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Possession, exorcism, and the daimon: A brief history


A few year ago I had two articles published in editor Joe Laycock’s Spirit Possession around the World: Possession, Communion, and Demon Expulsion across Cultures (ABC-CLIO, 2015). One of these was a survey of possession and exorcism in the history of literature. The other was an article about the daimon.

When I submitted the latter of these, Joe got back to me with a request for significant revisions, the better to make the article fit harmoniously with the rest of the encyclopedia’s contents, and the better to make it align with his editorial vision of its place in the book.

As a result, the version that is now published in the encyclopedia is thoroughly different from what I originally wrote. The original version has never been published. And since I own the copyright on that version, I’m free to share it here with Teeming Brain readers. As those of you who have been here for awhile will immediately recognize, this is entirely appropriate, since the article lands right in the middle of several of this blog’s foundational interests, themes, and concerns.


Possession, Exorcism, and the Daimon

The word “daimon” has several possible meanings, but in relation to possession and exorcism it refers to a particular type of autonomous or autonomous-feeling force in the psyche that influences or, in some cases, dominates a person’s thoughts, actions, and feelings. It comes from ancient Greece and the ancient Hellenistic world, where it generally referred to a particular class of deity or spirit being, and where its basic meaning evolved over time to refer as much or more to an inner psychic or subjective force as to an objectively conceived entity. The concept of the daimon is one of the key components in the origin and evolution of the related concepts of the demon and demonic possession. Its adjectival form, daimonic, has been widely used in modern-day depth psychology to refer to a particular aspect of the psyche that lies outside a person’s conscious, voluntary control, and that is especially associated with creativity, anger, and other surging states of mind and emotion that can effectively swamp the conscious ego and result in violent outbursts of creation and destruction.

Among the ancient Greeks, the concept of the daimon led a dual existence as it progressed along two distinct but related strands. On the one hand, daimons were conceived in typically animistic terms as spirits that inhabited or haunted certain places, affected the weather and other natural occurrences, and so on. Some were associated with the spirits of the dead. On the other hand, a spiritualized or psychologized view placed the daimons in a position of deep intertwinement with human subjectivity. Essentially, the Greeks regarded daimons as objectively real presences that made themselves known through their influence upon and within the human psyche. The objective, animistic beliefs about them were thus matched and accompanied by a more subtle and psychologically oriented view that framed them as inner influences upon human thoughts and emotions, and even as the keepers and emblems of individual character and destiny. This second view gradually became dominant over time. Read the rest of this entry

Why dreams are the new Book of Revelation in our post-apocalyptic world

From an essay by sculptor, guitarist, and Jungian therapist Paco Mitchell on the awesome significance of dreams as psychic, spiritual, religious, and mythic guides to our present and future age of apocalyptic breakdown and revelation:

We are living in an age widely regarded as “apocalyptic,” though many of us steadfastly try to keep the lid on our share of apocalyptic awareness. But, in the end, it is better to lift the lid and peer into the cauldron. Every therapist understands this, and every patient should as well. And the most direct way of seeing into the living darkness that surrounds us is through our dreams.

. . . In his great but underrated book Flying Saucers: A Modern Myth of Things Seen in the Sky, Jung puts our position into perspective:

The present world situation is calculated as never before to arouse expectations of a redeeming, supernatural event. If these expectations have not dared to show themselves in the open, this is simply because no one is deeply rooted enough in the tradition of earlier centuries to consider an intervention from heaven as a matter of course. We have indeed strayed far from the metaphysical certainties of the Middle Ages, but not so far that our historical and psychological background is empty of all metaphysical hope. Consciously, however, rationalistic enlightenment predominates, and this abhors all leanings towards the “occult.”

Although Jung’s book was devoted to an examination of UFO reports as symptoms of a modern myth in the process of forming, the larger syndrome of a myth-in-progress includes more than just flying saucer sightings, reports of abductions, or first-person accounts of being “probed” by aliens. The fact is that revelatory (apocalyptic) images are most likely flooding the dream-field as we speak, enriching our personalities and lives like silt from the rising waters of the Nile. The aggregation of these dream images and the life-experiences associated with them, will contribute over time to the formation of the new myth. Whatever metaphor we choose — a birth, an approaching dawn, an awakening — the features and full dimensions of this emerging phenomenon are scarcely discernible as yet. However, this should not deter us from keeping our eyes open, or lending our shoulders to the wheel.

. . . This responsibility of individuals is all the more enhanced by the charged and peculiar circumstances of the present historical moment. Despite Christian teachings, which imply that all the revelations ever needed are safely contained within the Bible, the fact is that apocalyptic, revelatory impulses from the collective unconscious are just as necessary, and just as valid, today as they were two thousand years ago, when the classical world of antiquity was breaking down. Now, when we lay our heads on our pillows at night, each of us participates in a kind of dream-lottery, to determine who and how many will wake up to find the mantle of John of Patmos on their shoulders, inscribing their own versions of apokalypsis onto the parchments of their dream journals — fragments of the new, soon-to-be-assembled Book of Revelation.

More: “The Role and Value of Dreams in a Post-Apocalyptic Future

(Also see “‘Powerful and serious fictions’: The mythic/psychic reality of gods and other fictional characters.”)

Recommended Reading 29

This week, we bring you a roundup of readings spanning a rainbow of trends and topics, from the collapsing economy to the destruction of modern sociopolitical and cultural myths to the imaginal realm of shamanism, creativity, and mythic descents to the underworld.

More specifically, we have: a report on the U.S. Army’s stated criteria for recognizing potential terrorists, and why you and your coworkers probably meet one or more of them; an indictment of the Baby Boomers for destroying America (economically, ecologically) and leaving the wreckage to their children; a deep analysis of the current crack-up in the presiding Western myth of liberal individualism as bequeathed to us all by Adam Smith; an examination of the raging crisis in Western secularism as the implicit religiosity lying beneath the veneer of the secular mind is drawn to the surface; a paean to the lost joys of reading aloud; a scornful take on neuroscientific “discoveries” about the value of reading and the meanings of art; a first-person account of and reflection upon the imaginal and alchemical experience of descending into the underworld for death and reconstitution; and a brilliant exposition of the supreme value of poetic metaphor in the context of the deep linkage between shamanism and creativity. Read the rest of this entry

Deep Shadows and Numinous Horror: Introducing “Echoes from Hades”

The question of whether I found Horror or Horror found me is a longstanding one, and despite much contemplation, I’m no closer to a definitive answer.  Perhaps there isn’t one to be had.  Either way, Horror unquestionably crept into my world early, and with indelible power.

My name is Richard Gavin. I am a Canadian author of supernatural Horror fiction, and although this has been my vocation for the better part of two decades, my relationship with Horror stretches further still, reaching back to my formative years. Given my novice status here at The Teeming Brain, I thought it best to use this initial installment of Echoes from Hades as a form of introduction to this background and my outlook on such things.

One of my initial memories of movies was seeing Tod Browning’s 1931 version of Dracula on afternoon television.  The film’s impact on me was immediate and dramatic.  Monsters and the macabre swiftly became a constant in my life.  And unlike so many passions that erupt in one’s childhood, Horror never lost its lustre for me.

I do not believe I’m being dishonest when I say that my young mind intuited, albeit vaguely, that there was something grand about Horror, something important.  The whole field felt akin to an iceberg: its true significance was submerged, seething somewhere beneath its latex make-ups and Gothic prose. Read the rest of this entry

The Fruits of Dystopia (SHORT FILM)

The present cultural prominence and popularity of dystopian fiction and film, including the newly minted subgenre of young adult dystopian novels (c.f. The Hunger Games), underscores the fact that we’re living in what can reasonably be characterized as dystopian times. Or perhaps, to be more accurate, we’re living in a real-world manifestation of an anti-utopia, a situation in which a society deems itself a utopia when in fact it’s a nightmare.  Fahrenheit 451 and Brave New World are only two of the most familiar examples of this theme in English-language literature.

They’re also two of the works quoted in “The Fruits of Dystopia,” a short film by Cyrus Sutton, Creative Director at California-based Korduroy.TV,”a website spreading digital Aloha. Through video how-to’s, short films, rants and interviews we are creating a new platform for independent surf culture — a place where ideas can be shared that respect self-sufficiency, craftsmanship, and a surfing experience of our own design.”

So what, you ask, is the link between this expressed aim and the theme of dystopia? The film’s short description draws the connection in pithy fashion:

“The Fruits of Dystopia” is a short film about having fun in a less than perfect world. Cyrus Sutton explores an escape from modern trappings through excerpts from classic dystopian novels “1984,” “A Brave New World” [sic] and “Fahrenheit 451.”

In other words, the point — apparently — is to share several darkly dystopian takes on the state of human life and society, and, while basically agreeing with them, to show where and how pleasure and joy can still be found in the midst of such a situation. What’s even more interesting than this inherently interesting premise is that in Sutton’s hands it actually works. The film is rather hypnotic. Watch it and see for yourself.

Also be advised that in addition to Orwell, Huxley, and Bradbury, there’s another writer whose words show up: Alan Watts. “The Fruits of Dystopia” contains abridged portions of an early 1970s radio talk by Watts in which he acknowledged and explored his very deep debt to Jung. Here’s a passage from the talk’s complete transcript, encompassing some of what you’ll hear in the film. It makes for a fine epigraph:

[Jung was] trying to heal this insanity from which our culture in particular has suffered, of thinking that a human being becomes hale, healthy, and holy by being divided against himself in inner conflict, paralleling the conception of a cosmic conflict between an absolute good and an absolute evil which cannot be reduced to any prior and underlying unity. In other words, our rage, and our very proper rage, against evil things which occur in this world must not overstep itself, for if we require as a justification for our rage a fundamental and metaphysical division between good and evil, we have an insane and, in a certain sense, schizophrenic universe, of which no sense whatsoever can be made.

Liminality, Synchronicity, and the Walls of Everyday Reality

(Liminalities, Cycle 1, Part 1)

A seminal moment in the formation of Carl Jung’s concept of synchronicity came as he was treating a highly educated woman who, by his description, was locked in a rigid Cartesian rationalism that hindered her therapy. The basis of all depth psychotherapy is the airing of unconscious psychic content and its integration with the conscious sense of self, but this woman was centered in a view of reality that denied the existence or significance of such things and kept her wholly imprisoned in her rational ego.

One day as they sat together in Jung’s office, the woman told him of a dream from the previous night in which she was given a golden scarab beetle. As an iconic symbol of death and transformation in ancient Egypt, the scarab is a symbol resonant with psychological meanings, as Jung was well aware. But the situation quickly transcended the realm of purely abstract symbolism when Jung heard a gentle, insistent tapping on the window behind him. As he later recounted,

I turned round and saw a fairly large flying insect that was knocking against the window-pane from outside in the obvious attempt to get into the dark room. That seemed to me very strange. I opened the window immediately and caught the insect in the air as it flew in. It was a scarabaeid beetle, or common rose-chafer (Cetonia aurata), whose gold-green colour most nearly resembles that of a golden scarab. I handed the beetle to my patient with the words, “Here is your scarab.” The experience punctured the desired hole in her rationalism and broke the ice of her intellectual resistance. The treatment could now be continued with satisfactory results. [1]

This event became the chief instance that Jung regularly referred to as an illustration of synchronicity in action.

Read the rest of this entry

Recommended Reading 6

This week’s recommended reading includes: a news report about worldwide beliefs in the imminent End of Everything (to which I’ve added a recent local television news report about a doomsday-type drill that was run at Chicago-area hospitals); multiple articles and essays about Jung, psychology, consciousness, science, and spirituality; information about early psychological warfare studies and Big Pharma’s mission to hook us all on lifetime drugs; our collective transformation into a high-tech dystopia with “sentient cities” and a digital Dark Age; and a man who claims he was part of a secret (and successful) DARPA program that experimented with time travel.

Read the rest of this entry

Recommend Reading 5

This week’s recommended reading includes articles and essays about: collapse and global crisis; the manipulation of economics and politics by wealthy elites; the mysteries of consciousness; current hot-button topics in religion and spirituality; fruitful ways of regarding paranormal phenomena; and the value of working consciously to live a real human life in the midst of our current culture of frenetic speed and digital interconnectedness. Read the rest of this entry

Recommended Reading 2

Topics in this week’s edition of Recommended Reading include: the ongoing eating of everybody else by the wealthy elite; the crisis in America’s education system; the continued rise of online and real-world surveillance; the clash between scientistic reductionism and more humane views of human consciousness and psychology; and a recent UFO sighting.

Read the rest of this entry

Jung, the numinosum, and holy dread

Recently on Twitter I had a conversation with David Metcalfe and jadkr — worthy conversationalists indeed — about the ultimate outcome of the dread-filled confrontation between the individual self and the shimmering emptiness of the infinite, the void, the Godhead. The spur for this was my tweeting of a link to an interview with Nancy Evans Bush, former president of the International Association for Near-Death Studies, about the phenomenon of negative NDEs, those that involve experiences of great distress and fear as opposed to the stereotypically reported experiences of love and  comfort. Her own NDE, she said, which she experienced many years ago while giving birth, “was not a radiant experience; it was an utterly terrifying experience of the void.”

Our Twitter conversation finally came down to the question of whether the dread-filled response to the infinite, tinged with unpleasantness, sublime terror, and even — as I’ve tried to convey in my books (written from personal experience) — outright horror, is a permanent feature of the experience or a provisional one. David and jadkr averred that it’s the latter, saying that in many ways the negative NDE, and negative responses to the void in general, are entirely in line with, and can therefore be taken to some degree as resulting from, modern ego-bound notions of selfhood, and that, therefore, true maturation in matters of spiritual and psychological depth will eventually convey a person past them. For my part, although I agree with this, I’m also inclined to regard the dread-filled experience as permanent on a certain level, as an inherent experiential reality of the divine-human relationship. Much as orthodox Christian theology holds that an eternal relationship of love characterizes the “divine economy” of the Trinity (the inner transactional relationship of Father, Son, and Holy Ghost), so we humans in our finite, cosmically bounded ego selves are joined with the Godhead in an eternal — but not mutual — hypostatic union of divine dread. Moving past it into a deeper identification doesn’t change this truth, which still subsists whenever we inhabit the ego’s viewpoint.

So that was our discussion a few days ago. Now comes this fine essay/meditation from a writer for the newsletter of the C.G. Jung Society of Vermont to elaborate on these very things. Witness these excerpts, which expound my own point:

[J]ung made it clear…that confronting the Divine is never a pleasant experience for the ego. This is because of pride: the ego “does not like to think consciousness might lose its ascendancy.” The ego fancies it is in control and is forced to face its smallness and limitations when the Self appears.  More broadly, Jung addressed this issue in his discussions of the numen, the numinous, the numinosum and numinosity.

[. . .] Some of the positive qualities of the numinosum include: sublimity, awe, excitement, bliss, rapture, exaltation, entrancement, fascination, attraction, allure, and what Otto called an “impelling motive power.”  Not so pleasant are other qualities like: overwhelment, fear, trembling, weirdness, eeriness, humility (an acute sense of unworthiness), urgency, stupor (blank wonder), bewilderment, horror, mental agitation, repulsion, and haunting, daunting, monstrous feelings, that “overbrim the heart.” Otto speaks at length of the mysterium tremendum et fascinans, the fascinating mystery that makes us tremble (in awe).

[. . .] Jung understood that “to have fallen into the hands of the living God” — that is, to be confronted with the Divine — would produce an affect, a feeling response. Most translations of the Greek of Hebrews 10:31 use the word “fearful,” as the response brought up when a person confronts the Self…Jung felt that organized religions, with their rituals and dogmas, provide a “defense” against this experience. But those on the path of individuation cannot avoid it… [N]uminous dreams, synchronicities, and life experiences confront them frequently, calling up that “holy dread,” reminding the ego of its modest place compared to the Self.” (“Jung and the Numinosum,” March 5, 2010)

In the full essay, the writer makes it clear that Jung viewed the dread-filled response to the numinosum as both an organically occurring psychic coloration whose purpose is to lead one beyond the exclusive confines of ego identification and a permanent feature of the relationship between the ego and the Self. Which is, in fact, my own view as well.