God—an individual supernatural being, with a distinctive name, personality, and control or influence of a major aspect of nature (like rain or fertility), that encompasses the life of an entire community or a major segment of the community
Spirit—a supernatural being that is less powerful than a god and is usually more localized; often one of a collection of nonindividualized supernatural beings that are not given specific names and identities
Spirits include nonindividualized spirits like the leprechauns of Ireland or the jinn of the Middle East There are also spirits that are individually recognized, such as a guardian spirit, an ancestral spirit, and a shaman’s spirit helper In contrast with gods, spirits are less powerful and more focused on a particular individual, family, or group of specialists
Whereas gods may live in remote locations, like Mount Olympus (home of the Greek Gods), spirits live in the human world, interacting with humans and concerned with what humans are up to Spirits often exhibit complex personalities—they may be friendly or harmful—they provide protection, success, and luck, but are also blamed for minor mishaps One can ask for their assistance, since they’re closely connected to people and are involved in everyday human affairs Offerings, entertainment, and attention will promote the development of a beneficial relationship between people and the spirit world But ignoring the presence of, or worse yet, doing something to harm or offend them can have negative consequences, like the loss of a crop, infertility, illness, or the death of a child
Because spirits live in the human world, they often reside in various physical objects—some natural, others manmade Places of special beauty or unusual characteristics, like a sacred grove or waterfall, are said to be inhabited by spirits Such places may also be considered dangerous
They may be venerated, and people will often travel to such places to seek solutions to problems or to ask favors of the spirits Unusual natural objects—such as a remarkable or strange stone or plant—may contain a spirit, as might a human-made object like a statue or a shrine Sometimes special structures are built and spirits are enticed to take up residence in them to provide protection or good luck to the builder
Examples of spirits include...
Native American Guardian Spirits:
An important element in many American Indian cultures in direct contact with supernatural beings and supernatural power An example of this is the vision quest—in which a person enters into an altered state of consciousness, makes contact with the world of spirit beings, and receives a gift of supernatural power The spirit beings encountered during these visions are often referred to as guardian spirits An individual, usually male, may attempt to make contact with a guardian spirit either as part of a coming of age ritual or continually throughout his adult life, as a means of attaining protection, guidance, and identity According to their worldview, it is only through the attainment of this connection with the supernatural and the receipt of supernatural power that a person can be successful in life
The Koran tells of God’s creation of three types of conscious beings: humans made from clay, angels made from light, and jinn made from fire without smoke Jinn are normally invisible, but they can make themselves visible, and in doing so, they often take the form of a human or animal Once visible, they can alter their shape and features at will Jinn are born, live, and die—they marry, mate, and have families Some have great powers, others do not. Many are specifically known and named, others occur as part of an unnamed collective of spirits Like people, jinn have different personalities, some good and some bad They may lie and deceive people, they enjoy playing tricks and kidnapping people, and they often tempt humans into sexual intercourse
Sometimes a person can forge a...
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