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Former Library book. Shows some signs of wear, and may have some markings on the inside. 100% Money Back Guarantee. Shipped to over one million happy customers. Your purchase ... benefits world literacy! Read more Show Less

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Hardcover Very Good Very Good/ Very Good: in mylar (tear in mylar reinforced w/ tape), ex-library w/ minimal markings, otherwise clean & unmarked inside & out, tight, square ... copy From Publishers Weekly Four hundred entries arranged A-to-Z flesh out our beliefs about all that. Illustrations. Copyright 1993 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title. From Library Journal This encyclopedia is about as fair as one can expect about a subject that many people think doesn't exist. The author ( Harper's Encyclopedia of Mystical and Paranormal Experience, LJ 8/91) has tried to read much of the skeptical literature and at least to report what it says. Yes, the believers get much more coverage, but there is an attempt to present both sides. The accuracy of the book is also fairly high. A number of errors do occur, which, surprisingly, seem not to have been copied from other sources but to have resulted from misremembering. These small errors do not si Read more Show Less

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Four hundred entries arranged A-to-Z flesh out our beliefs about all that haunts. Illustrations. (Oct.)
VOYA
Entries on people, terms, and phenomena relating to ghosts and spirits are arranged alphabetically with see references and are indexed in the back. From apparitions to La Llorona, phantom nuns, and the Winchester Mystery House, Guiley seems to give an even-handed treatment to these phenomena, indicating where something is "according to legend" or "disputed," but otherwise describing events as they were reported. Entries range from a single paragraph to several pages, although most are at least several paragraphs long and include references for further reading. Black-and-white photographs and archival reproductions illustrate many pages. This second edition is approximately fifty pages longer than the 1992 version. Some entries have been updated with corresponding new references for further reading. Others are entirely new, such as the "Scole Experimental Group," which became active after the publication of the first edition in 1992. There are many new entries relating to Japanese folklore, indicating Guiley's ongoing intent to present an international range of subjects. Some entries have been removed, although whether for space or relevancy it is not made clear. Two new forewords are included in this edition, some peculiarities of alphabetization have been corrected, and the layout of the index is greatly improved by using three columns rather than five. Most libraries will want to replace their first edition with this one. Libraries that do not own the first will likely find demand for this single-volume resource that has both breadth and adequate depth in its subject and it is interesting enough to browse but will also be used to answer specific questions. Libraries that own J. GordonMelton's two-volume Encyclopedia of Occultism and Parapsychology, 4th edition, (Gale, 1996) might find some overlap in the entries, but Guiley's text is much more readable and will be especially attractive to a young audience. Index. Illus. Photos. Further Reading. 2000, Checkmark Books/Facts on File, 430p. PLB Ages 12 to Adult. Reviewer: Nina Lindsay SOURCE: VOYA, June 2001 (Vol. 24, No. 2)
Library Journal
This encyclopedia is about as fair as one can expect about a subject that many people think doesn't exist. The author ( Harper's Encyclopedia of Mystical and Paranormal Experience , LJ 8/91) has tried to read much of the skeptical literature and at least to report what it says. Yes, the believers get much more coverage, but there is an attempt to present both sides. The accuracy of the book is also fairly high. A number of errors do occur, which, surprisingly, seem not to have been copied from other sources but to have resulted from misremembering. These small errors do not significantly affect the utility of the book. A useful addition to the reference collection of any academic or public library.-- Gordon Stein, Univ. of Rhode Island, Kingston
School Library Journal

Gr 5 Up -This riveting volume provides a much-needed expansion and update of one of the best references on the subject. Well researched and engagingly written, the comprehensive work provides more than 600 alphabetically arranged articles, with appended bibliographies, on the history of ghosts and spirits from the ancient world to contemporary times. Coverage includes entries on paranormal investigators, infamous haunted places (the Borley Rectory, the Antietam Battlefield, Alcatraz), objective and well-balanced investigations of hauntings (such as the Amityville case), descriptions of types of ghosts and spirits, and of communication with the spirit world. Additional pieces include discussions of out-of-body experiences, phantom ships, possession, reincarnation, mediums, and electronic voice phenomena. The two well-spaced columns of clear type per page are interspersed with relevant and instructive black-and-white photographs. A thorough index adds to the usefulness of the work. This is an outstanding tool for serious researchers and laypeople alike. It complements and supplements Hans Holzer's less-balanced Ghosts: True Encounters with the World Beyond (Black Dog & Leventhal, 1997).-Hillary Jan Donitz-Goldstein, formerly at New York Public Library

Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Zom Zoms
Guiley, author of "The Encyclopedia of Witches and Witchcraft" ["RBB" N 1 89], has created an encyclopedia of disembodied spirits or ghosts. She covers a wide-ranging variety and number of psychical researchers, places, types of ghosts, festivals, mediums, and even spiritualists' unions. More specifically, expected entries are found here--"Houdini, Harry"; "Levitation"; "Banshee"; "Whisht Hounds"; and "Tower of London"--as well as such lesser-known topics as "Herne the Hunter"; "Institut Metapsychique International"; "Little Bastard, Curse of the"; and "Podmore, Frank". The alphabetically arranged entries range from three pages to a couple sentences. Many include a "Further Reading" list, and cross-references are plentiful, such as "Halloween see All Hallows Eve." Seventy black-and-white illustrations enhance the work, which already is fascinating reading. The index will further aid information seekers Works similar to this one include "Dictionary of Ghost Lore" by Peter Haining (Prentice-Hall, 1984) and "Encyclopedia of Ghosts" by Daniel Cohen (Dorset Press, 1984, 1990), but as popular as this subject is, an additional source is always welcome. "The Encyclopedia of Ghosts and Spirits" is an informative book and a good read. If questions on paranormal phenomena, especially those with an international flavor, are frequent, this title will prove useful in public libraries.
Booknews
Guiley, who has written widely on spirituality and visionary experiences, explains how gremlins first appeared in British military aircraft during World War II and annoyed Lindbergh on his transatlantic flight; the theory that poltergeists are linked to the presence of adolescents, whose repressed emotions somehow activate paranormal forces; how the Buddhist and Hindu ghost Petra must reverse its karma through good deed; the techniques of researchers into the paranormal; and other topics right at the edge of vision. To the 1992 edition she has added recent breakthroughs in scientific studies, new and updated entries on people, information about Japanese ghosts, and a wider international coverage. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780816021406
  • Publisher: Facts on File, Incorporated
  • Publication date: 7/1/1992
  • Pages: 384

Read an Excerpt




Excerpt

A


Academy of Religion and Psychical Research, The
See SPIRITUAL FRONTIERS FELLOWSHIP.


acheri In Indian lore, the ghost of a little girl who brings disease, especially to children. The ghost lives on mountaintops and comes into valleys during the night for revelry and to spread disease by casting its shadow over victims. Children are protected from the acheri with amulets of red thread tied around their necks. Similarly, in European lore, red charms protect against bewitchment and harm from evil spirits and witches.


Adelphi Theatre London theater said to be haunted by the ghost of William Terriss, a popular Victorian actor who was murdered there by a jealous rival.

    The murder occurred on December 16, 1897, during the run of Secret Service, a thriller starring Terriss and his mistress and leading lady, Jessie Milward. Also in the production in a minor role was actor Richard Arbor Prince, who apparently harbored a great jealousy and growing hatred of Terriss. Finally, Prince went out and bought a dagger, intending to kill Terriss.

    Early in the evening of the fateful date, Prince ambushed Terriss as the leading man unlocked the Adelphi stage door in Maiden Lane. Terriss expired dramatically in Milward's arms, whispering, "I'll be back." Prince was tried and convicted of murder but was found insane. He spent the rest of his days at an institution for the criminally insane. He died in 1937 at age 71.

    The presence of Terriss's ghost was not reporteduntil 1928. A stranger in town, who did not know about Terriss's murder, saw a male figure dressed in gray Victorian clothes in Maiden Lane. The figure vanished suddenly, and the witness concluded he had seen a ghost. He later identified the figure as Terriss from a photograph.

    Also in 1928, poltergeist phenomena manifested in the dressing room once used by Milward. A leading comedy actress known as June felt light blows on her arms, a sensation of being grasped, and the inexplicable shaking of her chaise longue. She also witnessed a greenish light above her mirror, and heard two taps that seemed to come from behind it. Later she learned that Terriss had been in the habit of tapping Milward's dressing room door twice with his cane whenever he passed it.

    In 1956, Terriss's ghost reportedly was drifting around the Covent Garden Underground Station, dressed in a gray suit, old-fashioned collar and white gloves. The ghost frightened witnesses. A Spiritualist held a seance at the station and produced a sketch that bore a remarkable resemblance to a photograph of Terriss.

    The greenish light was reported as late as 1962, when night workmen saw it take the shape of a man and float across the stage. The ghostly figure opened the stage curtains and then proceeded into the stalls, tipping the seats as it went.

    See THEATRE ROYAL.


Further reading:

Brooks, J.A. Ghosts of London: The West End, South and West. Norwich, England: Jarrold Colour Publications, 1982.

Underwood, Peter. Haunted London. London: George G. Harrup & Co., 1973.


afrit In Arabian mythology, a terrible and dangerous demon, the spirit of a murdered man who seeks to avenge his death. The demon is believed to rise up like smoke from the victim's blood that falls on the ground. Its formation can be prevented by driving a new nail into the blood-stained ground.

    See VAMPIRE.


afterlife Almost every society known has some belief in SURVIVAL AFTER DEATH and what happens to people when they die, although these beliefs vary enormously. The basic possibilities include a continuation of life with little change in the nature or quality of existence; a series of lives and deaths before ultimate extinction; moral improvement through a series of stages, levels, or "planes"; and bodily resurrection at some future date. Alongside the idea of a future life one often finds beliefs in REINCARNATION, a return to earth life in successive bodies.

    Christian ideas about the afterlife include a judgment upon death and an assignment to either Heaven or Hell, depending on one's merit leading to an indefinite period of existence in a discarnate state that is followed by a resurrection in the body at the time of the second coming of Christ, which is also to lead to the end of the world. Christian ideas heavily influenced 19th-century SPIRITUALISM, although Spiritualist authors, such as ANDREW JACKSON DAVIS, mainly elaborated what it was like during the intermediary state. According to Davis, who dictated his lectures in trance, after death human beings continue their spiritual progress through a series of celestial spheres, until they reach the seventh sphere and become one with "the Infinite Vortex of Love and Wisdom and the great Spiritual Sun of the Divine Mind."

    Most traditional societies also have beliefs about what happens to people when they die, although the conception of an afterlife is not always formulated clearly. Sometimes there is a vague belief in continued existence, with little interest or concern in the nature of this existence. In other societies, the afterlife is believed to be structured very similarly to life on earth: there is the same type of social organization, and there is plenty. It was images like this that led to the portrayal of a "Happy Hunting Ground" as the idea of the Native American afterlife. In some societies, existence is believed to continue much in the way as on earth, but in reverse. In communicating with the dead, one says and does the opposite of what one means.

    The Land of the Dead is not always located in the heavens. Perhaps even more often, it is located under the earth. The Zulus believe in an underworld, where mountains and rivers and all things are as above. The dead live in villages, and milk their cattle, which are the spirits of the cattle which have been killed on earth. Or again, the dead may live on the mountain or in the valley on the surface of the earth. One European in Borneo managed to get native guides to take him to the summit of the mountain said to be the region of the spirits. He was shown the moss on which the spirits fed and footprints of the ghostly buffaloes which followed them, but his guides refused to spend the night there (see KACHINA; MOON).

    In traditional societies, knowledge of the afterlife is said to have been gained from the experiences of shamans, whose primary function is to act as an intermediary between the living and the dead. Shamans may travel to the Land of the Dead in search of souls that have had difficulty getting back to their bodies, either through accident or illness (see SOUL LOSS). Not infrequently, shamanic teachings are supplemented by accounts of NEAR-DEATH EXPERIENCE, in which regular people have their own visionary experiences of the afterlife.

    Spiritualism and the animistic belief of tribal societies have in common the beliefs in the possibility of communication between the living and the dead. In animism, ideas about the soul are fairly complicated and vary a great deal from one place to another. Many societies distinguish between the ghost, or the spirit proper (which travels to the land of the dead), and a different part of the spirit, which reincarnates. The ghost part of the spirit is believed to be particularly strong before the main spirit has begun its trip to the Land of the Dead, which may not begin until three or four days after death, and therefore various things are done to facilitate the departure and to discourage the ghost from returning to plague the living (see FUNERAL RITES AND CUSTOMS).

    The spirits of ancestors may return at special occasions such as after death, however, and on these occasions they are no longer so dangerous (see FEASTS AND FESTIVALS OF THE DEAD). The GHOST DANCE was a special type of Native American festival, in which it was believed that the spirits of the dead would return to lead the way back to the life they had led before the coming of the white man.


Further reading:

Brown, Slater. The Heyday of Spiritualism. New York: Hawthorn Books, 1970.

Child, Alice B., with Irvin L. Child. Religion and Magic in the Life of Traditional Peoples. New York: Prentice-Hall, 1993.

Eliade, Mircea. Shamanism: Archaic Techniques of Ecstasy. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1964.

Kung, Hans. Eternal Life? Life After Death as a Medical, Philosophical, and Theological Problem. New York: Doubleday, 1984.

Tylor, Edward Burnett. Religion in Primitive Culture. New York: Harper and Row, 1956.


Alcatraz The harshest, loneliest and most dismal of America's federal prisons, located on a damp rock of an island in San Francisco Bay, is said to be haunted by sounds that seem to be connected to inmates and violence of the past.

    Alcatraz, originally named La Isla de Los Altraces (The Island of the Pelicans), was first an Army fort and prison. In 1934 it was turned into a federal penitentiary. The toughest convicts were interred there solely for punishment, not for rehabilitation. Conditions were brutal and escape virtually impossible. The prison was closed in 1963 and is now a tourist attraction.

    Al Capone was one of the first famous inmates there. After five years at "the Rock," as Alcatraz was called, he went insane, due in part to his incarceration and in part to his condition of advanced syphilis.

    Insanity was the kindest fate to befall a prisoner—others committed suicide, murdered one another, mutilated themselves (one chopped off the fingers of one hand with an axe), or died unpleasant deaths from illness and disease. Beatings by guards were routine, and the screams of the beaten reverberated throughout the cells. Prisoners were shot trying to scale the walls. In 1946, six inmates attempted to break out of the prison. In the ensuing bloodshed, three guards were killed and three of the six would-be escapees were shot to death; many others were wounded.

    Little besides the sounds of violence was heard at Alcatraz, for prisoners were forbidden to talk, except for three minutes twice a day during recreation and two hours on weekends. Capone, whose life was constantly threatened by other inmates, kept largely to himself and spent his time playing his banjo in his cell or in the shower (showers were granted to inmates once a week). Capone joined a four-man band whose members included "Machine Gun" Kelly.

    The most notorious cells were four solitary cells called "holes" in Block D, numbered 11, 12, 13 and 14. In solitary confinement, a prisoner was stripped of clothing, beaten, and shut up in complete darkness in one of the tiny cement cells with only a hole in the floor for a bathroom. He was fed bread and water twice a day, and given one full meal every third day. The holes were notorious for breaking men, either through insanity, illness or death. Capone was thrown into a hole on three occasions. Another inmate, Rufe McCain, was confined to 14-D for three years and two months as punishment for attempting to escape in 1939. Upon his release, he murdered another inmate who had been part of the escape plan.

    No visual apparitions have been reported at Alcatraz since its closing, but guards and tour guides have reported hearing the sounds of clanging metal doors, men's voices, whistling, screams and the running of feet along corridors. Clanging sounds have been heard at night in the corridor where the three 1946 escapees were gunned down. Screams have been heard coming from the dungeon, near Block A, where the surviving three escapees were chained. Men's voices have been heard in the hospital ward. Various individuals have reported feeling "strange" in the vicinity of 14-D, although some acknowledge their reaction may be influenced by their knowledge of what went on there. The cell also reportedly remains very cold, even if the surrounding area has warmed on a hot day. Banjo music has been reported wafting from the shower room, where Capone once held forth with his only solace.


Further reading:

Winer, Richard, and Nancy Osborn. Haunted Houses. New York: Bantam Books, 1979.


All Hallow's Eve (Halloween) A pagan festival of the dead, which has survived to the present in popular culture as Halloween, a night of trick-or-treating by children and others dressed in costumes of fantasy and the supernatural. All Hallow's Eve is observed the night of October 31, followed on November 1 by All Hallow's Day, also called All Hallowmas, All Saints and All Saints' Day, and on November 2 by All Souls' Day

    The ancient Celts celebrated the new year at the start of winter, around November 1. This most sacred of all Celtic festivals was called Samhain (pronounced sow' an), which means "end of the summer." In Ireland the festival was known as Samhein, or La Samon, for the Feast of the Sun. In Scotland, the celebration was known as Hallowe'en.

    Samhain marked the third and final harvest and the storage of provisions for the winter. It was a solar festival consisting of sacred fire and fire rituals. It was dedicated to the Lord of the Dead. The Celts believed that on the eve of Samhain, the dead rose out of their graves to wander freely about the earth and make trouble by harming crops and causing domestic disturbances. The veil between the worlds of the living and the dead was believed to be at its thinnest point in the year at Samhain, making communication between the living and the dead much easier.

    During the darkest hours of the night, the Lord of the Dead also was believed to call up all the lost souls for resentencing. Condemned souls were sentenced to spend 12 months in the afterlife in an animal form, while good souls received another 12 months of death, albeit in the form of human beings. Living persons held a Samhain Vigil during these dark hours to pray for the lost souls.

    Some of the customs practiced by the Celts for Samhain remain in various forms and are similar to other DAY OF THE DEAD practices found throughout the world.

    It was customary for the Celts to make offerings of food and wine to the Lord of the Dead so that he would be more agreeable in his sentencing of the lost souls. Offerings also were set out for the returning dead themselves so that they could refresh themselves and perhaps be less inclined to cause mischief.

    The Celts dressed themselves in disguises so as to fool the spirits into passing them by. Masked villagers led parades in an effort to entice spirits out of town.

    Another Celtic ritual at Samhain was the lighting of huge bonfires as tribute to the waning sun god and in an effort to rekindle his diminishing energy in the face of winter. The Celts burned alive horses, which they considered sacred to the sun god. In the Middle Ages, cats were burned alive in wicker cages as part of All Hallow's observances.

    The Romans celebrated several festivals that influenced the evolution of Halloween. Lemuria, practiced in early Rome and influenced by Greek custom, was a three-day affair that took place in May. Its purpose was to appease the lemures, who were either evil ghosts or the ghosts of people who had died without leaving behind a surviving family. Another festival, Paternalia, observed in February, was a private affair in which families honored their own dead with gifts, food and flowers placed on their tombs. Paternalia was followed by the Feralia, a public festival intended to give rest and peace to the departed. Participants made sacrifices in honor of the dead, offered prayers for them and made oblations to them. The festival was celebrated on February 21, the end of the Roman year.

    At the same time of year that the Celts were celebrating Samhain, the Romans celebrated the festival of Pomona, the goddess of orchards and the harvest. Apples and nuts were among the special foods used, and these retained a place in surviving Halloween festivities.

    When the Christian Church set out to convert followers of pagan religions, church leaders astutely saw that they would have an easier time if they incorporated existing holy days and rites into their own. Worship of pagan deities was translated into veneration of the Christian saints. In the 7th century, Pope Boniface IV introduced All Saints' Day to replace the pagan festival of the dead on May 13, 610, when he dedicated the Pantheon in Rome to St. Mary and martyred Christians. Later, Gregory III reestablished the festival to honor the saints of St. Peter's Church and changed the date from May 13 to November 1 to coincide with pagan festivals. (Presently the Greek Orthodox Church still observes it on the first Sunday after Pentecost.) In 834, Pope Gregory IV made the festival official, to be observed by all churches.

    Instead of sacrifices, the Church promoted honoring the dead with prayers. Food and wine offerings were replaced with soul cakes, little square buns decorated with currants. The cakes were given away to the village poor, who in turn would pray for the dead. "Soulers" would walk about begging for cakes. People who feared the spirits of the dead—or feared for them—were encouraged to give generously. In Ireland, peasants went door to door to collect money, breadcake, cheese, eggs, butter, nuts, apples, etc., in preparation for the festival of St. Columb Kill. The Christian Church also allowed masquerading but emphasized that it was to honor dead saints and not to frighten off spirits.

    Over time, these collection practices transformed into a popular practice for young men and boys, who went from home to home singing "souling songs" in exchange for ale and food. This in turn evolved into contemporary trick-or-treating by youngsters.

    By the 10th century, November 2 had become All Souls' Day, the feast day for the dead. The holiday was approved by Pope Sylvester II around 1000 and became established throughout Europe from the 11th through 14th centuries.

    The Reformation had a drastic effect on All Saints' Day and All Souls' Day. In 1517, Martin Luther deliberately picked October 31 as the day to nail his reformation proclamation to the door of the castle church at Wittenberg, because he knew that the townspeople would be attending services that night. The Protestant movement dropped the observances of saints' days, and with that went the rites performed on the eve of All Saints' Day as well.

    All Hallow's Eve practices continued on in pockets, especially in Celtic areas such as the British Isles, surviving as folk rites, with feasts, fires, games and pranks. As time went on the ranks of the dead were joined by witches, fairies, goblins and spirits of local lore, who were said to come out in force on this particular night. The WILD HUNT, a furious pack of ghosts of the restless dead, led by spectral hounds and pagan goddesses-turned-witches, screaming through the sky, took place on All Hallow's Eve.

    In England, Guy Fawkes Day, celebrated on November 5, became the festival that absorbed the primary characteristics of Samhain and All Saints' Day. (Guy Fawkes was a Catholic revolutionary who was executed for his attempt to blow up the Protestant-sympathetic House of Lords on November 5, 1605.) Even today, Halloween is a minor affair in England, with feasting, fireworks, games and bonfires taking place on Guy Fawkes Day instead.

    In colonial America, Halloween celebrations were scattered. Practices varied widely depending upon the dominance of a particular ethnic or religious group. Areas heavily settled by the English—such as Massachusetts, a stronghold of English Calvinists—paid scant attention to Halloween, while areas predominated by Scots or Irish gave Halloween more due.

    It was not until the potato famines of the 1820s and 1840s drove thousands of poverty-stricken Irish to the United States that Halloween became more established in American folklore. Hearth fires replaced the Celtic bonfires; parlor divination games replaced oracular rites; harvest feasts replaced the feasts for the dead; and young people played tricks on neighbors. The customs of wearing masked costumes and begging for food also continued. Parties, also part of the annual harvest rites, included games, dancing and the telling of ghost stories.

    The Irish had a Halloween custom of carrying lanterns made out of hollowed-out turnips or beets, called jack-o'lanterns or jacky lanterns, which were used to scare away spirits in the night. Immigrants to America substituted pumpkins. (See JACK-O'-LANTERN.)

    Halloween customs followed immigrants as they moved across America. In the West and Southwest, the customs were influenced by the Mexican Day of the Dead rites, which conform to the Catholic dates of the eve of October 31 to November 2.

    During Victorian times in America, Halloween enjoyed a renaissance as a genteel party. The pagan customs had a particular appeal to Victorian society, which watered them down to prim social rites. Halloween became a festive night for young people and played an important matchmaking role. Pageants with costumes were popular.

    During the early years of the 20th century, Halloween in the United States was largely a community affair, a time for large social gatherings. The festival was subdued or canceled during World War II, and emerged in the postwar, baby-boom years as a big event for youngsters. Door-to-door trick-or-treating for candy was favored over community parties. In the 1970s and 1980s, poisoned candy became a concern, and community parties enjoyed a comeback.

    The original purpose of All Hallow's Eve, or Samhain, as a festival for the dead has nearly been forgotten, save among contemporary Wiccans and Pagans. These religious groups observe Samhain as one of their most important holy days, or sabbats—a time for feasting and merriment, but also a time for solemn religious observances. Wiccans and Pagans have attempted to re-create early pagan rites with the exception of animal sacrifices, which are forbidden. The dead are honored. Samhain is considered a good time for communing with the spirits and, as the start of the new year, a good time for beginnings and fresh starts.

    See FEASTS AND FESTIVALS OF THE DEAD.


Further reading:

Bannatyne, Lesley Pratt. Halloween: An American Holiday, an American History. New York: Facts On File, 1990.

Guiley, Rosemary Ellen. The Encyclopedia of Witches and Witchcraft. New York: Facts On File, 1999.


American Association-Electronic Voice Phenomena See ELECTRONIC VOICE PHENOMENON.


American Ghost Society Organization of ghost investigators with chapters throughout the United States and Canada. The American Ghost Society was formed in late 1995 by TROY TAYLOR and his wife, Amy, as the American Ghost Society of Central Illinois. Its initial focus was upon regional ghost phenomena, especially in the Decatur, Illinois, area, where the Taylors lived at that time. The organization expanded quickly and was reorganized as the American Ghost Society (AGS) in 1996. Within two years it had nearly 500 members. In 1998 the Taylors moved their home and AGS headquarters to Alton, Illinois.

    Among AGS members are prominent authors, paranormal researchers and law enforcement personnel, such as Dennis Hauck, DALE KACZMAREK and Bob Schott.

    The AGS has a network of area representatives who serve as points of contact for the public and media. Many of them are law enforcement professionals who bring excellent investigation skills to their ghost work. The representatives have their own research groups and set up their own local meetings. The Taylors organize a large annual conference, plus regional conferences and meetings for their area.

    The AGS publishes one of the only magazines in America dedicated to ghosts and hauntings, the quarterly Ghosts of the Prairie, and also operates the largest website bookstore dedicated to ghosts and hauntings.

    The AGS stresses a high standard of investigation of hauntings that combines old-fashioned detective work—visiting and inspecting sites and interviewing witnesses—and high-technology detection equipment (see GHOST INVESTIGATION). Psychics and mediums are not used because of the subjective nature of their impressions. All data are carefully analyzed before presentation to the public. Open-minded skepticism is encouraged.

    The mission statement of the AGS states, in part:


We ... do not claim to be "experts" in the paranormal, because no "experts" exist in this field, no matter who claims to be one. This is one of our most important statements and follows through with our goals of trying to bring credibility to the field of ghost research. In the past, the public only saw the flakes and psychics who were involved in the field and we are trying to get rid of that image and replace it with that of competent researchers in search of the unknown. The best way to do this is to approach our investigations with the idea of trying to rule out all natural explanations for a haunting before accepting that it might be caused by a ghost.


    Membership in the AGS is open.

    In 2000, the Taylors opened the Haunted Museum, a collection of books, articles, photographs and paraphernalia concerning the history of ghost research and paranormal investigation. The museum is located at their place of business in Alton, in a brick building dating to the late 1850s. The building originally housed a bakery, and then a market and art gallery.

    Prior to the opening of the museum, while work was being done on the displays, strange phenomena occurred in the museum, bookstore and offices. The phenomena began when the store was rearranged to make room for the museum. Books fell from shelves when no one was present. Lights behaved strangely: Turned off at night, they would be found on again in the morning. Books, notebooks, pens and various items would be left in one location when the store closed and then would vanish, sometimes remaining gone for a day or more (see JOTT). Displays would be rearranged and books placed in different locations. Unexplained sounds of knockings and newspapers rustling were heard both upstairs and downstairs. The building's alarm system was never activated to indicate the presence of any human intruders. One night in January 2000, the Taylors turned on the alarm system and went upstairs. A loud knocking sounded on the interior wall of the store. Thinking that someone was at the front door, Troy went downstairs, but no one was there. The street, well lighted, was empty.

    One afternoon Troy was working alone in the museum. He placed a display card about HARRY HOUDINI and SIR ARTHUR CONAN DOYLE on the wall, and walked to the front of the building. As he stood behind an antique counter, he suddenly felt a sharp and insistent tug on the back of his sweatshirt. But when he turned around, no one was present.


Further reading:

American Ghost Society. Available on-line. URL: http://www. prairieghosts.com.


American Society for Psychical Research (ASPR) Organization dedicated to education and research in parapsychology. The ASPR was founded in January 1885, in Boston, as a result of a visit to the United States by SIR WILLIAM FLETCHER BARRETT of the SOCIETY FOR PSYCHICAL RESEARCH (SPR) of London. It attracted many eminent scientists and scholars, among them WILLIAM JAMES.

    At first the ASPR was structurally similar to the SPR, with committees to investigate thought transference (telepathy), hypnosis, apparitions, MEDIUMSHIP and other phenomena then considered paranormal. An annual series of Proceedings was published. Initially the ASPR operated independently of the SPR, but financial difficulties forced the society to become a branch of the SPR in 1890.

    In 1906, the ASPR was reestablished as an independent organization, under the direction of JAMES H. HYSLOP, and moved to New York. A journal—fittingly called the Journal of the American Society for Psychical Research—was introduced the following year. The Proceedings were continued as a regular publication, devoted to book-length studies. WALTER FRANKLIN PRINCE joined Hyslop at the ASPR in 1917, and when Hyslop died in 1920, Prince took over as research officer and editor of the Journal and Proceedings.

    Both Hyslop and Prince were careful researchers, broad minded but not credulous about their work, and together they helped to set a high standard for the study of parapsychological phenomena, especially mediumship and other evidence for survival after death. ASPR membership was diverse, however, and included a substantial faction of less scholarly bent. Many members were more attracted to SPIRITUALISM than to the serious study of the paranormal, and this group wanted more attention given to the controversial medium MINA STINSON CRANDON, better known as "Margery."

    When WILLIAM MCDOUGALL, who had been elected president in 1920, was replaced by the Spiritualist Frederick Edwards in 1923, many important members left and set up a new society, the BOSTON SOCIETY FOR PSYCHIC RESEARCH, dedicated to the ASPR's original principles. They urged Prince to join them, and when Edwards was elected to a second ASPR term in 1925, Prince did so. "A dark chapter in the history of the American Society for Psychical Research is being written," he commented at the time, "and it will be long in retrieving its former reputation." In fact, it was not until 1941, shortly before Crandon's death, that the ASPR changed sufficiently for the Boston Society for Psychic Research to be reunited with it.

    Under the leadership of psychologist GARDNER MURPHY, the ASPR turned away from sittings with mediums and took up experimental tests of ESP of the sort pioneered in the later 1920s and the 1930s by J.B. RHINE. Experimental research characterized the society from the 1940s onward, with investigations such as the connection between creativity and ESP and meditation and ESP, both pet interests of Murphy. Murphy served as president of the board of trustees from 1962 to 1971 and in the late 1960s was responsible for convincing an appeals court to award a substantial part of the estate of JAMES KIDD to the ASPR. The money went in part to fund research on deathbed apparitions by KARLIS OSIS, then new to the staff.

    The ASPR and Osis benefited also from money donated by CHESTER F. CARLSON, the multimillionaire inventor of the Xerox process. Carlson had funded the early stages of Osis's study of deathbed apparitions and helped to equip the ASPR's laboratory, later named in his honor. He served on the society's board of trustees from 1964 to 1968 and took an active interest in its affairs. In 1966, he helped make it possible for the ASPR to buy a building on the Upper West Side of New York City. When he died in 1968, he left over $1 million to the endowment fund.

    Research during the 1960s and 1970s reflected Osis's interest in survival after death. There was a revival of studying spontaneous cases, although experimental work continued as well. After Murphy's departure for reasons of health in 1975, the ASPR began to go into decline, a process accentuated by Osis's retirement in 1983. Osis was not replaced as director of research. The society's primary mission shifted to education and the promulgation of research by others, through the Journal, the Newsletter, a monthly lecture series and a library.

    In the 1990s, financial difficulties led the ASPR to spend its endowment, and by 1999 the society was considering selling its building.


Further reading:

Berg, Arthur S. Lives and Letters in American Parapsychology: A Biographical History, 1850-1987. Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland, 1988.

Matlock, James G. "Cat's Paw: Margery and the Rhines, 1926." Journal of Parapsychology 51 (1987): 229-47.

Mauskopf, Seymour H. "The History of the American Society for Psychical Research: An Interpretation." Journal of the American Society for Psychical Research 83 (1989): 7-32.

Osis, Karlis. "The American Society for Psychical Research 1941-1985: A Personal View." Journal of the American Society for Psychical Research 79 (1985): 501-29.


Amherst Haunting A classic case of a late 19th-century poltergeist in Amherst, Nova Scotia that was so mean-spirited that it directed its nasty activities not only toward its young victim, but to all other persons who tried to help her. Even the family cat did not go unscathed.

    The troublesome spirit, which gave itself the name "Bob" when leaving written messages on walls, confounded observers with strange, frightening noises and happenings, and even started fires. The case began in 1878 and attracted the notice of the public; people often gathered at the house in such great numbers that the police had to be summoned.

    The victims were the Teed family of Amherst, headed by Daniel Teed, a foreman in a shoe factory, and including his wife, Olive, and their two young sons; Olive's two sisters, Jennie, 22 years old, and Esther, 19 years old; Olive's brother, William; and Daniel's brother, John. They lived in a crowded two-story cottage.

    The family's travails began one night when Esther jumped out of the bed she shared with Jennie and screamed that there was a mouse in it. Finding no such thing, the two went back to sleep. The next night, they heard rustling sounds in a bandbox which was rising and falling in the air. An examination by the frightened women revealed an empty box.

    On the following night, the spirit turned ugly, setting the tone for its future activities. Esther, who had gone to bed feeling ill, suddenly awoke and declared that she was dying. Her cries alarmed family members, who rushed into her room, whereupon they were greeted with a hideous sight. Esther's short hair was almost standing on end, her face was blood-red and her eyes popping. Two family members proclaimed her mad, but their accusations turned to concern as Esther's body swelled to nearly double its normal size. Esther's pitiful cries of pain were accompanied by booming sounds of rolling thunder—although there was not a cloud to be seen in the sky.

    Esther's swelling subsided, but four nights later when she and Jennie were once again asleep, their bedclothes were suddenly torn away and thrown into a heap in the corner of the room. Again, frightened family members rushed into the girls' room, saw a swollen Esther and heard the rolling thunder. Jennie replaced the bedclothes, only to have a pillow fly off the bed and strike John Teed in the face. John fled the room, but the others remained, sitting on the bedclothes to hold them fast while Esther fell back to sleep.

    The next day the family called the local physician, Dr. Carritte, to check Esther. He became the poltergeist's next victim. While examining Esther, the bolster beneath her head rose up and violently hit him on the head before returning to its former spot. The astonished doctor took a few moments to restore his equilibrium and sat down in a chair. He heard a metallic scratching sound coming from the wall behind him. Turning to see its source, he saw written upon the wall, "Esther Cox! You are mine to kill." At the same time, the doctor heard peals of thunder and saw pieces of plaster fall from the ceiling and swirl around the room.

    To the terrified Dr. Carritte's credit, he returned the next day to examine his patient. As he was bending over Esther, he was hit with a barrage of potatoes which sent him flying across the room. Nevertheless, the doctor continued his ministrations by giving Esther a sedative. She fell fitfully asleep; meanwhile, the doctor heard loud, pounding sounds coming from the ceiling.

    The next day, Esther complained of feeling as though electricity were passing through her body. Dr. Carritte administered more sedatives in the evening. As he put her to bed, loud raps sounded, as though someone were pounding on the roof of the house. Dr. Carritte went outside, where strong moonlight enabled him to see that no one was upon the roof. Yet, when he returned inside, the family said that while he had been out, it had sounded as though someone were pounding on the roof with a sledgehammer. The poundings repeated intermittently, but eventually they went on all day long and were heard by passersby. The noises were written up in the local Gazette newspaper and other papers throughout Canada.

    About three weeks after Dr. Carritte's initial visit, Jennie stated that she thought the ghost could hear and see everything the family did. Immediately, three clear reports were heard in response. Further questions put to the spirit were answered with loud reports: one knock for a negative answer and three knocks for an affirmative one. The family began to converse with the unseen spirit.

    Word had now begun to spread throughout the community about these happenings. The clergy became interested, but they attributed the phenomena to the newly commercialized electricity rather than to supernatural or diabolical agents. A well-known Baptist clergyman, Rev. Dr. Edwin Clay, began to visit regularly. Rev. Clay agreed with Dr. Carritte that Esther was not producing the noises herself. He opined that her nerves had received some sort of electric shock, thus turning her into a living battery. He believed that her body was emitting tiny flashes of lightning, and the noises were actually small claps of thunder. This theory proved to be popular, and Rev. Clay began to give numerous lectures on it, always defending Esther against any accusations of fraud. The publicity caused throngs of people to gather outside the Teed cottage daily.

    Rev. Clay quit visiting Esther when she contracted diphtheria months later. When she recovered, she left the Teed home to stay temporarily with a married sister in New Brunswick. For the first time, peace and quiet descended on the cottage.

    But when Esther returned home, so did the spirit, with an even greater desire for destruction and disruption. One night, Esther told Jennie that she could hear a voice saying that it would burn the house down. The voice also stated that it had once lived on earth, had died, and now was only a ghost.

    The girls called in family members to relay the message, and while all were laughing at the preposterousness of such a thing happening, lighted matches began falling from the ceiling onto Esther's bed. Communication with the spirit was then initiated, and when asked if it would really set the house afire, it answered in the affirmative. As apparent proof, one of Esther's dresses, hanging on a nail on the wall, was rolled up by invisible hands, stuffed beneath the bed and lighted afire. Daniel Teed pulled the dress out and snuffed the fire before it could do serious damage.

    "Bob" set Olive Teed's skirts on fire and allegedly set several small fires in different parts of the house, which again caused more fright than damage. During one fire emanating from a bucket of cedar shavings in the basement, Esther ran into the street screaming for help and neighbors came to her aid. The local fire department, however, suspected arson, perhaps by Esther. However, she was within view of Olive when the fire started and could not have been responsible.

    Members of the public suggested that Esther should be flogged in order to beat the evil out of her. Instead, Daniel Teed sent her to the house of a Mr. White for safety. But the spirit apparently was having too much fun and continued setting fires in her absence.

    Around this time, Walter Hubbell, an actor in a strolling company based in Amherst, became interested in the case as a possible moneymaker. He decided to exhibit Esther on a platform in the hopes that the ghost would thrill the audience with strange activities. Unfortunately, the spirit wasn't interested in working on cue and irate spectators hissed and booed the couple off the stage, demanding the return of their money

    Esther returned to live in the Teed home, accompanied by the undaunted Hubbell, who moved into the house to learn more about the spirit. His efforts were rewarded by assaults upon him by his umbrella and by a large carving knife that flew briskly through the air in his direction. Being young and nimble, he was able to duck in time, only to see a huge armchair come marching across the room toward him.

    Hoping to put an end to the family's torment, the local clergyman, Rev. R.A. Temple, held a meeting of prayer and exorcism in the house. When the reverend asked the spirit to speak, it responded with loud trumpet-playing. The reverend fled the house, but the spirit became enamored of its own playing and continued to blast on the instrument. The musical finale was accompanied by a display of lighted matches.

    Mischief continued to plague other members of the household. George Cox, Esther's brother, was humiliated when he was mysteriously undressed three times in public. One day Walter Hubbell observed that the cat was the only resident that had not been tormented. The cat instantly was levitated about five feet into the air and set down upon Esther's shoulders. The terrified animal ran out of the house, where it remained for the rest of the day.

    The fire-starting also continued. Hubbell, who in 1888 wrote his account of the case, "The Great Amherst Mystery," described his first encounter with the spirit's fire tricks:


... I say, candidly, that until I had had that experience I never fully realized what an awful calamity it was to have an invisible monster, somewhere within the atmosphere, going from place to place about the house, gathering up old newspapers into a bundle and hiding it in the basket of soiled linen or in a closet, then go and steal matches out of the match-box in the kitchen, or somebody's pocket, as he did out of mine; and after kindling a fire in the bundle, tell Esther that he had started a fire, but would not tell where; or perhaps not tell her at all, in which case the first intimation we would have was the smell of smoke pouring through the house, and then the most intense excitement, everybody running with buckets of water. I say it was the most truly awful calamity that could possibly befall any family, infidel or Christian, that could be conceived in the mind of man or ghost. And how much more terrible did it seem in this little cottage, where we were all strict members of the church, prayed, sang hymns, and read the Bible. Poor Mrs. Teed!


    Finally, the landlord of the Teed home, Mr. Bliss, distressed at the potential for damage to his cottage, requested that Esther leave his property. Reluctantly, the family agreed to let Esther go to the home of a Mr. Van Amburgh. The Teed home then once again returned to normal.

    The hapless Esther was to be harassed by the spirit one last time. "Bob" followed her into a barn and set it afire. She was arrested for arson and sentenced to four months' imprisonment, but appeals from persons who knew her sad history led to her release. The story ended happily, however, as Esther ultimately married and was finally rid of the ghost.

    Members of the Teed family were convinced that the events were indeed caused by the evil ghost of a man who had decided to torment Esther. Some of the local townsfolk believed Esther had perpetrated everything. Wrote Hubbell, "Dr. Nathan Tupper, who had never witnessed a single manifestation, suggested that if a strong raw-hide whip were laid across Esther's bare shoulders by a powerful arm, the tricks of the girl would cease at once." Dr. Carritte believed in the ghost, as did Hubbell. The case was never solved.

    In considering the case in light of modern theories of the origin and nature of poltergeists, it is likely that Esther was the unwitting focus of psychokinetic energy, which caused the phenomena and was due to repressed emotions. She was within the age range of common poltergeist disturbances believed to be caused by human agents. She may have suffered repressed hostility and tension, perhaps from living in very close quarters with a large family. She also may have suffered repressed sexual feelings. The fact that the disturbance stopped, first when she left the crowded Teed household for temporary stays elsewhere, and finally to marry and have her own household, support this explanation.


Further reading:

Canning, John, ed. 50 Great Ghost Stories. New York: Bonanza Books, 1988. First published 1971.

Cohen, Daniel. The Encyclopedia of Ghosts. New York: Dodd, Mead & Co., 1984.

Sitwell, Sacheverell. Poltergeists: Fact or Fancy. New York: Dorset Press, 1988. First published 1959.


Amityville Horror One of the most sensational and controversial cases of an alleged diabolical presence took place not in a haunted European chateau but in suburban Long Island, New York. The "Amityville Horror," as the case became known, was later exposed as a hoax, and spawned a spate of lawsuits.

    George and Kathleen Lutz, with Kathleen's three children—Daniel, Christopher and Melissa—moved into a large Dutch colonial house at 112 Ocean Avenue in Amityville on December 18, 1975. The house seemed a dream come true for the Lutzes: six bedrooms, a swimming pool, space for George's surveying business, a boathouse on the water, plenty of yard for the kids and their dog, Harry, and all in relatively good condition. Best of all, such a palace was—amazingly—available for only $80,000.

    The broker explained that the house had been on the market for a year at such a bargain price because it was the DeFeo house, scene of a mass murder by 23-year-old Ronnie DeFeo of his father, mother and four younger siblings on November 13, 1974. Not superstitious, the Lutzes bought the house.

    By January 14, 1976, when the Lutzes fled the house, never to return, they had been terrorized, they later said, for 28 days. Ghostly apparitions of hooded figures, clouds of flies in the sewing room and the children's playroom, windowpanes that broke simultaneously, bone-chilling cold alternating with suffocating heat, personality changes, nightly parades by spirit marching bands, levitations, green slime spilling downstairs, putrid smells, sickness, strange scratches on Kathleen's body, objects moving of their own accord, repeated disconnection of telephone service, and even communications between the youngest, Melissa (Missy), and a devilish spirit pig she called "Jodie" turned their dream home into a hell on earth. Kathleen often had dreams about the murder and Mrs. DeFeo's love affair; George grew his beard and hair long, beginning to closely resemble Ronnie DeFeo. The children were frightened and unable to go to school, and George couldn't work, seriously jeopardizing his business.

    Even people who had only been in the house to visit were affected. Kathy's brother Jimmy and his new bride mysteriously lost $1,500 in cash. And "Father Mancuso" (his real name: Father Ralph Pecararo), the local priest who blessed the house after the Lutzes moved in, suffered debilitating sickness, rashes, anxiety and pain, causing his eventual transfer to a distant parish. He claims he heard a voice ordering him to get out when he sprinkled the house with holy water.

    Besides the influence of the murder, the house also was supposedly situated over an abandoned well in an old Shinnecock Indian area used for keeping the sick and insane until they died of exposure. No burials were done there because the Shinnecock supposedly believed the place was infested with demons. And strangest of all, the Lutzes found a small secret room, painted entirely in a blood red, behind the basement stairs. No one knew what purpose the room served, but it boded ill.

    The Lutzes' initial reaction was that these occurrences were just coincidence, that they were seeing things. But their annoyance turned to fear, anger, frustration and finally the decision to leave as fast as they could, leaving behind all their possessions and the house they thought was perfect.

    In 1977, The Amityville Horror, by Jay Anson, was published by Prentice-Hall as a nonfiction book. Anson, who was suffering from poor health, never visited the house himself. The book became a best-seller and led to a top-grossing movie of the same name in 1979, spawning a host of other books and films with the same possessed-house theme. John G. Jones followed Anson's success with Amityville II: The Possession and Amityville: The Final Chapter, supposedly chronicling the Lutz family's attempts to escape the dark entities that plagued the house and followed them across country to California, even after an exorcism. However, by the time the second and third "true" accounts were written, the Lutz children in the story were no longer named Danny, Chris and Missy but Greg, Matt and Amy. And George, who ran a family surveying company, had been transformed into an air traffic controller.

    Skeptics quickly claimed the haunting was a hoax, pointing out discrepancies in Anson's book, including: descriptions of terrible weather and moon conditions during the Lutzes' 28 days that didn't match actual weather reports; calling the Psychical Research Foundation in North Carolina the Psychical Research Institute; and, perhaps most interesting, referring to historical records that show the Shinnecock never lived anywhere near Amityville.

    Jerry Solfvin of the Psychical Research Foundation, who was contacted by George Lutz in early January 1976 about poltergeist activity in the house, found the whole matter questionable. He and others, including KARLIS OSIS and Alex Tanous of the AMERICAN SOCIETY FOR PSYCHICAL RESEARCH (ASPR), visited the house but did not conduct investigations, believing that the incidents were not paranormal. All the evidence was subjective. Furthermore, "Father Mancuso" was declared to be a poor witness, as he visited the house only once. Anson wrote the book within three or four months, working largely from tapes of telephone interviews, and apparently making only a superficial effort to verify the Lutzes' account.

    Perhaps most significant is an interview that Ronnie DeFeo's lawyer, William Weber, gave a local radio station in 1979, in which he claimed the whole "horror" was cooked up around the Lutzes' kitchen table over several bottles of wine. He asserted that after approaching them with the idea, the Lutzes went on their own, and he sued for a share of the book and movie profits. The Lutzes countersued to reaffirm the reality of their experience. Mrs. Lutz's story was analyzed on a Psychological Stress Evaluator; results showed that events happened as she believed them.

    While it is possible that haunting phenomena may have occurred at the house, especially in light of the violent events that took place there, the Lutzes' account was more dramatic than other cases of hauntings.

    After the Lutzes moved out, the house became quiet. The owners who immediately followed the Lutzes, Jim and Barbara Cromarty, said they experienced no unusual phenomena. However, they were so annoyed by tourists and curiosity seekers that they sued the Lutzes, Prentice-Hall and Jay Anson for $1.1 million. They won a settlement for an unspecified lesser amount. Father Ralph Pecararo sued the Lutzes and Prentice-Hall for invasion of privacy and distortion of his involvement in the case, and he received an out-of-court settlement.

    In Webers suit against the Lutzes, Judge Jack Weinstein, who presided over the trial, stated for the record that "the evidence shows fairly clearly that the Lutzes during this entire period were considering and acting with the thought of having a book published."

    Anson, who shared the book copyright with the Lutzes, retained sole film rights. He died at age 58 on March 12, 1980 in Palo Alto, California, following heart surgery.


Further reading:

Anson, Jay. The Amityville Horror. New York: Bantam Books, 1977.

Auerbach, Loyd. ESP, Hauntings and Poltergeists: A Parapsychologist's Handbook. New York: Warner Books, 1986.

Kurtz, Paul. "A Case Study of the West Pittson, `Haunted' House." The Skeptical Inquirer 11 (Winter 1986-87): 137—46.

Morris, Robert L. "The Case of The Amityville Horror." Review of The Amityville Horror appearing in Kendrick Frazier, ed., Paranormal Borderlands of Science. Buffalo: Prometheus Books, 1981.


amulet Any material or object believed to have supernatural or magical powers of protection against ghosts, evil spirits, witchcraft, the evil eye, illness, misfortune, calamities and any kind of disaster. Amulets have been used universally since ancient times. The term "amulet" comes from the old Latin amoletum, which means "means of defense."

    Most amulets are worn or carried on the person. Other amulets are placed in a house, building or ship, or among one's possessions. Still other amulets are painted on houses, buildings and ships.

    Virtually any object can be an amulet. Personal items commonly include pieces of jewelry, semiprecious and precious stones, and common stones that have odd but natural shapes such as those with holes in them. Religious objects are amulets.

    The supernatural power of an amulet is believed to occur naturally, bestowed by nature or the gods. In occult lore, amulets also can be fashioned and imbued with supernatural power through magical ritual.

    See CHARMS AGAINST GHOSTS.


ancestor worship The worship of deceased relatives, or ancestors, as if they were deities.

    Ancestor worship may take several forms. In its most generalized form, it is simply the laying out of food or drink for the deceased in the belief that this will encourage them to bring good to the community, and ward off evil. Ancestral spirits are widely believed to be able to influence the fertility of women and crops. Propitiation of ancestors is characteristic of ANIMISM, the world view to which the majority of tribal societies around the world adhere, but since the ancestors are not really thought of as gods, it may be going too far to describe this as "worship."

    A more definite form of ancestor worship is found in Asia, where one part of the spirit of a deceased person is believed to pass into a special tablet after death. The tablets are placed in a ceremonial room and are bowed to, talked to and fed regularly by their living descendants, quite as if they were living persons. The purpose of these acts is, however, the same as in the tribal societies: to please the ancestors, thereby making sure that they continue to look out for the household and community.

    An intermediary type of ancestor worship is found throughout West Africa. Here each family line, or lineage, has its own ancestral shrine, inhabited, it is believed, by the founder of the lineage. These shrines are usually carved wooden representations of the persons in question, and they may be fed, cared for and asked for favors, especially for children.


Further reading:

Radin, Paul. Primitive Religion: Its Nature and Origin. New York: Dover Publications, 1957.

Tylor, Edward Burnett. Religion in Primitive Culture. New York: Harper and Row, 1956.

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