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Moral Relativism and Wicca
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Visits from the Departed
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Mental Illness in the Pagan Community
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Article ID: 12851
Age Group: Adult
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Author: Bob Makransky
Posted: February 8th. 2009
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The following excerpt from Magical Living has implications for a proper understanding of both cognition – the nature of consciousness – and of comparative religion.
From the point of view of comparative religion, the common denominator in most religions is channeling information and guidance from spirits. The form of this channeling may vary from place to place; and of course the spirits being invoked vary from religion to religion; but the basic technique of spirit communication and interaction is pretty much the same throughout the world.
For example, the Catholic mass is an invocation of Jesus and the Holy Spirit; and the Jewish Passover Seder includes an invocation of Elijah. It is because the form of spirit communication is mandated by the spirits involved themselves that religious ceremonies the world over tend to be very similar in their rituals: darkened rooms, candles and incense, repetitive litanies, etc.
These techniques, which derive from shamanism, put participants in a light trance state to make them more receptive to the spirits' messages. Trance channeling can be considered a temporary manifestation of spirit possession. Priesthood is an example of benign spirit possession: priests are able to perform magical operations (such as healing and casting out demons) because they can call upon the power of the spirits of their religion (Jesus, Buddha, Krishna, whomever) who possess them to assist them in these tasks.
From the point of view of consciousness, spirit possession is a fact that must be reckoned with in our calculations. Merely because the society we live in pretends that spirit possession doesn't exist doesn't mean that spirit possession doesn't exist. As the essay Channeling Spirit Guides (filed in http://groups.yahoo.com/group/MagicalAlmanac/files/Magic%20101/) says, all we really are is a flux of thought forms (images, opinions, beliefs, and expectations learned from our parents and society) which is being urged this way and that by spirit forces.
The subject of spirit possession is not well understood in our society; moreover, it has a somewhat unsavory connotation and is not mentioned openly, nor considered a serious topic for discussion. In fact, lots of people are possessed by spirits without knowing it. In this essay we will take a quick survey of the whole subject of possession.
The most common form of possession – which is also the most dangerous – is possession by other people. This is because in the entire universe, including all the hell worlds, there are no demons which are as malignant, tenacious, and gratuitously cruel as our fellow humans.
Possession by other people occurs whenever we let them impose their feelings upon us. Any time we allow ourselves to feel another person’s mood, that person temporarily possesses us. When we experience a great work of art, or even a gripping TV show, we are allowing ourselves to be possessed by the artist, and by the spirits who inspired him or her.
Most children are possessed by their parents unless they’re super-rebellious hellions from the cradle on; and infatuation is a species of mutual possession. These types of possession are called “being under the shadow” of another person. This is not necessarily a bad thing; all forms of apprenticeship and learning involve putting oneself under another person’s shadow. What is being passed from the teacher to the learner is wholly subconscious and emotional; i.e., possession entails a direct transference of knowledge (assurance) , no matter what intellectual symbols – beliefs or techniques – it may be wrapped up in. To be possessed by another person means to allow oneself to be emotionally directed by that person.
Being under the shadow of another person only becomes detrimental when the shadow is imposed by coercion, through fear or guilt. Most parent / child relationships and marriages have at least a tinge of these elements. Basically the only way of casting off the shadow of another person (once it’s in place) is by diminishing one’s own self-importance, so the other person is left with nothing to manipulate. It is usually much more difficult, traumatic, time-consuming, and painful to cast off the shadow of another person than it is to exorcise a demon.
Demon possession is also a common form of possession. Most of the people who are habitually, obsessively angry, fearful, repressed, depressed, irritable, self-destructive, and chronically ill, etc. are demon-possessed. Mainstream psychotherapy’s rejection of the notion of demon possession is totally absurd: it’s like trying to formulate a science of physics while rejecting the calculus – you can still do it, but are handicapping yourself unnecessarily. Practically all mental illnesses are symptoms of demon possession, and while they can be treated without reference to the underlying problem, this is not a very skillful way of doing it.
People call demons in to possess them when they feel vulnerable and in need of drastic protection and security. Demons give them strength – rationalizations, shamelessness, hard-heartedness, self-pity – with which to fend off the attacks of other people and the buffeting of circumstances. An infant may call a demon in at birth to protect him from his parents; a dying person may call one in to dull the emotions in the face of overwhelming fear. Demons can be called in any time to cover vulnerability with hardness. Usually the decision to call in a demon is made in dreamless sleep (i.e. unconsciously) .
Here is a fictional example of demon possession from the children’s book Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh, which shows how people call demons in to possess them at moments of great vulnerability and self-pity. In the story Harriet has just been rejected – deservedly – by all of her friends:
“She sat very stupidly with a blank mind until finally ‘I feel different’ came slowly into her head. … ‘Yes’, she thought, after a long pause. And then, after more time, ‘Mean, I feel mean.’
“She looked around with a mean look for everyone. Nobody saw her. She felt her face contorting. It was an impressive moment that everyone missed. It was a moment that Harriet would never forget.
“When the bell rang for lunch, it was as though she didn’t have to think any more. Everything happened as though she had planned it but she really hadn’t. For example, when the bell rang Pinky Whitehead jumped up and ran down the aisle. Harriet put her foot out and he fell flat on his face.
“A terrific wail went up from his prone body, and when he raised his face his nose was bleeding. Harriet looked extremely blank. Inside she felt a sense of very personal satisfaction.”
Note that calling a demon in unconsciously, in a thoughtless fit of undisciplined anger or self-pity, has all the consequences of conscious demon-possession (the demon won’t leave unless deliberately exorcised) .
In fact, our society is founded upon demonism. The fundamentalist Christians are quite correct in their appraisal of the extent to which Satan and his minions run our society. All our closed-heartedness to one another – the hard-edged snarl that underlies most of our interactions with other people – is urged on us by demon “advisors”. The cartoon stereotype of a little angel and devil perched on the shoulders of a character alternately whispering in his ears is 100% accurate.
Psychopaths are extreme examples of demon possession (not much humanity left there at all) , but actually we’re all like that just beneath the surface, which is why we’re so fascinated by gruesome news stories: that’s us. We’re all allowing ourselves to be swayed by the blandishments of demons all the time, even if we’re not actually possessed by them, and the psychos we see on the news are just acting it out openly for everyone else.
For example, when we are driving and another driver cuts in right ahead of us and we beep the horn in anger, that’s in fact an exchange between that guy’s demons and our own. Our anger is like a little snack to the demons that hover around us constantly like mosquitoes waiting for a little dart of anger, fear, etc. they can suck.
Only people who are completely at peace in their own hearts are not supplying fodder to the demons who co inhabit our sphere and live off of the seething emotions generated by the frustration and despair which living in an unjust society (such as ours) produces. In a just society people are happy, and therefore produce little demon-food; and as a result such societies are not run by or bothered by demons. This whole “problem of evil” jazz can be easily sidestepped just by not harboring evil intentions in our hearts, and by treating other people in the same way that we’d prefer they treated us.
Now, possession can be defined as the delegation of responsibility for making decisions. Nowadays our tendency is to allow ourselves to be possessed by society – i.e. to let society decide everything for us. This is so extraordinarily commonplace that we take it for granted, but in fact the overwhelming majority of what we call “our” feelings (like about 99.999%) are just the feelings of other people – parents, spouse, boss, teachers, peers, and the media – that we have accepted as our own. Practically everything we like, dislike, desire, fear, sympathize with, disdain, etc. is just what we’ve learned to like, dislike, desire, fear, sympathize with, or disdain. Advertising and politics are the two sciences of societal possession. Society has us repress our own true feelings and dictates what we “should” feel instead. About the only feeling it lets us feel for ourselves is pain. Societal possession is the default option for people not possessed by spirits.
Actually it is not society that possesses us, since society has no soul, but rather our own thought forms (habits and predilections) , which are shaped by society. Everything we have learned since the moment we were born is a thought form and these thought forms are beings with volitions all their own. This is why our habits and thoughts seem so uncontrollable to us – thought forms do indeed have wills of their own which can be at variance with ours. Thought forms are not evil – without them we’d be as helpless as newborns – and it’s quite possible to utilize thought forms skillfully. We don’t have to be mindless robots operating on social (thought form) programming. In other words, we don’t have to delegate unconditional decision-making power to our thought forms.
As is the case with all forms of possession, thought form (societal) possession is in essence a trade: we trade power to our thought forms, namely the power to make decisions for us; and they give us power in return, in this case, the power to act in society. Basically, the power we receive from any form of possession is the suspension of doubt. E.g. our belief that society works (can be depended on to deliver the goods for us) is the result of our possession by our own thought forms.
Of course the only reason it works is because of our collective belief that it works. Society – our possession by our thought forms – depends upon our credulity, our willingness to put all doubts aside and give our hearts and minds to a system of belief without examining it too closely. The reason we have difficulty making spirituality (trust in the Spirit instead of society) work at first is because of our initial doubt that it works, which is the residual effect of our possession by society.
The reason we get on the spiritual path in the first place – no matter whether New Age or Christian or Buddhist or whatever – is because of our realization that society doesn’t work. Doubt creeps in and undermines our possession by society’s thought forms. We realize that although our society has a lot of neat tricks up its sleeve, happiness is nowhere among them. At that point we have to conjure up new thought forms – ideals and beliefs – to possess us; otherwise we’d go stark, raving nuts, as some people do when they realize that society has “failed” them.
The point is that possession by society, like all forms of possession, gives us a sense of direction and purpose in life – an orientation and a force of will (lack of doubt) to sustain us. And, like all other forms of possession, it can easily enslave us.
Some societal possession does have a spiritual basis. Obsession with money is often the result and cause of possession by Mammon and many drunks are possessed by Bacchus. This is no metaphor; these sorts of deities indeed exist, in the same sense and to the same degree that Bill Gates, for example, exists; and they do indeed possess their votaries. Neither Mammon nor Bacchus is intrinsically evil spirits; rather, a stout heart is required to resist enslavement by the power of any spirit, even a good one.
In contrast to demon possession and societal (thought form) possession, which are usually unconscious, unskillful manifestations of possession, * the spiritual path is the conscious acknowledgment and employment of possession as a tool. For people on the spiritual path who don’t have human gurus, spirit possession is about the only avenue open to self-transformation. The spiritual path is sufficiently complex an undertaking – a maze with so many dead-ends, and requiring so much strength of will – that few people could succeed in following it without the guidance and power obtained from a possessing agent, either a human guru, or a spirit.
Most religions recognize this, and provide a ritual for calling in a possessing spirit. In Christianity, the aspirant is called to “make the decision for Jesus” or “invite Jesus into one’s life” or “ask Jesus to come live inside one”. When the aspirant makes such a firm decision of his or her own free will, he or she is at that moment possessed by Jesus (or rather by the Holy Spirit, which is directed by Jesus) . Similarly, the Buddhist aspirant is exhorted to “take refuge in the Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha”. The act of “taking refuge” is the same thing as inviting the spirits of Buddhism to take possession.
Two points to remember about spirit possession are 1) spirits, whether good or evil, can only possess a host by invitation; although many people who are possessed by demons invited the demons in dreamless sleep – i.e. the invitation doesn’t have to be conscious; and 2) spirits can be exorcised by the same process of firm decision to cast them out as was used to invite them in.
Like everything else, spirit possession has its advantages and disadvantages. For a person on the spiritual path who does not have a human guru, possession by a beneficent spirit such as Jesus, Buddha, Krishna, etc. is de rigueur. The spiritual path is just too tortuous and tricky to manage without a navigator who is outside of and above us, and who can take a detached and long-term view. Indeed, the essential thing on the spiritual path is relinquishment of ones’ own will (decision-making) . Ironically, although possession can facilitate the relinquishment of self-will, when abused it has the effect of increasing self-will.
To be possessed by a spirit is to tap into a source of great power, and few people have the sobriety and calm to withstand enslavement by this power. Jesus, for example, is most certainly a good spirit; yet it is also true that some people who are possessed by him become intoxicated with power – with the certainty of their own salvation, with the imminent triumph of their dogma, with the compulsion to shove their trip down other people’s throats. This isn’t Jesus’ fault: he certainly tries to steer his votaries in the right direction. Nor can he unilaterally withdraw his power from those who abuse it: possession is a contract that can only by terminated from the human side. Neither Jesus, nor Mammon or Bacchus for that matter, call on their votaries to destroy other people; but this has been the not infrequent result of possession by them (only demons call for the out-and-out destruction of others) .
Being possessed by a beneficent spirit is like having a bracing tonic for the heart and nerves available at hand whenever needed, to get through the spiritually dry periods when we feel like throwing up our arms in exasperation and crying, “How long, O Lord, how long?” At those times it’s helpful to be possessed by a spirit, because there’s comfort in the sense that although everything may be spinning out of control, there’s somebody up there somewhere who understands what’s happening and whispers in our ears, “Leave the driving to us.”
I, personally, am possessed by a group of deities who belong to the pantheon of the indigenous people where I live (Guatemala) . I was originally working with these deities in a more casual fashion, with regard to agriculture, when my spirit guides suggested that I invite them to possess me, and I did so (spirit guides are just that – guides. They have neither the power nor inclination to possess humans) . These deities help me in various ways. They prop me up – help me accomplish things that I could not normally do by myself. For example, they taught me how to hold my attention fixed on a single feeling moment-to-moment, all day long, every day. At first they lent me their power, so in the beginning I found the exercise remarkably easy; then little-by-little they withdrew their power, which made the thing progressively harder and harder to do, but still doable, until I was able to do it by myself. This training was part of their teaching me how to drop the obsession of my usual internal mental chatter by breaking its fixation.
Another thing they’ve done on occasion is show me scenes from my past and future in my mind’s eye, but incredibly vivid and emotionally compelling, not unlike what the ghosts of Christmas past, present, and future did to Ebenezer Scrooge. Sometimes they have altered my consciousness – like taking a psychedelic drug – to show me things.
Also, the frequency and intensity of omens and portents in my life seem to have jumped exponentially ever since these deities took over the controls. And they talk to me and tell me about all sorts of things, like agriculture, divination, healing, etc. They also have introduced me to some interesting people. They come to me in dreams and show me things. Actually, they’re a trip. But beyond the weird stuff, they’re also good friends. I trust them and feel comfortable in their presence; and they’re omnipresent.
The relationship between humans and spirits is symbiotic. Possessing humans gives spirits embodied agents in the physical world through which the spirits can extend the range of their activities. Spirits cannot act directly upon the physical world;** all they can do by themselves is wait until a fortuitous juxtaposition of circumstances pops up, and then give things a little tangential shove this way or that. But they are not capable of acting in the world in a sustained, methodical fashion; for that they need human (or animal, or vegetable, or mineral) agents.
The dilemma for the aspirant is that the spiritual path requires calmness, gentleness, and humility; and spirit possession militates against the development of these qualities. On the other hand, the spiritual path also requires fierce determination and an unwavering sense of direction, which are really only available by means of some form of possession. A human guru tries to prevent his or her disciples from indulging in excesses by constantly kicking the legs out from under their self-importance (which is why e.g. Don Juan, Sri Yukteswar, Gurdjieff, etc. were so harsh and abusive to their disciples) ; but with spirit possession there are no such restraints. On the other hand, in this day and age there are very few true gurus out there, so the aspirant on the spiritual path has to make use of what tools are available.
Being possessed by a spirit is like packing a loaded pistol. Some people get a real charge out of having a gun in their hands, and it makes them act in all kinds of crazy and stupid ways. People like that are real dangers to themselves and to others. But there is such a thing as responsible gun handling; and there is such a thing as responsible spirit possession.
The widespread fear and condemnation of spirit possession in our society is complete hypocrisy, considering the sizable percentage of the population that is possessed. Just as up until very recently society made us feel ashamed of our sexuality, so too does society make us fear a perfectly ordinary and commonplace phenomenon such as spirit possession. It’s about time everyone came out of the closet and copped to what’s really going on.
* The exception is black magic, in which demons are quite consciously called and manipulated. Black magic requires great self-control and audacity, since demons will readily turn on the practitioner if given the slightest opportunity to do so. But since black magic is the road to hell, the question of how skillful it is, is debatable.
** Actually, here and there spirits can act on the so-called physical world; poltergeists are an example. But for the most part their interventions are hit-or-miss rather than deliberate and methodical. Spirits need humans to make connections for them in the physical world. This is the purpose of priesthood in all religions.
Copyright: (excerpted from Magical Living, Copyright © 2001 by Bob Makransky. All rights reserved.) I own the copyright.
Location: Coban, Guatemala
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