A wraith is an apparition of a person, living or dead, that may appear shortly before or after death. The appearance of a wraith is often considered to be an omen.
The word may be of Scots origin (warth), 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.
Philologist and fantasy author J. R. R. Tolkien held this view , whose 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 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.
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. 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, extremely photosensitive, 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, though it may relate to the word "writhe".
In European pagan beliefs, the wraith is seen as a spirit of vengeance. They are said to be ghostly figures with long, sharp fingers. 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 a local legend of Cornwall, the Polbreen Mine is said to be haunted by a wraith named Dorcas.
In other corners of the world, the wraith is considered to be the reflected image of a person, seen immeditately before death. This side is supported by elders' stories.
A wraith is also described as an image seen immediately before one dies, as if it were a variation of the "Grim Reaper" figure.
In the 1986 film "The Wraith", Charlie Sheen plays as Jake Kesey, a man who was brutally murdered and comes back from the dead to take vengeance on those who were involved in the killing.
In The Elder Scrolls : Oblivion wraiths 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.
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.
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 all happiness from a person. They are able to draw the soul of a person through the "Dementor's kiss," wherein the dementor pulls the person's soul from its body, seemingly through the mouth. In the first three books of the series, these creatures guard the wizard prison Azkaban, but later go on to join forces with the Dark Lord Voldemort.
The Japanese film Spirited Away features a masked, wraithlike figure of ambiguous origin and history, appropriately called No Face. At first he appears meek and compassionate, but when exposed to the activity in the public bathhouse, wherein are many greedy individuals, he becomes a monster who consumes anything edible. When removed from the bathhouse and exposed to kindness, he resumes his meek demeanor. Like the wraith of popular mythology, he 'feeds' on the emotions and personalities of those around him, often assuming their voices or features.
The Nazgûl or Black Riders in Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings are called "Ringwraiths". They are not ghosts, but rather men corrupted to the extent of becoming phantoms by the Rings of Power they wear.
In the PS2 game Primal, two of the main antagonists are Raum and his wife Empusa, who are of Wraith-race. The main character, Jen, can also transform into a Wraith.
In Soul Sabre, an uncommon PC game released out of Denmark in 1999, the enemies of the game are called Wraiths, but are actually artificial 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 doppelgänger that grants the Prince unlimited use of the Sands of Time but slowly drains his life away, again conforming to the idea of a wraith taking another's energy.
In the Warhammer Fantasy Battle wargame, Wraiths appear like shrouded skeletons armed with scythes. They can be chosen as a rare unit in a Vampire Count army. In battle the adopt a skirmish formation.
Wraiths are a mid-level enemy in the MMORPG MapleStory.
In Heroes of Might and Magic III: The Restoration of Erathia and 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.
In the Hyperion Cantos universe, 'wraith' is the name given to a species of large carnivore on the frozen planet Sol Draconi Septem.
In Warhammer 40,000, the Wraith is a Necron melee soldier capable of shredding enemy units with its sharp fingertips and slipping through physical matter. They are the less morbid cousin of the Flayed Ones. It is little more than an upper torso and spine. In the game Prey, Wraiths are flying creatures found in the spirit world after the main character dies. By shooting them using a longbow, the character can replenish quantities of his health and energy.
In the Lost Kingdoms (rune) series of games, wraiths are described as undead sorcerers that pound their enemies with innumerable chunks of ice. As a wild monster, it can use the icicle and ice storm attacks. As a card, it only retains a weaker version of its ice storm. However, thirty-percent of the damage it deals is returned to the summoner as life.
There is also a movie called Wraiths of Roanoke that can be watched on the SciFi channel.
In the television show Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, The Pah-Wraiths are the evil counterparts of the Bajoran gods known as The Prophets. They are somewhat equivalent to the Devil.
In the mythology of Insane Clown Posse's Dark Carnival, The Wraith is the face of the sixth Joker's Card, and presents two exhibits to listeners: Shangri-La and Hell's Pit. The Shangri-La Wraith is actually the demon Wraith, and shows you a preview of Shangri-La (Heaven). However, he can pull you away and take you down to Hell's Pit. The Hell's Pit Wraith is the good Wraith, and he shows you what Hell is like to help you change your ways and get into Shangri-La.
In the musical 'The Dracula Spectacula' written by John Gardiner, Dracula's Mother is named Wraith.
In the MMORPG City of Villains, Masterminds with the primary power of Necromancy can use the power of Soul Extraction to raise one of their fallen pets. The Lich pet, when re-raised with this power, is referred to as a Wraith.
A rather different use of the term Wraith is made by Stephen R. Donaldson in his Wraiths of Andelain. These are seemingly small detached cool flames that perform a seasonal dance.