At this time of year, from Samhain to Yule in particular, it is said that the Doors Between the Worlds swing wide open and ghosts are free to roam the earth. But what do we mean by 'ghosts'?
In ghost stories we meet a usually scary and dangerous spirit which has designs on killing the living. A nonsensical and ridiculous idea, which if carried out would mean that the ghost of the person just killed would immediately be in a position to wreak its own revenge on the baddy ghost.
There are different kinds of ghosts which manifest for a variety of reasons or through special circumstances. The hauntings which most people encounter are a sort of psychic recording and often can only be viewed under special conditions such as on the anniversary of the original occurrence, or from a particular view point.
Another variation is when a person has newly died and they may appear to a loved one some distance away. There are some (rare) occasions when the spirit of a dead person does seem to linger either because of a tragedy in which they were involved, or more usually because they want to keep an eye on loved ones and were so happy that they are reluctant to move on.
In addition to these 'ghosts' there are also fairies, angels and demons, spirits of place and elementals. all of which are different species of spirits.
However these different kinds of ghosts or apparition are all manifestations of different aspects of spirit. And indeed sometimes the problem is that people do not understand the difference between a ghost and a spirit.
Each of us is a spirit clothed temporarily in a physical body. This means that we can be thought of as having at least two bodies: the physical body and the spirit body. This can be likened to a person driving a car: the car is being used by the spirit or person doing the driving, but the car is not the consciousness or personality, it merely goes where the driver desires.
However in addition to the physical and spirit body we also have other spiritual or non-corporeal bodies. There is the astral body: this is the part of our consciousness which can leave the physical body (usually during sleep) and journey through the physical universe and also into various alternate worlds or dimensions. When the astral body leaves the physical body it can sometimes appear to be tethered by an ever unrolling silver thread.
There is also what is sometimes called the etheric body. This is a sort of spirit 'shadow' formed from energy and appearing as an echo of the physical body. This is probably the nearest to the story book idea of a ghost and can appear as a luminous, insubstantial version of the physical person. It usually only manifests after death and has been described as the left over of physical vitality or energy and as such will dissipate over time as the energy also dissipates.
These ideas about the different types of spirit and physical bodies is not a new idea. The ancient Egyptians described seven different bodies including the physical, the ka (the astral), the ba (the soul which leaves the body at death and goes to live in the spirit world), the shadow (the etheric double) and the ren (the name, the essence of the personality).
So tonight the ghosts who will be free to roam the worlds are: for a start the spirits of loved ones of ours who we invite to share our Samhain revelries; non-human spirits such as fairies, demons, deities, angels, elementals; and our own spirits.
The doors between the worlds open in BOTH directions, so tonight is a wonderful opportunity to visit alternate dimensions, to visit the realm of the spirits, or to enter the fairy mounds, to see the splendour of the seelie court and dance with the pipers.
But do remember to carry a piece or iron and some salt in your pocket, so that when you return home, you will end up in the right place.
Safe journeys to all our visitors, corporeal and non corporeal.
Merry Meet, Merry Part and Merry Meet Again.