Tuesday, 1 December 2015

Ghosts and Hauntings

The Gilgamesh poem is 4,000 years old - the oldest story ever told. It contains the earliest written account about a ghost and was written on an Assyrian clay tablet dating from around 650BCE. It was found in Nineveh during archeological excavations. It is inscribed with an appeal from a man who is possessed by a tyrannical ghost. The ancient Hindu scriptures, Atharva Veda, also detail demonic possession. We are familiar with the cases described in the New Testament where Jesus meets a possessed man on the shores of the Sea of Galilee and directly addresses the spirit by asking “What is your name?” and is told, “My name is Legion” (that is an entire invading and occupying Roman army). The man pleads with Jesus not to command the spirits to depart but Jesus saw a large herd of cows nearby and directed the demons out of the man and into the swine herd who charged to the cliff edge and threw themselves into the sea and were drowned.  

On the rare occasions that modern day cases are reported, they are always controversial. In 1949, a boy referred to as Robbie Doe was exorcised by Father William S Bowden and became the subject of the later sensationalised film, the Exorcist.

Modern exorcism is not without casualties. In 1972, when furniture was thrown around the house by unseen hands and fires broke out in a house in Daly City, San Francisco, the Catholic family contacted their local priest, Rev Karl Patzelt of Our Lady of Fatima Church. He assessed the seriousness of the attack which involved all the family members. He defined it as a ‘disturbance caused by the Evil One’, a diagnosis of the situation just a little less serious than full possession which describes actual control of a human being by the devil. Between 19th August and 8th September, 1973, Father Patzelt performed fourteen rites of exorcism using a ritual that dates back to 1614 when Pope Paul V decreed the method in which evil spirits were to be banished by the Roman Catholic Church. Starting with the words “I cast thee out, Most Unclean Spirit”, the exorcist pays particular attention to anything that disturbs or distresses the possessing spirit, repeating particular phrases of the exorcism which receive a response from the spirit.

Another case highlights the seriousness of spirit-based attack. On 1 July 1975, Anneliese Michel, a West German student, only 23 years of age, died of starvation after numerous exorcisms were conducted by priests over a period of ten months. The girl’s parents and two priests were found guilty of homicide due to their negligence in caring for her prior to her death. They received only suspended sentences.

In 1999, the Catholic Church revised the rite and now use a lesser ritual entitled: The Chaplet of St Michael. Mental illness must be excluded prior to deliverance and a team of specialists, including psychiatrists are consulted by the Bishop before any priest can become involved in a case. Of the symptoms the Church considers as evidence of demonic possession are many that could be psychic in origin, such as speaking in other languages not known by the sufferer, superhuman strength, knowledge of future events or ability to find lost objects, blasphemy and sacrilege, spitting, swearing, offensive insults, etc. The psychiatrist and author M Scott Peck made an in-depth study of possessive states and is a believer in the usefulness of properly conducted exorcisms. It is known that Salvador Dali was exorcised of an evil spirit by an Italian priest and it is also said that Mother Teresa also was delivered of an offending spirit.  

If you believe you are under attack from an evil spirit, you must practise good boundaries, discernment and self discipline. Keep active socially and also also take physical exercise. Eat healthily and continue to work (or do voluntary work). Remove yourself from undesirable people, places or interests. Our modern way of treating this type of distress is very different from in the past.

Leave the problems of the day behind and prepare for bed by avoiding tea and coffee and having a cup of warm camomile tea or malt drink instead. Don't smoke cigarettes throughout the evening as the stimulating effect of tobacco interrupts a good sleep pattern. Just before bed is the best time to take a shower or warm bath and afterwards have a good rub down with a towel. If you think you might be interrupted, take the phone off the hook and hang a sign outside the bedroom door marked "do not disturb". Before getting into bed, you can either stand, or sit on the bed and do some gentle bending and stretching exercises. Take your fingertips to your head and with firm revolving finger movements, give your head, neck and shoulders a massage. Then take the palm of your right hand and pat your left arm from the shoulder to the wrist and then pat back up again. Do this with the left palm to your right arm. Next, with both palms, pat your back as far up and down as you can reach and continue to pat down each leg from the thigh to the ankle and back up again. This removes the stress from muscles which has built up during the day and also helps sluggish blood circulation.  

As you get into bed, take a couple of deep breaths, fully breathing the air into the lungs and fully breathing out each time to remove the stagnant air at the base of the lungs. Close your eyes and shut your mind to the outside world, allowing yourself to begin to rest. Recall a time when you felt deeply content and at peace. Remember the good feelings that relaxation brings. Just let your body go limp and your mind go free. Give yourself permission to fully relax. It's you special time. Scan your body for any places that are tense and allow these muscles to release. If you hear any noises from outside, just ignore them. Savour each relaxing minute. As you go deeper into the luxury of peace and pleasure, you feel safe enough to go even further. Spend a few more minutes enjoying this feeling of comfort. Thank your body and mind for allowing you this special time of deep relaxation as you prepare to sleep the whole night through and have sweet dreams. In the morning, your mind will be revitalised, your emotions will have replenished their strength, and your body will be rejuvenated. 

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