Humans have always been fascinated with the idea of ghosts in some form or another. While many interpretations and beliefs exist about ghosts, most understand ghosts to be some sort of otherworldly apparition of a deceased person appearing to the living. From spooky seances and cute costumes made out of sheets to nightmarish images found in horror movies, ghosts have a tendency to pervade popular culture, especially around Halloween. But what do Latter-day Saints believe about ghosts?
Ghosts vs. Spirits
If you asked a member of the Church if they believed in ghosts, they’d probably say something like this: “I don’t believe in ghosts, but I do believe in spirits.”
Latter-day Saints have a rich understanding of the afterlife. We also believe in the pre-mortal life, or the existence we held before we were born on earth. These teachings are at the heart of understanding the idea of spirits. So, what are spirits?
In the Guide to the Scriptures, it states that spirits are “That part of a living being that exists before mortal birth, dwells in the physical body during mortality, and exists after death as a separate being until the Resurrection. All living things—mankind, animals, and plants—were spirits before any form of life existed upon the earth. The spirit body looks like the physical body.”
We further learn in the Doctrine and Covenants that “There is no such thing as immaterial matter. All is matter, but it is more fine or pure, and can only be discerned by eyes.”
How are spirits created by our Heavenly Father and Mother? We don’t know. However, the Book of Abraham describes “intelligences” which are generally thought to be some form of spirit-matter that preceded our spirit bodies. President Spencer W. Kimball also wrote of the subject in The Miracle of Forgiveness, “Our spirit matter was eternal and co-existent with God, but it was organized into spirit bodies by our Heavenly Father.”
Many different types of spirits exist and we know more about some types than others.
In the pre-mortal life, Heavenly Father and Heavenly Mother presented a plan for our eventual exaltation. It would require coming to earth and gaining a physical body that would house our spirits. Two-thirds of our Heavenly Parent’s children chose to follow Their plan. We’ll talk about them (us!) first.
Pre-mortal spirits are those that are still awaiting their time to be born on earth. They live, as we did, with God. We know that each part of our eternal lives is about progression, so these spirits are likely to spend time learning and preparing for their mortal experience. We do not know much about the influence of these spirits on the mortal world. Most information we do have comes from deeply personal experiences, such as a pregnant mother who feels connected to the spirit of her unborn baby or a person who has a dream of their future family. While we cannot say for certain at this time, the idea of pre-mortal spirits having some sort of ability to touch or influence our lives aligns with other Latter-day doctrines regarding post-mortal spirits.
When we die, our bodies and spirits are separated. We then go to the spirit world, which President Brigham Young taught is on earth, around us. There are two divisions in the spirit world: paradise and spirit prison. While we know a lot about the two, we don’t know exactly how they are separated.
Righteous spirits are in a state of peace and rest in paradise. Jesus Christ visited these spirits after his crucifixion. Heber C. Kimball taught spirits in paradise continue to be “organized in family capacities” but that some were not complete as there were some families not permitted to dwell together “because they had not honored their calling here.” The Church is also organized and the Priesthood continues to be used for the good of others.
In spirit prison are those who have not yet heard the gospel of Jesus Christ. Righteous spirits are called from paradise to preach to those in spirit prison. If spirits accept the gospel and have their temple ordinances performed by someone here on earth, they can enter into paradise. Those who reject the gospel suffer a condition known as hell, which Latter-day Saints see as a state of being separated from God rather than an actual place.
The Influence of Post-Mortal Spirits
Post-mortal spirits don’t just minister to those in the spirit world. They can also influence our lives. Joseph Smith taught that the spirits of our loved ones “are not far from us, and know and understand our thoughts, feelings, and motions, and are often pained therewith.” Here are a few more quotes that help us better understand the influence of post-mortal spirits.
And therefore, I claim that we live in their presence, they see us, they are solicitous for our welfare, they love us now more than ever. For now they see the dangers that beset us; they can comprehend better than ever before, the weaknesses that are liable to mislead us into dark and forbidden paths. They see the temptations and evils that beset us in life and the proneness of mortal beings to yield to temptation and wrong doing; hence their solicitude for us and their love for us and their desire for our well being must be greater than that which we feel for ourselves. – President Joseph F. Smith, General Conference, April 1916
The process of finding our ancestors one by one can be challenging but also exciting and rewarding. We often feel spiritual guidance as we go to the sources which identify them. Because this is a very spiritual work, we can expect help from the other side of the veil. We feel a pull from our relatives who are waiting for us to find them so their ordinance work can be done. – James E. Faust, Ensign, November 2003
When messengers are sent to minister to the inhabitants of this earth, they are not strangers, but from the ranks of our kindred, friends, and fellow-beings and fellow-servants. Our fathers and mothers, brothers, sisters and friends who have passed away from this earth, having been faithful, and worthy to enjoy these rights and privileges, may have a mission given them to visit their relatives and friends upon the earth again, bringing from the divine Presence messages of love, of warning, or reproof and instruction, to those whom they had learned to love in the flesh. – President Joseph F. Smith, Gospel Doctrine
In the gospel of Jesus Christ, you have help from both sides of the veil, and you must never forget that. When disappointment and discouragement strike – and they will – you remember and never forget that if our eyes could be opened we would see horses and chariots of fire as far as the eye can see riding at reckless speed to come to our protection. They will always be there, these armies of heaven, in defense of Abraham’s seed. – Jeffrey R. Holland, For Times of Trouble
Whoever seeks to help those on the other side receives help in turn in all the affairs of life…Help comes to us from the other side as we give help to those who have passed beyond the veil. – John A. Widstoe
These quotes bring out a few important points. First, the post-mortal spirits we can expect to have any sort of influence on our lives will be those of our family. Second, seeking after our dead for temple work is more likely to help us feel connected to those we love. And finally, righteous living is a prerequisite for the spiritual blessing of an increased sensitivity of those on the other side of the veil.
Devils, Demons, & Unclean Spirits
One-third of our Heavenly Parent’s children chose to follow Satan. They did not receive bodies nor will they ever. They were cast down to earth and actively work to destroy us. They are often labeled devils, demons, or unclean spirits. These evil spirits live among us but cannot have true power over us unless we give in to them. Jesus Christ cast out many devils in his lifetime. Doctrine and Covenants 50 tell us that “there are many spirits which are false , which have gone forth in the earth, deceiving the world” and Doctrine and Covenants 129 gives instructions on how to distinguish a devil trying to deceive you as an angel of light.
The Church strongly opposes practices such as using an Ouija board or holding a séance to try and connect with spirits. The idea of evil spirits is not a laughing matter or something to take lightly. Elder Bruce R. McConkie in his book Mormon Doctrine gave his personal thoughts on the manner when he said, “It is true that some mediums do make contact with spirits during séances. In most instances, however, such spirits as manifest themselves are probably the demons or devils who were cast out of heaven for rebellion. … Righteous spirits have nothing but contempt and pity for the attempts of mediums to make contact with them.” Possessions by evil spirits are considered a true experience to this day.
However, all who may fear these sorts of encounters can take comfort in the safety of Jesus Christ. No evil spirit can have power over you unless you yield to the temptations and lies of the devil. Though no official guidelines can be found in the Church’s handbooks about dealing with unclean spirits, the scriptures teach us to use the authority and power of the name of Jesus Christ to cast any evil influence away from us.