Tuesday, October 31, 2006

What does the church say about ghosts?

Except for the Holy Ghost, not much (at least officially). But I thought I might do a Halloween themed entry on Christianity and spooks of various kinds.
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The ghost in the stairway of the Raynham Hall mansion, Norfolk, England in the photo above is thought to be that of Lady Dorothy Townshend, wife of Charles Townshend, 2nd Viscount of Raynham.
Below, a small girl is visible standing in the window of Wem Town Hall in Shropshire, England as it was burning to the ground on 19 November 1995.
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Does the Bible say anything about ghosts?
The Bible certainly does address the issue of dealing with evil spirits in that it explicitly forbids engaging in pagan worship, conjuring up the dead or spirit-guides (what we call necromancy--things like ouija boards and mediums and seances), and anything that might be called magic (trying to manipulate the material world by spiritual means). And, of course, the Bible has much to say about Satan and the other fallen angels, usually called devils or demons.

There is one curious incident in the Bible where a ghost is mentioned--the famous story of the witch of Endor in 1 Samuel 28:2-25. In this event, a sorceress conjures up the soul of the dead prophet Samuel from sheol at the demand of King Saul, who has been unable to obtain guidance by orthodox means. In a straight-forward reading, the spook really is the spirit of the dead prophet. Some Church Fathers argued that it was really a demon in disguise. Other commentators argue that while spirits do not really roam the earth and we cannot summon them, it happened as a special event in God's providence.

The church has historically had a teaching about ghosts, although it is "unofficial" and you'd be hard pressed to find anything about it in most Catholic or Protestant literature. Georgette has a helpful post here covering the information. Basically, the idea is that ghosts are (non-material) spirits of departed people (presumably those who are either "in" hell or "in" purgatory) who have an attachment to some material place or object. Many accounts seem to relate to an event of trauma, or being stuck in some "historical loop" which plays over and over in a particular place.

A priest friend of mine has claimed to have seen an apparition before. I've never seen one myself. I've very skeptical about all this, and I can't stand superstition. But, I want to keep an open mind in an intellectual sense, and also a sound perspective rooted in the Christian tradition.

What about exorcism?
G.K. Chesterton once said, "I believe there is such a thing as witchcraft. Believing that there are spirits, I am bound in mere reason to suppose that there are probably evil spirits; believing that there are evil spirits, I am bound in mere reason to suppose that some men grow evil by dealing with them."

The rite of exorcism is a continuation of the healing ministry of Jesus in the church. It is sometimes called deliverance ministry. What many people do not know is that there are actually two forms of exorcism in the Roman Ritual--one for people and one for places. The latter begins on page 25 of this copy.

There are also other Christians out there practicing various forms of deliverance ministries. Some should be taken seriously and some not. More on the latter side, yet always interesting is Sean Manchester (pictured here and here).

As an independent Bishop (of Glastonbury) in the Grail Church (Ecclesia Apostolica Jesu Christi), The Rt Rev'd Sean Manchester, President & Founder of the Vampire Research Society, is best known for his claim to have exorcised a vampire from Highgate Cemetery in the 1970s and for his ongoing investigation into vampire activity supposed to surround Robin Hood's Grave at Kirklees, Yorkshire. He is called Britain's only full-time vampire hunter. He has specialized in the ministry of exorcism for three decades and is acknowledged by many as one of Britain's foremost authorities on demonology, vampires, and exorcisms. He has been warning of a satanic revival and the existence of preternatural evil since the late 1960s, and is the author of half a dozen books on such topics, and has contributed to many television documentaries.

Below, the Highgate Cemetery.

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