I’m making a brief comeback to this blog from my new Willow Loves Thexlogy!, mostly because the topic I am about to discuss quite does not fit into the purpose of WLT, nor its standard of scholarship.
This is mostly my own reflections on my own experiences, offered here as a cautious tale. If you want to dismiss it outright, that’s okay.
As you may have already known, I was an Evangelical Christian since 1990, or age 15, until around 1996, or age 21. I was originally a fundamental Baptist, then later became a Pentecostal/Charismatic by the time I was a senior in high school. Around 1996, I began feeling like something was lacking in my religious environment: the sense of tradition. I was a member of a typical megachurch that was extremely consumeristic (the worship services that felt like a rock concert, interspersed with “TV commercials” projected on big screens advertising the pastor’s newest book now available at the church bookstore, for example). I did not like an empty religiosity of the mainline Protestants, but I was looking for something deeper. I ended up finding this “something deeper” in Judaism. By the following year, I was formally enrolled in a year-long introduction to Judaism class at the local board of rabbis. I was beginning to question everything I was taught about the Bible by the Evangelicals.
An interesting thing I found in some corners of Jewish community, especially among the Reconstructionist and Jewish Renewal movements, was its openness to all sorts of spiritual practices that weren’t exactly biblical of Jewish. There were “JuBus” (Jewish Buddhists), there were many Jewish folks with deep interests in Taoism or Shintoism. Since Judaism’s idea of God was not tied to the imagery of Jesus, it also had a lot of room for feminist theology (The rabbi with whom I was studying would note frequently that YHWH was originally a Goddess, who later became a consort of a male God, then eventually, the “father and king.”), as well as the kinds of non-theistic theism that posits God as more of a universal principle, or “the Force.” (There are even “humanistic synagogues” where an atheist version of Judaism is celebrated.) The exposure to this state of modern Judaism ultimately gave me a permission to explore the world of spirituality outside the confines of the Judeo-Christian biblical traditions.
In 1997, I was undergoing a personal crisis. I was several years into college but I had no clue what I was going to do after college. The relationship with my father was deteriorating, as his patience was running out. My grades were suffering and I was already a year and a half behind on college because of all the remedial classes I had to take before I was allowed to take the regular 100-level classes. I took lots of verbal abuse from my father, who would often call late at night. It was so bad that I had to call the phone company and had the number changed. Then I was having a hard time adjusting to the new campus culture, having come from a large community college with an average student age of 35 to a small private Christian college where almost everyone in my class were 17 years old, straight out of high school (I was 22 then). The only saving grace was that I was over 21 and therefore I could live off-campus. I developed deep depression and anxiety episodes. I could not function. When I applied for that college, I was still a professing Evangelical Christian and I thought going to a Christian college was doing God’s will. By the time I began the fall term, I was no longer sure and I was seriously thinking about converting to Judaism. I was having an existential crisis.
One day, I found a guided relaxation cassette tape (Yes, a cassette tape, if you know what that is–it’s a primitive storage device for audio that was mainstream in the 1980s thanks to something called Walkman) at a thrift store in my neighborhood. It taught me how to get into a relaxed state of mind rapidly, using a form of visualization. I felt at the time that it worked well. Soon after, I tried even more hypnosis tapes. Again, I thought at the time that those things worked very well in helping me relax. But my anxiety problem simply got worse. I became suddenly overcome with sadness without warning, abruptly, like when I was taking a walk in a park. Years before, I was taught by Pentecostal preachers that these things bring in demons into your life. I did not heed that warning.
My existential crisis and anxiety over adulthood soon became a full-scale identity crisis and a very powerful self-delusion. I was no longer in touch with reality. I was paranoid, thinking that my father had hired a hitman to kill me. I could not pick up the phone nor open the mailbox. I could not go to classes. I was really into various fringe conspiracy theories. I decided, out of blue, that I was gay, even though I had no interest in sex and I was a big-time homophobe only a couple of years in prior. Soon the queer youth support group (and the new queer youth recreation center that just opened that year) became the only social outlet I had. [I am NOT questioning the legitimacy of my sexuality, but the timing and the context of my coming out was quite unfortunate. It could have happened under a more wholesome circumstance, with better support.]
My life, unfortunately, has gone steadily downhill from that point on. My father disowned me, and I moved many times before I became homeless for a good part of the next two decades.
During this period, one incident stood out as memorable. This was the summer when I transferred to the Christian college. I was walking downtown, past a shopping mall and a parking lot next to it. Suddenly I felt something descend from the sky and come inside me, and I was overcome with acute sadness. The entity falsely identified itself as “the goddess,” and used the acute sadness to make me pity over all the “fun” things I missed in my childhood, that I had to “recover” my “lost childhood” before my “evil” father forced me into adulthood. This incident in retrospect was a pivotal moment. Before this, I was ambitious and eager to prepare for my future. After this, I was withdrawn from society, spending my time in self-pity and fantasies. This happened only a few weeks after I began dabbling with the guided visualization and hypnosis garbage.
Another incident occurred 11 years ago when I was homeless. One summer night, I was raped by a drunk man. I was shell-shocked for a while, but I moved on as if nothing happened. I did not tell anyone about it (he said he would kill me if I did, and who would take a homeless seriously anyway?). But shortly after this, I became interested in sex all of sudden. At the time, I thought I was making a conscious decision to “reclaim my own body and sexuality,” but the sudden shift was pretty bizarre. During the ensuing five-year period, I have become rather promiscuous (entirely out of character if you knew me before that) and even been to many sex parties (though eventually I realized they weren’t my scene, after having satiated my curiosity).
It is known among the Christian demonologists that rapes and sexual assaults are often gateways to demonic oppression.
I’m open-minded. I am no fundamentalist or biblical literalist. To a great extent, I believe that every traditional religion contains certain kernels of the truth. But I am not so open-minded that my brain will fall out of my head.
Not all spirituality is good. You may be dabbling with dangerous stuff without sufficient knowledge or skills that you may be asking for demonic oppression. Spiritism, witchcraft, and New Age practices often are minefields of evil and dark spirits. Take it from me, my life was ruined. Use reason.