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Jesus… myth, fact or a bit of both?


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Historical Notes About Out-of-Body Experiences: III. Hector Durville

This story comes from one of the better blogs about parapsychology. Instead of simply accepting the claims of parapsychology, Dr. Alvarado tries to apply a critical, scientific method. Whether or not this approach is always suitable for the subtle dynamics of parapsychology is another issue. What matters is that we use the mind and lived experience to analyze parapsychological truth claims and not fall into sheer hucksterism. So even if we can’t always be “scientific” as currently understood, we still can approach parapsychology with a scientific attitude.


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Is it all about nature and nurture? – Twins tell how they differ


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Light and dark entities – what’s the difference?


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Spiritual Expansion – What Is a Psychic Attack And How to Avoid Attacking Others

Psychic... Powerless... Another Man's Sac

Psychic… Powerless… Another Man’s Sac (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Here’s an interesting article that I do not entirely resonate with. The issue I have with this piece has to do with protecting oneself from spiritual attack with “Rose Light.”

Since becoming a Catholic I believe that it’s best to call on God for protection, and to not play the shaman, guru or gnostic mystic on one’s own. In my view this can lead to deception and self-aggrandizement. But that’s just my opinion. I understand that many others seem to receive protection from bad vibes by invoking some kind of white or, as in this piece, rose light.

Because I agree with a lot – if not all – of what this article says, it makes today’s headline. —MC

Spiritual Expansion – What Is a Psychic Attack And How to Avoid Attacking Others


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Donnie Darko – Review

So it took me a while to get around to watching this movie. I suppose the promo image for Donnie Darko was a bit of a turn off. Someone in a hoodie looking ominous with fire in the background. I imagined it was like Firestarter (which I haven’t seen… but you get the idea).

Image via Deviant Art

All I knew about Donnie was that it had something to do with alleged psychic abilities and time travel, and that it was a bit dark. Even the opening scenes are a bit dark (exposure-wise). This made me think I’d be suffering through the grainy bummer of old movie prints that aren’t remastered. But I persevered and after a few minutes was pleasantly surprised. In fact, Donnie kept growing on me, right up to the grand, freaked out finale.

Set in 1988 but filmed in 2001, this is an interesting time loop in itself. The past looking at the past. On the whole the retro fit is done well. Rounded CRT TVs. VHS tapes. That era. The only anachronism I might have detected is the Panasonic Ball Radio. I owned one of those, and that was the 1970s, not the late 80s. Oh well. I guess you could say the character who owns the radio gets it from her parents.

Donnie Darko (soundtrack)

Donnie Darko soundtrack (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This film touches on several key issues without going overboard on any of them. Time travel, premonition, the idea of mental illness, bullying, racism, child pornography, the hypocrisy of some self-help gurus. All these provocative themes are wrapped up into a tight ball that steadily unravels as the film progresses.

The acting is pretty much fabulous throughout. I didn’t see any weak performances and lots of strong ones.

Rather than break it down (you can get that at more conventional sites), I suggest watching this film with as few preconceptions as possible. Wikipedia helps make sense of it. But I wouldn’t read that until after seeing this skirmish into darkness, light and emerging new ideas about space, time and alternate universes.

Sometimes mystery is good, and spelling it all out beforehand can detract from the magic.

MC


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Purging daily demons: what’s behind the popularity of exorcisms?

English: Jean-Martin Charcot Series inspired b...

Jean-Martin Charcot (1825-1893) used hypnotism to treat mental discomfort – from “Iconographie photographique de la Salpêtrière”, Charcot, 1878 (via Wikipedia)

Joseph P Laycock, Texas State University

At Texas State University, I teach an honors course called “Demonology, Possession, and Exorcism.” It’s not a gut course. My students produce research papers on topics that range from the role of sleep paralysis in reports of demonic attacks to contemporary murder cases in which defendants have claimed supernatural forces compelled them to commit crimes.

In fact, talk of demons isn’t unusual in Texas. The first day of class, when we watched a clip of an alleged exorcism at an Austin Starbucks, many of my students said that they’d seen similar scenes in the towns where they’d grown up.

In 2014, an exorcism took place outside of a Starbucks in Austin, Texas.

A few students even admitted their parents were nervous that they’d signed up for the class. Maybe these parents worried their kids would become possessed, or that studying possession in the classroom might make demons seem less plausible. (Perhaps it was a mix of both.)

Either way, these parents aren’t a superstitious minority: a poll conducted in 2012 found that 57% of Americans believe in demonic possession. Nonetheless, demons (invisible, malevolent spirits) and exorcism (the techniques used to cast these spirits out of people, objects or places) are often thought of as relics of the past, beliefs and practices that are incompatible with modernity. It’s an assumption based in a sociological theory that dates back to the 19th century called the secularization narrative. Scholars such as Max Weber predicted that over time, science would inevitably supersede belief in “mysterious forces.”

But while the influence of institutionalized churches has waned, few sociologists today would claim that science is eliminating belief in the supernatural. In fact, in the 40 years since the blockbuster film The Exorcist premiered, belief in the demonic remains as popular as ever, with many churches scrambling to adapt.

Exorcism’s golden age

So why has exorcism made a comeback? It may be that belief in the demonic is cyclical.

Historian of religion David Frankfurter notes that conspiracy theories involving evil entities like demons and witches tend to flare up when local religious communities are confronted with outside forces such as globalization and modernity.

Attributing misfortune and social change to hidden evil forces, Frankfurter suggests, is a natural human reaction; the demonic provides a context that can make sense of unfamiliar or complex problems.

While Europeans practiced exorcism during the Middle Ages, the “golden age” of demonic paranoia took place in the early modern period. In the 16th and 17th centuries, thousands were killed in witch hunts and there were spectacular cases of possession, including entire convents of nuns.

A 1788 painting by Francisco Goya depicts Saint Francis performing an exorcism.
Wikimedia Commons

The Protestant Reformation was a key contributor to these events. The resulting wars of religion devastated Europe’s population, creating a sense of apocalyptic anxiety. At the same time, exorcism became a way for the Catholic Church, and even some Protestant denominations, to demonstrate that their clergy wielded supernatural power over demons – something that their rivals lacked. In some cases, possessed people would even testify that rival churches were aligned with Satan.

But by the 19th century, medical experts such as Jean-Martin Charcot and his student Sigmund Freud had popularized the idea that the symptoms of demonic possession were actually caused by hysteria and neurosis. Exorcists came to be seen as unsophisticated people who lacked the education to understand mental illness – a view that made exorcism a liability for churches instead of an asset. This was especially true for American Catholics, who had long been disparaged by the Protestant majority as superstitious immigrants.

The Exorcist effect

By the time William Peter Blatty’s novel The Exorcist was published in 1971, the secularization narrative had gone mainstream. In 1966, Time magazine had run its famous cover asking “Is God Dead?” In 1970, Gallup found that 75% of Americans claimed religion was losing influence – the highest percentage in the history of the poll, which was first conducted in 1957.

The April 6, 1966 issue of Time Magazine.
Time

Blatty’s protagonist, Damien Karras, is a Jesuit psychiatrist-priest who has lost his faith. At the end of novel, Karras lies dying from his battle with the demon Pazuzu. He cannot speak, but his eyes are “filled with elation” – presumably because he now has positive proof that demons and, by extension, God, actually exist. Through the character of Father Karras, Blatty captured a widespread feeling of longing for the supernatural in a disenchanted age.

While the Jesuit-run magazine America panned The Exorcist as “sordid and sensationalistic,” Blatty proved that Americans were not dismissive of the idea of exorcism. In 1971 and 1972, the novel spent 55 weeks on The New York Times bestseller lists. The film adaptation grossed over US$66 million in its first year. In 1990, as part of homily given in New York City’s St Patrick’s Cathedral, Cardinal John O’Connor even read from The Exorcist in order “to dramatize the reality of demonic power.”

A demonic renaissance

Today a significant segment of the population reports belief in demons.

According to a 2007 Baylor Religion Survey, 48% of Americans agreed or strongly agreed in the possibility of demonic possession. And in a Pew Research Survey conducted that same year, 68% of Americans said they believe in the presence of angels and demons.

While the surveys can’t reveal what exactly people mean when they say they “believe in demons,” it’s clear that these people don’t constitute a superstitious minority. Rather, they’re a normal part of today’s religious landscape.

People have historically used evil spirits to explain any number of misfortunes, whether its a physical illness or routine bad luck. But today, demons are frequently used to interpret contemporary political issues, such as abortion and gay rights. Since the 1970s, Protestant deliverance ministries have offered to “cure” gay teenagers by casting out demons. This practice now has corollaries in Islam – and even in Chinese holistic healing methods. When the state of Illinois legalized gay marriage in 2013, Bishop Thomas Paprocki held a public exorcism in protest. Politically, the bishop’s ritual served to frame changing social mores as a manifestation of demonic evil.

Similarly, Catholic exorcists in Mexico held a “magno exorcisto” in May 2015 aimed at purging the entire nation of demons. The mass exorcism was partly motivated by the drug wars that have devastated the country since 2006. But it was also in response to the legalization of abortion in Mexico City in 2007.

During one Mexican exorcism, a demon (speaking through a possessed person) confessed that Mexico had once been a haven for demons. According to the four demons identified in the exorcism, hundreds of years ago, Aztecs had offered them human sacrifices; now, with the legalization of abortion, the sacrifices had resumed.

Divided over demons

In the Baylor Religion Survey, 53% of Catholics said they either agree or strongly agree in the possibility of demonic possession. Twenty-six percent disagreed or strongly disagreed, and the rest were undecided. Progressive Catholics still regard exorcism as an embarrassment, and there are also increasingly vocal atheists and skeptics eager to cite the practice of exorcism as an example of the absurdity of religion. But in countries like Italy and the Philippines, there is active demand for more Catholic exorcists.

Pope Francis blesses a boy in Rome.
Tony Gentile/Reuters

Church authorities are keenly aware that if they do not provide the spiritual services these people need, Pentecostal deliverance ministries will. In the past, the Church had much more ability to tailor its message to its audience. But in an age of Twitter and cellphone cameras, an exorcism performed in one country will be witnessed by the entire world.

Pope Francis seems especially skillful at navigating the question of demons. While he has inspired progressive Catholics with his stances on climate change and social justice, he has also emphasized the reality of the devil. In 2014, the Congregation of Clergy formally recognized the International Association of Exorcists. This is a group of conservative priests that has existed outside the Curia since 1990, and has lobbied for recognizing and normalizing the practice of exorcism. Founding IAE member Gabriele Amorth has even attributed the group’s sudden success to Pope Francis.

Perhaps the greatest example of Francis’s demonological savvy occurred on May 13 2013, when he placed his hands on a young man in a wheelchair after celebrating mass in St Peter’s Square. (This young man was, in fact, the same Mexican parishioner believed to be possessed by four demons.) Video shows the boy heaving and slumping forward under Francis’s unusually long embrace.

To those who feel the Catholic Church ought to take exorcism seriously, this was a clear example of Francis performing a public exorcism. But to those who regard exorcism as a relic of the Dark Ages, Church authorities can plausibly claim that this was only a blessing, perhaps lasting just a little longer, due to the pontiff’s sincere compassion for the young man.

For a church with over a billion followers, it’s a tough – but necessary – balancing act.

The Conversation

Joseph P Laycock, Assistant Professor of Religious Studies, Texas State University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

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