Johann Heinrich Jung-Stilling (1740-1817) was a physician and Professor of economics, public finances, agriculture, veterinarian medicine, and political science. He was a well-known oculist and an outstanding cataract surgeon interlinking medical treatment and spiritual guidance in his ophthalmological work. You can say that he had a real ‘eye’ for the paranormal … get it? … he’s an ophthalmologist. Never mind.
Jung-Stilling had written extensively on numerous topics including apparitions and optical visions (hallucinations) eventually developing the “Theory of Pneumatology”. Pneumatology is the study of the Holy Spirit, spirits, and spiritual beings. Jung-Stilling’s writings and beliefs are heavily influenced by his faith going as far as to believe that God encouraged him to publish his findings. His book "Theory of Pneumatology: In Reply to the Question, what Ought to be Believed Or Disbelieved Concerning Presentiments, Visions, and Apparitions, According to Nature, Reason, and Scripture" was edited and translated to English by Rev. George Bush, who is actually an ancestor of both President George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush.
In this article we are going to discuss Jung-Stilling’s “Theory of Pnuematology” which reads like a manual to aid the living in helping lost souls or ghosts. Jung-Stilling’s perspectives on the proper way of interacting with ghosts goes against common themes and beliefs of most psychics, mediums, reality television ghost hunters, and pop-culture TV shows. There are numerous common themes which are believed to cause a location to be haunted or for a ghost to appear. Among those themes are improper burial, violent death, suicide, or some type of unfinished business (revenge, warn others, etc.). It is often believed that once the ghost is able to complete their unfinished business they can finally ‘cross-over’ or ‘rest’. Jung-Stilling believed that this approach is completely backwards and causes more harm to the ghost than good. His perspective is that spirits are mistaken on what is beneficial to them and are misinformed in their belief that they cannot rest until some earthly deed is completed. True redemption (i.e. crossing over) relies on not being obsessed or infatuated with earthly attachments. Jung-Stilling gives several examples and reasons why the living should not follow through with spirits requests (as they are misinformed) and instead help educate the spirit encouraging them to detach themselves from these earthly obsessions.Let’s get to know Jung-Stilling’s theory more in-depth before we tackle the previous statement in more detail.
Theory of Pnuematology
Jung-Stilling points to early Christian beliefs up until the Reformation to better understand the invisible world of spirits. In doing so he proposes that the invisible world of spirits consists of three different regions; Heaven, Hell, and hades. In great detail he discusses these regions and actually identifies the physical locations of Heaven, Hell, and hades. Those souls suffering in Hell are physically located in the center of the Earth, those enjoying eternal bliss in Heaven reside above the Earth’s atmosphere (space, stars, etc.), and those in hades live ‘in-between’ with some souls being closer to Hell and others closer to Heaven (depending on the lives they lived). Hades is the middle ground and these souls aren't necessarily in pain or being tortured, however are tormented or long for things or feelings associated with the earthy realm (i.e. money, power, revenge, pleasure). It is these earthly attachments along with sins which led to placement in hades. Hades is referred to as the “receptacle of the dead, in which those souls, which were not ripe for either destination (i.e. Heaven of Hell) reside” (Jung-Stilling, 1851; p.8). Apparitions, ghosts, spirits, and hauntings are the result of those souls that reside in hades.
In order to understand Jung-Stilling’s theory we must first delve into his beliefs on the human soul. He believed that physical bodies are important as they are needed for one to experience the visible world, however our spirit belongs too and is connected with the invisible world. In essence, while alive we are made up of an outward mechanical body and an internal/immortal spirit. Important in the theory of Pneumatology is the ethereal fluid which connects the visible (material, body) to the invisible (spirit). This ethereal fluid is not accurately defined however Jung-Stilling states “Light, electric, magnetic, galvanic matter, and ether, appear to be all one and the same body, under different modifications. The light or ether is the element which connects soul and body and the spiritual and material world together” (Jung-Stilling, 1851; p.227). Ether fills time and space, meaning it is the space that surrounds us and includes air, electricity, magnetic fields, geo-magnetic fields, light, etc. He believed that our bodies are in constant contact with ether and actually need it to survive, sense, and experience life. “The brain and nerves of man are filled from his birth with this ethereal fluid; they attract it to them from its material side and make it their own, so that it is identified with their internal formation and arrangement” (Jung-Stilling, 1851; p.36). We are swimming in ethereal fluid at all moments of our life. This ethereal fluid is also an important aspect of the human soul.
Some clarification is needed as the term ‘spirit’ is different than ‘soul’ in the views of Jung-Stilling. According to Jung-Stilling (1851) the immortal spirit of man is created in the image of God with the purpose to seek God’s worthiness. It is the combination of the ethereal fluid and the spirit together, which makes up the human ‘soul’. According to Jung-Stilling (1851) “The human soul is present in every part of its body; it is conscious of itself in every part … it sees with the eyes, hears with the ears, smells with the nose, tastes with the tongue and palate, and feels with the whole skin” … “it is an intelligent being, that is capable of knowing and loving God, and of ripening to an angel, but also of becoming a devil” (p.36).
According to Jung-Stilling when we die, we essentially lose consciousness and fall into a trance or deep sleep. Our soul remains attached to the body until “the brain and the nerves lose their warmth and become frigid” (p.39). Through death the soul continues to recall one’s earthly existence down to every detail. At the moment of death judgement occurs and one is either placed in Hell, Heaven, or hades.
So, what are the criteria to get into Heaven and avoid hades? According to Jung-Stilling (1851) “ He that has entirely dedicated himself to the Lord, committed himself wholly to him, and found forgiveness of sins in his atoning death, who leaves behind him no unexpiated crimes, and possesses no longer any predominant earthly passion, no attachment to any sensible object, soars immediately, on awaking from death, through hades, to the realms of light, and to the presence of Jehovah” (p.184).
An important part of Jung-Stilling’s belief regarding ascension into Heaven relies on relinquishing all earthy attachments (money, revenge, power, injustice, pleasure, etc.,). If this is the case than if a ghost appears before the living and asks for help to; find their will, give them a proper burial, avenge their murder, or tell their families some important piece of information, if we comply, are we actually helping them ascend to Heaven? Or are we hindering them by catering to their compulsions to hold onto to earthly attachments?
Am I helping a ghost that asks for a favor ?
The theory of Pneumatology basically states that there are a bunch of detached souls hanging around in hades, who have earthly attachments which keep them from ascension into Heaven. It is in hades where they can work to detach themselves from earthly desires and ascend into heaven. This process may take months, years, centuries, or millennial. A unique twist is, for the living who interact with these spirits, it’s only through NOT fulfilling the spirits’ requests that we can truly help them. Jung-Stilling cautions anyone who interacts with a spirit or attempts to help them “cross-over” as this may not aid the spirit but rather hinder the spirit’s ascension to Heaven.
Let's say I'm addicted to and obsessed with Reese's Cups (i.e. earthly attachment). All I think about is how many I have left, eating them, and when my next fix will be. This has negatively impacted my health, my relationships, and my career. I use Reese's Cups to cope and believe they are the answer to all my problems. Is my obsession helping me? Are my thoughts helpful to my future? The answer is no, however I adamantly believe eating Reese's Cups will solve all distress. Jung-Stilling believes that spirits' unrealistic perceptions, obsessions, and infatuation with the idea that their earthly attachments or unfinished business will help them is, in reality, their main obstacle to crossing-over. (like my Reese's Cup addiction). So if my ghost asks for a Reese's Cup don't give me one because I have to detach from my earthly obsessions to crossover (one couldn't hurt).
Spirits are mistaken on what is beneficial to them and believe that they cannot rest until some earthly deed is completed, however redemption instead relies on not having these attachments and compulsions to complete earthy tasks.We often hear ghost stories which revolve around proper burial being needed for a spirit to rest. One of the earliest accounts of a haunted house was told by Pliny the Younger (61 B.C.E.- 112 A.D.). He wrote of a ghost who would appear nightly in chains, moaning and haunting the inhabitants of the house for many years. One resident upon following this ghost noticed that it always stopped at the same spot in the yard. After digging at that spot, human bones wrapped in chains were discovered. Once these bones were given a proper burial, the ghost never returned. The implied lesson from this story is that improper burials cause spirits or ghosts to haunt a location and only through proper burial can the spirit ‘cross-over’ or rest. Jung-Stilling would argue that proper burial has no bearing on ascension or ‘crossing-over’, however for the spirit it is the idea or fixation on improper burial, which torments them and causes the haunting and placement in hades. Therefore, proper burial will not appease the spirit or lead to ascension. It is only through understanding that proper burial is not needed for ascension that will aid the spirit. He gives some ‘tips’ on how to interact or aid a spirit who may believe that proper burial is needed. One of these tips is through education and examples of prominent saints who did not receive proper burials as they were burned or devoured by animals, however this did not impact their spot in Heaven. On a personal note, I always found the notion that my afterlife was determined by how the living handled my dead body as unfair and bizare. Just doesn’t make sense.
In his book Jung-Stilling goes over several examples of the benefits of education vs automatically fulfilling a ghost's request.
Overall, I don’t endorse or agree with most of Jung-Stilling’s thoughts, however he has given me some ‘food for thought’ and challenged some societal themes on ghosts.
Jung-Stilling, J.H. (1851) Theory of Pneumatology: In Reply to the Question, what Ought to be Believed Or Disbelieved Concerning Presentiments, Visions, and Apparitions, According to Nature, Reason, and Scripture. New York: J.S Redfield. Book was translated and edited by George Bush