Social Views on Apparitions and Survival in Ancient and Modern Egypt: Callum E. Cooper University of Northhampton Centre for the Study of Anomalous Psychological Processes

Egyptology is not regularly discussed in parapsychological literature or research.  However, with regards to human beliefs on survival, the afterlife beliefs of the ancient Egyptians should be well noted.  The documentation of parapsychologists visiting Egypt to research and explore anomalous phenomena, of ancient and modern Egypt, is also something which is not commonly mentioned.  A few exceptions to this would be early spiritualists, and the late Dr Alex Tanous, who was a professed psychic since childhood.  In the 1980s, Dr Tanous took study groups out to Egypt to conduct psychic workshops and hold séances around such incredible structures as the pyramids and the sphinx.    

             The documentation of anomalous experiences from ancient Egypt to present day can tell us more about social beliefs on the paranormal and issues of survival, than any single trip to the country to conduct field research.  Trigger (1979) argued that Egyptology has a lot to offer the social sciences, as we may gain considerable understanding of human experiences and behaviour by simply looking at the transition of civilisations from ancient to modern times, from existing documentation. 

             A recent review of apparitional experiences that have been reported over time in Egypt (Cooper, 2011), demonstrates interesting changes in society, with regards to the human understanding of the biological body, the nature of exceptional human experiences, and how religion and science may clash in these issues. However, the documentation of psi experiences in Egypt are scarce and are briefly referenced in literary works of Egyptology, archaeology, theology, psychical research and more.

            Some of the earliest documented concepts of ghosts and apparitions can be traced back to the Pyramid Texts. As Serio (2011) discussed, on the topic of apparitions throughout human civilisation in both religious and non-religious contexts, the ancient Egyptians would pray to Hathor while drinking beer, in a ritualistic attempt to protect themselves from vengeful spirits.  There are other fragments of texts that suggest that the most common apparitional encounters reported in ancient Egypt, describe priests encountering the ghost, or ka (a perfect double of the dead), when disturbing a forgotten tomb (regarding opinions on the ba,ka and khu, see Renouf, 1880; Petrie, 1906; Lorimer, 1984). 

            More modern apparitional experiences of Egypt discuss such phenomena as jinns and 'afrit.  These are both considered as evil spirits, can cause possession, sometimes manifest following a violent death, and are not associated with, or considered to be, evidence for survival (Padwick, 1924; Winkler, 2009).  This is the case even if the apparition displays the physical characteristics, personality and knowledge of the deceased of which the spirit is connected to.

             The theological beliefs of apparitions in Egypt has remained fairly consistent, especially the idea of ghosts being something to fear, which have the potential to inflict physical harm on trespassers (Padwick, 1924; Winkler, 2009).  Dodds (1971) illustrated ancient and modern evidence for anomalous experiences in several cultures, including Egypt.  He further demonstrated that religious beliefs appear to avoid experiences of apparitions as being evidence for survival, and instead, are often seen as an opportunity to communicate with 'divine beings' to obtain knowledge from a higher power.  No matter what psi experiences are reported, there is an insistence that the true soul of a person will travel on into an afterlife. 

            This paper aims to demonstrate that anomalous experiences are not merely the creation of media influence on society, but are natural human experiences, which have been reported for thousands of years in various documentation.  Also, there is potential for apparitions being evidence for survival, even though the ancient and modern Egyptian ideas considered them to be otherwise. However, their reasoning for this will be considered along side contemporary understanding of such anomalous experiences.  




Cooper, C.E. (2011). The Ka of Ancient Egypt.  Paranthropology: Journal of Anthropological Approaches to the Paranormal, 2 (3), 43-45.

Dodds, E.R. (1971). Supernormal phenomena in classical antiquity. Proceedings of the Society for Psychical Research, 55, 189-237.

Lorimer, D. (1984) Survival? Body, Mind and Death in the Light of Psychic Experience.  London: Routledge & Kegan Paul.

Padwick, C.E. (1924).  Notes on the Jinn and the ghoul in the peasant mind of lower Egypt.  Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies, 3, 421-446.

Petrie, W.M.F. (1906). The Religion of Ancient Egypt. London: Archibald Constable & Co.

Renouf, P.L.P. (1880). Lectures on the Origin and Growth of Religion, as Illustrated by the Religion of Ancient Egypt.  London: Williams and Norgate.

Serio, H.L. (2011). Ghosts: Holy and Otherwise. Academy of Spirituality and Paranormal Studies, 2011, Annual Conference Proceedings, 18-23.

Trigger, B.G. (1979). Egypt and the comparative study of early civilizations. In K. Weeks (Ed.) Egyptology and the Social Sciences (pp. 23-56). Cairo: The American University in Cairo Press.

Winkler, H.A. (2009). Ghost Riders of Upper Egypt: A Study of Spirit Possession. New York: The American University of Cairo Press. (Translated by Nicholas S. Hopkins).