Ghost, Demon, or Poltergeist?

Categories
Horror Mystery and Lore
Silhouette Behind the Door
Photography by MontyLov

Haunted by Ghosts

As was discussed in our article Ghosts Can Be More Than Just Dead People, ghosts are generally the spirits of humans and animals that have passed away. What people assume or claim are ghosts are not necessarily fitting of their description, but it’s easy to understand why the whole thing might be a little bit confusing. The truth is, is that ghosts, demons, and poltergeists are often mislabeled and it, therefore, makes it more difficult to really know what kind of being the evidence acquired actually points to. Ghosts, spirits, and apparitions all point to the same thing—the spirit or soul of a human or animal that has passed on. These spirits haunt locations, objects, and most importantly other living creatures. Haunting living creatures is not to be confused with possessing living creatures, not to say they are unable to possess, but not all possessions are ghostly in nature—and this is an important distinction to be made.

Possessed by Demons

A lady screaming in the dark
Photography by Camila Quintero Franco

Another topic for confusion is how demons are perceived, this is unfortunate because much of the evidence for demons seems to simply be cases of malevolent ghosts and not entities that are truly demonic in nature. One such misinformed definition, from Rosemary Ellen Guiley’s The Encyclopedia of Ghosts and Spirits, is that demons are, “a type of spirit that may be either good or evil that allegedly has the ability to intervene in the affairs of humankind.” While it’s true that many cultures perceive some demonic entities to be good, the word spirit was a poor choice in attempting to define what a demon actually is.

Religious definitions, such as the one from Christianity, assert that demons are evil minions of Satan and that their sole purpose is to torment people, then inevitably lead them into sin. The strategic takeover of pagan cultures turned their deities into demons in Christianity. Other religions, however, suggest that demons can be good or evil entities—or indeed have a dual nature like human beings. Regardless of the nature of the entity, good or evil, demons quite often exercise their ability to possess or inhabit living creatures. There are instances reported where demons have possessed inanimate objects, but this can be chalked up to another case of a ghost that has been mislabeled as a demonic entity.

Terrorized by Poltergeists

Demons and poltergeists are also quite frequently confused for one another—the main reason for this is because Poltergeists are mischievous and often malicious spirits or energy. Ghosts and poltergeists also confused for each other, but poltergeists, in particular, are entities or energies identified by their consistent abilities to interact in a vigorous way with their environment. It would be unfair to say that poltergeists are not, in fact, a type of ghost or spirit, but if they are to be classified as ghosts in any sense, they are in a league of their own entirely.

The earliest reports of poltergeists tell of the different types of interactions they have within the environment that they inhabit. These interactions include, but were not limited to, throwing rocks or other objects, loud noises (such as shrieking, and knocking or rapping), inexplicable lights and apparitions, as well as in rare cases sexual assaults. Later cases would grow to include technology-related events, such as phone numbers being dialed repeatedly or televisions turning on. The speculation that remains with poltergeists relates to the scientific data that has been collected in pursuit of evidence of their existence—many cases of poltergeist activity have clear indications of mental problems within the agent (or the primary person being affected) that even support theories of psychokinesis.

Some examples of poltergeist activity caught on camera.

Hopefully, this helps answer an age-old question we often see: “What is the difference between a ghost, a demon, and a poltergeist?” Below are a few scary movie recommendations related to ghosts, demons, and poltergeists.

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Ghosts Are More Than Just the Spirits of the Dead

Categories
Horror Mystery and Lore
Take a walk through a creepy forest
Photography by Jack Cain

What Are Ghosts?

Are they the benevolent spirits of our loved ones who have passed on? Or are they malevolent specters haunting the shadows, waiting for the moment to attack unwitting victims? Modern folklore says that ghosts are the souls or spirits of a dead person or animal that can often be perceived by the living. These apparitions vary widely in descriptions, whether they be completely disembodied sounds, translucent forms of a person who has passed, or wisps, orbs, shapes, and other realistic silhouettes. From firsthand experiences and stories passed down through the ages, it seems that these entities can be fully aware of their surroundings, or simply faded recordings tragically repeating moments from within their own lifetime.

There is a widespread belief in the afterlife, including the manifestation of spirits which is highly intertwined in the ancestor worship that has appeared in cultures across the world since before the written word. These beliefs have led to funeral rites, exorcisms, and attempts to contact those who have passed as a means to put the spirits of the dead to rest. Contacting those who haunt your halls can be done in a number of ways, most notably through a séance wherein participants use Ouija boards or mediums.

Disembodied spirits are identified not necessarily by their appearance as apparitions, but by the displacement of objects, strange or flickering lights, as well as an auditory presence—laughter or screams with no origin, footsteps when there is no one else around, ringing bells or other spontaneous music that comes from untouched musical instruments. Haunted locations are believed to be associated with possessing spirits who still have a strong attachment to the location from their own past, whether it be sorrow, fear, or distress due to a violent death. People can be haunted as well—not entirely unlike possession, but the person being haunted does not have their body inhabited by the spirit itself, instead, they are likely associated in some way to the unhappy experience that keeps the spirit tethered to the world of the living.

Ghosts walking down the road
Photography by JR Korpa

There are multiple types of spirits that are known to haunt the living, even in the modern age. First, is called the interactive personality—these are considered the most common of all and are often human in nature. Whether it’s your deceased Aunt Sally coming to tell you that she’s not happy that you took her vintage jade brooch or a person lost to history they’re not always kind apparitions. These personalities can make themselves known in a variety of different ways, whether visible or not, some can speak, make noises, touch you, or even cause odors reminiscent of when they were alive (i.e. a perfume they used to wear, or cigar smoke). Those who study and hunt for ghosts are convinced that these spirits retain their personality and can still feel the emotions that would have been relevant to them during life.

Not all of the commonly acknowledged apparitions go out of their way to communicate with people—if you’ve ever heard of the White Ladies, you know that most if not all of these women keep to themselves, by lingering mournfully in a cemetery, or an aging historical building. These White Ladies are described as being dressed entirely in white and can be heard sobbing, crying, or wailing over the painful loss that drove them to take their own lives. They’re not known to necessarily interact with their environment, so much as to be painfully aware of where they are and continue to wallow in the depth of grief that keeps them stuck where they died.

The term poltergeist would most likely conjure images of a swirling vortex and alternate dimensions resulting from disrespecting ancient burial grounds of Native Americans, but it’s not the most accurate portrayal. Poltergeist is actually one of the most common names for a ghost that can interact with their environment—except that instances of these spirits are more often associated with violent interaction with their physical environment. They can knock items off of shelves, open cabinet doors, slam doors, stack chairs, or generally displace objects from their original resting place. Not too surprisingly, poltergeists are the most terrifying because they give us the impression that if they can move things around us, then they can also take physical action upon us.

So, whether you’re experiencing unnatural phenomena throughout your house or are out hunting ghosts in an abandoned building, you may find that there are multiple types of entities that you come across. Ghosts are herein described as the spirits of people or animals that have passed away that may have an unordinary attachment to the world of the living–good or bad, it depends on the person they were in life. Due to the lack of documentation that has been proven to be authenticated, it’s unlikely that you will be able to capture viable evidence that would declare with finality that ghosts are real. It is, however, important to continue to try to document proof of the existence of ghosts, because otherwise, we may never know.

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Ghosts of St Augustine Lighthouse

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Featured Haunted Places Horror Mystery and Lore

The current St Augustine Lighthouse in Florida was built between 1871 and 1874 and stands at the North end of Anastasia Island. The original lighthouse was actually a wooden structure that dates back to 1589. It was a tower which went dark during the Civil War of 1867, and had since lost the battle with encroaching tempestuous seas and long periods of erosion. Congress approved the rebuilding of the lighthouse in 1871 amidst myriad reports from the United States Lighthouse Board concerning its condition, they could never have expected such a benefit to public transportation and safety to end in such catastrophe. The Ghost of St Augustine Lighthouse is one of tragic beginnings.

Lighthouse Reconstruction

Hezekiah Pittee was superintendent of Lighthouse Construction at the time, and moved with his family to Anastasia Island to oversee the construction of the new and improved lighthouse. He had a wife, Mary and four children; Mary Adelaide, Eliza, Edward and Carrie, all who lived on site with him during the building period. Of course it didn’t take long for the young children to turn the site into their own personal playing field, and the children of many of the workers soon joined in the fun.

Two years into the process and not even half of the tower had been erected. To streamline things, a railway track and cart were installed to transport supplies from the supply ships docked at Salt Run to the building site. Of course the children all loved the cart, riding it down the hill like a rollercoaster and pulling it back up again several times a day. The only thing that stopped the cart from flipping and careening into the water was a single wooden board slotted into place at the end of the track. Clearly health and safety standards were less evolved back then.

It doesn’t take an expert on tragedy to foresee what happened next. On the fateful morning of July 10th, 1873, the three young Prittee sisters were riding the cart with the 10 year old daughter of one of the construction workers, though for some inexplicable reason the safety board was not in place. The cart descended the hill and tipped into the water, trapping all of the girls inside the watery metal box. One of the workers, Dan Sessions, witnessed the incident and ran to the water where he managed to lift the cart from atop the girls. Sadly by this time three of the four girls had drowned, the only survivor being the youngest of the Prittee sisters, Carrie. Construction on the tower, and indeed the whole town was shut down in the days following the incident, and after the funeral was held the family returned to Maine to bury the children in their hometown.

The Hauntings

In the nearly one hundred and fifty years since the tragedy occurred, many strange and unusual instances have been blamed on the spirits of the unfortunate young victims. Haunted lighthouses are a common trope, but this is one of the most active haunted lighthouses in the world. Heceta Head lighthouse in Oregon is another notable haunted lighthouse.

Heceta Head Lighthouse
Heceta Head Haunted Lighthouse

One of these occurrences comes from Lighthouse Keeper James Pippin who lived and worked in the tower from 1953 to 1955. The man reportedly heard footsteps above him late at night sometime in this 2 year period, though when he went to check it out, no one was there. At first Pippen lived in the usual Keeper’s house, but he quickly moved to a smaller coastal lookout building, insisting that the main building was haunted and refusing to spend any more time there.

Another haunted story comes from the 1960’s at a time when the lighthouse’s lamp was fully automated and lighthouse keepers were replaced with workers known as ‘lamplighters’. These people didn’t live on sight as keepers did, so the buildings were rented out instead. One man who was renting the Keepers’ house in the 60s tells a story of waking up in the night with a small girl standing over his bed. As he blinked and rubbed his eyes, the spectral apparition vanished as quickly as it had appeared.

In the 1970s the keepers’ building burned down mysteriously, and in the process of it being rebuilt, those involved reported the area was a hotbed for ghostly and unexplainable activity. It’s said that even today a strange and spooky presence can be felt in the basement of the home, which is also coincidentally one of the only parts of the place that didn’t fully burn.

These days the tower is reserved for supernatural tourism, and of course there has been no lull in the hair-raising activity the place is known for. It would seem that the spirits of the girls like to play games with unsuspecting people. When one staff member was closing up for the night alone, he heard giggling coming from the top of the tower. Thinking he had left a tourist up there by mistake, he went to check but, of course, found no one.

Patrons of the ‘Dark of the Moon Tours’ consistently talk of ghostly activity to this day, so why not take a trip and see if you can come into contact with some 19th century spirits?

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Ghosts of the Ancient World

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Horror Mystery and Lore

Although the trend of ghost hunting only seems to have gained popularity in more modern times, the phenomena of ghosts, as well as the belief in their existence has been around since ancient times. Just like the belief in a higher power, the details may vary from culture to culture, but across all of them one thing remains consistent—the existence of a realm where the human soul survives after death. This isn’t so much an evaluation on whether or not ghosts exist, so much as an acknowledgement that cultures across the world place value in the idea that death is not the end for the soul. In Christianity, depending upon the lifestyle that the individual led, the soul either spends an eternity with a benevolent god, or in perpetual torment. In Voodoo, veneration of ancestors plays a large part in religious practice and different pagan religions have different ideas of the afterlife and where their soul will go once they have passed. Another commonality between all of these cultural beliefs is that the human soul, once having passed into the realm of the dead is that the soul would invariably remain in this next realm, unless authorized by the governing entity of the realm. That is to say, there has to be a reason for which the soul is released back to the plane of the living, this could be due to a variety of different reason, such as improper or nonexistent burial and funeral rites, most of these are due to a body having never been recovered. Another common reason behind a soul returning is to resolve unfinished business, whether this is to give an account of the true events surrounding their death, or to give a message to a loved one who is experiencing an inordinate amount of guilt. Even in modern times, the occurrence of encountering a ghost, no matter what the circumstances, is very rarely an experience that one wishes to have. So what did these modern beliefs and experiences evolve from?

How Cultures Viewed the Afterlife

image of an ancient ghost

An unexpected visit from the dead has always meant in one way or another that something was wrong—this meant that whatever message the ghost had to deliver, or business it had to resolve needed to be taken care of in order for the spirit to ever obtain peace and be able to rest for eternity. This was such a common theme across ancient cultures that stories can be compared from across regions of India, China, Greece, Mesopotamia, Egypt, Rome, Ireland, and Scotland, with similar depictions regardless of origin.

Mesopotamian Land of the Dead

Although known by many names, the land of the dead in Mesopotamia was a realm from which there was no return—Irkalla, was the realm of the dead, where they dwelt in darkness and lived in the muck and mire that was provided for them, regardless of their social status or moral fortitude during their lifetime. Souls weren’t given permission to pass back to the world of the living unless they had been given a special mission to attend to, such as righting a wrong.

Egyptian Land of the Dead

In ancient Egyptian lore, passing into the land of the dead was an enormous trial—where the soul would go through the Hall of Truth to be judged by Osiris and the forty-two judges. The white feather of truth was deemed the way in which all souls were judged, whereupon weight the feather and the heart of the human who had passed, only those whose hearts were lighter than the feather would pass to the afterlife. Those who were found to have a heart heavier than the feather would have their soul eaten by a monster—so to pass into the afterlife, there was a necessity to live in truth and purity. This afterlife was known as the Field of Reeds, where the soul would enjoy all of the favorite things that they knew in their lifetime, which meant that the soul would not return to the plane of the living unless they had an important reason to do so.

Land of the Dead in Ancient Greece and Rome

In the ancient societies of Greece and Rome, the pagan culture that surrounded daily practice embraced a more complex theory of the afterlife, where the souls of the dead were assigned to a specific realm depending upon their life and how they lived it. Warriors had their own realm, good people had the second, and bad people had the third realm, into which they went to atone for their wrongdoings. No soul was ever condemned to an eternity of damnation, it was more considered penance that could eventually be fulfilled, at which point they would be sent to the realm for those who had lived a good life. Before being sent to their designated realm, Greek and Roman culture dictated that they would be given a drink to forget about their former lives and only know the realm to which they were assigned—this made it clear that ghosts had little to no reason to ever return to the land of the living. That being said, ghosts would occasionally return, but only for good reason, usually to fix an injustice brought upon themselves or a family member, once justice was served the soul would “die” a second time and return to the plane they had been sent to.

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Gretel & Hansel (2020), a Grimm Fairy Tale

Categories
Featured Horror Mystery and Lore
Creepy Foggy Forest
Photography by Silvana Amicone

Folklore has an extended history of portraying witches as evil, human-sacrificing, child-eating monsters–and for with all of the religious turmoil and economic insecurity that these stories sprang from it’s no wonder. Hansel and Gretel are no different, in fact, it may be the most telling story of them all; for the real evil lies not within the woods, but in the home from which Hansel and Gretel are inevitably turned out.

The Origin of Hansel and Gretel

The original tale of Hansel and Gretel, like many tales that came before literacy and written record was a tale passed down through verbal methods–if you grew up having fairy tales read to you, then you’re probably familiar with the tale of these two siblings. Two children lost in the woods, a trail of breadcrumbs, and a cottage made out of delicious sweets. A wicked witch traps the siblings, intending to eat them, but they trick her, narrowly escape with their lives, and make it back home to their father.

Hansel & Gretel at the Witch's House
Hansel & Gretel at the Witch’s House

While the story doesn’t give us an exact date of when the story was to have taken place, the Brothers Grimm recorded and published the first printed version in 1812, but the story has roots that show it existed in oral traditions for hundreds of years prior. There are theories that date this tale back to the famine that ravaged Europe during the 1300s, which would place the origin somewhere during the Medieval era. The key-point of the story is that the family of Hansel and Gretel are on the brink of starvation–there is so little that the story suggests that their father’s wife, referenced as the children’s stepmother, would rather sacrifice the lives of the children than go without herself.

Survival is the name of the game–this developed the mood of scarcity, gumption, and the bond between siblings. Their family must survive the famine, then the siblings must survive the parents, as well as the hardships of the woods, not to mention the witch herself. It’s easy to overlook the sinister nature of all of these aspects of the tale as soon as there is mention of a cottage made out of candy and sweets. That is the one part of the tale that plants this story firmly into the category of fairy tale, because even though witches may be no stranger to fictional tales, we know all too well that humans can do awful things to one another, including abandoning their children for selfish reasons.

Giving Folklore New Life

Gretel & Hansel (2020) Movie Poster
Gretel & Hansel (2020) Movie Poster

From the origins of Hansel and Gretel, to this newest take on its adaptation to film, the director Osgood Perkins did a wonderful job in honoring the roots of this fairy tale, while also making it unique, visually tantalizing, as well a tasteful combination between the old and the modern. Since he originally made his debut as a horror writer/director with a beautifully tragic and superbly horrific possession film entitled The Blackcoat’s Daughter (2015), Perkins has given us a fresh perspective on what we should expect from horror. His movies are particularly dark and dreary, the hauntingly realistic settings in which he places his characters bring a dramatic, eerie, slowness that takes you through someone’s story, instead of rushing you to the end. Just like with his first true horror success, Gretel & Hansel (2020) takes us on a journey upon which we are allowed to savor the terrifying circumstances our protagonists take.

If you noticed the glaring differences between the folklore and this new film adaptation, you’re not the only one–the most obvious of which is the age of the siblings. In the original folklore they’re either portrayed as twins, or as an older brother/younger sister pair, but here we see Gretel as the big protective sister. This change is captivating as it gave us Sophia Lillis exploring her talents for horror again after she brought us It (2017) as well as It: Chapter Two (2019) as Beverly Marsh–the sole girl “loser” in an otherwise boys-only club. Suffice it to say Lillis is exceptional in both her role as Beverly and now as Gretel.

It’s not like there haven’t been multiple attempts to capture the original story on film, but it seems like any film that ventured to capture the dark and terrible nature of this tale of caution have all been conveyed with too much of a sense of fantasy and not with the reality with which it was treated in this newest adaptation.

Long live Gretel the Good.

Gretel & Hansel IMDB Listing

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