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Excerpt from "Defense Against the Dark"

Chapter 5: Dead and Undead

by Emily Carlin


Vital Statistics

Danger Level: 7

Rarity: 7

Difficulty of Removal: 5–6

Where Found: Everywhere.

Common Symptoms: Wailing heard at night, figures beckoning the living out into the night, people being found drained of life.


Hungry ghosts are a type of ghost that preys upon the living in order to feed, seek revenge, or make up for some loss in life. Some such ghosts are the Gaki, La Llorona, Angiak, Baka, Bakechochin, Bloody Mary, Buruburu, Eretiku, Kindermörderinn, Masan, Pret, Strigoi, and Vodnik. Such ghosts are said to be the spirits either of evil people, such as murderers or the greedy, or those who were wronged in life, such as women who lost their children, children who died at birth, murder victims, and the like. For whatever reason, these ghosts have a terrible hunger that must be assuaged either by feeding on or tormenting the living night after night.

Hungry ghosts are quite possibly the most dangerous ghosts in existence. These ghosts, by their very definition, attack the living. Some, such as the Gaki of Japan, call out to the living, making the sounds of an injured person or a child calling for help. But once the Good Samaritan finds the source of the cries the ghost will attack, either siphoning off the person’s life force or drinking the person’s blood. The Gaki is believed to be the spirit of an evil person, tormented with an unquenchable thirst for life or blood as punishment for their evil deeds in life. Other life-draining hungry ghosts are believed to be the spirits of those who were improperly buried or those whose graves had been desecrated. Such ghosts rise from their graves to punish those who failed to give them proper respect in death.

Other hungry ghosts, such as the Radiant Boys, are vengeance ghosts. These ghosts rise from the grave for the specific purpose of finding the persons that wronged them in life and punishing them. Unlike other hungry ghosts, those bent on vengeance will permanently return to their graves once they have been avenged. According to German legend, the Radiant Boys are the ghosts of young children who were murdered by their own mothers. They are believed to torment their still-living mother with vicious poltergeist-like activity until the mother goes mad or does herself harm. In lore it is common for these vengeance ghosts to chase those who have wronged them down lonely paths and roads. In more modern stories, they have been known to chase cars, frightening the driver so much that the car runs off the road.

Still other hungry ghosts are tormented by a need to fill some loss they incurred before death. These are often the spirits of people who were robbed of a precious item, such as a family heirloom, immediately before death, or those who caused a great harm immediately before death and are wracked with guilt. Such a spirit is La Llorona, the Weeping Woman. Almost every country in Latin America has a story similar to that of La Llorona, a tale of a woman who drowns her child in a river in a fit of jealousy. Within days she withers and dies due to remorse. Her ghost is then doomed to forever walk the river bank, looking for her child. This ghost is dangerous because it can no longer tell the difference between her child and any other that might walk untended near the river at night, and she has been known to snatch unwary children away. These hungry ghosts will look for whatever it was they lost and try to take anything that resembles it. Though this kind of hungry ghost isn’t truly malevolent, its lack of care in what it takes makes it quite dangerous.

Methods of Removal

Thankfully, these ghosts are quite rare and are usually easily dealt with. Most hungry ghosts are repelled by normal magickal protections such as shielding or a protective or blessed charm. Information on both shields and protective charms is detailed in Part II. Such basic protection should keep a hungry ghost from targeting you for attack.

If you find yourself under attack from a hungry ghost, your defense depends on whether you are a random victim or if you wronged said ghost. If you are a random victim, a standard protective incantation should force the ghost away from you, and a good protection ritual, such as the strong house cleansing in Part II, should prevent future attack. However, if you actually wronged the hungry ghost, such measures may send the ghost away once, but it will likely be back. In that case, the best thing would be to make any reparations possible and to make an offering at the person’s grave and ask his or her forgiveness. If that fails, then a strong banishing ritual may be necessary.


Vital Statistics

Danger Level: 1–6

Rarity: 5–6

Difficulty of Removal: 2–5

Where Found: Places where people spend significant amounts of time in life, particularly homes and places of work. Also found in places where strong emotions occurred.

Common Symptoms: Apparitions, phantom smells, disembodied voices, objects moving of their own accord, unexplained shadows, movement out of the corner of the eye, feelings of being watched.


This is the type of ghost most people think of when they think of hauntings. An intelligent ghost is a deceased person who, for whatever reason, does not move on to the next plane after death. It is commonly believed that this type of ghost remains on this plane due to having unfinished business on earth, or because it simply does not understand that it is no longer alive, but we cannot be sure. There is much speculation on why particular people become intelligent ghosts after death and others do not, but no one knows for certain.

An intelligent ghost can be distinguished from a residual haunting by its interactions with its surroundings. Unlike a residual haunting, intelligent ghosts will respond to people; they can respond to inquiries by speaking, moving objects, creating hot or cold spots, making sounds, or causing other unexplained phenomena such as feelings of heaviness or of being watched. Some intelligent ghosts seem to have the ability to speak in voices that any person can hear, whereas others seem only to be able to communicate in a way that most people cannot hear with their ears but that can be picked up by recording devices. This has led to the discovery of EVP, or Electronic Voice Phenomena, a recording of a disembodied voice that was not heard at the time it was recorded. There is much argument as to whether EVPs are the voices of ghosts or other metaphysical creatures, or if they are simply electronic artifacts.

An intelligent ghost can cause a very wide variety of phenomena. They can merely cause feelings of being watched and cold spots; they can appear as spectacular apparitions indistinguishable from the living; or they can cause objects to fly through the air. Intelligent ghosts seem to have varying levels of power, and thus varying ability to cause metaphysical phenomena. This is possibly dependent on the personality of the deceased, the age of the ghost, or natural phenomena at the location of the haunting such as nearby running water, crystalline mineral deposits, storm energy or ambient electromagnetic energy. For a more thorough discussion of power generated by natural phenomena see the entry on portals.

An intelligent ghost will usually haunt a location that had a particular significance to it in life, such as the place where it lived or worked, or a place that had strong emotional significance to it, such as the place where a traumatic event occurred. For example, a doctor may haunt the hospital she worked in, a man may haunt the house he lived in for 30 years, or a woman may haunt the location where she was murdered. In some rare instances, intelligent ghosts may haunt a person instead of a location. This usually happens when the ghost had a particular relationship to the person being haunted, such as that of spouse or child, or the ghost may need the person haunted to do something for it. In some cases, a ghost may haunt a person who wronged it out of revenge, but that is extremely rare.

Intelligent ghosts are as good or bad as the people they once were. The ghost of a very good person would do no harm. For example, the ghosts of deceased nurses often haunt the hospitals where they once worked and have been known to tuck people in at night or put extra blankets on the beds in winter. On the other hand, the ghost of a bad person would be as unpleasant as the person was in life and might delight in frightening people or even trying to harm them. That being said, most intelligent ghosts mean no harm. They are often just confused and frustrated.

In the rarest of cases, intelligent hauntings can become violent. It is possible, though incredibly unlikely, for a ghost to cause physical harm. A powerful ghost can throw objects, move furniture, and even bite, pinch, or scratch. In most cases, these extreme methods are only used to garner the attention of the living, but every once in a while a ghost is actively malevolent. In such cases, immediate banishing is often required. In such scenarios strong banishings, such as the one presented in Part II, would be the most appropriate.

Methods of Removal

Intelligent ghosts can be frightening, but rarely cause physical harm beyond a broken knick-knack or two. Accordingly, they can usually be left to their own devices and will move on when they feel ready. But if the people experiencing the haunting want it to stop now, there are three basic options:

1. Ask it to leave.

2. Aid it in moving on by helping it finish its business on earth.

3. Banish it.

It’s always a good idea to firmly ask the ghost to leave before moving on to more intensive methods.

Quite often an intelligent ghost feels the need to do something before it passes on. If you can learn to communicate with it you may be able to help it accomplish its goal; once that goal is attained the ghost will move on. The best way I have found to communicate with ghosts, if you do not have the innate talent, is to use divination, such as tarot cards or talking boards.

If you do find a way to communicate with the ghost, use common sense when speaking to it. Ghosts were people once and should always be treated with respect. Do ask them things like their name, when they lived, why they’re still here, or if they need help. Don’t call them derogatory names or badger them because they won’t or can’t make objects move; you wouldn’t like it if they did that to you. Also, just like people, ghosts don’t always tell the absolute truth, either because they don’t know the whole truth or because they want to hide something. So when a ghost asks you to do something for them, use good judgment in deciding whether to do it or not.

If an intelligent ghost refuses to move on, you will have to perform a cleansing or even a banishing ritual (both of which are set out in detail in Part II).


Vital Statistics

Danger Level: 1

Rarity: 4

Difficulty of Removal: 1–3

Where Found: Anywhere.

Common Symptoms: Apparition of a living person.


A surprisingly common type of ghost is the living ghost. A living ghost is exactly what it sounds like: an apparition of a person who is still alive. This can happen when people leave their physical bodies and travel in their astral bodies—that astral body can sometimes be seen. (The astral body is the energetic part of a human being, which inhabits the physical body, but is distinct from it. Some believe the astral body is the soul or spirit of a person.) Essentially, a living ghost is the astral projection of a living person. This commonly occurs as the result of either bodily trauma or deliberate journeying. When such a body is seen it is usually semi-transparent and may or may not be able to communicate normally.

One theory as to the cause of accidental astral projection is that intense physical trauma can “shock” the astral body out of the physical body. This is most common in cases of severe physical injury, such as a car accident, but can also occur when the body suffers long-term debilitation, as in the case of cancer treatments. The theory is that once the astral body is shocked out of the physical body by sudden injury, the injured person would consciously or unconsciously think of another person, and then the astral body would instantly go to that person. The astral body would return to the physical body either when the physical body was stabilized or when the mind was satisfied with whatever exchange it had with the witness. Similarly, the fatigue of longstanding illness can allow the astral body to separate from the physical and thus allow the astral body to wander.

When appearing to another person, the living ghost may or may not be aware that it is doing so. Some theorize that such an astral projection is little more than an emotional distress signal—a way of alerting a person’s loved ones to his or her injury. Others believe that only extremely strong bonds between psychically gifted people allow for the appearance of a living ghost. It is true that living ghosts do not always appear when someone is gravely ill or injured, so it is possible that some kind of psychic gift is a precondition for their appearance. We may never know for certain.

Living ghosts are most often seen by the friends and relatives of an ill or injured person. However, it is also possible for total strangers to see a living ghost. If someone’s astral body is shocked out of its physical body, it may simply hover near the physical body or wander aimlessly. In such cases the living ghost could be seen by anyone nearby, particularly if they had the ability to see or sense energies on the astral level.

Of course, this doesn’t apply when the appearance of the living ghost is the result of deliberate astral projection. Certain magickal practitioners or religious mystics actively engage in astral projection, most often seeking esoteric knowledge or some form of enlightenment. With practice it is possible to cause the astral body to leave the physical body at will. Once freed of the physical, the astral body can travel around the world or even to other planes of existence. A skilled projector could potentially appear to anyone, regardless of the strength of their connection or the witness’s ability to see the otherworldly. Fortunately, it is virtually unheard of for skilled projectors to use their abilities for anything other than personal growth.

Methods of Removal

Most living ghosts appear only once and for a very short time. The average appearance lasts a few seconds, or at most a few minutes, and is usually for the purpose of alerting the loved one to the living ghost’s situation or to say goodbye. Because living ghosts usually appear to loved ones, stopping the encounter is rarely a goal of the witness.

However, in incredibly rare cases the witness may want the occurrence to stop. This situation would most likely occur in the case of a magickal practitioner purposefully appearing to someone repeatedly without his or her consent. Such cases are exceedingly rare and are generally easy to deal with: Astral travel is very difficult, requiring incredible concentration under even ideal circumstances; as such, proper shielding can usually stop these occurrences. Should shielding fail, doing a strong house cleansing and protection ritual would create wards sufficient to stop unwanted astral entities from entering the area. (For more information on shielding and house cleansing rituals see Part II.)


Vital Statistics

Danger Level: 1

Rarity: 3

Difficulty of Removal: 10

Where Found: Places of strong emotion or habit.

Common Symptoms: Apparitions that appear at the same place at the same time repeatedly, apparitions that do not interact with the real world, phantom sounds heard repeatedly at the same time.


A residual ghost (also called simply “a residual”) is a ghost or group of ghosts that reenact some event from the past—ghostly soldiers fighting the Battle of Gettysburg over and over again, or the ghost of a woman that walks down the same hallway each night, for example. These ghosts do not interact with the mundane world; they simply repeat something they once did. If a residual ghost walks a particular path each night, and then a wall is put up in its path, it would walk straight through the wall as if it did not exist. This kind of ghost is completely benign; it cannot do harm. In fact, it cannot interact with the physical world at all.

Residuals can appear as faint glowing lights, semi-transparent figures, or fully formed apparitions that are almost indistinguishable from the living. Residuals can be differentiated from other types of ghosts in that they always do the exact same thing. Usually, residuals can be seen repeating their movements at regular intervals: every night at midnight, once a month, every July 13th, and so on. If you speak to a residual or move into its path it will ignore you; it does not even know you are there.

Though people are the most common subjects, they are not the only things that can appear as residual ghosts. Sometimes inanimate objects appear as residual ghosts. The most common type of inanimate object seen as a residual ghost is transportation vehicles. There are numerous accounts of people seeing phantom vehicles or hearing the sound of a train on an unused bit of track. For example, many witnesses have reported seeing a fleet of WWII era fighter planes throughout the years off the coast of Florida that were lost many years ago. Similarly, animals can also appear as residual ghosts. This is most common in the case of family pets that are seen sleeping in their customary spots or eating out of their food bowls in the time after their deaths. For whatever reason, animal residuals do not tend to last as long as other types of residual ghosts, often only being seen within a month or so of their demise.

There are several theories as to what causes residual hauntings. A popular one is that what we see is the imprint of an act of great emotional significance on the place where it happened. For example, one might see a figure reenacting its death or some other traumatic event. Another theory is that repetition of actions, such as going up a staircase, walking down a hallway, or always sitting in a particular chair, causes so much energy to be given off in a particular pattern that it sinks into the location itself and can be seen by those sensitive to such energies. This would explain seeing the ghost of one’s grandfather sitting in his favorite chair.

Yet another popular theory is that residual hauntings are caused, in part, by high concentrations of minerals such as quartz or limestone that can absorb and store strong energies. The idea is that strong emotions throw off energy, which is absorbed by the minerals and then released at periodic intervals through an as-yet-unknown natural process.

Methods of Removal

Because echoes do not do any harm, they can usually be left alone; in time, they will sometimes fade away on their own. Other times, because they have been repeating their actions for a so long and their energy is do deeply imprinted on their surroundings, they can be almost impossible to get rid of. Possible reasons for wanting to get rid of an echo would be if the image was gruesome or unpleasant (such as a soldier missing half his limbs), or perhaps if it was distracting (you’d hardly want to take a test with the image of ghostly children dancing on your desk). If you feel you must remove an echo the best thing to do is a strong magical cleansing of the area, such as the strong house cleansing or strong banishing presented in Part II. Unfortunately, even the strongest of cleansings is unlikely to wash away 50 years of repeated action, and thus is unlikely to be successful the first time around. You may have to repeat such rituals on a regular basis—possibly for years—before they are successful.


Vital Statistics

Danger Level: 7–9

Rarity: 9

Difficulty of Removal: 8–9

Where Found: Near desecrated graves, crossroads, places where the revenant once lived.

Common Symptoms: Shambling corpse rising from the grave, often subsequently attacking the living. They are unsubtle.


Though the term revenant can be used to refer to any kind of undead creature, such as vampires and ghosts, in this guide the term shall specifically refer to any corpse that rises physically from the grave. Stories of revenants exist in almost every culture in the world; for example, the Draugr, Haugbui, Oupire, Pisacha, Sundal Bolong, and of course the zombie. Revenants can vary widely in their appearance; some are indistinguishable from living humans, but far more of them look like decaying corpses, with blue or black skin, long fingernails, obvious rot, and also.

The reasons revenants rise from the grave varies from culture to culture. In some lore only evildoers rise as revenants, such as with the traditional English Revenant. In such cases, the spirit of the deceased is unable to move on, and is essentially trapped in its decaying corpse. This makes an already evil person even angrier and more violent than in life, and thus more likely to do evil wherever it can. For example, the Draugr of Viking lore are believed to be created when a very active and malevolent person dies. Due to their violent personalities and high energy, these people do not lie quietly upon death and will rise and continue the kinds of activities they pursued in life, such as pillaging the countryside.

In other lore revenants are created when people are improperly buried or their graves are desecrated. Such desecration allows evil spirits to inhabit the corpse, which is then used to do violence on all around it. These revenants often evince powers of the supernatural beings that inhabit them, such as the ability to control mists or the weather. Revenants that rise from desecrated graves are more likely to be vampiric than other revenants.

The most famous kind of walking dead is, without question, the zombie. According to popular superstition, evil Voodoo practitioners, called Bokors, can use their magickal powers to literally raise the dead from their graves and enslave the raised zombies to their will. Anthropologists believe that this lore originated in Haiti when certain Bokors allegedly poisoned people with a toxin that mimics death, called tetrodotoxin. They then buried the poisoned people alive, and then “resurrected” them. The combination of the poison and the shock and oxygen deprivation of burial would damage the brains of the victims in such a way that they lost their personalities and were extremely pliable, following any orders given them. Such people are, of course, not revenants, but victims of a terrible crime. It is doubtful, though not patently impossible, that a physical manifestation of the popular idea of an undead zombie actually exists.

Methods of Removal

All the lore agrees that revenants are thoroughly evil and very difficult to kill. The problem is that revenants are already dead, so they can take quite a bit of damage before they are stopped. Some revenants, like the Pisacha of India, can be killed by a sword through the heart, or beheading. Other revenants, like the Draugr, are virtually invincible. The best way to stop a rampaging revenant is to utterly destroy its body, either through fire, dismemberment, or incredible firepower.

Traditional lore has many suggestions for how to deal with revenants. Some lore suggests that they can be repelled by things like garlic and holy or blessed items. This holds true most strongly for revenants that are supernatural beings inhabiting human corpses, and less so against reanimated evildoers—unless the blessed object is of their faith. Slavic lore also suggests that, like the vampire, a revenant’s resting place can be approached safely during the day, and the revenant can then be staked through the heart. This is not done to destroy the revenant, but to pin it to the ground so that it cannot rise. This may or may not work; thorough dismemberment is a surer way to prevent a revenant from rising again.


Vital Statistics

Danger Level: 2

Rarity: 3

Difficulty of Removal: 2–5

Where Found: Older buildings.

Common Symptoms: Seeing a shadowy figure out the corner of eye; a short, shadowy figure appearing in photos or video; feeling of being watched.


Shadow people are shadowy humanoid figures that are 3 to 4 feet tall and are seen in older buildings and homes. Such figures are usually seen out of the corner of the eye, often when they are least expected, rather than head-on. Although such phenomena has been relatively common for many years, shadow people were thought to be just another form of haunting by ghosts. But in recent times, since the use of still and video cameras become ubiquitous in ghost hunting, people have begun to theorize that shadow people may not be ghosts at all. Instead they may be a metaphysical creature completely separate from ghosts. Shadow people do not appear to be malevolent; there are no reported incidents of people being harmed by them; they’re just a little frightening.

Shadow people appear exactly the way one might imagine: as dark, shadowy human figures. Often they appear as little more than human-shaped black masses, but they are sometimes more clearly defined humanoid bodies with distinctive heads, arms, and legs. It is also not uncommon for witnesses to report them as wearing hats or hoods. However, reports of shadow people appearing to wear particular kinds of clothing are rather suspect. Shadow people often lack definition in their form, and that lack of definition could be interpreted by the witness as loose clothing, particularly hoods. The figures may appear wispy and intangible or quite solid; there seems to be no explanation as to why some shadow people are more or less well defined than others. It is also common for them to appear on film or video footage when they were not physically seen at the time of recording. When they are seen or their images captured they often appear to be moving away from the observer, as if they do not want to be seen.

Those who are sensitive to metaphysical energy may be able to sense the presence of shadow people. When one examines an empty room with one’s metaphysical senses, the energy should feel even and undisturbed, like the surface of a calm pond. When there is something in a room that cannot be seen with the eyes, one’s metaphysical senses may pick up a feeling of disturbance, heaviness, or foreign energy where that creature stands—like seeing the ripples of water where it meets a rock. This feeling of disturbance or presence alerts the sensitive to the presence of something unseen, but unless the sensitive knows what the energy of different creatures “feels” like he or she will probably not be able to tell what that presence is.

The presence of shadow people can be very difficult to distinguish from the presence of other metaphysical creatures. Many creatures can appear as shadowy figures seen out of the corner of the eye, such as ghosts, pixies, imps, and goblins. The main distinction between shadow people and other creatures (other than ghosts) is that they will usually appear humanoid. The best way to determine the difference between shadow people and ghosts is to look at their behavior. Residual ghosts will perform the same action over and over again, whereas shadow people do not. Intelligent ghosts will often try to communicate with the living by causing haunting phenomena; shadow people do not seem interested in doing so.

The only evidence of the presence of shadow people is sightings of them, the feeling of being watched, and the feeling of a foreign presence in an otherwise empty space. If those symptoms are the only things happening, then you may be dealing with shadow people. If there are any other symptoms present, you should look elsewhere for their source.

No one knows what shadow people really are; they may be ghosts, faeries, or something altogether different. The fact that they often appear in photos and videos when they were not physically seen at the time argues for them being something that does not dwell entirely on this plane of existence. Unfortunately that applies to just about every creature in this book, so this information tells us very little about their nature. It’s also possible that shadow people are not a separate type of creature at all, but are instead a form taken by several different creatures. We may never know the truth.

Methods of Removal

As they are harmless, there’s really no reason to remove shadow people from a building unless the occupants are very uncomfortable with it. In that case, have the occupants of the building firmly ask the shadow people to leave, and explain why. In most cases that will be the end of things. If that fails, then a basic cleansing ritual, such as the Simple House Cleansing in Part II, should suffice.

Emily Carlin has been a magickal practitioner for more than a decade. She is the Grey School of Wizardry’s Dean of Dark Arts, specializing in defensive magick and creatures of the night, teaching magickal protection to people of all ages and skill levels. Emily also holds a BA in philosophy from Wellesley College and a JD from Seattle University School of Law, and is a member of the Washington State Bar. Carlin is a lifelong resident of Seattle, Washington.

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