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Author Topic: Gods - Spirits - Ghosts  (Read 4727 times)

Harzgeist

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Gods - Spirits - Ghosts
« on: July 12, 2011, 07:33:07 am »
I hope this is the right place to put this... I'm currently doing English literature seminar on ghosts in literature, and the question came up as to how different cultures conceptualize ghosts, like what their prototypical ghosts looked like, what their functions are, etc.

A girl holding a presentation said that in Asian mythology, the difference between Gods and ghosts/spirits was hard to tell sometimes. She did not give any sources, however, and since it wasn't the aim of the seminar to discuss mythologies, I could not ask her for more detail. So I thought I'd ask around here.

Basically what I'd like to know is:
How does your path or the mythology you're interested in describe ghosts? If there are no ghosts in your culture, I'd also like to know :)
Would it be possible for Gods to be "degraded" into spirits? E.g. when a new religion/belief system comes along?
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Asch

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Re: Gods - Spirits - Ghosts
« Reply #1 on: July 12, 2011, 07:52:08 am »
Quote from: Harzgeist;4213
I hope this is the right place to put this... I'm currently doing English literature seminar on ghosts in literature, and the question came up as to how different cultures conceptualize ghosts, like what their prototypical ghosts looked like, what their functions are, etc.

A girl holding a presentation said that in Asian mythology, the difference between Gods and ghosts/spirits was hard to tell sometimes. She did not give any sources, however, and since it wasn't the aim of the seminar to discuss mythologies, I could not ask her for more detail. So I thought I'd ask around here.

Basically what I'd like to know is:
How does your path or the mythology you're interested in describe ghosts? If there are no ghosts in your culture, I'd also like to know :)
Would it be possible for Gods to be "degraded" into spirits? E.g. when a new religion/belief system comes along?

 
Hmm good question. ADF honors the three Kindreds which includes Ancestors, Deities, and Nature Spirits. But, there are also the Outsiders (the Fomore or the Jotuns etc) which aren't honored but are usually given an offering of some type as an acknowledgement / appeasement. Basically saying, hey here's some good stuff now leave us alone.

I'm not really clear on where ghosts would fall in there. My guess is somewhere between the Ancestors and the Outsiders.

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Re: Gods - Spirits - Ghosts
« Reply #2 on: July 12, 2011, 07:53:59 am »
Quote from: Harzgeist;4213

A girl holding a presentation said that in Asian mythology, the difference between Gods and ghosts/spirits was hard to tell sometimes.

 
I would imagine that different cultures define 'ghost' differently, and that might lead to different understandings of them. Here in the US, most people I know think of ghosts as the soul or memories of a person who was once alive. Hauntings might be caused by a ghost or by a spirit, an entity that was never a living person.

If different definitions or distinctions of ghost and spirit are used, I can see how it might be confusing to separate them all out. If you ran into an entity out in a forest, for example, how would you know what exactly they were? Particularly if your culture considered spirits of place local deities.

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Re: Gods - Spirits - Ghosts
« Reply #3 on: July 12, 2011, 11:28:05 am »
Quote from: Harzgeist;4213
How does your path or the mythology you're interested in describe ghosts? If there are no ghosts in your culture, I'd also like to know :)
Would it be possible for Gods to be "degraded" into spirits? E.g. when a new religion/belief system comes along?

 
In my path, non-fleshy entities exist on a sort of continuum of influence. Gods are on one end, with the most influence; Dead are on the other end, with the least influence; Spirits are in the middle.

The Dead (ghosts, I guess, though I associate ghosts more with unresolved issues/ooky-spooky apparitions, and the Dead are just dead- they were once connected to fleshy bits, and aren't anymore.) Anyway, the Dead have the least amount of influence, the least ability to influence; I find them to be primarily concerned with family, but also the things that interested them in life. Those who attained notoriety, either during their fleshy period or not, I find to have somewhat more influence than others (compare cultural heroes) but generally not enough to edge them into the Spirit section of the continuum.

The Spirits and the Gods have never had a fleshy period; they may take on a flesh for a time for their own purposes, but even that ability to do so shows that they are different than the Dead. Spirits and Gods are very similar; the primary difference is the level of influence. Spirits tend to be more restricted in location- ie working with a spirit of the Atlantic Ocean will probably not go so well in the American Midwest or the west coast. Their sphere of influence, too, is more narrow- they tend to be more easily categorized by a small number of interests/abilities.

Gods, on the other hand, tend to lack that locational restriction- they may not be interested in other places, but they are not restricted, as it were. People, with their tendency to categorize, may "water" them down to "God of the Sun" or "Goddess of the Sea" or what have you, but their purview and interests are much more...intricate, when one looks closer. I think that Gods also tend to feel more "human" than Spirits, because of that variety of interest; the narrower focus of Spirits can amplify that feeling of Other.

In my path, I believe there is room for movement on the continuum, but I don't believe it's determined by people, by the introduction of other belief systems or what have you. Honestly, I have no idea how such movement would be achieved, but as I am thoroughly entrenched in my fleshy period, it is hardly a concern of mine.
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Harzgeist

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Re: Gods - Spirits - Ghosts
« Reply #4 on: July 12, 2011, 01:21:01 pm »
Quote from: Juni;4254
In my path, non-fleshy entities exist on a sort of continuum of influence. Gods are on one end, with the most influence; Dead are on the other end, with the least influence; Spirits are in the middle.

[...]

In my path, I believe there is room for movement on the continuum, but I don't believe it's determined by people, by the introduction of other belief systems or what have you. Honestly, I have no idea how such movement would be achieved, but as I am thoroughly entrenched in my fleshy period, it is hardly a concern of mine.

 
The idea of a continuum makes sense to me :)

As to the movement, what I meant by my original question was more along the lines of whether it happens/has happened in history that the Gods of one people were discounted as mere ghosts and spirits by another people. That is not to say that the Gods really become spirits, but rather that their God-status is no longer recognized. Does that make any sense?
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Starglade

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Re: Gods - Spirits - Ghosts
« Reply #5 on: July 12, 2011, 01:28:30 pm »
Quote from: Harzgeist;4213
I

A girl holding a presentation said that in Asian mythology, the difference between Gods and ghosts/spirits was hard to tell sometimes. She did not give any sources, however, and since it wasn't the aim of the seminar to discuss mythologies, I could not ask her for more detail. So I thought I'd ask around here.



I'll get back to you on this. I missed it before but I think I can find some sourced information for you. "Hungry ghosts" come immediately to mind--they're a Buddhist thing, y'know. :-)
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Re: Gods - Spirits - Ghosts
« Reply #6 on: July 12, 2011, 01:33:52 pm »
Quote from: Harzgeist;4279
As to the movement, what I meant by my original question was more along the lines of whether it happens/has happened in history that the Gods of one people were discounted as mere ghosts and spirits by another people. That is not to say that the Gods really become spirits, but rather that their God-status is no longer recognized. Does that make any sense?

 
Ah, okay. That does make sense, and it certainly has happened historically; just look at the Tuatha De Danann. The old Irish Gods were considered fairies and spirits after Christianity came to the island.
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Re: Gods - Spirits - Ghosts
« Reply #7 on: July 12, 2011, 01:41:00 pm »
Quote from: Starglade;4281
I'll get back to you on this. I missed it before but I think I can find some sourced information for you. "Hungry ghosts" come immediately to mind--they're a Buddhist thing, y'know. :-)

 
I look forward to this: the "hungry ghost" is a terribly fascinating element of Buddhism to me, one of the few bits I've really connected to.
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Harzgeist

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Re: Gods - Spirits - Ghosts
« Reply #8 on: July 12, 2011, 01:55:33 pm »
Quote from: Juni;4282
Ah, okay. That does make sense, and it certainly has happened historically; just look at the Tuatha De Danann. The old Irish Gods were considered fairies and spirits after Christianity came to the island.

 
Thanks, I did think about the Tuatha De Danann, but I wasn't sure and didn't have a proper source to check with.
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Re: Gods - Spirits - Ghosts
« Reply #9 on: July 12, 2011, 03:18:51 pm »
Quote from: Harzgeist;4279
As to the movement, what I meant by my original question was more along the lines of whether it happens/has happened in history that the Gods of one people were discounted as mere ghosts and spirits by another people. That is not to say that the Gods really become spirits, but rather that their God-status is no longer recognized. Does that make any sense?

 
It's also worth noting that what different cultures think of as divinity (deliberately phrased that way rather than "a god") can be very different.  I mean, I've had someone ask me straight out "what's the point of a god who isn't omnipotent" (this was an atheist!).

So you have cultures in which gods are different classes of being than spirits or other entities; you have cultures in which godliness is a trait that can be accrued over time; you have cultures in which things are only gods if they have a certain scale or universality, and those in which it's meaningful to speak of the god of that bush there; you have cultures in which gods are very, very distant ancestors; you have cultures in which gods are just other beings kicking around the multiverse; you have zillions of other conceptions of what it means to be a god.  And that means you start getting translation drifts.  "That isn't a god, because we say gods are like THIS; they must be spirits/demons/ghosts/fairies/etc."

And it accumulates.  Like the name of Torpenhow Hill.
as the water grinds the stone
we rise and fall
as our ashes turn to dust
we shine like stars    - Covenant, "Bullet"

Starglade

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Re: Gods - Spirits - Ghosts
« Reply #10 on: July 12, 2011, 03:58:51 pm »
Quote from: Harzgeist;4279
The idea of a continuum makes sense to me :)

As to the movement, what I meant by my original question was more along the lines of whether it happens/has happened in history that the Gods of one people were discounted as mere ghosts and spirits by another people. That is not to say that the Gods really become spirits, but rather that their God-status is no longer recognized. Does that make any sense?

 
I can address this as well in terms of how Tibetan Buddhism subsumed the local land-gods and -spirits. Give me a little bit here, I just got in and need to settle before I can do any research for you. I could go off the top of my head but I suspect you want sources. Can do, just not immediately.
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Starglade

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Re: Gods - Spirits - Ghosts
« Reply #11 on: July 12, 2011, 04:24:48 pm »
Quote from: Harzgeist;4213

How does your path or the mythology you're interested in describe ghosts? If there are no ghosts in your culture, I'd also like to know :)
Would it be possible for Gods to be "degraded" into spirits? E.g. when a new religion/belief system comes along?


In Buddhist thought (not just Tibetan Buddhist, more generally speaking as well) ghosts are peta (which I've also seen as "preta" but the source I have open at them moment uses the former). They inhabit the third realm of hell (the lowest is reserved for those who have done horrible things, like murderers; the next is for animals and other nonhuman creatures;  the third is for hungry ghosts, and there are more "above" that). The peta wander their realm in search of food, never having enough, always wanting more and more to put in their little tiny mouths and attempt to fill their huge bellies. Ven. Mahathera posits that "good" ghosts--like those of accident victims who died suddenly, perhaps--also live in the same realm.

Venerable Suvanno Mahathera, The 31 Planes of Existence, 2001, Inward Path, Penang, Malaysia. Available FREE from buddhanet.net's e-book library. (It may or may not be worth noting that this text references Theravedan canon. I'm on the Mahayana path, so my source texts are different--but the gist is the same, and I'm comfortable passing this along regardless.)


I think that if you want more information, it's best you download a free copy for yourself. Copyright, fair use, and all that, y'know.
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Starglade

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Re: Gods - Spirits - Ghosts
« Reply #12 on: July 12, 2011, 04:38:49 pm »
Quote from: Starglade;4311
I can address this as well in terms of how Tibetan Buddhism subsumed the local land-gods and -spirits. Give me a little bit here, I just got in and need to settle before I can do any research for you. I could go off the top of my head but I suspect you want sources. Can do, just not immediately.

 

Quoting myself because it makes sense (sorta):

Get a copy of John Powers's book, Introduction to Tibetan Buddhism. There's an entire chapter on Bon, the pre-Buddhist Tibetan folk animism, and how the deities from that belief system were "repurposed" for Buddhist thought. Land spirits and demons became devas or other spirit types, and often the "evil" ones were said to have been converted and transformed into protective spirits who now guard their land against evil, rather than performing it themselves.

Avalokiteshvara/Kwan Yin/Chenrezig is another example but a little bit sideways. While Kwan Yin is thought of as a goddess in China, in Buddhism she is a bodhisattva; there are no gods per se in Buddhism, but often that's the term translators, particularly for Western audiences, use because there's nothing that matches the Tibetan concept more closely. Avalokiteshvara is the Indian version, Chenrezig is the Tibetan. Together and separately, they are emanations of Buddha-nature, manifestations of Compassion. (I have a statue of Avalokiteshvara on one side of my altar, and another of Kwan Yin on the other side, with Shakyamuni Buddha in the middle.)

Even Buddha himself (who was never a god, never, no, not ever--he was a man, human, mortal, period) was given a place in the Hindu religion; however, he was turned into an avatar of Vishnu. While I don't advocate using Wikipedia as an only source, you can find decent starting info there and branch out if need be.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gautama_Buddha_in_Hinduism

Worth noting there: "Buddha's teachings deny the authority of the Vedas" and so orthodox Hinduism takes a dim view of them--and him.

I hope this was of a little help to you.
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Re: Gods - Spirits - Ghosts
« Reply #13 on: July 12, 2011, 08:22:19 pm »
Quote from: Starglade;4319
In Buddhist thought (not just Tibetan Buddhist, more generally speaking as well) ghosts are peta (which I've also seen as "preta" but the source I have open at them moment uses the former). They inhabit the third realm of hell (the lowest is reserved for those who have done horrible things, like murderers; the next is for animals and other nonhuman creatures;  the third is for hungry ghosts, and there are more "above" that). The peta wander their realm in search of food, never having enough, always wanting more and more to put in their little tiny mouths and attempt to fill their huge bellies. Ven. Mahathera posits that "good" ghosts--like those of accident victims who died suddenly, perhaps--also live in the same realm.

 
Hmm, that snippet at least is not too far from my personal experiences in dealing with such things - I'm almost certainly influenced by Western appropriation of Asian ideas into the WMT, so that might explain it, but the appropriated stuff never seemed very relevant to my experiences, and this looks like it might be.  

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EJay

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Re: Gods - Spirits - Ghosts
« Reply #14 on: July 13, 2011, 12:46:19 am »
Quote from: Harzgeist;4213
I hope this is the right place to put this... I'm currently doing English literature seminar on ghosts in literature, and the question came up as to how different cultures conceptualize ghosts, like what their prototypical ghosts looked like, what their functions are, etc.

A girl holding a presentation said that in Asian mythology, the difference between Gods and ghosts/spirits was hard to tell sometimes. She did not give any sources, however, and since it wasn't the aim of the seminar to discuss mythologies, I could not ask her for more detail. So I thought I'd ask around here.

Basically what I'd like to know is:
How does your path or the mythology you're interested in describe ghosts? If there are no ghosts in your culture, I'd also like to know :)
Would it be possible for Gods to be "degraded" into spirits? E.g. when a new religion/belief system comes along?

 
In Hawai'ian mythology, gods and spirits are referred to as akua, and each is as strong as according to its kind.  Ancestral spirits are referred to as 'aumakua, and like the akua, they often have ritual and ceremonies that must be kept so that they will continue to guard the family.

Hawai'ian ghosts, spirits, and gods were a part of their every day life, not just an esoteric idea.  They all had various kinolau (many bodies), so the volcano they lived upon was not just a symbol of Pele, it WAS/IS Pele--one of her kinolau.  The shark image on the altar isn't just a symbol of Uncle Bob, it IS Uncle Bob.

My definition of a ghost is like an after-image.  There's nothing there but an energy imprint.  Spirits and gods and living beings are on the spectrum, each according to its kind.

And no.  I don't think gods can be down-graded to spirits except in our own vocabulary.  It continues to amaze me how we judge Life, the Universe, and Everything by humanistic standards, believing that is the way things are.

I see it this way and so it must be so.

Best~
EJay
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