Demons and Ghosts: How They’re Similar and Different 

Updated July 9, 2021
Demon eyes

If you watch a lot of paranormal television or enjoy a good horror movie or scary book, then you've probably heard some hauntings classified as demonic. So what's the difference between a demon and a ghost? Are they the same thing?

Key Difference Between Ghost and Demon

The main difference between ghosts and demons is simple: ghosts are paranormal and fall into the realm of parapsychological research; demons are religious and fall under the blanket of the church. The two are separate - there are no demonic ghosts, for instance.

Similarities Among Ghosts and Demons

Demons and ghosts are both entities that don't appear to be a living human being. Ghosts are the spirits of people or animals who have died. Demons are evil entities that likely have never lived in human or animal bodies. The two may have some similar characteristics, including poltergeist type activity and other strange phenomena.

  • They may make noises, such as knocks and bangs.
  • They can create phantom smells, although demonic smells tend to be much more foul than those from ghosts. For example, a ghost may smell like pipe smoke or perfume. Demonic smells tend to be sulfuric.
  • They can both cause feelings of fear or dread in the living, although demonic activity tends to cause more terror than ghostly activity.
  • They can both move objects with energy, although demonic activity tends to be much more violent and involve far greater feats of strength than that found in poltergeist activity.
  • They can both be in spaces where living people work and live. However, ghosts are said to "haunt" a location, while demons "infest" it.
  • They are both "invisible" in that the human they interact with doesn't perceive them as they would a living, breathing being.

Demons vs Ghosts Differences

Once you delve into the theory behind ghosts and demons, you'll find they are more different than similar.

  • Demons are considered theological or religious beings; ghosts are paranormal beings.
  • Demons are evil spirits driven by ultimate evil from Satanic forces; while ghosts may have been jerks in life, and their behaviors may be bad, they are not driven by universal evil.
  • Demons can possess humans; there is no parapsychological validated evidence of ghosts possessing living humans (although some people believe ghosts can attach to humans, but this is not possession. It is an energetic attachment, which is something else entirely).
  • Demons appear to be able to commit great acts of physical strength; in general, spirits may give the appearance of moving an object, but the objects don't actually move, and if they do, the movement is much more subtle than demonic movement.
  • Demons need to be exorcized; you can't exorcize or banish a ghost against its will nor do they require exorcism.
  • Demons destroy religious objects and react poorly to prayer, religious words, holy water, religious artifacts, etc.; ghosts don't.
  • Demons are much more likely to make frightening noises like growling; ghosts typically don't growl.
  • The Society for Psychical Research (SPR) notes levitation of people and objects (religious levitation) is often common with demonic activity; it's not commonly found with ghosts and hauntings.


Ghosts are disembodied spirits. That is, they are the souls of people or animals that have died that remain identified with their living self (ego-identified) and are earthbound. They possess many of the same personality traits they had when they were alive and frequently haunt places that meant something to them in life.


The idea of demons comes from multiple religions, including ancient religions as well as modern religions including Christianity, Islam (Jinn), and Judaism (Shedim). While in general demons are believed to be evil spirits, in Western religions the term demon more specifically refers to fallen angels, the devil, or minions of Satan. Demons are believed to infest or possess people or places, and the only way to get rid of them is through the religious Rite of Exorcism.

Ghosts and Demons Are Not the Same

Determining whether unexplained activity comes from a ghost or demon may be difficult for the layperson. However, a good rule of thumb is this: if you suspect demonic activity based on the signs noted above, contact clergy for assistance. If you suspect a ghost and want to know more, seek help from paranormal researchers.

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Demons and Ghosts: How They’re Similar and Different