Chapter 6

Powers and Principalities

St Paul, at the end of his letter to the Ephesians (6:10-20), speaks dramatically about the spiritual conflict that involves all living forms and especially the human being, who is God's messenger of light to the rest of creation. An angel is in fact a messenger, and we can act as good or bad angels according to our obedience to the Most High and our love of our neighbour, who is any creature near us. We read in the letter to the Ephesians:

Finally, then, put your strength in the Lord, in his mighty power. Put on all the armour which God provides, so that you may be able to stand firm against the devices of the devil. For our fight is not against human foes, but against cosmic powers, against the authorities and potentates of this dark world, against the superhuman forces of evil in the heavens.

The Authorized Version of the Bible translates the cosmic powers as "principalities and powers", which are enumerated theologically among the grades of the angelic hierarchy (in order of descending majesty there are seraphim, cherubim, thrones, dominations, principalities, powers, virtues, archangels and angels). Is St Paul's description of the ultimate sources of evil in the world merely a fiction based on the primitive psychology of his time, or is he speaking of objective entities that are in psychic contact with us through that "point" in the soul where we are able to communicate with intangible powers far beyond our normal consciousness?

The tendency in our "enlightened" century has been to demythologize the supra-rational aspect of the Bible, to relegate all accounts of inexplicable events to the realms of myth or illusion, so that human reason is the measure both of and for all things. Then we can be not only in charge of but also totally responsible for our lives on earth. This dogma concerning the intrapsychic origin of all unusual mental experiences certainly pleases both the psychologist and the social activist; the former does not need to concern himself about any focus of psychic activity outside the individual's mind, while the latter can attribute all unusual events to the unhealthy state of society. In this way the specialist in psychology and social studies can assume a complete oversight of the human condition. A belief in powers intermediate in situation between God and man can undeniably provide the ground for an abdication of the human will: we can then conveniently lay the burden of our own evil tendencies on demonic entities, and so evade personal responsibility for our actions and the subsequent course of our lives. The problem may be fascinating philosophically, but its importance is practical: is there an intermediate source of both good and evil that permeates the psychic dimension of communication and influences our actions? Neither biblical literalism nor critical demythologizing is an adequate court of final appeal. As Jesus says to Nicodemus in the course of their atmospheric nocturnal conversation, "In very truth I tell you we speak of what we know, and testify to what we have seen, and yet you all reject our testimony. If you disbelieve me when I talk to you about things on earth, how are you to believe if I should talk about the things of heaven?" (John 3:11-12). In other words, the matter is not so much one of debate as of experience. But experience cannot simply be accepted at its face value; it has then to be examined scientifically according to the criteria of the accumulated wisdom of the ages, so that its significance may be critically assessed. The ultimate criterion is the integrity of the person and his mental balance, remembering all the while that none of us is perfect in either of these two respects.

We do well also to bear in mind the valuable criterion of William of Occam, a Franciscan scholastic philosopher of the fourteenth century. He is known today especially for his saying, "It is vain to do with more what can be done with fewer". This is usually condensed in the famous maxim, "Entities are not to be multiplied without necessity", which is called Occam's razor. In the context of the present consideration, do we really have to invoke the agency of outer powers of darkness to explain, or at any rate implement, the evil lying in the shadow of the individual psyche? Cannot all the madness of the world be contained within psychological and sociological categories? Here we are wise to listen with respect to those who have had experience of other modalities of existence, but without accepting their deductions uncritically. The psychic side of communication, from soul to soul without the intervention of sensory information or rational deduction, is indeed hard to assess scientifically, because the information comes sporadically and usually wilts away if the faculty is challenged in a research laboratory. The scientific method demands that an experiment be repeatable in standard conditions. The hallmark of a scientific theory is that it is capable of being refuted. This is, as Karl Popper has shown, even more important than its verification. When we move into the study of psychic phenomena, their possible demonstration has then to be embraced in an overall theory that demonstrates their significance in a living situation.

In my own life - and here it is more satisfactory to speak from personal experience rather than to hide behind vague generalizations based on data received from miscellaneous sources - I have been repeatedly aware of a realm or dimension of reality that has transcended but never occluded the material base of everyday existence. It has usually been of solemn hue (if one may be permitted to transcribe inner emotional impressions into the symbols of colour), but occasionally sharply accentuated around the atmosphere of certain individuals as a dark aura. I have known intuitively, even as a child, that such people were unwholesome - and sometimes a similarly unwholesome atmosphere has pervaded a house in which they lived or even had visited for a short time. In childhood I was aware of the terrible evil festering in Germany and the tortures committed on Jews and others detested by the Nazi regime. The pain was at times almost too severe to bear, but then an atmosphere of light penetrated the gloom, and the path of hope was shown again. Faith was the prerequisite for traversing that path when the radiance waned and I was on the solitary trail once more. In this gloom I was aware of presences whose origin I could not define. Some were probably the unquiet spirits of the dead, but a few had a darker, more forbidding emanation. These filled me with terror, but by holding fast to God, whom I had known from an amazingly early period of my childhood, I was supported and guided in this uncharted terrain of dark radiance. All this is, as already stated, an essentially private testimony, but the experience was to play an important part in my later work in the ministry of healing and deliverance, especially, after I had submitted to the authority of the Church and received ordination as a priest. Priestly orders were to confer on me a spiritual authority that I lacked as a layman, even though I had been much involved in conducting retreats and in the ministry of counselling and healing for quite a number of years before I entered into the ordained ministry.

Almost at once, in my first parochial attachment, I was consulted by a man of artistic temperament but employed in the financial world, who had suffered from repeated bouts of severe depression which his doctors could only partially control with drugs. He came to me in a state of near-suicidal darkness, and suddenly I was aware of a malign presence over-shadowing him. I asked him whether anyone close to him had recently died, and was told that, indeed, a colleague had just lost his life in distinctly unusual circumstances, so that suicide could not be excluded. This colleague had held a position of authority over the man, and had always behaved tyrannically towards him, making his life at work a constant misery. One would have expected his death to have come as something of a relief, but instead the depression intensified to near-suicidal proportions. There was certainly no question of grief for the dead man, nor any unresolved feeling of guilt about the unsatisfactory relationship in the past. It came upon me as a thundering shock that the dead man was obsessing (or infesting) the psyche of his sensitive colleague, with the intention of driving him also to suicide. The evil of the situation was overwhelming. I bade the "spirit" of the deceased one to depart forthwith into the protective custody of God, and at once the suicidal depression lifted from the sensitive man. He attained a balanced emotional frame very rapidly, and was able to leave the church in a state of calm relief. It later transpired that he was a natural sensitive, and he had to be instructed in the proper control of the psychic faculty. The depression, it must be admitted, did occasionally recur, but there was never again so terrible an episode that suicide was threatened. He was above all now in control of his life, and he subsequently left the world of finance for that of art.

This is a prototype example of the work that has subsequently been thrust upon me. I have been shown that bad relationships between parents and their children do not automatically terminate with the death of the former. On some occasions the "spirit" of the parent has hovered around the child's psyche and caused distress and even accidents, until once more the unquiet deceased were kindly, but with uncompromising authority, told to quit the earth-bound plane and move on to the greater life beyond death, to that place that God in his infinite mercy had prepared for their reception and healing. In some other instances, the disturbing entity has been a sibling or a more distant relative. Sometimes a sibling who has died in early childhood, even shortly after birth, has caused the disturbance. I would emphasize that this type of situation is not common, at least in my experience. I say this advisedly, lest a picture of the after-death state be painted in which all the recently deceased "spirits" hang around the living and cause unpleasant psychological disturbances. Fortunately, this is the exception rather than the rule: the penitent departed move to their apportioned place for further service and growth. We are accepted by God's grace, but we have to accept that grace whose full nature is love. It cannot be thrust upon us in such a way that our own inviolate will is outraged, a point not always appreciated by fervent revivalists who are hell-bent on saving the souls of all unbelievers. Yes, indeed, their heaven is too close to hell for the comfort of any perceptive individual, because the power of private judgement is overwhelmed in a seething emotional barrage of threats. The situation shades imperceptibly into the ways of the dictators of our time. In respect of the very young who have died and then obsessed the personalities of their siblings or other near relatives, their problem seems to be one of ignorance or else resentment that their lives have been cut short so summarily. In all these instances a Requiem Mass said for the dead can help to settle their souls, but often a word of command is also necessary. This has, indeed, been my experience.

All this is to be clearly distinguished from the practices of spiritualism. Here there is a willed attempt to communicate with the deceased through the agency of mediums, or sensitives. The impetus is nearly always the need of those who are bereaved or the curiosity of those dabbling in occult, potentially dangerous matters for the sake of new experiences. The results of this type of attempted contact are seldom satisfactory, since the issue is invariably clouded by the possibility of fraud on the part of the medium or else unconscious telepathic contact with the mind of the sitter. Even if what appears to be a genuine contact is made, the communication is very likely to be coloured by the personality of the medium. Furthermore, there is always the possibility of interference by mischievous entities from the vast intermediate psychic realm, some of which may well be of demonic nature. This is why willed communication by the agency of mediums is to be deprecated. But the phenomenon of mediumship is worthy of investigation by qualified research workers. These may, at the very least, gain new insights into the range of the human mind: the fruits of these studies are extensions of normal psychology (parapsychology). They shed new light on the mechanisms of life. Those who depend on communication through mediums with their dead loved ones tend to be drawn ineluctably into a prison of past associations which they then project into the present. Instead of growing through loss into a life of greater relationships with humanity at large, they remain stuck in past attitudes. By not letting go of the past, they remain trapped in it, and quite possibly restrict their loved ones on the other side of death.

The person who is naturally sensitive psychically is in possession of a gift that is both serviceable to others and wounding to himself. It must be used with reverence, and the call is from God, not man. If mediumship is indeed a valid means of communication with deceased souls, its purpose is to help those who are earth-bound on their journey to the light, and the operative work is prayer. It is conceivable that such entities are closer to the earth they once knew than to the "heavens" (using the term in a collective sense rather than one of spiritual distinction) they are to inhabit in their new form. And so their earthly helpers may assist the greater communion of saints in liberating them from past associations. Then the work is continued by that great communion, which surely includes the ministry of angels too. Such a sensitive person is, as I have already indicated from my own experience, vulnerable to the less desirable influences of the intermediate dimension (between solid earth and the heaven of the blessed departed), and needs constant protection. This is afforded by a life of humble submission to God in prayer, worship, service, and a chaste style of living. Furthermore, there should be unfailing prayer support from a devoted community: religious orders have an important place in this work, especially the contemplative communities whose life is centred on prayer. In this way the psychic faculty is sanctified. In the spiritualistic way it tends to be sensationalized, cheapened and brought into ridicule, at least among people with intelligence and spiritual discernment. All this is very sad, because the psychic mode is one of intimate communication between people and between the divine and the human.

On some occasions I have been aware of a powerful, more concentrated and malign source of disturbance around a person who is in severe difficulties. He may be aware of a destructive force around him that threatens his security, or there may be dangerous accidents, or simply an atmosphere of general disquiet. In these circumstances I have had little doubt that a demonic agency has been at work, rather than simply the unquiet soul of a deceased person. Sometimes the fallen angel, which is the usual identity of the demonic presence, has attached itself to a deceased person, so that the two appear to work in collaboration. Occasionally a decidedly evil deceased person may gain control over a neutral angelic presence on the lower grades of the hierarchy and use it for destructive purposes. All this, needless to say, is a purely private, subjective judgement which follows a personal encounter with a focus of evil. But the course of action is the same - to banish the entity, however it may be described, from the reaches of the earth and despatch it to the place in the greater world beyond death which God has prepared for it. It is essential to direct the demonic entity to a place of reception and not simply to leave it unattended in the darkness. Not only would this be very unloving; but it could also leave the entity free to continue its disturbing work among us all.

Some readers, disturbed enough by this account of obsessing demonic agents, would raise their eyebrows in incredulous horror at the suggestion of love being expended on such a vile entity. But we have, as Jesus once taught us, to love our enemies, and not only those who are well-disposed to us. Only the spirit of love can start the work of redemption. What God has in store for his errant creatures - remembering that he alone is the universal creator - is not our business, but it is surely not out of place to look for a final healing of all that is aberrant and unclean, whether human or angelic. Such must be the measure of divine love, of which human sacrificial love is a reflection in our little world. Such a universalistic hope does not in any way excuse, let alone overlook, the evil of the creature, which is to be expiated in full measure. But it can nevertheless envisage the sinner's final repentance, absolution and reception into the body of saints who are perpetually about their Father's business.

If we accept the thesis that there are agents of evil in the intermediate psychic realm, whether discarnate humans or fallen angels, can we postulate a personality of supreme evil, the devil? I believe we are entitled to do so, even if we cannot define the nature of the ultimate destructive power with precision. It may be a powerful fallen angel, or demon, or else the summation of all the evil power that has accumulated in the cosmos from the time of creation, especially since the Fall of the angels which was succeeded by the Fall of man in the mythological guise of Adam and Eve. Whatever may be the answer, it feels right to deal with the devil as a personal entity with whom we can attain a finite relationship, albeit a destructive one. This way seems better than being submerged in a vast ocean of darkness, floundering in dire panic. Since the devil strikes at the very root of the human personality, it seems not misguided to accept an element of the personal in its constitution. But more we cannot say. Personal experience often sheds light on dark areas of existence that far outdistance the dogmas of the rationalist.

A number of questions rise to mind. If there is indeed a vast nexus of cosmic evil (involving both the astronomical universe and the intermediate psychic realm), why does it appear to strike people so arbitrarily? The answer seems to lie in part in variations of individual sensitivity, especially where there is no protection by prayer in the lives of vulnerable people, like the man who was assailed by his dead colleague. Other people lay themselves open through unwise practices such as the use of the ouija board or their attendance at spiritualistic seances (these should be reserved for psychical research workers who know what they are doing, and certainly not be patronized by the general public). Again there are other people who, like Faust, deliberately give themselves over to the devil, just as spiritual aspirants dedicate their lives to God. Satanism itself is an evil cult that has always been part of the depraved mass of society, but is currently on the increase. Satanists believe that the Creator God has withdrawn from the world, never intervening any more in its affairs, and that the Son of God who has been given control of the earth in the Creator's absence is Satan, the god of this world (described in 2 Corinthians 4:4 as the god of this passing age). Jesus tried to destroy Satan's plan for the world, but it is, according to their belief, Satan that will attain the final victory. They participate in depraved rites and through psychic practices open themselves to the influence of satanic powers. The motives of its practitioners are mixed. Most are mentally or emotionally unbalanced, some are frankly evil people, while others get drawn into the scene as curious bystanders. These may later be the victims of blackmail.

I have no doubt that the practitioners of Satan worship are soon assaulted by evil forces, an infestation that shows itself in a progressive deterioration of the person's character. Deceitfulness, perverse sexual behaviour, stealing, and increasing destructiveness are typical features of this breakdown of the personality. To the rationalist all these changes can easily be attributed to fear and the general atmosphere of perversion that lies around zealous practitioners, but in practice there is usually a more concentrated focus of psychic assault in such cases, in addition to the psychological confusion that is drawn to the surface by the eruption of fear and hatred. It is certain that mentally balanced people do not espouse satanism, nor do they get involved in strange cults. It is the social misfit and emotional cripple who are attracted to bizarre activities of this kind. They are sad specimens of disordered humanity who seek power to affirm their shaky confidence. What they are really seeking is understanding and affection, but there are not many agencies who provide these needs, at least in a form that accepts the person as he is without imposing a rationalistic or a sectarian religious style of thinking upon him.

One thing is certain: the ministry of deliverance is both specialized and dangerous. It should not be embarked upon alone except in a situation of dire emergency. The ideal is collaboration on a professional level with other ministers of religion, specialists in psychological medicine, the social services, and, on occasion, the forces of law and order. Enthusiastic exorcists often do a great deal of harm because their zeal soon outdistances their powers of discernment. They tend to arouse considerable fear in the general public, and in the end bring the whole subject into disrepute.

Actual "possession" of a person by an alien force must be rare; I certainly have not encountered an instance, though I have met with people who have promptly attacked me physically when the word of deliverance was spoken over them. In my experience these people were always frauds, and had in due course to be confronted with their play-acting. On the other hand, a more distant influencing, called obsession or infestation, is not very uncommon. The entity causes distress, and sometimes appears to precipitate accidents or continual misfortunes. It can be removed by the word of command in the name of God the Holy Trinity, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. I prefer to do this work at a distance rather than in the person's presence; as I have already stated, most instances are due to the unquiet dead, but a number are demonic in quality and intensity of malice. On some occasions a place rather than a person is the seat of infestation. It too can usually be cleared at a distance, but sometimes it is necessary to work from within its precincts to complete the deliverance.

There are other possibilities that have to be considered. These include poltergeist activity, which is generally accepted as being due to misdirected psychic energy emitted by the client, nearly always an adolescent with sexual problems (though occasionally the subject may be much older), fraud, and mental disease which simulates the experience of possession. The usual cause is schizophrenia, a disease in which the patient often hears voices in his head which he may attribute to those of possessing entities within himself. There is also often a feeling effect produces emotional reactions, some of which may be catastrophic? Usually one is aware of a source of information that enlightens the mind, as it did in the instance I described earlier on. Then one knows what one has to do, what is demanded of one. Very malign demonic forces hit one in the area of the solar plexus (the upper part of the abdomen) and induce a sensation of sickness. There is also a feeling of intense dread of panic proportions. One is empowered to lift all this up to God (praying in the top of the head), and then one is given the strength to proceed onwards with the work of deliverance. There are some evocative texts that seem to substantiate this upward raising of consciousness to God. "If I lift up my eyes to the hills, where shall I find help? Help comes only from the Lord, maker of heaven and earth" (Psalm 121:1-2). In the ethereal conversation between Nicodemus and Jesus in the secrecy of the night, Jesus says, "No one ever went up to heaven except the one who came down from heaven. The Son of Man must be lifted up as the serpent was lifted up by Moses in the wilderness, so that everyone who has faith in him may in him possess eternal life" (John 3:13-15). And finally we recall the crucifixion drama, "So they came to a place called Golgotha (which means 'Place of a skull'), and there he was offered a draught of wine mixed with gall . . ." (Matthew 27:33-54). To me these texts point to the high destiny of humanity: the scope of the intellect has to be extended by the intuition, and the whole is to be sanctified in the form of the crucified, resurrected Christ. What we know tremulously in the soul is ultimately to be realized boldly in the flesh, now made spiritual and therefore imperishable.

There are two extreme positions that would concur in dismissing, or at least violently repudiating, this exposition of psychic presence. One is atheistic and rationalistic, the other biblical and literalistic. The rationalist, applying Occam's razor with a vengeance, would place all paranormal experience without any further ado in the category of abnormal psychology - psychopathology in fact. According to this view all people claiming such insights have deluded minds, because the material world is alone real, and anything beyond its reach is pure illusion. Materialistic reductionism is certainly neat and tidy in its conclusions, but does it truly explain all the phenomena of life, to say nothing of personal inner experience? Since such a reductionism cannot be refuted, it fails to attain the distinction of a scientific theory; it remains a point of view, one of many in the constellation of metaphysical theories about the nature of reality. Because it appears to have a rational, scientific basis, it tends to exert undue influence on the untutored individual who holds science in great awe. To many people the detached, agnostic type of scientist is the ultimate purveyor of truth, and indeed, so he ought to be, but unfortunately his mind has its prejudices no less than the minds of naturally religious people. In other words, he too is a mere human being subject to our common frailties. When he speaks from the vantage point of his own discipline he may well be an expert, but no one can be a master of all disciplines. Atheistic humanistic circles and those of religious triumphalism often share an unpleasantly strident arrogance that tends to silence all those with other opinions, so that, at least in the flurry of the current debate, they appear to have attained a victory. But the truth is greater than any human opinion; when we follow it we are led into many strange encounters that would have shocked us in the green period of our youthful assurance.

The biblical literalist has no difficulty in accepting the presence of the devil and his angels, so much so that, not infrequently, he sees an evil spirit lurking behind any situation of which he disapproves. It is the question of the unquiet dead that disturbs him, for the canonical Christian scriptures do not describe an intermediate state between the hell of the damned and the heaven of the saved. Therefore it seems clear that the evil ones are consigned eternally in hell, while the blessed live in heaven where there is eternal joy. According to the view of the believer, the judgement that precedes this final despatch may occur immediately after death, or else the deceased may rest in the earth where they have been laid, until the final, universal resurrection, which is contingent upon the coming in glory of Christ to judge both the living and the dead. But the outcome is the same: hell for the wicked and heaven for the blessed. Admittedly, the more catholic type of believer takes into consideration the teachings of the various books of the Apocrypha also. Prayer for the dead is commended in 2 Maccabees 12:41-45, a practice quite futile if the die had already been cast at the time of the person's decease: those in hell are outside the range of prayer, whereas the blessed in heaven do not need our prayers. Indeed, we need their concern day by day rather more than they ours! It therefore follows, at least in the view of the biblical literalist, that the dead can neither communicate directly with us nor obsess a living person. All such phenomena are to him subtle impersonations by the devil, no doubt trying to delude us into believing that the souls of the departed are learning in a greater life beyond death. If every psychic phenomenon is dogmatically attributed to demonic interference, we once again find a view of reality that cannot be refuted, but neither can it be verified. In the end, those who have these experiences, or receive intimations of survival of loved ones in a greater framework of life, must come to their own conclusions. The phenomena may indeed be psychopathological hallucinations or demonic incursions. But they may also be genuine encounters on a psychic level far beyond intellectual analysis. The test is that of Jesus: you will recognize them by their fruits (Matthew 7:15-20), and the fruits are those of the Holy Spirit enumerated in Galatians 5:22, of which the first three are love, joy and peace. St Paul goes on to observe that there is no law dealing with such things as these. This criterion is the one that applies also to the ministry of deliverance. If the obsessed person (or locality) is freed of a psychic incubus, whether human or demonic, there is a change in the personality (or atmosphere) from fear to love, from foreboding to faith, from despair to hope. Of course, it could be that similar results might follow pure suggestion on the part of a therapist who had no special psychic sensitivity, but it is the duration of the relief that suggests the correct diagnosis. Some clients have already seen therapists without significant improvement, therefore pure suggestion seems an inadequate explanation for the sudden change that follows the work of deliverance. And here we have to rest in ignorance.

It seems to me that the writers of the Bible were much more perceptive spiritually than are we in our scientific age. On the other hand, we know very much more than they did about the world in which we live. The great advances in medical and psychological knowledge add a dimension to our understanding of human nature that Jesus himself lacked. To know all is indeed to forgive all, and God, who does have complete knowledge, is giving it ever more generously to his human children, provided they give of themselves to serve in love and not, as in the allegory of the Fall, merely seek after their own aggrandisement. The accounts of demon possession in the Gospels can now be subjected to Occam's razor more imaginatively. Thus the dumb man (Matthew 9:32-33), the man both dumb and blind (Matthew 12:22), and especially the boy afflicted with epilepsy (Mark 9:14-29) very probably did not have disorders caused by an evil spirit. Any such entity present would at most have aggravated them. We now know that epilepsy is due to a dysfunction of the brain: anticonvulsant drugs can abolish the fits but the basic tendency remains untouched. It may well be that a psychic influence sometimes acts as a trigger for the fits, but it would not be the fundamental cause of the trouble, which would remain located in the brain. If the boy was in fact permanently cured of his illness, Jesus must have effected a change in the brain far more significant than removing any outside influence that may have contributed to the trouble. Simple piety assumes that the cures Jesus effected were permanent, but no medical practitioner would be satisfied without a follow-up of many years. Indeed, complete healing far transcends the cure of a physical or mental ailment; it looks for the recreation of the whole person in the image of God, of whom Jesus is our earthly exemplar. Until this ultimate healing has been attained, there is bound to be a recurrence of bodily troubles. Furthermore, this healing has communal as well as individual implications: full healing is no less than universal resurrection, and until this has been achieved, there will be relapses into disease no less than into national and international strife. The healings of Jesus are indications of the meaning of God's love for the individual. But the healed person is then expected to give what he has so marvellously received for the benefit of others. None of those whom Jesus healed rose to this height. Where were they when their Master was crucified?

This chapter has necessarily concentrated on the dark, forbidding aspects of the intermediate psychic dimension, but it should be remembered that there are also the blessed departed, now fully-fledged members of the Communion of Saints, as well as the angels of God's light. All help to bring the Spirit of God to our spirit, the holiest part of the soul where God is known because he dwells within us there. Were it not for the victory of light, the agents of darkness could never be discerned, let alone identified: a person in darkness is as helpless as if he were blind. All of us are open to this heavenly light provided we have the humility to watch, to listen and to pray.

Chapter 7
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