Ghosts and demons are supernatural entities. Many people dismiss them as a figment of an over-active imagination. But across cultures and from ancient times, there have been reports of ghost sightings and demonic activity.
Ghosts are supposed to be the spirits of people who have died. They are clearly recognisable as humans. They are distinguished from the living by appearing as shadowy or transparent. In different cultures, ghosts are imbued with various qualities like predicting the future or warning their families of impending doom. The eerie wail of a banshee was a portent of death.
The belief in spirits is akin to believing in ghosts. Many old cultures believe in honouring the dead. Native American and African tribes traditionally believed that spirits could influence happenings in the present. A number of rites and rituals were prescribed in order to appease the spirits.
Christian theology does not accept the existence of ghosts, though there are a few references in the Bible, as when the ghost of the prophet Samuel was called. Even so, Shakespeare and Dickens drew upon the popular belief in ghosts. In A Christmas Carol, the ghost of Marley puts Scrooge on the path to redemption. Shakespeare used ghosts in both Hamlet and Macbeth. In both cases, the ghosts were people who had been murdered, and wanted their deaths avenged. This is a very common traditional belief, and innumerable stories centre on this theme.
Some people believe that the spirit of a dead person can be contacted by a medium. A medium is supposed to have a special gift, and can communicate with ghosts. It is not within the scope of this article to comment on whether or not this is factual, but there are a significant number of practising mediums in Western countries.
The Abrahamic religions of Judaism, Christianity and Islam all believe in an evil spirit who works against God. This entity is called the devil. The Hebrew word shatan, which means opponent, was the origin of Satan, which is one of the names given to the devil. Demons are purported to be a manifestation of the devil. Other religions do not have the same belief in one figure of evil, but the belief in evil spirits is common to all cultures.
There are many references to demons in the Bible. The Book of Job tells how the devil tried to turn Job against God. In the New Testament, the Gospels have many incidents in which Jesus cast out demons from people. This power was also given to his followers.
It is believed that demons can completely take over the personality of people, and cause them to do their evil bidding. This is called possession. Exorcists are people who have the power to cast out demons. This has not been subjected to scientific scrutiny, but records of possession and exorcism are plentiful.
Ghosts are the spirits of people who lived on earth. Demons are other-worldly creatures.
Ghosts do not usually intend harm. Demons have evil intentions.
Ghosts maintain the identity of the deceased person, but demons usually ‘reside’ within a living person.
Ghosts usually want some matter resolved. They want eternal rest. Demons have an evil purpose which has no resolution.
Ghosts are not as powerful as demons. Demons are considered powerful as they are not earthly beings.
Ghosts interact with the living through visual and auditory means. Demons use possession to interact directly in a human environment.