Wednesday, December 14, 2011

About Ghosts

While I sometimes am impatient with the conservative attitude that dominates the Catholic Answers Forum, one of the "apologists" left a link I followed to this post from 2004,  which responded to this question:

 Is it a contradiction of Catholic philosophy to believe in ghosts, such as poltergeists and things that go bump in the attic, so to speak? And if so, is there Catholic theory behind such phenomena?

I'm going to copy/paste most of the answer here and make a few comments, but for the most part, it stands on it's own.  The reason I'm including the whole text is I'm afraid the present-day CAF folks might find out this post still exists with one of their apologists recommending an author who is so famously charismatic ("new age") and delete the whole thing.

First, the Church forbids us to conjure up the dead (
Catechism 2116-2117). Peter Kreeft in his book Everything You Ever Wanted To Know About Heaven (pgs 34-35) says the reason for “this stricture is probably protection against the danger of deception by evil spirits. We are out of our depth, our knowledge, and our control once we open the doors to the supernatural. The only openings that are safe for us are the ones God has approved: revelation, prayer, His own miracles, sacraments, and primarily Christ Himself…The danger is not physical but spiritual, and spiritual danger always centers on deception.”
I completely agree with this, which might surprise a few people.  But before you think my evil twin is posting, read on...

“Nevertheless, without our action or invitation, the dead often do appear to the living. There is enormous evidence of “ghosts” in all cultures. What are we to make of them?” He goes on to say “We can distinguish three kinds of ghosts, I believe. First, the most familiar kind: the sad ones, the wispy ones. They seem to be working out some unfinished earthly business, or suffering some purgatorial purification until released from their earthly business. These ghosts would seem to be the ones who just barely made it to Purgatory, who feel little or no joy yet and who need to learn many painful lessons about their past lives on earth.
Now here is the biggest Catholic site not the Vatican not only affirming through this Kreeft quote (check his work out if you are unfamiliar) that the average Catholic person can have communication from those who have passed, but also attempting to define the state of being of those on the other side.
Second, there are malicious and deceptive spirits—and since they are deceptive, they hardly ever appear malicious. These are probably the ones who respond to conjurings at seances. They probably come from Hell. Even the chance of that happening should be sufficient to terrify away all temptations to necromancy."
I completely agree with this, also.  John Edward, when he started out, called what he did a "seance."  He stopped doing that, thankfully, because a seance, the way I use the word, does mean attempting by some human "power" to "conjure" the dead.  Ouija boards spring to mind or rituals designed for this purpose.

DON'T DO THAT.  Ever.  As John himself said, "You wouldn't just invite a random stranger into your house, would you?"  Some might say, "But if it works...."  It doesn't.  Srsly and factually, even if something happens, you are not the one doing it.  No one has any power like this.  The Lie the Liar affirms to you is that you do.   On to more positive things...
"Third, there are bright, happy spirits of dead friends and family, especially spouses, who appear unbidden, at God's will, not ours, with messages of hope and love. They seem to come from Heaven. Unlike the purgatorial ghosts who come back primarily for their own sakes, these bright spirits come back for the sake of us the living, to tell us all is well. They are aped by evil spirits who say the same, who speak 'peace, peace, when there is no peace'. But the deception works only one way: the fake can deceive by appearing genuine, but the genuine never deceives by appearing fake. Heavenly spirits always convince us that they are genuinely good.
Here we disagree somewhat. While the characterization of how they appear is okay, "at God's will not ours," the personality and their location is not what I would say.  Purgatory is not a place.  Not a single steady state that begins and ends for us, like a room we enter and leave.  It's a continuum.  More like riding an escalator.  From barely escaping the gates of Hell to entering the perfection of Heaven, we will be at whatever level "matches" our soul when we pass and evolve more and more toward God as our souls are healed and perfected.  And all of them aren't that bright and happy-seeming when they come through.  While they bring light and knowledge, they are quite individual, probably as identifying characteristics.

People who have gotten messages through mediums are often surprised that it's the atheist in the family they've heard from or some really mean guy. But as I've said before, true contact with those who have passed brings enormous spiritual benefit.  Perhaps the "wispy" spirits are just closer to hell.  I'm no expert in all of this, but I do know there is a "heaven" of which we have yet to speak, and while the very upper reaches of Purgatory are wonderful beyond our imaginings, they are not this Heaven.  But Paul said there were three, so perhaps he mistook higher reaches of Purgatory for Heaven.  Or, there is just something beyond Heaven.  That's coming up in some other post.
Recommeded reading:
Everything You Ever Wanted to Know about Heaven By Peter Kreeft
Ghosts and Poltergeists By Herbert Thurston, SJ
Seven Kinds of Ghosts Seven Kinds of Ghosts (article)By Bro. John-Paul Ignatius

Most high, glorious God, enlighten the darkness of my heart and give me Lord, a correct faith, a certain hope, a perfect charity, sense and knowledge, so that I may carry out Your holy and true command AMEN (Saint Francis' prayer at the Crucifix of San Damiano)


  1. THANK YOU THANK YOU BLESS YOU for your blog & informative posts. I followed the link in a CAF post and found myself here.
    As a child I saw a 'ghost' a lady in Victorian mourning dress she would come into my room, walk to the window & look out. (I slept with a book in the door & hall light on so I could see rather than just feel there was someone in the room)One night she turned, saw me & started walking towards my bed I closed my eyes & prayed & prayed over & over'Eternal rest upon her Oh Lord let perpetual light shine upon her, may she rest in peace Amen' She never appeared again. There was something really horrible in our house.. A few things happened in the house, one day I just prayed & prayed never to see these things again, I didn't.. I didn't even give it any thought.

    Regarding your comments “this stricture is probably protection against the danger of deception by evil spirits. We are out of our depth, our knowledge, and our control once we open the doors to the supernatural. The only openings that are safe for us are the ones God has approved: revelation, prayer, ...
    The danger is not physical but spiritual, and spiritual danger always centers on deception.”

    Oh how true, I started 'opening doors' without realizing it when I did a course in Healing Touch. For some reason I had avoided being partnered up with one particular girl, she had a lovely smile, seemed really nice but something I couldn't put my finger on made me not want to 'work with her'. It was lunch time & the instructor had said anyone who wanted to learn another technique could stay, I ended up with her. After I was finished with the sweeps my hands literally felt like they had been immersed in a jar of treacle, we were all now sitting around the instructor, my focus was not on what she was saying, rather " I need to wash my hands, I need to wash my hands I NEED TO WASH my hands.. I gave them a good shake which seemed to help & ran at the first opportunity to give them a wash, thinking I must be going nuts. Later I again was partnered with her + someone else, this time as we worked on her I felt a strong need to pray for her. I asked for the light of the Holy Spirit to enter her & grow, she started coughing & convulsing.. As the other person did sweeps along her, shaking his hands out basically above my lap a little voice said not a good idea I felt strongly to ask for protection from what I hadn't a clue. When it was her turn to work on me I felt abject fear, weird or what! At the end of the session I had a few strange coughs at the top of my throat which I swallowed as we were again back as a group discussing the weekend.. The facilitator then said.. 'I am a nurse so teach this from a practical nursing point, before starting some like to draw on mother earth, spirit, God.. The girl who I hadn't wanted to work with then said. 'I am a wicca & a witch. The nurse said then draw on what ever you feel. All I can say is after that weekend I wasn't the same for years, in some ways still to this day. I couldn't pray, I felt that something not a part of me was deep within me when a disaster happened it was as if 'it smirked' from my stomach. I phoned up the nurse & said I had picked up some dark energy she told me there was no such thing as dark or light energy it was all 'just energy'

    This was a awful time for me, I didn't even want to go near a church, I kept bumping into the girl that I knew this stuff came from she commented 'wasn't that weekend wonderful' all I could think was keep out of my space. The last time I saw her, about 8 months after the weekend, she came up to me smiling, & said since then her life had changed, she'd found God, (she was wearing a cross) that she had met a wonderful man & was getting married.
    If only I had understood what I was doing and had protected myself or better still left well alone..

  2. I've had experience with the coughing phenomena myself, when something dark is present that is being expelled through prayer. As for you, nothing dark is stronger than God. If you still feel tainted, find a priest who does healing prayer and go to a Catholic healing service. Some parishes have regular healing services. God bless you abundantly and thank you for sharing your story.

  3. What is your definition of "conservative attitude"?

  4. Hello, Victoria. One of the elements of non-conservative thinking is not having to have a precise definition of every adjective/noun pairing in language, but to take the sense of meaning from the whole context of the conversation or document.

    That said, I ask myself, well, what did I mean at the time I wrote it? I used it as an adjective, to describe attitude. In the case of the Catholic Answers Forum, it would be the tendency to define things in a narrow context. The conservative approach as I see it, is to have precise definitions for every word, firm parameters for every concept, and to resist change to these things once established.

    In discussion, a person with a conservative attitude tends to argue from the point of view of defending their definitions around an issue, rather than exploring the various aspects of an issue and it's relation to other issues. So discussion from the conservative attitude is often at cross-purposes with another looking at the topic in a wider context. I think it probably leads to impatience on both sides, but here, I was only speaking for myself.