California Institute of integral Studies
Dedicated to the late Edson Queiroz, MD, spiritual father, spiritist medium, healer, friend.
Shamanism, trance phenomena, spiritual healing practices, the ritual technologies which humans of every culture use to alter consciousness and tap hidden resources-- all these invite intense popular attention in addition to seducing the scholarly imagination.The First Encounter
As we begin to consider tfe topic at hand, it seems appropriate to ask: What is it in the first instance which draws our collective interest to such issues as (selecting from topics in past issues of this very journal) UFOS, modern day pilgrimages to holy sites, and the neuropsychology of consciousness? Is it not, at least in part, that we glimpse in these practices, models, or cultures some glimmering of our own transcendent natures? Is it not that, for a moment at least, we catch sight of what Joseph Campbell and Native Americans call "the Great Mystery"? Are we not ourselves stirred as we sit by the fire and feel in our own bodies the driving beat of the shaman's drum?
This is the promise of all concerned with those states of being labelled "non-ordinary" or "altered": If breakthroughs in being are indeed possible, if we have within our grasp as an element of our birthright the ability to "converse with the gods" as we conceive them, then the pressing problems of out day seem to fall within the horizon of will and action. What is fundamentally being asked of us as scholars and human scientists on the brink of this new century is: How do we provide adequate maps, tools, technologies in support of those radical realignments in life strategies demanded for the continued viability of life on our planet?
One response is for us to maintain the appropriate primacy of lived experience and the authentic indigenous voices of the peoples we study.
Traditional anthropology, based on a key distinction in linguistics, recognizes the distinction between "etic" or "cross-cultural" and "emic" or "intra-cultural." An etic study might focus on housing patterns throughout the monsoon belt of South Asia. An emic study purports to describe the distinctions implicit in the world view of a particular group, e.g., an ethnography (a classically emic form) of a Los Angeles street gang might include an explanation of the iconography of a particular set of "colors" (identifying dress wom by gang members). The conceptual, or more precisely, ontological mistake, which robs anthropological inquiry of its authenticity, is the conflation of "lived experience" and "emic."
It is a natural mistake, supported by hundreds of years of scholarship, to assume that our emic description is equivalent to the lived experience of the native. What a telling sign of the potential hubris of the human sciences to assume that our description of the Blood's scarf, sweatshirt, hat, athletic shoes, in any definitive sense captures the deep emotional and lived meaning of a gang member donning his colors with all the attendant mythos and the immediacy of these experiences in his body. Put quite simply: our descriptions of the world and our lived experience exist on different orders of being.
Nowhere does this disparity between the neat charts and glossaries in the textbook and the messy nature of real life come into clearer focus than when a researcher personally lives through an anomalous experience. When the "as-if' participant observer loses the patina of objectivity and slips into the "as-is" of lived experience, the scholar and the person are no longer separate. In such cases, the experience itself opens new horizons of intelligibility in a way that is unexpected, perhaps antithetical to the logical, rational mind. We suddenly make sense of nonsense and find the familiar strangely unfamiliar in the wake of such events.
People in the field are no strangers to mind-wrenching, heart-rending paradigm shifts. In fact, fieldwork is clearly a "rite of passage" for anthropology as for many disciplines. Fieldwork constitutes a kind of "shamanic initiation" in that all cherished notions of self are on the line. Nietzche's dictum was that "what does not kill you makes you stronger." In the process of fieldwork, Janet Richardson nearly died from poisonous spider bites, saw her companion's chronic nightmares cured by an intensely unhygienic shaman, fought for her life against a crowd of dozens of men, and adopted a daughter, among other things. Her area of concentration was early childhood development (she gathered quite a bit of data on that too).
Challenging "limit experiences" which cause us to recast our sense of ourselves are routine occurrences in fieldwork, and in fact, an intrinsic element of its value in professional formation (Tracy 1988). Interestingly enough, the allure of scientific respectability would seem generally to discourage scholars from reporting on their own anomalous experiences. For example, one eminent scholar of Candomble, an Afro, Brazilian religion, generally recognized as a medical anthropologist, recently reported that she routinely splashed water in her face whenever she found herself going into trance while observing a ritual. She felt that getting too involved with the proceedings would compromise her ability to be a dispassionate observer. This paper is an invitation to stop splashing water in your face and to admit that direct experience of the phenomena we are inquiring into can only enhance the rigor of our training and deepen our appreciation of our fields of study.
I offer my own story here as a case study in human science's encounter with the transcendental. In doing so, I invite others to share how they have derived real knowledge and grown as scholars and as people through direct contact with their data. In many instances, this might entail "going native" in a spontaneous experience of the transcendental phenomena they are witnessing. Rather than a lapse of scholarly conscience or evidence of a potentially pathological character flaw, lived first-hand experience of the phenomena we study in the field is a natural, even inevitable result of authentically engaged inquiry.
Consider my own case as an example of what happens when the dispassionate concern of the scholar becomes the embodied practice of the native (or in this case "nativist") practitioner. Perhaps a novelty in my tale is my subsequent renunciation of mediumship and "reintegration" albeit as a deeply transformed person.
In March of 1984, I accompanied a group of American psychologists, health practitioners and assorted others on a very special tour of Brazil. The group was sponsored by the Institute of Noetic Sciences (Sausalito, California) with the intention of providing direct contact with spiritual and healing experiences in Brazil. Our guide was Edmtindo Barbosa, a Brazilian psychologist who had arranged a program that stretched across the spectrum of this fascinating colintry's spiritual life. My own interest was as an observer of anomalies and healing practices who was trained in the social sciences.Edson Queiroz: Medical Doctor and Psychic Surgeon
One of the first stops on our journey was at an Umbanda center which was well known in Sao Paulo. We were intrigued by Dr. Barbosa's introduction to Umbanda practice. He indicated that its origins were rather murky, but that in a more popular version of the story, a caboclo spirit, an old Indian man, had insisted on incorporating a medium during a Candomble ceremony. This was, of course, discouraged, since the sole purpose of Candomble ritual is to unite directly with the 11-odd Orixas, deities, of the Yortiba-based Ifa pantheon. To accept this pale substitute violated the Candomble "politics of ecstasy."
Under the guidance of this spirit who would not take "no" for an answer, a rival sect was established, and the free-wheeling, eclectic trance cult of Umbanda was born. The Umbanda world view encompasses elements of Christianity, traditional Afro-Brazilian deity worship, a spiritist belief in reincarnation and confidence in the afterlife. In the Umbanda politics of ecstasy, the preferred entities to receive are cabloco, old Indian spirits from the tribes of the jungle, who specialize in herbal lore and healing; preto velho, the old black slave, and pomba-gira, the wise sassy prostitute who inhabits a discamate brothel and dispenses jokes and advice along with her gyrating dance.
Our destination for the evening, a humble terreiro, or temple, on the outskirts of Sao Patilo, had as its presiding spirit, a caboclo we were told. We entered the temple through a nondescript door on a side-street of this working class suburb. We were greeted by a pleasant man, Iris, all dressed 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 of the hot little room, tightly packed with people. The room was infused 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 syncretic counterparts. A vase full of bright yellow flowers stood before the main figure, that corresponding to Jesus/Oxala. An old woman who had Native American features and wore a white dress stood swaying with the drumming.
To the right, four young men beat on the waist-high drums with elegant abandon. The "saint-father," an African-Brazilian of about 40, directed their efforts, signalling the changes in song and rhythm to suit the mood of the moment.
The other initiates opened a space around the "saint- mother," the elder Indian woman who was the reigning medium of the place, when she suddenly begin to shake and convulse as if entering an epileptic fit. The "saint-father" stopped the music and everything went silent as the medium straightened her posture, put one hand behind her back and put a big stogie 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. The real work of the evening was about to begin.
She began to address those present in a booming voice, incongruous with her grandmotherly presence, in a strangely accented Portuguese. According to the saint-father, her dialect is colored by the native dialect which was the mother tongue of the old Indian spirit (Bronson 1987a). The spirit welcomed us and began 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 yelled, danced or paraded about stiff-legged according to the mood of the guiding spirit which took over. Soon each of them had incorporated a personal caboclo and were mumbling in a peculiar Portuguese as they swayed and danced to the compelling dnimbeat. The moment had arrived to invite members of the audience to receive advice and healing.
The saint-mother treated each individual according to the perceived need. One woman was told to lie flat on the floor where she was covered with a white sheet. Candles were lit at her head and her 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 pressed 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 throughout 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, becoming merely a witness to what happened next.
I began to shake and sway to the drums and heard hooting and hollering coming from my lips. The saint-father suddenly 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 (in Portuguese) which went something like this: "Oh Jesus, welcome this son into our house."
My dancing and swirling slowed and I heard the phrase, "I am sincere," repeated several times, in Portuguese, from my lips. Meanwhile, a member of our group, a woman with whom I enjoyed a special rapport, found herself jerking, against her will, in exact synchrony with my movements. Four other members of the group said that they had become aware of emanations of energy beaming from my twirling body like a "ray of light emitting from a lighthouse." I learned of these points only later (Edmtindo Barbosa, personal communication).
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 chef and healer," she said in Portuguese as I caught a glimpse of an ancient man in a headdress in my mind's eye. 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 were extremely curious but I refused to discuss the experience for several days, preferring not to trivialize it with idle chatter. Besides, I was intensely confused and disturbed by the implications of what had happened.
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 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 Iris, the saint-father, stopped me in the hallway and said, "You worked very well this evening. You have a natural ability as a medium and are always welcome in this house." According to their interpretation, I had incorporated one of the healing spirits of the house and so aided their project of bringing harmony between the spiritual and material worlds. It felt like an initiation and a profoundly significant experience, but one that was difficult to square with anything else in my life.
I was essentially presented with a choice: either to begin to redefine my identity as someone capable of such an experience or to continue with "business as usual," in what would be called in the popular culture of recovery, "denial." I chose a path rather more tending toward the latter, not dwelling overmuch on the episode. Given that this event was unique during my journey and in my life, perhaps I was not yet adequately motivated to embrace the identity crisis which might easily have resulted from a rigorous concern with what had transpired. VAile other events of the trip stretched my credulity and caused me to expand my notions of what was possible, they did not involve so personal an encounter with the transcendent. Most significant among these other events was my first meeting with Edson Queiroz, MD, at that time one of the foremost figures of Brazilian spiritism.
The man who was eventually to initiate me as a medium was one of the most famous and controversial figures on the Brazilian Spiritist scene prior to his murder by a disgruntled former employee in November of 1991 (Greenfield 1991a). Queiroz was the self-styled heir to the tradition of Arigo, the "Surgeon with a Rusty Knife" (Fuller 1974). Like Arigo, Queiroz received the spirit of Dr. Adolph Fritz, ostensibly a World War I era battle-field surgeon. Dr. Fritz performed remarkable surgeries through trance possession of Arigo and Queiroz, flouting all rules of operating room decorum in the rapidity of his procedures, total lack of asepsis and anesthesia and an apparently high cure rate with no reports of infection or after-effects (Krippner and Villoldo 1985).Joining the Medium's Table
This article does not focus on the mechanisms of psychic surgery. Greenfield and Anderson are attempting a thorough investigation of Brazilian psychic surgery from the perspective of Western scientific medicine. While the utt(r pandemonium and confusion attendant with such scenes makes careful follow up and observation difficult, the fact that these scholars are performing a meticulous frame by frame analysis of the video taped record of dozens of these procedures promises to further our understanding of the phenomena so as to supplement anecdotal accounts such as my own.
As we observed in the operating chamber of his Spiritist Center in the Northeast of Brazil, Dr. Fritz explained that he is merely the spokesman (in spirit) for a council of 1,046 discarnate physicians who facilitate the work. Discarnate members of his team take care of the asepsis and' anesthesia and leave it to him to manage the floor show, as he invites people to spit into open wounds, throws recently removed rumors into the audience, and jabs needles into the hands of bystanders (Bronson 1985).
Dr. Quieiroz/Fritz presented in his behavior a "limit- experience" for our traditional sensibility about medical practice. While performing their amazing surgeries, Fritz and his fellow spirits told Lis that they delighted in challenging the scientific mind with seemingly irrefutable evidence of the existence of spirit.
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. Little did I know that my real journey had just begun.
In January of 1986 I was invited to serves as an interpreter for Dr. Queiroz who was coming to the United States for the first time as a guest of a Palo Alto-based group called the International Healing Foundation. The IHF had asked him to teach some of his techniques (creation of a relatively painless state, but sans actual surgery) employed in his spiritist center in Recife in the Northeast of Brazil. The group was composed of about 20 people who worked with those facing life-threatening illnesses such as cancer and other people interested in healing. We intended to apply these techniques to our work with seriously ill people in California and elsewhere.Other Tales at the Medium's Table
Queiroz spoke at length of the spiritual dimension of illness. He painstakingly described the specific layer of interaction between the spiritual and the physical known in Spiritist doctrine as the "perispirittial 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 are 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 persispiritual lesions by applying ectoplasm, the semi-material life force present in all living matter to the afflicted area. Similarly, the application of this ectoplasm through the hands or the mental projection of the healer can help to eliminate any imbalances which have not reached the lesion stage.
Other energetic disturbances of the perispirit can originate from intruding or "obsessing" spirits, Queiroz said. Through a process of energetic linking the obsessors can claim the life energy of an incarnate being resulting in illness or other manifestations. Queiroz described the triage whereby applicants for healing were divided tip by the center's guiding spirits into three groups: those who needed surgery tinder the scalpel of Dr. Fritz; those who required fluidic therapy (ectoplasmic healing as described); and those who were to be subjects for disobsession, where obsessor spirits interfering with their health are removed. Some receive a combination of therapies. We spent several days leaming the techniques of energy healing but as yet knew nothing of disobsession or the critical role of the medium in that process.
One evening Edson Queiroz came to us visibly moved. He turned to me at he beginning of the session and said, "Matthew, will you serve as intermediary this evening?"
Since I already was a linguistic intermediary, I agreed.
He then told 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 noticed, with his clairvoyant sense, several obsessing spirits who were causing the cancer in some of the patients. One of his visions was particularly striking and disturbing. He saw a vampirical spirit closely tied to one patient, Carol. This spirit had a horrible countenance with bulging eyes and a skeletal body which appeared to Edson to be literally sucking the life energy out of Carol through the cancerous lesion on her fare. He received guidance from his spiritual mentors to have our group perform a "disobsession" on this woman.
He explained that what he had seen was an obsessing spirit, one of billions of discarnate spirits inhabiting a kind of limbo between worlds known as the "Earth Sphere." These lost souls had died, but owing to trauma, karmic debt, or to an inadequate comprehension of their own nature, had failed to find their way to the next stage of evolution. Through a link with such a process, Carol's perispiritual body had become entangled with a spirit. This obsessing spirit compromised her perispiritual body, leaving it open for the development of the cancerous lesions which afflicted her. The indicated procedure was to perform a disobsession which would disentangle this intrusive spirit from Carol's perispirit and send it on its way.
The session was consecrated with a prayer and the healing power and protection of Jesus were called upon. We sang a few spiritual hymns and all settled into a deep state of meditation. Edson approached me and moved his right hand to within a few inches of the crown of my head and-as he said later-"directed ectoplasmic fluid into the coronal center of force on the perispiritual body." I felt an opening sensation in my head and a warm heat spreading throughout my body. Edson requested that the spirit that was obsessing Carol come forth and speak through me so as to receive orientation and healing. I felt a dark, cold shape approaching me from behind and to the left and consciously realized that this was the obsessing spirit.
Once again, I confronted a "moment of truth" similar to the one I experienced during the Umbanda ceremony in Brazil. Would I use my will to open my body to this obviously negative and malevolent force' There was a moment of feeling that I would be violated as if a stranger were going to trespass into my home. At this moment, I felt an overwhelming sense of the circle of love that was grounding me and supporting my acceptance of this spirit. I would step aside and let 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 form my vocal chords and I became aware of a vast insatiable hunger. Images of snow and a forest hovel drifted into my mind. Maggie, a group member who had been designated as the spirit's "director" repeated a request for the spirit to come forth and communicate verbally with those present. The spirit responded in its whiny vice and under Maggie's prodding related the following story:
She was Carol's mother in a previous lifetime. They were members of an Indian tribe on what appeared 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 and try to find something to eat for herself and her young daughter, but she got lost in the blizzard. 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. My whole body tensed with the profound grief, anger, and guilt she felt as she held the limp body of her dead daughter. She vowed, "I will never leave you 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. Maggie spoke with her in a firm but compassionate tone getting her to realize her state and to accept that it was time for her to move on-to "take her place in progression" as the spiritists say. Accompanied by the mentor spirits that Edson had evoked, the spirit described the white light to which she was eventually drawn.
The next day when I entered our meeting room, Maggie came up to me and said, "Did you hear about Carol?" The day after the disobsession, Carol came to her group meeting 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 Maggie 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. Her initial reaction was great concern for the departed spirit. "Will she be OK?" she asked. Interestingly enough, in this life, Carol 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.
Maggie suggested that the two of them perform a psychodrama session in which they would act out the reincarnational drama. Maggie played the role of the mother and Carol played the daughter. "Why did you leave me?" asked Carol.
"I had to, my daughter, to find food for you!" Maggie responded. Both reported later that they felt that they had physically returned to that forest hut, and Carol reported that she experienced a tremendous release of pent-up feelings.
We see here what might be construed as a powerful interaction between the physical and spiritual "planes." Through the physical (the medium) the spiritual (the obsessing spirit) is healed which together heal the physical (the patient). This narrative has all the hallmarks of a classic incorporation and disobsession narrative.
I hasten to add here that I had no familiarity with this particular procedure prior to that evening, nor had I any personal acquaintance with Carol or knowledge of her circumstances. I can only attempt to express the depths to which this experience shook me. I felt as though I had been suddenly thrust into a new world- a world in which spirits as theoretical concepts were replaced by living active beings who could directly influence my body.
There were many accompanying reactions worth mentioning. First, I felt elevated, accelerated, excited, enthusiastic, amazed. The upside of this limit-experience was the embodied sense of transcendence and expansion. The corresponding Spiritist doctrine makes sense in this context: as the spirit of the mother passed from me into the light, she took lower elements of my own psyche, extraneous energetic "miasmas" with her, leaving me cleansed and healed in the process. Charity and self-evolution are the same process for the Spiritists.
The shadow side of this experience also merits mention. The "ebb tide" of the sense of expansion was a sense of "identity vertigo." I could no longer think of myself as the same limited consciousness peering out through these eyes like a lone homtinctilus looking through a telescope. Suddenly there was a possible cast of thousands in my inner life, and many of those may have wandered in from the outside! To reframe the existential nature of this crisis: this experience forced me into a kind of "multiphrenia," or multiple awareness. I held potentially contradictory models of the world, inner voices from many sources, in my conscious mind. This capacity for split attention suited me ideally for spiritist mediumship: the ability to dissociate from everyday awareness and turn my body over to autonomous, unconsciously driven processes was a perfect fit with my new role as medium.
Edson as a master spiritist leader sensed the portent of the moment from the point of view of Spiritist doctrine and used the collective breakthrough in world view as an opportunity to suggest a new paradigm for our activities.
"You must form a medium's table," Dr. Fritz told us, "and you, Matthew, will be one of the mediums." He went on to select from our group three other mediums, two "grounds," two directors (people who would take the same role as Maggie), and four "cleaners." Edson laid out the plan for running our own spiritist center modelled after his. This became our working model for the next 18 months of work.
Each applicant for healing was to provide a form with his or her picture, vital statistics, and description of the malady. First we performed a kind of triage to determine whether we should provide fluid therapy or disobsession. Then, perhaps, we would call the meeting for disobsession. Keeping to a light vegetarian diet on the day of our work so as not to interfere with the quality of our ectoplasm, we would arrive at our spiritual hospital, a cottage dedicated to this purpose in Atherton, California. We would take great pains to consecrate the space according to Edson's instructions, singing spiritual songs, saying prayers, and calling upon our guiding spirits. We would darken the room and the director, typically Howard, a big robust man of 55 would read under a flashlight the information from the forms of the evening's patients. He would then assign a medium to each case and ask for the obsessing spirit to come through that particular person. The director would establish contact with the spirit, and then proceeded to educate the spirit as to its true circumstances. The first order of business is to convince the poor creature through a variety of rhetorical devices and "tricks of the trade" that he or she is indeed dead.
Edson had founded a "nativist" institution, a Brazilian Spiritist Center entirely staffed by gringos! I present these impressions as a founding member, and once-active member, of this group. As eager beginners deeply impressed by the authenticity of Brazilian spirituality, following the Brazilian model insofar as this was possible became our original credo. This inevitably sowed certain seeds of contradiction which I will touch on more fully in the discussion of reentry/reintegration.
In order to advance the main point in this paper, let Lis make a key distinction between emic and lived experience by considering how I came to know about one of the "tricks of the trade" classically used in Brazilian disobsession practice, to convince the ignorant spirit of its tnie nature. First, from a lived perspective, here are my observations from notes made on a return trip to Brazil in October of 1986:Today we attended a disobsession session at Edson's center. We entered the chamber only after we had all been thoroughly cleansed by magnetic passes. There were about fourteen mediums and directors in the room which was equipped with simple plastic chairs, a fan, and a dim bulb hanging in the corner.These observations are from the point of view of someone who fundamentally accepted the Spiritist world view and who aspired to embody it in practice. The innate appeal and power of the paper-mirror technique lit up my own concern for effective interventions, for "getting it right" by ensuring that my directors would be able to orient any spirit that might come through me. The paper-mirror technique made sense in relation to my embodied experience as a medium. When we returned to California and began to use this technique in our sessions, it was enormously helpful and renewed our sense of connection with our Brazilian brethren.
The director consecrated the session and read from the Gospel Accordirtg to Spiritism, a Spiritist reconcepttialization of the New Testament. As the work of the evening began, a brown haired woman of 25 was selected to receive the first obsessing spirit. She went into trance and began screaming and flailing her arms. The director worked for some time to get the spirit's attention. The spirit refused to believe it was dead. It insisted that it was just waiting for its family here at the crossroads.
The director picked up a piece of paper and placed it in front of the medium. "This is a mirror-Look at yourself!! Look at your tnie nature! " 'Me medium glanced at the paper with glazed, half-shtit eyes and screamed: "No that's not me!! That's not me!!." Soon it admitted that it was dead and was carried away by the mentor spirits into the light.
Later the director commented that this technique was indicated for intransigent cases that needed dramatic demonstration of their state. In the spiritual plane, what the director says is so; the paper becomes a mirror for the spirit. The spirit will see its ghastly skeletal features, and the shock will induce new awareness. This technique will be very useful back in California. We've encountered a number of spirits that don't want to admit that they are dead.
An emic analysis of the same data might easily describe the paper-mirror practice as a simple case of cultural transmission. The detached perspective opens a space for consideration of how the practice is socially constructed, how the quality of disobsession-as-theater is enhanced by the use of props, how the spiritual gains immediacy through physical metaphor. All of these lines of inquiry may or may not ultimately prove rewarding to the inquirer. They must not be mistaken however as tnily disclosive of what actually happens for the engaged, unskeptical participant. Purely emic analysis which does not include a respect for lived experience will continualtylmdervalue the immanent significance of human acts by stressing underlying or hidden causal factors. Thus the "peculiar clarity" (Merleau-Ponty) of everyday experience continually belies the complications revealed in analysis. For these reasons, access to lived experience of the phenomena we study can only enhance our ability to do real justice to our data.
In the months subsequent to Edson's departure from California, our group met regularly and treated over a hundred patients. Buoyed by my elevation to medium status, clearly a key figure in our little group, I applied myself to our work with great enthusiasm. I wrote at the time, "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" (Bronson 1987b). Patients as well were reporting results. Some felt nothing, but others reported improvements in their psychic and physical well- being.Re-entry
Of special interest are those cases where actual physical manifestations were reported by patients at the healing site (typically their home). Unfortunately, these stories must be treated as anecdotal. One young man who had complained of confusion and depression was sitting quietly at home on the night of the disobsession when the lights began to flicker. Thinking that there was a problem with the power in the house, he went to another room. The lights stopped flickering in the first room and started flickering in the second. This particular fellow is a hard-headed rationalist not prone to hallucination.
Another patient suffered from mysteriously blurred vision that had confounded the medical community. On the evening of his treatment, he was sitting upright in his bed as instructed. He claims that "two hands materialized out of the wall behind my bed, reached out and cracked my neck like a chiropractor, then disappeared." The problem of blurred vision disappeared. Another patient who was in Cleveland, Ohio, and at death's door, experienced a remarkable recovery subsequent to disobsession.
Our files also contain disobsession narratives based on scenarios that are poignantly relevant to the patient's particular circumstances. Maria was suffering from ltmg cancer and had been referred for disobsession. The narrative of the obsessing spirit revealed that she was one of the children who had died in a house set afire by the negligence of Maria's spirit who was incarnated as a maid at that time. The child had died because of smoke inhalation--as had Maria's previous incarnation. Smoke as a theme was connected to her present life circumstances in which she found herself unable to quit smoking despite a diagnosis of lung cancer. Subsequent treatments were required for this very intransigent spirit.
Our transcripts suggest that a close look at the structure of disobsession narratives reveals a rich interweaving of cultural themes and personal nuance. This qualifies as material meriting further study. The promise of text-based analysis of disobsession narrative would certainly be enriched by recourse to a videotaped record of the events.
Our little spiritist group thrived for well over a year. Eventually the pull of other activities began to chip away at our weekly commitments to spiritist practices. Between triage, fluid therapy at a distance, disobsession, peace meditation, and direct fluid therapy, we had created quite a calendar of events. I reached a critical point in my meditimship where I was very resistant to rettin-iing to our little spiritual hospital. I began to resent having to use my body as a vehicle for other people's problem spirits and, perhaps most importantly, I embarked on a linguistic study of channeled discourse which required critical listening to and viewing of channeled materials (Bronson 1987a, 1987b).The Benefits of "Going Native"
Perhaps as a result of a growing degree of self-consciousness, I renounced mediumship of incorporation in late 1988. This Brazilian spiritual practice transplanted into the life of a busy professional in a large cosmopolitan area could not ultimately stand on its own as a sustainable lifestyle. I went on to help found a center dedicated to creating effective psychosocial interventions for people living with HIV in San Francisco (Bronson 1989). I noted only in retrospect the immediate and dramatic shift in my focus from the spiritual to the very practical realities of those confronting a life-threatening diagnosis. The lessons of compassion, charity, and the unique conditions of every being stayed with me and established a clear continuity as I pulled back from "spiritual" work.
While not in any way renouncing the ultimate validity of the spiritist model of the world, I have chosen not to make it as active an aspect of my lived experience. It is still easily available as a therapeutic modality which I spontaneously incorporate in healing work. From my own perspective, I have successfully integrated the teachings and competencies inherent in my work as a spiritist medium and have passed through the phases of cognitive dissonance, denial, and eventual acceptance. Subsequently, I phased out of active mediumship and "re-entered" society under the disguise of someone who subscribes to the generally held principles of secular North American culture.
I found in the work of Edith Fiore a synthesis analogous to my own, in her advocacy of using the client's own unconscious as the medium, and establishing direct contact through ideomeotor response (spontaneous muscle spasm). This style of procedure respected my own innate sense of the integrity of the individual, a cultural trait not nearly so grounded in the more tribal Brazilian society. I felt it vaguely impolite and inappropriate to channel someone else's entity and this contributed to my resolve not to follow the encouragement of my peers to declare myself to be a professional channel and hang up my shingle in the crowded psychic marketplace of Northern California.
Whether these experiences have contributed to my capacity as an inquirer, researcher, and teacher is best judged by others. From my own perspective, my spontaneous initiation into mediumship gave me first-hand embodied experience of a non-ordinary reality which continues to enrich all aspects of my personal and professional life.
We go to great lengths as field researchers to place ourselves in physically and emotionally precarious situations in the service of "science." In our press to "further human knowledge" we have really only one vehicle by which to apprehend the world authentically--our own bodies. While rigorous statistical analysis, meticulous data-gathering and adherence to the principles of good human science have their place in our bag of tricks, there can be no substitute for first-hand experience of the phenomena we are attempting to describe. When that experience shades into participation, when we "go native" in the sense of abandoning the scholar's mantle of objectivity to join in the fray of the moment, are we not merely supplementing the categories of mind with the categories emergent from embodied awareness?
One thing is clear: in the emerging consensus about the shift from a Newtonian to a postmodern world view, a renewed emphasis on direct experience as a mode of inquiry is a common theme. Dean Elias mentions the capacity for "intimate communication" as one capacity which we as educators in this time of the postmodern shift must emphasize. Intimate communication entails leaming from "direct experience, through the direct involvement of all the senses, ...knowing the essence of another being through mutual exchange" (Elias 1987:4). When that being happens to be a spirit, an experience similar to my own might ensue. As scholars and researchers of all types we would do well to come to terms with the rethinking of our roles required by the following observation:The general and undeniable consequence of the new paradigm is that no finn barriers can be drawn between common-sense and bodies of scientific or scholarly knowledge. The so-called special skill of identifying the universal (the invariances) through logical abstraction is a myth. It was of course a convenient myth for preserving social hierarchies. (Emery 1980, quoted in Elias 1987:4)When that common sense becomes uncommon sense, when we as researchers are taken to the limits of our personal realities in anomalous experiences of the sort I have described, we are faced once again with the opportunity to re-invent ourselves as scholars and as people. Perhaps it is in the embrace of our own transcendent moments, our limit experiences, that we recover the power to make changes, to have breakthroughs, to enhance our models and metaphors. It is through embodied knowledge of such limit experiences that we might become at least as interesting, engaging and suggestive as our data.
This paper was presented at the 1992 spring meeting of the Society for the Anthropology of Comsciotisness, San Rafael, California.
1. For a more detailed discussion of this particular fallacy in the context of a phenomenological critique of the human sciences see Merleati,Ponty (1968).
2. For an extended discussion of the concept cif "limit- experiences," in the context of modern phil(.@(.)pliical discourse, see Tracy (1988).
3. For a more extended discussion of such potential cases of second language interference in trance induced discourse, see Bronson (1987a).
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