The New York Times Book Review ran Gregory Maguire’s review of Leo Braudy’s Haunted, a “taxonomy” of various supernatural entities familiar to all and sundries – ghosts, vampire, witches etc. in celebration of Halloween. The reviewer lauds the author’s meticulous cataloguing of such creatures and systematic explains them away on logical, mechanistic bases. For instance, one major thesis trotted out is that the Protestant Reformation effectively did away with the state/realm of Purgatory that the Roman Catholic Church held to be a holding pen for unperfected souls, leaving common folk to puzzle out where such souls in fact ended up… of course — undead and roaming the realms of the living! And no doubt this theological revolution did have some impact on folk beliefs on such topics.
However, the history of mankind’s contemplation of realms of existence beyond the mundane and non-human and discarnate intelligences dates back to the beginnings of recorded history with some of the earliest works of literature being devoted to same i.e. the Sumerian “Inanna’s Descent Into Hell,” Egypt’s “Pyramid Texts” etc. Indeed Homer’s Odyssey contains one of the first written accounts of communicating with ghosts.
So while Haunted appears to be a useful mechanistic analysis of the folk lore pertaining to the supernatural that accounts for some such myths, it doesn’t really account for the ubiquity and persistence of such beliefs throughout recorded history. Nonetheless, check out the review here: