Stories, oral and written, abound regarding dead people appearing to humans. The claims have been that such dead are “encountered” by humans whom they speak to, scare, attack or even interact with in several ways. However, while many people have continued to affirm the reality of such phenomenon (some even claiming to have personally experienced it), the fact that one has died makes it puzzling to suggest that he/she is still being encountered by the living. This is the crux of the matter.
Various reasons have been adduced as to why a dead may appear to the living. One popular belief is that the dead may appear in order to give a message to the living, usually relatives or any other person that had something to do with the dead while he lived. Such message, according to popular stories, could be by way of telling the living what the dead wants done, reporting who was responsible for his death, warning the living about a danger they did not know of and so on.
In her book TO ELSIE WITH LOVE: A STEP INTO THE UNKNOWN, Mary Thompson told a very fascinating story about a certain Elsie through whom a dead man, Abraham, spoke to the living in 1966 in London. Elsie became possessed by the dead Abraham who occasionally threw her into a state of trance, then uttering words through her mouth. Whenever she fell into trance, she began to speak, her voice strangely turning to a male voice: “I’m Abraham… Go and tell…” Thus, Abraham, through Elsie, gave some messages to certain persons on what he wanted done. Mary Thompson, who wrote a book to report this story, said she was an eyewitness to this strange occurrence. This is what in esoteric literature is called “mediumship”; the belief that spirits can take possession of a human and speak through him. Such a man becomes the medium, the vessel, via which such spirit communicates with humans. In the New Testament Bible, we read accounts of mediumship where demons speak through a human person (see Mark 5:1-20 Luke 8: 26 – 39).
However, besides speaking through mediums, there are equally claims that dead people do manifest on their own, bearing the same bodily appearance they were known with while alive. People have told stories of their dead ones appearing this way to tell them what to do. A friend who buried his father last year recently told me that while he completed the house built partly by his father, he fell into a trance one afternoon and his father appeared to him, warning him never to you use zinc sheets for roofing the house but to use the more modern aluminum sheets. My friend, who had gone for this older brand in order to cut cost, said he quickly returned the zinc sheets to the seller the following morning and got aluminum roofing sheets. This was a few weeks before his father’s burial. A Catholic priest told a story of a man who sold video cassettes (VHS tapes) at Iweka Road, Onitsha, who died some time in 1999. But before dying, a customer of his had paid him for a religious cassette, but he mistakenly gave him a cassette of football match. When the customer discovered this error, he reported to the man. However, this seller died in a road accident before he was able to change the cassette. Soon after his death, a brother of his reported that he appeared to him in dream informing him to go to his house and check under his mattress where he would see a VHS cassette and take same to this customer of his. His brother did as he was told, saw the cassette and took it to the man in question. When the man played the tape, lo it was the religious cassette he paid for in the first instance! Interestingly, the brother of the deceased, before now, did not know of this business transaction between his brother and this man.
But the above accounts are related to dreams and trance state. There have, nonetheless, been a lot of claims of encountering the dead while one is in a full conscious state. People have reported seeing “dead” people close to burial grounds or at home. Some report hearing their voices while at a lonely place. Some scientific-minded persons have dismissed such claims as a product of hallucinations. However, there are accounts of a “dead” person appearing on earth and living among humans, usually in a town far from where he was known before his death. Such “dead” is said to live a normal life and be interacting with people and even marrying and bearing children! However, once he is encountered by someone who knew him before his death, he will disappear back to the “land” of the dead. Such fascinating stories have variously featured as plotline in many Nollywood movies. A classic example is the 1998 movie, JUST A MISSION, featuring ace actors Saint Obi and Sandra Achums. Saint Obi was once into robbery, and in one of the operations, he raped and killed Sandra. Years later, he meets a girl at a nite club and takes her home. Long days of pleasurable relationship eventually lead to marriage. At the end, this bride turns out to be the dead Sandra who has come for “just a mission” – to revenge her death by ruining Saint. This, she accomplishes, as Saint eventually becomes mad. If people’s accounts of momentary encounter with “dead” persons can be easily dismissed as hallucination, what can we say about accounts like this where the encounter is close, personal and prolonged, assuming the stories are true?
Claims about the living encountering the dead naturally raise some difficult questions. How possible is it for a dead to reappear? With what “body” is a dead man appearing since the body we know is already lifeless and decomposing in grave? Questions like these may never be satisfactorily answered. But turning to the esoteric science, we are told that what may appear when a person is physically dead is the “astral body”. The astral body is said to be a more subtler, less dense “body” encased in our physical body. Many religious systems of mystical persuasion believe that we don’t have just one body, but several; the physical body, the astral body, the causal body and the super causal body. They are encased in each other with the physical (gross material) body being the most dense and the causal body being the least dense and purest. In the process of dying, we first drop the physical body, then the astral body and so on, until the death process is complete. Esoteric scientists tell us that what appears after one has died is his astral body which the dead is yet to drop, meaning that the death process is yet to be completed. This astral body is not dense, hence can pass through walls and other physical obstructions our physical body cannot pass through.
It’s the astral body that witches and other esoteric operators employ for their missions. Their astral body will leave their physical body while it sleeps and goes to another place, even to a far country. This is what is known as astral projection or astral travel.
Once the silver cord which binds the astral body to the physical body is severed, the astral body can no longer return to the physical body, and the result is death. So, if someone is confirmed clinically dead but eventually comes back to consciousness, it means the silver cord is still intact. Nollywood is filled with movies depicting the astral phenomenon. In real life, some persons have claimed to have experienced their astral body. A friend of mine said there was one afternoon when he was asleep and suddenly found himself in a sitting position on the bed while another “copy” of his body was still lying. After much struggle, he was able to reunite with this “second” body and suddenly woke from sleep. His sisters told him when he woke that his body was abnormally cold and they were alarmed and tried to wake him to no avail. A schoolmate of ours at Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Awka, told us in 2004 that he once “woke” at night and saw a “copy” of his body lying on the bed while he stood and watched it. From that day he started having a serious headache at school. He met someone who is an expert in esoteric matters and was told to start relaxing his mind, that the cause of the headache was that his astral body that left his physical body that fateful night was yet to fully adjust into his physical body. He practiced mind relaxation as instructed and the headache left suddenly. Some persons experience their astral body when they’re under anaesthesia during a surgery. A Christian minister who had a motor accident got his arm badly injured. In the process of amputation of this arm at the National Orthopedic Hospital, Enugu, while under anaesthesia, he found himself floating close to the ceiling of the theatre room while watching the doctors and nurses operating on him. Many persons have reported similar experiences including a maternal relative of mine who had a surgery at the same hospital to correct a congenital bone malformation. She said she saw herself in the reception room of the hospital talking to people and nobody responded to her. A girl who had accident was brought in and she was following the nurses telling them how to handle the little patient but they ignored her. When she woke after the surgery and told these stories, everyone was amazed as to how she was able to know what happened in the reception room while she was far inside the theatre and unconscious!
There is belief that some mischievous elementals (those entities we call ghosts) on the astral plane may wear an astral body dropped on the plane by a dead person and start to appear to scare and torment the family. That may explain the claims that one’s departed loved one may suddenly turn into an enemy. It’s not the dead relative that’s fomenting trouble, but a mischievous elemental wearing his body.
In all, while we will continue to have claims regarding the dead “appearing” to the living, no one can yet give for sure the true final explanation of these claims. So far, we have been able to rely only on esoteric science and testimonies of individuals in our attempt to appreciate what all this means. But surely, the search continues as we struggle to engage the many ministries of the world we have come to live in.