Navajo Yebichai (Yei Bi Chei) dancers. Edward S. Curtis. USA, 1900. The Welcome Collection, London

Can a Ghost Make You Ill? The Ghost Sickness Belief of the Native American Indians


Ghost sickness is the belief that ghosts are able to cause a living person to fall ill. This particular term is used by the Native Americans, especially amongst the Navajo people. Nevertheless, this belief can also be found in other Native American cultures. Furthermore, this concept may also be found in other cultures of the world, though with certain slight variations. So how does a ghost make you sick, and why?

Navajo Attachment Belief

According to the Navajos, as well as certain other Native American cultures, ghost sickness is caused by a spirit of the dead attaching itself to a living person. This attachment causes harm to the living person, as the ghost drains his or her energy. The effects of this energy drainage manifest itself in certain symptoms, including weakness, a loss of appetite, depression and nightmares. Furthermore, it is believed that ghost sickness can even result in death, as the soul of the affected person could be carried by the ghost into the realm of the dead.

Navajo Hogan, Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park, USA

Navajo Hogan, Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park, USA ( CC BY 2.0 )

The Navajos believe that ghost sickness is caused by a person communicating with the dead or by connecting the thoughts of a living person with those of the deceased. In a case mentioned by Putsch, for example, a Navajo woman develops nightmares about her father following his death from a ruptured appendix. The woman’s mother felt that her daughter was somehow connected with her husband’s death, and that she was plagued by the malignant influence of his spirit.

Navajo Girl, Navajo Reservation, Window Rock, Arizona

Navajo Girl, Navajo Reservation, Window Rock, Arizona ( CC BY 2.0 )

Several years later, the woman had a child, and it was after giving birth that she was stricken by ghost sickness. Some of the symptoms experienced by the woman included “irritability, decreased interest in daily activities, and inability to relate well to her husband”. The woman’s ghost sickness was treated using an approach that addressed both the traditional causes of the illness, as well as the biomedical ones she was facing. For instance, a traditional Navajo ceremony was conducted to treat the nightmares, whilst diagnostic measures were taken to determine if her post-partum depression was caused by other endocrinological problems or not.

Chinese Ghost Treatment

Apart from Native Americans, other cultures also believe that illnesses may be caused by ghosts. In ancient China, for instance, illnesses were sometimes attributed to the influence of ghosts. This idea may still be seen in the practice of traditional Chinese medicine today, though with some modifications. In acupuncture, there are a set of special points known as Baxie, which may be translated as the ‘Eight Ghosts’ or, in modern texts, the ‘Eight Pathogens’.

The Ghost by Tsukioka Yoshitoshi The print depicts Mitokomon Mitsukuni-ko defeating a ghost in Yahata

The Ghost by Tsukioka Yoshitoshi The print depicts Mitokomon Mitsukuni-ko defeating a ghost in Yahata ( Public Domain )

For the Chinese, illnesses may be attributed to the influence of ghosts if they are very serious, unusual or cannot be treated by Western medicine. The Chinese believe that the main reason for ghosts to return to the realm of the living is that they had not received a proper burial. Nevertheless, these spirits may also return to seek vengeance, or to seek help in righting a wrong they had caused / had suffered. Illnesses caused by ghosts may be physical or mental, though unexplainable by modern Western medicine, as mentioned earlier. Therefore, to treat these illnesses, other measures have to be taken, for instance, by praying to a particular god, by seeking the aid of a local healer, or by appeasing the spirit.

Samoan Spirit Sickness

A form of ghost sickness can also be found in the beliefs of the Samoans. In this culture, ghosts are also thought to have the power to punish the living. Amongst the causes of a spirit’s displeasure is a living person still harbouring hatred towards the dead person, or not showing proper respect to him or her. Some common symptoms of a possessed person include spitting, grimacing, and bulging eyes. In some cases, the presumed possession has been diagnosed as ‘hysterical excitement’. To cure suspected possessions, Samoan folk medicine is often used, and involves removing the ghosts from a person’s body.

Top image: Navajo Yebichai (Yei Bi Chei) dancers. Edward S. Curtis. USA, 1900. The Welcome Collection, London ( Public Domain )

By Wu Mingren


Capps, C., 2012. The Navajo Ghost Sickness. [Online]
Available at:

Jaffee, L., 2015. A Short History of Ghosts in Chinese Medicine. [Online]
Available at:

Palmer, D. A., 2011. The Body: Health, Nation, and Transcendence. In: D. A. Palmer, G. Shive & P. L. Wickeri, eds. Chinese Religious Life. Oxford: Oxford University Press, pp. 87-106.

Putsch, R. W., III, 1988. Ghost Illness: A Cross-Cultural Experience with the Expression of a Non-Western Tradition in Clinical Practice. [Online]
Available at:

Taylor, J., 2015. W3 Activity: Ghost sickness. [Online]
Available at:


Absolutely, YES, a ghost or spirit of the dead can make you very ill because it happened to me. This came about from what I thought was innocent noble gesture on my part to clean up a long neglected and abandoned grave site as well as scrub and polish the old head stone of a woman who passed in the 1920’s. That evening I began to feel ill and sick to my stomach in ways that I never felt before. That night I had very disturbing dreams and was restless. Two days later I was weak, nauseous, and began having nose bleeds and eyes that would fill blood. When I went to my doctor she had no idea what was making me so ill and couldn’t explain it as all of my lab-work came back fully normal.
Then it really got weird. We heard knocking and thumping from inside the house walls. Doors would mysteriously open or slam shut. Lights flickered. Things would fall off of shelves that were fully secure otherwise and things inside of dresser drawers were all messed and looked as though they had been searched and tossed. We’d find things in the house that didn’t belong there. Then we heard the most awful clamor in the basement that sounded like two cars in an accident.
Our dog would growl and bare her teeth while looking at the walls or at a darkened but empty hallway. She also came running out of a room and sat next to be alarmed and looking at me and then back at another room and was extremely resistant about entering it with me to what was going on. There was nothing there… but to her there was and she wasn’t having any part of it.
We finally figured out we had a full blown possession going and it was attached to me. Finally, the nightmares got so bad and vivid – I had to seek someone who could help. So, I talked with our minister and told him about it. At first he thought it was a joke and didn’t take it seriously. Then one day while visiting us – he heard a loud thump and bang! He asked; “what was that?” we told – That’s what we’re dealing with – everyday. His eye got as big as saucers. This is when I told him that the woman from an old grave site was bothering me and making me sick because she was so unhappy and angry over the way she was buried.
Apparently she was buried in a coffin too small for her and both of her legs were broken just below the knees and then crammed into the too short cheap wooden coffin. She wanted help. I told her repeatedly I could not help her…
Two days later he brought another Minister and a group who in prayer told the “woman” to go away and return to her grave. It was a Banishment and a blessing of the house and us.
It went away and never returned. Poor tormented soul. Now, I refuse to go into any cemetery for any reason. When I die – I’m going to be cremated and have my ashes sprinkled into Lake Michigan and then I want my family to have a big party and celebrate as if it national holiday. Don’t morn me.

Cousin_Jack's picture

In a way, yes, an experience happened to me where an entity supposedly attached itself to me and manifest itself through my dreams. My home is said to be built on an execution and burial ground and I kept getting dreams about the area, if slightly different, I believe looking as it once did. No concrete evidence though to back up the story, although we’ve found a structure where the gallows was said to be and what could’ve been an iron plaque whereabouts where the grave should be. Nothing concrete but its spooky when family members share the same dreams.

I do not believe ghost or spirit can make you ill unless you believe it to be so. If I tell you that if I clicked my fingers three times you will die and you by some strange reason actually firmly believed it beyond a shadow of a doubt, then if I click my fingers so, you will die.

ancient-origins's picture

There are so many things that we don't know!

Greetings Rene,

Thank you for sharing your story, You were very fortunate to get out of your situation as many people still have to deal with this type of scenario and worse; society in general doesn’t want to accept the real truth that ghost do exist and they can have an effect on people still living.

My wife and I have spent the last 25 years helping these souls complete their journey and cross-over. And many of them are just lost souls that haven’t any idea of where to go or they may feel they have unfinished business. Fear, anger, confusion and most of all their beliefs, keep them here. As the lady in your story just wanted to ‘right’ her burial situation… However, I don’t agree that she should have been chased away; but anyone one with limited knowledge of how deal with these experiences, it’s the best they can do. By having them completing their journey and actually having them ‘cross-over,’ they are no longer stuck in the bardo state where they can still affect others (chasing them away, that is.)

I assisted a man once where he believed that once you died, you were buried 6 ft under and that is where you stayed – for all eternity. Until I was able to convince him that it was his beliefs that were keeping him there and in changing his belief about dying (he realized, it was only his body that died) he agree to cross-over.

Rene, I feel that you had more than the lady entity follow you home because of all the different health symptoms you described. All of the noises and manipulating physical items was to get your attention and once ‘they’ saw how you responded; they had your attention.

Along with your experience and the one Cousin_Jack expressed in having interference in your dreams; the dream state is when you are most receptive to them. The yama yama/noises of the world have quieted down and your mind is clearer and you are more receptive for ‘them’ to get through. The bad aspects of the dreams is the shock value… one, to get your attention and two, to get you motivated to seek help… for them and for you.

I assisted a young lady once where she had a recurring dreams about being mauled by a bear and died. She was never mauled by a bear in this life, but she also had unexplained scars on her arm. I had the entity cross-over. Another short story of unexplained body marks follows:

Several years ago, I was taking part in a weekend workshop and the first day went by ok, however, the second day the instructor asked if we didn’t mind if she sat down for the duration of the class, she went on to explain that sometime between the yesterday class and this morning, her ankles swelled up and made it very uncomfortable to stand for any period of time. When she lifted the legs of her pants to show us what had happened, it appeared as though she had been wearing shackles. Completely around on both legs, about 2 to 3 inches high, the skin was totally raw, as though the skin had been worn away.

I asked if she didn’t mind, after the class was over I’d like to do some Reiki and see if that would help. She welcomed the assistance, I was aware that more than Reiki would be required, I suggested we look a little deeper, as to the cause.

It became evident shortly into the session that an entity had joined her and the ankle condition belonged to the entity. Apparently the entity was making their presence known/felt as it was aware that I could assist. I called two days later to see how the instructor was doing, fine was the response, the ankle condition disappeared.
Everything happens for a reason.




Strong minds discuss ideas, average minds discuss events, weak minds discuss people. — Socrates


Register to become part of our active community, get updates, receive a monthly newsletter, and enjoy the benefits and rewards of our member point system OR just post your comment below as a Guest.

Next article