An Ancient Belief in the Afterlife

There have been many reports of ghosts appearing to be so substantial that they are indistinguishable from living people until they disappear into thin air or walk right though a wall.

What are we to make of the frightening apparitions that appear as dark, darting shadows, which bring a sense of dread and despair with them? Are these ghosts or ghouls? According to eminent paranormal researcher Colin Wilson, there are differences between nature spirits or elementals and true hauntings. Wilson refers to nature spirits as ghouls and human apparitions as ghosts.

In most ancient cultures, ghosts were believed to be the restless spirits of the dead, seeking vengeance or attempting to complete unfinished business. Although they no longer had physical bodies, they could still manifest themselves, not only visually, but also through other sensory phenomena. They were able to move furniture, throw projectiles through walls, and create loud noises and other disruptions.

Deliver us from evil! Amulets and talismans have been used for millennia to protect the wearer from evil spirits, sorcery, and other harmful paranormal phenomena. Depending on the culture, these wards can take many forms. Horns, evil eyes, and scarabs are still in use today.

Eastern and Western Ghosts

In the traditions of India, where it is widely believed that souls will reincarnate after death, bereaved relatives sometimes followed an ancient ritual. At night, in a corner of the room where the deceased had slept, a saucer of water, rice, and ashes were placed on a sheet of white paper on the floor. No one was allowed to sleep in the room, and any kind of noise was forbidden.

It was believed that an imprint would appear on the ashes to foretell what would become of the deceased. If the imprint was of a human baby's foot, the person would be reborn as a human. An Om imprint meant the person had gone to heaven and would not be reborn. An animal imprint meant the person would be reborn as an animal.

If there was no imprint, it meant the person's spirit had not moved on. As the Garuda Purana, an ancient Hindu scripture states, “All these are sure to be born as ghosts — a man misappropriating a trust property, a man treacherous to his friend, a man fond of another man's wife, a faithless man and a deceptive wretch.”

The ancients believed that elementals called dryads were the spirits of trees.

Painting from a photo, both copyright Melissa Martin Ellis, 2002.

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