The debate on whether ghosts exist or not has continued for several centuries, without any conclusive results. While millions of people claim to have witnessed supernatural apparitions, there are an equal number of people who provide scientific and logical explanations behind these mysteries. Interestingly, this debate has inspired numerous authors and moviemakers to delve deeper into this subject.
The question still remains, are ghosts real?
What are Ghosts?
According to traditional beliefs, a ghost is the spirit of a dead person or animal that manifests itself to the living beings. Ghosts are often described as translucent apparitions that closely resemble the living person who has died. Many religious books and scriptures describe ghosts as unhappy souls that have not attained salvation after death.
Ghosts in Ancient Cultures
Almost all ancient civilizations have delved on the subject of afterlife and ghosts in some ways. The Mesopotamian scriptures include several references to ghosts. They believed ghosts to be created at the time of death. To help ease their pain, relatives of the deceased were required to make generous offerings of food and drink. Otherwise, the ghost could bring about great misery and illness for everyone.
The Hebrew Bible also contains some references to ghosts. A notable reference can be found in the First Book of Samuel I where King Saul orders the Witch of Endor to summon the ghost of Samuel.
The ancient Egyptian civilization is especially noted for its beliefs in the presence of ghosts. Egyptians believed that the soul continued to exist after death and that there was a possibility of a second death. They recorded their beliefs in ghosts in inscriptions, tomb paintings and papyrus scrolls. The Egyptian Book of the Dead, in particular, compiled some of the popular beliefs about ghosts.
In medieval Europe, a large number of people claimed to have seen ghosts. Ghostly armies and dead souls of the deceased who were assigned to Purgatory became a part of folklore and fear. This period also marked the beginning of the folklore surrounding haunted houses. Notably, Arabian Nights featured several stories around the haunted houses.
Concept of the Supernatural in Religion
References to ghosts can be found in the New Testament, the Hebrew Torah and the Bible. Ghosts are often considered as demons in disguise and I Timothy 4:1 has stated that they “come to deceive people and draw them away from God and into bondage”. Therefore, attempts to contact the dead may cause undesirable contact with the demons.
In Islam, the Koran includes the mention of Jinns, spirits of the deceased. To prevent any misery that can be inflicted by these spirits, Muslims keep amulets, needles and knives.
Buddhism states that a person can be reborn into various planes, one of them being the realm of ghosts.
Ghosts have been part of numerous mythical folklores across civilizations. In Hindu mythology, Baital, an evil spirit is described to haunt cemeteries while Pishacha is believed to devour living beings. Malay mythologies mention Pontianak and Penanggalan as two powerful female vampires.
Chinese mythologies also include several references to ghosts. Confucius even said, “Respect ghosts and gods, but keep away from them.” Zhong Kui is a prominent figure in Chinese mythology who is known to vanquish ghosts and all evil beings.
The Japanese have Yurei who are the ruined souls of deceased people while in Tibet the hungry ghost is an unsatisfied soul that can be conquered only with ritual daggers or traps.
Belief in ghosts often divides people, while some refute claims of seeing supernatural beings or objects there are many who recount experiences involving ghosts. While the question whether ghosts are real or not remains unanswered, curiosity about them has increased over the years.