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From Chris Wayan's journal 1995/7/29

My friend Xanthe calls. We talk about Larry Dossey's medical study on the power of prayer, over at San Francisco General Hospital. Her first response was "Then what of the power of malice, of curses?"

She goes on to say she thinks much human evil isn't human. We're infested with demons or some sort of psychic parasites we take for granted--as we took Alzheimer's syndrome to be just age, or cavities to be just time and diet. She says "Talking about prayer and spiritual healing puts you on the edge of intellectual respectability. But the topic of malice and the possibility of "spiritual" beings that hurt us not help us--it's over the line into taboo. Though nearly every other society accepts the concept of harmful spirits, here it's seen as mental illness. Or it looks like you want to return to witch-hunts. Or as an easy way to blame someone else for our own evil."

I admit "I feel extremely uncomfortable even listening to you." I can think of a parallel, though--Stephanie Nelson's study showing that European and American wariness about dreams AND the paranormal both began during the witch-burnings. Get too witchy and they'll come for you!

I went through a phase of worrying much like Xanthe. Mine began with my first blatant psychic dream. My family was near Lake Tahoe and we all dreamed of ax murders. My father said "this shows the impulses inside us all"--the Freudian line. Then the paper came. The murders had been real, and nearby. I learned then that impulses to hurt myself or deprive myself may be echoes of something external, but I drew the line there. Spill-over yes, malice no. Xanthe's right--I dismiss that as paranoia, superstition. It took a blatant, outrageous psychic dream to forced me to accept even spillover as real. Do I want to wait until I have a similar crisis here, before I'll consider Xanthe's hypothesis?

Even New Age types who work routinely with psychic healing and angels don't want to think about the same things gone bad: demons and psychic ill-wishing from human enemies. Even if you do suspect such things, maybe it's smart to keep your mouth shut. If spiritual parasites or predators or colonists do exist, it's not smart to holler "I see you, ya bastards!" Is not thinking about it protective? Lying low, playing dumb happy slave on the plantation?

On the other hand, the blank spot could be one way such parasites keep us in line! Like the inability of American wage slaves to notice their owners! So far, at least. So far.

Or, again, it may be a historical by-product of the Inquisition--like the Holocaust's "Never again!" Believing that either humans or spooks can curse as well as bless leads straight back to "burn, witch, burn!" and at least Americans really do make an effort now to prevent pogroms, or even overt discrimination.

Xanthe points out that since those who do believe in devils as well as angels (a vast majority in world history) do survive, demons may not have much ability to harm us beyond what they're already doing. A plague, not a war! And as the T-shirt says, "silence = death." Can't fix a social problem you deny.

The possibility that ill-wishing, from humans or others, can harm you makes me uncomfortable for an obvious reason--I'd feel I have to watch every thought, every feeling. I want free thought! As an American, I'm free to make my own life miserable, but not others. Notice I'm taking it for granted that the shame fear and anger I cultivate (or at least allow) do in fact often make me miserable, and not just via my mood.

The idea that ill-wishes have real effects conflicts with a basic American principle: the freedom of speech and thought. Encouraging self-censorship of thoughts and feelings might discourage innovation. So a belief in the power of curses may thus have the effect of enforcing conformity and suppressing change without any external witch-hunts at all! We'd be witch-hunting our own resentments, burning our own anger at the stake.

Destroys privacy, too. Of course us psychics and dreamworkers already violate privacy now, inadvertently--I for one pick up (and probably broadcast) things in dreams all the time. And yet... do I dread psychic dreams? Not at all. I cultivate the ability by focusing on it, I feel excited when I have one! Once free of the idea psychic experiences are unnatural or suppress free will, they feel natural, informative, even fun!

I'm playing with speculations partly to avoid the central point Xanthe brought up: the persistent feeling that often when I'm unable to do what I need to, or I feel compelled to do things I don't want to, I experience this as external malice, a parasitic OTHER--not as mere weakness, or even self-sabotage, where one side of me hurts another.

What if Occam's razor is appropriate here, and my naive sense of external coercion is correct? What to do if others (human or not) CAN harass us or block us or sicken us, for selfish reasons of their own?

If hostile spiritual influences (whether spirits, or just other people) can affect us, presumably they can personify in dreams as well as parts of ourselves can. If you accept that they may not be us, but parasites, dreamwork changes a bit--and it's true that I've gradually gotten more willing to fight and even kill hostile entities in dreams--I try less to identify with them or assimilate them, as most talk-therapies encourage you to. I figure that real parts of me can always make me dream I'm in their shoes--mine certainly do. I don't think a demon could, at least without outraging you--unless you really have a lot in common with that devil already.

Oh--a couple of times, I've also met true parts of me that told me as much, but said they wanted to die, wanted my permission not to integrate but simply to end. And I've let them dissolve. And been stronger for it. Their energy returns to the mix and new, healthier parts emerge.

I'm not sure how that relates to psychic hostility, except... is there some way to turn such assaults to good? Beyond, I mean, "what doesn't kill me makes me stronger." Though that could be the point--after all, childhood exposure to lots of germs is now suspected to prevent polio and some autoimmune diseases. Maybe exposure to hostile beings, human or not, is needed for spiritual health... Sounds odd, but you never know...

LISTS AND LINKS: Xanthe - a dream on Larry Dossey's research: FAERIE - healthcare - impulses and urges - prayers and wishes - spells and curses - demons and devils - shamanic dreams - personality integration - ethics - essays and rants

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