Ghosts and Catholicism?

My informant has a diverse familial background. Her maternal side of the family has been living in Pennsylvania for about 300 years, and is deeply entrenched in the Pennsylvania Dutch folkloric traditions. Her paternal family has come to America fairly recently – her grandparents emigrated from Italy shortly before her father was born.


While visiting the local cemetery, my informant’s father told her the following story, which she recounted for me.


“When my sister was really little, she and my dad were in the cemetery. She pointed up on the hill and said, ‘Who are those people?’, but there weren’t any people there.


My dad is firmly convinced she saw ghosts. That probably stems from my grandmother, I guess. I didn’t really know her that well. She believed that when kids are little, they can see ghosts, or things that other people can’t, because they’re so close to heaven…kind of like when people say that dying people can see their loved ones who are dead because they are so close to heaven and they’re going to die soon. My grandmother was Catholic, and she always said it was until the first Holy Communion.”


This story is an example of the sometimes hazy boundaries between religion and folklore. Churches are institutions, but they have a lot of folkloric aspects. As Oring suggests, the two are differentiated by the methods through which information is communicated. Because there isn’t an official edict telling Catholics such as my informant’s grandmother that children can see the supernatural until their first Holy Communion, her belief is a folk belief, probably learned by talking to other people.