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Drawing Down the Spirits: The Traditions and Techniques of Spirit Possession,
Review by Karl Schlotterbeck
This is a book directed toward those with an interest in purposeful possession by deities and with spirits. It is of interest as well to those who may not be actively involved with spirit possession, but who have some other relationship with the spirit world. It is not primarily a theoretical or abstract work (although conceptions of theology are considered), for it discusses experiences of the authors and others who have been possessed. Their conclusions and tentative theories are drawn from careful consideration of the reality of those experiences, rather than from ideology or ungrounded theorizing.
The book is thoughtful, intelligent and witty. The authors address such issues as legality, fraud, mental illness, spectators, differences between gods and spirits, deceptive spirits, demonic possession, differences between African and European spirits, and keeping both community and spirits safe. They provide a survey of possession over time and over the earth, (including within Judaism, Christianity and Islam) and the differing perspectives various cultures have. They make the point that, by the experience of many, possessing deities are not benign good parents, but entities with expectations, needs and limitations – and that negotiations can be undertaken to account for the fact that we live in a different world today than when that particular deity held sway over some early culture.
Despite official “scientific” skepticism, the authors note that the large audience attracted to such things indicates a spiritual need being met by them.
For me, one of the most interesting sections adapts another writer’s exposition of levels of “deity assumption,” that categorizes the nature of relationship with deities and spirits in a way applicable to our own Keltrian practices. In the first three levels, the deity may not be involved at all. From the fourth level on, the deity becomes involved and in increasing control. These levels are as follows:
Even with their careful thought, research and extensive experience, the authors assert that there is much more to be learned. “Nailing down the gods is like trying to squeeze water, or sunlight, or shadow: one may fool oneself into believing one has done it, but one’s hands still remain empty,” they say.
Although the book is not intended as a do-it-yourself manual for spirit possession, the authors provide practical advice for the “head blind:” attend to your dreams, get enough sleep, ask for omens, and practice divination. They don’t just tell us to do these things, but suggest disciplines to make them effective.
One of the topics throughout the book is the preparation, care and recovery of the “horse” (the possessed person who is “ridden” by the deity). Being possessed by an entity with much more powerful energy than we are used to is apparently quite disorienting and draining. The horse needs good boundaries and a supportive staff to take care of mundane needs before, during and after a possession. Also included are ways to abort a possession – to ground consciousness firmly in the body.
They assert the importance of following one’s experience and being careful about attaching labels from the larger society to these events. As they say, “Editing your own experiences to conform to someone else’s version of reality is a fast way to making yourself actually crazy.”
Drawing Down the Spirits: The Traditions and Techniques of Spirit Possession, by Kenaz Filan and Raven Kaldera; published by Destiny Books, 2009, ISBN-13: 978-1-59477-269-6 ISBN: 1-59477-269-X, quality paperback, 352 pp, $18.95
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