By A.L. Sapinsky–
Ghosts – fact or fiction? Depending on the religion you adhere to, the answer can go either way. Whether these ghosts are friendly like Casper or as terrifying as those you might have seen in the movie Insidious, is also dependent on faith.
In no particular order, here are six religious explanations for the encounters us living might have with those of the afterlife.
You really can’t answer this one under just “Catholicism.” In reality, the religion is an umbrella encompassing many other cultural beliefs. Mexican Catholics, for example, adhere to a holiday unique to a blend of indigenous (pre-Spanish) and religious beliefs known as Dia de Los Muertos.
What is Dia de Los Muertos? In English, it’s the “Day of the Dead.” Three days a year, from October 31 to November 2, people come together in cemeteries and homes to remember deceased loved ones. Isn’t that the same as the Catholic tradition, All Souls Day, you ask? In short, the answer is no. While both observances remember the dead, the two traditions do so in entirely different ways.
All Souls Day is a European tradition extending as far back as the ninth century, where monasteries set aside a day to pray for their dead and that God will welcome them on their journey to (hopefully) heaven. Dia de Los Muertos, on the other hand, welcomes the return of the departed for a yearly family visit. For three days, Mexicans believe that the ghosts of their loved ones will return home and move about the land, doing whatever they want.
Some traditions of the holiday include graveside picnics, where families have food and drinks, dance to music, offer flowers, and even light fireworks. In houses, altars decorated with flowers, photos of the deceased and a variety of food offerings are laid out for the dead as a hospitality to and remembrance of them.
Jewish folklore might be the backdrop to a lot of American horror films, as their beliefs hold that an evil spirit of a deceased human can possess a living human, turning him into a dybbuk (the Yiddish word for possessed person). In such instances the possessing spirits are said to cause mental illness, will use the host’s mouth to speak, and will have a personality alien to the host. Religious leaders will attempt to exorcise the spirits in a tradition that may have birthed exorcism as we know it today.
Protestant churches mainly reject the long held Catholic adherence to the idea of an intermediate location that spirits go before heaven or hell. For them, spirits immediately go to one or the other, thus there are no ghosts on earth.
While Muslim creed is similar to Protestantism in that they believe people go straight to heaven or hell, they also believe that spirits exist in the world, called Jinn. Jinn are less powerful than angels but can possess humans and cause them harm or disease.
Shintoism, a religion practiced by 80 percent of Japan, believes that after the body dies, spirits known as “kami,” lingers on. Shinto practitioners believe that a massive amount of kami exists in Japan alone and that the spirits can be either good or evil. The VIPs of the kami are referred to as Ujigami, which are the spirits of ancestors or ghosts of notable deceased people. Kami can also refer to the energy generating an object, or spiritual essence, which would even be found in rocks, trees, rivers, animals, places and people. Kami are worshiped and revered at places called Shinto Shrines, where the kami are believed to dwell at or near. Whenever a child is born in Japan the closest Shinto shrine while add the child’s name to a list kept at the shrine, declaring them a “family child” or “ujiko.” When that person dies, they become a “family spirit” or “family kami.” People’s names are added to the list without consent and regardless of beliefs. This isn’t seen as a religious imposition, but a sign of being welcomed by the local kami, and a promise that each person will be an addition to the number of kami, after their death.
This is, by far, one of the most detailed understandings of ghosts from a religious standpoint. Hindu scripture, like the Veda, really go in depth when it comes to the spirit. Within the religion, although it is believed that most people reincarnate into either another human or an animal, it is also possible that someone can remain in spirit form. This is usually due to a violent death, inability to detach from things left behind or from having really bad karma. For Hindus, ghosts are negative things to encounter, because those spirits are most often corrupt. These spirits can attach to people, animals, and inanimate objects.
When attached to a person there are even symptoms to know if you’re carrying a spirit (courtesy of Vedas and Vedic Knowledge Online):
– permanent fatigue and lack of energy (ghost parasites on prana, bodily energy)
– inner tension one can’t control by mind
– lack of concentration
– lack of self-esteem, insecurity
– disinterest in meaningful activities, apathy, boredom, procrastination, killing time
– negative and suppressed emotions – depression, phobia, anger, eating disorder, neurosis, self-harm, suicide
– problems with relationships with people (often substituted by above-standard relationship with animals), subjection to manipulation
– sexual problems (hypersexuality, autosexuality)
– sleep disorders and nightmares
– chronic pain in head, neck, back, shoulders, hands, legs, joints, belly, allergies, asthma, eczemas
– repeated problems, ‘something’ prevents their solution
– an increase of aggression
– one can’t stand sounds like finger snapping (repels ghosts)
– tinnitus in one ear (when one, usually left, ear rings a ghost is trying to communicate, isn’t necessarily attached, sometimes it can be temporarily silenced by a repeated finger-snapping)
– fear of spirituality (uneasy and unpleasant feeling in churches and other sacred places, in proximity of holy persons and objects, while listening to sacred music, prayers, mantras)
There’s also a list of things to look for, to know whether or not a ghost is present. Because this list is so extensive, we’ll give you the gist of it, but essentially its about the same type of things you’d expect to see in any horror film:
Domestic animals show fear
Children will interact with it – like an invisible friend
Physical phenomena like sudden decrease in temperature
Unusually fast decomposition of food
Audio phenomena – foot steps, knocking on walls, crying, laughing.