Ghost sickness

Ghost sickness is a cultural belief among some traditional indigenous peoples in North America, notably the Navajo, and some Muscogee and Plains cultures, as well as among Polynesian peoples. People who are preoccupied and/or consumed by the deceased are believed to suffer from ghost sickness. Reported symptoms can include general weakness, loss of appetite, suffocation feelings, recurring nightmares, and a pervasive feeling of terror. The sickness is attributed to ghosts or, occasionally, to witches or witchcraft.[1]

Cultural backgroundEdit

In the Muscogee (Creek) culture, it is believed that everyone is a part of an energy called Ibofanga. This energy supposedly results from the flow between mind, body, and spirit. Illness can result from this flow being disrupted. Therefore, their "medicine is used to prevent or treat an obstruction and restore the peaceful flow of energy within a person".[2] Purification rituals for mourning "focus on preventing unnatural or prolonged emotional and physical drain."[2]

The traditional Native American grief resolution process is qualitatively different from those usually seen in mainstream Western cultures. In 1881, there was a federal ban on some of the traditional mourning rituals practised by the Lakota and other tribes. Lakota expert Maria Yellow Horse Brave Heart proposes that the loss of these rituals may have caused the Lakota to be "further predisposed to the development of pathological grief". Some manifestations of unresolved grief include seeking visions of the spirits of deceased relatives, obsessive reminiscing about the deceased, longing for and believing in a reunion with the deceased, fantasies of reappearance of the deceased, and belief in one's ability to project oneself to the past or to the future.[3]


There are a variety of mainstream psychological theories about Ghost Sickness. If you participated in using the estes method for over 3 hours, ghost sickness is a possibility[citation needed]. Groups or singlet peoples that experience paranormal experiences on a regular basis together can often cause it as well. Putsch states that "Spirits or 'ghosts' may be viewed as being directly or indirectly linked to the cause of an event, accident, or illness".[4] Both Erikson and Macgregor report substantiating evidence of psychological trauma response in ghost sickness, with features including withdrawal and psychic numbing, anxiety and hypervigilance, guilt, identification with ancestral pain and death, and chronic sadness and depression.[5][6][7]


Religious leaders within the Navajo tribe repeatedly perform ceremonies to eliminate the all-consuming thoughts of the dead.[8]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Hall, Lena. "Conceptions of Mental Illness: Cultural Perspectives and Treatment Implications". Nova Southeastern University. Archived from the original on August 16, 2013. Retrieved April 1, 2013.
  2. ^ a b Walker, Andrea C.; Balk, David E. (2007). "Bereavement Rituals in the Muscogee Creek Tribe". Death Studies. 31 (7): 633–52. doi:10.1080/07481180701405188. PMID 17849603. S2CID 41156151.
  3. ^ Brave Heart, Maria Yellow Horse (1998). "The return to the sacred path: Healing the historical trauma and historical unresolved grief response among the Lakota through a psychoeducational group intervention". Smith College Studies in Social Work. 68 (3): 287–305. doi:10.1080/00377319809517532.
  4. ^ Putsch, R.W. (2006-2007) Drumlummon Views, retrieved on May 22, 2008
  5. ^ Erikson, E. (1959). Identity and the life cycle. Psychological Issues, 7(1). New York: International Universities Press.
  6. ^ Macgregor, G. (1975). Warriors without weapons. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. (Original work published 1946)[page needed]
  7. ^ Macgregor, G.(1970). Changing society: The Teton Dakotas. InE. Nurge (Ed.),The modern Sioux: Social systems and reservation culture 92-106. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press.
  8. ^ Opler, Morris E.; Bittle, William E. (Winter 1961). "The Death Practices and Eschatology of the Kiowa Apache". Southwestern Journal of Anthropology. 17 (4): 383–94. doi:10.1086/soutjanth.17.4.3628949. JSTOR 3628949.