There is an old adage among hunters: know your prey. This is a good mantra for ghost hunters as well. Most of us associate the term "ghosts" with the beings we have defined and known in Western culture (mainly North America, Great Britain, and Ireland). But, interestingly, ghosts are a universally-known phenomena that have been witnessed throughout the world. With Halloween approaching fast—and with it, increased attention to the spiritual world—I thought it would be fun to talk about some of the more interesting, yet lesser known, types of ghosts from all around the world.
In days past, big game hunters would travel to foreign lands to snare the types of prey they preferred (big cats, deer, bear, etc.). Let’s take a look at some of the categories of ghosts that we can hunt abroad.
But what about "evil" spirits? In Western culture, an evil spirit is thought to be the ghost of a once-living person who was, simply, a bad person and has now stuck around to plague the living. These spirits are separated from other traditional evil entities—such as certain elementals, demons, etc. In other locales, however, evil spirits often have their own unique characteristics that separate them from commonplace ghosts, or even typical non-human spirits.
- Ghost lights. Okay, so this is nothing really new. Much like the bobbing balls of light we see in America (such as the infamous Hornet Spook Light in Joplin, Missouri), ghost hunters all over the world have been chasing these mysterious anomalies. In Scotland, investigators term these lights as "spunkies," while their counterparts in Finland have witnessed the same phenomena and term the entities "liekko."
- Ancestor spirits. These benevolent ghosts have been seen in almost every country spanning the globe—though a lot of cultures do not separate ancestor spirits from the general ghost population. Examples of these kindly spirits include the "aumakua" in Hawaii, "lares" in Italy, and even the "kachina" that are known among Native Americans. As a whole, these spirits are known for watching over family members and even warning people of impending danger.
- Gender specific ghosts. Although most ghosts have specific genders, some types of spirits are known for only appearing as a certain sex. These include the "churel" in India, which are said to be the souls of poor women who cannot rest; the "domovik" and "kikimora," who are male and female, respectively, and haunt the Slavic countries (often hiding in a home’s cellar or behind the stove); and the "rusalka," who appear as a female spirit that inhabits areas around bodies of water.
- Haunted objects. Tales of homes becoming haunted after an object (furniture, clothes, toys, etc.) has been introduced to the household are well known—though the object itself is usually just an instigator to the haunting. In other parts of the world, however, there are ghosts that specifically inhabit and haunt inanimate objects. Two such ghosts in Japan are known as the "mononoke," which often occupy household items, and the "bakechochin," often seen in lanterns.
The "chiang-shih" in China is just such a spirit. The chiang-shih loves to occupy and even animate corpses. It is said that this spirit will often inhabit those who have just been buried and is sometimes so powerful that it can cause the body to hop around! Another type of evil ghost (also seen in graveyards) is the Japanese "kubikajiri." This entity is typically seen headless and is purported to wander the cemetery looking, not only for its own head, but for other heads to feast upon. But, perhaps, the scariest of these cemetery ghosts is the Indian "vetala." Vetala are said to possess corpses and to even stalk the night looking for victims to kill.
Additional evil spirits include the "dybbuk" of Jewish folklore, which are known for returning to the living world in order to torment and afflict the living (and can even inhabit objects or living beings) and the "preta" of India that are depicted as emaciated ghosts who constantly crave the things that the living enjoy—and, subsequently, go to any lengths to get it!
But what makes examining "foreign ghosts" so interesting is the wide range of unique spirits that are found throughout the world.
The "acheri" are Native American spirits that are said to appear as a small girl—a girl that comes down from the hills to afflict the living with sickness and death. Then there’s the "buru buru" that appears in Japan as a one-eyed ghost in wooded areas and is known for attaching itself to a person’s spine causing them to constantly experience chills.
Another Japanese entity is the "ikiryoh," which is actually the ghost of a living person! Whether it’s an out-of-body experience, astral projection, or simply the living embodiment of a curse placed on someone else, the ikiryoh is said to haunt people who have wronged them—and to visit various maladies back upon them. Japan is also home to the tragic "konakjiji, which are the ghosts of poor babies who were once left in the woods to die.
In Ireland, the spirits of murdered people (and even animals) can often return from the otherworld as a "tash" to haunt those who did them in. Author Sheridan Le Fanu made a living from writing about such spirits. In his stories these ghosts have appeared as horses, insects, and even birds. It is because of tashes that folks in Eire are warned away from mourning too long, lest the dead return.
And, of course, there are just normal, everyday ghosts elsewhere in the world, too.
So, whether you are hunting ghosts here in North America, or you are pursuing "bhut" in India, "kere" in Greece, or "manes" in Italy, you should pick up a copy of my new book Ghost Hunting for Beginners (October 2011). It includes everything you need to know about chasing spirits wherever you go—as well as information on using technical equipment, setting up your own paranormal group, and even getting your first real case.