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Possession – Another spiritual idea largely ignored by consumer culture

The controversial figure, Rasputin. Depending on one’s worldview or politics, he was mad, possessed or inspired – via Wikipedia

The idea of spiritual possession is found in many different cultures. Some see it as entirely involuntary, unwanted and evil. Others take a less extreme view.

Depending on the cultural context in which it is found, possession may be considered voluntary or involuntary and may be considered to have beneficial or detrimental effects on the host. Within possession cults, the belief that one is possessed by spirits is more common among women than men.¹

In Catholic teaching possession refers to the belief that a person’s body – but not the soul – is inhabited or controlled by demons or other evil influences. Possession in this sense may be temporary or permanent.

Over the centuries diverse exorcism prayers and rituals were developed by the Catholic Church to repulse what are regarded as spiritual attacks from Satan. An example of an exorcism prayer still in use is Prayer Against Satan and the Rebellious Angels, published in 1967 by order of His Holiness Pope Leo XIII.

The Swiss psychiatrist C. G. Jung used the term possession to describe the unhealthy influence of an archetype on the ego. Jung’s discussion suggests that many archetypes are equivalent in character to pagan gods, which for many are perceived as lesser than a monotheistic God.

Psychiatry complicates the belief in possession. When explaining this belief, contemporary psychiatrists look to delusional systems possibly rooted in faulty brain functioning.

Hacker – Hacking – Symbol by Christoph Scholz via Flickr

However, most psychiatrists do not consider the prospect that faulty brain functioning and spiritual attack may go hand in hand.

Just as a hacker finds weak spots within a computer operating system, the devil, some maintain, exploits physiological and psychological vulnerabilities within human beings.

Could possession be permitted by God to bring about some greater good? If God permits evil, as most traditional theologians say, and if possession is another instance of evil, then it follows that God does permit the possession of souls for some unknown reason.

It’s hard for us to understand why God would permit evil when a seemingly possessed person commits an enormous sin against others. Where’s the logic in that? most cry out afterward.

For me, it is less challenging to consider the “greater Good of good and evil” when we make small mistakes, mistakes that might be at least partially explained by the notion of temporary possession.

Huh?

Let me explain.

In times of extreme stress and fatigue most of us have probably experienced or witnessed someone being “beside themselves,” as the old saying goes. People say or do things they normally wouldn’t do, like hurting another person’s feelings or sparking an argument. This dynamic fits with an idea I’ve been thinking about since the 1980s—The notion of the necessary mistake.

Philosophically speaking, the necessary mistake is nothing new. It’s another way of saying inevitable sin, a concept that has been talked about since the dawn of ethical thinking. Because we are all imperfect, we are going to make mistakes (or commit sin) in life. But some believe that God may bring about a greater Good, despite our blunders. And hopefully the timing of our mistakes fits within a larger dynamic of overall improvement. That is, we all learn together.

BK via Flickr

The difference between a healthy and unhealthy response to a necessary mistake hinges upon how we respond. Do we resolve to do better next time or simply not give a damn and carry on, repeating the same mistake over and over to the detriment of self and others?

It may seem like I’ve wandered pretty far from the idea of possession. But again, possession can be temporary and, as psychiatry suggests, at least partly brought about by factors like genetics, personality, sleep deprivation, malnutrition, drug use and stress.

Conceivably, a dark spiritual force could influence us toward making mistakes if we let our guard down. And I think psychiatry, its patients and the general public would do well to consider this possibility.

In a world becoming more techno-crazed every day, it is time to bring soul, spirit and God back into the discussion of mental health and illness.²

¹ https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spirit_possession

² I once had a professor who, almost like Rasputin, seemed to have enormous powers of influence over other people. I’ll call him or her “Raspy” (not the real name). In Jungian terms, Raspy seemed to be gripped (or intermittently possessed) by an archetypal power. Raspy almost had me fooled for a while, until I saw through her or him. As the New Testament puts it, you can always judge spiritual powers by their fruit (i.e. moral outcome). In Raspy’s case, the fruit seemed rotten.

Related » Mental Illness, Obsession, Occam’s Razor, Psychosis, Sibyl, Tramp Souls, Undoing, Vampires

 Boom time for fortune-tellers and tarot card readers in Italy as economic crisis bites (telegraph.co.uk)

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Psychosis – Toward a humble, intelligent and ethically sound approach

Exorcising a boy possessed by a demon from Trè...

Exorcising a boy possessed by a demon from Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry, 15th century – Wikipedia

Psychosis is usually described within psychology and psychiatry as a fundamental break with reality.

Current theories say this apparent break is caused by biological and environmental factors, resulting in a breakdown or disintegration of the personality where normal judgement is severely impaired or absent. The break can be non-violent or violent, temporary or permanent.

However, humanity has never reached absolute consensus on the topic of reality. And for anyone to suggest that they ‘know it all’ is misguided, grandiose and, in the case of some mental health workers, a naive political act.

Psychiatrists like R. D. Laing and Stanislav Grof emphasize not just the drawbacks but the transformational benefits that may arise after a so-called breakdown. Providing that a breakdown is properly treated, Laing goes as far to say we should think in terms of breakthrough instead of mere breakdown.

Breakdown is only the first stage in developing a greater sense of self, spirituality and wisdom.

As the old saying goes, we have to break an egg to make an omelette. Instead of trying to put a runny egg back into a broken shell, it is better to simply let the omelette cook. In other words, psychiatric treatments that try to resume former ways of being may help for a while. But hopefully a person moves on and learns how to make sense out of a dramatically different life experience and emergent worldview.

Laing’s position is worthy of consideration but most mental health workers point out that psychosis is no trivial matter and should not be glibly romanticized. People and those close to them suffer dearly. True, some individuals recover and flourish after a psychotic episode but others never really get better, even with positive family and social supports. They limp along on disability payments, looking forward to their evening pill that lessens their pain, fear or frightening hallucinations. Sadly, these pills also tend to dull the mind and, statistically speaking, have long term negative effects, to include early death.

A few anti-psychiatry writers at sites like Mad in America tend to overlook the possibility that some souls may never pass through their ordeal unscathed. Like ships dashed against the shoals in stormy weather, they sink or float shattered and aimless, never reaching the far shore of meaning and happiness.

Psychosis (video game)

Psychosis (video game) – Wikipedia

This is a tragedy for non-violent souls. But for those inclined to violence, it can be so much more than mere personal tragedy. And to overlook this is not just foolish. It’s socially irresponsible.

So who’s right? The critics or the psychiatrists?

The vast majority of people on both sides of this debate have good intentions and something to say. It is unfortunate that little positive dialog exists between the two groups because neither, in my opinion, fully understands the human psyche in relation to all of creation.

What’s at stake here is the definition of health and normalcy, and how that affects people’s lives.

If a person deviates too far from social conventions, there is a risk of being scapegoated by so-called normals. If left unchecked, this unfair dynamic can contribute to even greater unhappiness, discomfort and instability. So mental health becomes not just a personal issue but part of a greater social, political and economic dynamic.

I add the economic dimension because not being able to “work” as currently framed in the 21st century conversation is a huge stroke against individuals trying to break out of the psychiatric name-calling game. Arguably a kind of bullying, name-calling turns a blind eye to the fact that non-violent ‘crazy’ people rarely make money while violent, organized criminals often do.

Social organizations that brand themselves as “friends” of those with mental health labels may inadvertently reinforce the stigma with the implied message:

Accept your label… take your meds… you’re doing so much better.

To my mind this is like telling a person of color:

Accept that you are a  &%$#@!, take a menial, dead-end job, and be happy with your lot!¹

R.D. Laing, perusing in 1983 The Ashley Book o...

R.D. Laing, perusing in 1983 The Ashley Book of Knots in a humorous allusion to his own work, Knots – Wikipedia

Defining reality and normalcy is not just a philosophical riddle. Difficulties also arise in religion when discerning health and goodness from dysfunction and evil. For example, in the New Testament story some believe that Jesus Christ is insane or possessed by a demon:

Then Jesus entered a house, and again a crowd gathered, so that he and his disciples were not even able to eat. When his family heard about this, they went to take charge of him, for they said, “He is out of his mind.” And the teachers of the law who came down from Jerusalem said, “He is possessed by Beelzebub[a]! By the prince of demons he is driving out demons – Mark 3:20-22.

Christian believers see Jesus’ rebuking his accusers as a sign of his divine intelligence but some nonbelievers see Christ as an egomaniac:

So Jesus called them and spoke to them in parables: “How can Satan drive out Satan? If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. If a house is divided against itself, that house cannot stand. And if Satan opposes himself and is divided, he cannot stand; his end has come. In fact, no one can enter a strong man’s house and carry off his possessions unless he first ties up the strong man. Then he can rob his house. I tell you the truth, all the sins and blasphemies of men will be forgiven them. But whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will never be forgiven; he is guilty of an eternal sin.” He said this because they were saying, “He has an evil spirit.” – Mark 3: 23-30.

The belief that madness is caused by evil, possession by a demon or by God withdrawing favor was common in the ancient world. In prehistory we have archaeological evidence, circa 5000 BC, of holes drilled in skulls, presumably to release evil spirits that tormented the insane or those perceived as such.²

Medieval book illustration of Christ Exorcisin...

Medieval book illustration of Christ Exorcising the Gerasenes demonic – Wikipedia

Today, many Christians of different denominations still believe that Satan wants to enslave victims in a psychological, social and spiritual hell. Not just in the next world, but now.

The Catholic clergy still perform exorcisms but also recommend psychiatry for mental discomfort. Adding to the ambiguity, the whole idea of spirituality varies from person to person.³

To further complicate things, many intelligent people believe that the idea of normality is a farce or illusion—a by-product of the most effective media spin.

The trouble with normal is it always gets worse.4

Not surprisingly, the relation between psychiatry and laws concerning individual rights and freedoms differ among countries and regions. In Russia we see a long history of political abuses involving psychiatry. That is, those who rub the Big Cheese the wrong way get locked up. But this isn’t just a Russian problem. Subtler kinds of psychiatry-based oppression and marginalization take place in North America and around the world.

So who can really say what’s normal and real? It almost seems like small or crafty minds try to fit everything into their own perspective. A perspective they are comfortable with.

But the fullness of life is rarely like that. Life changes and evolves. And it’s high time we realize this.

Related » Beatnik, Michel FoucaultMadness, Neurosis, Nietzsche

¹ Unlike some mainstream media outlets, I don’t wish to reinforce harmful words by indicating with a single letter. Please fill in the gap.

² This is a huge presumption. Our prehistoric ancestors might simply have thought the skull was too tight and were trying to relieve pressure, like letting air out of over-inflated tires. Point is, we cannot know.

³ See https://www.skeptic.com/reading_room/is-spirituality-so-broadly-defined-that-testing-is-meaningless/

4 https://youtu.be/kybkiiAKMOY

For more historical info see my highlights at LINER (scroll down)

 ‘I feel like I’m going crazy:’ Migrants in Greece are attempting suicide and suffering from other mental health issues at alarming rates (businessinsider.com)

 Why We’ve Been Thinking About Madness All Wrong: A Conversation With David Dobbs (psmag.com)


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Psyche – More than a bundle of chemicals

Psyche and Amor, also known as Psyche Receiving Cupid’s First Kiss (1798), by François Gérard – Wikipedia

Psyche (Greek: soul or spirit) is the personification of the soul in Graeco-Latin myth.

The early Roman writer Apuleius looks at psychological transformation and the love between Cupid and Psyche in The Golden Ass, one of the earliest surviving Latin texts.

Apuleius is interesting because he is familiar not only with ancient Greek, Roman but also Egyptian religions, especially the once popular mystery cult of the goddess Isis.

In the ancient world, psychology and metaphysics, alike, use the term psyche to refer to the soul or the total person. In the Middle Ages it was translated into the Latin, anima.

The notion that psyche refers to more than a bundle of chemicals carries through in psychology right up to Sigmund Freud and especially to Carl Jung. Each of these 20th century thinkers use German translations (Seele) of the term psyche within their respective models of the self.

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Russia, Saint Petersburg, State Hermitage Museum, Winter Palace, Cupid and Psyche

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Psychiatry – An evolving science

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Psychiatrist and patient in counseling session

Psychiatry generally sees itself as a branch of medicine specializing in the assessment, treatment, study and prevention of unhealthy psychological suffering.

However, not everyone sees psychiatry in an entirely benign light. In a nutshell, the main critiques and alternative cosmologies to contemporary psychiatry come from:

Because psychiatry deals with the somewhat mysterious human self in relation to the total environment, quite a few related issues come up throughout earthpages.ca. Please follow this link (and also “Related” below) for more perspectives relating to this fascinating topic.

My own view is that, as an evolving science, psychiatry will hopefully (if eventually) consider these various critiques and adapt accordingly to make itself (and its patients) better. However, history demonstrates time and again that adherents of any deeply entrenched belief system are often unwilling or, at least, slow to change. And in my opinion this sometimes makes psychiatry, along with some its uncritical followers, look a bit like a Church.

Related » Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (The Strange Case of ), Carl Gustav Jung, Timothy Leary, Madness, Mental Illness, Ram Dass, Psychosis, Syntonic Counter-Transference, Thomas Szasz

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The Son, Catholicism and its Critics

English: child Jesus with the virgin Mary, wit...

Child Jesus with the virgin Mary, with the Holy Spirit (represented as a dove) and God the Father, with child john the Baptist and saint Elizabeth on the right (Wikipedia)

In Christian theology, the Son is part of the Holy Trinity. The Christian Trinity refers to the belief that God, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit form a co-equal, co-eternal mystical union.

Jesus, the Son, is fully human and fully divine. Not a few alternative Christianities claim or have claimed that Jesus wasn’t fully human or, alternately, that he wasn’t fully divine. These views were aggressively branded as “heresies” by the early Church Fathers, most notably Tertullian, a presbyter from Carthage (a Roman province in occupied Africa), and Irenaeus, the Bishop of the Roman occupied Gaul (what is now Lyon, France). These two men expended a great deal of energy denouncing anyone who didn’t see things the way they did.

Concerning the orthodox version of the Trinity, so vigorously proclaimed in the early Church, each of the three parts is defined as a “person.” It remains somewhat mysterious as to just what this means.¹

Another issue with the idea of the “Son” as part of the Trinity is its supremely masculine character. Many feminist writers have taken issue with this, forwarding notions of “The Goddess” to counterbalance what they argue is nothing more than an unsavory remnant of patriarchal oppression.

Some Christian theologians counter that God is beyond gender, a position outlined in the Roman Catholic catechism. But to many, this still falls short.

The depth psychologist Carl Jung believed that the Catholic dogma of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary (1950) was a step in the right direction. Jung believed that Catholicism trumped Protestantism in this area because it was promoting much needed feminine symbols to communicate the numinous. But again, to many feminists, calling Jesus’ mother Mary the “greatest saint” or “Mother of God” does not compare to her son’s status as “God.”

The discussion here can get complicated, and I don’t pretend to have any answers, myself. It’s probably most productive to remember that God is a mystery. The mysterious aspect of God is something which, again, the Catholic authorities do recognize.

Some critique Catholic notables who believe they are divinely inspired or, at least, in a privileged position to make firm, even cutting, statements on pressing issues.² The more forceful critics say that worldly power has gone to their heads, and they lampoon the notion that Catholic authorities have a pipeline to God.

From a sociological perspective, it’s also worthy to note that because Catholic authorities belong to a group which enjoys social power, the current version of psychiatry does not designate them as mentally unsound. But if it were an individual saying “I know what God wants,” most, if not all, psychiatrists would probably see this as a mental disorder and possibly prescribe medication to dampen down their “delusions” or “magical thinking.”

History reveals that the individual is often persecuted. And some believe that today’s conventional Church in some ways carries on that tradition of insulting, bullying and marginalizing people who are different. This claim is ironic considering that Jesus, the individual, was persecuted within a similar dynamic.

¹ Wikipedia outlines the standard theological wording, but it doesn’t really help much. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trinity

² Recall the Pope recently saying that Donald Trump is “not Christian.”


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Thomas Szasz

Dr Thomas Stephen Szasz photographed by jennyphotos.com during his 90th birthday seminar in London.

Thomas Szasz (1920-2012) was a Hungarian psychiatrist and author of many books, including his best known work, The Myth of Mental Illness (1961).

Almost a decade before collaborating with The Church of Scientology, Szasz argued that the science behind psychiatry is essentially scientism. For Szasz, the term mental illness points to a social myth rather than an absolute fact. To borrow from the lingo of postmodernism, he believes that the idea of mental illness is a historically relative discourse, located in networks of power/knowledge.¹

Written before Henri Ellenberger’s landmark publication, The Discovery of the Unconscious (1970), and around the same time as Michel Foucault‘s poststructural work, Histoire de la folie à l’âge classique (1961), Szasz’s The Myth of Mental Illness is often required reading for undergraduate courses in the Humanities at liberal-democratic universities.

Critics of Szasz’s perspective question his knowledge of genetics and neuroscience. And they point out that psychiatry, like any other science, is in a constant state of development. Depending on factors like the patient’s condition, the competency of the psychiatrist and the socio-political climate in which assessments are made, psychiatry may be used for good or ill. So it makes little sense to demonize it as a whole.

However, Szasz was prolific right up to his death. His later publications contain some sociological and philosophical insights but arguably reveal the unrealistically polarized views of a somewhat isolated but well-meaning humanitarian (e.g Schizophrenia: The Sacred Symbol of Psychiatry, 1988; Psychiatry: The Science of Lies, 2008).

Again, most recognized psychiatric associations have rejected his ideas, a situation not entirely unlike an orthodox Church marginalizing so-called heresies. This polarization of anti-psychiatry vs. psychiatry is unfortunate because it probably makes all involved parties more intransigent, lessening their ability to see other perspectives.

Anti-Psychiatry Demonstration in Washington, D.C. “It’s not just Scientologists that don’t like Psychiatry and the big-pharma connection. Thousands joined my wife and I and people from all up and down the east coast for a big anti-psychiatry demonstration in D.C.” – Image and text by Jettero Heller via Flickr

When someone or a tight group is convinced they’re absolutely right and outsiders are entirely wrong, constructive dialogue usually disappears. And when dialog disappears among the whole spectrum of human inquiry, not only psychiatry suffers, but also its clients.

Taking a more moderate approach than Szasz, I would agree that psychiatry may fall short in the interpretation of behavioral and physiological differences. At some point, difference is often construed as a disorder, and the “appropriate” diagnostic labels are applied to patients.² Many patients believe in this perspective and see themselves as medically “ill.”

However, in some cases we may be witnessing variation instead of disorder. And in some instances differences could be preliminary trials, as it were, for key evolutionary changes to our species.³

Unfortunately, the evolutionary idea is hard to prove because we might have to wait a thousand years before finding out if there’s anything to it. But if true or even partially true, I think this expanded perspective could dramatically change how some psychiatric patients see themselves, possibly making them happier.

So to return to Szasz, I don’t see him as totally wrong. He has been roundly critiqued on a point-by-point basis by psychiatrists. But his overall objection deserves some attention. Otherwise, psychiatry becomes a new religion, which isn’t science at all, but as Szasz and many others put it, scientism.

¹ See Michel Foucault, discourse and counter-discourse for more.

² To continue in a postmodern vein, the word “appropriate” is often uncritically used to reinforce current attitudes, beliefs and practices.

³ Along these lines, spiritual and parapsychological factors are often dismissed. We rarely hear about the possibilities of healing grace, demonic influence, the transfer of sin or bona fide mind-reading in psychiatry.

Related Posts » DSM-IV-TR, Madness, Postmodernism, Unconscious

 


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Unconscious

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Black’s Medical Dictionary (39th edition) defines the unconscious as “a description of mental activities of which an individual is unaware” (p. 567).

In the West, the idea of the unconscious has an interesting history. It’s found in the ancient Greek literature of Sophocles, with related ideas like hubris, and in Shakespeare and more recent luminaries like James Joyce.

Philosophical debates about its character flourished in the 18th century among thinkers like John Locke and David Hume. In the 20th century, Freud, Pierre Janet, Alfred Adler, Carl Jung and many others presented their unique theories about the unconscious.

Arthur Koestler believes the idea of the unconscious was already known before the actual word was coined. Koestler cites several examples where the notion of the unconscious is implied in the arts and philosophy (e.g. Dante, Kepler and Kant). Koestler also says that consciousness and unconsciousness are not discrete states but exist along a continuum.¹

From Koestler it seems reasonable to suggest that the range and character of this experiential continuum varies among individuals. In other words, some people access different types of thoughts and emotions than others.

Arthur Koestler with Mamaine Paget, Robie Maca...

Arthur Koestler with Mamaine Paget, Robie Macauley and Flannery O’Connor (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

But we should remember that the unconscious is just a concept. All too often it’s reified. Reification means ideas are assumed to represent some real entity or thing–for instance, the sociological idea of “the state.” Reified concepts may even point to detailed legal entities.²

A common misunderstanding among contemporary writers is to say that Freud sees the unconscious as uniquely personal while his former protege Carl Jung sees it as collective.³ In fact, both theorist recognize personal and collective aspects within their respective theories of the unconscious.

¹ Koestler, Arthur. The Act of Creation. New York: Penguin [Arkana], 1989: 147-177.

² Reification is also a concept. So the question remains as to whether the thing written or talked about actually exists as described.

³ See shadow, archetypes