In March 1984 I accompanied a group of Americans on a very special tour of Brazil. The group was sponsored by the Institute of Noetic Sciences of Marin County, California, with the intention of providing direct contact with spiritual and healing experiences unique to Brazil. Our guide was Edmundo Barbosa, a Brazilian psychologist who had arranged a program that stretched across the spectrum of spiritual life of this fascinating country.
One of the first stops on our spiritual odyssey was at an Umbanda center which was well known in Sao Paulo as a place of great energy and healing. We entered the temple through a nondescript door on a side street of a working-class suburb of Sao Paulo. We were a group of interested North American researchers come to participate in an Umbanda ceremony, to experience firsthand this fast-growing sect which combines elements of Christianity, traditional Afro-Brazilian deity worship and a spiritist belief in reincarnation and confidence in the afterlife.
We were greeted by a pleasant man dressed all in white. He escorted us to the audience chamber which was separated from the main altar by a white curtain. We too were dressed in white, as instructed, to reflect any negative energies and to maintain the highest possible vibration.
As we were seated, we heard the rhythmic beating of conga drums and a melodious chanting of Christian hymns coming from behind the curtain. The initiates of the temple, about a dozen or so, were preparing for the evening's "work" in spirit. An older man came out, waving a censer in the aisles, infusing the room with an earthy herbal smell. Soon it was time to begin.
The curtain was parted and we saw before us an altar covered with many small figurines which represented Christian saints and their Umbanda counterparts. A vase full of bright yellow flowers stood be-fore the main figure, that of Jesus/Oxala, and an old Indian woman, swathed in white, stood swaying with the drumming. To the right, four swarthy young men beat on the waist-high drums with elegant abandon. The "saint father," a black man of about 40, directed their efforts, signaling the changes in song and rhythm to suit the mood of the moment.
The other initiates opened a space around the "saint mother," the old Indian woman who was the reigning medium of the place, when she suddenly began to shake and convulse as if entering an epileptic fit. The "saint father" stopped the music and everything went silent as the medium straightened up, Put one hand behind her back and put a big cigar in her mouth. Someone rushed to light the cigar and she turned to stare at us with an impassive expression, eyes half-closed. She had incorporated the guiding spirit of the temple, an old Indian healer, and the real work of the evening was about to begin.
He began to address those present in a booming voice, speaking in a strange accented Portuguese. According to the saint father, her Portuguese is colored by the native dialect which was the mother tongue of the old Indian spirit. The spirit welcomed us and proceeded to approach each of the other mediums.
She pressed points on their wrists and arms and whispered to them. Each one in turn shook and hollered, danced or paraded about stiff-legged according to the mood of the guiding spirit which took over. Soon all of them had incorporated and were mumbling in that strange "itsy-bitsy" Portuguese as they swayed and danced to the music. The energy was palpable as the members of the audience were invited to receive advice and healing.
The saint mother would treat each individual differently according to the need. One woman was told to lie flat on the floor where she was covered with a white sheet and a candle was lighted at her head and feet. This was designed to remove deep blocks in the flow of her life force. She reported a great easing and profound relaxation afterwards. Eventually it was my turn to go up.
I approached the medium. She passed points on my wrists and elbows with a firm grip and I was immediately overcome by an intense warmth and a white light which spread from my arms all through my body. I became aware of a presence behind me and to the left. At this point I experienced a real moment of truth. I knew that if I allowed it, this presence or spirit or whatever, it was would enter my body. The prospect was frightening; yet as I remembered the circle of love surrounding and protecting me, I decided to let go. My usual self, the "I" which is writing this, was set aside and became a mere witness to what happened.
I began to shake and sway to the drums and heard hooting and hollering coming from my lips. The saint father stopped the drumming and I felt as if I were crossing a great abyss. As I landed on the other side, the group began a chant which went something like this: "Oh Jesus, welcome this son into our house."
My dancing and twirling slowed and I heard the phrase "I am sincere," repeated several times, in Portuguese, from my lips. Meanwhile a member of our group, a lady with whom I enjoyed a special rapport, found herself jerking against her will, in exact synchrony with my movements. I learned of this later.
The saint mother held my arms once again and whispered soothing words to me. I awoke as if from a dream to find my body soaked in sweat as I stood before her. "This one has a powerful protector, an old Indian chief and healer," she said in her funny Portuguese. I was escorted back to my seat, feeling cleansed and excited as if I were on the brink of an unknown world. The members of our group of seekers were intensely curious but I refused to discuss the experience for several days, feeling that it was intensely private and should not be trivialized by idle chatter. The ritual was soon brought to a close as each of the initiates came out of trance and the saint mother extinguished her cigar. The saint father said a closing prayer of thanking the spirits for their fine work that evening and we prepared to leave. The other temple members looked at me with great interest and affection as the saint father stopped me and said, "You worked very well this evening. You have a natural ability as a medium and are always welcome in this house."
By their understanding I had incorporated one of the healing spirits of the house and had helped them in their project of bringing harmony between the spiritual and the physical worlds. It felt like an initiation and a profoundly significant experience but one that was difficult to square with anything else in my life.
Our healing odyssey continued and we met many remarkable people in the following weeks. Among them was Dr. Edson Queiroz, one of the most famous and controversial figures on the Brazilian spiritist scene. Queiroz is purported to be a medium for the spirit of Dr. Adolph Fritz, the same spirit who came through the Brazilian medium Arigo made famous as "the surgeon with the rusty knife," as John G. Fuller called him in a 1974 book of the same name. While in his mediumistic trance Queiroz performs surgeries that can only be termed "miraculous," given the rapidity with which he works, the lack of asepsis and anesthesia and the remarkable cure rate to which several years of careful clinical records attest.
As we observed in the operating chamber of this Spiritist Center in the northeast of Brazil, Dr. Fritz explained that he is merely the spokesman for a council of perhaps hundreds of discarnate physicians who facilitate the work. Members of his team take care of the asepsis and anesthesia on a spiritual plane and leave it to him to flaunt every rule of surgical decorum.
After removing a tumor from a man's chest in about a minute and a half, he tossed it to me, shouting "Catch!" as Brazilian television recorded the event.
Dr. Fritz and his colleagues are determined to challenge science with irrefutable evidence of the existence of spirit. Queiroz practices medicine as a licensed gynecologist and obstetrician when he is not incorporating Fritz.
After our trip, which afforded us a vivid cross-section of the rich spiritual life of Brazil, we returned to our daily lives as business people, psychologists and teachers in the United States. I thought often of my brush with mediumship, Brazilian-style, but lacking any framework to make sense of it, I chalked it up to the special atmosphere of Brazil where such things are commonplace. I blamed it on Rio. Little did I know that my journey had only just begun.
In January, 1986 I was invited to serve as a translator for Dr. Queiroz who was coming to the United States for the first time as a guest of the International Healing Foundation. The IHF, which is dedicated to the practice of spiritual wisdom in healing, had asked him here to teach us the techniques (short of psychic surgery) employed in his Spiritist Center. The group was composed of about 20 persons who worked with those faced by life-threatening illnesses such as cancer, other persons interested in healing and a physician. We hoped to apply this knowledge in work with seriously ill people here in California and elsewhere.
Queiroz spoke at length of the spiritual dimension of illness. He described the specific layer of interaction between the spiritual and the physical as the perispiritual body. This energy field, which sits a few millimeters above the skin, registers the karmic and spiritual/emotional/mental disposition of each person. Those diseases which am spiritual, as opposed to purely organic in origin, begin as lesions of the perispiritual body. Healers may counteract or retard both the physical (e.g., cancerous) and perispiritual lesions by applying life force to the afflicted area. Similarly, the application of this life force through the hands or the mental projection of the healer can help to eliminate any imbalances which have not reached the lesion stage.
He described the triage whereby applicants for healing were divided up by the Center's guiding spirits into three groups: those that needed surgery under the scalpel and needles of Dr. Fritz, those who required fluidic therapy (energy healing, as described above) and those who were to be subjects for disobsession where lower spirits who am interfering with their health are removed. Some receive a combination of therapies. We spent several days learning the techniques of energy healing but as yet knew nothing of disobsession or of the critical role of the medium in that process. One, evening Edson came to us visibly moved. He turned to me at the beginning of the session and said, "Matthew, will you serve as an intermediary this evening?" This sounded like where the action was and since I was already a linguistic intermediate, it was easy to agree. He proceeded to tell us that he had spent the day at a center dedicated to helping people come to terms with the psychological and emotional roots of their cancer as an auxiliary to conventional treatment. While attending a patient discussion group, he clairvoyantly perceived a skeletal spirit form with its bug eyes greedily fixed on one of the participants, a woman (we'll call her "Fran") with a large tumor on her face. It was standing behind her and apparently draining perispiritual energy through the lesion on her face.
He explained that what he had seen was in obsessing spirit, a discarnate person who had died and lost the way to the next stage of evolution. By some karmic debt it had become bound to Fran and was participating in her disease, supporting it and perhaps even helping to cause it. The indicated procedure was to perform a disobsession which would disentangle this intrusive spirit from Fran's perispiritual body and send it on its way.
"For this we need a medium to incorporate the obsessing spirit," Edson said. "This is the quickest means of contacting the spirit and making it accessible to the orientation which it needs so desperately." He looked at me expectantly and I felt my skin crawl just a little.
Yes, I was the medium he had in mind. And this was no high healing spirit I was being asked to allow into my body -- this was an obsessing spirit. Still, I wanted to cooperate and decided to go with, what was happening.
Edson led me into a deep trance in which we imagined ourselves in a favorite place in nature. He evoked the Christ energy and all the helper and mentor spirits that were around. Then he approached me and placed his hands above my head as he pronounced the words, "I invite the spirit associated with Fran to come through our brother Matthew."
I first felt warmth coming from Edson's hands and then from behind me and to the left I sensed a presence, a heavy cloud of light. Once again I had a moment of truth but this one was easier to resolve; my own commitment to this work had considerably deepened and I felt waves of love and support from all those present. I would step aside and allow the spirit in. Instantly I went limp and felt a tightening in my throat as my body shook and swayed.
In a moment I heard a high-pitched whining sound issuing from my vocal chords and I became aware of a vast, insatiable hunger. Images of snow and a forest hovel drifted into my mind. Madeleine, a group member who had been designated as the spirit's "director" in the session, repeated a request for the spirit to come forth and communicate verbally with those present. The spirit responded in its whiny voice and under Madeleine's prodding related the following story:
She was Fran's mother in a past lifetime. They were members of an Indian tribe in a village on what looked to be the High Plains. There was a terrible snowstorm which had isolated the village and cut it off from its food supplies. She decided to brave the snow and wind to try to find something to eat for herself and her young daughter. But she got lost in the blizzard and when she finally made it back to the hut, she found her daughter dead of exposure and hunger.
At this point in the narrative she screamed and my whole body tensed with the profound grief, anger an guilt she felt as she held the limp body of her dead daughter.
She vowed never to leave her daughter again and carried the body out into the snow where she too soon died. Because of the traumatic nature of her death she never quite realized that she was dead and certainly had no awareness of the harm she was causing her "daughter" in this lifetime.
Madeleine spoke with her in a firm but compassionate tone. She got her to realize her state and to accept that it was time for her to move on.
Accompanied by the mentor spirits that Edson evoked, the spirit moved on into a white light, professing her love for her daughter and for those present. Later we were to learn that stories such as these are common for obsessing spirits; beneath the anger and hatred there is often a misguided love. Edson cautioned that our work with this spirit was not over and that it would probably take several sessions to complete the disobsession.
The next day when I entered our meeting room Madeleine came up to me and said, "Did you here about Fran?" The day after our disobsession, she said, Fran came to her group looking uncharacteristically radiant. Her tumor had visibly shrunk and she reported feeling more energized than she had in a long time. She had not known that we were going to perform the disobsession on her and she was not present at the session. After Madeleine told her what had happened, she replied that for much of her life she had sensed a 'presence' shadowing her, but had never thought much about it.
Madeleine suggested that the two of them perform some psychodrama in which they would act out the reincarnational drama. Madeleine played the role of the mother and Fran played the daughter. "Why did you leave me?" asked Fran. "I had to, my daughter, to find food for you," Madeleine responded. Both felt as if they had been transported back to that forest hut. Fran reported a tremendous release of pent-up feelings.
Interestingly enough, in this life Fran was dealing with a senile mother who was confined to a rest home. Her greatest concern was about what would happen to her mothers, both incarnate and discarnate, if she were to let go of them.
We see here a powerful interaction between the spiritual and physical planes. Through the physical (the medium) the spiritual is healed (the obsessing spirit) which in turn heals the physical (Fran).
Edson Queiroz later showed us how to set up a medium's table so that we could continue to do this work in his absence. He selected four mediums, two "grounds," two directors and four "cleaners." Each applicant for healing was to provide a form with his or her picture, vital statistics and a description of his or her problem. The director would choose a medium for each patient and after careful prayer and preparation the medium would incorporate the obsessing spirit. The director's job was to orient the spirit and, in talking with it, help it to recognize its true state and get it to take its own place "in progression" in the afterworld.
After each session, which would last only a few minutes, the cleaners would come to remove any negative energies remaining on the members at the table by applying "passes," special hand movements over their bodies. (This is analogous to the old mesmeric concept of making "magnetic passes.") Then the next spirit was called. After a specified period of work, say an hour and a half, the session would close and people would go home.
Our work with fluid therapy and disobsession has continued on this model to the present day and since my initial encounter I have incorporated dozens of spirits. Although I hadn't really considered the possibility that I was a medium until my experience in Brazil, I find that this work is easy and natural and actually feels good. Edson tells us that when an obsessing spirit departs, it takes some of our own lower energy with it. We are doing an enormous work of charity for our discarnate brothers and sisters, he tells us, and greatly furthering our own spiritual advancement.
The patients we treat have had a variety of results. Some feel nothing; others report improvements in their psychic and physical well-being. One young man who had complained of confusion and depression was sitting quietly at home on the night of his disobsession when the lights began to flicker. Thinking there was a problem with the power in his house, he went to another room and the lights stopped flickering in the first room and flickered in the one he had just entered. This continued for several minutes as he found the flickering in whatever room he happened to enter but nowhere else in the house. I should emphasize that this particular fellow is a hardheaded rationalist and not prone to hallucination. He reported some improvement in his condition after the incident.
Other patients declare that the reincarnational dramas the spirits relate have an intuitive "rightness" for them and embody important issues for them in their lives. One man, a recovering cancer patient, was apparently obsessed by a number of entities whom he had mistreated as a prince in another lifetime. He began to look at his attitude of personal pride which proved a significant step in his growth process. He came to understand why he felt compelled to go out of his way to help all the "little people" he encountered as a high-powered executive; this was a kind of compensation for his previous disregard of others. In a follow-up session he related that he felt much relieved at having "appointed" the spirits who accompanied him as advisers. This case is typical.
Although we do not operate on the scale of some spiritist hospitals in Brazil where hundreds of disobsessions may take place in the course of a week, we have the beginnings of our own Spiritist Center and feel a greater hand guiding our work. As to the ultimate truth of the obsessing-spirit model, we can offer no scientific proof. Certainly our work has historical precedence in the work of Dr. Carl Wickland, author of 3O Years Among the Dead (1924). The work of Eliezer Mendez has indicated that disobsession can be more effective than conventional therapy in dealing with epilepsy. At the Federacao Espirita de Sao Paulo, 2000 persons a day receive some kind of healing or spiritual counseling. Spiritists understand that many people with physical and emotional complaints are undeveloped mediums and help them to consciously control their psychic openings.
The IHF sponsored a new healing odyssey to Brazil in October 1986, during which we witnessed a disobsession at Edson's center. It was interesting to hear Brazilian spirits telling the same kinds of stories our spirits here had been relating. Although the cultural setting was different, the same traumas and karmic bonds were reported by the obsessors: unrequited love, murder, curses and crimes against spiritual law kept coming up as the underlying motivations for the obsessions.
Readers must judge the value of this work in their own terms. I am sharing this story hoping that it will at least inspire readers to consider this perspective on healing and human nature. There are vast possibilities of the human spirit that science does not yet understand.
For me, mediumship is a resource, independent of the ultimate status of the "spirits" that communicate with and through me. Through automatic writing and incorporation I have learned many valuable lessons and established contact with guides and helpers, perhaps from my own psyche, perhaps not, who have contributed to my own life and, apparently, to that of others.
MATTHEW BRONSON received his M.A. in linguistics
from the University of California at Berkeley. He currently teaches linguistics
at the California Institute of Integral Studies in San Francisco and co-hosts
the narrow-cast television show Reality, Mind and Language. He serves on
the board of directors of the International Healing Foundation and the
Association for the Anthropological Study of Consciousness. He lives In
San Francisco, where he manages a software company.