Spirits using Smells to Contact the Living (Memorates)


Informant 1 (son): “I will have experiences where if I’m at a deep state of indecision I’m or if I’m doing something that may not be right. I can smell [my Nana]. A smell will come to me and it smells like a mix of cigarettes and perfume. And I know that it’s her. Or if like I need to be doing something or calling someone or just doing something I can smell it. And it’s a very distinct smell like nothing I own smells like that.”

Informant 2 (mother): “When my Mom first left, she was a smoker, so I’d be driving, and all of a sudden I could smell smoke in my car. You just kind of know. [My son, Informant 1] snuck out one night and he left and then he called us. He was like: ‘Don’t get mad, I was going to a party but I started smelling smoke in the car, I knew it was Nana so I’m turning around.’”

Collector: “So the spirits can use specific smells? To communicate or make their presence known?”

Informant 2: “Yes. The spirits have to figure out how to get your attention.”


Both Informants are related. Informant 2 is the mother of Informant 1 (Male, 26 years old). I conducted two separate interviews asking the Informants to share memorates, and both mentioned the ability to smell the deceased. This smell came from the same deceased family member they refer to as Nana (Informant #1’s Grandma and Informant 2’s Mother). 


In both stories, a ghost contacts the living in moments of internal conflict or bad behavior. The Deceased’s unique smell signaled their “spiritual presence” which helped guide the Informants into making the right decisions. Almost like an Angel sent to protect the living from danger. Informant 1’s spiritual encounter while sneaking out reminded me of a quote from Ülo Valk’s article, “Ghostly Possession and Real Estate.” The author writes that perceived interactions with spirits, “are sometimes caused by fears related to the breaking of behavioral norms.” (Valk 34) The son’s conscience knew sneaking out was wrong. When the smell appeared, he perceived the dead as present, the spirit of a family member was watching over his actions. The “fear” of disappointing the dead swayed Informant 1 into “turning around” to obey the “behavioral norms” set forth by his parents.