Selected parts of the presentation:
Neospiritism as a unifying concept for the contemporary
Belief in spirits
from the autumn conferences
EASR & WESTERN ESOTERISM
I will hereby present some preliminary findings concerning the contemporary belief in spirits and ghost. I have chosen to call the belief in spirits for neospiritism.
The word “spiritism” in neospiritism, is both a reference to “the belief in spirits” and to the French version of spiritualism – that is, spiritism. The word “spiritism” is also used to not mix up neospiritism with the word “spiritual”. The word "neo” in the concept neospiritism, refers among other things to the personal and self-controlled way of believing. The word neo here also point out the new ideas in the modern spirit-belief and how the belief is passed on by “new media”.
The belief of a continuing existents of the human soul or some part of consciousness after death, and the thought of another world, were human and animal spirits dwell; is a more rather common and visible belief in the Western contemporary society. It is noticeable in different contexts, among others the increased amount of:
• “Documenters” about medium, haunted houses and ghost hunters
• TV-series and movies about ghosts, mediums and “the other world”
• Magazines and books
• Working mediums and ghost hunter groups
• Web pages and forums about spirits, ghosts and the other world
• Ghost pictures and ghost videos on internet that are perceived as genuine
The idea that the deceased’s spirits is living near us and can be experienced is not new. This idea has always existed, beside Christianity in folklore - and later in spiritism and spiritualism. In the post secular society we can see that a new, yet old, belief in spirits and ghosts have blossomed.
The belief in spirits or ghosts is “a red thread” through various new religious beliefs and is a denominator for these. However, it is not unusual that people that don’t consider them self as spiritual or religious also believe in spirits, ghost or the other world.
Some common aspects within neospiritism are:
• A belief in “the other world”, reincarnation and a form of relation with the diseased spirits
• It is based on personal experiences, narratives and “new media”
1. The other world
The other world, where the spirits are believed to dwell – is a rather undefined world. From the other world, spirits can make themselves known to the living through supernormal experiences.
The ideas of the other world can be divided into two different categories that I here call the spirit realm and the earthbound spirit realm.
The spirit realm
is a place where the spirits of the dead are safe and have a good time together with other dead relatives and friends. This type of death realm is considered to be far away, but still so close that the dead can hear when the living talks to them. And in special cases make them self-visible or known to the living.
The ideas of the other world are the least developed idea in within neospiritism. Possible due to many people in the post secular society avoid the Christian after-life dogmatic, and instead create their own ideas of the afterlife.
The earthbound spirit realm
is the second category of the other world, and is thought to be an invisible world or dimension connected to the physical world in a more concrete way, through repeated personal supernatural experiences. It is believed that the veil between the worlds is thin within these places, which usually are known as “haunted houses”.
It is believed that the experiences in haunted places are caused by the spirits of the dead that cannot or will not leave the physical world. These spirits are sometimes called earthbound- or place-bound spirits. It is also thought that the spirits don’t realize they are dead, and therefore “live” as spirits in this dimension, that is perceived to be rather close to the physical world.
The goal for the earthbound spirit is departing to the spirit realm, trough the light – by help from mediums or cleansing rituals.
This belief in haunted places or sometimes haunted objects is also an animistic belief within neospiritism.
Reincarnation, the belief that the soul can be reborn in another human body is rather common in new religions. It is believed, that before a human is reborn she is in the spirit realm. Within this idea there is also often a belief in karma. Meaning: relationships, career, health and sickness – in this life, are affected by the actions and choices done in previous lives.
2. Neospiritism is based on experience,
narratives and new media
Unlike the established beliefs as Christianity, which is mainly based on tradition; neospiritism at it appears on the web-sites, interviews and litterateur, is mainly based on personal experiences of spirits and ghosts. Supernatural experiences usually result in a stronger or weaker neospiritistic way to perceive reality. However, some believers never have had experiences of spirits or ghosts. These people usually have heard someone trustworthy, tell about their supernatural experiences, and they often long to “see a ghost” to have their belief confirmed. Also, in narratives, personal experiences of spirits and ghosts are common – but it is usually sheared behind closed doors.
It should also be mentioned that in neospiritism, experiences of spirits are often wanted. The experiences here have the role, to strengthen and confirming the belief in spirits and the other world. These experiences can be provoked by séances, Ouija, and Ghost haunting, etc.
In neospiritism, there are no given books or texts to follow like in the early spiritism or spiritualism. The inspiration and answers to questions about the other world, spirits, ghost or haunting are today mainly from “new media” as: web pages and forums on internet about the subject. Inspiration to the belief also comes from TV- series about ghosts and mediums, movies, computer games and novels with horror, fantasy and spiritualistic themes. In Sweden the child book writer Astrid Lindgren, and her book Bröderna Lejonhjärta, The Lion heart brothers, (1973) seem to have been especially inspiring concerning the death realm. The book begins with the two brothers’ death, and departing to a death realm called Nangiala, where they live on and have some adventures. Nangialia is in fact described as the spiritualistic Summerland.
Most influences for neospiritism, that is, the contemporary belief in spirits and ghosts, seem to be from the early spiritualism and spiritism.
Active and passive believers
In the concept of neospiritism, I will suggest to include all those people who believe in spirits and ghosts. Within neospiritism the belief-range is wide and some seem to be more active believers and have a stronger belief in spirits, while others are non-active believers. I here call them active believers and passive believers.
The more active believers are:
(1) people whom see themselves as spiritual. They visit mediums and / or educate themselves to mediums and / or follow courses in order to develop their psychical or mediumistic abilities. In Sweden, a key part in this category is a large group of people who call themselves “spiritualists”.
To the more active believers belong also:
(2) Ghost Hunters or paranormal investigators. Most often these people do not see themselves as spiritual, but they believe that spirits and the other world is something natural that should be explored. These people watch ghost hunting on TV shows, and explore alleged haunted places. Thrills and getting a little scared is a part of this type of neospiritism.
The more passive believers are:
open to the possibility that ghosts and spirits may be real, as an unknown part of the world’s mysteries. As in the previous group the range or span in their belief-range, is quite wide. Some of the passive believers can take part in séances out of sheer curiosity and they can be interested in paranormal TV shows and movies. Others are satisfied to speak of their supernatural experiences or thoughts within the family or a trusted friend.
Within both the more active and passive believers, one can also find a belief in guardian angels or guardian spirits, in form of deceased relatives who watch over them in their everyday lives.
To me, it is not strange that spiritualism influence today’s belief in spirits and ghosts. The spirit realm and spiritualism has for a long time been present in the everyday life, in a rather invisible way; starting with children’s-TV and literature. Most children also listens to ghost stories and later on trying Ouija, or “the spirit in the glass”, as it is called in Sweden, to contact spirits.
Also, an important aspect, and maybe the most important; when a child experience a relatives death - the child is told that the deceased is “somewhere else” or “in another world”, that is very abstract. From there, it is not far fetch to adopt the thought of the spirit realm presented in books, TV, movies, computer games and oral stories - of a continuing existence of the soul or consciousness in “the other world”. Especially in a time where Christianity's death realm with heaven and hell, feels outdated for most people in Sweden.
- much of my research on the web-sites, in literature and interviews - indicates that the concept, neospiritism, that I use, is expressions of an ancestor belief and an animistic belief.
The concept neospiritism, as I have chosen for the belief in spirits and ghosts, is primarily a contemporary version of spiritism, spiritualism and folklore that have been somewhat normalized. The belief seems to have been developed through narratives and horror, mystery and fantasy literature, movies, TV-series, as well as video games and internet. Through this, a world that extends beyond the material everyday life is presented. It also gives an idea about a continued life after death, and a continued contact with departed loved ones.
Neospiritism has a larger heritage from spiritualism and spiritism that I excluded today. But “energy”, healing, aura, astral travels and spirit guides, concepts that can be found in “new age” are some of these.