An Unexpected Exorcism
“God is always coming to you in the Sacrament of the Present Moment. Meet and receive Him there with gratitude in that sacrament; however unexpected its outward form may be receive Him in every sight and sound, joy, pain, opportunity and sacrifice.” – Evelyn Underhill
` In July 2011 my family was invited by my one of wife’s co-workers to spend a few days at their summer home located at Thousand Islands Park on Wellesley Island, New York. This archipelago of over 1,800 islands at the mouth of the St. Lawrence River straddles the US-Canadian border south of Ontario. Its Victorian charm is scrupulously maintained, and its summers idyllic. The clear waters of the river, its sandy bottom, and floating docks made it a memorable vacation for our sons Luke, age 12, and Nathaniel, age 8. This was their first real open water swimming experience. Walking the quiet streets, sans cars as they are forbidden, with bicycles and golf carts being the main method of transport, was impressed upon their memories. Gingerbread style architecture from the late 19th and early 20th century dominated the main residential areas.
Unknown too many, Thousand Islands is also a landmark in American spiritual history. In November 1894 Swami Vivikenanda established the Vedanta Society in New York. However, his lecture and writing schedule began to take a toll on him and in the summer of 1895 he went to Thousand Islands Park for seven weeks where he taught a dozen or so of his students. It was here that Swami Nikhilananda stated that Vivekananda was at his utmost power and presence. In his book Nikhilananda writes:
One cannot be but amazed at the manifestation of Swami Vivekananda’s spiritual powers at the Thousand Islands. … Thus one sees him at the Thousand Island Park reading the inmost soul of his followers before giving him initiation and foretelling their careers. … At that time he experienced the power of changing a person’s life by a touch, or clearly seeing things happening at a great distance. … It said that on his last day August 7, 1895 at the Thousand Islands the Swami went into the back woods to meditate and froze solid in meditation and remained oblivious to torrential rain and is said to have achieved nirvikalpa Samadhi. (p. 102-104)
He had a unique experience of inner freedom at the Thousand Islands Park which he expressed eloquently in his poem “The Song of Sannyasin”. He wrote from there to a friend: “I am free, my bonds are cut, what do I care whether this body goes or does not go? I have a truth to teach—I am a child of God. And He that gave me truth will send me fellow workers from the earth’s bravest and best. (p.105-106) Vivekananda: A Biography (1953)
This area where he is said to have meditated is marked by a stone bench, the remains of the ancient tree which he sat near, and the entire area is a flat open plateau of granite that is opens up from the forest and forms a cliff dropping to the area below. It was here that I went to meditate in solitude, or as much solitude as one could have in a vacation resort in the summertime. Yet surprisingly, I was alone there, and while I could hear work being done on nearby houses, it was as if I were in complete isolation. Here I performed the famous Tibetan Chod rite as best I could, followed by Vajrakilia the next day – the day before we left. Looking at the ground before me I saw several pieces of bark which had fallen from the tree Vivikenanda had meditated under, had even blessed, and I took it with me as relic of the location. Later, I would send slivers of it to people with whom I thought would value it, including Khenpo Tsewang Dongyal, of the Padmasambhava Buddhist Center, Sydney Center, New York with the following note:
“A piece of bark from the oak tree on Thousand Islands Park (NY) blessed by Swami Vivekananda on his last day immediately before his departure. With two disciples he sat on the rocky outcrop in deep meditation, despite a powerful thunderstorm, and upon arising said, “I bless thee Thousand Islands Park.” He referred to this tree as the Bodhi Tree under which the Buddha became enlightened. Vivekananda stayed at Thousand Islands Park for two months in the summer of 1893 and referred to it as the happiest moments of his life. This is truly an “auspicious substance,” and what is known as a “Second Class Relic,” or an object blessed by a saint. Vivekananda’s influence on Western understandings of Indian philosophy, as well as Theosophy and several schools of 19th and 20th century Western esotericism is well known.”
Mark Stavish, Wyoming, Pa, Thursday, 04 August 2011
On the day we left, Andrea decided we should visit a friend of hers on our return. It was more or less on the way and was positioned strategically to give us a break from the long drive. Andrea knew Genny. from her painting. They had a mutual friend in common, Karen. from Philadelphia. Originally from New York, a non-practicing Jew who had converted to Buddhism, Karen. was an artist who had moved to India for a period of time and was now trying unsuccessfully to find a Tibetan retreat center to live at. Apparently, all of the centers she had contacted wanted only young men and women who were looking to stay for a brief period of time and move on. A former “hippie chick” approaching sixty who practiced yoga daily, was in fantastic health, a skilled thankha artist (which are in short supply), dedicated to the cause, and was looking to settle there was not seen not as an asset but a possible liability in the future when her health might decline, particularly as she was bringing no large amounts of cash with her at the moment. So much for bodhicitta or compassion!
As we pulled off the highway to make our way to Genny’s house the road narrowed and took on the typical country serpentine appearance. The small village, whose main attraction was its spectacular ice cream stand, had clearly seen better days – days that ended sometime after the Civil War. Here too Victorian gingerbread buildings stood, but most were a pale shadow of their former glory compared to Thousand Islands Park. The cemetery and its wrought iron fence were well maintained, and a small chapel of uncertain denomination with large red crosses stood out. The people were clearly poor, and supported by a combination of local industries, season work, and government programs. It was a town filled with ghosts, hungry ghosts, and it hung in the air.
While waiting in line at the ice cream stand I had a pleasant conversation with the owner of a local summer camp. At that time concerns over ‘child safety’ were paramount and I asked him about his insurance.
Later, as we approached Genny’s house along a narrow lane off of the winding road that led from town to the lakeside community where she lived, I felt a sense of uneasiness. When we stopped in front of the garage that marked the entrance to the property I knew that something terrible had taken place here, and in that building in particular. My wife and I, children in tow, walked down a short flight of stone steps into a beautiful overgrown garden, approaching magical in its appearance, and followed a short path to the house’s main entrance. Sitting on a lake, with neighbors on both sides, the lot was narrow, but long, and deck along with boat launch were on the backside. A clean, nice, well-appointed property, it could easily have been in an issue of “Better Homes and Gardens” or a travel brochure.
Genny greeted us, and was of average height, slim, fit, and attractive while pushing her mid to late fifties. Over the course of the next few hours as my children swam in the lake and enjoyed some of the finest barbequed ribs I have ever eaten, the story of this woman, her family, and the horror that has followed it for years began to unfold as the conversation grew. In fact, it all started very simply. When we went into the library I noticed two books that were clearly out of place: a paperback copy of The Golden Dawn System of Magic by Israel Regardie (Llewellyn Publishing) and a paperback copy of The Necromonicon (Avon Books, “Simon edition”). Because of her unswerving allegiance to Tibetan Buddhism, and Gelukpa in particular, I asked about the books.
“Those belonged to my daughter Karen.”
“Why did she have them?” I asked.
“I do not think they were for her, but she was trying to help he older sister Jordan. Jordan was not the girl’s birth name but one she adopted during the process of her psychotic episodes. As a teenager, Jordan stated that she was lesbian, then transgender, and picked an androgynous name and began dressing in men’s clothes. After a particularly nasty argument with her now widowed mother in the garage we passed at the edge of the property, Jordan disappeared.
As I opened the books I notices that two pages were particular worn. In the Golden Dawn it was the section pertaining to the ritual known as The Lesser Banishing Ritual of the Pentagram. In The Necronomicon it had to do with one of the spiritual entities the book states its purpose is to invoke. The entity listed on this page was specific to inducing mental illness, but given the notion that the entire book could create madness in those who trafficked in the spirits its purports to enable one to contact, this was no surprise.
From what I could gather, it appeared that the younger sister was attempting to perform a magical ritual that would either banish her elder sister’s mental illness (and possibly the terrible misfortune that had befallen the family and the house in particular) or, was attempting to invoke a particular entity to appearance for the purpose of some kind of reconciliation. Again, this is not clear and is based upon those sections of the book which appeared to be referred to most often.
“I have a demon. It is in the black sphere outside” she said to my wife and I matter of factly as we ate desert around her dining room table.
“Along the path. Right near the steps.”
This was the area I walked by. I went out to find it, and after some searching in a very small area I located the sphere in question. It was about the size of a bowling ball.
After I came back in and sat down, she began to tell us the story of how the sphere came into her possession.
“After Jordan ran away I wanted to find her. So, her father and I, at least until he got sick and was unable to travel, tried to find her anyway we could. Her friends kept us informed whenever they could, and she would occasionally reach out to us. But for the most part she was experiencing a psychotic break of some kind, had changed her identity, and had begun to use drugs as well. At one point we heard that she was in New Orleans so I traveled there to find her.”
“Before she left, where did argument occur?”
“In the garage at the front of the yard” she said with a slight pointing motion in its direction. “It was terrible. She screamed and yelled, and then disappeared.”
“During my stay in New Orleans I found a guide, a black man who was a local and knew the area as well as the community. He took me into a shop he apparently was familiar with and I bought it there.”
“Was this an occult shop, a botanica of some kind?”
“Yes, it had a variety of plants, herbs, candles, and statues. The owner, a small woman, came out and started screaming at my guide when we entered. She said he was a bad man and was to leave.”
“But you took his advice and bought the sphere and brought it home with you?
“Did you find your daughter?”
“No. We were always close. I was there for two weeks, but we were not able to actually see her or make contact.”
“OK, so you brought this home. I can see you decorated it somewhat. But what makes you believe that it has a demon or something attached to or living in it?” I continued.
“Since bringing it home my life simply deteriorated. We had a fire, flood, and my husband died of a terrible neurological disease. One of my daughters is diagnosed with a psychiatric disorder, has changed her name to something sexually ambiguous, is missing, and I presume her to be dead. Needless to say my spiritual practice has suffered. Everything, and I mean everything, has been turned on its head. I even asked my Lama, [a well-known European convert to Tibetan Buddhism in the organization] and he tried to help at a distance. He tried, but couldn’t. Nothing changed. He later told me to find some Nyingma Lamas to take care of it.”
I laughed a little at that statement. “I may be the best you can get on that accord.”
“I tried things on my own, but nothing worked. I was going to do the Chod practice in the house, but I was told not to because the demons will come to where you do it and I did not want any more in my house. I always thought they were just metaphorical demons, like much of the literature says – the demon of fear, the demon of ignorance, but my teachers are saying there are literal demons as well. Just as we can call the Bodhisattvas in our prayers, we can call the demons as well. It appears the demons are a little better at answering their messages.”
She paused and looked down with a laugh. “I shouldn’t say that. It just feels so true sometimes.”
“I know we are supposed to see all bad things that happen to us as the ripening of our karma, but this just feels like too much.”
At that my wife appeared to be paying attention. The idea that the demons are real was something she had not encountered in her Vajrayana studies before. There was a look of real concern in her eyes.
Chod is a practice that is particularly found in the meditational schools of Tibetan Buddhism, the Nyingma and Kagyu sects. The purpose of Chod practice is to excite the power of fear and survival instincts in the practitioner through rituals that are either performed in, or utilize the visualization of cemeteries and the offering of one’s physical body as an offering. In Chod, the hindrances of fear and body clinging are sometimes referred to as ‘demons’ and it is the purpose of this practice to remove them so that primordial awareness can be experienced. However, like all tantric systems, Chod has inner, outer, and secret aspects and as such, the ritual can be seen as a literal exorcism of external demons as well as a profound interior practice.
Vajrayogini, a variation of the Indian goddess Kali in many ways, in her form as the “Extremely Wrathful Black Mother” is a key figure in the advance practice of Chod, and it is this form that is found in the teachings of Dudjom Lingpa, in which I was initiated.
It is vital to recognize that Chod developed outside of the usual monastic lines and is deeply connected to shamanic and yogic practices of India and Tibet. The ritual offering of one’s self when internalized is designed to stimulate a self-confidence that provides fearlessness allowing one to overcome all obstacles. Machig Labdrön, the principal founder of Chod as we understand it, said, “To consider adversity as a friend is the instruction of Chöd”.
Historically, Chod practitioners are often associated with shamans and exorcists because of their being on the fringes of society and in contact with the worlds of darkness and profound mystery. The purpose of Chod is to instill terror so that it may be overcome, and this cannot be emphasized enough. For this reason, it was often reserved for the most advanced practitioners and was rarely taught in the early schools. A very real danger is seen in the practice of Chod, one that is often ignored by Western converts who want to interpret everything in some form of “Jungian” or symbolic terms. Alexandra David-Neel gave the first known reports of Chod to the West in her book Magic and Mystery in Tibet (1935). Walter Evans-Wentz published the first translation of a Chod sadhana, or liturgy in Tibetan Yoga and Secret Doctrines (1935).
The Roman Catholic Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius Loyola come closest to the purpose and intent of Chod, but in a Roman Catholic framework. The practices of Loyola are very much a sort of ‘Catholic tantra’ as described by Rene Fulop-Miller,
“Ignatius avails himself, in especial, of the power of the imagination; he tries to awaken in his pupils quite definite pictorial representations, all with the object of intensifying the power of distinguishing between right and wrong conduct. … It is through images that Ignatius strives to assist mankind towards perfection; for every day and for every hour of the day the Exercises prescribe exactly what representations to exercitant has to evoke, and of what aids to this end he as to make use. … The exercises of Ignatius is acclaimed to this day  as a psychological masterpiece.” – The Power and Secret of the Jesuits by Rene Fulop-Miller
Swiss-born Roman Catholic theologian (and Cardinal elect), Hans Urs von Balthasar, well known to many in the esoteric community for this Afterword in Meditations on the Tarot: A Journey into Christian Hermeticism (Tarcher/Putnam, 2003), stated that “choice” is the focus of the Spiritual Exercises. That is, they are designed to help us make the choice that God would make in any given situation, and in doing so, simultaneously abandon our notions of self and its attachments to the world, while collapsing into total abandonment to God. Balthasar states, the Exercises “have as their purpose the conquest of self and the regulation of one’s life in such a way that no decision is made under the influence of any inordinate attachment.” (Löser, Werner. Hans Urs Von Balthasar. (David Schindler, ed.) Ignatius Press, 1991)
Discernment (often called ‘The Virtue of Discrimination’ in modern Hermetic schools) is critical to Ignatian thought. Through the practice of discernment, brought about by reflection, the practitioner is led step-by-step towards an understanding of the direct connection between one’s thought and action and the grace of God. While discernment is a movement toward mystical union and emphasizes the mystical experience, it can also be understood as a process of subjective ethical thought as the Exercises emphasize the individual having to understand their own mental functions, and their role in deciding right from wrong. My personal introduction to The Spiritual Exercises was through Sar Zohariel, a Grand Master of the Martinist Order of the Knights of Christ, as well as several other initiatic and ecclesiastical movements. After several decades of practice and promoting initiatic movements, Sar Zohariel would later resign from all of his affiliations and focus on a solitary path.
“Lama also told me never to leave offerings in cemeteries, especially flowers, because the spirits are attracted to the scent and you may come home with an unexpected invisible friend.”
I paused and looked at her, “Why have you not gotten rid of it?” I asked.
“I don’t know. Every time I try, I just can’t.”
“Do you want me to take care of it? I can do it right now.” I said looking at her and seeing the look of shock on my wife’s face.
“Yes” she said somewhat meekly.
“Ok, then get me a few things. A container, some clean water, salt, and do you mind if I pick some of your herbs outside? Also, please get the books you showed me earlier and wrap them in some linen. I’ll take them with me and take care of them later.”
Then I began to plan what to do. The reality is, this could all be in her imagination. Being the master of ceremonies of a large international Vajrayana organization and being taught by well known lamas does not mean that you might not be delusion or desperate from all of the pain and suffering over the last few years.
I went outside and approached the sphere. Standing in front of it I simply looked at it and wondered if it was a fantasy or real. I blessed and cleansed myself, and then the sphere and using gestures of subjugation and control, and invocations of the same, called upon whatever was in or attached to the sphere to reveal itself and its name. I pounded the ground with my feet while reciting softly and clearly my command, even imagining myself as Vajrakilya, My reasoning being that her adherence to Tibetan Buddhism might be assisted with this approach.
Then, suddenly and without warning I felt a movement around my back, most from left to right and in front of me, and heard inside my middle ear a scream. It was long and loud and was neither in ‘my head’ nor coming from the physical environment, but as if the totality of it were taking place in my ear canal. The only word that can adequately describe the sound would be a howling.
With that I doubled my pace in stomping on the stone pathway – rattling my teeth in the process – hand gestures, and clear, spoken, verbal commands.
“Creature, reveal your name, be obedient to me, and leave this place. Trouble this family and their land no more. Go to the heavenly realms and find redemption or be consigned to the pits, the choice is yours, but, harm neither them nor anyone else anymore!” This was repeated over and over. Complete with stomping and intermittent chanting.
After several minutes I dowsed it again with water, then wrapped it in some linen and tied it up. What was most interesting to me was that during the procedure I sensed that her missing daughter was alive and would return.
I went back in the house. The sun was starting to set and we still had several hours of driving a head of us. “I’ll take those books and take care of them. As for the sphere, paint some seed syllables and mantra on it, and then either place it in the trash or drop it in the lake. It is best if you can smash it first. I will call tomorrow to see how things go.”
I turned and said, “Also, I do not believe that your daughter is dead. She is alive and will return. She will show up.”
That night sleeping was terrible, even Andrea was very restless and could not explain it. Both of us were tossing and turning all night, and could not relax enough to even get into a light sleep. I got out of bed at one point, went to my oratory and began to meditate for several hours before returning to bed. In the morning, just after sunrise I got out of bed and prepared for the reminder of the operation.
I packed my car with the necessary tools and drove about ten minutes to nearby Francis Slocum State Park. I walked down into one of the less frequently used areas of the park and proceeded to burn the books making sure that ‘not even a single letter of their names remain’. It was a difficult burning, and the fire needed to be restarted several times. In themselves the books were not evil, but their connection to the family and its suffering made them a magnet and as such they needed to be destroyed. I then called Genny about thirty minutes later.
What was most interesting about the books was that the night before as we were leaving I asked Genny to wrap them in linen for me. When she handed them to me they were neatly wrapped in black linen and tied with a red ribbon in the shape of a cross, nearly identical to the image seen on the Golden Dawn “Banner of the West,” an image found in the one book. The purpose of the banner is two-fold: it represents both the necessity of physical life in spiritual awakening, and with it the redemption of evil; and the sacrifices that required along the spiritual path of personal awakening.
“How was your night?”
“It was ok, but this morning was terrible. The feeling of oppressiveness was so heavy I had to leave the house about thirty minutes ago.”
“Did you get rid of the sphere?”
“No. I tried, but I couldn’t. But I did paint it.”
“Well, you need to get rid of it. Drop it in the lake and let the nagas take care it. Or in the dumpster. Smash it with a hammer so that it is broken into pieces. Wear leather or rubber gloves, and put the pieces in a bag for disposal.”
“I will” and that was the end of it, so I believed.
On July 15, 2012 I accompanied Genny to a Nyingma initiation wherein the empowerment being given was specific to her needs: Padma Heruka Guru Dragpo, in the lineage of Tsasum Lingpa. The sadhana, or practice is described as, “Buddha Guru Dragpo heals the physical and mental imbalances and troubles of all beings, and is especially suited for these degenerate times.” It is unknown to me if it was ever practiced by her, but at least she finally received the Nyingmpa connection and help her Gelukpa lama suggested, she was reunited with her daughter, and some space was created – at least temporarily – for her to begin to address the issues that she had battled for several years. A few weeks after the empowerment, I was able to spend some time privately with Khenpo Tsewang Dongyal when I told him about my experience with ‘the demon sphere’. As I began to tell him my story he sat politely, smiling, nodding his head. It was not clear if he actually believed what I was telling him, as I am sure he has heard many stories of ghosts, demons, obsession, and possession, and even made a quirky laugh when I used the word. It was when I told him what I did, and the howling that I heard in my inner ear that his expression changed growing serious, he stopped his gentle rocking, looked at me, or behind me to towards the rows of statues on the far side of the room and simply said, “Good, good.”
I eventually spoke with James Wasserman regarding the Necronomicon. “Any book that is not child pornography or communism I would publish in that the Necronomicon is really no different from any other grimoire out there.” Hardly reassuring given his own personal accounts of the blood-letting and rat infestations experienced by those who were involved in its publishing, however it was a clear statement of affirming the responsibility for outcomes on those who would enter into the realm of magic – the book is here, the dangers real or imagined are clearly stated, it is up to you to decide how you will proceed. Wasserman’s statement was consistent with his philosophy of personal freedom and responsibility.
In the Center of the Fire: A Memoir of the Occult 1966–1989. Wasserman, along with the mysterious “Simon” and Larry Barnes, were instrumental in publishing the Avon Books mass-market paperback of the Necronomicon. Since its appearance in 1978, the “Simon edition” of the Necronomicon has continuously been in print.
“What a loony period the Necro[nomicon] production would be. For some reason, nearly everyone who entered our loft shed blood . . . others were constantly cutting themselves in minor accidents. Then one night, I got a frantic call from the typesetters downstairs. Their loft had been overrun by rats bursting through the walls. . . . The Temple in my own loft had a padlock on the outside door so it could be sealed as a private space for my magical work. On July 4th, Jane and I returned from dinner and fireworks. I had an uneasy feeling when we walked through the loft door, itself secured by a heavy-duty police lock. . . . I discovered that my Temple door was open, that the hasp had been broken, and that this appeared to have occurred from the inside out. . . . Nothing else in the loft was the slightest bit disturbed.”
One year later Genny called Andrea. I asked how things are going. She says that her daughter showed up six months earlier and she forgot to tell us. When we again visited I noticed that the black sphere seemingly reappeared. She said it was a second sphere – its twin. For no apparent reason we have not been back since.
When I look at the events as they unfolded it is interesting to see the connection between my meditations the last day my family and I were at Thousand Islands Park and the sudden and unexpected visit we paid to Andrea’s friend on our long trip back home.
The haunted feeling to the rundown village, and the peculiar architecture of Genny’s home – the absence of railing where one would normally find them, giving a sense of ‘boundarylessness’ and yet danger at the same time – that is, one needed to stay alert not to fall or injure themselves. The overwhelming tendency to be dreamy, creative, artistic, driven by various fantasies or mythologies, was strongly evident here, as it is in many cases of psychological unbalance and paranormal disturbances. This creates a “chicken or the egg” question regarding the relationship between obsession/possession and mental illness. I think it is a symbiotic relationship wherein one can beget the other as they both operate in and through the mental state of the individuals involved.
That said, from an energetic perspective the ‘element’ of ‘Fire’ or dynamic and transformative energy is universally absent. ‘Water’ (emotions) and ‘Earth’ (physical sensations) predominate. ‘Air’ or intellectual and communicative abilities are severally debilitated. Thus, the ability to communicate and connect with something or someone outside their emotional state is difficult. This results in little movements, either physically or emotionally. New ideas may be heard, even given superficial acceptance, but no action follows. In the end, only practices that involve the transformation with the dynamic energies of self-awareness (Fire) can effectively clear the space, stimulate the individual, and jump-start their reintegration or journey to wholeness.
Spiritual practice is nearly universally absent, or only superficial when present – despite claims to the contrary – even here, in this case, deep connection for decades did not bring any relief and her lamas proved incapable in the face of what was oppressing their valued patron and supporter. Practices involving energetic movement are insufficient without the direct physical support of a friend and guide who can help overcome the oppressive inertia of self-pity, despair, anger, and fear that dominate the lives of those involved.
This final point is a critical lesson for addressing the role and purpose spirituality and religion are said to play in the individual and corporate life. It is possible that this is why we see nearly every traditional system possessing a text or practice that is ‘fiery’ and ‘apocalyptic’ in nature, that is, to indicate that the entire world of the individual and collective must either take responsibility for its unfoldment or perish to start anew again. Through the death and rebirth process as brought forth in initiatic systems, and as stated, traditional practices mentioned previously, we overcome our fears – our inner demons. As a result, outer demons have no control over us, and in fact, as is stated in the enigmatic work entitled, Le Comte de Gabalis, they will hear The Word and the “demons will tremble in the pit”.
Igne Natura Renovatur Integra
“By fire Nature is renewed whole”.
Thank you for reading VOXHERMES, the blog of the Institute for Hermetic Studies, a registered 501c3 non-profit. We encourage you to subscribe to this blog to get all updates sent directly to your email in-box. You will also find information about our mission contained in the link below. Click on it and find out more about what IHS has to offer and how you can participate.