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  • Writer's pictureIvy Boyd

Are We Creating the "Vengeful Spirit"?

Updated: Jul 31, 2023

A belief in vengeful spirits has existed throughout varies cultures across the globe...but could they be produced by the guilty minds of the living?


What is a Vengeful Spirit?

Image from the movie The Ring, featuring a plot surrounding the vengeful spirit of a young girl.

A vengeful spirit, or vengeful ghost, is any spirit who's goal is to harm or disrupt the living in an act of revenge. These spirits are typically victims of a wrongdoing, a sudden and unexpected death, or even murder. In Roman mythology, we see Lemures who are wandering, vengeful spirits of those who were not given proper funeral rites or burial. The Keres are a vengeful spirit from Greek mythology who had met a violent and cruel death. Japan has tales of Onryō, a generic name given to vengeful spirits, mainly women, from purgatory who return after having been wronged during their life, hoping to hurt or kill those who hurt them. In todays pop culture, we still see these spirits inspiring novels and films, one such example being the 2002 film The Ring (photographed above). Some believe that the film is based on a 16th century Japanese ghost story at Himeji Castle where various legends state that a girl, Okiku, was killed. In one version of the legend, she is framed for theft of a golden plate and his hung over the castle wall. In another version, she is deeply upset over a man who wishes she loved him back and throws herself over the castle wall. Both versions end the same: Okiku comes back as a vengeful spirit, haunting the castle and those inside.


You'll find many similar stories of people who were wronged, and who's spirit returns to torment the living. And although I am a devout believer in the existence of paranormal phenomena, and follow the idea that some semblance of us can remain post-death, I can't help but wonder how many of these spirits might just be a product of the guilty minds of living people.


Regret, Guilt, and Ghosts


It is possible that some legends of vengeful spirits were created out of fear of causing someone pain and suffering? And should they die before you, their spirit could then haunt you. Having this belief might help someone live life more kindly, and keep them from committing various crimes. Much like how morality, to some, is linked to their faith and belief in punishments inflicted in an afterlife, like the biblical Hell. Perhaps this very guilt and fear of a spirit enacting revenge upon us could cause us to curate said vengeful "spirit" in one of two ways:


Option one is that they are creating the hauntings themselves through something like a Poltergeist, Egregor, or a Tulpa. Poltergeist is a german word which translates to "noisy ghost", with many believing that poltergeists are a manifestation of our own emotions which can lash out at the environment around us. An egregor is believed to form from the collective thoughts of many. Similarly, a Tulpa is an entity that first begins as a product of our own minds and imagination who can then become real if one believes in them very strongly, or if many people believe. So can our own memories and emotions be strong enough to create a poltergeist, or some sort of other entity formed from us? If so, could some tales of a vengeful interpret be explained this way? (I suppose you could begin to argue this for many cases of a haunting, not just vengeful spirits...)


The other possibility is that there is no entity. No spirit, poltergeist, or tulpa, rather our perception of the world around us causes us to perceive normal events as being paranormal. In a sense, we are inventing our own imaginary haunting that isn't actually there.


Believer vs. Non-Believer


Let's say someone murders an innocent person. If this killer has a moderate-to-strong belief in spirits/an afterlife, and if they feel guilt for what they did, they might view future misfortunes as being a sort of punishment or revenge for their evil deed. For example, if they get into a car accent they might interpret it as punishment for having taken someones life. Taking it a step further, they could even believe that the spirit of their victim caused the accident to happen as an act of revenge, creating their own "vengeful spirit". Worry that the angry spirit of their victim is always lingering nearby waiting to hurt (and possibly kill) them could lead to a life riddled with feelings of regret and paranoia. This could even lead them to seeking some sort of forgiveness with the hope that the "spirit" will move on before they cause more suffering to their killer. Of course in this hypothetical, there never was an actual spirit among them to begin with, and it is merely their strong belief in these entities that is altering their view of the events around them, giving normal events, like a car accident, a now paranormal narrative. Or maybe their emotions were so strong that they managed to create something like a poltergeist or tulpa which is now afflicting them...either way, they are now haunting themselves through their guilt and emotions, whether an entity is present or not.


Let's take this same scenario, but say that the murderer doesn't have a belief in spirits/an afterlife and feels little guilt. This person likely won't blame any future misfortunes on something like a vengeful spirit. In this scenario, if they were involved in a car accident they would probably think of it as nothing more than an accident, curating no haunting around them like a believer might accidentally create.


Being married to a skeptic who has no belief in spirits has led me to view things more critically than before. If someone believes their house is haunted and a lightbulb flickers, that can be interpreted as being caused by an entity in the home. Whereas a non-believer, like my husband, will believe it is nothing more than a bad bulb or electrical issue. Both beliefs are valid, and both avenues of possibility are why I've been giving haunting-related subjects deeper thought than I did previously, and why I can't help but wonder how many hauntings might just be the product of our unique personal beliefs and perceptions. And of course it is also possible that some instances of a classic vengeful spirit could involve the actual human spirit of someone who was wronged in some way...but how often is this the case, and how often might it just be us haunting ourselves, wether it be an entity like a tulpa, a poltergeist, or nothing at all?


I want to thank my friend Amanda Paulson (@prettyfnspooky on Instagram) for shedding so much new light on paranormal subjects, and making me explore these beliefs even deeper for myself! I also want to thank Cherise Williams (@cherisewilliams.xo) and Hannah Kathleen (@hannahkathleenparanormal) for also being some of my closest ghost hunting friends, who are always there to listen and discuss strange paranormal topics.



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