Question: We sometimes hear of the belief that drowning in water bodies is sometimes caused by ‘water ghosts’ tugging them down, who are previously drowned persons, who want someone to take their places, so that they themselves can be reborn. Is there any truth in this?
Answer: There is no karmic logic to this belief. Killing someone cannot be the one cause for the killer to be reborn instantly or quickly. (Just as this is the case for humans, it is the case for ghosts too.) Killing also karmically creates a worse rebirth for oneself eventually. Despite this water ghost rebirth belief not making sense, unfortunately, because it is a prevalent misconception spread by the living, when some of these same living people die, say, through accidental drowning, they might become restless spirits who cling to this belief, hence trying to test it, thus perpetuating some ‘reality’ to this unfortunate phenomenon.
This water ghost misconception is a good example of why we should never spread delusional beliefs or fake news, which can be deadly, physically and spiritually harmful to more than expected over time. This is how evil self-fulfilling prophecies that perpetuate the three poisons of attachment, aversion and delusion can spread from one person to the next, and from generation to the next, with no way to undo the damage done.
A variation of this belief is that the ghost can take over or possess the victim’s body to disable or force the victim’s consciousness out. Even though possession is possible in some cases with strong vengeance or will, this phenomenon in terms of drowning is uncommon because if it is valid, there should be many cases of near-drowned victims suddenly having severe character changes. Other variations of this belief include other kinds of accidents beyond drowning, e.g. car-crashing, falling, being burnt…
It should be noted that wandering spirits can be in all kinds of places; not just in water bodies. However, all should be seen as unfortunate, even the vengeful ones, who are misguided if they create more suffering for themselves and others. They should be guided to better rebirths: https://purelanders.com/2013/11/07/how-to-share-the-power-of-merits-guidance
Question: Will the victim and the ghost involved be trapped in an endless karmic cycle of repeatedly causing each other’s death through drowning?
Answer: Karma does not work in perfect tit for tat loops as those involved change in character and thus actions eventually. Here is an article explaining how a ‘set’ of karma does not loop infinitely: https://thedailyenlightenment.com/2011/10/does-karma-go-in-endless-loops