A spirit is a discarnate being, essence or supernatural force of nature. Spirits may also represent places, such as the spirits of mountains, lakes, trees and especially any site considered to be sacred.

Spirits proliferate in the religions and folklore of the world. They are believed to exist in an invisible realm that can be seen under certain circumstances or by persons with clairvoyance, and they are believed to intervene regularly in the affairs of humanity, for better or worse. Spirits come in a multitude of guises, such as Fairies, elves, dwellers of homes and workplaces (see Knocker; Kobold), monsters, Demons and angels. In Animism, spirits personify primal qualities, characteristics and elemental forces, which are recognized, worshipped and propitiated. The stories of spirits and how they came to earth and interact with humanity are told in myth. In various cosmologies, spirits are organized into hierarchies.

In many societies, including animistic ones, the ancestral spirits of the dead are particularly revered and honoured. Such spirits reside in a household, where they have their special altar or spirit house. They are fed offerings, recognized in ritual and sought for their advice and protection.

A spirit is not accurately a Ghost, or a spirit of the dead, though the distinction between the two is often vague. Spiritualism espouses the belief in the immortality of the soul and refers to spirits of the dead who communicate in Mediumship.

Nor is a spirit precisely the soul, though the term “spirit” is often used in describing the soul. For example, Frederic W.H. Myers, a founder of the Society for Psychical Research (SPR), stated in his book Human Personality and Its Survival of Bodily Death (1903) that the spirit is “that unknown fraction of a man’s personality . . . which we discern as operating before or after death in the metetherial environment.”

Similarly, Medium Arthur Ford defined spirit as “nothing more than the stream of consciousness of a personality with which we are familiar in every human being.” This, said Ford, is what survives death, not as a spiritual wraith, but as an “oblong blur.” Ford drew his views from the writings of St. Paul, who wrote of a spiritual body. Ford’s own Control, Fletcher, called the spirit the “risen” body which one takes up after death, and which does not age and has no physical defects. After death, the spirit takes a perfect spirit body that is mature: the old grow young and the young mature. The spirit body has no clothes in earthly sense, but is a garment of light and a projection of thought.



  • Gauld, Alan. The Founders of Psychical Research. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1968.
  • Leach, Maria, and Jerome Fried, eds. Funk & Wagnalls Standard Dictionary of Folklore, Mythology, and Legend. San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1979.
  • Myers, Frederic W. H. Human Personality and Its Survival of Bodily Death Vols. I & II. New ed. New York: Longmans, Green & Co., 1954. First published 1903.
  • Spraggett, Allen. Arthur Ford: The Man Who Talked with the Dead. New York: New American Library, 1973.


The Encyclopedia of Ghosts and Spirits – Written by Rosemary Ellen Guiley  – September 1, 2007

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