Almost every culture and religion around the world believes in the soul, or something equivalent. It is also a common belief that souls can stay on in some shape or form beyond their body. Whether ghosts are the same as souls, or somehow changed or different depends on the culture from which the story and beliefs originate.
In essence, as a general rule, most believe the soul to be an inherently good thing while a ghost is an inherently negative form of energy though both can effect the world around them, the ways in which they do so differ from belief to belief. Here are three different types of ghost from three different cultures around the world.
Ghosts of the Dani
The Dani people are from New Guinea and their ghosts are created from a substance called mogat. Mogat is released upon a person’s death. Ghosts in New Guinea hover about the outskirts of a community and warn of intruders, providing a service. This doesn’t mean that the Dani ghosts are good by any means however.
Ghosts can cause illness and injury to those around them and so must be appeased. There is a great deal more fear displayed in myth and legend than there often is in everyday life but feasts and different rituals (including funerals) are created to help appease the ghosts.
Ghosts killed/created violently or during warfare are harder to appease than those that are created peacefully.
The Bunyoro live in East Africa and many activities center upon the religious relationships with ghosts. Ghosts are “known” to cause illness along with sorcery and other spirits. Generally ghosts will target and inflict illness upon someone close to it in life who has wronged them somehow either in life or in unlife.
The bunyoro Ghost is the spirit of someone deceased. They are never seen visibly except in dreams. It is seen not as a deceased person’s soul but as a fragment or twisted reflection of it somehow. There is a positive aspect in that some male ghosts may come to the defense of their sons or descendants. Bunyoro believe that ghosts will cause problems if mistreated in life.
There are many techniques in banishing, controlling and capturing ghosts. It is even possible for people to form a personal relationship with ghosts, building a small house and sacrificing ghosts to honor it.
Japanese ghosts are an amalgamation of various mythologies and traditions incorporated into the culture over the centuries. It is thought that when a person dies their soul is transformed into an impure spirit, a ghost, for seven years.
Over the course of those years a family is to perform various rituals and ceremonies to help the spirit become pure and transform into an Ancestral Spirit that will protect and guide the family. If these rituals are not performed then the spirit will remain close to the world of the living causing misfortune and haunting things. It is one reason why it is so important to have family, and maintain relations with them.