Ghost-laying are techniques to prevent Ghosts from attacking the living, to appease and stop ghosts already attacking the living, and to draw ghosts away from places they haunt. Ghost-laying is not the equivalent of Exorcism, which is the expulsion of a spirit or ghost possessing or influencing a person.
Ghost-laying techniques and rituals have existed since ancient times. Some techniques are procedures that anyone can perform—such as the scattering of magical herbs across a threshold—but serious ghost-laying has often fallen to professionals. Such individuals are often magical adepts, including sorcerers, witches, and mages. In ancient Greece, ghost-layers were called psychagogoi, or “evocators” who literally had the power to draw souls of the dead. (See Evocation.) Ghost-layers have also included priests, ministers, and other religious officials, as well as mediums and psychics.
Universal beliefs about ghosts hold that if angered, the souls of the dead become restless and harass the living. The ghost of a murder victim or someone who has been wronged in life will seek revenge against the living. A corpse not handled properly for burial—or not buried at all—will become a restless ghost and trouble the living. Dead ancestors who are not given attention and offerings can also become restless.
In ancient Greece, soldiers who killed in battle wiped their swords on the heads of their victims as a preventative ghost-laying technique. Ghosts were believed to fear IRON; wiping the heads of the dead with iron swords would render them powerless to haunt their killers.
Corpse mutilation is a common ghost-laying technique. In ancient Greece, it was called “armpitting.” The dead person’s hands, feet, genitals, eyes, ears, and nose were cut off and strung around the armpits. This was believed to rob the corpse and its ghost of strength and to terrorize the ghost and prevent it from haunting. Mutilation might be done at death and prior to burial, such as in a battle, or might be done after burial in an exhumation of the corpse. Mutilation techniques were commonly employed in Eastern Europe to prevent souls from becoming Vampires or to stop vampires from preying upon the living.
Attacking ghosts can be laid by magical incantations of names and by offerings made to surrogate dolls (poppets), according to ancient Greek practice. If the identity of the attacking ghost was known, the name was proclaimed for three days. If a ghost was sent by an evil sorcerer or witch, the name of the sender was proclaimed. If the name was not known, the victim proclaimed, “O person, whether you are a man or woman.” Following the proclamation of names, the victim made a doll in the gender of the attacking ghost and called the ghost into it. He entertained the doll and offered it food and then took the doll and offerings into the forest and left them. If the identity of the ghost was not known, the victim covered all bases by making both male and female dolls.
Similarly, restless ghosts can by magical spells be drawn into animals or into objects, such as bottles or boxes that will contain them, or they can be sealed in their graves or tombs. Far better, however, is to appease the ghost so that it voluntarily ceases its harmful activities.
Purification of the environment and of the living are common ghost-laying techniques. The environment can be purified with rituals using herbs, salt, sacred foods, fire, magical incantations, prayers, and sometimes animal sacrifices. Popular modern purifications are cleansings with the smoke of incense or sage. Placement of crystals and religious objects prevents the banished ghost from returning.
Angels, saints, gods, and goddesses are invoked in incantations and prayers to assist in the banishment of a restless ghost. A person under attack by a ghost can purify himself by bathing, fasting, and praying.
A simple technique employed in modern ghost investigations is to ask or order the offending ghost to leave. This method is often employed when investigators believe the ghost is a trapped or earthbound soul; that is, it did not make a complete transition from life into the Afterlife. In some cases, more sophisticated techniques are used to help the transition. (See Spirit Releasement.)
Renovation and new construction of a site often have the effect of laying ghosts.
- Ogden, Daniel. Magic, Witchcraft, and Ghosts in the Greek and Roman Worlds: A Sourcebook. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002.