Holy Ghosts: On Purgatory and the Paranormal

After the death of her husband Peter Kaplan in late 2013, Lisa Chase and her young son Davey could not escape their sense of Peter’s enduring presence. As she related in a long-form essay about the experience, he dominated their dreams, and strange coincidences—in license plate numbers, the dates on pennies, odd text messages—seemed to point to him everywhere she went. One evening, Davey told his mom, “Daddy is with us now; he says he wants you to hold his hand.” Desperate, Lisa—by her own account a secular New Yorker, albeit with former astrological flirtations—finally contacted a medium.

When she returned Lisa’s call, the medium’s voice shifted, mid-conversation, from friendly to annoyed: “I don’t like to do it this way.” “What do you mean?” Lisa asked. “‘He’s here,’ she said. ‘He wants to talk now.’ Then, as if she were talking to someone else: ‘I like to get paid first.’ Then, addressing me, ‘Can you even do this now? Are you free?’” As Lisa relates the conversation, the medium—or rather, Peter by way of her—went on to tell her things that no one but Peter could have known, even pronouncing particular words with Peter’s characteristic inflection.

The entire essay makes for unsettling reading, particularly if you—like me—have never encountered a ghost, and, without strongly doubting their existence, would definitely prefer not to confirm it firsthand. Most over-educated Americans just do not put much stock in ghost stories, much as we might enjoy getting into the Halloween spirit by curling up in an armchair with The Turn of the Screw. Notwithstanding that skepticism, however, many of our neighbors continue to experience America as a deeply haunted place. As we will see, they are in good company—both past and present—and can enlist a great deal of the world’s philosophical and theological traditions, including the Church’s, in their aid.

The Durability of Ghost-Beliefs

In their recent book, The Varieties of Spiritual Experience (OUP 2022)—written to update and enlarge upon William James’s classic The Varieties of Religious Experience—psychologists David Yaden and Andrew Newberg devote a chapter to “paranormal” experiences, including ghost encounters. They note that in the 1999 General Social Survey, 42% of Americans reported having “had some degree of contact with a deceased person,”[1] a finding which had increased slightly to 46% in a 2019 study by IPSOS. Only a subset of these believers—18% in a 2015 Pew survey—claim to have actually seen a ghost, although 29% of respondents reported having “felt in touch with someone who has died.” Yaden and Newberg emphasize, however, that the recently bereaved, like Lisa Chase, seem particularly susceptible to encounters with ghosts: “In one study, the majority of both men and women said they experienced their spouse in some way after their spouse had passed away.  . . . Many of these people felt a sense of a presence, while others would actually hear and/or talk with the deceased.”[2]

Yaden and Newberg note that belief in ghosts is more common among religious believers than among the irreligious (48% vs. 32%),[3] but it is striking that nearly a third of secular Americans still believe that something in us survives death and is capable of communion with the living. Indeed, these beliefs seem to be more resilient in some ways than adherence to organized religion: “In some cultural contexts, in England for example, belief in ghosts is currently more prevalent than the belief in God.”[4] The relative durability of belief in ghosts over belief in God is perhaps a spiritual version of the corporate world’s maxim that the last hired is the first fired: articulate belief in God beyond the gods seems to be a relatively recent human achievement, a hard-won fruit of the transition from “archaic” to “secondary religion,” which many Eurasian societies seem to have made in the second half of the first millennium BC, during Jaspers’s “Axial Age,” whether in Second Isaiah’s “Creator of the ends of the earth” (Isa 40:28); the Chandyoga Upanishad’s, “Verily, all is Brahman” (3.14.1); or Aristotle’s description in Metaphysics Λ of God as pure “thought which is the thought of thought.”

Ghosts, by contrast, seem to have been there from the beginning. Australia’s Aborigines, for instance, have a fair claim to possess the greatest cultural continuity with our species’ prehistoric past of any human society, having lived in relative isolation for nearly 50,000 years until their sudden contact with European explorers in the modern period.[5] Belief in post-mortem apparitions of the dead is common across the continent. The Walpiri of central Australia, for instance, believe that the spirits of the dead linger on earth, frequently communicating with the living through dreams, and they lend such ghosts ritual aid in joining the ancestral spirits in the “Dreaming” or “Everywhen” (djugurba) which underlies quotidian reality.[6] Similarly, the Kalapalo of Brazil, an isolated tribe of Amazonian hunter-gatherers, believe that “after death, people go to the sky village and become powerful beings,” the divine spirits with whom Kalapalo religious rites aim to foster communion.[7]

Even as many cultures began distinguishing more clearly among the human dead, non-human spirits, and the gods, belief in ghosts persisted and indeed intensified. Jan Assmann notes that Egyptian aspirations for life after death, particularly by New Kingdom period (ca. 1600-1000 BC), centered on “the idea of going forth by day,” in the sense of a return by the dead person—or rather, those elements of him (the ka and ba) which survived death, “to the world above.”[8] Assmann observes that most Egyptian tombs possessed a “false door . . . through which the deceased, or his ka or ba, emerged to receive offerings.”[9] Ghostly visitations were an ordinary part of ancient Egyptian life, even if not always in the form of visible or audible apparitions.

Ghosts are also liberally peppered throughout the epics of the ancient Mediterranean world, frequently appearing as bearers of wisdom or warning. The shade of Patroclus appears to Achilles in a dream and implores him for a proper burial;[10] Anchises appears to encourage the disheartened Aeneas;[11] the so-called witch of Endor (on whom more below) summons the shade of Samuel from Sheol to prophesy Saul’s doom (1 Sam 28:3–25). These literary apparitions track with much quotidian religion in the region: the ancient Romans, for instance, celebrated the Feralia on February 21 to venerate the Manes, a collective designation for the spirits of the dead, and the Lemuria on May 9–13 to placate the Lemures, the vengeful ghosts of the unburied dead in particular.[12]

Belief in ghosts seems to have survived the transition to secondary religion across most of Eurasia: India’s bhūtas or China’s guǐ are cultural fixtures, woven tightly, if not quite seamlessly, into the fabric of Hindu, Buddhist, or Taoist belief and practice.[13] This was very much the case in the Mediterranean world as well. Plato’s Socrates, for instance, speculated that one who dies “defiled and impure” in soul by his excessive attachments to the body and its goods is “weighed down by this and is dragged back into the visible world, and so, as they say, it flits about the monuments and the tombs, where shadowy shapes of souls have been seen, figures of those souls which were not set free in purity but retain something of the visible.”[14] For Plato, ghosts inhabited a middle ground between the blessed, who could ascend into the heavenly realms, and the damned, who sank beneath the earth for everlasting torment.[15] Such tainted souls are doomed “to flit about until through the desire of the corporeal which clings to them they are again imprisoned in a body,” likely that of a non-human animal; the cycle of rebirth continues until they can rise above their base attachments.[16]

Plato’s ghostly theories influenced a number of early Christian thinkers, as in Origen’s proposal that “souls that are polluted and dragged down to the earth by their sins, so that they are unable even to breathe upwards, wander hither and there, at some times about sepulchres, where they appear as the apparitions of shadowy spirits, at others among other objects on the ground.”[17] Gregory of Nyssa takes up the same theory in his On the Soul and Resurrection, a Christian reworking of the Phaedo. He notes that, “around their graves shadowy phantoms of the departed are often seen. If this is really so, an inordinate attachment of that particular soul to the life in the flesh is proved to have existed. . . . It remains near the frame even after the dissolution of the frame, and . . . hovers regretfully over the place where its material is and continues to haunt it.”[18]

Ghost-Skeptics, Ancient and Modern

Some among the ancients were less sanguine about the existence of ghosts, however. The sharpest critics of any putative post-mortem return were, unsurprisingly, the thoroughgoing materialists of the “atomist” school, such as Democritus, Epicurus, and Lucretius. For these thinkers, there are only atoms and the void; as such, the human mind or soul is as much a passing constellation of physical elements—albeit of a particularly subtle and penetrating sort—as the body, and is consequently dissolved with the body upon a person’s death.[19]

According to a later report by Lucian of Samosata, Democritus once tested this theory by sleeping overnight in a cemetery. “Some youngsters who wanted to mock him and scare him, disguised as the dead with black suit and skull masks on their heads, surrounding him, danced around him, jumping with rhythmic foot. But he was not afraid of their appearance, nor even raised his eyes to look at them, but, as he wrote, he said: ‘Stop playing the fool.’ So much he was convinced that souls are nothing when they are out of the bodies.”[20] While dismissing the idea that souls could survive death, however, the atomists did allow that some ghostly apparitions might be genuine perceptions rather than mere hallucinations. Vision, for the atomists, involved the mind’s reception of “subtle images (simulacra tenuia)” emanated by bodies; in some cases, Lucretius speculates, perhaps these images outlast the bodies which produced them, drifting about and allowing us to see even “people stiff and buried under the wing / Of death.”[21]

After its long dormancy during the late-ancient and medieval reigns of Plato and Aristotle, atomism experienced an extraordinary revival in the early modern period, beginning with figures such as Pierre Gassendi and Robert Boyle, and eventually—if only in the form of a more general “physicalism” or “naturalism”—coming to dominate Western intellectual life down to the present.[22] Like their ancient forebears, contemporary physicalists are quick to dismiss ghost-talk. In his recent discussion of the near-universal human belief in the separability (however qualified) of mind and body, for instance, Harvard anthropologist Joseph Henrich notes, with evident chagrin, “If an omniscient engineer had crafted an integrated cognitive system for us, she certainly would have ruled out [belief in] mind-body separations, since they are impossible. Dualistic conceptions like souls or ghosts should make about as much sense to us as a person who exists only on Tuesdays and Thursdays.”[23]

Henrich argues that we have been left vulnerable to this kind of “cognitive glitch” by our potent capacities for “mentalizing,” for identifying and imaginatively inhabiting the mental states of other minds, even including invented ones (Mickey Mouse, Elizabeth Bennett).[24] This is a useful faculty, but, Henrich insists, it seems to have rather run amok in our case. On another version of this argument, our minds have evolved “hyperactive agency detectors,” prone to treat every rustling bush as a potential tiger, since the costs of mistaking a tiger for a mere rustling bush are quite high. The result is that we are primed to see “faces in clouds, but never clouds in faces.”[25]   

Yaden and Newberg describe some recent successes in debunking alleged ghost sightings, following in the footsteps of Democritus’s stand in the graveyard. They recount, for instance, how the ghost in an allegedly haunted laboratory at Coventry University turned out to be an optical illusion caused by a fan vibrating at a frequency too low for human hearing,[26] and also note that carbon monoxide poising is known to cause visual or auditory hallucinations, which are sometimes construed as hauntings.[27] They speculate that grieving spouses or parents might frequently see ghosts because their ingrained expectation of seeing their loved ones “might be so strong that it intrudes into our actual perception of our environment, allowing us to see a projection of our own minds in our surroundings––as if our minds were projecting a hologram of an expected presence.”[28]

Henrich’s dogmatic materialism is particularly disappointing given that he has done more than perhaps any other living social scientist to expose how “WEIRD” such convictions are, both in a global and especially historical perspective. A measure of circumspection about what is or is not possible would seem to be advisable in this case, particularly in view of uncanny experiences such as Lisa Chase’s. To their credit, Yaden and Newberg are much more open-minded (as William James was before them) about the ultimate explanations for these “paranormal” experiences. Not that I intend here to enter the lists on behalf of Platonic or Aristotelian theories of the soul; I have already done so here, though you would be in safer hands in turning to, say, David Bentley Hart for guidance (e.g., here and here). No, I mention these reductive explanations just to illustrate that disbelief in ghosts, among other spooky beings, is ultimately grounded in a metaphysics and indeed a phenomenology of mind that have been contested (successfully, so far as I am concerned) since late antiquity.  

If materialism in the philosophy of mind fails, or at least fails to be decisive, then debunking explanations for our beliefs in mind-body separability in terms of their social utility loses its force. After all, arithmetic is a highly useful set of beliefs and practices, but it would be strange to think that its uses entail the truth of mathematical fictionalism. On the contrary, we might instead regard the elegant fit between the abstract world described by pure mathematics and aspects of the physical world which were identified only much later—the critical role played by imaginary numbers in the equations of quantum mechanics provides an instance—as evidence that these abstract objects are genuinely discovered rather than invented. So too, in a theistic universe, it would be a small surprise if our native capacity for intuiting non-human intelligences—an all-purpose sensus divinitatis—proved to be both adaptive and truth-conducive.

Ghost or Demon? Early Christian Anxieties over the “Witch of Endor”

Belief in post-mortem survival is not sufficient in itself for belief in ghosts, however; the dead must also be capable of returning in some form or fashion to the land of the living. Interestingly, this second thesis has been a continued source of anxiety for Christians in particular from late antiquity down to the present. Today, for instance, evangelical Protestants are much less likely than Roman Catholics to report believing in ghosts. Evangelicals’ hang-ups in this regard obviously have nothing to do with belief in post-mortem survival, but rather in doubts about the possibility of the dead communicating in some way with the living.

Anxieties about how to fit ghosts within a broadly biblical scheme of the afterlife are visible within the biblical canon itself, or at least within its earliest translations. On its face, 1 Samuel 28:7–20 might seem to settle the question of whether Scripture endorses the existence of ghosts, depicting as it does a medium or necromancer summoning the shade of the prophet Samuel to speak with King Saul. (Plus ça change . . . ) Nonetheless, the earliest reception of this text in its translation into Greek reflects an anxiety about accepting this story at face value.

In the Hebrew Masoretic Text, the woman whom Saul consults—colloquially, the “witch of Endor”—is described as a “mistress of a familiar spirit (ba’alat ‘ov),” an odd expression which might originally have had something to do with the uncanny way in which the spirit’s voice seemed to emanate from the medium: at any rate, Isaiah condemns “the mistresses of familiar spirits” alongside “sorcerers that chirp and mutter” (8:19). Those who translated this expression into Greek highlighted its connection to unearthly voices, consistently rendering it with the clunky, “ἐγγαστρίμυθος,” literally, “belly-myther,” one who utters fables from her (almost always “her”) guts.[29] This rendering might seem to imply that the woman (or perhaps, the demon that possessed her), far from summoning Samuel, was simply ventriloquizing him (ventriloqua is simply a literal Latin translation of ἐγγαστρίμυθος), duping Saul into believing that he was speaking with a ghost. After all, Saul seems not to be able to see the figure rising from the earth—at least, he has to ask the woman about its “appearance” (1 Sam 28:14).[30]

A lively debate emerged within early Christianity over whether the apparition or audition could have actually been the ghost of Samuel, principally turning on the possibility of using mantic powers to summon the dead. The witch of Endor might have purported to “call spirits from the vasty deep,” but some ancient readers retorted, with Hotspur, “Ay, so can I, or so can any man. But will they come when you do call them?”[31] Perhaps the earliest Christian reference to 1 Samuel (= 1 Kingdoms LXX) 28 appears in Justin Martyr’s Dialogue with Trypho (ca. 150 AD), where he notes that “even Samuel’s soul was summoned by the belly-myther . . . . It appears also that all the souls of those who in this way were righteous and prophets used to fall under the authority of powers such as is acknowledged by the very facts in the case of that belly-myther.”[32] For Justin, all the dead—at least prior to Christ’s coming—were bound in Hell under demonic power, so that the shade of Samuel was truly subject to being summoned; such practices were forbidden in the Torah (cf. Deut 18:11), on this view, precisely because they could be effective.

Half a century or so later, Tertullian took strong exception to this reading, and indeed to all the standard folk and philosophical explanations of ghosts. He cites Homer in support of the idea that souls of the unburied dead linger on earth seeking a proper burial, only to caustically remark, “How is it not senseless to think that the soul of the body accepts due ceremonies as though it carried off something from them to hell?”[33] He considers the idea that those who die “before their time” wander the earth until their proper span of years has elapsed, but then invites the reader to “suppose, for example, an infant still at its mother’s breast died . . . . How can we imagine of those who have been cut off that their soul completes its time here after death? For the soul cannot acquire an age without a body.”[34]

Tertullian proposes his own debunking account of apparent ghost sightings, though it is one that would hardly appeal to contemporary materialists: “It is demons who are at work beneath the appearance of these dead.”[35] As evidence of this, he cites the witch of Endor: “It was of old no less permitted to the Pythian spirit to counterfeit the soul of Samuel when Saul consulted the dead after losing God.”[36] How does Tertullian know that the apparition of Samuel had to be a fake? He cites Christ’s parable of Lazarus and Dives (cf. Lk 16:19–31), as evidence that in Hell, as in a Roach Motel, after the damned check in, they never check out: after all, as Abraham tells the rich man, tormented by flames, “Between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, in order that those who would pass from here to you may not be able, and none may cross from there to us that the gates of hell are open to no soul under any circumstances” (Lk 16:26).[37]

This debate over the ghost of Samuel continued intermittently for a century and a half. A generation after Tertullian, Origen entered the lists on behalf of the ghost’s genuineness, developing Justin’s argument that the dead had all been kept in Hell until Christ had harrowed it on Holy Saturday,[38] thus bridging the “great chasm” described by Abraham.[39] Origen’s openness to the reality of ghosts and even mediums met with further resistance, about eighty years later, from Eustathius of Antioch, who insisted that “demons do not have authority over spirits and souls,”[40] and argued that the shade’s prediction (“tomorrow you and your sons shall be with me” (1 Sam 28:19)) had to be a lie, since we know from the Parable of Lazarus and Dives that the just are immovably separated in the next world from the unjust.[41] The final installation in this debate in Greer & Mitchell’s anthology is from Gregory of Nyssa, who likewise rejects the authenticity of the ghosts on the grounds of “the chasm mentioned in the Gospel (Lk 16:26), which the patriarch . . . says has been fixed between the wicked and the good.”[42] This is surprising on its face, given Gregory’s defense of ghosts in On the Soul and the Resurrection, but (assuming his views did not evolve) perhaps the two can be made consistent if we take Gregory to have thought of ghosts as souls which had not yet moved on to their more permanent post-mortem abodes.  

Purgatorial Ghosts in the Latin West

Even as the largely Eastern debate over the witch of Endor was fizzling in the fourth century, new theological developments in the West, particularly associated with idea of the purgation of the dead, gave fresh impetus to belief in ghosts. A particularly pivotal notion was Gregory the Great’s sixth-century theory that the dead were perhaps allowed to be purged of their sins in the very places on earth where those sins were committed. In his Dialogues, for instance, Gregory relates the story of a priest (a friend of a friend, in his telling) who met a friendly ghost acting as a servant at a public bath-house, and was told by him, “I, whom you see here now, was sometime lord of these baths, and am now after my death appointed for my sins to this place.”[43]

By the twelfth century, most theologians regarded purgatory as a distinct locale,[44] typically an annex of Hell,[45] but its connection with the dead’s ghostly presence on earth endured as well. Most famously, a legend arose in medieval Ireland (no later than the 1180s) that Christ had revealed an entrance to Purgatory to St. Patrick in a cave on Station Island in County Donegal.[46] Bonaventure (1221–1274) offered a deflationary reading of this story, proposing that it arose from a single incident in which Patrick’s intercession allowed an individual to be purged from his sins by haunting a particular cave.[47] And a generation later, Dante offered his readers a whole society of ghosts, albeit mostly inaccessible to the living: in his Commedia, Purgatory appears as a lonely, seven-terraced island at the Antipodes, where the unsanctified dead were fitted with ethereal bodies so as to finally and fully work out their salvation with fear and trembling.[48]

Wherever it took hold, the Protestant Reformation tended to dampen or at least confuse belief in ghosts by rooting out belief in purgatory, which, had come to supply the principal theory of ghosts in the Latin West. In his influential The Discoverie of Witchcraft (1584), for instance, the Englishman Reginald Scott appealed to the fact that Saul seemed not to see the putative ghost of Samuel as evidence that he was the victim of “ventriloquial deceit” rather than a witness to successful necromancy.[49] Nonetheless, even in officially Protestant settings, some purgatorial ghosts survived, at least literarily, the disruptions of the Reformation.

The most famous of these is certainly Shakespeare’s Ghost of Hamlet’s father. “The Ghost makes clear to Hamlet,” notes Stephen Greenblatt, “that he is in what Thomas Whyte’s seventeenth-century text called ‘the middle state of souls,’ not damned for eternity, but forced to suffer torments in a ‘prison-house’ designed to purge him of the crimes he had committed in his life: ‘I am thy father’s spirit, / Doomed for a certain term to walk the night, / And for the day confined to fast in fires / Till the foul crimes done in my days of nature / Are burnt and purged away.’”[50] Further confirmation of the Ghost’s purgatorial nature is given in Hamlet’s oath “by Saint Patrick,” purgatory’s patron, that “it is an honest ghost.”[51] Nonetheless, Tertullian’s question about such apparitions—ghost or demon?—quickly intrudes itself in the indecisive Hamlet’s mind: “The spirit that I have seen / May be the devil, and the devil hath power / T’assume a pleasing shape.”[52] As Greenblatt notes, Hamlet’s concerns have a decidedly Protestant texture, which seems to reflect the uncertainty about the afterlife, and particularly about the nature of ghosts, introduced into Reformation England by the Church’s rejection of belief in purgatory: “A young man from Wittenberg,” at whose university Hamlet is repeatedly said to be a student, “with a distinctly Protestant temperament, is haunted by a distinctly Catholic ghost.”[53]

Purgatorial ghosts have continued to find literary expression down to the present, as in Seamus Heaney’s Station Island (1984), a modern Divine Comedy named for (and set in) the traditional location of St. Patrick’s Purgatory. But such ghosts are by no means restricted to the printed page: contemporary Catholic belief in ghosts is no doubt sustained in great measure by Mexican immigrants’ celebrations of the Day of the Dead, on which many believe that the dead are given a reprieve from their purgatorial sufferings and briefly allowed to rejoin their loved ones on Earth.

This traditional link between ghosts and post-mortem purgation—adumbrated already by Plato and Origen, and further developed in the medieval Latin West—deserves serious consideration today as a potential explanation for at least some of the many reported ghost-encounters in America and elsewhere. On the other hand, Protestants might take such reported ghost-encounters as a reason to reconsider the notion of purgatory, which provides a plausible theological account of them.[54] Many of these experiences are doubtless mistakes or hoaxes, and a default attitude of skepticism is likely the proper response to most reports. Nonetheless, unconstrained as we are by the cramped confines of metaphysical physicalism, we should feel free to meet resolute materialists or even close-minded co-religionists with Hamlet’s admonition: “There are more things in heaven and on earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.”

[1] Varieties of Spiritual Experiences, 369.

[2] Ibid., 378.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid., 371.

[5] Robert Bellah, Religion in Human Evolution (Belknap, 2013), 138. Australia’s isolation has uniquely suited it to evolutionary survivals, and not only in the cultural sphere: only there, for instance, do the egg-laying mammals (monotremes) from which other mammals likely diverged around 187 million years ago survive in the form of echidnas and platypuses (https://www.nature.com/articles/s41586-020-03039-0).

[6] Clarke, Philip A. “Indigenous Spirit and Ghost Folklore of ‘Settled’ Australia.” Folklore 118, no. 2 (2007): 141–61. http://www.jstor.org/stable/30035418. Cf. also Bellah, Religion in Human Evolution, 145–52.

[7] Bellah, Religion in Human Evolution, 139–42.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Iliad 6.65-101.

[11] Aeneid 5.719-46.

[12] Valerie Hope, Roman Death (Bloomsbury, 2009), 99–100.

[13] William Crooke, The popular religion and folk-lore of northern India, vol. 1 (A. Constable & Co., 1896), 237; Roberta Martin, "Settling the Dead: Funerals, Memorials and Beliefs Concerning the Afterlife,” Living in the Chinese Cosmos: Understanding Religion in Late-Imperial China (2007; http://afe.easia.columbia.edu/cosmos/prb/journey.htm).

[14] Phaedo 81b–d.

[15] On the heavenly ascent of the pure, cf. Phaedo 81a. On the everlasting torment in Tartarus of those who “have committed many great deeds of sacrilege, or wicked and abominable murders,” cf. Phaedo 113e.

[16] Phaedo 81e–82b

[17] Contra Celsum 7.5. Origen attributes this idea to Plato at Contra Celsum 2.60. I owe both of these references to Rowan Greer’s introduction to Greer & Mitchell (eds.), The ‘Belly-Myther’ of Endor (SBL Press, 2007), lvii.

[18] On the Soul and the Resurrection (trans. Moore & Wilson) in Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, vol. 5; https://www.newadvent.org/fathers/2915.htm.

[19] Lucretius, De Rerum Natura 3.445–58, quoted in Ángel Jacinto Traver Vera, “The Atomistic Denial of Ghsots: From Democritus to Lucretius,” in Visitors from beyond the Grave: Ghosts in World Literature (Coimbra University, 2019), 95.

[20] Lucian, Philopseudes 32, quoted and translated (with small modifications) in ibid., 91.

[21] Lucretius, De Rerum Natura 4.724–26, 36–37; trans. Lamberto Bozzi (2021); https://www.crtpesaro.it/Materiali/Latino/On%20the%20Nature%20of%20Things,%20Book%204.php.

[22] Cf. Robert Pasnau, Metaphysical Themes: 1274–1671 (OUP, 2011); for more recent developments, cf. Alan Chalmers’s “Atomism from the Seventeenth to the Twentieth Century,” Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/atomism-modern/#ImpOrgCheForAto).

[23] The WEIRDest People in the World (Farrar, Strauss, & Giroux, 2020), 130.

[24] Ibid., 129–30.

[25] Jonathan Haidt, The Righteous Mind (Harper 2012), 292.

[26] Varieties of Spiritual Experience, 375.

[27] Ibid., 377.

[28] Ibid., 379.

[29] “Belly-myther” is the coinage of Rowan Greer and Margaret Mitchell in their edited anthology of patristic texts on this passage, The “Belly-Myther” of Endor. Hereafter cited as “G&M.”

[30] For this possibility, and indeed for the reception of this passage as an episode in the history of ventriloquism, cf. Steven Connor’s Dumbstruck, 76–98.

[31] Henry IVth, pt. 1, Acts 3, Scene 1.

[32] Dialogue with Trypho 105.4, in G&M p. 3–5.

[33] De Anima 56.3, in G&M 13.

[34] Ibid. 56.4, in G&M 13.

[35] Ibid. 57.4, in G&M 17.

[36] Ibid. 57.8, in G&M 19. Tertullian’s description of the woman as a “Pythian spirit (pythonicus spiritus)” alludes to the description of the woman in the ancient Latin versions of 1 Kingdoms as “a woman who has a python [spirit] (mulierem habentem pythonem)” (28:7). “Python spirits” were so-called after the region of Python where the famous oracle of Delphi was located; their bearers were believed to possess gifts of mantic prophecy (cf. Acts 16:6).

[37] Tertullian, De Anima 57.11, G&M 21.

[38] Homily on 1 Kdgms. 28, 8.1, G&M 53.

[39] Ibid., 9.7, G&M 59.

[40] “On the Belly-Myther” 3.3, G&M 67.

[41] Ibid. 14.11, p. 109.

[42] “Letter to Theodosius on the Belly-Myther” 102, G&M 169.

[43] Dialogues (trans. Edmund Gardner, 1911), p. 249.

[44] Cf. Jacques Le Goff, The Birth of Purgatory (trans. Arthur Goldhammer; Scolar Press, 1984), 3–157.

[45] Cf. Bonaventure, In IV Sent., d. 20, p. 1, art. un., q. 6, concl.; IV, 526b. Cf. also Thomas Aquinas, Scriptum super Sent. IV, d. 21, art. 1, quaestiuncula 6 (https://www.corpusthomisticum.org/snp4020.html).

[46] Cf. the discussion in Stephen Greenblatt’s Hamlet in Purgatory (Princeton University Press, 2013), 119–30.

[47] IV Sent, d. 20, p. 1, art. un., q. 6; IV, 526b.

[48] On the ethereal bodies given to those in Dante’s Purgatory, cf. Purgatorio 3.25–30.

[49] Cf. Connor, Dumbstruck, 76.

[50] Hamlet in Purgatory, 323, quoting Hamlet 1.5.9–13.

[51] Hamlet 1.5.139–41, quoted in Hamlet in Purgatory, 328.

[52] Hamlet 2.2.575–77, quoted in Hamlet in Purgatory, 335.

[53] Hamlet in Purgatory, 337. For Hamlet’s studies in Wittenberg, cf. Hamlet 1.2.

[54] I sketch an ecumenical account of purgatory in chapter five of my book, The Accountable Animal (T&T Clark, 2021).

Featured Image: Delacroix, Ghost of Hamlet's Father, 1825; Source: Wikimedia Commons, PD-Old-100.


Brendan Case

Brendan Case is Associate Director for Research in The Human Flourishing Program at Harvard University.

Read more by Brendan Case