When discussing the supernatural, many different terms are used to describe similar things. Belief in the supernatural is a cultural universal that dates back to the earliest human civilizations discovered. But fundamentally they describe two different beings-ghosts and demons. There are several differences between them.
Origin and meaning
The primary difference between a ghost and a demon is that a ghost is the manifestation of an individual who has passed away, whereas a demon was never alive. The Old English word for ghost, gάst, denotes the human spirit and soul, both living and deceased. The Latin equivalent, spiritus, is also the meaning of breath or last. Initially these terms were used to describe both angels and demons. But the contemporary meaning of the word, synonymous with the soul of a dead person in visible form, really took shape in the Middle Ages.[i]
While a ghost describes someone who has entered into the afterlife, a demon is something that has never been alive. It typically refers to a fallen angel. Most interpretations of a demon believe it to be a supernatural entity that can now be conjured and controlled. They are believed to be capable of taking over a person’s physical body and in these instances, require an exorcism. The word originates from the Ancient Greek word daimōn, in which it describes a spirit or divine power with no connotations of evil. Early in the Roman Empire, pagan imagery was still popular, but juxtaposed with Christianity, it began to take on a new meaning. This is when the idea of an evil demon emerged and pagan imagery was a sign of infestation. This idea was reflected when the Hebrew Bible was translated into Greek and drew upon the mythology of ancient Semitic religions. This belief in an evil demon that derives its power from its ability to possess others persists into the modern age.[ii]
Generally speaking, demons are much more powerful than ghosts. This is not to say that ghosts are not attributed with powerful abilities within their right, simply that the influence of a demon may be more powerful. For ghosts, some of the most frequently reported abilities are intangibility, invisibility, flight, overshadowing, and teleportation.[iii] They are capable of being interactive by manipulating matter, observing and being observed and also have communicative abilities.
Paranormal researchers have identified different types of ‘hauntings’ that occur with both ghosts and demons. There are more for ghosts than demons. With ghosts, the first classification is called intelligent haunting. With this type of presence, the ghost can communicate and interact in an intelligent and deliberate manner. In this type of haunting, the ghost will usually have the same traits as the person did when they were alive, whether nice or mean. They may also hide objects, make noises and do other actions to draw attention to their presence. Another type of haunting is a poltergeist haunting, which is essentially considered a noisy ghost that is commonly blamed for anything violent or destructive in a haunted location. Some of the most common signs of this type of haunting are: knocking or tapping noises, sounds with no visible cause, the disturbance of stationary objects such as furniture and other household items, doors slamming, lights turning on and off, fires starting and other signs. Some individuals believe that this might be attributed to telekinetic abilities of a human in the home, but they are in agreement that it remains a paranormal phenomenon. The final type of ghost haunting is called shadow people and there are several different types, but the common element shared by all of them is the inability to distinguish detailed features. Initially, they will typically appear only out of the corner of your eye and will be gone if you look directly at them. On rare occasions, they may appear to an individual right in front of their face, only inches away, but in lieu of a face, there will simply be a black void. At other times, they may appear as a silhouette of a person, but their gender will be indistinguishable. Some will appear with legs that will move as they run and some will only appear from the waist up. There are also hatted shadow people, in that some of them appear to have something over their head, such as a hood or cloak. They can be solid or wispy, although by all reports, all shadow people are intensely dark.[iv]
There are also two different types of demon-based hauntings, demonic and demonic-possessed human entity. A straight demonic haunting will typically start in a very subtle way, showing a great similarity to a poltergeist haunting, and become more extreme. If located in an evil location, it is common for there to be multiple demons haunting the same place. Demons are incredibly evil and commonly possess intelligence, wit and a great deal of power. They generally hate humans and would like to hurt them. Another key difference between a demon haunting and a ghost haunting is that demons have the ability to take on any shape that they would like. They can morph from human to inhuman, from male to female, or simply appear as black masses. With a demonic-possessed human entity, a living and breathing human will pick up on the negative energy of the demon, allowing it to ‘attach’ to their soul, sometimes called energy or consciousness. While they don’t possess the person’s physical body, they can control it while they possess its soul. A demon can still possess an individual at the time of their death and can take possession after death as well. They should be considered as dangerous as demons as they are capable of the same things.[v]