Sacred Ghostbusting: What it is, and isn’t.
by Sharon Devlin
This is about communicating with dead people, which, although it occupies a great deal of a healer’s or exorcist’s time in any traditional society, is not really done that much by modern Pagans. That’s a pity, because the ancestors, whether strong and functional or disoriented and in distress, have a great deal to offer us, and ignoring them or simply making them go away rather misses the point. I am not talking about “channeling,” which I’m very suspicious of, or per se mediumship; I have little experience of that, and I’m not willing to hand over my body for the use of anything that is not divine. More on this later. Nevertheless, I have had relationships with non-living beings since early childhood. There was a point at which I could see them visually, but that ended with puberty and remains as a sort of “mental sight” which is only possible when I open myself to the experience in a deliberate way. I also, I do not hear voices except as a mental impression, again opened to deliberately. As a mature adult, I have worked out over the years a fairly high level of control regarding this communication. That’s very necessary for this type of spiritual service. Consider the possibility of a phone that was impossible to unplug or hang up, and which had, instead of a phone number, a sort of homing beacon, summoning all comers. No one could stay sane who accepts that sort of “open house,” whether you accepted “calls” from the living or the dead. I can’t say that I have ever been harmed, though as a child I was badly frightened on more than one occasion, and I have benefitted in many ways. I believe firmly that I owe my lifelong love of history, several otherwise inexplicable skills, and a lot of artistic inspiration, as well as moral teaching, to my unseen companions. My first magical acts were “ghost” experiences and I seem to have been “called by the dead” since early childhood to be available for facilitating. I accept this as a part of my life; I’m happy to oblige. However, I believe that almost anybody could train her- or himself to do this, and could establish a working relationship with the other side. So my call is probably no big deal after all. There any many reasons why this communication becomes necessary, the most common being “the haunting” as such. I think a little analysis is in order here:
First, I don’t believe that there is a problem until there is really a problem. The otherworld is not a prison and unless the phenomena become frightening, unbearable or otherwise dysfunctional, it’s probably all right. Ancestors have to use a lot of energy to get our attention. It may also be rather unpleasant for them for a variety of reasons, and what I call normal stuff – one or more dreams or apparitions relating to some kind of special communication, a warning, announcement, a message of love or a greeting. These things are so common that they occur within almost every human family on earth. They are just normal stuff and require no intervention, except maybe a candle, a food offering in thanksgiving, maybe an act of virtue offer in her name. The second point is that if there are real problems, they may or may not be caused by a dead person. Most poltergeist phenomena are know to be caused by a living person acting on herself, usually without her conscious knowledge or volition. It gets very sticky at this point, because the suffering of the perpetrator victim is very real indeed. What we have here is essentially a disease of suppressed magical will. If you tell her that she is hurting herself, especially in an insensitive manner, she may see it as a denial of her truth and a refusal to help. Though you can help tremendously. She can still be aided by teaching her ritual protection and grounding.
Real hauntings generally come in the following flavors:
- Phenomena caused by living persons – “the fetch” to another, the poltergeist to self.
- Phenomena caused by energy residues. These are robot-like, clock-like, repetitive and run down naturally over time. A good cleansing usually takes care of these. These can be generated by traumatic events or by routine patterning over many years.
- Phenomena caused by conscious, active dead persons. Phenomena caused by the conscious and active dead can be further divided into two:
- First, the Acts of the Mighty Dead. Here there is usually no problem. They may need us only to help interpret and facilitate. They are in control of their state and are acting to teach, warn and/or energize and change individuals whom they have chosen to help or guide. But in traditional cultures they often figure in cases of shamanic sickness, in which a living person chosen for priesthood by the ancestors resists their plans for her or him and they press harder and harder until the chosen one accepts. This situation can become catastrophic in modern western society, which makes little accommodation for the life disruptions caused by this type of initiation, and the chosen ones who would have become healers and shamans in traditional societies are rejected by our culture and consigned to hospitals and psychiatric facilities. Modern western culture does not know what to do with its shamans, and loses them to suicide, illness and ignorance. The resurgence of Pagan, Buddhist and traditional religious practices holds out new hope that these specially gifted people may again be pointed toward the training they need, the world desperately needs its healers, hence the equally desperate measures often used by the ancestors to motivate them. As they are literally born to serve, they are never going to be happy doing anything else. Their loss is therefore a double tragedy. Anyone working with the dead must be alert to the possibility of this syndrome. Good divination can do a lot, reorienting the living subject is the key, then pointing them towards good training. The ancestor spirits may have to be approached and asked to back off a little or a ritual to enhance the subject’s relations with them may be necessary. But the problem will not go away; to ignore it is to court disaster.
- Next we must look at the Acts of the Confused Dead. These are the ancestors who really need our help; they are all suffering and often in considerable pain. This produces the classic active haunting in which there are multiple, chaotic, often apparently malevolent acts perpetuated on anyone who gets in the way or can be grabbed onto. The victim can be merely anyone who is present in the “haunted place” – a relative, a loved one – or a person who is attractive in some way to the haunter. A particular place may be the focus, or the entity may follow its “special person” around the world bothering her. The single key word in this situation is “clinging.” The “ghost” clings to the place, person, sometimes even an object, because it is disoriented, caught up in powerful emotions and deeply imprinted thought patterns which cripple it, impairing its ability to progress naturally through the after-death state. It can be trapped in scenarios of hatred, terror, self-blame, revenge and desire which are capable of cycling its consciousness in such a way as to cause it limitless pain. The point of ritual intervention is to interrupt this cycle and trigger escape. The most important component in any sacrament of release is an attitude of compassion. [Anger = weakness.] Struggles of will are, in my experience, both pointless and silly. Even so-called “demonic” forces need compassion. Engaging the ego in battle only makes things worse. An attitude of disinterested compassion is the only safe ground. A haunting always presents the precious opportunity to relieve the suffering of another being. Ego gratification has no place in the pharmacopia of spirit healing. Also, merely making the haunting cease is not a success if the entity has been banished without having been helped to move on in a positive way. Banishing per se can have negative, long-term effects for the one doing the banishing. Don’t be naive; you need to really care to get a good outcome. If you can’t summon up feelings of real compassion, don’t do this. Refer the problem to somebody else. I remember very well one of the most dramatic cases of “demonic haunting” that I ever worked with, and as it turned out to be anything but demonic, it has a number of features which dramatically illustrate the process necessary to straighten out a grave situation (no pun intended).
Twenty-five years ago, I knew a poet/alternative lifestyle type person, very interested in comparative religion, who asked me to help a young man whom he had befriended. The young friend was from Pennsylvania, and a student at U.C. Berkeley. We’ll call him Tony. While at my friend’s house one evening, he divulged that he was afraid that he was losing his mind and that frightening things were happening to him all the time. He was often awakened in the night by horrific dreams that centered on a natural pond that had been on a farm owned by his parents years before. Also, he would experience while waking dramatic drops in temperature in his dorm room, a fact verified by his roommate. Inexplicable opening and closing of food containers in the refrigerator (they had a kitchenette), and water taps which would start running spontaneously, often in full view of both him and his roommate. But the most disturbing phenomena of all were the scratches that appeared on his body. I was skeptical of all this until my friend brought Tony over for an interview,, and as we were sitting in the living room talking, he suddenly cried out in pain and I saw the flesh depress on his bare arm, the skin reddened as if being gripped, and finally the marks of fingernails digging in. He began to bleed as little cuts were created by the invisible nails.
I asked him to let me help him, and I at once began to construct a magic circle in which he could be safe. Once the phenomena were for the moment stopped, I began to question him closely about his history and the history of the haunting. It came out that a similar set of events had happened to his older brother five years before, and had ended with his tragic death by drowning in the pond on his parents’ farm. Tony was convinced that he was somehow next. I was still not sure that this wasn’t a classic poltergeist case, but I was convinced that Tony’s’ life and sanity were certainly at stake. I questioned him over and over again for several days. Then I asked a group of friends that I did magic with on a regular basis to lend a hand. One of them was a gifted clairvoyant whom I worked with often because we potentiated each other’s communications skills.
The group magically created and maintained a sacred space protecting us while we joined minds and then shared our visions and information with each other. So we got together one night in my living room, erected a circle of physical salt, rose boughs and mental fire to protect Tony and ourselves, and created another magical space close by – a triangle, again of salt, roses and visualized energy – into which we summoned the entity. We had also been preparing Tony, who was badly frightened by this time, and had taken to sleeping at my friend’s house in a bed that had been magically encircled. We had taught him a meditation that surrounded him with protective energy. Before I describe the ritual we did that night, I need to explain that one of the most important concepts in magical practice is that mental events, especially those which are very deliberately conceived and willed, are not only extremely powerful, but also in the otherworld have the same or greater effect than physical acts have in this realm. So what we did in preparation was to teach Tony to begin disciplining his mental events. Fear had given energy to his effort, and by the night of the working, he had learned to generate a divine form in his heart. [What it was is a private matter for him.] which in turn created a bubble of brilliant light and gentle, soothing heat which pushed out from his heart until it protected and surrounded his entire body. He was now able to literally “pop” the entity off of him as needed. I had also cautioned him not to allow himself to feel hatred or anger toward his attacker because it immediately destroyed the protective shell by breaking his magical will, and if anything, reenforced the negativity of what was going on, giving more energy to it.
Tony was fine now until he went to sleep. Too new at the game to discipline his dreams, he suffered terribly unless protected by some sort of magical structure. And he was getting exhausted as well. We knew that finding a permanent solution was therefore necessary. That fact gave a sense of urgency to our work that night. As a group, we created the following mental events, after raising the circle. First, we visualized the cords of emotion and fear that bound Tony and the entity together snapping off. Immediately the lights burned blue and the temperature dropped. We had expected something of the sort, an emotional outburst from the spirit. We kept on, though, trying not to falter despite our own fears. Something was pushing against the wall of salt. We pushed back and began gathering all the threads, we wrapped the threads mentally around the being, enveloping it. We became big spiders to do this, using the threads to cocoon and calm, a big mother spider wrapping an egg, and then we neatly placed the ball inside the triangle. External phenomena suddenly ceased, and I explained to the spirit that it was now in a place of safety.
In the communication/trancework that then occurred, we found out some startling things: That the spirit (no, it was not a deamon) was that of a middle-aged man of German birth, a farm laborer, who had become mentally impaired after surviving a fever. He had lived over 180 years ago. His bizarre behavior had led neighbors to “swim” him as a witch – half in drunken fun, half in earnest – and they had drowned him by accident. The pond in which he had drowned was the same one in which Tony’s brother had lost his life five years before. Adam Zellbacht had been drowning all this time! With blinding clarity I realized what the marks on Tony’s body had really been – the clawing of a panicked person in the act of fighting for breath, going under while being pushed back to his death over and over. We spent several hours reorienting Adam, feeding him magical breath, restoring his reason. We mentally dissolved all the cords of spider silk and prepared him for release. I felt a strange surge of grief for this person I barely knew; I found myself in tears. Then, after he had asked forgiveness of Tony, and receive it wholeheartedly, we made a path for him to take into the West. He flew instantly through it; we closed the door after him. The Sun’s first rays shot through the living room windows.
The ordeal was over for Tony, and for his pathetic tormentor, who, incidentally, never again returned, because he had been freed from the cycle of fear and anger which had imprisoned him. This is something that we living can cultivate as well, and as we settled down to a hearty breakfast that beautiful morning, we all realized how many times we have been blinded to reality by old cycles of conditioned emotional patterns and habits that we are barely aware of. Adam’s gift to us was an awareness of the way out, the limitless power of human caring, the potency of compassion.