how the spirits we consider in reflect our changing fears

how the spirits we consider in reflect our changing fears
24 March 2024 J.W.H

Halloween decoration ghosts provide light entertainment, but our enduring fascination with and fear of them is not any child's play.

Polls put it at 35% of Australians watch out within the existence of ghosts, figures echo within the US and Great Britain. Indeed, belief in ghosts is so common all over the world that they’re believed to be ghosts cultural universalism.

Tracing them through time and space – from dusty ghosts to ghosts in machines – reveals that ghosts have a special talent for reflecting the particular anxieties of their historical moment. Paying attention to what makes them scary can teach us something about ourselves.

Little spooky ghost girls are popular amongst modern storytellers.
Ring, IMDB

Spiritual abyss

Stuck within the space between life and death, ghosts are ambiguous and restless. Wherever they go, they appear intent on bringing the past into the current.

The European Middle Ages were filled with… observations ghosts – returned from their graves to scare the living. They were believed to be returning spirits, i.e ghostsabout individuals who experienced a “bad death”: they were murdered, they led a sinful life, or they were denied a correct burial.

À lire aussi: 5 things to know concerning the traditional Christian doctrine of hell

Historian William of Newburgh he told one famous story of a Berwick man who died after falling from his bedroom rafters while spying on his unfaithful wife. Despite his Christian burial, he returned with a pack of untamed dogs that haunted the people.

The Very Rich Hours of the Duke of Berry, Folio 113v – Purgatory.

Posthumous rebirth was seen as an indication of ethical and spiritual failings and was treated accordingly: bodies were exhumed and hearts were staked. Berwick's ghost was finally laid to rest after her husband's stays were unearthed, quartered and burned.

With an idea purgatory established in most Christian teachings already within the 14th century, the best way of understanding apparitions has modified. No longer seen as clearly evil figures whose souls were lost eternally, wights began to reflect a state of spiritual limbo.

This moral ambiguity reflected spiritual traditions elsewhere, e.g eastern Asia where spirits appear in ritual performances, each in good and evil forms.

Harbingers of danger

In Fiji, where I conducted ethnographic research fieldwork ghosts have been appearing in lots of places for over a decade shapes and forms. Once seen as defenders of the earth and guardians are increasingly often treated as harbingers of recent threats.

Villagers in Fiji have reported ghostly visits from missing neighbors after Cyclone Winston.
Józef Hinga/AAP

In 2016, villagers reported that they were haunted by the ghost of a friend within the weeks after he drowned. Cyclone Winston.

Night after night, a ghost was seen and heard looking for his bed and begging for food near the ruins of his old home. For villagers still recovering from essentially the most violent cyclone in living memory, this ghostly presence reflected and fueled growing concerns about climate change and the sustainability of rural life.

The ghost was read as a harbinger of danger, and the message it carried was more terrifying than the creature itself.

Old ghosts, latest fears

Over time, ghosts reflected histories and concerns specific to a given geographic location.

Indian ghosts are like that moved from traditional ghostly pasts to contemporary politics of heritage, land ownership and recognition. They too supposedly drive cars and intervene in construction works.

The traditions of the indigenous people of Australia represent a big selection of spiritual beings. Warwick Thornton's 2013 docudrama Dark sidedeveloped from a nationwide call for indigenous ghost stories, it re-created 13 tales and showed how a haunting past generally is a defining a part of the lives of many modern Australians.

Old meeting places come to life within the film Dark Side, which was created in response to a nationwide call for indigenous ghost stories.

Anthropologist Mahnaz Alimardanian documented the ghostly figure of the Burnt Woman who is claimed to haunt a mission in northern New South Wales. With her face disfigured by fire, Burnt Woman is recognizable as a neighborhood indigenous woman who was killed early in colonial settlement, which serves each as a reminder of the violence of past encounters and a mirrored image of the damage wrought by ongoing social injustice.

Her appearance before believers as a seductress of men adds a layer of social commentary in a community where gender-based violence is a major problem problem.

What scares us now?

Ghosts in contemporary popular culture similarly reflect people's current fears. Movie from 2002 Ring – a remake of a cult Japanese film – appealed to people's fears of how technology might take over our lives, a fear that seems justified when a vengeful spirit crawls out of the TV screen.

In the series Black Mirror, a widow uses technology to revive her husband's spirit.

These concerns were also raised in an episode of the Netflix series Black mirror called Be right back during which a grieving young widow uses artificial intelligence to interact together with her deceased husband.

In other modern ghost stories, specters are portrayed as battling the identical existential issues that haunt many modern people. David Lowery A ghost story (2017) focuses on the spirit's difficulties in coping with its own death and parting with the past, issues that a contemporary viewer could also be aware of in times of rapid social change.

Where's the Ghostbuster if you need him? A Ghost Story (2017) is about loss in a changing world.

This quality – spirits' ability to tap into our innermost subconscious fears – is what makes them such fascinating and universal creatures.

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  • J.W.H

    About John:

    John Williams is a Reincarnationist paranormal Intuitive freelance writer...he is living proof of reincarnation existence, through his personal exploration, he has confirmed its authenticity through visits to the very lands where these events transpired.

    Through guided meditation/s using hemi-sync technology he has managed to recollect 3 previous lives to his own, that go back to the Mid to Late 19th century.

    JWH - "You are the GODS! - Inclusion of the Eternal Light of Love and you shall never die”.

    “Death is Just the Beginning of Life”