On Dealing with Demons

‘…in all religious communities
Around the world,
Of whatever cultural allegiance,
People indicate by their behavior
That for them,
Spirit beings are part
Of the larger
All encompassing reality.
As contact with such experiences
In an ever-shrinking world
Becomes more frequent
It behooves us
To treat what others experience
With respect
And should we encounter the believers
As suffering human beings
To confront them on their terms
And not our own.

Speaking In Tongues,
A Cross Cultural Study of Glossolalia
Felicitas D. Goodman

Even though the majority of mental health practitioners are unaware of the groundbreaking 1963 study supported by the National Institute of Mental Health and headed by Dr. Erica Bourguignon of Ohio State University that normalized ecstatic states, they have leapt upon the neo-shamanic bandwagon. The vast majority of shamanic practitioners advertising themselves also hold degrees in the mental health profession. Despite, or perhaps because of, the emphasis on dysfunction in their field, their shamanic practices are normally confined to the positive aspects of the ecstatic state.

Few and far between are those skilled in recognizing and transforming spiritual disorders in Western society. Until that situation is remedied, objective information and non-judgmental help is nearly impossible to come by. In the hopes that a brief practical compendium of what is available might be useful to those in need, who, like most of us, have no socially sanctioned access to rituals or practitioners that can help, I offer the following.

There are two basic types of negative possession. Ghost sickness is a ‘cold’ possession by the spirits of the dead. The symptoms are remarkably similar to the mysterious and intractable maladies of fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue, and hypothyroidism in western medical terms. Long- standing and severe cases can escalate into what western medicine perceives as autoimmune disorders, and may well be deadly. The symptoms of ‘hot’ or acute demonic or negative possession are more dramatic, may involve non-human entities, and tend to be classified as outbursts of mental illnesses or criminal behavior in our times. Either type may include some or all of these uncontrollable activities:

• Insomnia
• Depression
• Hallucinations
• Agitation
• Roaming
• Compulsive eating including strange and noxious substances
• Anorexia escalating into an inability to swallow
• Screaming fits
• Uncontrollable weeping
• Teeth grinding

These physical symptoms

• Fever
• Repulsive stench
• Abnormal sweating, thick, sticky, clammy etc
• Copious foaming saliva
• Vomiting
• Severe abdominal pain
• Trembling escalating into convulsions
• Muscular rigidity escalating into catatonic states
• Abnormal metabolism of drugs
• Dulled sensitivity combined with hyper-reactive reflexes
• Chills

And these personality changes:

• A near total change in facial features
• A near total change in speaking voice escalating into a low rasping growl
• Extra-ordinary and superhuman strength, agility, and endurance
• Unusually rapid, stiff, repetitive, and/or stereotyped movement
• A violent aversion to everything sacred
• Inappropriate and socially unacceptable sexual behavior
• Inappropriate and socially unacceptable urination and defecation
• Aggression escalating into attacking associates
• Auto-aggression escalating into suicidal acts
• Verbal aggression escalating into corprolalia (strings of insults and obscenities),
• and/or prophetic and divinatory pronouncements

While exorcism is the immediate treatment of choice for acute or ‘hot’ possession, as the symptoms are deadly, the sufferer’s susceptibility to repeated encounters is often the real challenge. Even though wrestling with one’s own demons and emerging successful is a recurrent theme in stories of Christian saints, the literature on possession is rife with examples where the Christian priest’s exhortations failed to prevent relapses. The gritty mundane details of just how the Christian Saints went about overcoming their demons are scant even though the idea that the possessed must take steps to reduce and/or control their vulnerability after a successful exorcism is ubiquitous in the literature.

I decided, as did many of those successful in healing their affliction, to look elsewhere for guidance on prevention. First, I found advice from the I Ching, the Book of Changes. This source of ancient Chinese wisdom tells us that:

In a resolute struggle
Of the good against evil
There are, however,
Definite rules
that must not be disregarded,
if it is to succeed.
Resolution must be based
On a union of strength and friendliness.
A compromise with evil is not possible,
Evil must
Under all circumstances
be openly discredited.
Nor must our own passions and shortcomings
Be glossed over.
The struggle must not be carried on
Directly by force.
If evil is branded,
It thinks of weapons,
And if we do it the favor
Of fighting against it
Blow for blow,
We lose in the end
Because we ourselves get entangled
In hatred and passion.

Pg 166 I Ching
by Hellmut Wilhelm

The I Ching is clear on how this struggle is to be won, and its ages old advice is borne out by anthropological observation. All cultures emphasize is that in order for the ecstatic state to be constructive the practitioner needs to be in a positive state of mind. A most accessible version of practical instructions in this vein can be found in the 12 Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous. Unfortunately these steps are regarded with as at least much prejudice and controversy as the services of the charismatic Christians are, and perhaps for the same reason. Both are compelling because something within us recognizes that they are rooted in established, practical, ancient, spiritual practices arising out of our common human experience; and they are controversial, at least in part, because they also are unsettlingly incomplete instructions for a complex personal and social process.

That AA, in all important aspects, is addressing what has been and would be considered a recurrent deadly demonic possession in other cultures is illustrated by the last paragraph of the First Step:

Under the lash of alcoholism
We are driven to AA
And there we discover the fatal nature of our obsession.
Then and only then
Do we become as open-minded
To conviction
And as willing to listen
As the dying can be.
We stand ready to do anything
That will lift the merciless obsession from us

The Second Step responds to not only the endless contention and criticism from both practicing alcoholics and outsiders so ubiquitous in Western society, but to the demonic trait of aversion to the divine as well:

I saw that my attitude
Regarding (AA)
Had been anything but scientific.
It wasn’t AA that had the closed mind,
It was me.
The minute I stopped arguing
I could begin to see and feel.

and gives us a description of exactly what needs to be done to exorcize the demons:

The fact was that we really had not cleaned house
So that the grace of god could enter us
And expel the obsession.
In no deep or meaningful sense
Had we ever taken stock of ourselves,
Made amends to those we had harmed
Or freely given to another human being
Without any demand for reward.
We had not even prayed rightly.
We had always said
‘Grant me my wishes’
Instead of
‘Thy will be done’.
The love of God and man
We understood not at all.
Therefore we remained self-deceived
And so incapable of receiving enough grace
To restore us to sanity.

And the Third Step directly addresses my current subject:

To be sure,
Is necessary,
Faith alone can avail nothing.
We can have faith
Yet keep God out of our lives.
Therefore our problem now becomes
Just how
And by what specific means
Shall we be able to let
Him, a higher power, in?

And adds the testimony of the multitude of people who have found a means to heal themselves, assuring fellow sufferers that:

Nothing short of continuous action
In these (the remaining steps of AA)
Can bring the much desired result.

The rest of the AA steps address the actual practice of living a spiritual life in a difficult world. Steps 4 through 7 lay out the inescapable inner work that must be undertaken:

 Make a fearless and searching moral inventory of ourselves
 Admit to God, to ourselves, AND to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs
 Become willing to have God remove our defects of character
 Ask God to remove our defects of character

The I Ching agrees that these steps are essential and continues to guide us on our way, advising that:

Therefore it is important to begin at home,
To be on guard
In our own persons
Against the faults we have branded.
In this way,
Finding no opponent,
the sharp edges of evil become dulled.
For the same reason,
We should not combat our own faults directly.
As long as we wrestle with them,
They continue victorious.
Finally, the best way to combat evil
Is energetic progress
In the good.

Pg 167 IChing
by Hellmut Wilhelm

AA’s defects of character and the demonic Seven Deadly Sins (click here) are fundamentally the same, although in Christian writings there is a curious blurring of the line between the demons and the Deadly Sins they represent.

• Asmodeus embodies and/or represents Lust
• Leviathan embodies and/or represents Envy
• Beelzebub embodies and/or represents Gluttony (addiction)
• Belphegor embodies and/or represents Sloth (depression)
• Mammon embodies and/or represents Greed
• Amon embodies and/or represents Wrath
• Lucifer embodies and/or represents Pride

As exorcism requires that the possessing entity be named, this makes a sort of sense; however, it does not offer someone who experiences such feelings a method of transforming them. While AA’s defects of character, just like demons, must be named and asked to depart, the responsibility of defining them and the decision to be willing to separate from them rests squarely on the individual alcoholic’s shoulders who must ask to be relieved of their faults themselves. In order for their requests to be answered there is work the alcoholic must do. AA’s amends correspond to the conditions demons demand in order to be able to leave, and AA Steps 8 through 12 are instructions on how to anchor that inner work in the outside world, on how to remain demon-free under stress.

 Make a list of all the persons we had harmed and become willing to make amends to them all
 Make direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to so would injure them or others
 Continue to take personal inventory and when we are wrong, promptly admit it.
 Seek through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God, as we understood him, praying only for knowledge of his will for us and the power to carry that out.
 Having had a spiritual awakening as a result of these steps, we try to carry this message to alcoholics, and to practice these principles in all our affairs.

One of Greg Braden’s books on his spiritual quest concludes with the, to him, astounding realization that the goal of prayer in most non-western societies is not to manipulate some discarnate and distant deity into satisfying our infantile demands, but to acquire a spiritual practice that changes the way the practitioner feels! This seems a novel and impractical attitude to agnostic materialistic Westerners and downright ludicrous to the practicing addict, as the Eleventh Step well knows:

But we recoiled from meditation and prayer
As obstinately as the scientist
Who refused to perform a certain experiment
Lest it prove his pet theory wrong.

Yet benevolent feelings:

• love,
• joy,
• happiness,
• safety,
• beauty,
• peace
• serenity

are both the trigger for and the result of ecstatic states that are experienced as positive interactions with benevolent beings. Research into the physiology of how religious ritual and spiritual practitioners have transformed negative experiences of malevolent beings into constructive ones would of great interest and benefit to those working with and/or afflicted by demons. However, even without that scientifically acceptable information, we already have the spiritual technologies to aid us in our most devastating and desperate moments, if we but have the courage to recognize and utilize them.

Actively pursuing the ability to initiate, direct, and exit the trance state at will AND in a positive state of mind is the best defense against unwilling and/or negative possession. This quote from the Eleventh Step is based on the experience of the hundreds of thousands of people who have found a way to defy their demons and live their own lives:

Those of who have come to
Make regular use of prayer
Would no more do without it
Than we would refuse
Air, light, or food.
And for the same reason.
When we refuse
Air, light, or food,
The body suffers.
When we turn away from
Meditation and prayer
We likewise deprive
Our minds, our emotions, our intuitions
Of vitally needed support.
As the body can fail its purpose
For lack of nourishment,
So can the soul.

Here is a Tibetan Buddhist meditation practice that follows the ritual structure of exorcism that might be helpful for those who are dealing with demons. The opening phase of the Tibetan ritual ‘Feeding Your Demons’ as interpreted for psychologists by Tsültrim Allione starts by following the usual exorcistic protocol:

 Preparations: you relax, purify yourself by breathing and your motivation (f. e. dedicate the practice to the highest benefit of all beings);
 Identifying the Demon: you identify the energy you want to work with within your body: its colour, temperature, consistence etc.;
 Questioning the Demon: you visualize this energy in front of you as a being with a body with eyes, arms, feet… and ask it:
 What do you want?
 What do you need?
 How will you feel when you get what you need?

Then the ritual begins to set out on a slightly different path, as the next step is to empathise with the demon:

 Being the Demon: you change places and answer these questions from demon’s place.

Allowing the beleaguered to take control of their situation by finding the resources within themselves to satisfy the genuine needs driving the demonic activity is the beginning of a fundamental self-transformation. To do this often entails giving up any and all egoic preconceptions of who we are, what we have, what we deserve, and what we should be doing.

 Feeding the Demon: you change place again, connect with your spiritual being and offer anything else (body, ego, identity…) to become a vessel with a nectar; (the nectar contains the essence of what the demon really needs) and you feed the demon with this nectar until he is really satisfied; he might change form or vanish when he is satisfied.

The ritual concludes with a request for transformation, for the transmuted energies to appear to you as allies.

 Meeting the Ally: then you ask you for a helpful being to appear, visualize him/her and ask Questions like:

 How will you help me?
 How will you protect me?
 What promise can you give me?
 How can I contact you?

Then you must be willing to hear the answers to your questions, which may not comply with your expectations in the least.

 Rest in Stillness: then you let go of all images and stay in still awareness.

In general, western psychology is strong on ideas and short on action, and this meditation lacks a crucial step. The Twelfth Step’s conscious willingness to ‘practice these principles in all your affairs’ is the anchor that releases the beleaguered sufferer from reccurrences of their malady. Since I began this series of posts with the medieval poets’ knowledge of how to induce the ecstatic state, I will end with a medieval poetical image of a true Knight, a spiritual warrior who has seamlessly integrated their spiritual practice into their lives:

• The fifth five that was used, as I find by this knight,
• Was free-giving and friendliness first before all
• and chastity and chivalry ever changeless and straight,
• And piety surpassing all points; these perfect five
• Were hasped upon him harder than any man else.
• Now these five series, in sooth, were fastened on this knight,
• And each was knit with another and had no ending
• But were fixed at five points that failed not at all,
• Coincided in no line nor sundered either
• Not ending in any angle anywhere as I discover
• Where ever the process was put into play or passed to an end.

JRR Tolkien
The Green Knight

I’ll leave you with a thought from the Eleventh Step and the multitudes who have found healing and transformation even though they turned to spiritual practices as a last resort:

And let us remember that in reality
Meditation is intensely practical.

Click here for a beginning or for more.


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