Most times they’re invisible, yet they seem to be everywhere, in every country, in every culture.  Commonly known as ghosts, souls or spirits, they have the ability to exist not only on earth but beyond and under as well, up in the astral realms, in the bowels of the earth and underwater. And they aren’t of just one kind, type or category. Neither do they possess only one kind of power. There is an amazing variety of ghosts, souls or spirits and the powers they possess collectively are vast and multi-dimensional. Indestructible and impervious to the passage of time, they find mention in ancient Indian texts, in the Bible, in old Jewish texts, in Buddhist texts, in Islamic lore, in folklore all over the world, in family histories—one can go on and on.

And the most curious and significant part: despite persistent efforts by scientists, their existence has not yet been proved scientifically, yet they feature prominently in all cultures, amongst all age groups. In Stokkseyri in Iceland, for example, there is a museum called the Ghost Center devoted to Icelandic ghosts. “Visitors pass through an enormous ghost-maze where they experience ghost-stories in a recreation of the environment in which they originally took place.” Strikingly and obviously, ghosts, souls or spirits have always had and continue to have an unparalleled and perhaps even growing hold on the human imagination. Out of all the soul, ghost, or spirit “varieties” the strongest, most powerful, most feared hold on the human consciousness has always been and continues to be that of dangerous or evil ghosts or spirits. Why is this so? With all the recommendations in ancient texts and the means available nowadays with paranormal experts, priests and other specialists, why can’t such spirits be exorcised and somehow freed from evil tendencies?

A simple sampling of the tales attached to even just a few malevolent spirits provides an understanding of why it is so difficult to help such spirits find release or get rid of such spirits. Living primarily in the mountains of North Korea, the dalgyal gwishin or “egg ghosts” are reportedly the vilest of all Korean ghosts. Called “egg ghosts” because their faces do not have features like eyes, ears, noses, or mouths, the dalgyal gwishin “like to torment hikers and others who traverse deep in Korea’s mountains. It is said that if one looks upon a dalgyal gwishin, they will die immediately… While some scholars have posited that the dalgyal gwishin myth has its origins in people who died without strong familial connections, these ghosts, who usually dress as drifters in order to underscore their rootless existence, are the least human-like of all Korean ghosts.”

According to the History, Science and Paranormal Research Blog hosted by the Mississippi Society of Paranormal Investigators, in Japanese folklore bakechochin is a ghost lantern carried by ghost or obake. The lantern has eyes and a long tongue protruding from its mouth. It serves as a home for the ghost of people who died with hate still in their hearts and are thus earthbound. If a person mistakenly lights one of these haunted lanterns the hateful ghost inside will jump out and attack…In Chinese folklore, the Ch’iang Shih is a monster made of evil spirits and unburied corpses, which come to life and wreak death and havoc. According to Chinese tradition, an unburied corpse is a great danger because it invited inhabitation by the evil spirits and is said to be present everywhere all the time… In Assyrian folklore, one became an ekimmu or evil spirit by dying a tragic death , murder, in battle or drowning, or receiving an improper burial or none at all. Ekimmus were greatly feared and were extremely hard to exorcise.

In India, virtually every State and region has its own distinctive dangerous ghosts and spirits. In many villages in Tamil Nadu, there is the Kollivai pisaasu, a flesh eating demon described as having “ a dark complexion with bulging veins and protruding, red eyes… and traditionally depicted as haunting cremation grounds along with other monsters like bhutas and vetālas…”  In Bengal, the Gechho bhoot who resides in trees can jump on the shoulders of unwary passersby and kill them in seconds by twisting their necks. In both Bihar and Bengal, the Nishi Daak calls out a potential victim’s name in a familiar voice, from a distance beckons the victim to follow and leads the way—to eternity.

In almost all cases, it is embitterment, a desire for revenge, anger, loneliness with no family connections, lack of proper funeral rites, those who were not given a funeral and so on which is the cause for a person turning into an evil or dangerous ghost or spirit. To compound matters, in the case of a murderer, a criminal or someone who commits suicides or was executed for a crime, or did not fulfill some other duties wantonly or was vengeful, family members are often reluctant to maintain ties with such a person in the afterlife. In Navajo folklore for instance, it is believed that the chindi or ghost that leaves the body with a person’s last breath contains “everything that was bad or unharmonious in their spirit. After death, such a dead person’s name is never spoken and their remains and possessions are avoided in order to avoid chindi-inflicted ‘ghost sickness’.”

But it is well known that the spirit world is also inhabited by good souls, ghosts or spirits who often actively provide a protective shield for humans against evil souls, ghosts or spirits. Why can’t the good spirits overpower the bad spirits? For one, the evil spirits far outnumber the good spirits. That’s because it’s usually the bad or negative spirits or those where the last rites were incomplete who remain trapped on earth. Many cultures and people have over time recognised the need to protect themselves against evil spirits. The most common form of protection is to “give” malevolent spirits a share of offerings during certain religious functions and festivals. In many cases, several countries and communities have come up with unusual answers such as architecture designed to ward off ghosts—a subject for a future column.

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