Ghosts and Possession

 

Ghosts & Possession

Ghosts have been an object of fascination across cultural boundaries for millenia. They are disembodied spirits trapped in liminality, the transition between life and death. The majority of the alleged proof for the actuality of ghosts centers primarily around photographs, videos, and recordings, all of which can be doctored and edited. As a result, these types of ghost documentation are problematic in nature. As a whole, there is a distinct lack of experimental evidence supporting the existence of ghosts. Stemming from previous research flawed by the presence of a human being collecting data, a research study was conducted using a computer automated system and a charge-coupled device (CCD) camera as a means to capture the existence of spirits.[i] Gary Schwartz, the principle investigator, hypothesizes that ghosts emit incredibly faint light, resulting in an increase in photon density in an otherwise dark room. The basic idea behind the set-up of this experiment is to eliminate possible sources of error, including the energy and influence of a physical person, as well as to utilize a light-tight control room to minimize excess photons not emanating from the alleged spirit.[ii] Schwartz recorded a message to play to the previously identified spirits, requesting they enter the room and “fill it with [your] light” at predetermined time intervals.

Results of Schwartz’s study into the existence of ghosts. The trials with the spirits have greater photon intensity than the control trials. (Source: https://ars.els-cdn.com/content/image/1-s2.0-S1550830710002818-gr4.jpg)

He ultimately concluded that although the measurement of photons was associated with an increase in density after the recorded instructions were played, the study needed improvements in equipment and sample size in order to confidently conclude the existence of ghosts.[iii]

This use of empirical evidence to try and prove, or disprove, the existence of ghosts is a distinct characteristic of western civilization. The western world tends to have a rational, scientific, Enlightenment-like perspective on life, so it’s particularly interesting that the belief in the paranormal has been increasing recently among younger people in the United States. This may be partially explained by the overall decrease in belief in formal religion which has given rise to people who now call themselves “spiritual but not religious.” This idea of believing in the supernatural but not necessarily religion is breaking the barriers of what people have been formerly allowed to believe in with organized religion. Paired with the rise of ghost hunting shows in the media that appeal to many people’s skeptic side, more younger people in the United States have begun to believe in the paranormal.[iv]

The topic of ghost hunting from an ethical perspective is heavily discussed. Seen as a “cultural phenomenon,” ghosts are not something that should be tampered with. Shows such as “Ghost Hunters,” which ran on TV from 2004 to 2016, were frequently called out for faking paranormal activity and disturbing spirits within the paranormal community. Vincent Amico, a paranormal expert of sixteen years and co-founder of AZ Paranormal Investigations, called the show out. Amico points out that many of the paranormal activity that the show claims to happen are things that happen off camera and can be easily faked. Amico mentions that a true paranormal investigation cannot be completed in one night like it is on TV shows. Most professional investigators take weeks to months and multiple visits to come to a conclusion about the area being investigated. Many professionals also say that these shows are disturbing spirits that may actually be dwelling in the areas where the show is being shot, being that they fabricate happenings.[v] There are various ways to get views and disturbing the spirits of the dead is neither amusing nor ethical.

In most cases, disturbing the spirits will only make hauntings worse. For instance, Chinese culture has incredibly detailed burial rules so that the spirit can cross over and not come back to haunt the living. After one’s death in older Chinese culture, they walked along a bridge to the afterlife where they were judged on how good they were in life. If they were deemed unworthy, they were sent to hell. In Buddhist culture, if the spirit was deemed worthy, they would be reincarnated. In contrast, they would be prayed to with the Gods in Confucianism. The first step to the afterlife was the burial of the deceased. The family of the deceased person would buy a plot of land from the Gods and create a contract with all of the information of the dead person and the dimensions of the grave. The money used to buy the land was paper that the family would draw bills on and then would burn in the grave. This was seen as a sign of respect to the Gods, and if not done properly, the spirit would be sent back down to Earth.[vi]

Most of the stories of hauntings in Chinese culture come from improper burials or defilement of the grave, such as a sister who haunted her brothers until they gave her a proper burial and a mother who haunted her son until the grave robbers that defiled her place of burial were punished. The shui gui is a spirit of a person who drowned and would haunt the water around their death. These spirits appeared because their bodies were never found and could therefore not have a proper burial. These spirits would lure people into the water and drown them. The spirit could then move on, but the newly drowned spirit would take its place. Ghosts were used in Chinese culture as a way to become morally right people. They made sure to respect their elders so that the eventual spirit of said elders would not come back after death. This helped them lead good lives, untempted by spirits that would try to lure them using lust.[vii] Teaching children these morals through ghost stories demonstrates just how serious it was to Chinese people to establish how to properly treat another person, which is extensively taught in Confucianism.[viii]

This image shows children offering fruits and burning incense during the Hungry Ghost Festival
(Source: https://tinyurl.com/yx8pyqz3)

One of the most known festivals among Chinese Culture is the Hungry Ghost Festival, a month-long festival in Buddhist and Taoist cultures where the gates of hell are released and hungry ancestral souls walk among the living. These souls are usually compiled of those that were not given proper burials when they died, so to appease them, food is offered and incense is burned.[ix] One moral lesson taught during this celebration is that people, primarily teenagers, should not stay out too late because a ghost might follow them home. At the end of the festival, lanterns are sent down bodies of water and are said to attract ghosts. Once the lanterns reach the other side, that signifies that the ghosts have gone back to the afterlife and are at peace.[x]

Much like with Chinese culture, Native American culture takes the idea of spirits and ghosts very seriously. Also, in comparison to Chinese culture, many Native American tribes think that if something goes wrong with the burial, or if the grave is defiled, that the spirit will come back to haunt the living. The Oglala Sioux tribe says that the cause for spirits is because the recently deceased envy to live again. Much like what was learned in class, these spirits are stuck in the transition rite of passage and wish not to move on to the incorporation rite of passage to the dead. In order to appease the spirit,

This scaffold is what would hold the deceased’s body that the Oglala Sioux tribe would “feed.”
Source: https://cf.ltkcdn.net/dying/images/std/225656-675×450-Native-American-Indian-Gravesite.jpg

Oglala Sioux will “keep” the spirit by feeding it for a year so that the spirit can finally cross over and goes along the “ghost road.” Paiute Indians also believe in a similar idea that ghosts will cause sickness and death for the living because they want company for when they depart on the long journey to the spirit world.[xi]

Native American culture has been greatly affected by groups such as black market grave robbers, anthropologists, and scientists. These groups have disturbed the burial grounds of Native Americans in multiple ways for personal gain. Grave robbers sell things such as skeletal remains, sacred tribal items, weapons, and jewelry on the black market. These stolen items are then sold to scientists and museums, the two places where authorities may not assume the remains were illegally obtained. Scientists use the remains for unknown reasons. According to Dr. Emery Johnson, no medical advancements have been derived from the research of Native American remains. Many Native American activist groups see that their ancestors are being unnecessarily disturbed in their final resting place. Native American burial grounds in Texas are also being bulldozed for illogical reasons. In an East Texas museum, remains are disrespectfully displayed in crude ways, such as laying in the windowsill of a women’s bathroom and thrown in a box and sold to museum visitors.[xii] The mistreatment of the remains of Native Americans’ remains causes deep turmoil within their community because so many of their ancestors have been disturbed, causing them problems in the afterlife.

A common theme among many different Native American tribes is the fear of the dead. Many tribes fear that even the sweetest alive person can become a wicked ghost if the proper precautions are not taken relative to their burials and treatment in the afterlife. For example, the white owl is seen as a malicious human spirit that intends to cause sickness or death to everyone near it. Apache people believe that the call of the owl will enter the body and cause sickness, and they create elaborate rituals after hearing the call to ward off the sickness. Ghosts in many Native American cultures are there to try and draw the living closer to the dead. Navajo tribes, like the Apache, also greatly fear ghosts. In order not to offend the spirit, funeral rituals are taken very seriously. Spirits are the manifestation of the hate in human souls. What makes them so frightening to the Navajo is that the spirits cannot be persuaded to be helpful, emphasizing a distinct lack of effective contact between the living and the dead.[xiii]

An attempt to communicate with the dead is demonstrated by the controversial practice of mediumship. Many believe that mediums, people who claim to be able to communicate with the spirits of the deceased, are nothing but a scam that targets people emotionally. Mediumship is often seen as a game of guessing. Some believe that mediums are just masters of manipulation because they can cause their clients to open up emotionally about different topics, which guides them on what questions to ask next. Trances are a very interesting phenomenon that is more common with older mediums. Trance is a term used to describe different states of consciousness within mediumship. Mediums can go into a state of trance when a strong spirit wants to communicate something through the medium’s body. People are skeptical that mediums use this method to further prey upon people’s emotions for personal and monetary gain. There have been no studies that prove mediums can truly connect with spirits through trance. In comparison to possession by evil spirits, trances are possession by good spirits. However, while the trances allegedly experienced by mediums is purposeful, there are also reported cases of unwilling possession in the general population.[xiv]

Throughout history and across cultural boundaries, mental illness indications have frequently been explained by the concept of possessions, where spirits inhabit the minds and bodies of those afflicted with various disorienting and conflicting symptoms. The most blatant manifestations include ‘a temporary loss of the sense of personal identity and full awareness of the surroundings’, which is classified as a dissociative disorder in the DSM-IV-TR. A person with a dissociative disorder experiences disruptions in their memory, consciousness, and general perception of themselves and their environment.[xv] Some specific subtypes of dissociative disorders include dissociative amnesia, a form of pseudoamnesia in which one is unable to recall important personal information and experiences, and dissociative identity disorder, in which one alternates between two or more distinct personality states.[xvi] Both of these psychopathologies contain typical qualities of reported spiritual or even demonic possessions. People fear the voice of the spirit is emerging from the possessed person as they change between marked personalities, and the fact that the person is unable to remember it occurring further confirms the possession. Additionally, it is important to note that the DSM-IV does include diagnostic criteria for a possession/trance disorder to be utilized for experimental research, although the diagnosis itself has not yet been formally included in the manual. Possession/trance disorders describe experiences of trance-like states that are characterized by a delusion of a possession by a spirit.[xvii] This definition and diagnostic criteria is marked with a shortcoming, however, as trances vary across cultures.

Dissociative disorders are not the only mental illnesses that instill the idea of possible spiritual possession. Some of the other more common disorders that have been interpreted as potential signs of possession include psychotic and schizophrenic conditions, mood disorders, anxiety disorders, depressive disorders, and even adjustment disorders.[xviii] A study conducted by Samuel Pfeifer, the Medical Director of the Psychiatric Clinic Sonnenhalde, Ganshaldenweg, investigated the trends and prevalence of the belief in possessions, specifically demonic possessions, as the cause of mental illness for religious psychiatric patients. After interviewing over three hundred patients with previously identified mental illnesses, he noted that a rural community structure, single relationship status, and a poor educational background contributed to increased rates of belief in possession. Pfeifer also reported data pertaining to which disorders had higher rates of the application of the supernatural as an explanation for the symptoms of mental illness. Schizophrenia, anxiety, and personality disorders had the greatest percentages. He found that out of all of the patients with schizophrenia, 53% attributed their hallucinations and delusions to demonic influence. This percentage was comparable to those with anxiety disorders, of whom 48% believed their symptoms were a result of spiritual possession.[xix] People with anxiety disorders tend to experience obsessive and distressing thoughts that are nearly uncontrollable; therefore, it is understandable for them to attribute these turbulent symptoms to something that is also difficult to explain. Additionally, panic attacks, another symptom of anxiety disorders, are incredibly constrictive and fear-inducing to the person experiencing one, so a supernatural explanation for such an upsetting event is understandable. The attribution of mental illness symptoms to spiritual possession is a result of people attempting to explain disconcerting, uncontrollable feelings and behaviors.

Exposure to a traumatic event is also correlated with alleged possession experiences. The indications of possession, including depersonalization, dissociation, psychological distress, and alterations in cognition, are also characteristic of both Acute Stress Disorder and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). After going through a distressing situation, many people will experience uncontrollable, intrusive thoughts and even physical reactions to stimuli that represent the traumatic event.[xx] For example, PK Philips, a victim of physical and mental abuse for years, suffers from PTSD. Before therapy, she was plagued by images of her attacker, and would experience frequent, debilitating panic attacks, especially when she encountered triggering reminders of her assault.[xxi] Such visions and irrepressible symptoms fit the criteria for possession, despite having an explainable, external cause.

Trauma as a precursor to possession is common among cultures across the world. However, the western world tends to view possession from a psychological perspective, and that strict psychological and societal pressures causes the experience of possession. In contrast, Tibetan Buddhist culture views that possession comes from an embodiment of projected negativity. “Spirits from above” are said to attack the brain and cause paralysis and stroke. It is important for western clinicians to take into account the patient’s own culture and how one’s sense of self goes along with possession. If a clinician does not take into account the patient’s culture, they could accidentally offend or dismiss the patient.[xxii] An extreme form of this ignorance can take the shape of exorcisms where exorcists take on the role of the “clinician.”

Exorcisms have been long disputed about what they actually do to the body physically. For example, Annaliese Michel was a 16 year old German girl who was believed to be negatively possessed. Priests exorcised her multiple times up until her death at the age of 23. She died from malnutrition and dehydration, which is what kills most exorcism victims. The priests that performed the exorcism on her were accused of negligent homicide, along with her parents who allowed them priests to exorcise Annaliese.[xxiii] The practice of exorcism often ignores the physical toll that it takes on both the victim and the person performing it. The body is deprived of water and food because priests see that as nourishing the bad spirit, which could lead to the spirit being harder to exorcise. The negligent nature of exorcisms is what eventually led to them becoming illegal.

Ghosts, spirits, mediums, and the possessed are all subjects of morbid fascination that have intrigued people all around the world since antiquity. They represent the fear that people have of dying and the desperate need for closure with the option of life after death. The answers to life after death may never be explained, but one question remains: do you believe?

Aubrey DeVinney

Crystal Marrow

Peyton Siekierski

References

[i] Schwartz, Gary. “Photonic Measurement of Apparent Presence of Spirit Using a Computer Automated System.” Explore 7, no. 2 (2011): 100-109. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.explore.2010.12.002

[ii] Ibid.

[iii] Ibid.

[iv] Baker, Joseph O, and Christopher D Bader. “A Social Anthropology of Ghosts in Twenty-First-Century America.” Social Compass 61, no. 4 (December 2014): 569–93. doi:10.1177/0037768614547337.

[v] Craven, Scott. 2017. “Why Those TV Ghost-Hunting Shows Are Transparently Fake”. Azcentral.Com. https://www.azcentral.com/story/travel/arizona/2017/10/02/ghost-hunting-shows-fake/705566001/.

[vi] Mark, Emily. “Ghosts in Ancient China.” Ancient History Encyclopedia. Last modified April 20, 2016. https://www.ancient.eu/article/892/.

[vii] Ibid.

[viii] Riegel, Jeffrey. “Confucius.” Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. March 23, 2013. Accessed April 09, 2019. https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/confucius/#ConEth.

[ix] Heng, Terence. “Hungry Ghosts in Urban Spaces: A Visual Study of Aesthetic Markers and Material Anchoring.” Visual Communication 13, no. 2 (May 2014): 147–62. doi:10.1177/1470357213496520.

[x] Mark, “Ghosts in Ancient China”.

[xi] Varner, Gary. Ghosts, Spirits & the Afterlife in Native American Folklore and Religion. Raleigh, NC: Lulu Press, 2010.

[xii] Mihesuah, Devon A. “American Indians, Anthropologists, Pothunters, and Repatriation: Ethical, Religious, and Political Differences.” American Indian Quarterly 20, no. 2 (1996): 229-37. doi:10.2307/1185702.

[xiii] Varner, Ghosts, Spirits & the Afterlife.

[xiv] Alvarado, Carlos. 2010. “Investigating Mental Mediums”. Med.Virginia.Edu. https://med.virginia.edu/perceptual-studies/wp-content/uploads/sites/360/2015/11/Alvarado-Investigating-Mental-Mediums-JSE-2010.pdf.

[xv] Bhavsar, Vishal, Antonio Ventriglio, and Dinesh Bhugra. “Dissociative trance and spirit possession: Challenges for cultures in transition.” Psychiatry and Clinical Neurosciences 70, no.12 (2016): 551-559. https://doi.org/10.1111/pcn.12425

[xvi] American Psychiatric Association. 2000. Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders: DSM-IV-TR. Washington, DC: American Psychiatric Association. https://behavenet.com/dissociative-disorders

[xvii] Ibid.

[xviii] Pfeifer, Samuel. “Belief in demons and exorcism in psychiatric patients in Switzerland.” British Journal of Medical Society 67, no. 3 (1994): 247-258. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.2044-8341.1994.tb01794.x

[xix] Ibid.

[xx] Last, Benedicte. “Possession, Exorcism and Mental Illness: A Multiple Case Study Across World Views.” Order No. 10117883, California Institute of Integral Studies, 2015. http://libproxy.lib.unc.edu/login?url=https://search.proquest.com/docview/1803306335?accountid=14244.

[xxi] Philips, PK. “My Story of Survival: Battling PTSD.” Anxiety and Depression Association of America. https://adaa.org/living-with-anxiety/personal-stories/my-story-survival-battling-ptsd.

[xxii] Last, “Possession, Exorcism and Mental Illness.”

[xxiii] Ibid.

29 Comments

  1. This post is incredibly informative and holistic. It is clear that a lot of work and research went into this writing. I would like to know a little more about the ethics surrounding ghosts- specifically is treating something that many people believe as fake and taking it seriously ethical? Are we just treating people who believe in these things with kid gloves?

  2. There has been an immense increase in the overall fascination drawn by ghosts, hauntings, and paranormal activity in general. However, is there sound proof that television shows, like ones mentioned in your posts, are faked and impossible to occur? I believe this question is reinforced in the portion discussed about traces. How can we know that the person is faking it? Firm believers in possessions may find it fascinating and true while many struggle to connect the dots to reality. Additionally, I found it particularly interesting when you mentioned the relationship between your topic and mental illnesses, which reminded me about the inclusion of mentally handicapped adults as main characters in the movie BirdBox. Could this be seen as negatively skewing people’s views towards people with mental illnesses? I believe so.

  3. The section about Native Americans and the mistreatment of their human remains links to the article “Visual and Photographic Representations of the Dead in Ancient Egypt,” which also discusses the mistreatment of human remains (both Egyptian mummies and contemporary/historical Native Americans). The description of different cultural practices and interpretations of ghosts was interesting; while this article highlighted some key cultural differences, it was also made apparent that many cultures interpret ghosts as being the result of an improper burial or mourning practice. This can then be linked to the difficulties that are associated with the missing/presumed dead; without a body, many cultures find it impossible to properly honor the dead and go through with a burial, which can then lead to the belief that the spirit of the deceased will be angry or lost.

  4. I think you guys covered the cultural aspects in accordance with dying regarding other cultures well. It was very informative, especially because a lot of common themes could be seen throughout many cultures.
    I think another prospective area you could have investigated was the portrayal and obsession popular media seem to have with ghosts and other anomalies. The first few paragraphs set up the article to expand on how modern culture has a growing fascination with the dead. A good source would have been how recent popular films in the horror genre reflect this spiritual vs religious concept. One of the few series that seems to embody the mass’ obsession for example was Annabelle: Creation. This could have also tied in with The Exorcism of Emily Rose (actual events mentioned in the article), or Veronica. Both movies are based off true unexplainable accounts that the movie gave a story and reasoning to. Not only do such movies bring attention to actual events, they plant a seed of belief in the supernatural at the same time as they offer a story that cannot be refuted or proved. I think it’s interesting how popular media and its audience function like a positive feedback loop. The movies feed the growing fascination in people, and in turn, the people keep the horror genre running.
    I think some of the points you guys brought up about the cultures discussed, such as the ancient Chinese culture, where the dead are thought to come back and haunt the living unless they are “disposed of” properly can also be reflected in these horror films. Generally, horror movies are centered around vengeful spirit with unfinished business. I found it interesting that generally both have a negative interpretation of the dead.

  5. Learning that there was an actual scientific experiment conducted with the intention of determining whether or not ghosts exist was honestly surprising, but intriguing. It is very accurate to attribute this experiment as being a product of Western culture, specifically the desire for rational, concrete evidence to provide an explanation for something. I like that there was a connection between the desire for rational, scientific evidence and the secularism that seems to represent America. The exploration between public interest in paranormal activity and television shows connects to my topic, as we researched the impact of television on crime scene investigations; the influence of television on people’s understanding and knowledge of a topic is very significant, both with crime scene investigations and, clearly, ghosts. I like that this post discusses Chinese culture and compares it to the American understanding of ghosts. This was a very well explored and integrated post, and was very interesting to read about.

  6. This was such an interesting research topic and I very much enjoyed reading about it! The cultural aspect in particular was very interesting as I had never known or thought about how other cultures may believe or react to the idea of ghosts. One thing that stuck out to me most about this topic was the paragraph explaining why more and more young people are believing in ghosts. The group with the paper, The CSI Effect, talked about a very similar phenomenon regarding mainstream TV. This group talked about the role that popular crime tv shows have in influencing the way that people think about and how jurors actually judge cases based on false expectations of how crime scene investigations actually happen. This is the same as what you have discussed within your paper as you argue that there is the possibility that the rise in popularity of ghost hunting shows and shows that involve ghosts may explain why more people are believing in ghosts. This may give us a broader idea about the role that mainstream shows and media have in our perceptions of the world. It seems that as a culture, we are extremely easily influenced by these outlets, including news and other social media. This probably explains why we tend to feel a certain way about things that are in the media often as we take mainstream topics and make them true.

  7. I thought this was an interesting topic, since In America, ghosts are often used as forms of entertainment. I liked how you added the cultural beliefs of other ethnicities, like the 2 Native American tribes and the Chinese. I think it would have been more effective if you compared it to American culture. Like embalmment and funeral preparations, I think this also reflects American culture about death with the fear of the unknown; this can also apply to other cultures. This may be why ghost stories started or became popular, as we don’t know what happens to the dead’s souls or consciousness. But personally, as a Filipino, I have heard ghost stories used as forms of entertainment and tools to scare children into behaving and obeying parents. I enjoyed your article, and thought the video at the end was really interesting.

  8. I have always been interested in this topic and I think the post was organized in a very informative way. I enjoyed how the paranormal and ghost hunting was brought up in a more pop-culture aspect as seen on tv and other media outlets, and then went into a more cultural perspective on the paranormal. I thought it was very insightful on how they brought up how important a proper burial is in Chinese and Native American cultures, also how if the dead are not buried properly it can result in a haunting and these cultures take these practices very seriously to prevent this. I also thought by introducing how people look at mental illness as possible explanation for possession is very introducing and it just shows how skewed the perspective is on mental illness and possession by the public. By ending on exorcisms, the post left out on a very grim not especially with that video, it’s honestly a very scary subject matter and I had no clue they were officially illegal.

  9. I’ve always been skeptical about the idea of ghosts and possession, and this article seems to focus on this skepticism in people. It was very interesting to read about different cultures’ ideas surrounding this idea, because although I may not know what to believe, some cultures know exactly what they believe, and it is intriguing to learn about how they handle this specific topic. It was particularly interesting to me to read about the Chinese culture using the spirits of others as a teaching method related to good morals. While this post mostly focuses on cultural aspects, I think it was necessary to gain an understanding of what people think about this topic. Overall, I really enjoyed reading this and learning about different cultures, regardless of my own beliefs. 

  10. As someone who does not believe in ghosts, this post enforced my belief that ghosts most likely do not exist and the lack of factual evidence behind them supports my belief. I agree that the western world is fairly rational when it comes to ghost, however it seems like they are constantly trying to push the idea of ghosts on popular TV channels. These shows have been proven to fabricate their findings as it is stated in the article. It was interesting to see how different cultures deal with the ideas of spirits and ghosts. They each honor the spirits in different ways and this can be seen from the different days of celebration for spirits. One thing that caught my attention that I had no knowledge of before was the correlation between traumatic events and possession experiences. This topic is completely knew to me and it is pretty fascinating because I had never made that connection on my own, but after reading that section of the post I can clearly see where this idea comes from.

  11. I wished there was more explanation as to why ghosts should not be “something that should be tampered with.” Does this mean the authors of this post have the belief that ghosts are real and that society should not mess with the paranormal?

    One thing I was confused on was, what did you guys mean when you said that the family of the deceased would “buy a plot of land from the Gods?” How does one buy land from the Gods? As a Buddhist, I am not familiar with this practice and would be interested in hearing more about the traditional sense of the burial of a loved one. However, I am familiar with the burning of fake paper money, but it’s more of a sacrifice to Buddha in order for the deceased to live a good afterlife and be reincarnated.

    I would also like to hear more about where the concept of mediumship came from and whether specific cultures practiced mediumship. How come some societies view possession by spirits with a negative connotation and some cultures, specifically Christianity result to violent exorcisms to rid the body of said spirit while mediumship is a sought out practice for when people want to speak to a loved one?

    Overall, this was a very interesting post.

  12. Your discussion about the variety of ways that scientists have attempted to measure paranormal activity is fascinating to me; the scientist who conducted the study and based this measurement off of observations of light had a clever method in mind. I’ve also seen TV shows related to paranormal activity like you mention here, and I think it’s interesting to see the ways people try to detect the presence of supernatural beings. For example, on one show that I’ve seen, the “ghost hunters” tried to measure the presence of spirits using a recorder, but their “observations” seemed incredibly biased – they took a sound that resembled wind and translated it into words (words that I never would have picked out without their transcription). This is a great example of how it’s easy to feign paranormal activity… and if it did exist, we should be asking the ethical questions that this post raises! The cultural comparisons you make are also interesting – it’s fascinating to see what different cultures believe about paranormal activity, and I find it especially noteworthy that many Native American groups feel that their ancestors are being disturbed by our actions. We should all be more aware of the immense cultural variation in our world so that we can treat every people group with the utmost respect. Your discussion about mediums also sparked my curiosity – I wonder what mediums actually experience (compared to what they seem to experience)… this would be an interesting topic of research! I would also love to learn more about the connection people draw between mental illness and possession – is this association still made today or has this assumption faded with time? The example you provided about Annaliese Michel helped me understand the intensity of this issue; I didn’t know that exorcism takes such a negative physical toll on its victims! Overall, this post was a great mixture of fascinating information with a twist of creepiness – I enjoyed reading it (in case you can’t tell) and I appreciate the wide array of information you provided!

  13. This topic has always created immense interest for me. The concept of a soul being trapped on Earth rather than going wherever souls go when their bodies pass away is both horrifying and puzzling. For what reasons would the souls stay here on Earth and why are they so often portrayed as evil spirits who want nothing but death for humans? I thought the reasonings that the different cultures that this group decided to write on were very interesting as well because even though they are all from different cultures, many of them have similar reasonings for this phenomenon to happen. I am not one that believes entirely in ghosts, as I have never seen one, but the idea of possession has always been one that both fascinates me and makes me a slight believer. Especially since the movie, The Conjuring came out, which was a story of a possession which was detailed in a police report, I have thought that perhaps this is possible. Overall, I truly enjoyed reading this research topic and thought the group did an excellent job of providing information and analysis of the topic.

  14. I really enjoyed reading this post and found the incorporation of various cultural practices in regards to ghosts very fascinating. I feel that over the years the concept of ghosts, spirits, possessions as well as paranormal activity have become more and more popularized within Western culture due to various TV shows and horror films. I’ll be the first to admit that I enjoy watching these types of shows/films especially when it comes to mediums and interacting with spirits and those who have passed. Even though I am not entirely sure what I believe in, I find it interesting how media has drawn people’s curiosity when it comes to the afterlife and whether or not ghosts exist.

  15. I thought your group did a really nice job with this topic, especially considering the fact that this topic really has no hard evidence backing it up. Many of the other topics for the WordPress assignment did have hard data to validate research, but when talking about ghosts and afterlife, it can be difficult to come up with accurate and presentable information.

    I did like how you included a perspective of somebody who does research the afterlife and paranormal activity and believes in the presence of ghosts, but then also included possible explanations of why people feel they are experiencing the presence of ghosts.

    Culturally, it is very interesting to me that so many cultures such as Chinese and Native Americans treat death so superstitiously. Was there any research regarding why many of these “safer” burial practices have not been adopted in the United States? Where do these cultural ideas originate? Why do the Native Americans feel that the dead envy the living and want to come back to life?

  16. I thought this was a very well researched topic and very well put together. I really enjoyed reading about different cultures’ beliefs, such as Native American culture and how the Sioux will feed the spirit for a year in order for it to properly cross over. I have also always wondered about the pop culture and TV portrayal and how that effects our spiritual beliefs. Shows such as ghost hunters have always intrigued me, but ghost hunters specifically tends to have a lot of activity “off-screen” and then they will say something such as “oh did you see that?” with no viewers actually seeing it. However, there are also cases such as Annabelle that I thoroughly believe in through investigations of Ed and Lorraine Warren. I also think it’s important to note how American cultural sensationalizes everything for profit, while other cultures see things such as this as very serious aspects of their religion.

  17. All of your cultural analysis’ were really interesting, especially considering that there seem to be many cultures where ghosts arise out of an injustice that occurs after death (such as an improper burial or a disturbance of one). However, I’ve always noticed that western culture, especially TV shows in the U.S. , focus more on injustice that occurs in life. It’s super interesting that a lot of cultures have ghosts, but we differ a lot on what causes them, except that they always seem to arise out of some kind of injustice.

  18. I have always loved hearing ghost stories and watching movies about ghost hauntings, but have never taken the time to read about the research surrounding the validity of ghosts, so I appreciate this post! I found your point about the younger generations fascination with ghosts to be extremely interesting. Americans decreasing reliance on religion has led to a large middle group of people who deem themselves spiritual but not religious. I also think you make a good point about Americans obsession with finding empirical evidence to prove or disprove the existence of ghosts. I find myself following that notion, as I constantly say “I’ll believe it when I see it”. I think the point about in Chinese culture how ghosts are used to make people morally right is interesting, emphasizing the importance of proper burials and maintenance of graves. It reminds me of stories parents tell their kids to scare them straight, warning them to be good or someone will come get them. I also liked the point about the connection between mental illness and ghosts, detailing how mental illness has been used to explain possessions. I think mental illness is a super important topic, one that relates to many posts in this class.

  19. I really like the definition of “spiritual but not religious” which I feel myself to be suited. The talking about the disturbance of burial grounds is also mentioned in Visual and Photographic Representations of the Dead in Ancient Egypt. The difference is that this article illustrates that no medical advancements have been derived, and some misuse of the remains is mentioned. Connecting the signs of possession and psychopath is also interesting and professional. The cause, example and symptom make the connection reasonable and understandable. Although the culture of patients should be concerned, I agree that the society should move towards science more to avoid the tragic case of Annaliese Michel happening again.

  20. I found this article really interesting because growing up I was raised Catholic but moved away from religion as I got older. What I also found really interesting is that my friends and I who went to school together all went through a very similar process of moving away from religion. This somewhat contradicts the idea that younger people are believing in more ghosts but I find the concept very interesting. As a child, I loved to watch paranormal tv-shows because the religion I grew up with told me that ghosts and these things were real and could happen to you. However, as I lost touch with religion as I got older I find it more interesting that the concept of an afterlife and therefore ghosts exist in almost every culture. Historically, this can be traced back to very early on before any real cross-cultural interaction was taking place. Why would different cultures come to believe in some sort of post-death being? Does it derive from our reluctance to die, and hope that we can live on in some form after this world? Furthermore, why do these ghosts tend to be angry or evil in disposition instead of peaceful? You touch on this briefly but It would be interesting to study the concept of possessions as well because while the Catholic Church will grant priests permission to perform exorcisms is this true of other religions?

  21. I really enjoyed reading this! It is so interesting that so many different cultures, all with different religions and burial practices have a very similar belief in ghosts, that they are the spirits of people trapped between the living world and the dead, though how they got there differs immensely. I appreciate all the research you put into this post! Addressing so many different aspects like hauntings and possessions! The whole topic regarding more young people believing in ghosts and addressing these phenomenon raises an interesting question for me, do you think that thee people who are not religious, yet still believe in ghosts and hauntings, are trying to reason life after death? Personally, I do not believe in ghosts, nor am I religious but I feel like someone may feel a sense of comfort in the existence of ghosts, as that’s evidence that a being is present after death.

  22. I really enjoyed reading your posts on ghosts and spiritual possession. I think it’s become quite an obsession in American culture and others to think about the possibility of ghosts and possession and viewing these things as a way to experience excitement and fun (i.e. movies about ghosts, spirits). I myself find that I enjoy watching scary movies that include possessions but see them as something that isn’t really present in my normal life. However, the idea that they could be real from scientific research is compelling. It’s also cool to think about how these might have to do with one’s spirituality and the idea of a higher power (whether good or bad) being involved in the lives of us here on earth. Very interesting stuff. Thanks for the post!

  23. Personally, I believe in ghosts pretty wholeheartedly. One of the essays that I wrote to get into UNC was actually on the existence of the soul, and I got a lot of my evidence from a lot of the same sites in this research post. The point that you made about younger people being more interested in the ghost stuff is really good, especially since some colleges are actually developing courses in parapsychology. Parapsychology is basically the study of the paranormal, and I believe that it is a completely relevant thing to study, because if we don’t study it, how will we ever know for sure? And the fact that there are experiments being done scientifically to prove the existence or lack thereof just goes to show how relevant this topic is becoming in todays society.

  24. I think the correlation between a decrease in formal religion and increase in the belief of the paranormal is interesting, as one would think that an increase in religion would perhaps spark the increase in the belief of the paranormal as both can be considered things more removed from scientific evidence and reliance on faith or belief.

    I enjoyed your cross-cultural examination of what ghost means to different cultures. I was surprised to see that in eastern cultures, often the goal is to prevent spirits from remaining and interacting on Earth, whereas, western culture obsesses over finding them and exploring those aspects of life and death. Also, this relates to how often western society has an assumption of ghosts being more so lost and desperate souls whereas other cultures associated ghosts with evil and trouble. Furthermore, in your discussion of possession, does the cultural association with ghosts and spirits influence the prevalence of “possessions” in that culture?

    I enjoyed your article and also the Buzzfeed Unsolved video (a nice touch), great job!

  25. This article was extremely informative to me and I learned a lot more about ghosts and how they’re perceived in different cultures than what I knew beforehand. One aspect that I found interesting was how the Asian cultures dealt with a person’s death in order to allow for them to not come back and essentially preventing them to haunt/bring about malevolent forces to the living. This cautiousness shows how these Asian cultures have a strong belief in how the afterlife has an effect on the living, whereas the west may focus more on how their current living may have an effect on the afterlife. In such a case, it seems that the dealing of ghosts is a much more shared experience in these Asian cultures, which may also be in turn a way to better cope with the death of loved ones.

  26. I found it interesting that this article discussed the scientific theories behind the supernatural. I had always considered ghosts and possession to be in a realm of religious superstition that would not have any overlap with science. Furthermore, the cultural differences between perceptions of ghosts was very intriguing to me. It seemed that other cultures that acknowledge ghosts, do not need empirical evidence to believe in them. Additionally, if American culture tends to require physical evidence to validate an idea, how are ghosts even a part of our culture at all (as their is virtually no empirical evidence of ghosts)? Despite this question, American culture seems incredibly fixated with the supernatural, which again does not align with the Chinese and Native American protocol to fear and avoid ghosts. This brings me back to the article “Universal and Cross-Cultural Models of Grief” as it seems likely that the belief in ghosts may be part of an unintentional mourning practice, rooted in the unwillingness to let go of a loved one.

  27. This was a super interesting article and definitely enlightening on what different cultural practices are dealing with the spirits of the dead. It is interesting to think that the belief in ghosts and spirits are now gaining popularity, is it because of new relaxation in religion or possibly due to the depiction of ghosts in the media? Either way the idea of spirits and ghosts aren’t new based on practices from the Chinese and Native Americans. It is very sad though that people disrespect the dead and Native American culture by stealing the bodies and selling them, is there a way that museums can check where their bones and artifacts come from so that they aren’t feeding into this awful practice? This topic is also very interesting in general because spirits and being able to communicate with them cannot really be proved, there will always be skeptics out there and there will always be people who fake what they saw or what they can do too. Lastly, the scientific information was interesting in regard to the belief that possessions were the cause of behaviors rather than mental illnesses. This also brings to light the ethical dilemma in how to treat spirits with exorcisms and such, while not offending anyone or their culture. Overall great post and I love the Buzzfeed unsolved videos like the one you have linked at the end!

  28. I thoroughly enjoyed the way that different cultures were brought into the conversation about the paranormal. Many times, these cultural practices are what make up a huge part of how we interact and believe in the paranormal world. It not only shows the different interpretations of ghosts within cultures, but it also connects with how these differences could affect intercultural relationships. For example, the way that the western world has, for the most part, depicted ghosts and spirits as fictional or nonexistent characters heavily contrasts with many countries and cultures who have not only believed in ghosts but made them an essential part of their practices for most of their history. Overall, I enjoyed reading about how culture can heavily influence the belief in the paranormal and how this connects all cultures together in different ways.

  29. Carmen Chamblee

    April 25, 2019 at 6:42 pm

    This is an interesting post, I have never thought about ghost documentation being problematic! It is also weird to think that one could tell if a ghost is in the room by the number of photons in there. It is very interesting to see how the Chinese inform their descendants about how they should take care of people. I also found it interesting that ghosts are used as a way to have people treat others with moral respect. Comparing that view with the western cultural view, it is a stark difference because there are many tv shows and pop culture references that interpret ghosts as evil beings that (negatively) haunt people. TV, in fact, has brought the significance of ghosts down because of technology advancing and people not realizing that paranormal events are happening (Haunting Experiences: Ghosts in Contemporary Folklore by Diane E. Goldstein). Do you think with the further usage of technology different cultures will implement the same nonchalant attitude towards ghosts?

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