Apr. 14th, 2011

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The happy news is that I am definitely in a reading mood, for the first true time since like... I don't know when.  A very long time ago.  Middle school or something.  My first Amazon batch of this new euphoric period - Pym and Volt - arrived a couple weeks ago, and I haven't gotten the chance to read them because I've been finishing up Hostage to the Devil, by Malachi Martin.  [ETA: I got this book on [livejournal.com profile] handful_ofdust's recommendation - thank you!]  It's a book about exorcism.  Martin was a theologian and Catholic priest, and the bulk of the book consists of 5 case studies of Americans in the 1960s-1970s who underwent the rite of exorcism - each time with a bonafide Catholic priest, not somebody called in by Lorraine Warren.  It's non-fiction. 

Each case study spends a lot of time developing a nuanced, multi-decade view of the exorcist and the victim of possession, because in this book, that's how long it takes.  It's not exactly playing with ouija boards one day and levitating the next week.  Evil has to be allowed in, and weaves its way into an authoritative position of a person's life - to the point that it provides ready-made answers and decisions for the person to accept that are designed to separate the person from humanness - over many years.  It's a complicated, invisible downward spiral.

My favorite case of the 5 was the last (very long) one, The Rooster and The Tortoise.  It's about a scholar of parapsychology, Carl, who the book readily admits has psychic capacities of some kind and eventually was convinced that he was the reincarnation of an ancient Roman and had to go to ancient Aquileia to worship some thing called The Tortoise.  The priest, Father Hearty, also has psychic capacities of some kind, and had taken classes from Carl at a university.  The whole interaction between psychic phenomena and academia and spirituality was pretty interesting, but what made the story for me was this part where Carl is talking to his mentor, a Tibetan guy named Olde who practices Tibetan Buddhism.  Carl had already been in contact with the evil spirit at this point, but was essentially ignoring that it was evil - anyway.  He's trying to learn higher planes of consciousness.  I was really afraid that Olde was going to turn out to be evil, but not so:
Finally one day Olde seemed to have no more answers.  Every soul, he said, which turns to the perfection of Allness is like a closed-petaled lotus flower in the beginning of its search.  Under the direction of a master or guide, it opens its eight petals slowly.  The master merely assists at this opening.  When the petals are open, the tiny silver urn of true knowledge is placed in the center of the lotus flower.  And when the petals close in again, the whole flower has become a vehicle of that true knowledge.

Looking away from Carl, Olde said gratingly, almost inimically: "The silver urn can never be placed at the center of your flower.  The center is already taken by a self-multiplying negation."  A pause.  "Filth.  Materiality.  Slime.  Death."

Carl was stunned, literally struck dumb for an instant.  Olde walked away from him, still without looking at him.  He was about five paces away when Carl broke down.  He could only manage a choking exclamation: "Olde!  My friend!  Olde!"

Olde stopped, his back to Carl.  He was utterly calm, motionless, wordless.  Then Carl heard him say in a low voice and not particularly to him: "Friend is holy."  Carl did not understand what he meant. [...] Olde said only this to Carl, words Carl could never forget: "You have Yama without Yamantaka.  Black without white.  Nothingness without something." 

As Olde turned away again, Carl had a sudden reversal.  He seemed for a few instants to be absorbed in "higher prayer."  His surge of frustration and anger gave away to contempt and disgust for Olde.  Then as he looked at Olde's retreating back, he was filled with a warning fear of Olde and what Olde stood for.  Somehow Olde was the enemy.  Somehow he, Carl, made up a "we" and "us" with someone else, and Olde could not belong to it.

"Enemy!" he suddenly heard himself shouting after Olde.

Olde stopped, half-turned, and peered over his shoulder at Carl.  His face was back to its usual repose.  His forehead, cheeks, and mouth were unruffled and smooth.  His eyes were calm, wide open, just gentle deeps of impenetrable light, as they usually were.  The compassion in them hit Carl like a whip.  He did not want anybody's compassion.  He took a step back, wanted to speak, but could not get any word out of his throat.  He backed away another step, half-turning away, then another step and another half-turn, until he literally found himself moving away.  He told himself he had walked away, but deep in himself he knew he had been repelled, had been turned around and propelled away. 

Apparently Olde too had his own protectors.
I've been thinking more about morality lately, and turning against relativism.  I think this is actually due to a combination of reading about the use of torture and reading that whole "bankrupt nihilism" epic fantasy smackdown a while back.  The idea of a divine goodness and an evil that transcends particular religions really appeals to me, but is probably hopeless naive.  But I am a religious naif.  All I know is few things bother me more within this subject than listening to Christian exorcists say that Hindus worship Satan because Kali is in their pantheon.  I like to believe that people of multiple religions can touch/experience the same basic "Allness" in their worship.  But anyway.  I'm sure I sound like a moron, so I'll just move on.

This book taught me a lot about Christianity.  Before reading this book, my knowledge of the subject was restricted to my experience living among and being close friends with Christians (for some reason I get along better with the orthodox/LDS variety than the moderate kind), basic pop/mainstream culture exposure, the American religious right in politics, the Unitarian Universalist church (but only marginal exposure to that one), college courses on colonial and U.S. history (not flattering depictions), and Jesus Christ Superstar.  And none of those things gave me the same impression of Christianity as Hostage to the Devil does.  As strange as it may sound, I never "got" that Christianity was about love before this book.  I mean, I'd heard that, certainly seen the church signs saying "Jesus Loves You" and so on, but mostly my impression of Christianity was this and Jesus Camp.  I know a lot about - and disagree to the extreme with - what the dominionist religious right does politically and the tactics that they use, and I'm still allergic to Left Behind, but this book was like a small revelation to me.  It's kind of funny that a book about exorcism and dealing with evil is what gave me this compassionate, loving view of Christianity, but in the end that's really what it seemed to be about.  The emphasis really wasn't on horror, although there were unsettling passages.  But then the depiction of evil also wasn't something I expected - I think I was expecting pain or cruelty or hatred, and that's in there, but more than anything else, evil in this book is about meaninglessness and nothingness. 

It took a little getting used to - I had particular trouble with the attack on evolution in the chapter Father Bones and Mister Natch, but by the end I felt like I understood, somewhat, what Martin and the exorcists were getting at.  Not that I can put it in words right now.  I'm planning to reread the book.  But I do feel like this was an eye-opening experience for me.  It made me think a great deal about evil and humanness and goodness and Earth, and I was quoting passages of the book to my mother, who really didn't want to hear it, I don't think.  My mother is an atheist who gave me a horrified "are you becoming Christian? do you believe this guy?" line several times.

And no, I'm not saying Hostage to the Devil made me a Christian.  That would be too easy and thoughtless a conversion.  And as to whether I "believe" Malachi Martin, I guess I'd say that "I don't think he's lying," to paraphrase Scully.  In any case, I'm glad I read it.

And now I get to go write my book about non-evil "demons."  Heh, as Lindsey says.  At least the Missouri Synod of the Lutheran Church doesn't seem to believe in the gag-inducing deliverance movement (it's probably connected to the Alaskans that believe there's a demon queen on Mt. Everest), so that's something I can leave to my charismatic church.  Going off that tangent:

I caught an episode of the new Animal Planet show "Demon Exorcist" last week.  I like some paranormal-reality TV, for the same reason I like horror, and I like AP's "The Haunted" quite a bit, but "Demon Exorcist" was hysterically horrible.  A lot like "Extreme Paranormal."  Suffice it to say that if you catch that show, about a ghost hunter who has some run-in with an evil spirit and then becomes a wannabe John Constantine (I wouldn't be surprised if he somehow got licensed to practice "demonology" over the internet, and no, I do not take "demonology" seriously), the rigorous, devoted exorcists in Hostage to the Devil are the polar opposite of that guy.  For one, this guy totally violates the spirit of working under the banner of the power of God instead of making it about the exorcist himself, cuz the exorcist ain't strong enough (has he not seen The Exorcist?  "The power of Christ compels you!"), because he wants to be a hero.  For two, this is the kind of person who sees anything vaguely malicious and says "demon."  No question about mental or physical health.  Just straight to "demon," every time.  He's a lot like the Warrens.  Maybe it's a demonology thing.

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