Ghost have long been shrouded in mysterious shenanigans. As well as the largely anonymous Nameless Ghouls that make up the bulk of the band, with each passing album, Ghost mastermind Tobias Forge has introduced a ghastly lead character to front the fold, starting back in 2010 with Papa Emeritus I for debut album Opus Eponymous. After Papas II and III followed for Infestissumam and Meliora respectively, for 2018's Prequelle, there was no numbered Papa to be found – just a Cardinal and another, newly introduced ancient figure known as Papa Nihil.
The plot has only thickened since then, with Cardinal Copia being upgraded to a Papa all of his own for the Impera era and even more strange and spooky characters being introduced into the Ghost canon. Here's our definitive guide to all of them so far.
Papa Emeritus I
AKA: The first one.
Years Of Service: 2010-2012.
Notes: Papa Emeritus I was the OG Ghost frontman and could usually be found stalking back and forth on stages wielding his trusty thurible (that’s that big, swinging incense burner thingy he used to have). The original, certainly, but arguably not the best.
Papa Emeritus II
AKA: The scary one.
Years Of Service: 2013-2015.
Notes: With a far ghastlier looking visage than his predecessor, Papa Emeritus II was also the first Papa to ditch the makeup when he fronted a special, three-song Ghost set for an Australian website in 2014. Though we’re still not convinced that was his real face, either.
Papa Emeritus III
AKA: The dandy.
Years Of Service: 2015-2017.
Notes: Allegedly the younger brother of Papa Emeritus II, Papa Emeritus III brought a new energy to Ghost, shrugging off his Papal robes mid-set for a snazzy suited-and-booted look that came with a host of sexually-charged stage moves. Oooh, the cad. It set a a new precedent for the dynamics of how Ghost shows would usually operate (let's just say the costume change count has only gone up since then). Papa III was eventually and unceremoniously killed off, along with his two predecessors, his decapitated head appearing on the cover of Metal Hammer in 2018. Oh dear.
AKA: The old one.
Years Of Service: 1969-2020 alive, 2020-2022 as a spooky spirit
Notes: Making his live debut seconds after Papa III was dragged off stage in Sweden in late 2017, Papa 0 looked older than time itself (er, no offense). His role was seemingly to mentor younger Papas and Papas-in-waiting, not least a newly arrived Cardinal who seemed to have more than just professional connections to the old-timer. Papa 0 could also, it would appear, bust out a mean saxophone solo, but that sadly wasn't enough to save him when he was rudely offed live onstage in Mexico in 2020. Then resurrected in 2022 to play sax again. This band's health insurance renewal rates must be through the roof, quite frankly.
AKA: The one that wasn't a Papa (but is now).
Years Of Service: 2018-2020.
Notes: Providing a combo breaker by eschewing the corpsepaint and having a decidedly less pope-y fashion sense, Cardinal Copia was the lovably daft Papa-in-waiting that brought an extra flash of sass to the Ghost camp. Tobias Forge once suggested to us that, unlike previous Ghost frontmen, Cardi C might actually stick around for a few records - and he was half-right. In March 2020, on stage in Mexico, The Cardinal was surrounded by The Clergy and transformed into Papa Emeritus IV. A new dawn beckoned...
Papa Emeritus IV
AKA: The grandest Papa yet
Years Of Service: 2020-present
Notes: The upgraded Cardinal is currently serving as the fourth Papa Emeritus, and if Ghost's latest live show is anything to go by, he may be the most extravagant one yet. Packing dazzling robes, a fancy new hat (or three) and a fine array of new stage costumes, he's perfectly set to lead what looks to be Ghost's most over the top and bombastic era ever. But what happens when The Clergy grow tired of him and decide it's time for a freshen-up? Could Ghost's current hero buck the trend and leave the fold with his head and body intact? Could a serving Papa IV become Papa V? Or is he doomed to join his predecessors in death? Only time will tell.
The Nameless Ghouls
AKA: The band.
Years Of Service: 2010-Present.
Notes: Less individuals and more a mass of souls represented onstage by mysterious, anonymous figures. They seem to grow in number with each passing album cycle, and get their own revamp to go alongside each newly introduced (or upgraded) frontman. Currently, The Nameless Ghouls are rocking a badass steampunk look. We approve.
AKA: The matriarch.
Years Of Service: 1969-Present (at least)
Notes: A figurehead behind the scenes, the mysterious Sister Imperator has appeared in a number of videos put out by Ghost in recent years, and she seems to have a particular (motherly) affinity for The Cardinal/Papa IV. We got to see both Sister Imperator and Papa Nihil in their younger incarnations during Ghost's Kiss The Go-Goat era.
First introduced in Chapter 10 of Ghost's ongoing video series, Mr. Saltarian is yet another mysterious religious figure with definite but somewhat murky connections to The Clergy. With poor Papa IV's future seemingly up in the air as of Ghost's most recent Chapters, it seems that Mr. Saltarian may have a part to play in the increasingly paranoid frontman's ultimate fate.
AKA: The main event.
Years Of Service: 2010-Present.
Notes: The mysterious cult from which these strange beings all stepped forth, The Clergy is the centre point for everything that Ghost is, was and shall be. They remain anonymous, omnipotent and powerful. Which is metal as fuck, to be fair.
Father Jim Defroque
AKA: The Bad Boy Priest
Years Of Service: [unknown]-Present
Notes: Introduced in a half-hour special on YouTube entitled "Jesus Talk With Father Jim Defroque" released on Easter Sunday 2023, at first it appeared the Pastor was the antithesis of our favourite Satanic Swedes and a true man of the cloth as he disapprovingly dissected lyrics from bands including Ministry, Soundgarden and Green Day (all Jesus themed, naturally).
It wasn't long before Father Defroque's true colours came out, however: suspicious sniffs throughout his YouTube special turned into a full bender during the Jesus He Knows Me video featuring copious amounts of blow, guns and erm, a questionable haircare regimen. How does he fit in with the wider Ghost lore? Well, we guess we'll find out pretty soon...