Ghost sickness is a cultural belief among some traditional Indigenous peoples in North America, notably the Navajo, and some Muscogee and Plains cultures. People who are preoccupied and/or consumed by the deceased are believed to suffer from ghost sickness. Reported symptoms can include general weakness, loss of appetite, suffocation feelings, recurring nightmares, and a pervasive feeling of terror. The sickness is attributed to ghosts (Navajo: chʼį́įdii) or, occasionally, to witches or witchcraft. Children are thought to be especially at risk of being affected because they are not as attached to their new bodies.
In the Muscogee (Creek) culture, it is believed that everyone is a part of an energy called Ibofanga. This energy supposedly results from the flow between mind, body, and spirit. Illness can result from this flow being disrupted. Therefore, their "medicine is used to prevent or treat an obstruction and restore the peaceful flow of energy within a person". Purification rituals for mourning "focus on preventing unnatural or prolonged emotional and physical drain."
The grief resolution processes for traditional Native Americans are qualitatively different than those usually seen in mainstream Western cultures. In 1881, there was a federal ban on some of the traditional mourning rituals practised by the Lakota and other tribes. Lakota expert Maria Yellow Horse Brave Heart proposes that the loss of these rituals may have caused the Lakota to be "further predisposed to the development of pathological grief". Some manifestations of unresolved grief include seeking visions of the spirits of deceased relatives, obsessive reminiscing about the deceased, longing for and believing in a reunion with the deceased, fantasies of reappearance of the deceased, and belief in one's ability to project oneself to the past or to the future.
There are a variety of mainstream psychological theories about Ghost Sickness. Putsch states that "Spirits or 'ghosts' may be viewed as being directly or indirectly linked to the cause of an event, accident, or illness". Both Erikson and Macgregor report substantiating evidence of psychological trauma response in ghost sickness, with features including withdrawal and psychic numbing, anxiety and hypervigilance, guilt, identification with ancestral pain and death, and chronic sadness and depression.
Supernatural Episode 4.06, "Yellow Fever," has Jenson Ackles' character, Dean Winchester, falls victim to Ghost Sickness. The ghost sickness is depicted as a transmutable disease, originating from a vengeful spirit. Its symptoms are paranoia, terrifying hallucinations, and a strange rash that ultimately result in a fatal heart attack. Despite being communicable, the ghost sickness only infects characters that are said to "use fear as a weapon;" a bully, a bouncer, a vice principal, the town sheriff, and Dean. The disease is able to be cured by destroying the spirit from which it originated. Despite similarities to Native American lore, no mention of them is made during the episode.
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