Wednesday, April 28, 2010

"Danger, Will Robinson, Danger!" The Risks and Rewards of Spirituality

Looking back over recent discussions, I've noticed some debate over the concept of spiritual danger.  There's an idea in some quarters that the spirit world is an entirely benevolent place that can only bring you wisdom and enlightenment. (This often goes hand-in-hand with the idea that the spirit world exists only in the head of the mystic, and hence is no more likely to damage you than any other dream that might be flickering between your ears). They believe that concerns about psychic self-defense, protection, banishing, cleansing, and such are superfluous at best and a holdover from primitive superstitions at worst.  Those pesky demonic entities will become angels of light if only we understand them and accept them with unconditional love rather than prejudiced fear.

This is contrasted by yet another worldview: there are demons lurking around every corner and they all want to eat you.  As spiritworker Silence Maestas says:
For some people, every spirit encounter (or supposed spirit encounter, or mental sockpuppet, or Disney ride animatronic, or whatever) is something to be regarded as a grave indication that Something Is Happening.  Whether it's a "haunting", a "demonic possession", or a "psychic attack", any and all such activity is perceived as a threat that has to be taken down.  Before long the stories these people tell sound more like a season of Buffy the Vampire Slayer or Sailor Moon
When you begin working with magic or spiritualism, it's very easy to stumble into this pitfall.  It's great for one's ego: being the center of a cosmic war between Good and Evil is more exciting than being a cashier at Hot Topic. And, to be fair, the unknown is a scary place. There's a reason our ancestors greeted the spirit world with a great deal of trepidation. Spirits don't seem to be bound by the laws of physics which govern our existence: what walls can keep out ghosts and what weapons can stop demons?

One thing we might do is try to establish clearer ideas of exactly what kind of damage a spirit can do to a human target. The Exorcist and Poltergeist are movies. While demonic possessions and moving furniture can happen, it is an exceedingly rare occurrence.  If you are expecting (or hoping for) spectacular spiritual attacks chances are you will either be relieved or disappointed.

But just because you're not vomiting pea soup or dodging airborne appliances doesn't mean you are in the clear.  Spiritual oppression - a target being attacked from the inside out like a caterpillar being eaten by wasp larvae - is far more common. So too is persistent ill health and bad luck caused by a parasitic entity attaching itself to a free lunch. If you've ever run into people who gave off an unpleasant "vibe" of decay, corruption and just plain wrongness you may have been sensing unwanted spiritual companions. And if you've ever lived near a bridge or precipice which drew an uncommonly high number of suicides, or a swimming hole with a regular history of drownings, you may have been near the home of a troll or a kelpie. Recognizing these dangers and taking basic precautions against them can save you a whole lot of suffering.

Thankfully, this doesn't require an enormous amount of effort. Picking up a few good books and putting their teachings into practice should prepare you for most negative spiritual encounters.  (I like Sophie Reicher's Basic Psychic Hygiene, Jason Miller's Protection & Reversal Magick and Dion Fortune's Psychic Self-Defense. I've also heard good things about Christopher Penczak's The Witch's Shield and Kerr Cuhulain's Magickal Self Defense: A Quantum Approach to Warding). Once you learn how to send negative energy away - and most negativity can be banished without too much effort - you'll become much less excited by its presence.

It is also helpful to remember the old Hermetic axiom, "as above, so below." We don't assume the material world is an entirely benevolent place which exists solely to lead us to enlightenment. (Well, some of us do. A few hard encounters with reality generally cures that notion).  There are spirits which are benevolently disposed toward us; there are spirits which dislike us; there are a far greater number which don't care one way or the other unless we get underfoot.

Another worthwhile axiom is Robert Heinlein's "there ain't no such thing as a free lunch."  Every spirit is communicating with us toward some end. That may be to lead us and the rest of the universe toward a higher enlightenment. It may be to get presents in exchange for services. It may even be to win a bet ("I told you I could get him to walk around Wal*Mart dressed like a Renfaire refugee!")  Figuring out what a spirit wants from your interactions can help you to judge whether you have made a productive contact or are being led down a primrose path.

Because in the end the greatest spiritual trap of all may be the wasting of time. As incarnate beings, we are subject to mortality: we have a finite amount of days and when they are gone so are we. The hours we waste chasing after shadows or listening to a lying spirit fill us with pious platitudes while feeding on our bliss can never be regained.  This is the great danger of Yesod, the first sephirah we counter on the Tree of Life: we can become so enraptured by our dreams or our nightmares that we never awaken.