The 7 Kinds of Ghosts You Didn’t Know About
In my almost daily browsing of Awestruck, the Catholic Social Network, I came across this utterly fascinating breakdown of the different types of ghosts we have floating around out there.
I knew that there are at least 3 kinds – the good, the bad, and the beautifying (in Purgatory), but seeing these four other variations starts to make a whole lot more sense of the world.
We often forget that the Spiritual Realm, far from being facile and one-dimensional, is as vari-dimensional and layered as the physical, and made up of pure intelligences. Because of that, our mother the Church has always cautioned her children to challenge everything (1 Thess 5:21) when it comes from the spiritual world, trusting nothing because even the devil appears as an angel of light (2 Cor 11:14).
Below, veteran apologist and catechist Brother Ignatius Mary explores the three types of ghost identified by Peter Kreeft, and based on Kreeft’s writing, infers 4 more. He prefaces his list with a healthy framing of the issue, and follows up with a couple of frequently asked questions.
Get ready to enjoy:
- What the Bible Says about Ghosts
- Comments from Peter Kreeft
- Seven Kinds of Ghosts
- How should we react to “any” ghostly event?
- How can we tell the difference between a a Godly Apparition and one not of God?
- Some Common Questions & Answers
If only Hamlet had this in his favorites, we wouldn’t have such a cautionary tale instead.
What the Bible Says about Ghosts
A. Seeking out Ghosts
We begin this discussion with an examination of some of the verses of Scripture that give us clues on this subject.
We must first say that Scripture does not have much to say about this and certainly God has made it clear that this is an area we are not to seek out:
Lev. 19:31 tells us to not turn to mediums or to seek out spiritists.
Lev. 20:6, 27 equates the seeking out of mediums with prostitution (doing so is an act of infidelity to God that is not just adultery, but involves a prurient interest in the occult things equating it with prostitution — a medium also is “hired” which is also an image of prostitution).
Deut. 18:10-11 Gives a whole list of prohibitions involving the occult and spirit world.
Whatever Ghosts are or are not, it is clear that we are not to seek them out in any way.
B. What do We Know About Ghosts?
1. Composition of Ghosts
What are ghosts composed of?
Well, we have a little hint of that in Luke 24:39 where the Resurrected Jesus is mistaken for a ghost. Jesus says “a ghost does not have flesh and bones”.
Thus, we can know that whatever ghosts are, they are spiritual beings without flesh and bones.
2. Ghostly Visitations during Sleep
Is there an example of a ghostly visitation during sleep?
Job 4:15: “A spirit glided by my face and the hair on my body stood on end”
This “spirit” was most probably an angel, but it does give us a clue of the human experience of meeting a spiritual entity and that such entities can and do come to us in that vulnerable time of twilight and dreams. This account is very close to the common experience many have of which can be described in technical jargon as a cataleptic somnambulism with a sensed or visual phantasmic perception.
Also, in 2 Maccabees 15:12-16 is a passage about a dream (vision) of the Jewish leader Maccabeus. In this dream the ghosts of the high priest Onias and the great prophet Jeremiah appeared to him and encouraged him concerning the battle to come.
Maccabeus told this dream to his men which encouraged his men greatly. Maccabeus and his men afterward defeated blasphemous Nicanor and his men who thought to destroy the Jewish people.
3. Human spirits in Ghostly Form?
Can a spirit of a human being be transported?
We know from accounts of Padre Pio that bi-location is possible, but those are yet unverified — But, what about in Scripture. Well, there are a couple of verses that indicate this. One is in Rev. 21:10 (17:3) where John was “carried away in the spirit”.
But the most direct notion of this is in 2 Corinthians 12:2 “I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven. Whether it was in the body or out of the body I do not know — God knows.”
From this we know it is possible for man’ spirit to be apart from even his living body at God’s discretion. In the occult world this is called Astral Projection.
Can a person’s body be transported spiritually?
Acts 8:39, after Philip was miraculously running up along the chariot of the Ethiopian, and after Philip baptized him, Philip then disappeared. “When they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord suddenly took Philip away, and the eunuch did not see him again…”
This episode appears to be a bodily transport in the spirit, but I suppose it could also be a corporeal bi-location too. Who knows?
4. Other examples of ghostly visitations
The Witch of Endor (1 Samuel 28) In this story Saul goes to a medium asking her to contact the dead Samuel. She apparently succeeds and Saul talks with Samuel and Samuel prophecies. The Scripture specifically states that “Samuel said”. There is no indication at all that this was a demonic impostor.
Sirach 46:20 – Again Samuel prophecies from the grave.
The Transfiguration (Matt 17:2) Moses and Elijah appear with Jesus to Peter, James, and John.
The Rich Man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31) In verse 25 Abraham says that there is a great chasm between him and the Rich Man that cannot be crossed. This is not talking about a chasm between the earth and hell; it is a chasm between Abraham’s bosom (which, in principle can be likened to heaven), and that of hell.
Those in hell cannot come to the place of the saved, and the saved cannot reach down with compassion to those who are lost. It is in the next request from the Rich Man that we have a possible clue. The Rich Man wants Lazarus to go to his brothers to warn them of hell.
Abraham says that there is no point in doing so. v.31 “If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead”.
This passage implies the possibility of at least Lazarus being able to go to the living (it implies the Rich Man in hell cannot), but Abraham refuses the request not because it is impossible to do so, but because there is no point in doing so.
C. So what do we have?
We know that ghosts do not have flesh and bones. (Luke 24:39)
We know that the dead can communicate with the living. (1 Sam 28; Sirach 46:20)
We know that at least in some context allowed by God, the dead can be conjured in some fashion. (1 Sam 28)
We know that it is possible for the dead to appear on the earth (Matt 72; 1 Sam 28)
We know that is may be possible for the dead to not only appear on the earth, but appear to people and talk with them (Luke 16:27-31; 1 Sam 28)
We know that it is possible for the living to bi-locate (Rev. 17:3; 21:10; 2 Cor 12:2)
We know that it is possible for spirits to communicate in dreams and the person to have a bodily reaction to the visitation (Job 4:15)
Comments from Peter Kreeft
Now, let’s take a look at what Peter Kreeft says about this. He wrote at least two books that mention this subject, “Angels (and demons): What Do we Know About Them?” and “Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Heaven”. His comments stem from his study of Thomas Aquinas, Philosophy, and other Catholic saints and observers on this subject.
Kreeft makes mention that many very reputable people, such as C.S. Lewis, have reported seeing a “ghost” of their wives. There are many instances from reputable sources of experiences that do not have any flavor of the demonic.
Based upon these anecdotal accounts Kreeft and others talk about identifying three kinds of ghosts. I would add a fourth and a fifth category (from Kreeft’s material that he talks about but doesn’t categorized) and a sixth and seventh type from my own thoughts and observations.
Seven Kinds of Ghosts
1. The Wispy Ones
The first kind Kreeft calls the “sad ones” or “wispy ones”. These Ghosts seem to be working out some unfinished business of some sort, or suffering some purgatorial purification.
He says that these Ghosts would seem to be the ones who just barely made it into Purgatory, who feel little or no joy yet and who need to learn many painful lessons about their lives on earth.
God, in his compassion, may allow the person to learn some lessons on this earth to assist him in the purging of whatever needs to be purged before entering heaven.
2. The Un-Detached
A second kind may be purgatorial ghosts who may have been so material minded in their earthly life that they cannot detach themselves from the material places or possessions of his earthly life.
God may allow such people to remain temporarily attached as they work out their need to “let go”.
3. Those Who Do Not Yet Realize They are Dead
A third type may be those who do not yet realize they are dead. Again, in God’s compassion, I can see why He may allow a spirit to linger for a short while so that he may realize his fate before leaving this world completely.
In both the “second kind” and “third kind” God could, of course, force the person to let go of the material places and possessions of this earth and bring him through the “gate” immediately without any lingering.
But, a compassionate Father can also allow for a “little” tolerance to help the person to adjust.
4. Malicious & Deceptives
A fourth type are the malicious and deceptive spirits.
These are the one who probably appear at séances and the like and are from hell. Such ghosts are demons disguised as dead loved ones and not the human persons themselves.
5. Bright, Happy Spirits
A fifth type are the bright, happy spirits of dead friends and family who appear unbidden at God’s will, not ours, with messages of hope and love. They come from heaven.
God may allow these people to come to a loved one to say goodbye or to comfort them after a funeral, for example, or may come to a relative or friend in great need. God may allow these dead relatives to come to the bedside of a loved one just before death.
This would be an act of compassion to comfort the person as they pass from this life to the next. There are very trustworthy empirical and psychological evidence for these phenomena.
6. Ghosts on a Mission
A sixth type involves the ghost repeatedly performing a certain task or scene. F
or example, a ghost of this type may go from the top of the stairs to the bottom and then disappear. This may happen over and over again. It never changes. The Ghost never interacts with anyone, and we cannot interact with it. It never changes facial expression nor does it ever acknowledge anything around it.
There are many theories to explain this phenomenon, but no real explanations. A popular notion is the concept of a “Residual Ghost”, which I originally posited in 1999. Since that time, after a more careful study of physics, I changed my position on this.
The notion of a Residual Ghost is well expressed by Jason Hawes of the Atlantic Paranormal Society:
“A residual haunting is like having an impression made in time. The entity may seem to be lost in a time warp. The spirit really isn’t even there, only the energy is.”
The Glossary on their website gives a more formal definition:
Psychic imprint of a scene which is repeatedly played out, where the witness of such phenomenon essentially is peering into the past. The ghostly participants of these time-displacements often seem unaware of their living observers.
There are significant problems with this theory. The physics of matter and energy makes this theory nearly impossible. Cody Polston, Founder and President of the Southwest Ghost Hunter’s Association, gives a very good and succinct scientific explanation of why the Residual Haunting is implausible in his article, Residual hauntings, a flawed hypothesis (we offer this article on its own merits, without any implication of endorsement of the Southwest Ghost Hunter’s Association itself, its other articles, or activitiies).
Ockham’s razor (“All other things being equal, the simplest solution is the best”) advises us to avoid complex explanations. The theory of Residual Ghosts creates all sorts of problems that must be resolved before it can be plausible. A more plausible and simpler explanation is that “residual ghosts” are actually demonic in origin.
We know from cases throughout the history of the Church that one of Satan’s tactics is to instill an unhealthy curiosity into things concerning the paranormal. To experience a “residual ghost” usually creates an interest and curiosity in the paranormal on the part of the experiencer.
Sometimes the experiencer will further explore contact with the spirit world or other dangerous explorations into the paranormal. God warns us of the danger to our soul if we try to contact the dead. Our Lord calls these activities an abomination (Deut. 18:9-12). Satan would love to inspire such curiosity and to lure a person into his sandbox.
7. Apparitions of Bilocation
Some “apparent” ghostly apparitions or effects may be the bi-location of the living — “Astral projections”, to use the term of New Agers, of living people.
This can be postulated from scriptural evidence (Rev. 17:3; 21:10; and 2 Cor 12:2), and from verified reports of bi-location of people like St. Padre Pio.
How should we react to “any” ghostly event?
In a one liner the answer to that question is: skepticism, caution, and testing.
Because Satan can so easily fool our senses, we should look upon all ghostly events with great skepticism.
First, we must recognize the great possibility that we are imagining things. The human mind has great imagination capacity and we can psyche ourselves into seeing things that are not there or to misinterpret optical illusions.
Second, we must always presume that we may be tricked by Satan and what we see is a demon in disguise or Satan taking advantage of our overactive imaginations or taking advantage of optical illusions.
Third, we must be aware that it is possible for the event to be ordained by God.
How can we tell the difference between a Godly Apparition and one not of God?
1) A Godly apparition will never contradict any Public Revelation (so we need to be well versed in Public Revelation). Public Revelation is the Sacred Scriptures (the Bible) and Sacred Tradition.
2) A Godly apparition will never lead you to disobey your elders, superiors, or the Church. (So we need to be aware of Church teaching and obey that teaching and the directives of our elders and superiors. Disobedience and rebellion is not of God).
3) Although meeting a Spirit is scary, a Godly apparition will lead us to peace.
4) A Godly spirit will always and without hesitation affirm the Lordship of Jesus Christ. Thus, we need to test the spirit with the formula of 1 John 4:1-3
Some Common Questions and Answers
1) Regarding ‘Un-Detached Ghosts’, why would God let someone stay on to work out their need to “let go”?
Purgatory usually serves the function to bring a person to a place of letting go. Sometimes, however, difficulty in letting go can be severe enough that God in his love and mercy will allow the person to adjust slowly.
“Jesus looked at him [now sad] and said, ‘How hard it is for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God! For it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.’ Those who heard this said, ‘Then who can be saved?’ And he said, ‘What is impossible for human beings is possible for God.’” (Luke 18:24-27)
This passage suggest that God can bring the person to a place of salavation even when steep in attachment to material things. I don’t think allowing a time for adjustment is a scripturally unfounded statement.
2) Regarding ‘Those Who Do Not Yet Realize They are Dead’ and ‘Ghosts on a Mission’, why would God allow someone to not realize they’re dead, or allow for a “little” tolerance to help the person to adjust?
“Who is this that obscures divine plans with words of ignorance? Have the gates of death been shown to you, or have you seen the gates of darkness? Which is the way to the dwelling place of light, and where is the abode of darkness, that you may take them to their boundaries and set them on their homeward paths?” Job 38:2,17,19
“… For stern as death is love, relentless as the nether world is devotion, its flames are a blazing fire.” Song of Songs 8:6
“… for nothing will be impossible for God.” Luke 1:37
I do believe such a conjecture is possible for God, the question is whether it is likely? A key to that would be whether it would be loving, for God is love (1 John 4:7).
Let us look into Church traditions of the past for precedents.
“‘A very probable opinion,’ says St. Thomas [Aquinas], ‘and one which, moreover, corresponds with the words of the saints in particular revelation is, that Purgatory has a double place for expiation. The first will be destined for the generality of souls, and is situated below, near to Hell; the second will be for particular cases, and it is from thence that so many apparitions occur.’
“The holy Doctor admits, then, like so many others who share his opinions, that sometimes Divine Justice assigns a special place for purification to certain souls, and even permits them to appear either to instruct the living or to procure for the departed the suffrages of which they stand in need; sometimes also for other motives worthy of wisdom and mercy of God.
“Such is the general view concerning the location of Purgatory. Since we are not writing a controversial treatise, we add neither proofs nor refutations; these can be seen in authors such as Suarez and Bellarmin.” (Fr. F.X. Shouppe, S.J., “Purgatory Explained by the Lives and Legends of the Saints,” 1893)
3) But Scripture says that if you are not alive on earth, then you are in the presence of God.
Most definitely; but what does that mean?
Case in Point: We know that Souls in Hell are in the “presence” of God because God is everywhere. Those in Hell, however, do not “perceive” God’s presence because they have chosen to blind themselves to the light of God. The nature of Hell is to exist without perception of God’s presence (thus without Love and all good things) … to be “free” from God, yet those in Hell are still in the presence of an omnipresent God.
Similarly, souls in Purgatory only have a partial awareness of God’s presence. The veil of mortality has not yet passed away, yet they are still in God’s presence.
“The first point about eternal life is that man is united with God. For God himself is the reward and end of all our labors. I am your protector and your supreme reward. This union consists in seeing perfectly At present we are looking at a confused reflection in a mirror, but then we shall see face to face.” (St. Thomas Aquinas, “Credo in Deum”)
The point is that even when we are in the presence of God it does not mean that our perception of Him is clear. We also know that it is possible to be in the presence of God while on the earth. The angels can be standing right next to us yet they are also in the constant presence of God – the beatific vision. With God all is possible according to His will.
4) The Bible does not delineate how, why or if God places spirits on the earth – other than visits by the Archangels Gabriel or Michael, or Elijah and Moses.
Let me use another example from tradition that responds to “if God places spirits on the earth anywhere.” I qualify this example to say that it does not necessarily prove anything regarding hauntings, but is one of many documented examples of ghostly apparitions.
“We read the following in the Life of Father Nicholas Zucchi, written by Fr. Daniel Bartoli, of the Company of Jesus …
“… a fortnight afterwards, this young man died, carried away by a rapid death, that left him little time to put the affairs of his conscience in order, so that there was everything to fear for his salvation.
“One evening, whilst the three novices were engaged together in holy conversation, the youngest was called away to the parlour. There she found a man wrapped in a heavy cloak, and with measured steps pacing the room.
“‘Sir,’ she said, ‘who are you? and why did you send for me?’ The stranger, without answering, drew near and threw aside the mysterious mantle which covered him. The Religious than recognized the unfortunate deceased, and saw with horror that he was entirely surrounded by chains of fire that clasped his neck, wrists, knees, and ankles. ‘Pray for me!’ he cried, and disappeared.” (Fr. F.X. Shouppe, S.J., Purgatory Explained by the Lives and Legends of the Saints, 1893)
On an anecdotal side note, St. Padre Pio’s first visit from a deceased human’s soul was that of a monk who had died 300 years before in the cell Padre used at the time. The monk had been guilty of some infraction of his monkly duties, and so God sentenced him to remain in his cell until a monk would offer up some prayers and sacrifices on his behalf. I forget what laxity the monk had been guilty of, but I found it interesting that his “sentence“ very much fit the “crime.”
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