Ghost, Demon, or Poltergeist?

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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.

History of Demons, Possessions, Exorcisms, and the Films They Inspire

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Horror Mystery and Lore Scary Movies and Series

History of Possession and the Church

On the topic of possessions, it is widely believed that a person’s mind and soul can be possessed by spirits, whether by man, demon, or god. Prior to the biblical explanation of possession, in ancient Greece, the pagans put an emphasis on the belief that the gods would interfere with their daily lives. Their idea of possession was when a God would cause them to act in a certain manner, or simply inhabit their body to achieve an end of their own. Buddhist and Hindu beliefs considered possessive interference by gods and demons to be everyday occurrences; African tribal religions and their respective offshoots consider possession the way that their gods and secondary deities show favor and proof of their power. Christianity over the centuries has been very vocal in regards to possession, declaring that true possession was only ever the work of, “unclean spirits,” either a minion of hell or the Devil himself. There are rare references to possessions by the divine spirit, just as Jesus Christ’s disciples were reportedly overcome with the Holy Spirit after his crucifixion. Alternative theories of this suggest, however, that possession by the divine spirit is actually just the Devil in disguise, in an attempt to fool the vulnerable. Early theologians denied there was ever an instance of possession being anything but the Devil’s handiwork.

St. Francis of Borgia Exorcising a Demon
St. Francis of Borgia – Exorcism by Goya

The Christian culture continues to dominate when it comes to popular theories of demons—any average person is going to associate demons with the Devil and his origin in Christianity—this can be troublesome to those deeply immersed in the religion, as it is still an incredibly popular topic in possession movies. Popular demon culture is the driving force for how we continue to see them in books and films and is what is most concerning to people with respect to horror culture. After all, there’s nothing more terrifying than the thought that a malicious spirit or demon has complete control of your body and mind—that you are what goes bump in the night—and showing signs of unusual behavior or expressing radically different ideals that what was common for the day would essentially damn an individual to being accused of possession. Luckily in the modern era, individuals are given more leeway to change up their perspectives, and essentially change the way their lives are going without being considered to be under demonic possession. Surprisingly, an aspect of possession theory that is not fully explored is exactly how the Devil or his minions claim their victims in the first place. There are two popular explanations within possession lore, that the spirit can pass directly into a person’s mind and soul or by using a witch to curse the victim. Of course, the Church’s position on the method of possession was that the Devil preferred to enlist the help of the evil individuals to do his dirty work—so witches would transmit the demons to the vulnerable through charm, potion, amulet, and most frequently food. The food of choice is the infamous apple—not just the symbol of the fall of man, when Eve took a bite of the apple of Eden, but also a popular symbol elsewhere in folklore, such as the original Germanic tale of Snow White. The only formal rite of exorcism is practiced by the Catholic church, which to this day recognizes clairvoyance, abnormal physical strength, blasphemy, and levitation as proof of demonic possession—the only salvation from possession is a formal exorcism.

The Spiritualist Movement

Many practices began gaining momentum with the spiritualist movements, including the act of psychic mediums inviting possession in order to speak to the dead—the belief is that the possession is temporary and controlled by the medium and their spirit guides. These possessions typically would take place within a séance, in conjunction with other practices such as the use of Ouija boards, or automatic writing.

The Exorcism of Roland Doe

Horror culture classic The Exorcist (1973) was actually inspired by a true story; a thirteen-year-old grief-stricken boy, under the pseudonym of Roland Doe, had recently lost his spiritualist Aunt Harriet a woman who had taught Roland how to use Ouija Boards, as well as many other taboo practices.  Directly following his Aunt’s death, in January of 1949, Roland began to experience troubling things—scratching and other inexplicable sounds echoed from the floors and walls of his room, and his bed would jerk around suddenly. Psychiatrists and their local church were of no help to Roland’s family, but they still sought the help of a local Catholic priest who received permission to perform an exorcism which ended in the priest being slashed by the boy. Roland was still in trouble, scratches appeared on his skin, at night after going to sleep for the night, the boy would scream out, trash about his bed wildly, and speak in tongues. After many failed exorcism attempts, he was finally moved to a hospital where the boy underwent one final attempt, during which he screamed that Satan was with him until the priests called upon St. Michael to rid the boy of his demons. From that day forward, Roland no longer experienced any strange happenings and went on to live a normal life.

Exorcism Movies and TV Shows that you need to see!

Do you have any movies or tv shows about demonic possession and exorcisms you’d like to see on our list? Let us know about them in the comments!

Looking At Satanic Worship, Demons, and Dark Magic Through History and Films

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Horror Mystery and Lore Lifestyle Scary Movies and Series

There is always a cause for panic for some when the words “Satanic” or “Devil” worship is uttered—people have gone to jail over such accusations of satanic crimes as recently as the 1990s. The so-called “Satanic Panic” of the eighties and nineties pursued an imaginary evil, yet left so many innocent lives ruined. Unlike the cults that led the victims of Jim Jones, a cult leader who instigated the massacre of Jonestown and inspired movies like Jonestown (2013), the satanic cults that exist in popular culture simply do not exist in real life.

How Devil Worship is Depicted in Popular Culture and Mainstream Media

There’s a lot to say about Satanism versus the ever-so-popular concept of devil worship. The long and tumultuous history of the latter is one based on the religious bias of dominant religions, unfairly painted as being so evil that words “demonic,” or “satanic,” became synonymous with the worst type of evil imaginable. So, where did this image really come from?

Satanic Panic

Unfortunately, the myths that surround Satanism as imagined by Hollywood and religious fear-mongers, continue to be a problem today—these media portrayals are simultaneously entertaining and besmirching, leaving people to accept any negative aspect about topics such as Satanism as truth, without regarding the possibility that much of it could just be associated with teenage rebellion or misunderstood alternative religious beliefs.  During the eighties and early nineties, much like the red scare of the forties and early fifties, Satanists were the hidden boogie-man in everyone’s neighborhood. For many innocent men and women convicted of satanic crimes, it was a literal witch hunt, they became everyone’s favorite scapegoat.

For the people on the accusing end, it’s easy to see how fear and superstition could easily overcome their ability to process things within reason and proceed logically. This widespread panic pit people against each other, because without a designated cult leader, there was a chance anyone you knew might have been a Satanist and no one was above suspicion. The problem with this hypervigilance was that most of the accusations were of child molestation, abuse, and various other obscene activities that were done deliberately involving minors. The made the children who were really suffering, whose validity was already under question, seem like they weren’t genuine cases. Although less frequent now in the United States, especially since Satanism became a federally recognized religion.

The generic reaction to the idea of Satanism, or “devil-worship,” during the time of the Satanic Panic.

Religious Satanism

A considerably newer concept is the formation of Satanism as a recognizable religion. It’s said that modern Satanism was born from the literary movement in the later parts of the 1600s that started with John Milton’s pitiable portrayal of Lucifer, in Paradise Lost (1667). Despite his Puritanical beliefs, he started a new way of characterizing the Devil—a sympathetic one.

Atheistic Satanism

While it may seem like a foreign concept to those not, “in the know,” a larger portion of Satanists don’t actually believe Satan to actually be a god, or entity at all—in fact, he’s more of an idea, or a symbol, one that embodies what they stand for.

LaVeyan Satanism and the Church of Satan

The Sigil of Baphomet
The Sigil of Baphomet

After Anton LaVey established the Church of Satan in 1966, he became known as the “Father of Satanism,” following this, he published The Satanic Bible in 1969. The LaVeyan Satanic theology consisted of teachings that provided a base code of ethics for believers to follow. These teachings promoted undefiled wisdom, which was insistent upon gaining knowledge without bias, indulgence (not compulsion) in things that create happiness, kindness to those who deserve it, a responsibility to the responsible, and an eye for an eye mentality. Things that are shunned, or generally looked down upon are the ideas of abstinence based on guilt, spirituality, unconditional love, pacifism, equality, herd mentality, and scapegoating—which are all ideologies that, according to LaVey deny people of their natural animalistic instincts.

The Satanist, in accordance with LaVeyan theological viewpoints, is a carnal, physical and pragmatic being. Being able to physically enjoy existence with an undiluted view of the worldly truths is promoted as the core values of Satanism, which propagates the naturalistic worldview that sees mankind as animals existing in an amoral universe. After LaVey’s death in 1997, the church was moved to New York and taken over by a new administration; suffice it to say, LaVey’s daughter didn’t appreciate this change and founded the First Satanic Church in honor of her father in 1999 which she continues to run out of San Francisco.

The Satanic Temple
Sigil of the Satanic Temple

The Satanic Temple

Another atheistic institution of Satan is the Satanic Temple—it is more of a political activist organization rather than a religious movement. The focus of their fury lies solely in the waves they can make in the political and social spectrums with special regard to separation of church and removing restrictions on personal freedoms. In such ways, the Satanic Temple serves as a way for followers to rebel against arbitrary authority and social norms. They have made an effort to be a voice for the people and denounce oppressive laws and religious persecutions.

Theistic Satanism

Even though theistic Satanism is the thing that most people actually fear, theistic Satanists make up the smallest number of those who call themselves Satanists at all. Theistic Satanism is what could also be referred to as traditional Satanism, Spiritual Satanism, or “devil worship,” that so many people still fear today. Their beliefs have a Satan-centric view of religion, where Satan is a deity to revere. Most of these traditional Satanists incorporate a belief of magic into their religion, but the main thing that they all have in common is that they consider themselves devotees to Satan.

Luciferianism

Sigil of Lucifer
Sigil of Lucifer

One of the forms of traditional Satanism, is Luciferianism, a belief system that takes aspects of that are most commonly associated with Lucifer and venerate him as a higher being. Although there is little difference between the concepts of Lucifer and Satan, they are not always characterized in the same light—that is to say that Satan is the embodiment of evil in most common characterizations of him, whereas Lucifer is considered the “light-bearer,” or an angel who has fallen from grace. Within Luciferianism, there are those who venerate one concept or the other, but not both simultaneously. The tradition most typically reveres Lucifer not as the devil he’s depicted to be, but as a being who will liberate and guide his followers, replacing the Christian God, or “true god,” with Lucifer being the good guy in the story that traditional Christians adhere to.

Order of Nine Angles

Sigil of the Order of the Nine Angles
Sigil of the Order of the Nine Angles

Based in the United Kingdom, with associated organizations in other parts of the world, the Order of the Nine Angles claims to have been established in the 1960s. It wasn’t until the 1980s when the Order gained public recognition; the political activism and ideologies that it showcased to the world during this time had a huge neo-Nazi affiliation. The Order of Nine Angles describes its approach to religion as traditional Satanism, but academics have been known to associate it more with hermetic and pagan practices.

The Order established advocacy for a spiritual path in which the practitioner is required to break any and all societal taboos. They are encouraged to isolate themselves from society, commit crimes, embracing political extremism and violence, as well as carry out acts of human sacrifice. For these reasons, this branch of Satanism has been described as being the most extreme and dangerous group, under the theistic Satanism umbrella, in the world. So when people immediately jump to “devil-worship,” it is likely that they are considering the Order of Nine Angles without even realizing it; as the least popular sect of Satanism to be a part of, it is the most popular when referencing in popular culture.

Temple of Set                                                 

Inverted Pentacle
Inverted Pentacle

Established in 1975, The Temple of Set inspired a new religious movement—the practitioners of which consider themselves Sethians. Scholars and practitioners alike condemn the idea of Sethianism being likened to Satanism, as they argue it is actually a form of Gnosticism. In 1975, when the religion was first founded, Michael Aquino, a high-ranking member of the Church of Satan, was entirely unsatisfied with the direction in which LaVey was moving the Church in. According to claims from Aquino, he resigned his position with the Church of Satan and embarked upon his own religious path. While doing some soul searching, he believed that Satan revealed his true name to be that of the Ancient Egyptian deity, Set.

Sethians believe that Set is the one true God, who bestowed upon humanity the ability to gain knowledge. This is a familiar concept that is known in Christian texts when Lucifer presented himself as a serpent and tempted Eve with the apple from the Tree of Knowledge when Eve gave in to temptation, she gave humanity free will. Unlike other theistic Satanic organizations, despite being considered a god, Set is to be emulated, but not worshipped or venerated. This is one of many religions that do not condemn the idea of self-deification or worshipping the self. Another magic practicing religion, Sethians believe that through ritual black magic that the world around the practitioner can be manipulated for their own benefit.

Instead of emphasizing the negative aspects of the encounter with Lucifer in the Garden of Eden, toting it as human weakness, it promotes the encounter as “divine fullness,” stating that Eve is to be praised for tossing away blissful ignorance and stepping towards independence and freedom. The snake in the Garden of Eden is therefore considered a heroic figure in its own right, instead of the vilified proto-Satan who is the adversary of humanity. In the opinion of practicing Sethians, eating the fruit of knowledge was the first act of human salvation from the cruel and oppressive powers of the Christian god.

Dark Magic: Is it Always Satanic in Nature?

This is a fairly difficult question to answer, because the short and straight-forward answer is a definitive, “no.” That’s hardly a full answer though, but considering the complexity of dark magic, the people who use it, and the debate about whether dark magic actually exists creates an almost impossible task of alleviating the fears of this question. So, let’s start with the fact that not all practitioners of magic and witchcraft actually believe that magic can be, “dark,” because this implies that the magic itself is evil.

Ritualistic Offering
Photography by Freestocks.org

Most practitioners take a modern-day approach to the concept of magic, is that it is truly just natural energy that practitioners of magic manipulate to change the world around them. These practitioners also take into consideration the volatile nature of the human condition, this means that while magic is a neutral energy, human beings are varying levels of good or bad—this is how there can be benevolent, charitable people like Mother Teresa, as well as serial killers like Jeffrey Dahmer.

Practitioners who thrive on what people consider, “dark magic,” typically refer to what they practice as baneful magic or magic that has ill consequences for the person they may be targeting. Baneful magic is not a practice that is only embraced by Satanic occultists, it is something that is practiced by voodouisants, hoodoos, conjurers, rootworkers, chaos magicians, grey witches, and more. In fact, there is a common saying within the witchcraft community, “a witch that cannot hex, cannot heal,” which always instigates a passionate debate that typically ends with frustration or fury. The fact that baneful magic is practiced by all types of practitioners, means that demons are not just a part of the Christian or Satanist belief systems; demons exist in so many different cultures, so the practice of demonic magic, often referred to as demonology.

American Horror Story: Apocalypse
American Horror Story: Apocalypse (2011 – )

The Roles that Demons Play

When we see demonic magic in action on the big screen, it’s always regarding some terrible sacrifice that requires the blood of the innocent to be spilled, perhaps dominion over the demons that are summoned, subservience to the demons that are summoned, or world-ending scenarios. Demons are as diverse as can possibly be imagined, some can be friendly, although it’s not wise to ever consider them compassionate or generous; they’re like your local loan shark, they’ll give you what you want, for a price. Then again, if you’re desperate enough to want to offer something up to a demon for personal gain, then you might not actually be too worried about what that offering might be.

Movies and TV Shows that Stir the Satanic Panic:

While these movies and television shows are a great thrill ride, they don’t exactly portray Satanism in a realistic way; then again, that’s part of what makes it entertainment, isn’t it?

Chilling Adventures of Sabrina
Chilling Adventures of Sabrina (2018 – )

What inspires your fear about devil-worship? Do you enjoy a good demon-driven plot as much as we do? Did we miss an excellent satanic horror movie or television series that you think we should know about? Tell us your thoughts below!