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  • Brandon Massullo

Ghosts Across Cultures

I recently read a book entitled Ghosts, Spirits, and the Afterlife in Native American Folklore and Religion by Gary Varner. I'm definitely not an expert in Native American Folklore or culture, so this book opened my eyes to how Native American's viewed ghosts. What struck me as both interesting and concerning is how the notion or purpose of ghosts or spirits is so different across cultures.

As I mentioned in my previous blog , the most common modern thoughts among paranormal investigators involve the Spiritualist view, which is based on the Spiritualism movement in mid-1800’s, which is that ghosts are, in essence, harmless souls who crave direction and guidance from us humans. This is a far cry from how Native Americans viewed ghosts and spirits at the turn of the nineteenth century. While views on the afterlife varied from tribe to tribe, in general, Native Americans believed ghosts were vengeful and were capable of causing illnesses as well as death. As spiritualists in England were holding séances and seeking guidance from the ghost world the Native Americans warned others of the danger of the ghost world. One of the reasons that burial rites and ceremonies were so important in Native American culture was that it was a common belief that errors by the living during these ceremonies would cause ghosts to hang around and cause trouble. Among the Oglala Sioux, ghosts are believed to entice the living to join them in a selfish attempt to bring their loved ones to the afterlife (Varner, 2010). In the Paiute society, it is believed that ghosts attempt to capture the breaths of their relatives, causing them to die, so they will have more company in the afterworld (Varner, 2010). Fear of ghosts was evident among the Apache and the Navajo as well. The Navajo believed that ghosts were the malignant parts of the human soul, whose only purpose was to seek revenge and wreak havoc. In Lakota tradition, seeing or hearing a ghost can lead to bad luck or possibly a stroke. The Comanche even have a term called “ghost sickness” which caused paralysis and facial contortions and is tied directly to the amount of fear produced by the apparition. In Kwakiuti tradition, ghosts are feared, avoided by the living, appear just before the death of a person, and cause bad weather (Varner, 2010)

Does anyone have any thoughts on the reasons for such different views from different cultures? Why do you think that in our modern society ghosts are viewed as harmless? The perception of ghosts has changed so dramatically in our modern society that people currently pay money in hopes of seeing a ghost ( i.e. ghost walks, haunted tours, ghost hunts at certain locations). Is this a good shift in perception or should we heed the advice of the Native American culture?


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