Leaving occultism behind, let’s talk about spiritualism.
Spiritualism is the belief that the spirits of the dead have both the ability and the inclination to communicate with the living. The afterlife, or the “spirit world“, is seen by spiritualists, not as a static place, but as one in which spirits continue to evolve. These two beliefs: that contact with spirits is possible, and that spirits are more advanced than humans, lead spiritualists to a third belief, that spirits are capable of providing useful knowledge about moral and ethical issues, as well as about the nature of God. (Wikipedia)
Spiritualists reject the rituals and ceremonial magic central to occult practice, in favor of much more practical (albeit supernatural) healing methods. Their practices involve the communication with spirits (both discarnate entities, as well as masters and guides) through the work of mediumship. They don’t travel into the unseen worlds, nor engage in any manipulations thereof.
I feel a lot more resonance with these approaches to healing work, although I don’t have any mediumship abilities.
In this book, prominent psychiatrist, Dr. Carl Wickland, and his wife Anna (a trance medium), describe their decades of work, treating and healing mental illness, by removing destructive earthbound discarnate spirits (who don’t know they are dead) from the auras of the psychically sensitive patients. Dr. Wickland seems to coax the spirits out of the patients through the application of some kind of statically charged electrical device. Then, through a form of meditation and I suppose trance induction, one at a time, the spirits temporarily enter the body of his wife; where Dr. Wickland speaks with them, explaining to them that they are dead, and convincing them to leave the earth plane for the spirit world (leaving the patient peacefully healed of her symptoms).
Lest you think this is all mumbo jumbo, there is a lot of work being done currently in spiritualist psychiatric facilities in Latin America, Brazil in particular, following a specific branch of this model (known as “spiritism” developed by Allan Kardec). This book, and Dr. Wickland’s amazing work in general, are considered an authoritative guide on these destructive entities.
What I find most interesting about this work is it suggests that what you believe, here in human form, determines what happens to you after you die. Not in the religious sense, but in the core belief sense – the belief framework in your subconscious mind. It’s not that you must believe one thing over another, but rather that you must be open-minded enough to accept what’s happening to you. It appears that one has to have a flexible (non-dogmatic) belief system to realize that his body has died, and that he has passed into the spirit form. Strong attachments to egoic drives, or to relationships, or to fundamentalist religious ideas stand in the way of a soul’s progress to the spirit realms. Those that continue holding on to their beliefs end up hanging out on our earth planes, feeling lost, confused, or asleep. Some become attracted to the light of a human’s aura; sometimes getting stuck in there, (wreaking havoc on the human) until they become willing to let go of their beliefs and accept greater truths. This suggests an element of self-determination or freedom to resist the truth for a period of time.
These are not new ideas, of course. It’s just exciting to watch them play out in these seemingly mechanical ways. The entire premise of the Tibetan Book of the Dead (which guides and teaches the newly dead soul what to do) is built on this foundation. (If you’re interested, there’s a good, somewhat haunting, documentary about it, narrated by Leonard Cohen, available here).
The releasing of attachments, the acceptance of the transformation into spirit form, and the awareness that thoughts and beliefs create the soul’s projected “reality,” are all needed to keep the soul on track, so to speak. Similar to our current spiritual understandings, what the soul experiences after death is a projection of its own beliefs. I suppose they play out before him in order to be processed and digested out – not unlike what’s been happening to me for the last few months. (In the language of the Christian mystics, which I’ve become so fond of lately, this is the nature of purgatory – the purging of that which is not in alignment with love).
In my experience (I had one encounter with the energy of death a few months ago), it is simultaneously subtle and powerful, but there’s nothing inherently scary about it. It’s a really peaceful sensation. The fear arises only from the resistance to it (the human attachments), not from death itself. It came to show me where I was still holding attachments, and what needed to be worked on and released.
I don’t specifically believe that one can get “off track” after death, but that’s just my personal view. There are some interesting examples in Wickland’s book that demonstrate how stubborn and reticent souls, those that refuse to give up attachments or refuse to accept their condition, are given lots of time to come around to the truth. Spirit, which is outside the bounds of time, is infinitely patient. This suggests that souls have a tiny hint of self-determination, or free-will, in this sense. They can choose to reject the truth until such time as they come to accept it.
I’ve been turning the idea of free-will around in my mind for a while. I’m still not convinced that we have it. The ego loves to believe that it has control. And what I’ve been shown again and again is that it doesn’t; even over itself. It’s a trick of the mind, necessary for the human experience. You have to believe you have free-will in order to have a sense of ownership over your life and choices. And you have to believe that others have free-will in order to hold them responsible for their lives and choices. This sense of ownership is what generates all the suffering we come here to experience (fear, self-judgment, shame, regret, blame, etc.). If you really knew and fully believed that you and everyone else were just floating along on an energetic current, everything pre-destined and chosen for you (by another aspect of yourself before you were born), all of the inner emotional stuff would become moot and the spiritual lessons would be lost. You need to believe you have free-will in order to experience being human. But there is a reality beyond that which we experience. And as a matter of ultimate truth, I’m not sure we have any free-will at all.
At the moment, I think there is a little bit of wiggle room to resist the truth, or resist the lessons, but not much. Spirit has a way of directing what is needed, with either a carrot or a stick, or sometimes both. Ultimately the human, or the soul, will capitulate, believing it itself has made the choice to accept truth. It can’t see or acknowledge that its own change of heart is influenced by something outside itself. Rudolph Steiner talked about this in his books – how releasing oneself of the hegemony of the ego will show you just how much you are being controlled by spiritual forces outside yourself. It’s really trippy and destabilizing when you first experience it.
And if there’s no real alternative to that which Spirit directs, then there is only the illusion of free-will.
Like everything else these days, this is a work in progress.