Apr 05, 2013 I Dr. Rita Louise

Ghosts, Gods & Myth: Why do Ghosts get the Short End of the Mythological Stick

It is wonderful that five thousand years have now elapsed since the creation of the world, and still it is undecided whether or not there has ever been an instance of the spirit of any person appearing after death. All argument is against it; but all belief is for it.  -  Samuel Johnson

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What do ghosts and the gods of myth have in common?  Both ghosts and the gods are believed to be the byproduct of someone's vivid imagination.  The belief in the gods, as described in myth, as living breathing personages who interacted with us in our past is often dismissed by scholars.  They point to the fact that the stories of these purportedly divine beings are merely rationalizations to explain the weather or are expressions of universal archetypes.  The gods of antiquity, however, were venerated and the stories of their lives, times, triumphs and failures were commemorated in our written and oral traditions.  Some of these narratives recount instances when the gods interacted with humanity.  We need only look to the Old Testament of the Bible to see the many times "God" had a one-on-one conversation with select individuals.  Even though there have been a number of first hand encounters with the gods recorded in these ancient tales, their reports do little to sway contemporary opinion.

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Ghosts do not share the same fate as the gods.  From a very early time they have had their detractors and have remained on the cusp of belief.  Tales of ghosts, even today, fall into two categories:  ghost stories and ghostly encounters.  It is generally accepted that any good ghost story is designed to scare the listener and they are recognized as being a fictitious tale.  When, on the other hand, someone reports a firsthand encounter with a ghost, the wraithlike meeting was very real to the individual even if their account is not believed by anyone else.

Ghosts, unlike the gods, were not represented on cave walls, on funerary monuments or on pottery.  Their lives, or our early encounters with ghosts, do not figure prominently into our mythic history.  There are no epic narratives that feature a ghost as the main character.  These spooky tales of things that go bump in the night are not filled with drama, intrigue and suspense like those of the gods - unless the author is telling a ghostly yarn.  Even when the spirit of a dearly departed is encountered in the ancient mythological tales they are never portrayed as being real but are always recognized for what they were - a ghost.

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Belief in the existence of the gods and ghosts date back to antiquity, the question we ask is why is there such a discrepancy between these two supposedly fictitious groups?

When an encounter with a ghost is recorded, its appearance is memorialized in much the same way a modern ghost hunter would document a sighting today.  The first century Roman historian Pliny the Younger, for example, wrote of a ghost who haunted his home in Athens.  In his chronicles he writes of a vision of an old man with a long beard, rattling a chain.  The first mention of a ghost appears in literature in the Sumerian Epic of Gilgamesh.  The earliest known written version of this Sumerian tale dates back to 2,100 BCE.  Stories of ghostly encounters also appear in the writings of Homer, Vergil, Herodotus and Plutarch.  In the east, the Tibetan Book Of The Dead reads like a step-by-step guide to what an individual can do to ensure the departed will "go to the light" and not be trapped here on the earth.  Archeological records seem to indicate that a belief in these non-corporeal beings goes back to a remote period in time.

The conviction that life goes on after physical death is ancient.  Around the world it is understood that when we die the souls of the lucky ones will ascend into the sky and live for eternity in the heavens.  For the rest of us, we will spend our time somewhere deep within the earth in the gloom of Hades (or the appropriate name provided by the local culture).  This underground home of the god of death was not one of torture and punishment, as is currently envisioned today, but as a resting place for the soul.  And even though there is an association between death, dying, ghosts and the god of the underworld, ghosts are not referred to as demons (except in certain Christian beliefs) or as a minion of the god of death.

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We can only speculate when the belief in ghosts began.  The word ghost is a relatively modern one.  It entered the English vernacular in the late sixteenth century.  It came from the archaic Germanic word gast which means to terrify or frighten.  The belief in life after death and the potential of a disembodied spirit returning to haunt you forms the basis of a number of customs and rituals.  These rituals are universal and are still practiced, even in contemporary societies.

Ancient and indigenous cultures seem to agree on one thing when it comes to ghosts.  They believe if the soul of the departed individual is not at peace it will come back and walk the earth.  The spirits of the dead were feared.  It was believed that these non-corporeal beings were dangerous, mischievous or malevolent towards people.  The reasons most often given regarding the inability of the soul to find peace (both in the past and in the present) include:  they had to complete a task; they wanted to enact revenge or they wanted to fulfill a promise.  The departed may also return to the mortal world because they died a violent death or may have committed suicide.

Interestingly, the most common and universal belief found in cultures worldwide was that the spirit of an individual would return if they were not given the proper burial rites or that they were entombed incorrectly.  In ancient Greece, if a person was not given a proper burial they were not allowed to enter into Hades, the land of the dead.  Their spirit was doomed to roam around outside of the underworld where they would haunt the living.  In ancient Egypt, it was believed that if the tomb of a Pharaoh was disturbed, its mummified body would find and torment you for the rest of your life.  The Navajo Indians believed that if someone did not receive proper funeral rites, their spirit was destined to remain on the earthly plane where it would torture the living.

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Hades

Death, morning and burial rituals are something we take for granted in today's society.  It is what we do when a friend or loved one passes.  When compared to any other life form on earth this behavior is rather unusual.  The deliberate disposal of the dead appears in the archeological record starting around 300,000 years ago with burials of Homo neanderthalensis and Homo sapiens.  By 130,000 years ago this ritual evolved.  Bodies unearthed have been discovered lying on their side in a flexed position covered with orange pigment call ochre.  These individuals were interred with grave goods, which included food, tools and medicinal herbs.  Like the relatively recent burial practices of the Egyptians and the Inca, it is believed that grave goods were included to help the deceased as they journeyed into the afterlife.

Even at this early period in our history the prospect of the spirit of the dead returning to the land of the living was met with apprehension.  In some cultures, people were so terrified by this potentiality that additional measures were taken.  In Norse traditions, for example, the big toes were tied together or needles were driven through the soles of the feet to keep the deceased from walking the earth.  In the Mayan culture, individuals were laid to rest with corn in their mouths to provide them with food for their journey to the otherworld.  In addition, many sites had the entrance of the burial chamber oriented in a way to provide easy access to the realm of the dead.  Some Native American tribes went as far as burning the deceased house and all of their possessions to escape the wrath of a vengeful ghost.

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Indian burial site

Burials have also been discovered in which the bodies have been decapitated, their faces were smashed, bones removed or their arms or legs severed.  In some sites, heavy stones were placed on the body.  This was done in an attempt to prevent the departed from returning.  It is believed that these burials were of individuals who were feared in life.  By destroying their bodies, the individual would never be able to return to haunt the living.  Providing the proper burial rites appears to be a desire of the living to protect themselves from these unruly spirits, rather than gifts for their dearly departed.

Ultimately we are left with some unanswered questions.  Why is there such a discrepancy when talking about these two separate groups, both of which are viewed upon as being imaginary?  Scholars contend that our ancestors were smart enough to build the pyramids yet were unable recognize something that was right in front of their eyes.  It seems clear that the ancient writers and myth keepers were able to discern between the embodiment of a god and that of a ghost.  Could it be that our ancestors actually interacted with the gods?  Could their stories, although changed by time and culture, be true?  If a belief in ghosts extend as far back to at least 130,000 years as burial rituals suggest, then why not a stronger conviction in something that was seen and heard, like the gods.  Could the images and other representations of the gods, instead of being an archetypal in nature, actually be a memory that has lingered in the psyche of humanity into the present?

This first hand contact might also explain why ghosts were not afforded the same stature and status as the gods.  Ghosts were recognized early on as being an ethereal life form that did not exist in our three dimensional world.  Even today, while thousands of cases are reported of the dead coming back to walk the earth, our belief in ghosts has not increased.  Yet it has been thousands of years since we have had a firsthand report of an encounter with a god, yet our conviction in an unseen god remains unwavering.

About The Author

Bestselling author, Dr. Rita Louise, Ph D is the founder of the Institute Of Applied Energetics and the host of Just Energy Radio. She is the author of the books Man-Made: The Chronicles Of Our Extraterrestrial GodsAvoiding The Cosmic 2X4Dark Angels: An Insider’s Guide To Ghosts, Spirits & Attached Entities and The Power Within.  She has appeared on radio and television and has spoken at conferences covering topics such as health and healing, ghosts, intuition, ancient mysteries and the paranormal.  Visit http://www.soulhealer.com or listen to Dr. Rita live online on http://www.JustEnergyRadio.com.

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