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The mysterious wraith in Spirited Away

The wraith is a vague term that describes a ghostly creature, a spirit of another world, or more generally a mysterious being to be feared.


The word may be of Scots origin, possibly through Old Norse vörðr, meaning "guardian" (cf. the Modern English cognates "ward" and "warden"), and related to Irish arrach, meaning "apparition". An association with the verb "writhe" has also been claimed. The word "wraith" is first attested in 1513, with the meaning of "ghost or spectre" (that is, an apparition of a living or once-living being, possibly as a portent of death).

In 18th century Scotland it was applied to aquatic spirits. Over time, it came to be used in a metaphoric sense to refer to wraith-like things, and to portents in general.

J. R. R. Tolkien use of the word in the naming of the creatures known as the Ringwraiths has influenced creators of fantasy and horror novels, television shows, and games, who use it with its meaning of a shadow-thing, a spirit of another world, or more generally a mysterious being to be feared.


The classic depiction of a wraith is identical to the image of a tall, humanoid figure shrouded in a black cloak, under which no face can be seen, though a hand protrudes and long, sharp fingers.

The wraith is a being of power, controlled by a greater spirit to do the creatures will. These creatures are shadows, floating amongst our realm with no purpose but that of their masters. They feed on humans, their emotions and their own strength, without these they would cease to exist. Information considering their lesser-known qualities is difficult to obtain.

History / Beliefs

  • In European pagan beliefs, the wraith is seen as a spirit of vengeance. Wraiths are considered rare amongst the spirit realm, for they consist of pure revenge; yet not all wraiths will be truly vengeful, in that some are merely enraged to the extent of destroying anything they encounter.
  • In other corners of the world, the wraith is considered to be a double of an existing person and omen of his imminent death.

Art / Fiction


J.K. Rowling's Dementors can be considered wraiths, as they conform to the popular description of a shrouded being without a face, with long corpse-like hands that glisten like rotted flesh. These beings feed on living emotion, draining every last ounce of happiness from a person. They are able to suck the very soul of a person through the "Dementor's kiss," wherein the dementor pulls the person's soul seemingly out through his mouth. In the first several books of the series, these creatures guard the wizard prison Azkaban, but later go on to join forces with the Dark Lord Voldemort.


The word "wraith" is also used in modern fiction to signify the shifting wraiths of T.A. Barron's book series The Lost Years of Merlin and the mortiwraiths of Wayne Thomas Batson's The Door Within Trilogy. Whereas the shifting wraith is a bestial, snake-like predator able to change itself into the form of any animal, albeit always having a feature uncharacteristic thereof, the mortiwraith is an anthropomorphically intelligent, gigantic, cave-dwelling, but also snake-like predator having creased, furry ears, poisonous blood, and many clawed legs whose quantity increases with the passage of every five years. The use of the word "wraith" for either of these is not explained by either author in the respective story.

Other works

  • A wraith is also described as an image seen just before one dies, like a premonition.
  • Wraiths in science fiction and fantasy
  • In the 1986 film "The Wraith", Charlie Sheen plays as Jake Kesey, a man who was brutally murdered that comes back from the dead to take vengeance on those who were involved in it.
  • In The Elder Scrolls : Oblivion wraith are spirits of defiled fallen soldiers (such as Sir Berich in the KOTN expansion).
  • The Wraith which appear in the Stargate Atlantis TV series are, much like the wraiths seen in other fantasy media except they are more human like than others, depicted to "feed" on the very essence of humans and have the ability to age them rapidly.
  • The Wraith is a Covenant tank in Halo, Halo 2 and Halo 3.
  • Wraith: The Oblivion is a role playing game published by White Wolf Game Studios in which players may play the roles of fictional, long-dead wraiths in the Underworld, which exists parallel to the living world of mankind.
  • The CF/A-17 Wraith is a Terran space superiority fighter in the popular computer game StarCraft. It is armed with Gemini Air-to-Air Missiles and a 25mm burst laser for ground attacks. Newer CF/A-17G Wraiths feature a built-in cloaking field.
  • The Japanese film Spirited Away features a masked, wraithlike figure of ambiguous origin and history, appropriately called No Face.
  • The Nazgûl or Black Riders in Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings are also called "Ringwraiths", though they are not ghosts, but rather men corrupted to the extent of becoming phantoms by their greed.
  • In the PS2 game 'Primal', two of the main foe's are Raum and his wife Empusa, who are of Wraith-race. Also the main character, Jen, can transform into a Wraith.
  • Wraith Squadron in the Star Wars Expanded Universe
  • In the Gamecube game Pikmin 2, there is a boss, named the Waterwraith that resembles a wraith formed from water. It travels on two stone cylinders like a steamroller.
  • In Soul Sabre, an uncommon PC game released out of Denmark in 1999, the enemies of the game are referred to as Wraiths, but are actually artifical humans created in a laboratory.
  • Raziel (Legacy of Kain) is a wraith. As he was resurrected by the Elder God he would defy him. It seemed unbound creatures had free will. Wraiths in this series are the souls of vampires trapped in the inmaterial realm for so long they have adapted to drain the essence of other souls
  • In Prince of Persia: Warrior Within, the prince puts on the Mask of the Wraith to become the sand-wraith, a doppelganger that grants the Prince unlimited use of the Sands of Time but slowly drains his life away, again conforming to the idea of wraith taking other's power.
  • In the Warhammer Fantasy Battle wargame, Wraiths are Hero-level characters in the Vampire Counts army, appearing like shrouded skeletons armed with scythes.
  • Wraiths are a mid-level enemy in the MMORPG MapleStory.
  • In Heroes of Might and Magic V, the Necropolis faction can recruit wraiths, which are the upgraded form of the Wight, and appear as floating cloaked figures, with glowing blue light emanating from under their hoods, wielding scythes. This bears a resemblance to the symbolic representation of death known as the Grim Reaper. Their upgraded form is the banshee.
  • Ashok K. Banker's novelization of the Ramayana features a demon species called vetaal, which resembles the traditional wraith in that it drains away the essence of a human being, gradually changing the human into a creature like itself. Like the Ringwraiths, vetaals were human until this transformation occurred.


Part of this article consists of modified text from Wikipedia, and the article is therefore licensed under GFDL.