Ghosts, Apparitions, and Demons

Although it might at first seem irrelevant what we choose to call the entity sighted at a haunting, a strong case might be made that it is important to be able to classify these sightings.

What Are Ghosts?

The American Heritage Dictionary defines a ghost as:

  • The spirit of a dead person, especially one believed to appear in bodily likeness to living persons or to haunt former habitations

  • The center of spiritual life; the soul

  • A demon or spirit

  • A returning or haunting memory or image

The shadow people appear as a dark silhouette, usually with no discernible features.

Photo copyright Melissa Martin Ellis, 2006.

The first definition is the one we are all most familiar with, but it is perhaps a bit surprising to see a ghost referred to as a demon. The appearances of ghosts are as varied as their observers. People may only catch a glimpse of a partial image of the entity. This can mean they only see a pair of legs scurrying away. Or a legless torso and upper body floats about, perhaps absorbed in some activity and oblivious to the observer. Occasionally, semitransparent figures will appear.

What Is an Apparition?

The American Heritage Dictionary defines apparition as:

  • A ghostly figure; a specter

  • A sudden or unusual sight

  • The act of appearing; appearance

Though the terms ghost and apparition are often used interchangeably, they are actually not the same type of entity at all.

Shadow people, also called shadow men or shadow beings, are a type of apparition. They are often described as black humanoid silhouettes, usually without any details, although they are sometimes reported as having red or yellow eyes. Their movements are often reported as being very jiggly and abnormal, or extremely slow and slippery, like a liquid shadow.

If you are visiting a historic site and glimpse someone in period garb, you would naturally assume you've seen a tour guide, or that there is some other plausible explanation for the person's odd clothes. But if you saw that same person walk through a solid door or wall, or if no one else noticed him, you might begin to suspect that what you had seen just might be a ghost.

If you see a figure that is misty or partially transparent, it is obvious that what you have seen can be called either a ghost or an apparition. But what if you see something dark, so dark it looks as if it is made of shadows? Perhaps what you have seen is most appropriately called a shadow person. Or perhaps it is a demon.

What Is a Demon?

The American Heritage Dictionary defines a demon as:

  • An evil supernatural being; a devil

  • A persistently tormenting person, force, or passion: the demon of drug addiction

  • One who is extremely zealous, skillful, or diligent: worked away like a demon; a real demon at math

  • Variant of daimon

Now we are introduced to a category of entity that is quite distinct from either a ghost or an apparition. We also have the added component of evil — a being that takes delight in tormenting the living. It implies a malicious and active type of haunting, which is quite different from something like a residual haunting, which is defined as being almost like a taped version of the event that plays and replays over decades or even centuries. The entities in a haunting of this type do not seem to be aware of onlookers and don't interact with them in any way.

Demonics, on the other hand, seem to want to interact; indeed, they seem to derive a lot of pleasure from doing so. Reports of these creatures predate the Bible and accounts of them have existed in one form or another in every civilization of which we have a record. They were often simply called evil spirits. The word demon is derived from the Greek daimon, and in ancient Iran and India they were called daewon. These malevolent spirits were perceived in the Christian tradition as fallen angels. Whatever you call them, they are bad news. Dealing with these spirits requires preparation, an abundance of caution, and most definitely some outside help.

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