Ghost shirts are shirts or other clothing items created by Ghost dancers and thought to be imbued with spiritual powers.
Ghost shirts, sacred to certain factions of Lakota people, were thought to guard against bullets through spiritual power. Contrary to popular belief, Jack Wilson (known in Lakota circles as Wovoka) opposed rebellion against the white settlers. Wovoka believed that through pacificism, the Lakota and the rest of the Native Americans would be delivered from white oppression in the form of earthquakes. However, two Lakota warriors and followers of Wovoka, Kicking Bear and Short Bull thought otherwise, and believed that Ghost Shirts would protect the wearer enough to actively resist white oppression. The shirts did not work as promised, and consequently 153 Lakota died, with 50 wounded and 150 missing at the Wounded Knee Massacre.
Anthropologist James Mooney argued that the most likely source of the belief that ghost shirts could repel bullets is the Mormon temple garment (which Mormons believe protect the pious wearer from evil, though not bullets). Scholars believe that in 1890 chief Kicking Bear introduced the concept to his people, the Lakota.
In Kurt Vonnegut's novel, Player Piano, a faction revolting against the rigidly hierarchical, mechanized United States of the future calls itself the Ghost Shirt Society. The founders claim that, like the militant Native Americans of the late 19th century, they are "mak[ing] one last fight for the old values."
- The followers of the Chinese Boxer Rebellion (1899-1901) claimed that the spirits protected them from bullets.
- The 19th- and 20th-century Catholic Carlists believed that a piece of cloth with the picture of the Sacred Heart of Jesus protected them from bullets.