been seen in a diamond shape or even as streaks. Their size varies from very small to about a basketball in diameter.

Ghost orbs are thought to be ghosts of humans or animals. But as with everything paranormal, there is still no conclusive evidence for this.

Ghost orbs are mostly seen on infrared monitors, photographs, or video recordings. They are ghost lights if they are seen with the naked eye (read below). Ghost orbs often appear white or yellow. There are examples of blue and red ghost orbs as well. They often move randomly when caught on video. The orbs might twinkle or have a static glow. It is not uncommon for the spheres to move very quickly.

Why ghosts haunt: The most common reasons

Learn more about why ghosts haunt

Red orbs are sometimes connected to the negative. The ghost orb is not a “ghost” but demonic. There is no conclusive evidence for this, so take it with a grain of salt.

One interesting thing about ghost orbs is that they occasionally react to the living. This is a sign that they might be intelligent ghosts. Some believe that ghost orbs are not ghosts but extraterrestrial entities.

Many ghost orb sightings might be due to natural causes such as reflections, bugs, raindrops, lens flairs, and pixelation errors (to name a few).

It is plausible that ghosts manifest by absorbing energy from their surroundings. Along with other ghostly activities, the sphere might be “real,” but alone, you shouldn’t put that much emphasis on them.

In the video below, you see an example of a ghost orb phenomenon.

Ghost Lights

Ghost lights are luminous spheres in yellow, white, red, orange, or blue. Ghost lights can be seen with the naked eye and sometimes have a “tail,” unlike ghost orbs (read above). Ghost lights are often seen in remote areas or locations and tend to be quite shy. As soon as any noise or light (from a flashlight or alike), they disappear. The same happens if you try to approach them. The colors can change while looking at them, and in some instances, they can have multiple colors at once.

Ghost lights seem to reappear in the same area. They don’t move, and they often show up at the same time of the day.

There might be natural cases of ghost lights such as background lighting, methane gas, and insects. As with other paranormal activity, there is no conclusive evidence of ghost lights.

In the video below, you see examples of ghost lights. The video shows the famous Maco lights and other famous ghost lights.

Thought-forms and personal perceptions

The thought-form theory is highly relevant when discussing visual representations and manifestations of ghosts. A thought-form is, in short, a human-originated apparition that looks and acts like a ghost but is not. The thought form is created by a psychic that has the power to project an entity. It is artificial. If one has a strong desire for something to manifest, it might do. But it is not real; it comes from within.

This might shed light on why some see ghosts and others do not. There are, of course, manifestations caught in photographs and video, but they might be thought forms too. No one knows. It is not a popular theory in the paranormal field.

Another exciting idea is that we all perceive ghosts the way we are capable. We might experience ghostly activity differently. As a psychic, I can relate to this idea as I can’t see, hear, or feel things. I know things. Another psychic might listen to ghosts, and the third might see them. You get it.

The video recorder might “perceive” a phenomenon one way and a human another. I think this might be a clue to the mystery of why some phenomena show up on camera, but the investigator feels the “chills” or the emotional reaction. But this is, again, my two cents.

Key takeaways

Ghosts are not scientifically proven to exist. With that said, it doesn’t mean they don’t. Science has not yet found a way to pinpoint what they are and how they manifest – may it be within us, in another dimension, or alike. Ghost has been present throughout history, though. So they exist in some way or another. Maybe not the way we like them to (thought forms or hallucinations). We have taken them to heart as a part of our reality. Whatever form they have.

Ghosts are often seen as white translucent mist or fog. Some have definitions and features; some don’t. It is also expected that they manifest as orbs or shadows.

Many times ghosts manifest through other senses than sight. It’s more common to smell them or feel a sudden drop (or spike) in temperature. To rely only on view is not doing us any good. We need to include all our senses, even the sixth one.

References and cites

  • The Encyclopedia of Ghosts and Spirits, Rosemary Ellen Guiley, 2007.
  • The Demonologist, Gerard Brittle, 2013, Audiobook.

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Claudette Beaulieu

A certified paranormal investigator, accredited demonologist, and psychic stuck in the Victorian era.

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