When it comes to the supernatural, few have not had a brush with eternity. Whether you attend church regularly or are the most determined doubter, the miraculous seeks out all at one point or another. Most of us have one or two fleeting incidents which we easily explain away, while an insistent few claim to have regular contact with members of the great beyond. Who are these beings who open the veil and remind us that we are not alone? Are they glorious messengers sent from God, or malevolent tormentors? Tradition gives them names, but what is the distinction between an angel, a spirit, and a ghost?
Stories of angels are as old as history. In virtually every world religion there is an angel figure-a benevolent celestial being who acts as an intermediary between heaven and earth. In scripture, angels visit man on earth to deliver messages. While many Christians believe that angels are the souls of good people who have passed on, official church doctrine generally describes angels as being created by God before the creation of humanity. Instead, saints are defined as virtuous people who have received their immortality. (One exception to this would be the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, who believe angels are humans who have been resurrected and have bodies of flesh and bone.) Angels are generally virtuous beings, although there are “fallen angels” who become known as demons. Although artists depict angels in glowing robes with halos and wings, the Bible says many entertain angels unawares. If you sense you have been visited by a heavenly being who has delivered an important message, chances are, you have been in touch with an angel.
The definition of spirits is more nebulous. Spirit is used to describe many things, including the part of a living being associated with the mind, will, and feelings. The word spirit is used interchangeably with angel and ghost, although spirits most definitely exist separate from the physical body.
While spirits and angels are almost always part of traditional Western dogma, ghosts are often left out of the religious equation. However, many spiritualists and individuals who have experienced near-death experiences describe ghosts as being individuals who have died, but who have not passed through the “tunnel of light.” They are found in areas they frequented during their lifetimes, and are attired in the styles of their day. Unlike angels, ghosts are in a condition of darkness and lack understanding. They may be confused, may not even know that they have died. Ghosts are almost always associated with haunting-although they may mean no harm. Most ghosts have an attachment to this world, be it unfinished business, emotional trauma, or fears that keep them from crossing over. A visit with a ghost does not have to be frightening. The kindest thing you can do for a ghost is to help him or her to put closure on his or her life and decide to find peace in the next life. A ghost who is particularly evil may have to be exorcized by an authority.
Angels, spirits, and ghosts each serve their own purposes, but one thing they all have in common is they remind us of our own mortality and keep our eyes heavenward.