Ghosts? Angels? What's the Difference?
With Halloween looming, there have been many promotional opportunities to advertise my books with groups of spooky themed stories. At this point, none of my books really fit into the Horror category (although I have a scary story coming out next month in a new anthology – more details to come). I do have one published ghost story, my novella Passing Notes. I chose not to include it in the Halloween book promotions, though, because the ghost in my book isn’t scary. He’s actually really nice, helpful, and a bit of a romantic.
Some people have read Passing Notes and told me they think my ghost is really an angel. I’ve even considered going back and rewriting the book using the word “angel” instead of “ghost” to see if that might get more readership. Maybe if people saw it as an angel story, they’d read the book for the sweet, sentimental message it holds instead of waiting for it to get scary. In all honestly, I waffle on this subject several times a week. I am currently plotting out two companion stories to go with Passing Notes, so the idea of making the book more “spiritual” than “paranormal” is on my mind a lot.
So, I decided to explore the idea of what is the big difference between a ghost and an angel. In many movies, TV shows, and books these spiritual beings are interchangeable. For example, when Kevin Costner’s dad finally appears in Field of Dreams is he a ghost like the other baseball players, or is he an angel? In the movie Ghost, Patrick Swayze is loving and helpful, but couldn’t that movie just as easily been called Angel?
On the other side of things we have Medium, Ghost Whisperer, and movies like Sixth Sense where a psychic is able to talk to stranded ghosts and help them finish their business and move on. Definitely ghosts. And there are shows like Dominion, Lucifer, and Touched by an Angel, where angels are absolutely Heaven sent/created to change the lives of mortals.
By these rules, ghosts appear to have originally been human, and angels are originated in the spiritual realm. Does that mean then that a person visiting from beyond is not an angel? If you’re doing a séance and call the spirit of your long lost aunt, she is a ghost not an angel? If your best friend you lost to cancer visits you at your bedside to assure you he’s okay, he’s a ghost not an angel?
I looked around at some websites by psychics and mediums for their opinions on the matter. Bob Olson of Best Psychic Directory writes that the confusion comes from not using the word “spirit”. In his opinion (which makes a ton of sense to me) ghosts, spirits, and angels are different things. A ghost is a trapped, earthbound soul that has never crossed over to the light. A spirit is a soul that has been beyond and has returned, usually to visit or help a loved one. An angel is a messenger or servant of God. Think of Clarence from It’s a Wonderful Life.
In a lot of stories where a long lost love or family member has returned to be helpful, the book, movie, or TV show refers to them as ghosts. Olson thinks this is for marketing purposes. “I can only speculate that the TV show producers and book publishing executives… used the word “ghost” instead of “spirit” in their titles for marketing reasons. There had been a lot of success with television shows and books… that used the word ghost, so it probably seemed like a savvy marketing choice. But there’s no question in my mind that these terms “spirit” and “ghost” confuse many people.”*
Melanie Beckler is a medium and author. From her site Ask-Angels, she explains: “Ghosts and earthbound spirits miss or avoid crossing over into the light, and then they must draw on the energy of people, or physical locations to stay bound to the physical plane… Visits from your loved ones in Heaven, is an entirely different experience than that with ghosts and earthbound spirits. The main difference is that your loved ones in Heaven have crossed over into the light… They have received a great deal of healing, and their energetic being has been restored… Much different from the encounters with earthbound spirits and ghosts, visits from deceased loved ones can be beautiful, healing and positive experiences” And finally, “Your spirit guides and angels are always available to help, whenever called upon… But they will sometimes connect with you without your direct asking, in the cases of emergencies, or when you’re in need of an encouraging hug energetically, to help protect and comfort you, or when someone else is praying for you and invites them in.”*
Now, of course, there are scary ghosts and angels in fiction and perhaps in real life. Horror films and YA paranormal romance are filled with them. In these extremes, there is absolutely no question of the difference between an angel and a ghost. Ghosts are dead people here to haunt and terrify the living. Angels are often fallen and here to either cause the end of the world or to prevent it.
I think the difference between ghosts and angels also depends on what you believe. If you don’t believe in Heaven, then then all souls in spiritual form here on Earth must be ghosts. If you don’t believe in ghosts, then they must all be spirits or angels from beyond. Some people don’t believe in Biblical stories of angels and demons but might believe in something more like guardian angels. It gets complicated.
On my part, I do believe in ghosts, and I believe that I’ve encountered a few over the years. I’m positive the 150-year-old house that used to be the location of the daycare where I work was haunted. We named one of the ghosts “Duncan”. My family was pretty convinced our tiny cottage house in rural Tennessee had some children ghosts that laughed and played outside in our yard regularly. I swear to this day a ghost watched a play I was in over my shoulder in the wings of a theater in Oakland, California. A couple years ago my husband and I got both thrilled and spooked on an overnight ghost hunting trip to an old haunted hotel. On the other hand, I don’t think I’ve ever encountered an angel or spirit. If I have, I was unaware of it.
I hope the confusion has been cleared up for you. I think I’m still waffling.
I now suspect that the character haunting Mark in Passing Notes is probably a “spirit” and not a ghost or an angel. However, it seems a bit lackluster to blurb my book: Mark is being haunted by a spirit who wants to teach him to write a love letter…
I think I’ll leave it alone and let him remain a ghost. What do you think? Feel free to post your opinion below or let me know about other books or stories that feature ambiguous ghosts. Want to know more about Passing Notes. Visit my page all about it. And if you’d like to read it, the novella is always only 99 cents everywhere ebooks are sold.
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D. G. Driver
Award-winning author of books for teen and tween readers. Learn more about her and her writing at www.dgdriver.com
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Write and Rewrite Blog
“There are no bad stories, just ones that haven’t found their right words yet.”
A blog mostly about the process of revision with occasional guest posts, book reviews, and posts related to my books.