We’ve all been there. We go downstairs to get something and it’s late at night. Feeling lazy, we don’t turn on all the lights, we grab the thing and we go. As we start going up the stairs, we feel like there is something behind us, so we casually run frantically up the stairs. We know there was nothing behind us… but deep inside we might actually believe in ghosts.
This article is to make some clarifications about ghosts and evil spirits. I’m going to relate the opinion of most scientific professionals, and then I’ll talk about what our church authorities have said about the topic. In talking about ghosts, none of what I say should refer to the Holy Ghost. We believe in the Holy Ghost as a member of the Godhead who does not have a body. Instead, He exists as a spirit. We won’t talk about Him in this context.
Instead, we want to take a critical view at what pop culture defines as ghosts. This will debunk some of the folklore out there, but also solidify what we actually believe. In writing this, I am not representing The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, I am only reporting on my research. If you find better research, please share it down below.
What Are Ghosts?
Ghosts are generally believed to be the spirits of deceased people that are somehow stuck in-between the “here” and the “there.” They are one bit of folklore that seems to permeate all cultures. That said, finding an exact origin for believing in these spooky creatures is nearly impossible.
Many people in America (about 45%) say they believe in ghosts, but the exact description of a ghost is hard to pin down. Some people see shadows, blurry lights. Others see people that shouldn’t be there, and still, others just feel a presence or a cold spot. With this much variety in the description, the probability of guesswork increases.
With apps like Ghost in Photo, instances where ghost sightings are blatantly false are increasing in occurrence. America’s culture itself has given rise to a large number of “ghost hunter shows” where no evidence is shown. We enjoy the “unknown factor” and so we watch the stories and catch ourselves checking around us when we are all alone…. just so we know no one is watching us….
What Does Science Say About Ghosts?
Because there are so many unreliable sources out there, I only spent time trying to find reliable scientific sources. Most of the scientific articles I found had scathing opinions of the possible existence of ghosts and ghost hunting. One article cited an actual skeptical “paranormal investigator” who denied ever finding any ghost-related evidence in 50 years.
Many of the “symptoms” of ghost sighting are possibly linked to biological or psychological causes. That’s what many of the scientists say. It’s not hard to agree with them. They point to infrasound, stress, and in one case carbon monoxide poisoning. So, the “experts” say no way.
What Do Church Authorities Tell Us About Ghosts?
Well, to be honest, they don’t mention anything about ghosts. They only mention spirits. Fun fact: the word ghost comes from the old Germanic word that meant spirit or soul. The modern concept of ghost has been exaggerated and blown up by pop culture. In its truest form, I guess the Church does believe in ghosts or rather spirits.
As Donny Osmond says on his blog, “there are good and bad spirits.” While Donny doesn’t represent the Church, he is correct. D&C 129 is all about a simple way to distinguish between good spirits, angels, and evil spirits. The idea is you offer them a hand shake. An evil spirit will try to deceive you and shake your hand. You won’t feel anything because they don’t have a body. An angel will shake your hand, and a good spirit won’t.
The scriptures are full of examples of evil spirits. The following quote by Elder Marion G. Romney is very instructive on this wise:
“By the statement in the revelation on spiritual gifts, ‘… it is given by the Holy Ghost to some to know the diversities of operations, whether they be of God, … and to others the discerning of spirits’ [D&C 46:16, 23], it appears that there are some apparently supernatural manifestations which are not worked by the power of the Holy Ghost. The truth is there are many which are not. The world today is full of counterfeits. It has always been so. …
“The Saints were cautioned by the Lord to walk uprightly before him, doing all things with prayer and thanksgiving, that they might ‘… not be seduced by evil spirits, or doctrines of devils, or the commandments of men.’ [D&C 46:7.] …
The Lord knows that there is a host of unembodied evil spirits that want to do us harm. Apparently, these “ghosts” do have some sort of power as we’ve seen through the experiences of Joseph Smith at the time of the First Vision, and Moses when he was up on the mount. As we’ve seen through the examples during Christ’s ministry, the Lord’s power is always greater.
My own personal opinion is that there are things that science can’t explain. There are experiences that are just not paranormal, but then others that go beyond human understanding. I think the more malicious of these happenings wouldn’t happen if we did the opposite of Saul the King who sought advice from a woman with a familiar spirit. It seems that God wants us to come to Him for advice, knowledge, wisdom, and power. Other means get us nowhere.
If someone asks you, “Do Mormons believe in ghosts?” you can respond yes. Then take the time to explain that you mean we believe in spirits. This would be a good segway into family history, revelation, the gifts of the spirit or even the Plan of Salvation. Wow, ghosts as a missionary tool. Doesn’t get any better than that.
Feel free to share stories below. I’d love to hear your experiences.