Almost all cultures have beliefs in ghosts. Although there have been exceptions, the general rule has always been to keep spirits away from the living, and avoid them at all costs. Ghosts were thought to be stubborn and mean. To primitive societies, a ghost was like a “bomb” to the living. All of their rites and ceremonies were to keep the “bombs” from going off.
They wanted to make sure the spirits stayed in the next world, safely away from the living. People feared that they “could ‘catch’ death from the jealous dead” . Certain ghosts were believed to be more powerful and feared more than others, especially leaders and strong men who died in their prime. The people felt that those people had the most to lose when they died, so they became more envious as ghosts. People believed that those would become the most powerful ghosts, since they were the most powerful people .
Shutting the eyes of the dead
The reason is more for respect that it is done today, but some of it may go back to the fear of ghosts, and wanting to be protected from them. In some cultures, after a death, they would not speak the name of the dead, and in some cases the name is dropped from the language. They believed speaking the name of the dead may anger them or call them back . In some cultures, they destroy the dead’s home, or move away from the camp where the dead had died.
Shut doors for the dead
Cover all your mirrors immediately after a death. This keeps a spirit from using them as a portal. In other cultures, they believe they must let the soul out, so they open a window, remove a roof tile.
Bound the dead
In early cultures, they bound their dead, figuring that the spirit would also be bound, and unable to harm the living. The Saxons of early England cut off the feet so their corpses could not walk (Turner, 122). Some aborigine tribes cut off the head of the dead, thinking that the spirit would be too busy searching for his head to worry about the living (Turner, 122).
Confuse the dead
Some cultures believed that a ghost could only come back through the way that they left. This led to bearing the dead through windows, and sealing them afterwards. Some houses in Italy and Denmark had special doors for the dead, which would keep the main doors “clean” from death. In some extreme cases, people would make a hole in the wall of a house, move the dead out through it, and then wall it up again, insuring the spirit cannot reenter the house (Turner, 122).
Another method of protection from ghosts is trying to confuse the spirit. One way of doing this is rushing the coffin around before burying so that the spirit will be confused so as to not find its way back. If an old person died, the belief is that they treasured their grandchildren and may want to take them with them to the next life, so the grandchild is whisked around the coffin, getting the spirit’s attention, and then hid away, causing the spirit to be too busy to look for it’s grandchild to bother with the rest of the living (Turner, 123).
Scare the dead at the graveyard
Cultures also try to scare away other ghosts at the graveyard. Some practices to do this are beating on the grave, shooting of guns, funeral bells, and loud wailing (Turner, 123). All of these which we think of as being ways of showing respect and grief may go back to the fear of ghosts, and wanting to scare them away.
Gifts for the dead
The custom of leaving gifts at a grave is practiced today, and there is evidence of it being practiced in Neanderthal times. This practice goes back to “niceness for the ghost”, in order to keep them happy and, more importantly, away (Turner, 124). But this practice also has the effect of showing respect for the deceased, not just trying to bribe their spirits. Romans and Greek even had tubes running to the inner tomb where they bury leaders, so that they could “feed” the spirits (Turner, 124).
Plant houseleeks on your roof
The Latin name for this plant, sempervivium, means “ever living”, and the dead cannot bear its presence. The Aztecs considered jimsonweed weed a sacred plant that would protect from ghosts any area in which it grew.
Bonfires and other light sources drive away malevolent spirits, like those that walk the earth more freely on Midsummer, Hallows, and Lammas, so it was traditional to build fires then. In the Middle Ages, people left candles near their beds to drive away spirits. On Hallows specifically, people carried turnips with candles inside – the original of the Jack-o-lantern – for protection.
More about ghosts and revenants
- Write the letters AGLA in the center of a hexagram and carry this token with you. The hexagram repels evil spirits and misfortune. Cabalists used this formula to banish spirits.
- Angelica and nettle worn or carried as an amulet will protect the bearer from evil spirits.
- Sleeping on the skin of an ass and drinking boneset tea keeps away
- Bathing in fennel water, or drinking it, protects one against the spirit of disease.
- In Greece, growing violets in or around a home was considered an effective ward against wandering spirits.
- If you are being chased by a ghost, pass through the cleft of a tree.This confuses the spirit, and you will be safe.