Question…is there evidence for the existence of "spirits" and some "spiritual dimension"?

 


draft: September 24, 2001


I have gotten many comments and/or objections to the existence of God that can be summarized as follows:

 

I don’t believe in God, because I don't see any evidence to support the existence of 'invisible' persons (as a category/genus in which to place 'god'). I don’t see any evidence for angels, demons, ghosts, and therefore see no reason not to group them together with other figments of folklore: elves/dwarfs, fairies (even the tooth fairy), gnomes, trolls, genies, centaurs, fire-breathing dragons, vampires, werewolves, and leprechauns. I think postulation of a 'spiritual world' in which God, angels, and demons reside--and which interpenetrates and interoperates with OUR natural universe--is unwarranted speculation (or worse, creation of humans for pathological reasons of manipulation or reality-denial), and almost by definition (or design), unverifiable. And I further believe that the natural world which we can touch, taste, measure, and study is "all there is". Any events within our perceptual experience are therefore reducible to natural causes and forces, with which we are already very familiar.

 

 

What I want to do in this article is survey the data that strongly suggests and/or demonstrates the existence/reality of spiritual 'reality' (or at least provides adequate epistemological warrant for belief in), a very brief definition/description of which would be:

 

1. Spiritual agents. Conscious intelligences, not perceivable by humans or instrumentation unless said intelligence chooses, or is forced to, reveal themselves by action within space-time or within human consciousness. These intelligences have volition and the ability to--at a minimum--introduce energy into spacetime (e.g., via the vacuum) and/or impose a pattern, field, or direction upon existing energy (e.g., moving energy from one place to another, or steering the electrical "circular" flows within the brain). There is a basic analogue in the human consciousness: it cannot be found under the microscope or by instrumentation, it can only be known by its choosing to reveal itself in communication or action within the physical plane, it (plausibly) exists in a hyper-dimensional 'space', and it can exercise 'downward causation' on the physical [see the detail on this in the discussion on The Existence of a Soul, hmosoul.html.]

 

2. Spiritual 'theatre'.  The 'larger landscape', within which the human-perceived spacetime landscape exists as a subset (e.g., within hyper-dimensional space, of which our perceived reality is merely a lower-order subset--see the discussion on Consciousness below). Although humans 'walk about' in this larger landscape, the perception of the features and agents and (perhaps) forces within it are not accessible to human minds except through ASC's (Altered States of Consciousness). Spiritual theatre might include aspects of what is considered 'paranormal' phenomena today: collective unconscious, ESP-like phenomena, "place memories", etc., and it might be 'made' of information, relationships, and/or patterns.

 

 

The method for working through this will include:

 

1. Methodological issues and constraints

 

2. Search method and identification criteria

 

3. Survey of the data: anthropology/missions and  psychiatry/counseling

 

4. ASCs and Spiritual Theatre

 

5. The revolution in the 'nature of nature': consciousness studies, particle physics, and astrophysics.

 

6. Summary

 

7. Implications

 


1. Methodological issues and constraints

 

 

First, let me mention what I am NOT trying to study here.

 

Since we are focused on intelligent agents that are not 'locked into' a specific physical body, substrate, or platform, I clearly am not trying to study "creatures" that are generally considered to be purely/mostly physical or bound-to-physicality.

 

Therefore, I am NOT looking for evidence for the vast majority of folklorist creatures: elves/dwarfs, fairies, gnomes, trolls, genies, centaurs, fire-breathing dragons, vampires, werewolves, shape-shifters, and leprechauns. All of these creatures have their own body or semi-constant physical form, unlike the traditional concepts of angels, demons, and spirits of the dead.

 

Second, since consciousness (including the human mind) is essentially unperceivable per se, we are limited to locating them by their effects, and to phenomenological evidence. We are looking for evidence of  them speaking/signaling though some physical media (e.g. through 'possessed' individuals) or acting through some physical medium (e.g., contradictory muscle agonists in their clients, or apparitions of various types) .

 

Our preference, of course, will be for linguistic-based effects (broadly considered) of self-disclosure, as opposed to the "knock twice for 'yes', three times for 'no'" kinds of interaction.

 

Third, the possibility for deception here is significant. The mass of historical material describing such beings portrays them as not altogether friendly or 'cooperative' with humans. Indeed, much of the material portrays them as decidedly malevolent or capricious, and, although 'good spirits' are described in this material, the preponderance of mentions involve malicious intelligences.

 

If this mass of historical material contains even a tiny fraction of legitimate material, this means that the possibility of dealing with a 'psychopathic' agent is very real. And, as in the case of dealing with psychopathic human minds, we must be aware that the 'data presented' may be quite erroneous and misleading, and may be such for purposes manipulative, deceptive, and/or harmful.

 

Methodologically, we are not trying to determine the truth of any such linguistic pronouncements, but rather the fact of such a pronouncement--do we have adequate warrant for believing said pronouncement was not generated by the physical medium/substrate though which it came (nor, in trickery situations, by accomplices)?

 

Fourth, the different possibility of human-originated deception is likewise significant. We have a very large stock of outright hoaxes, misrepresentations, misunderstandings, and 'fertile imaginations' in our data. Hopefully, we can concentrate our efforts on data from (a) reputable sources; and (b) "reluctant" sources, without a vested interest in demonstrating the reality of this phenomenon (or a least the details within those phenomena).

 

Fifth, if, as suggested by the historical material, the majority of our data will occur in events inimical to humans, then many of these cases will also manifest biological pathologies. This entails that we may have a difficult time discriminating between 'bottom-up" pathologies and those that are 'top-down', and challenges in identifying/disentangling the various causalities involved. [It is interesting that in the historical material, these spirits are more often connected with biological/organic processes (e.g. disease, death, knowledge, crops) than with purely physical effects (e.g., winds, floods).]

 

Sixth, we will have a difficult challenge in separating pure hallucinatory experiences from 'spiritual theatre' ones. All hallucinations are not ASC's (e.g., those experienced by people with high fevers), and all ASC's do not 'look hallucinatory' (e.g, the case where the ASC's of German (highly skeptical) medical students were essentially empty of content.).

 

Seventh, we will have to rein-in our tendency to anthropomorphize patterns of data by concentrating on those experiences that have high 'linguistic' or 'human symbolic' content. We are looking for 'disclosure' data first and foremost, and 'audit trail' data secondarily.

 

This corresponds roughly to what therapists look for. They can make certain diagnoses on the basis of observed behavior--compulsive hand washing, for example--but rely heavily on a client revealing stories and feelings from their past. Just watching a person's un-annotated actions will never reveal the specific traumatic experience that might have happened in childhood. These client stories create a personal theatre in which the therapist can begin to create diagnostic hypotheses. As such, disclosure data is of primary interest to us.

 

However, just as many psychiatrist and therapist treatment and diagnosis strategies are based upon the reality of  unconscious or subconscious mentation (highly unobservable, btw, but truly believed to exist!), so too we need to be alert to patterns that might indicate some unseen consciousness. So, although secondary in importance--and also more difficult to authenticate--data of a non-disclosure basis is still worth considering.

 

Eight, we are not interested in investigating the generic 'miracle' here. The inscription describing a certain supplicant with an empty eye socket, who spent the night in the Temple of Asclepius around 350 BC, and after dreaming that the god poured something in his eye, woke up with a newly grown-back eyeball, is "interesting" but it offers little evidence that can be closely correlated to some spiritual intelligence. [Miracles could be discussed as evidence for the supernatural and/or spiritual theatre, but they would fall into the secondary, non-linguistic category anyway.] On the other hand, if an 'foreign' intelligence manifests knowledge that is quite impossible for the substrate person to know (e.g., foreign languages), then this 'semi-miraculous' attribute of the consciousness will be a clue that it is not a simple 'alter ego' or projection.

 

Nine, and quite sobering, are the implications of presumably superior beings. If, again looking at the historical data and at the teachings of most of religious systems, these intelligences are reputed to be more powerful than us, then the dangers of contact with and interaction with them are obvious. Not only would they have superior abilities to influence, affect, or harm us, but they also would have an epistemic advantage that goes far beyond the simple "they can see us, but we cannot see them". If some of the spirit possession/exorcism stories are true, then these would have the ability to overpower our wills, resist personal efforts to 'dislodge' it, and exert destructive forces on our minds and lives (similar to what some alters do in MPD/DID cases). Even ancestral spirits of the dead have been thought to have the ability to harm the living, as witnessed to by the vast amount of efforts to ameliorate their influence through magic and funerary cults. This factor would strongly suggest we limit our research to second-order study: critically reading the accounts and experiences of  others, and avoiding direct contact with these entities ourselves. Just as we can study tornados without having to walk directly into one, so too we can learn from reliable reports, studies, and experiences of others. [We will discuss this further in our comments on shamans, who routinely profess to 'control' these spirits.]

 

It is interesting to note here that the three large monotheistic religions all teach that the Supreme God limits the activities of most of these 'lesser spirits', attempts to protect us from them, and discourages contact with them, giving some indication of the historical tradition of their malignancy.

 

Ten, we are not talking about the 'big gods' here. We are not trying to investigate the existence of a Supreme God in a monotheistic or henotheistic system.

 

Eleven, we are not talking about 'transcendence'. Arguments for the existence of 'other-world' realities, based upon the existence of beauty, order, numbers, ideals, ethics, etc. are outside our purview. We are talking about 'in your immanent face' intelligences.

 

 

 

2. Search method and identification criteria

 

Given the provisional definitions/descriptions of what we are looking for, a couple of areas of knowledge immediately suggest themselves for research: religion, occultism, and abnormal psychology (especially the dissociative disorders).

 

The religious arena, although it historically has long been the "cartographer of spiritual realms", is not uniform in its fertility for our research. The dominant monotheistic religions, for example, offer a worldview filled with these beings, but also relegate them to minor interaction with our world. The angels, demons, and jinn may be real and may surround us, but they are only manifested to us in extreme situations, and are certainly not 'on call' to answer our research inquiries. They do, however, often provide us with (a) suggestions for our research; and (b) literary trails of such encounters in the past. And, in the areas of exorcism and possession, they do provide a wide range of contemporary events for study.

 

Of more relevance and usefulness to us, however, are the shamanistic religions, in which a plethora of spirits are known and routinely interacted with. Modern field studies by anthropologists over the past century has documented many events and routine interactions of use to us, and will provide a reputable base from which to work.

 

Somewhat related to the above is the area of occult practice, involving open invocation of spirits and attempts to interact with, and often, attempts to manipulate said spirits for human purposes. [The boundaries between religion, shamanism, and magic are hugely debated, but are of no importance to our quest here.]

 

Abnormal psychology, especially in the range of psychiatric pathologies known as "dissociative disorders" , provide another area of intense relevance for our study here. So, psychiatry and counseling practitioners will be another reputable area of data.

 

Our identification criteria are rather straightforward for intelligences, but a bit less so for spiritual theatre.

 

For intelligences, we seek to find physiologically-active intelligences, that manifest characteristics well beyond the capabilities of the client-self (the 'possessed'). This is not simply paranormal characteristics of the self--such as superhuman strength on occasion--but something discontinuous with everything (a) we know about the client-self; and (b) we consider biologically 'reasonable' for such a client-self. Projected personalities, that are created by the client-self in DID's (for example, to 'act out' various repressed attitudes) do not automatically count. They might be related to external intelligences, but we may not be able to accept them as 'data' given this ambiguity. The greater the distance from the characteristics, desires, and capabilities of the client-self, the greater the warrant for believing the alter to be an independent intelligence.

 

For spiritual theatre, we seek either repeatable demonstration of paranormal forces; 'oddities' without our normal perceptual range best explained by some version of spiritual theatre; and collaborative experiences of the larger landscape (after adjustments are made for joint expectations for the experience, etc.). We will also consider consistency of descriptions of this landscape, if it occurs in geographically and cultural diverse settings. This is  less precise than for intelligences, but might provide some supporting (or suggestive) data.

 

 

3. Survey of the data: anthropology/missions and psychiatry/counseling

 

My intent here is not to drill-down into the details of each of these fields, but to cite relevant summaries of some of the researchers in each field. I do intend to suggest some level of synthesis and explanation as we go.

 

The information from the fields will overlap somewhat, since the subject under discussion is at the intersection of several fields dealing with human intelligence and our symbolic universe.

 

The data from anthropology focuses largely on ritual and deliberate possession, and in access methods to the spiritual theatre in which other beings are said to exist. The sources will notice, though, non-ritual cases as well. Non-ritual cases will also be advanced by missionaries and by religious counselors.

 

The data from psychiatry/psychology focuses largely on individual possession cases, in which a wide variety of symptoms present themselves, and in which there is a great deal of overlap with the observations of the anthropologists.

 

 

Anthropology.

 

Anthropology provides us with the most comprehensive set of observational data for our study, and their data is fairly rigorous. Most of the data concerns shamanistic practices, ASCs, and institutionalized possession rituals. Shamans interact with, and are often said to be 'possessed by' other spirits; whole groups of people may experience ritual-induced trance/ASC's in shared spiritual theatre; and individual religious experience may take the form of deliberate possession rituals. The realities experienced by the groups are culture-specific: only the right 'spirits' can play. If your culture doesn't 'believe in spirits', then your ASC will be physiologically 'real', but very empty of content.  Whatever the cognitive and perceptual content, the physiological changes that are introduced in these experiences are pan-cultural. In the material below, I will mix summary statements with descriptive statements from the published data (about trance 'mechanics', ASCs, and spirit interaction dynamics), to give additional vividness to the reality of this phenomenon.

 

Pilch gives us some explanation of the trance-state and how it opens us up to this 'larger landscape':

 

"The key defining characteristic of a trance is its intensely focused attention which reduces awareness of the experience context, namely, objects, stimuli or environment outside the specific focus. The object of intensely focused attention can be internal or external…In a trance, contact with self and others is modified in a distinctive way. This modification can range from total unconsciousness to a very mild distraction…It can be induced in a variety of ways, including hypnosis, dissociation, fear or tension, biochemical agents (such as incense, aromatic scents etc.) and illness…Trance behavior follows definite cultural role types which make cultural sense. The role must be internally coherent, that is, it must be available in the culture. As a result, there are constraints on individual behaviour in trance. The spirits who appear in trance are also constrained, for example, by consideration of rank and deference among other things. Though also bounded by time and space during the apparition, visitors from the 'other' world exist outside of time, a purely human creation." [NT:MEC:53]

 

 

One of the leading anthropological researchers in this field is Felicitas Goodman, who I quote extensively from below [X:NS:HADPE], and her introductory warning about treating this as 'superstition' is quite relevant here.

 

"…I am honestly convinced that it is important to the understanding of possession and exorcism, as for that matter of any religious experience, to realize that humans react as total beings, body and soul, and not as some disembodied spirit floating in a vacuum. Some theologians of my acquaintance are deeply committed to the latter view, most certainly because they never had a religious experience to speak of. But the evidence speaks against them. For what we see instead is that changes in the body and perceived experience are inseparable aspects in possession, as in any other bona fide religious experience. The cross-cultural agreement in physiological changes marks us a members of a single species. The significant differences in perceived experience illustrates how strong we are shaped by our respective cultures, our belief systems. Contemplating possession and exorcism in a holistic manner by paying attention to both these aspects will underline its reality and help us to restore dignity to a topic that has too long languished in the bonds of 'superstition' in the public view" [X:NS:HADPE:xvi]

 

 

First of all, let me point out that anthropologists increasingly are taking seriously the fact that something unexplainable by Western science is going on here. Much can be explained, but much simply remains as an 'unexplainable' residue--unless you take the indigenous explanation about 'spirits' seriously…

 

"It goes without saying that onlookers witnessing such extraordinary behavior are at a loss about how to interpret what they saw. Some anthropologists like to speak of role playing during possession ceremonies. In fact, that is the explanation most often advanced in the literature. Erika Bourguignon's words,  "Possession offers alternative roles, which satisfy certain individual needs, and it does so by providing the alibi that the behavior is that of the spirits and not of the human beings themselves".  In other words, in this view the participants in a vodun ceremony just described are fine actors and change their demeanor in keeping with personal needs and social expectations. Less polite observers, especially of the Freudian school, speak of auto-suggestion and self -hypnosis, aided by a willing audience, or of downright faking…On the face of it, the interpretation of' possession as role playing seems very attractive, principally because it violates no cherished notions about how things are, or are supposed to be: there is really nothing out of the ordinary going on, just some ignorant or superstitious people playing games. But there are those anthropologists, such as Herskovits who, after witnessing scenes like the ones described above, obviously are not so sure that this is all there is to it. Faking seems out of' the question in view of the sacred nature of the rituals involved. More important, these religious practitioners undergo such radical changes during possession that it is difficult to credit mere acting ability, no matter how outstanding, and even if aided by "auto-suggestion and self -hypnosis," however that might work. One comes away with the distinct impression that something more incisive is going off, not role playing but transformationHow such profound alteration could come about, no one could even guess. Our ethnographic consultants, the people in the field who are willing and able to talk to us about their own culture, their religious experiences, the hungans, medicine men, shamans, mediums, Pentecostal speakers in tongues, all point to the presence of spiritual beings as sufficient explanation. [X:NS:HADPE:14f]

 

"While Western-type psychiatric and biomedical treatment of the condition [MPD--Multiple Personality Disorder] often remains ineffective, it seems that at least in some cases exorcism works promptly and well. What sets these cases apart, according the observations of the California psychiatrist Ralph B. Allison, are certain characteristics of the alternate personalities themselves. He contends that under ordinary circumstance, alternate personalities arise and serve a definite and practical purpose. An alter 'is a means of coping with an emotion or situation that the patient cannot handle'. Sometimes it is difficult  to discover what that original purpose was, but eventually, the psychiatrist can pinpoint both the cause and the time or situation in a patient's life when the 'birth' of such an alternate took place. Treatment aims at teaching the patient alternate coping strategies, which then ideally would mean that the alters would dissolve. But aside from the fact that in his experience this hoped-for resolution did not always come about, Allison also occasionally came across entities in his work with multiples that acted anomalously. Their 'birth' could not be pinpointed, they served no recognizable purpose, and quite frequently they referred to themselves as spirits. They were not always absolutely evil. In one case a male being calling itself Dennis appeared seemingly out of nowhere and then refused to leave because it had fallen in love with one of the alters of Allison's patient. The entity was not demonic, just bothersome. But in the case of Carrie, a multiple patient Allison had treated for years, a truly furious possession took place suddenly and without warning, exhibiting some of the traits of demonic possession we will discuss later; the alter screamed obscenities, had super-human strength, and was viciously aggressive. Before Allison could help, Carrie committed suicide. People suffering from demonic possession often report that the demon wants to kill them by forcing them into a suicidal act. In this instance, it happened." [X:NS:HADPE:84f]

 

"Perhaps anthropology should also warn a scientific audience like this against hoping for too much statistical data. Many of the situations which result in performances of possession are spontaneous and cannot be set up experimentally. This is why we are so dependent on the literature and notebooks of anthropologists, missionaries and colonial servants. Most of the performers cannot be recalled for interviewing. Even those cases which are stimulated deliberately, and in which communal assemblies have waited in expectation, many of them, especially those associated with esoteric cults, have been religious acts which must be performed in their entirety without interruption by any foreigner. The anthropologist or missionary has been able only to sit and observe, without any camera or tape recorder. Yet such case studies exist in abundance for the researcher who is willing to search them out one by one over many years." [X:TH:DPMHAT:145f]

 

"I have a strong methodological problem with any attempt to dismiss the observed data of these accounts, because they create spiritual and psychological problems. As long as there are unexplained data the case is open. One recalls the work of Herskovits, recently republished (1971), which took possession seriously (apart from cases of manifest simulation), and reacted against any tendency to deal with everything within range of psychopathology, which he said 'is to approach it handicapped by a fundamental misconception'. He considered the phenomena of possession as still yet 'unsatisfactorily explained'. Anthropologically speaking, his work cannot be lightly dismissed, especially with respect to Afro-Americans, who share the biblical view of possession.' [X:TH:DPMHAT:146]

 

"When one has eliminated the spurious and psychopathological cases one is still left with a considerable residue of material which appears to be genuine possession. I must agree with Montague Summers: '…When every allowance has been made for incorrect diagnosis, for ill-informed ascriptions of rare and obscure forms of both physical and mental maladies, for credulity, honest mistakes, and exaggerations of every kind, there will yet remain a very considerable quota which it seems impossible to account for and explain, save on the score of possession by some evil and hostile intelligence.' Within prima facie possession several anthropologists have devised their own classifications." [X:TH:DPMHAT:148]

 

“Some Siberian shamans admit to using tricks, but claim their feats would not work if spirits were not helping them. Other behavior, including actual cures, is less easily explained with “Western” scientific knowledge.” (“Shamanism” by Marjorie Mandelstam Balzer, in Encyclopedia of Cultural Anthropology:1184)

 

"Psychological anthropology supports and documents his conclusion (Pilch 1993a; Hsu 1972). Dodds (1951: 131, n. 84) observes: 'As Pfister (in Pauly-Wissowa, Epiphanie) says, we cannot doubt that the mass of ancient epiphany stories corresponds to something in ancient religious experience, even though we can seldom or never be quite sure that any particular story has a historical basis.' Luck (1989: 214) concurs: 'Visions such as the theurgists claimed to have experienced are rejected instinctively by the modern mind because of our scientific habits of thought, but it seems impossible, considering the evidence we have, to declare all these experiences 'unreal', or call them cleverly orchestrated deceit.' Anthropologists like Bourguignon and Kleinman (cited by Pilch 1993a: 233) confirm Smythie's conclusion that 'the decision to call only ordinary sense-experience real is an isolated phenomenon of our more recent type of Western European culture' (cited by Luck 1989:216)" [NT:MEC:56f]

 

 

These ritual possession states and ASC's are universal (but not all ASCs/trances are possession):

 

"It [the five-year field studies result of Erika Bourguignon, begun in 1963, under a grant from the National Institute of Mental Health] demonstrated instead that nearly all the societies examined include some form of religious trance in their rituals. In one sample alone of 488 societies, for instance, 437, or ninety percent, had one or more institutionalized, culturally patterned forms of the religious altered state of consciousness…It is clear that we are dealing with a psycho-biological capacity available to all societies…They [researchers] could begin looking at it [religious trance] as the expression of a ubiquitous, perfectly normal genetic endowment instead [of a psychotic pathology, such as hysteria or epilepsy]" [X:NS:HADPE:5]

 

"Some twenty-five years ago, Erika Bourguignon had demonstrated that visionary, trance-state experiences and other forms of ASCs exist in institutionalized form among most societies comprising world's population. Pilch offers an overview of her data, as follows: 'ASCs can be induced either directly and intentionally or indirectly and unintentionally. On a continuum, such experiences extend from REM sleep (rapid eye movement) on one end through trance and culminate in possession trance on the other, with many different experiences in between. These insights and further details about them are based on a meticulous analysis of the ethnographic literature from 488 societies in all parts of the world including 44 circum-Mediterranean societies. Ninety percent of these societies reported one or more institutionalized, culturally patterned forms of ASC. Eighty percent of circum-Mediterranean societies shared the same experience…(Pilch 1998a).'" [NT:AAJ:354]

 

"Goodman has, in fact, demonstrated that it is not difficult to teach individuals how to access ASC states; she has done so in public with rather incredulous Western subjects (graduating German medical students). But persons from social systems where ASCs are not institutionalized find their experiences to be vacuous, contentless. It seems the reason for this is that they bring no culturally significant and expected scenarios to the experience. In other words, as Walsh likewise notes, '[ASC] experiences are consistent with the world view and ontocosmology of the tradition…supportive of the world-view.'" [NT:AAJ:357]

 

"In summary, then, we need to understand a number of different concepts in order to comprehend the worldwide phenomenon of possession and exorcism. On the psychological level, we have come to know the notion underlying all possession, namely, that the body is a shell, inhabited by a soul, and that this shell may on occasion be surrendered to an intrusive alien entity. The nature of this being and the circumstances of entry are culturally structured, so culture is another important basic term. On the physiological level, there is the altered state of consciousness of ecstasy and the emergence of brain maps. Ritual acts as a bridge that connects the events on the psychological and the physiological levels, leading to experience. " [X:NS:HADPE:24]

 

"As we shall see, it [exorcism] is the only strategy used cross-culturally against demonic possession, and in all instances where it is allowed to work without interference, it is eminently successful." [X:NS:HADPE:86]

 

 

Anthropologists distinguish between the ritual-based possession (communal), and non-ritual possession (individual, and more spontaneous):

 

"Normally, to return to an earlier distinction I made, central possession is communal, strongly institutionalized, and ritualistically induced, but peripheral possession is more normally individual and spontaneous. The tendency may well be for us to think of demon possession as something that involves scattered individuals, who require attention for their mental health. Quite apart from the probability that it is more often their spiritual health which needs repair, I hope that this paper will direct your attention to many highly institutionalized, induced, communal possession cults in our midst." [X:TH:DPMHAT:167]

 

 

The spirits in both cases, however, which do the 'possessing' produce profound behavioral, affective, and intellectual changes in the client--they are no longer the same person in the least:

 

"Observers never cease to be amazed at the creativity that people show during and after a trance of this nature. I have heard hardworking, taciturn Maya Indian peasants, who in ordinary life had difficulty uttering two coherent sentences in public, bringing forth poetry of surpassing beauty in ecstasy. Japanese religious leaders write truly enormous volumes of religious thought, again often in poetic form, while possessed by their deity, as we shall see. And the pronouncements of demons, thought to speak from the mouths of the possessed, have been quoted by emperors and popes." [X:NS:HADPE:9]

 

"Entering into ecstasy under ritual guidance and with the help of driving or another induction strategy is perceived by many practitioners as a more or less clearly marked transition, like stepping across a barrier, a point where a marked change takes place. The observer can also note it because of the sudden change in physical appearance of the religious practitioner, as mentioned above. Yet not all control is lost. Mothers never drop their infants, for instance, while moving quite impressively during ecstasy. A minimal channel is also kept open for perceiving outside stimuli. Although people in ecstasy tend to draw closer together, they do not bump into each other; neither do they stumble over  obstacles…The open channel for outside stimuli, no matter how narrow it may be, also facilitates the return to ordinary consciousness." [X:NS:HADPE:11]

 

"[upon possession, the shaman does not behave in his normal day-to-day way] Rather, astounding things begin to occur. The Yanomamo shaman in whose chest the hekura has take  up residence is no longer the same person he was before. His facial expression is radically different: he moves as he would never do in ordinary life…even his voice is unrecognizable…Rarely will a practitioner of this sort remember afterwards what took place." [X:NS:HADPE:12]

 

 

The alternate personalities in MPD (multiple-personality disorder) or DID (dissociative identity disorder) manifest many of the same characteristics (although many of these would not necessarily be 'outside' personalities at all):

 

"The results [of testing for evoked potentials in brain wave firing patterns] indicated that the alternate personalities of a multiple had their own characteristic patterns that varied significantly from each other." [X:NS:HADPE:19]

 

Alternates can reflect different allergies and sensitivities to drugs, due to the different brain maps! [X:NS:HADPE:23]

 

"…patients suffering from this condition experience themselves as having several discreet personalities called alternates that do not share consciousness or memories with their host. That means that the host does not know or is not able to recall what the various alternate personalities do, and extended periods of amnesia, often starting during childhood, are characteristically reported by these patients. Each one of the alternates has its own complex social patterns and behavior. When a given personality is dominant, it will control the individual's behavior. As should be obvious by now, this description could just as well be cited in any discussion of the experience of possession. There are, however, in the main two differences between this disorder and possession as a religious experience. One of these concerns how the phenomenon is located culturally, that is, what society, especially those charged with treating the patient, thinks is going on. The other is the nature of the beings involved in the possession." [X:NS:HADPE:79f]

 

"As to the nature of the alternate personalities, the alter may be of the opposite sex and/or of a life style very different from that of the host personality. Clinicians frequently see personality types that have a definite function to perform in the patient's life. There is a child personality buffering traumatic experience, and there are 'Inner Self helpers.' In contrast to these kindly entities, at least one of the alternate personalities present is usually noxious to varying degrees. A patient whose case was reported by Edward W. Beal had one among her three personalities called Marie, who was 'insensitive, hostile, overly suspicious and overbearing.' Others found alters that were cold, belligerent, sullen, and 'scary to interview,' and experienced therapists warn that psychiatrists must be wary and can expect violence on the part of the patient when such alters are 'out'. In additions, multiples also experience persecutors who inflict punishment, often in the form of self-mutilation or suicide. The latter is sometimes a criminal, and murderous, evil personality. In other words, the entities appearing in such a person may be kindly, dangerous, or even demonic." [X:NS:HADPE:80f]

 

The many possession/ASC experiences (especially the institutionalized versions) do NOT match up with psycho-pathological categories--these shamans and trance-participants are not 'sick' by Western standards at all, and do NOT map to 'explainable' categories of mental illness:

 

"Put differently, the only way a spirit, an alien entity, can take possession of a human's body is if that body first undergoes certain specific changes, an alteration of consciousness termed religious trance or ecstasy. When these changes happen, humans begin to act in a nonordinary way. There might be dizziness, trembling, convulsions, even a dead faint. That is quite disconcerting to Western-trained anthropologists, who may be tempted to interpret what they see in psychiatric terms." [X:NS:HADPE:4]

 

"It [the five-year field studies result of Erika Bourguignon, begun in 1963, under a grant from the National Institute of Mental Health] demonstrated instead that nearly all the societies examined include some form of religious trance in their rituals. In one sample alone of 488 societies, for instance, 437, or ninety percent, had on or more institutionalized, culturally patterned forms of the religious altered state of consciousness…It is clear that we are dealing with a psycho-biological capacity available to all societies…They [researchers] could begin looking at it [religious trance] as the expression of a ubiquitous, perfectly normal genetic endowment instead [of a psychotic pathology, such as hysteria or epilepsy]" [X:NS:HADPE:5]

 

"Walsh has developed a model that provides for a multidimensional description and phenomenological mapping of features allowing for a comparisons of alternate states of consciousness based on ten years of research and personal experience. He uses the model to highlight the significant features that characterize the profiles of schizophrenics described in the American Psychiatric Association's Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (1980). He then sets out these features in comparative array alongside characteristics of shamans in journey trance states, Buddhist Vipassana meditaters and Patanjali yogins. The comparison demonstrates that ASCs are not pathological, as ethnocentric Western observers might think. His cross-cultural comparison indicates quite clearly that the three ASC traditions he cites have almost nothing in common with schizophrenia." [NT:AAJ:361]

 

 

But in all cases in which other personalities are involved--in ritual possession or in MPDs--there is a clash of wills between the client/host and the other intelligence. There is emotional conflict and often much physical stress associated with 'transfer of control' of the body to the other agent:

 

"And there may even be a conflict between the owner of the body and the spirit that would like to take it over for the time being. Siberian shamans tell of knock-down, drag-out fights between their souls and an invading spirit. As the Hungarian folklorist Vilmos Dioszegi described it: 'The spirit that is about to take up its abode in the body of the shaman starts battling with the shaman's own soul; it tries to suppress it and force it into submission. Frequently, the [invading] spirit does not succeed until after a prolonged and vicious struggle. That is why the start of the experience, of the total ecstasy, is preceded by lengthy agony, by nervous trembling, dizziness, and vomiting. When the spirit is finally victorious, the shaman's soul has been fettered and silenced; it can say nothing at all. Instead, it is the spirit that penetrated that does the speaking, that acts and moves by using the shaman's body.'" [X:NS:HADPE:3]

 

"Put differently, the only way a spirit, an alien entity, can take possession of a human's body is if that body first undergoes certain specific changes, an alteration of consciousness termed religious trance or ecstasy. When these changes happen, humans begin to act in a nonordinary way. There might be dizziness, trembling, convulsions, even a dead faint. That is quite disconcerting to Western-trained anthropologists, who may be tempted to interpret what they see in psychiatric terms." [X:NS:HADPE:4]

 

"Along with hyperarousal [i.e., agitation], facial expression alters radically, and there is a change in muscle tension. Dr. Putnam [psychiatrist] considers increased muscle tension to be one of the most telling external signals for the 'arrival' or coming out of an alternate personality in a multiple. That is, multiples and those possessed have this in common also, that both their bodies (muscles, facial expression) and their behavior (in the form of hyperarousal) change under special circumstances, the multiples when a particular alternate personality is 'out,' and the religious practitioners when they are possessed. And if we remember that Eve Black perceives the world not the way Eve White does, but quite differently, and that the vodun practitioner in possession sees the world as a Yoruba god would, also changed, that is, we are justified in maintaining that both the patient and the vodun dancer are in an altered perceptual state, in trance." [X:NS:HADPE:20]

 

 

Not only are some alters/spirits radically different from the client/shaman in character, behavior, and personality, they are also often quite different in morals, propensity to violence, self-destructiveness, and evil:

 

"As to the nature of the alternate personalities, the alter may be of the opposite sex and/or of a life style very different from that of the host personality. Clinicians frequently see personality types that have a definite function to perform in the patient's life. There is a child personality buffering traumatic experience, and there are 'Inner Self helpers.' In contrast to these kindly entities, at least one of the alternate personalities present is usually noxious to varying degrees. A patient whose case was reported by Edward W. Beal had one among her three personalities called Marie, who was 'insensitive, hostile, overly suspicious and overbearing.' Others found alters that were cold, belligerent, sullen, and 'scary to interview,' and experienced therapists warn that psychiatrists must be wary and can expect violence on the part of the patient when such alters are 'out'. In additions, multiples also experience persecutors who inflict punishment, often in the form of self-mutilation or suicide. The latter is sometimes a criminal, and murderous, evil personality. In other words, the entities appearing in such a person may be kindly, dangerous, or even demonic." [X:NS:HADPE:80f]

 

"But the contention that the crime was committed while the offender was possessed by a demon keeps cropping up as a defense in criminal court cases. And the literature contains records of a number of famous killers who maintained until the day of their execution that they were innocent of the crimes they had been convicted of and that they had absolutely no memory of having committed any of it. Were the hosts in these instances in fact innocent, and were they killed by the state for the crimes of their alters?" [X:NS:HADPE:83]

 

"While Western-type psychiatric and biomedical treatment of the condition often remains ineffective, it seems that at least in some cases exorcism works promptly and well. What sets these cases apart, according the observations of the California psychiatrist Ralph B. Allison, are certain characteristics of the alternate personalities themselves. He contends that under ordinary circumstance, alternate personalities arise and serve a definite and practical purpose. An alter 'is a means of coping with an emotion or situation that the patient cannot handle'. Sometimes it is difficult  to discover what that original purpose was, but eventually, the psychiatrist can pinpoint both the cause and the time or situation in a patient's life when the 'birth' of such an alternate took place. Treatment aims at teaching the patient alternate coping strategies, which then ideally would mean that the alters would dissolve. But aside from the fact that in his experience this hoped-for resolution did not always come about, Allison also occasionally came across entities in his work with multiples that acted anomalously. Their 'birth' could not be pinpointed, they served no recognizable purpose, and quite frequently they referred to themselves as spirits. They were not always absolutely evil. In one case a male being calling itself Dennis appeared seemingly out of nowhere and then refused to leave because it had fallen in love with one of the alters of Allison's patient. The entity was not demonic, just bothersome. But in the case of Carrie, a multiple patient Allison had treated for years, a truly furious possession took place suddenly and without warning, exhibiting some of the traits of demonic possession we will discuss later; the alter screamed obscenities, had super-human strength, and was viciously aggressive. Before Allison could help, Carrie committed suicide. People suffering from demonic possession often report that the demon wants to kill them by forcing them into a suicidal act. In this instance, it happened." [X:NS:HADPE:84f]

 

 

Paranormal strength has been known to be occasionally present in other mental illness categories--so it is not an absolute indicator of alien spirits--but superhuman knowledge is a clear indicator of an intelligence WAY beyond our experience and explanatory hypotheses [this will also show up in our Psychiatry/Counseling data section]:

 

"In the beginning [of one of the cases Goodman discusses in detail, events occurring around 1985], there were a large number of demons; later on only two remained, but they refused to give their names, although Gregoria kept asking for them. Marci [the possessed girl of about twelve] had practically no schooling, she could neither read nor write, yet the demons sounded highly educated. They named a large number of places where 'without using a bus or a plane' they had been roaming for the past two thousand years, localities in Mexico and in the United States and other paces the names of which Gregoria did not recognize. The demons also described disputes in the temple, which Marci had no way of knowing about. When the demons spoke, they never sounded like Marci. They either used a thin, piping voice or the trembling voice of a very old woman, and even the deep one of an old man." [X:NS:HADPE:110]

 

"One of the early accounts of the theory of possession which may be considered as belonging to modern anthropology was that of E. B. Tylor, the father of the anthropological study of primitive religion. Tylor's theory of daemoniacal possession was based on a great many descriptions of the phenomenon which he had from travelers and missionaries who had observed it [in China]. Among the significant physical manifestation, the possessed individual's enthusiasm demonstrated 'giant strength' and also 'eloquence beyond his sober faculties to command' and afterwards the possession experience left him exhausted." [X:TH:DPMHAT:152]

 

"[In the studies of John L. Nevius:] Wang Yung-ngen of Peking pointed out that persons who had no ability for song might become competent singers under possession, and others with no natural capacity for poetry could compose rhyme with ease under possession. He found northerners speaking the languages of the South, which they did not know, and oblivious to it after the conclusion of the experience. A Chefoo boy was possessed of a demon who spoke of his friends in Nanking." [X:TH:DPMHAT:153]

 

"According to May, the leader of the Dancing Religion Sect recognizes two kinds of 'speaking spirits.' One of these is a foreign spirit, a wandering ghost seeking salvation. The possessed subject will speak in the foreign language of the troublesome spirit." [X:TH:DPMHAT:160]

 

"Mbiti (1969) records the personality change which took place under possession among the novices of Fon and Yoruba convicts who, when possessed, spoke in a foreign language, and after emerging from the experience had to relearn their own language." [X:TH:DPMHAT:163]

 

"Another differentiating mark of demon possession is the evidence it gives of knowledge and intellectual power not possessed by the subject" [X:TH:DPMHAT:224]

 

 

 

 

Psychiatrists, psychologists, and others from the medical/counseling field:

 

Essentially, we will see a similar set of issues and conclusions, although some of the social elements will be noticeably absent. The discussion will deal largely with possession and/or alters, and the reality of exorcistic treatments in certain cases.

 

Just as some anthropologists have been trying to get the rest of their field to notice this reality, the 'real world' of clinical practice has a way of getting the attention of science also:

 

"Dr Frank Lake in a talk on the demonic recalled the occasion when 'Hans Rudi Weber was giving a talk on Christ's Victory over the Demonic Powers to this large gathering of psychiatrists and theologians. It was quite amusing to see how uncomfortable the theologians were at this strange exhibition of what I think they regarded as Medievalism from a distinguished member of their own theological group. It was as if they were apologizing to the scientific psychiatrists present that a theologian had returned to the era of demons and evil possession. By contrast the psychiatrists were in fact leaning forward eagerly recognizing that the collective demonic is something with which they are continually dealing. As they said afterwards, 'Why didn't some theologian tell us about this before? We know what he's talking about, we live with it'" [X:TH:BDUFE:109f]

 

 

First of all, as we saw with anthropology, the medical/psychiatric/therapist field shows a growing openness to the existence of discarnate spirits, and a growing realization that Western science cannot adequately address this issue:

 

"Even in psychology classrooms, people who once dismissed the supernatural with a sneer, are beginning to have second thoughts. Some are even concluding that 'psychology, like natural science, may need alternative and even contradictory hypotheses to deal with the complexity of the human psyche.'" [X:TH:DPMHAT:243]

 

"The examples I shall give come from over one hundred and fifty documented cases in which exorcism has been used." [X:TH:DPMHAT:268]

 

"These cases all showed no response to known treatment but were cured instantly through prayer, not necessarily with the approval or consent or even awareness by the victim." [X:TH:DPMHAT:271]

 

"Dr. Jean Lhermitte, the French neurologist, has had a large number of cases of possession pass through his hands...He considers that the one who is demonized is not necessarily sinful in himself, but that the infestation enters via an area which lies between mind and soul, especially when a person has been weakened through illness. In his classification he describes the genuine cases, where there is a full replacement of the personality by the possessor." [X:TH:DPMHAT:273]

 

"A foremost writer on the subject was the late Professor Jean Lhermitte: 'There are many genuinely possessed people. The critical and scientific approach has dispelled many clouds and broken down many myths, but even so, the number of people demonically possessed in our modern world is considerable. This statement is based on lengthy personal experience.;" [X:TH:BDUFE:110]

 

"A contemporary authority on schizophrenia, Dr R. D Laing, who has contributed greatly to an understanding of the social factors at work (e.g., Sanity, Madness and the Family) writes in the Divided Self: 'A most curious phenomenon of the personality, one which has been observed for centuries, but which has not yet received its full explanation, is that in which the individual seems to be the vehicle of a personality that is not his own. Someone else's personality seems to 'possess' him and be finding expression through his words and actions, whereas the individual's own personality is temporarily 'lost' or 'gone'. This happens with all degrees of malignancy." [X:TH:BDUFE:96]

 

"An indication of the breaking down of these false barriers between the medical, the psychological, and the spiritual can be seen in a statement with the Rev. J. C. Neil-Smith made in the Yorkshire Post that ten doctors had sent patients to him for exorcism--a number which will no doubt have substantially increased since it was reported in 1970." [X:TH:BDUFE:97]

 

"In the International Journal of Social Psychiatry (Vol. XVII, 2.) Dr R. K. McAll discusses and re-formulates Dr Yap's classification and makes, by implication, the distinction between 'infestation' by evil forces, and that caused by people, either dead or alive. This is an important distinction…which he made 'from the experience of over thirty cases' (written in 1970)." [X:TH:BDUFE:109]

 

Doctor Theodore Bovet describes how much of possession-like behavior and symptoms can be explained naturally as hysteria, goes on to point out that '…anything which apparently did not fit into this framework was to be regarded as the result of inaccurate observation. In practice they were largely right; but there remains none the less a sufficient irreducible hard core of material to make clear that the question is still essentially unsolved." [cited at X:TH:BDUFE:113f]

 

"In his book Occult Bondage and Deliverance, Dr Kurt Koch related the following: 'The well known doctor and preacher Dr Martyn Lloyd-Jones had invited me to speak before a group of psychiatrists on the subject of occultism and occult oppression…afterwards I was attacked by two psychiatrists who claimed that the biblical accounts of possession…were merely cases of mental illness…Another man stood up and came to my defense…he said…from his own practice alone he could quote up to eleven different cases of possession. Another psychiatrist then endorsed what his colleague had just said, adding that he had come across three or four cases himself. I found it unnecessary to defend myself any more.'" [X:TH:BDUFE:126f]

 

"When all the foregoing cases of possession syndrome [where the person believes they are possessed, but they are not], or pseudo-possession have been described, there is still a residue of cases where the only remaining diagnosis is the activity of an evil spirit, and for which the only effective remedy will be that of exorcism, frequently carried out concomitantly with psychiatric treatment….Possession is not so common as the media like to make out…" [X:TH:DPDOI:82]

 

“In later life, Jung admitted that he was open to the ideas that all these metapsychic phenomena could be explained better by the theory of spirits than by the qualities and peculiarities of the unconscious. ‘In each individual case I must of necessity be skeptical, but in the long run I have to admit that the spirit hypothesis yields better results in practice than any other.” [WR:NAMBW:195]

 

"Although Oesterreich [T.K. Oesterreich, author of the monumental collection of data and study of Possession: Demoniacal and other Among Primitive Races, in Antiquity, The Middle Ages, and Modern Times] argues to see possession as psychological compulsion states, he ends his work in an appendix on Parapsychology by saying that our knowledge of parapsychotic phenomena is too restrictive to explain all states of possession in this way. In other words [Koch's summary of Oesterreich]--'An important unexplainable residue remains, for which there is as yet no psychological explanation, and which continues to leave the question open as to whether certain happenings transcend nature'" [X:TH:CTETN:154]

 

"In the area of parapsychology or psychic research, Rudolf Tischner found that there was, in cases like the deciphering of fragments of cuneiform script by a secret key, the locating of the foundations of an old abbey with the assistance of a 'dead person' and telekinetic phenomena, the need for the acknowledgment of complete ignorance. That is, 'A residue remains which is genuine, beyond all delusions…'"  [X:TH:CTETN:154]

 

"McAll [R. Kenneth McAll, psychiatrist] says that of all the patients he sees 4 per cent need some form of ministry of exorcism." [X:TH:CTETN:155]

 

"The attempt to explain phenomena once ascribed to evil spirits exclusively in medical, psychological, and parapsychological terms seems, at least for some researchers, to have failed. There remains a residue of states of phenomena that is unexplained." [X:TH:CTETN:155]

 

 

Diagnostic procedures for discriminating alien intelligences from other more 'natural' disorders centers around the 'alien-ness' of the alter, and sometimes, in the supernatural knowledge of this alter (as we saw above as well), remembering that natural pathologies often accompany the possession one:

 

"Perhaps the most useful clue is the presence of symptoms which are not in keeping with the known personality structure of the individual and with recognized psychopathologic states." [X:TH:DPMHAT:266]

 

"Possessed people, at times, speak with a high-pitched scream, low-pitched croak or stutter. They differ from hysterics in that there is no motive of gain, no attention-seeking, and most of the attacks are isolated…Many such cases are labeled as atypical schizophrenics. None of them show the complete symptom-complex of schizophrenia, but they may present one or two unusual features such as catatonia or delusions." [X:TH:DPMHAT:274]

 

One sign of true possession: "He will show extraordinary powers of clairvoyance, being able to recount accurately things and events happening at a distance in time or space which he could not otherwise know." [X:TH:DPDOI:87]

 

For example: "A minister writes: 'Another voice, quite unlike Judy's spoke out through her lips. It said 'I don't want her to live because she wants to serve the Lord. I am not Judy. I want to kill Judy…you don't believe in Satan, do you?'… 'I certainly do not!' I replied emphatically… 'All right then, I'll prove it to you,' the voice boasted. And it then proceeded to tell me intimate details of my private life.'" [X:TH:BDUFE:150]

 

Another sign of true possession is "He speaks…in a language, or languages, unknown to him in his normal state…he will be able to converse in that language and answer questions if they are put to him." [X:TH:DPDOI:86]

 

For example: "The exorcist was called in by the relatives of the possessed woman, who had been for many years a member of a witch coven centred on the country village in which she had lived all her life. The possessed was a middle-aged woman of limited intelligence and working-class status. She had never left the isolated village in her life except for shopping in the neighbouring market town. Immediately the exorcist entered the room, she started calling out details of his past life which he thought he had forgotten and which were relevant to a wild youth. The second priest in the team had served for many years in the Middle East and was an Arabic scholar. He questioned the woman in various Arabic dialects, and she replied in those dialects. Neither the past of the exorcist nor the dialects could have been known to this woman by any rational process. After exorcism she lost these extra-sensory powers and renounced her witchcraft." [X:TH:DPDOI:89]

 

 

MPD/DIDs, of course, are not co-extensive with spirit possession, by any means, but cases of alien spirits would typically manifest 'natural' pathologies as well. They, however, in contradistinction to 'purely natural' pathologies, will NOT respond fully to conventional treatment, but respond only to agent-confrontational exorcistic and/or spiritual treatments, further differentiating them from natural psycho-pathologies. These spiritual treatments cannot be considered 'placebo' effects (as they are in possession syndrome), since the patient is sometimes unaware of the process altogether. [This, by the way, is why F. Goodman's view that exorcism works because it allows the patient to get ritual control over the alien spirit only describes SOME of the situations, and cannot apply to cases in which the patient is unaware of the process.]:

 

"These cases all showed no response to known treatment but were cured instantly through prayer, not necessarily with the approval or consent or even awareness by the victim." [X:TH:DPMHAT:271]

 

"Quite commonly one finds in what are known as the "back" wards of mental hospitals patients who have been labeled atypical schizophrenics or depressives. Some such cases have been completely cured by the prayer of exorcism--sometimes with, and even at times without, the patients' permission and sometimes in their absence. Even in a true schizophrenic the hallucinations and delusions may sometimes be removed as a result of exorcism. They then regain an increasing degree of insight and with the help of a spiritual discipline can learn to control their own medication. It seems that those with borderline or established mental disturbances are easy prey to occult or demonic control. [X:TH:DPMHAT:276]

 

"It is not even necessary [for success] in exorcism to have the victim's approval. The possessed is often not in a position to understand what is going on." [X:TH:DPMHAT:277]

 

 

[Note: An exceptionally balanced, well-documented, sober, and carefully analytical work can be found on this subject in the work from  the Christian Exorcism Study Group, composed of clergy, theologians, and medical practitioners [X:TH:DPDOI, 1987]. They de-bunk vast amounts of false-phenomena, and are able to provide excellent diagnostic and treatment advice on the various forms of alleged paranormal events (e.g., poltergeist claims etc).]

 

 

 

4. ASCs and Spiritual Theatre

 

For the above data, "Possession" is something that occurs in normal space-time bodies, but not within an individual's own consciousness. In other words, the alien intelligence does not "inhabit" the host's consciousness, just the body and physical brain (or at least, controlling the body/brain through imposition of different brain maps and nervous system protocols). Some first-person accounts from hosts include descriptions of being 'locked up in a dark pit', while the alien intelligence is commanding the body and behavior.

 

Becoming 'possessed' can be accomplished through ASCs, in which the human interacts with the alien spirit, either voluntarily giving control up or losing control in a 'contest of wills'. ASC's in which mere spirit 'communication' occurs would not generally be considered possession.

 

The ASC phenomena, however, is not possession itself, but it considered in most cultures to be 'real' perception of the 'real' larger landscape. This landscape is not thought to be hallucinatory at all (even when drug-induced), but rather to be the supernatural realm, within which ordinary reality is situated. People in an ASC can sometimes not only see things others cannot, but can also 'live like' they are in the ASC--much to the puzzlement of Western science:

 

"In recent years a goodly number of researchers have taken serious, experiential, participatory cross-cultural looks into such phenomena, revealing our ignorance of the broad range of possible altered states of consciousness available in human experience (Goodman 1988; 1990; Walsh 1993). There is significant evidence that ASCs represent core experiential features of human living in most societies on the planet, where they are "a matter of major importance, not merely a bit of anthropological esoterica" (Bourguignon 1973: 11). ASCs serve to explain visionary, trance, and ecstatic experience, often combined with extraordinary feats of behavior (e.g. walking on a ladder of sharp knives unscathed, walking over a bed of coals unharmed, walking over an unrolled sheet of paper held off the ground without tearing the paper, self-piercings without bleeding and rather rapid healing, and the like--all now documented on film…) [NT:AAJ:354]

 

"Or in other words, when the functioning of the body is altered in this special way, namely, in ecstasy, that particular person gains the ability to come in contact with  beings and events of another reality, with the sacred dimension. It is for this reason that, not surprisingly, many non-Western societies consider ecstasy the highest, the truly human, state, and the ordinary state of consciousness just that: ordinary." [X:NS:HADPE:12]

 

 

Indeed, the Western mindset has locked itself out of this more robust dimension of existence:

 

"Any incident presumably rooted in an ASC may be difficult for Westerners to believe because people in this cultural area have been enculturated to discount such states of awareness except in dreams. Pilch (1994: 233) has noted: "The physician-anthropologist Arthur Kleinman offers an explanation for the West's deficiency in this matter. 'Only the modern, secular West seems to have blocked individual's access to these otherwise pan-human dimensions of the self.'" What is the Western problem? The advent of modern science in about the seventeenth century disrupted the bio-psycho-spiritual unity of human consciousness that had existed until then. According to Kleinman, we have developed an "acquired consciousness," whereby we dissociate self and look at self "objectively." Western culture socializes individuals to develop a metaself, a critical observer who monitors and comments on experience. The metaself does not allow the total absorption in lived experience which is the very essence of highly focused ASCs ( = alternate states of consciousness). The metaself stands in the way of unreflected, unmediated experience which now becomes distanced.'" [NT:AAJ:355]

 

Since many of these alien agents are not the most beneficial to humans, this avoidance of ASC's might not be a bad thing at all--but recognition of the realities 'behind' ASC's is nonetheless indicated by the anthropological and medical data above.

 

As noted above, the elements within an ASC are culturally "bound". They must be intelligible to the participant, and therefore fit into some socially-delineated categories and roles. This, of course, is not a real limitation for any 'alien' intelligence, since they could adapt themselves to cultural expectations--just as a human traveler to another country would today. This doesn't require the alien agent to be totally constructed by the ASC participant, since this would clearly contradict the 'downward causation' effects we have already noted. [That is, my 'constructing' a local spirit being would not be adequate cause to explain how I could spontaneously converse in a foreign language I had never heard, for example.] Indeed, the agents in these ASC's are sometimes the ONLY explanatory mechanism for the content that emerges FROM those experiences. Consider:

 

"The bark of the Banisteriopsis vine is usually combined with leaves of other plants that contain a related psychedelic drug, dimethyltryptamine or DMT. When anthropologists and botanists first described the preparation of this beverage, they wrote that the DMT in it could not contribute to the activity because it is destroyed by monoamine oxidase in the gut and is only known to be active parenterally. Indians who make and drink ayahuasca say that they add the DMT-containing leaves to make the visions brighter. Their whole purpose in taking this beverage is to have visions, which they use in a very practical way to diagnose illness and determine correct courses of action through the changing circumstances of life. It turns out that harmine inactivates monoamine oxidase, so that when you combine these two plants, you get an orally active preparation of DMT. That is quite remarkable. If you ask anthropologists and botanists how Indians hit upon such a sophisticated pharmacological preparation, they tell you it was a matter of trial and error. If you are sitting in a lecture hall and a professor tells you that, you write it down in your notebook without questioning it. But I can tell you that if you are down in the rainforest looking at the profusion of plants, it is hard to imagine a shaman cooking up a new batch of Banisteriopsis every day and saying, "Well, let's see. Today I will try this leaf." If you ask the shamans who make ayahuasca how they learned the technique, they also give you a very consistent answer. I have asked a lot of them, and they always reply that the Banisteriopsis vine showed them the other plants in visions. That is the answer you get from all the shamans, that they learned it in visions." [CS:TSC:680]

 

The ayahuasca story is replicated by Krippner, who points out that this 'shamanistic epistemology' is not altogether uncommon:

 

"'Here are people without electron microscopes who choose, among 80,000 Amazonian plant species, the leaves of a bush containing a…brain hormone, which they combine with a vine containing substances that inactivate an enzyme of the digestive tract, which would otherwise block the effect. And they do this to modify their consciousness. It is as if they knew about the molecular properties of plants and the art of combining them, and when one asks them how they knew these things, they say their knowledge comes directly from [the] plants'. For three decades, I worked with an intertribal medicine man and shamanic healer, Rolling Thunder. When I asked him how he was able to identify the curative power of plants he had never used previously, he told me, 'I ask the plant what it is good for. Some plants are only meant to be beautiful. Other plants are meant for food. Still others are to be used as medicine. Once a healing plant has spoken to me, I ask its permission to take it with me and add it to my medicine pouch.' Rolling Thunder's epistemology was remarkably similar to that of the Amazonian shamans who work with ayahuasca." [CS:CMRM:113]

 

So, although some of the elements within the experience are culturally 'structured', the cognitive content of those--especially when involving paranormal knowledge--is a strong indication that an independent non-human agent is somehow engaged within those experiences.

 

Similar to the culturally-outlined group rituals,  individual cases of "Western ASCs"--New Age Channeling, for example--reveal the same dynamic. The spirit often speaks in the categories and even in the beliefs of the channel:

 

“As many channels are willing to admit, in most if not all cases it is not simply a matter of a spirit taking over the channel’s body and directly expressing his own words. To varying degrees, the channel’s subconscious and/or conscious mind is also involved. Thus the typical ‘entity’ in channeling is partly—but not entirely—an objective reality. He is the combined creation of the channel and a hidden spiritual entity, which is in fact real.” [WR:NAMBW:198]

 

 

[There is, of course, no strong reason to trust the disclosures of said alien intelligences--given the testimony of the historical material documenting their general malicious or capricious intent.]

 

ASCs and ASC-based events are not actually 'overlays' on top of a 'real' space-time landscape. They are sometimes additional elements appearing within the space-time landscape (e.g., apparitions, modifications of a space-time element's features) but might be an altogether different landscape completely unrelated to the space-time context (and only goodness-knows-where). In an ASC, space-time is not a 'constraint'.

 

Consider the following two scenarios, involving different notions of space/distance, one relating to an ASC and one to a demonic 'space':

 

"An elderly Canon of the Anglican church became quite terrified when he found himself appointed as official exorcist for the diocese. He asked for help. I asked why and he replied: "My daughter is locked in a padded cell in a mental hospital, and, there is nothing they can do to help her." Her main trouble was that she had an overwhelming urge to gouge out the eyes of her children. I remarked that this seemed a very primitive form of behavior and inquired who her ancestors were. He informed me that her mother, his wife, was a titled lady from an ancient castle. I knew from having visited this castle that at one time this form of torture had been practiced there. The present family apparently never went near the place and knew nothing of it. I suggested to the Canon that he should see his bishop and ask his advice. The bishop said that we should have a eucharist of remembrance and that he would be free in five days' time to celebrate this with the two of us. From the moment he made this promise, the Canon's daughter became perfectly normal [note: she was not present there]. A few days later we heard that her aunt who was--unknown to me--in another mental hospital had been cured at the same time. Neither of these two knew anything of the conversation with the bishop. The Canon, too, was released from his anxieties and has helped many others since then." [X:TH:DPMHAT:276]

 

"Only later, when Curdova was more familiar with ayahuasca did the chief allow him to join in group vision sessions: 'It was a select group of 12 that went to the secluded glade in the forest. It included some of the older men and several of the best hunters. The ritual and chants were similar to previous occasions, perhaps a little more elaborate. From the preparatory chants of the fragrant smoke and evocation of the spirit of the honi xuma (that is, of the vine that provides the drug), it was evident that Chief Xumu was attempting in this session to fix in my consciousness all the important or essential circumstances of their tribal life. There seemed to be an intense feeling of rapport among the group, all dedicated to the purpose of the old man…I was aware of the fragile hand that poured the magic fluid and passed the cups around to each. We drank in unison and settled into a quiet reverie of joint communion, savoring the fragrant smoke in the stillness of the silent forest A quiet chant held our conscious thoughts together as the potion took effect. A second cup was passed to intensify the reaction…Color visions, indefinite in form, began to evolve into immense vistas of enchanting beauty. Soon, subtle but evocative chants led by the chief took control of the progression of our visions. Embellishments to both the chants and the visions came from the participants…Soon, the procession of animals began, starting with the jungle cats. Some of these I had not seen before. There was a tawny puma, several varieties of the smaller spotted ocelot, then a giant rosetta-spotted jaguar. A murmur from the assembly indicated recognition. This tremendous animal shuffled along with head hanging down, mouth open and tongue lolling out. Hideous, large teeth filled the open mouth. An instant change of demeanor to vicious alertness caused a tremor through the circle of phantom viewers.' So, here are people having shared visions and reacting to the content of the visions in a consistent way." [CS:TSC:680f]

 

 

There is additional data for spiritual theatre, though, that does NOT involve nonhuman intelligences. The work of the Christian Exorcism Study Group, for example, documents a number of cases of poltergeist activity (i.e., cases which were left after they eliminated what they called 'phonygeist' claims), which apparently springs from high anxiety and stress levels in the human occupants of the building (i.e., after receiving anxiety counseling, the well-documented poltergeist phenomena gradually disappeared). Somehow, the human stress levels 'projected' (?) or 'amplified'(?) themselves into the knocks, and rappings, and furniture movements. None of the phenomena, however, looked 'intelligent' in design or pattern, so this would be a simple case of theatre, instead of agency. The only 'geist' (i.e., spirit) involved in these were the 'unquiet' ones of the humans. [X:TH:DPDOI: chapter 3]

 

The same group documented and discussed a number of recurring apparitions (e.g., ghost-like scenes that recurred periodically in certain locations) under the category of 'place memories'. These bizarre scenes did NOT interact with any of the viewers, but acted like a 'videotape' being played over and over. The viewers could come from any background, and could include doctors, ministers, therapists, police, etc. The visions were not threatening, and required no trance to experience. When the location was prayed over, they would disappear. This notion of a 'place memory' would make more sense in the category of theatre, since there did not seem to be any agency involved. [X:TH:DPDOI: chapter 4]

 

These two categories (poltergeist-like events and place memories) only serve to show that our experienced universe (even WITHOUT ASCs) manifests dimensions of 'depth' that cannot remotely be explained by our most advanced areas and methods of science.

 

There are other pieces of data which might be adduced here, largely dealing with aspects of experience which look like 'fields':

 

"The observations [of faith healing praxis] suggest that the healers induce the beneficial, healing trance into their patients. That would indicate that they 'radiate' something, we have no name for what it is, that calls up a resonance in the body of the client. A few preliminary laboratory experiments indicate that such is actually the case. In research with Oskar Estebany, a well-known Canadian faith healer, it was found, for instance, that if he held surgically wounded mice, they healed faster than if control mice with the identical lesions were kept at the same temperature as that of his hands, or if randomly selected medical students held them. A biochemist determined that the faith healer in question could also affect an enzyme called trypsin. If he held a test tube containing it, it showed an increase in activity as if it had been exposed to a strong (8,000-13,000 gauss) magnetic field." [X:NS:HADPE:23]

 

"Multiples and those possessed easily induce their condition in others, who may be nothing but bystanders…This kind of induction phenomenon by association, as it were, is widely reported in the ethnographic literature. Herskovits mentions an incident where a man had no intention at all of becoming possessed. In fact, there were strong cultural strictures working against his participating in the experience. …Yet just being present at a vodun dance produced a highly agitated possession in him. For those experienced in trance behavior, it is even more difficult to resist the effect…" [X:NS:HADPE:20]

 

 

 

This spiritual theatre dimension, by the way, is seemingly the only alternative way to explain the supernatural knowledge element of individual without believing that these were manifestations of an alternate agent, but this explanation is even more difficult to believe than the phenomenologically concrete experience of malevolent and hyper-human intelligent agents(!):

 

“In the super, grand, or general ESP theory, material that could be known by channels in no other way is explained by their having telepathically read the unconscious minds of ‘distant’ individuals who are unknown to everyone involved. In the super ESP model, a database is available which is composed of all living minds. It could includes Jung’s collective unconscious or the ancient’s Akashic records. The adherence of parapsychologists to such a grand ESP explanation for channeling seems to display an inability to make the conceptual leap to the possibility of nonphysical intelligent beings.”  [WR:NAMBW:196]

 

For example, in the case of the peasant woman who could converse fluently in multiple Arabic dialects, this would have to have been accomplished by her 'reading the minds' (bi-directionally!) of some distant Arabic speakers, to avoid the conclusion of some locally present alien spirits.

 

To be sure, the evidence that supports the existence of discarnate spirits ALSO supports the existence of some kind of 'theatre' in which they operate, but the reduction of a violent, cursing, super strong, alien intelligence--speaking in multiple foreign languages and possessing superhuman knowledge of facts--"down to" impersonal "spiritual" forces/fields would make 'normal' reductionist ploys look modest by comparison.

 

In a nutshell, to reject the massive amount of data supporting the existence of discarnate spirits requires one to accept a strong version of the reality of (impersonal) spiritual theatre. One way or the other, one is locked into accepting something our natural scientific apparatus simply cannot even 'see'. And that same science cannot even formulate a research methodology as to how to start investigating such reality…

 

But some of this space-time problem has already become apparent in another field--that of consciousness studies

 

 

 

5. The revolution in the 'nature of nature': consciousness studies and physics

 

The ASCs seem to give humans access to another 'dimension' of our universe, one in which group experiences can be had, and one in which non-human intelligences exist. Possession phenomena demonstrate that these intelligences can act within our space-time universe, as well. Spiritual theatre data suggests that even the 'non-intelligent' substrate of reality is less 'ordinary' that our popular models would suggest.

 

The phenomenological data for these is overwhelming, as we have seen from the summary remarks and accounts of anthropologists and practitioners of psychiatry and counseling.

 

At first blush, this spiritual theatre seems to be in such stark contrast to what we know about our Newtonian-acting universe, but it seems that modern science is moving on past this popular view, and is beginning to postulate theories of reality that can be seen as supportive of spiritual theatre.

 

I don't want to document in detail all of these areas, nor do I think it necessary to do so in light of the evidence above, but I do want to point out some current schools of thought that could be seen as compatible with spiritual theatre.

 

The most relevant area, of course, is that of consciousness studies. I have documented elsewhere on the Tank (hmosoul.html) that contemporary research in this field is having to radically revise the "working definition" of reality and space-time. Let me merely repeat one quote from that article and add an additional one not in that article:

 

"There is, on this view, a radical incompleteness in our view of reality, including physical reality...in order to solve the mind-body problem we need, at a minimum, a new conception of space. [JCS:2.3.223]

 

"Our three modalities of mystical experiences point clearly towards a distinction between awareness per se and the ordinary functional processes of sensation, perception, and thought. They suggest that awareness is not constructed out of the material processes of perception or perhaps the brain, but rather they suggest a distinction and/or interaction between consciousness and the brain. Furthermore, they suggest that awareness may have a non-localized, quasi-spatial character, much like a field. Finally, they tend to suggest that this field may be transcendental to any one person or entity." [JCS:5:2:200, by one of the editors of the Journal of Consciousness Studies, italics his, bold mine]

 

Additionally, there are leading voices that are calling for human consciousness to be situated either 'outside' space-time in hyper-dimensional spaces, or even 'prior to' spacetime (e.g., some of the Quantum collapse theorists).

 

The net of this is that the study of human consciousness is leading us into a realm of spiritual theatre, surprisingly like the one (a) described above; (b) implied by the ability of discarnate possession; and (c) capable of 'hosting' ASC and ASC-related events.

 

Particle physics and astrophysics are likewise having to revise their view of what the 'basic stuff' of reality is. They have all but abandoned the idea that space-time is some 'absolute'. They are postulating hyper-dimensional realms (e.g., string theorists), that the fundamental stuff is not entities but relationships (e.g., Loop theorists), or that perhaps actual geometry itself is what 'stuff is made out of'. Quantum physics has long told us that macro-level consciousness has an effect on what actually "is and becomes".

 

Our calm and steady world of Newtonian science (by which we dismissed the 'other' more times than once) ends up being 'only a special case' of Einstein's relativity, which itself is looking like it will end up 'only a special case' of some higher string/loop theory. The 'solidity' of our foundations of what we know to be 'real' has vaporized over the past decades.

 

Even the great strides made in neuroscience recently have only 'humbled' us a little more. The true leaders in the field stopped using the phrases "neurobiological basis for spiritual experience" and "neurobiological causes of spiritual experience", preferring now to use "neurobiological correlates of spiritual experience". There is a huge difference between these…

 

The neurobiology of dissociative states (that most closely related to the states of possession) is still a mystery, and the field is actually looking toward better phenomenological research (like the case descriptions of behavior) to help them get a little closer. One standard, recent work on the topic (Neurobiology of Mental Illness, 1999, 958pages, eds: Charney, Nestler, Bunney) says this:

 

"The association between different dissociative states and post-traumatic response remains to be established. At present, dissociative phenomena remain poorly understood, and they may be pathophysiologically heterogeneous. The term dissociation itself is unfortunately vague and refers to such a breadth of phenomena that different measurement instruments may be assessing different constructs. The term is used to describe general traits of dissociative tendencies; acute peritraumatic dissociative symptoms such as severe depersonalization or dissociative amnesia; symptoms of chronic PTSD such as emotional numbing; and severe disruptions of normal consciousness as seen in fugue states and dissociative identity disorder. Reliable clarification of phenomenologic models will be especially important to advancing pathophysiologic and clinical study of dissociation." (p.446f)

 

Of course, any description by neurobiology or physiology would at most be a description of our side of the ASC exchange, and would not be able to explain any knowledge or communication from the other agents. In other words, neurobiology might eventually be able to explain how we formed visual images of the 'parade of animals' in our minds, but would never be able to explain how someone learned Arabic instantaneously or how someone self-generated the knowledge of the pharmacological aspects of various plant species.

 

Essentially, what all this means is that the science that formerly argued against the reality of anything 'outside' is now either arguing for it, or at least no longer arguing against it…The field of Consciousness Studies, especially, is creating a base of data, theory, and methodology quite supportive of spiritual theatre.

 

 

 

6. Summary

 

 

The information and evidence presented above provide strong support for the following statements:

 

1.        There is adequate evidence that non-human, discarnate intelligences exist, and that they can sometimes take control of the body and brain of a human being.

 

2.        These intelligences, or spirits/agents, can be interacted with in ASC's and trance states.

 

3.        These intelligences have characteristics, values, cognitive abilities and knowledge which are radically discontinuous with those of their hosts.

 

4.        The fact that a 'spiritual' treatment (i.e., exorcism and/prayer) is the only effective means of treatment, indicates that this phenomenon is not purely 'natural'.

 

5.        Spiritual theatre is not a purely hallucinatory experience, but manifests a field-like reality that can be experienced by groups.

 

6.        The universe of ordinary experience is a subset or special-case of a larger reality, which includes the elements of spiritual theatre.

 

7.        Truly modern science, especially the field of consciousness studies, is compatible with these statements and in some cases, supportive of these.

 

Methodologically, we should note that the data we used here is from intensely-personal settings. We are not finding 'traces of intelligence' in knocks and physical patterns, we are not finding 'faces in the clouds', we are not using mediums to relay messages back and forth with unseen spirits. Instead, we are 'watching'--through the eyes of anthropologists, psychiatrists, ministers, and therapists--snarling, cursing, malevolent, super-intelligent, unnaturally strong, self-aware intelligent agents abuse and insult and dominate us using the body, mouth, and brain of a helpless human host, or even using our own consciousness in an ASC. I am not sure there could ever be more vivid and self-authenticating data than that…

 

 

 

7. Implications

 

There are many, many implications of this view, but I only want to focus on three concepts that are of general significance.

 

The death/demise of despotic/dogmatic Naturalism. When we are forced by this data to expand our taxonomy of beings in the universe to include discarnate intelligences, naturalism (as it is currently conceived of) becomes hopelessly and irreparably inadequate . When there is no natural process within some kind of 'Darwinian evolution' to explain (a) the emergence of spirits by genetic variation from humanity (or from plants or whatever) and (b) their survival by 'natural selection', then the alleged explanatory power of naturalism has gone the way of Ptolemaic epicycles. Granted, as consciousness studies was weakening our view of space and time, it was also headed in a direction quite opposite to popular naturalism, but the 'damage done' there is nothing in comparison with that done by a class of beings radically discontinuous with all mechanisms of ordinary reality (e.g., genes, death, conflict over scarce resources such as food) yet still superior to us and 'like us' in the 'weird' area of consciousness. Naturalism becomes--at best--'only a special case' within the real universe, and therefore one that has to be constantly questioned as to its applicability to any given subject area. At worst, it becomes merely another antiquated worldview, duly appreciated for its contributions to rigor, but outgrown when we finally faced up to the data of the world of real experience.

 

Losing our lease on arrogance. Needless to say, once we realize that we are no longer the intellectually 'big kid on the block', our estimates of our epistemic prowess need to be lowered. We will have a greater humility toward these agents, and in continuity with our ancestors, will have a greater fear of these beings. The malevolent ones we are smart enough ourselves to avoid; the ones who appear 'beneficent' may indeed be more subtle in their manipulation, enslavement, and deception of us 'carbon-based lifeforms'.

 

Reopening the question of theism. With naturalism dethroned by these unruly intruders, and both the presence of superior invisible agents and the reality of spiritual theatre established, the "existence of God" becomes significantly more plausible and perhaps even prima facie. Forceless now is the "I don’t see any evidence for a supernatural being" argument, which has always been the preeminent anti-theism argument. And with the reality that these spirits can communicate with humans, interact with them, inhabit their bodies, and interoperate with them, the possibility of revelation from a god is completely validated and established. Furthermore, one could begin to construct possible scenarios concerning such revelation, arguing that (a) possibly all spirits are not bad--implying the possibility that a good spirit/Spirit might try to 'help us'; and (b) that the means and content of a communication from a good spirit/Spirit might accordingly be less violent, more gentle, and more in keeping with what we consider to be higher, better values in our hearts (e.g., love, respect for others, community, other-centeredness, gentleness, solidarity, compassion).

 

But the search for such a good-hearted communication in history is a different story,  and one that can only be undertaken in integrity when one has accepted the possibility of such a communication--the purpose of our article above.

 

 

I hope this is of some value in your own personal spiritual journey,

Glenn Miller

 

 

 

 

 


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