#60 : Demons

When you use the Way to conquer the world,
Your demons will lose their power to harm.
It is not that they lose their power as such,
But that they will not harm others;
Because they will not harm others,
You will not harm others:
When neither you nor your demons can do harm,
You will be at peace with them.

This is from the Tao Te Ching, a book that infuriates many due to the way that it is written, but that provides interesting little things to meditate on for those who don’t mind stepping outside of themselves for a bit. It’s an infuriating book for those people…mostly Republicans I would imagine hehe…for whom everything in the world is either black or white, with nary a shade of grey in between. (Certainly Republicans have gotten into trouble lately with their own inner demons erupting onto the public stage!) I however see the world as mostly shades of grey, with very little black and white, and so perhaps this is why I find the Tao Te Ching so interesting. As mentioned earlier here and on the old blog, I’ve spent much of my life studying language, and inevitably this led me into such areas of speculation as the nature of consciousness, the nature of Mind, the nature of reality, and perhaps into the nature of morality. There are whole schools of Philosophy out there that attempt to reduce reality to a discussion of the nature of language, which to me is bass ackwards, as my grandma would have said. It’s even more infuriating when the linguist in question is someone who hasn’t even bothered learning any languages other than English…they just memorize the usual textbook examples from their linguistics courses, and then pontificate on the nature of reality as if they were some sort of expert now, with that college degree under their belts.

Language, the Universe, and Everything

But that’s a debate for another day. Back to the demons. As mentioned earlier, I went through a Wiccan period. Pagans have much more varied beliefs on pretty much every subject relating to religion and spirituality, than say, for example, Christians. In Christianity there’s a creed you are supposed to accept and “believe in”, whereas with paganism there is more of a laundry list of approaches to issues of spirituality, and you are left to figure it out on your own. The beliefs are secondary; the approach is what is important. So with Christians you will get pretty standard answers to questions about the nature of reality, nature of good and evil, etc. within the same denomination, but with Pagans it’s pretty much a different answer for each person you talk to, though many of the differences are nuanced. So with Christians the concept of the supernatural is usually a given. That’s how God and Jesus work their miracles or whatever. And that’s what demons are, supernatural beings of some sort. Pagans on the other hand tend to view the entire universe as a natural thing, with by definition an impossiblity of anything being supernatural. If it’s here, it’s natural, and that’s the end of it. And then there is how both groups tend to approach the “occult”; Christians tend to view it as a study of the supernatural, using means that are probably unwise at best and heretical and evil at worst. Pagans however would approach the occult as a rather dated attempt to understand human psychology and the universe generally.

Ministry – Stigmata

Since for pagans there is no supernatural, there is nothing supernatural behind the occult, and it’s just some rather curious writings by people from another era. Many pagans have recast the entire occult/magick discussion completely into psychological terms, and spend more time studying the writings of Jung than some weird grimoire from the 1500s that advises you how to curse your neighbor’s farm animals, by wrapping a piece of fur around your leg and chanting something in Latin hehe. In other words, modern pagans are not medievalists. Once you reject the supernatural as a motive force, demons are relegated to being creatures of Consciousness of some sort instead. Which means they are in the Mind somewhere. (Or they are just natural creatures out there in the universe somewhere. Since there is no evidence of them being natural creatures, like dogs or cats, the Mind it is!) We are immediately confronted by a problem however. Cognitive Studies is a relatively young discipline, and it is remarkable how little we know about how the Mind works. Earlier philosophers suggested that physical reality was somehow “less real” than spiritual reality, whatever that might mean. Plato had his famous Cave analogy, where we were like people in a cave, doomed to only experience life as shadows of the real reality that was better and more real. Berkeley went so far as to say that all of us and the universe around us are just dreams in the mind of God. This is a little too close to the Great Green Arkleseizure Theory for my tastes, so let’s go back to the Mind :). The fact is there doesn’t seem to be a “mind” at all. There appears to be no such thing. There does however, appear to be a brain, and when it functions normally, a process which we can call Mind functions. And to make matters even more complicated, there appear to be many brains in our heads, not just one! We call it “a brain”, but in fact a number of different brains have accumulated in our heads over the millennia, via evolution. Depending on how detailed and picky you want to be, there could be literally dozens of discrete parts in there functioning in tandem to create Mind. Clearly the earliest developing parts were only intended to control parts of the body, and regulate various systems. The so-called “lizard” brain handles such simple things as telling us when to eat, when to run away, etc. Higher brain functions relate to more abstract things, such as processing language and problem-solving.

Plato’s Allegory of the Cave

Something odd happened though when enough “computing power” ended up bundled together inside our heads. Namely, we became self-aware. Verbal language developed at some point in the mists of time, and can only be tracked with certainty once it began to be written down a few thousand years ago. But linguists have reconstructed “proto-languages” using common sense and educated guessing by examining how languages have diverged over time. This is how they pinpointed the birthplace of Indo-European to Central Asia, by comparing common words in its descendant languages and working backwards. Language and self-awareness go hand-in-hand. And so we get to the nature of consciousness. What does it mean to be conscious? What is the difference between being conscious and unconscious? Where and what is the sub-conscious? What about that collective unconscious thing of Jung’s? What about that Cosmic Unconsciousness thing from Repo Man?! It’s all pretty mind-boggling isn’t it. I leave it to the reader to meditate on such things.

Cosmic Unconsciousness illustrated

I see I’ve already blathered on too long, and wandered all over the map, and I apologize hehe…but again back to the demons. The most logical place for them to exist is internally. Yep, in one of the many of those brains inside our heads. A psychologist might call them complexes instead of demons, but there they are. They are a part of us…collective or no…that is mostly forgotten, buried, hidden, literally “occult”…and that is not evil per se, but not overtly working productively or for our own good. These are ancient and primal parts of ourselves, and if we don’t come to terms with them, they can create all kinds of trouble for us in our lives. Getting these demons into line is the whole point of some of the old grimoires…though admittedly back then any practioner would have viewed them as supernatural entities, rather then as complexes. The Book of the Sacred Magic of Abramelin the Mage, and the Goetia both go into elaborate detail as to how to deal with these things…from the perspective of a medievalist…and both books have been reinterpreted for use by more modern people as psychological journeys. And a dangerous journey it is. You’re not in danger of being possessed by something supernatural though; you’re in danger of losing your mind. As such the instructions contained in those books are usually only attempted by people who have studied them for years, and remain the province of specialists in the field. I wouldn’t recommend that people dally with them.

Coming to terms with your inner demons however, and causing them to stop doing harm to you and to your own life, is an important part of the spiritual journey, in my humble opinion. You can never banish them, or destroy them, since they are a part of you. You can just come to understand them, and live with them, and hopefully be at peace with them.

~ by dagoril on November 14, 2006.

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