4-3 Demons And Sickness
Yet in the New Testament we read of demons being cast out– in fact,
the New Testament is written as if the common idea of demons is
correct. I suggest that the answer to this paradox lies in an
understanding of the way in which God uses language in the Bible.
George Lamsa comments: ""Cast out" is an Aramaic phrase which means to
restore to sanity" (1). The evidence given above is proof enough that
demons do not exist. If the New Testament speaks as if they do exist,
and the Bible does not contradict itself, it follows that surely the
answer is to be found in an analysis of the way in which God uses
language. If we are clearly told that God brings our problems and that
He is the source of all power, then the Bible cannot also tell us that
demons– little gods in opposition to the one God– bring these things
upon us. It seems significant that the word “demons” only occurs four
times in the Old Testament and always describes idol worship, but it
occurs many times in the Gospel records. We suggest this is because, at
the time the Gospels were written, it was the language of the day to
say that any disease that could not be understood was the fault of
demons. "So far as the [1st century] populace was concerned, any
disease involving mental disturbance, delirium or spasms was attributed
to demons, believed to swarm in the air" (2). If demons really do exist
and are responsible for our illnesses and problems, then we would read
more about them in the Old Testament. But we do not read about them at
all in this context there.
Demons And Mental Illness
say that demons were cast out of someone is to say that they were cured
of a mental illness, or an illness which was not understood at the
time. People living in the first century tended to blame everything
which they couldn't understand on these imaginary beings called
‘demons’. Mental illness being hard to understand with their level of
medical knowledge, the people spoke of those afflicted as ‘demon
possessed’. In Old Testament times, an evil or unclean spirit referred
to a troubled mental state (Jud. 9:23; 1 Sam. 16:14;18:10); and in
every Old Testament reference to evil spirits, they were sent by God,
not an orthodox ‘Devil’. In New Testament times, the language of evil
spirit/demon possession had come to refer to those suffering mental
illness. The association between demons and sickness is shown by the
following: “They brought unto him (Jesus) many that were possessed with
demons: and He cast out the spirits with a word… that it might be
fulfilled which was spoken by Isaiah the prophet, saying, Himself took
our infirmities, and bare our sicknesses” (Mt. 8:16-17). So human
infirmities and sicknesses are described as being possessed by “demons”
and “evil spirits”.
When we read in Acts 8:7 of unclean spirits crying out, the Eastern (Aramaic)
text reads: "Many who were mentally afflicted cried out". This
is because, according to George Lamsa, ""Unclean spirits"
is an Aramaic term used to describe lunatics" (3). It should be noted
that Lamsa was a native Aramaic speaker with a fine understanding of Aramaic
terms. He grew up in a remote part of Kurdistan which had maintained the
Aramaic language almost unchanged since the time of Jesus. It's significant
that Lamsa's extensive writings indicate that he failed to see in the
teachings of Jesus and Paul any support for the popular conception of
the devil and demons- he insisted that the Semitic and Aramaic terms used
by them have been misunderstood by Western readers and misused in order
to lend support for their conceptions of a personal devil and demons.
Philo and other writers comment how the demon-possessed were laughed at
and mocked especially by children- indicating that 'demon possessed' people
refer to the mentally ill rather than the physically sick. When Legion
was cured of his 'demons', we read of him as now "clothed and in
his right mind" (Mk. 5:15). The 'demon possessed' man in Mk. 1:23
sits in the synagogue and then suddenly screams out- showing
he was mentally afflicted. People thought that Jesus was mad and said
this must be because He had a demon- “He has a demon, and is mad” (Jn.
10:20; 7:19-20; 8:52). They therefore believed that demons caused madness.
Healing The Sick
they were healed, people “possessed with demons” are said to return to
their “right mind” (Mk. 5:15; Lk. 8:35). This implies that being
“possessed with demons” was another way of saying someone was mentally
unwell – i.e. not in their right mind. Those “possessed with demons”
are said to be “healed” or “cured” (Mt. 4:24; 12:22; 17:18), implying
that demon possession is another way of describing illness. In Luke
10:9 Jesus told His 70 apostles to go out and “heal the sick”, which
they did. They returned, rejoicing that, in their terms and frames of
understanding, “even the demons are subject unto us through Your name”–
again, demons and illness are equated (Lk. 10:17). Christ not only
rebuked unclean spirits, but also wind and waves (Mt. 8:26) and fever
(Lk. 4:39) – all impersonal things. Note that when people brought to
Jesus a woman whom they said had been bound 18 years by satan, we read
that Jesus simply said: "Woman, you are loosed from your infirmity"
(Lk. 13:16). Jesus says nothing about 'satan' nor does He get involved
for a few minutes in some cosmic conflict with 'satan' in order to
'release' the woman. He left the false idea of being bound by Satan
unremarked upon; but He simply showed that whatever people believe
about the unseen and unknown [to them] world, He and His power are so
far greater that effectively these things don't exist as significant
factors in the lives of His people.
There are a number of parallels between the language used of 'casting
out' demons, and that used about healings. Jesus "rebuked" demons
in Mk. 9:25, and yet He "rebuked" a fever (Lk. 4:39) and the
wind (Mt. 8:26). Demons are spoken of as having "departed" (Mt.
17:18), yet we read of leprosy 'departing' (Mk. 1:42) and diseases 'departing'
after cure (Acts 19:12). I'd go so far as to say that every case of a
person being spoken of as demon possessed has its equivalent in diseases
which we can identify today- e.g. epilepsy, schizophrenia.
Everyone who believes demons exist has to ask themselves the question:
“When I am ill, is it caused by demons?”. If they think the New Testament
references to demons are about little gods going round doing evil, then
they have to say “yes”. In that case, how can we explain the fact that
many diseases once blamed on demons can now be cured or controlled by
drugs? Malaria is the classic example. Many people in Africa believed
until recently that malaria was caused by demons, but now we know that
malaria can be cured by quinine and other drugs. Are we then saying that
as the demons see the little yellow tablets going down a person's throat they
become frightened and fly away? Some of the diseases which Jesus cured,
which are described as being the result of demon possession, have been
identified as tetanus or epilepsy – both of which can be relieved by drugs.
friend of mine comes from a village just outside Kampala in Uganda. He
told me once how that people used to believe malaria was caused by
demons, but once they saw how the drugs controlled it so easily, they
stopped blaming the demons. However, when someone had cerebral malaria
(causing serious mental illness) they still blamed the demons. A doctor
came from the nearby town and offered them strong anti-malarial drugs
as a cure, but they refused because they said they needed something to
fight demons not malaria. The doctor returned later and said, “I have a
drug which will chase away the demons”; the sick person eagerly took
the drug, and became better. The second tablets were just the same as
the first ones. The doctor did not believe in demons, but he used the
language of the day to get through to the person – just like the “Great
Physician”, the Lord Jesus, of 2,000 years ago. Norman Lewis, one of
the 20th century's best-selling travel writers, observed the same in
his travels in Asia. He recalls how in Burma in the 1950s, doctors
could likewise only get the cooperation of their patients by assuring
them that they were going to 'cast out a demon' from them (4).
I'm far from alone in my understanding of this issue. Raymond Brown sums
up what we've been saying: "Some of the cases that the Synoptic Gospels
describe as instances of demon possession seem to be instances of natural
sickness. The symptoms described in Mark 9:17,18 seem to be those of epilepsy,
while the symptoms in Mark 5:4 seem to be those of dangerous insanity.
One cannot escape the impression that sometimes in relation to demon possession
both the evangelists and Jesus are reflecting the inexact medico-religious
understanding of their times" (5). Joachim Jeremias in similar vein:
“Illnesses of all kinds were attributed to demons, especially the
different forms of mental illnesses…we shall understand the extent
of this fear of demons better if we note that the absence of enclosed
mental hospitals meant that illnesses of this kind came much more
before the public eye than they do in our world…There is therefore
nothing surprising in the fact that the gospels, too, portray mental
illness as being possessed by demons. They speak in the language
and conceptuality of their time” (6).
(1) George Lamsa, Gospel Light (Philadelphia: A.J. Holman, 1939)
(2) G.P. Gilmour, The Memoirs Called Gospels (Toronto: Clarke, Irwin & Co., 1959) p. 69.
(3) George Lamsa, New Testament Commentary (Philadelphia: A.J.
Holman, 1945) pp. 57,58.
(4) Norman Lewis, Golden Earth: Travels In Burma (London: Eland, 2003) p. 196.
(5) Raymond Brown, An Introduction To New Testament Christology (London: Geoffrey Chapman, 1994) p. 41.
(6) Joachim Jeremias, New Testament Theology (London:
S.C.M., 1972) p. 93.
4-3-1 Legion And The Gadarene Pigs
5:1-17 (Matthew 8:28-34; Luke 8:26-38) "They came to the other side of
the sea, to the country of the Gerasenes. And when Jesus had stepped
out of the boat, immediately there met him out of the tombs a man with
an unclean spirit. He lived among the tombs. And no one could bind him
anymore, not even with a chain, for he had often been bound with
shackles and chains, but he wrenched the chains apart, and he broke the
shackles in pieces. No one had the strength to subdue him. Night and
day among the tombs and on the mountains he was always crying out and
cutting himself with stones. And when he saw Jesus from afar, he ran
and fell down before him. And crying out with a loud voice, he said,
"What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I adjure
you by God, do not torment me." For he was saying to him, "Come out of
the man, you unclean spirit!" And Jesus asked him, "What is your name?"
He replied, "My name is Legion, for we are many." And he begged him
earnestly not to send them out of the country. Now a great herd of pigs
was feeding there on the hillside, and they begged him, saying, "Send
us to the pigs; let us enter them." So he gave them permission. And the
unclean spirits came out, and entered the pigs, and the herd, numbering
about two thousand, rushed down the steep bank into the sea and were
drowned in the sea. The herdsmen fled and told it in the city and in
the country. And people came to see what it was that had happened. And
they came to Jesus and saw the demon-possessed man, the one who had had
the legion, sitting there, clothed and in his right mind, and they were
afraid. And those who had seen it described to them what had happened
to the demon-possessed man and to the pigs. And they began to beg Jesus
to depart from their region".
In considering this passage, let's bear in mind some conclusions reached elsewhere:
- The Bible uses the language of the day, speaking of some things as they appeared in the eyes of their first audience- see 4-4 The Language Of The Day and 4-5 God Adopts A Human Perspective
- 'Casting out demons' is a way of saying that mental illness had been cured- see 4-3 Demons And Sickness
'Demons' in the first century were understood to be demigods
responsible for illness; they are paralleled with idols, and we are
assured that demons / idols have no ultimate power or existence- see 4-2 Demons And Idols
principles enable us to understand the passage as an account of the
healing of a mentally disturbed man- albeit written in the language of
the day, from the perspective and worldview of those who first saw the
miracle. The following comments hopefully assist in clarifying this
1. Mk. 5:2 describes Legion as a man with
an "unclean spirit". He cried out. But when we meet a similar situation
in Acts 8:7 of unclean spirits crying out, the Eastern (Aramaic) text
reads: "Many who were mentally afflicted cried out". This is because,
according to George Lamsa, ""Unclean spirits" is an Aramaic term used
to describe lunatics" (1). It should be noted that Lamsa was a native
Aramaic speaker with a fine understanding of Aramaic terms. He grew up
in a remote part of Kurdistan which had maintained the Aramaic language
almost unchanged since the time of Jesus. It's significant that Lamsa's
extensive writings indicate that he failed to see in the teachings of
Jesus and Paul any support for the popular conception of the devil and
demons- he insisted that the Semitic and Aramaic terms used by them
have been misunderstood by Western readers and misused in order to lend
support for their conceptions of a personal Devil and demons.
When Legion was cured of his 'demons', we read of him as now "clothed
and in his right mind" (Mk. 5:15). His 'demon possession' therefore
referred to a sick state of mind; and the 'casting out' of those demons
to the healing of his mental state. People thought that Jesus was mad
and said this must be because He had a demon- “He has a demon, and is
mad” (Jn. 10:20; 7:19-20; 8:52). They therefore believed that demons
3. A comparison of the
records indicates that the voice of the individual man is paralleled
with that of the 'demons'- the man was called Legion, because he
believed and spoke as if he were inhabited by hundreds of 'demons':
"Torment me not" (Mk.5:7) = “Are you come to torment us?” (Mt. 8:29).
“He [singular] besought him” (Mk. 5:9) = "the demons besought him" (Mk. 5:12)
The man's own words explain his self-perception: "My name [singular] is Legion: for we
are many (Mk. 5:9)". This is classic schizophrenic behaviour and
language. Thus Lk. 8:30 explains that Legion spoke as he did because
[he thought that] many demons had entered into him.
4. Note that the sick man is paralleled with the demons. "He begged him earnestly not to send them
out of the country" (Mk. 5:10) parallels "he", the man, with "them",
the demons. And the parallel record speaks as if it were the demons who
did the begging: "They begged him not to order them to go into
the abyss" (Lk. 8:31). This is significant in that the record doesn't
suggest that demons were manipulating the man to speak and be mad;
rather are they made parallel with the man himself. This indicates, on
the level of linguistics at least, that the language of "demons" is
being used as a synonym for the mentally ill man. There's another
example of this, in Mark 3:11: "Whenever the unclean spirits saw him,
they fell down before him and shouted, “You are the Son of God!”". Who
fell down on their knees and who shouted? The mentally disturbed
people. But they are called "unclean spirits". James 2:19 likewise:
"The demons believe and tremble". This is surely an allusion to the
trembling of those people whom Jesus cured, and 'belief' is
appropriate to persons not [supposed] eternally damned agents of Satan.
Clearly James is putting "demons" for 'mentally disturbed people who
believed and were cured'. And thus we can better understand why in Mk.
5:8 Jesus addresses Himself not to these supposed spirits; but to the
man himself: "Jesus said to him, Come out of the man, you unclean spirit". He doesn't say to the unclean spirit
"Come out of the man". Jesus addresses Himself to "the man". The demons
/ unclean spirits never actually say anything in the records; it's
always the man himself who speaks. Josephus records that when the first
century Rabbis cast out demons [as they supposed], they first had to
ask for the name of the demon. The Lord Jesus doesn't do this; He asks
the man for his personal name. The difference is instructive-
the Lord wasn't speaking to demons, He was speaking to the mentally
sick man, and going along with the man's belief that he had demons
within him. The 'demons' plead with Jesus not to torment them, and back
this up by invoking God. 'They' believed in God and honoured Him to the
point of believing He was the ultimate authenticator of oaths. 'They'
hardly fit the classical idea that demons are anti-God and in conflict
with Him. Clearly enough, when we read of demons and spirits in this
passage we are not reading of the actual existence of 'demons' as they
are classically understood, but simply of the mentally ill man himself.
5. Why did the pigs run over the cliff, and why did the Lord Jesus agree to the man's request for this?
mental illness features intermittent episodes, it's understandable that
the Lord sought to comfort those cured that the change He had brought
was permanent. Thus the Lord tells the 'spirit' assumed to be
tormenting the mentally afflicted child: "I command you, come out of
him, and enter no more into him" (Mk. 9:25). It's in the same
vein that He drove the pigs into the lake as a sign that Legion's cure
was permanent. I suggest that it was a kind of visual aide memoire,
of the kind often used in the Bible to impress a point upon illiterate
people. I suggest that's why in the ritual of the Day of Atonement, the
scapegoat ran off into the wilderness bearing Israel's sins. As the
bobbing animal was watched by thousands of eyes, thousands of minds
would've reflected that their sins were being cast out. And the same
principle was in the curing of the schizophrenic Legion- the pigs were
made to run into the lake by the Lord Jesus, not because they were
actually possessed by demons in reality, but as an aide memoire
to the cured Legion that his illness, all his perceived personalities,
were now no more. Mental illness is typically intermittent. Legion had
met Jesus, for he recognized Him afar off, and knew that He was God's
Son (Mk. 5:6); indeed, one assumes the man probably had some faith for
the miracle to be performed (Mt. 13:58). He comes to meet Jesus "from
out of the city" (Lk. 8:27) and yet Mt. 8:28 speaks of him living in
the tombs outside the city. He pleads with the Lord not to torment him
(Mk. 5:7)- full of memories of how the local folk had tied him up and
beaten him to try to exorcise the demons. Probably Legion's greatest
fear was that he would relapse into madness again; that the cure which
he believed Jesus could offer him might not be permanent. And so the
Lord agreed to the man's request that the demons he perceived as within
him should be permanently cast out; and the sight of the herd of pigs
running over the cliff to permanent death below, with the awful sound
this would've made, would have remained an abiding memory for the man.
Note how the 'demon possessed' man in Mk. 1:23 sits in the synagogue
and then suddenly screams out (Mk. 1:23)- showing he was likewise
afflicted by intermittent fits. Steve Keating pointed out to me that
the madness may have been an infection in the brain of the trichina
parasite, commonly found infecting the muscles of pigs - and
transmissible to humans in undercooked pork. The infected man would
likely have been forced by poverty to eat this kind of food, and likely
associated his "problem" with it because of the prohibition of
pork under the Levitical law. The desire to see the disease return to
the herds of swine probably stemmed from a need to know that his
affliction had been cured in a rather permanent sort of way. And the
Lord went along with this.
The idea of transference of disease
from one to another was a common Semitic perception, and it’s an idea
used by God. And thus God went along with the peoples' idea of disease
transference, and the result is recorded in terms of demons [which was
how they understood illness] going from one person to another. Likewise
the leprosy of Naaman clave to Gehazi (2 Kings 5:27). God threatened to
make the diseases of the inhabitants of Canaan and Egypt to cleave to
Israel if they were disobedient (Dt. 28:21,60). Here too, as with
Legion, there is Divine accommodation to the ideas of disease
transference which people had at the time.
6. The Lord focused the man's attention upon the man's beliefs about
himself- by asking him "What is your name?", to which he replies
"Legion! For we are many!". Thus the man was brought to realize on
later reflection that the pig stampede was a miracle by the Lord, and a
judgment against illegal keeping of unclean animals- rather than an
action performed by the demons he thought inhabited him. The idea of
transference of disease from one to another was a common Semitic
perception, and it’s an idea used by God. And thus God went along with
the peoples' idea of disease transference, and the result is recorded
in terms of demons [which was how they understood illness] going from
one person to another. Likewise the leprosy of Naaman clave to Gehazi
(2 Kings 5:27). God threatened to make the diseases of the inhabitants
of Canaan and Egypt to cleave to Israel if they were disobedient (Dt.
28:21,60). Here too, God is accommodating the ideas of disease
transference which people had at the time.
Legion believed he was demon possessed. But the Lord didn’t correct him
regarding this before healing him. Anyone dealing with mentally
disturbed people soon learns that you can't correct all of their
delusions at one go. You have to chose your battles, and walk and laugh
with them to some extent. Lk. 8:29 says that Legion “was driven of the
devil into the wilderness”, in the same way as the Lord had been driven
into the wilderness by the spirit (Mk. 1:12) and yet overcame the
‘devil’ in whatever form at this time. The man was surely intended to
reflect on these more subtle things and see that whatever he had once
believed in was immaterial and irrelevant compared to the Spirit power
of the Lord. And yet the Lord ‘went along’ with his request for the
demons he thought were within him to be cast into ‘the deep’,
thoroughly rooted as it was in misunderstanding of demons and sinners
being thrown into the abyss. This was in keeping with the kind of
healing styles people were used to at the time- e.g. Josephus records
how Eleazar cast demons out of people and placed a cup of water nearby,
which was then [supposedly] tipped over by the demons as they left the
sick person [Antiquities Of The Jews 8.46-48]. It seems to me
that the Lord 'went along with' that kind of need for reassurance, and
so He made the pigs stampede over the cliff to symbolize to the healed
man how his disease had really left him.
fairly detailed case can be made that the man Legion was to be
understood as representative of Judah in captivity, suffering for their
sins, who despite initially opposing Christ (Legion ran up to Jesus
just as he had 'run upon' people in aggressive fits earlier), could
still repent as Legion did, be healed of their sins and be His
witnesses to the world. This fits in with the whole theme which the
Lord had- that the restoration of Israel's fortunes would not be by
violent opposition to the Legions of Rome but by repentance and
spiritual witness to the world. The point is, Israel were bound in
fetters and beaten by the Gentiles because of their sins, which they
were culpable of, for which they had responsibility and from which they
could repent; rather than because they had been taken over by powerful
demons against their will. Here then are reasons for understanding
Legion as representative of Judah under Gentile oppression; I am
grateful to John Allfree and Andrew Perry for bringing some of them to
- Israel were “A people... which remain among the tombs, and lodge in the monuments” (Is. 65:3-4).
- Legion was always “in the mountains”- the "high places" where Israel sinned (Is. 65:7; Hos. 4:13).
The man's name, Legion, suggests he was under the ownership of Rome.
The miracle occurred in Gentile territory, suggesting Judah in the
Gentile dominated world.
- ‘What is your name?’ is the same question asked of Jacob
Legion's comment that ‘we are many’ is identical to the words of Ez.
33:24 about Israel: “Son of man, they that inhabit those wastes of the
land of Israel speak, saying, Abraham was one, and he inherited the
land: but we are many; the land is given us for inheritance.
Wherefore say unto them, Thus saith the Lord God; Ye eat with the
blood, and lift up your eyes toward your idols, and shed blood: and
shall ye possess the land?”.
- Legion had often been
bound with fetters and chains (Mk 5:3,4)- just as God's people had so
often been taken into captivity in "fetters and chains” (2 Chron.
33:11; 36:6, 2 Kings 24:7).
When the sick man asks that the unclean spirits not be sent "out of the
country" (Mk. 5:10), I take this as his resisting the healing. But he
later repents and asks for them to be sent into the herd of pigs. This
recalls a prophecy about the restoration of Judah in Zech. 13:2: “And
it shall come to pass in that day, saith the Lord of hosts, that I will
cut off the names of the idols out of the land, and they shall no more
be remembered: and also I will cause the prophets and the unclean
spirit to pass out of the land”.
herd of pigs being "destroyed" in the water recalls the Egyptians being
“destroyed” in the Red Sea when Israel were delivered from Gentile
power before. The Gadarene Gentiles "were afraid", just as the Gentile
world was at the time of the Exodus (Ex 15:14). The curing of Legion is
termed “great things” (Mk 5:19); and Israel's exodus from Gentile power
and the destruction of the Egyptians is likewise called “great things”
(1) George Lamsa, New Testament Commentary (Philadelphia: A.J. Holman, 1945) pp. 57,58.
4-3-2 Exorcism Of Demons
Throughout Old and New Testament times there was the belief that by calling
the name of a god over a sick person, demons could be exorcised (cp. Acts
19:13). The name of the god was held to have some mystical power.
The true worship of Yahweh also placed great importance on the power of
the Name of Israel’s God, e.g.: “May the name of the God of Jacob
defend you… Save me, O God, by Your Name” (Ps. 20:1; 54:1). The fundamental
difference between the Name of Yahweh and that of other gods was that
the Yahweh Name was both a declaration of His character and also a prophecy
of His people’s eternal future; therefore it was a means of real salvation.
However, Yahweh evidently did not devise a system of worship for Israel
which shied as far away as possible from using the language of contemporary
beliefs. He revealed Himself in a way which showed His supremacy over
those beliefs. Understanding this paves the way for a correct grasp of
the New Testament language of demons. Christ spoke as if pagan exorcists
had power (Mt. 12:27); it was only indirectly that He taught His superiority
over them. There is much emphasis on the use of the name of Christ
to cast out demons/heal diseases (Mk. 16:17; Acts 3:6; 4:10; 16:18; 19:13-16;
James 5:14). This has some similarity with the way in which the pagans
repeated the names of their gods to exorcise what they believed to be
demons. We can therefore come to the conclusion that in the demonstration
of His power as being greater than that of other ‘gods’ and so-called
‘demons’, Yahweh is very indirect about it, and does so through alluding
closely to the style and language which those false systems used. If this
is truly appreciated, it will be evident that just because the New Testament
sometimes uses the style and language of the surrounding paganism, this
is no proof that those pagan beliefs have any substance.
The conclusion is that the Bible uses language which is riddled with
allusions to surrounding pagan beliefs, in order to demonstrate the supremacy
of Yahweh worship over them. Yahweh was not just another god who took
His place amongst the pantheon of deities the Canaanite people believed
in. The God of Israel was the only true God. He was therefore
in active antagonism towards the claims of the other gods; hence Yahweh
continually alludes to them in His self-revelation through His word. But
His style is evidently not to criticize those gods in so many words. This
would be altogether too human for the Maker of Heaven and earth.
medicine and psychotherapy can at times use the belief systems of the
patient to effect a cure- even whilst disbelieving those belief systems
to the point of ridicule. Consider the following extract from “The Rainbow Machine” – Tales from a Neurolinguist’s Journal by
Andrew T. Austin (Boulder, CO: Real People Press, 2007). What Austin
did is in essence what the Lord Jesus did by using the language of
“Several years ago a successful
businessman, who for all appearances was perfectly normal, consulted
me. His wife had recently left him, and he was suffering from severe
insomnia brought about by issues relating to the separation, and from
the demands of his busy work schedule. I took a full history from him
and nothing seemed out of the ordinary. He was just a normal guy
reacting to his circumstances in a normal way – until I asked him a
question I often ask, “So out of all the people in the phone book, why
did you come to see me. What is it you think I can do for you?” Dr
Siebert would be proud of me.
he said, “I know of your interest in the occult, and that is why I
thought you could help me. My wife has a friend who is a Black Witch.
She is able to enter my mind and make me ill. She is a very powerful
Now, I ask the
reader to stop for a moment and think carefully about how you would
respond to this. Read the sentence again. Is he mad? Deluded? Ill? Is
she really a Black Witch? Can she really enter his mind and make him
ill? Are such things possible?
personally don’t doubt that they are possible, it’s just that I have
yet to meet anyone who is really able to do such things. Derren Brown
creates a very good illusion of such things, but he doesn’t claim any
real psychic powers – he is very clear that what he does is “a mixture
of ‘magic, misdirection, and showmanship.”
schools of thought say that colluding with a delusion or reinforcing it
is a very bad thing to do, and that arguing with them, or correcting
them, is a good thing to do. If you have ever tried arguing with a
devout religious follower that his religion is wrong, you know that the
chance that you will succeed in that is very close to zero.
how do I help this guy? Change his belief? Reduce the hallucination?
Challenge him? I did none of those. I constructed a powerful sigil – a
charm or talisman – according to the instructions in The Greater Key of Solomon.
He collected it a week later, and I gave him strict and detailed ritual
instructions for its use. I didn’t hear from him again for over a
year, when I met him at a chance encounter during a business conference.
feel a bit awkward saying this,” he told me in the queue for coffee,
“but after I used the sigil in the way you described, I realized how
silly I was being, and that there was no way that woman could be doing
the things that I thought she was. But I didn’t want to tell you,
because I knew how sincere you were about the sigil and how it would
work for me.”
can indeed be a strange art at times. Explained in Ericksonian terms,
he was caught in a therapeutic double bind. The instructions were
designed to act as a convincer for the efficiency of the sigil, but
they also made him feel just a little bit silly. He’ll either be
convinced that he’s now protected from malign psychic influence, or
he’ll realize that there isn’t such a thing – a win-win situation.
working with any particular problematic belief, I rarely see fit to
challenge it. I know that it might seem counterintuitive to some
people, but challenging a delusion can in fact actually make it
stronger and tougher. So think of it in these terms – don’t challenge
it or reinforce it – instead, just accept it and expand it to make it