The Politics of Possession

Preface to article

Although the title may imply that this post is a political one, it actually isn’t. It is a spiritual one. But here’s the thing, we are fooling ourselves if we think that “spiritual” reality and “reality” are two different things. We are fooling ourselves if we think that what we do while we sit and meditate is separate from what we do when we speak (or don’t speak) to our family and neighbors, or vote (or don’t vote) for people to represent us in government. We are creating our collective reality all the time. Together. With everything we do and don’t do. Every thought, word, gesture, action. Sometimes it’s easier to distract ourselves or turn away, especially when we are in pain ourselves or when things get intense, that is a natural response. But reality is being created nonetheless. The visible and invisible are always present. There is always more beneath the surface. We are in potent times — for us as individuals and collectively. It’s important to look beyond the surface, even if it’s confusing, even if it’s excruciating. It’s important that we keep looking and sensing, keep witnessing and naming what we see as best we can, keep standing for what we believe in, so that whatever needs to be illuminated can come into the light. 

In general, an individual is responsible for his or her own thoughts, words and actions. In some situations mental illness increases the likelihood of aberrant behavior and is a mitigating factor in how we consider personal responsibility. Lack of empathy, violence against others, pathological lying, and detachment from reality can be signs of a personality disorder. Those suffering from mental illness may not be acting entirely within the spectrum of their own agency, but society does have some responsibility to protect the community at large from their behavior.

Can humans—healthy or mentally ill—act as vessels for energy or spirit that comes from an external source? For many cultures around the world, the answer is a clear and unequivocal yes; we can and do act as vessels for spirit. This act of being inhabited by spirit can be engaged in intentionally for good purpose, but can also cause problems for unwitting hosts, and those around them.

The belief that “spirits” (malevolent or otherwise) can possess a person and affect their thoughts, emotions and actions spans religious, cultural, and therapeutic belief systems. The Catholic Church employs fifty priests as exorcists in the United States alone— a 317% increase in the past decade. Ivy League trained psychologist Richard Gallagher has incorporated this dynamic into his practice. Part of his work is to sort out people with garden-variety mental illness from those who are genuinely possessed. See this Washington Post article for more information.

Spirit possession is much more commonplace than most Westerners are aware. When we’re compromised energetically, or not entirely grounded within ourselves, we are particularly vulnerable to the latching on of suffering spirits. We may have unfamiliar or painful bodily sensations, thoughts and emotions that are uncomfortable or not our own, or a general sense of uneasiness, anxiety or fear. Usually these suffering beings are misguided or confused on their way to their resting place after physical death. A skilled practitioner can correct this situation pretty quickly, with compassion for both parties.

However, not all spirits are misguided or confused, some take pleasure in causing pain. Through their power over a living person, they translate that thirst for inflicting harm into the physical realm. When we combine a genuinely malicious spiritual presence with a human vessel inclined to cruelty, selfishness, and a lack of basic human decency the potential for a very dangerous situation evolves.

There are periods of time, cultural moments, populated with prominent and powerful figures who are particularly astute at coalescing the energy of their times. Putting this dynamic in a non-spiritual context, think of the power that charismatic leaders have over their followers. If used for good this can be a powerful motivator to create positive change. Think Mahatma Gandhi or Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. However, when that personal charisma is used for evil, unthinkable deeds come to pass. Think Jim Jones or Adolf Hitler.

Perhaps they do this through their own personalities and will alone. Mental illness may be a factor in some cases. And is it possible that those powerful and charismatic leaders were not entirely solo agents in their thoughts and deeds? Was the power they wielded sourced at least in part externally or were they simply able to tap into collective convictions to unite people en masse. Again, for better or worse.

In the case of some of the most destructive figures, perhaps through their own compromised spirits, they make it possible for possession to occur on a level that risks not just themselves but large numbers of their fellow citizens who are drawn to them. When a significant portion of the collective is dazzled by such a charismatic figure, and falls under the spell of their glamour, we are in precarious times indeed.

When reporters talk about crowds as “absent of soul,” referencing people cheering as Donald Trump made fun of a sexual assault victim, I take note. Not because it is a criticism of any particular group of people, but because the spiritual dynamic has become apparent even to people who are not working in this realm every day, who don’t generally speak in terms of soul or energy. When people respond to cruelty with joy and cheering, we have a problem, regardless of your political party or beliefs.

Whatever your thoughts on literal spiritual possession, we are collectively in a situation that strains our ability to hold together as a country and a planet. Our institutions and our environment as we know them are crumbling, literally melting around us at unprecedented speed.

We need to work practically to create safety in the visible realms, but perhaps the more important work will be to “cast out” what is threatening us on the invisible level. Whatever that is, however we feel comfortable describing it or naming it —something is here and it will be addressed one way or the other. Perhaps a better way to think about it is what do we want to call in, who do we want to be? What do we want to embody as individuals and as a society? When we are filled with what is nourishing (literally and metaphorically) we can handle some toxicity and still thrive. When we are not paying attention to what we are made of, what we are feeding ourselves with, we are vulnerable.

We create the future from the present. Whatever your spiritual beliefs are, now is a good time to call on sources of love and healing. Don’t let violence take away your peacefulness. Don’t let cruelty take away your kindness. Don’t let ugliness take away your beauty. Don’t let brutality take away your humanity.

Feel free to contact me with any questions.

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Wishing you a peaceful heart,
Mara

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©2018 Mara Bishop

10 thoughts on “The Politics of Possession”

  1. Very engaging post, Mara, and wonderfully balanced between passionate conviction and even-handed temperance. I hope you don’t mind me sharing it.

  2. Wow- so powerful, Mara!! I intend to read this several more times because there are so many pearls of wisdom and frightening truths, that it’s a lot to take in. This is beautifully and thoughtfully written – send this off to a major newspaper or The New Yorker! Everyone needs to read this!
    You’re a blessing…

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