Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Practical Tips

File this away under things you never knew you needed to know.  In the unlikely event that you are ever the victim of a spell or hex, there is a protocol governing the discovery and disposal of the malefice responsible.  Several hard-working exorcists have developed these guidelines through some painful trail and error, so it's advice worth taking.

First of all, the three most useful substances to have on hand in any hairy situation are exorcized (or at least blessed) water, exorcised olive oil, and exorcised salt.  All three are efficacious in their symbolic ability to cleanse and heal body and soul.  The water is particularly useful in cleansing objects or spaces, the oil in ridding an afflicted individual of impurities or foreign objects which may need to be coughed up, and the salt in protecting places from evil influences (such as in cases of infestation).  Used in faith, these can apparently be remarkably powerful.

In the (unlikely but not impossible) event that you discover a strange object you believe to be the root of a curse, there are a few key things to remember.  These objects can be braided or knotted cords, colored string, figurines, bones, small animals, rocks, wire, or really anything.  What makes them suspicious is that they can appear where you least expect them, like inside your clothes, mattresses, pillows, or food.

  • DO NOT TOUCH these things with your bare hands.  Chronic illness has been known to occur as a result.  
  • The objects must first be sprinkled with holy water, then burned in a well-ventilated space (preferably outdoors), and the ashes disposed of in running water.  You may skip the burning if the object isn't flammable.
  • Not all running water is created equal.  DO NOT attempt to dispose of anything in your plumbing, at least not unless you want to take advantage of your flood insurance.  A storm drain is a better choice.
  • During the whole procedure, it is best that everyone present pray constantly.
Unfortunately, this also applies to that pillow or mattress which might have yielded the object in question.  Your neighbors will think you're crazy, and you might get a public citation, but this is the tried and true method.

Again, read this book. 

Monday, October 29, 2012

Oh, the Suspense!

It's no secret, my favorite Tolkien character of all time is Elvenking Thranduil.  I've been looking forward to The Hobbit movies for their own sakes, but I was particularly interested in (worried about?) how they would adapt his character.  I've been trolling around on Google for a while looking for sneak peeks.  Lo and behold, there are finally a few to be had.

? ? ?

Ok, I'm not sure how I feel about it.  Maybe it will grow on me.  No offense to Lee Pace, but I personally had another type in mind . . .

And, of course, he had to have a voice like Josh Groban.

ANYWAY, I'm more than a little sorry we might still have to wait until next year to see the Mirkwood Elves.  I will do my best to endure with quiet dignity and grace.  In the meantime, here's my favorite bit of fan art, plucked from the vast expanse of the internet:

That's the sort of bow I expect Elvenking Thranduil Oropherion to carry.  I suppose that's Celeborn with him having a bad@$$ Sindarin family reunion.  It makes me want to write fanfiction again.

The Dangers of Magic

(After a few distractions, we're back to our regularly scheduled October series.)

I'm not talking about stage magic.  We're talking about witchcraft, curses and hexes.  Yes, they're real, and all demonic in origin.  This was truly frightening to me, because I never would have imagined it was possible.  Apparently, like all demonic activity, it's just another way God honors our free will and provides occasion for grace.

Father Amorth defines a curse as "harming others through demonic intervention."  He considers spells and witchcraft to be two different kinds of curses.  Seriously, this is not some innocent pastime for adolescent girls.  People get hurt doing this.  "Those who practice any sort of magic believe they can manipulate superior powers," he says, "but in reality it is they who are manipulated."

Naturally Father Amorth is most familiar with his native Italy, where a robust tradition of sorcery and spiritualism still survives.  In this context, his vocal opposition to the Harry Potter franchise is understandable.  "When curses are spoken with true perfidy," he says, "especially if there is a blood relationship between the one who cast them and the accursed, the outcome can be terrible.  The most common instances that I have encountered involved parents or grandparents who called down evil upon children or grandchildren.  The most serious consequences occur when the evil wish is against someone's life or when it is pronounced on a special occasion, such as a wedding.  The authority and the bonds that tie parents to their children are stronger than any other person's."  These curses apparently do not die with the ones who cast them, and can be frighteningly effective despite blessings, exorcism and prayer.

A spell may also be known as a malefice or a hex, and involves brining evil upon someone by means of a physical object, a kind of anti-sacramental.  Direct application involves the victim ingesting the cursed object, which according to Father Amorth, can be made of almost anything: "it can be menstrual blood; bones of dead people; various burned powders, mostly black; animal parts -- the heart seems to be the favorite; peculiar herbs; and so on.  But the evil efficacy is not so much in the material used as in the will to harm through demonic intervention."  Not surprisingly, one of the first symptoms of a spell of this kind are stomach pains which only improve when the substance is expelled through vomiting or otherwise.  Indirect application involves hexing the belongings of the victim or a proxy, "dolls, puppets, animals, even real people of the same age and sex."  Remember voodoo dolls?  Apparently they actually work.  The examples he gives are rather hair-raising, but I'll let you read the book for yourself.

Despite all this, he cautions that true hexes are still rare.  Although he has personally dealt with several, he has seen still more cases which had legitimate psychological explanations.  Sometimes curses fail, through the inexperience of the sorcerer, the prayer life of the intended victim, or the intervention of God.  "It would be a most grave error to live in fear of falling victim to a hex," he says.  Still, neither is it a good idea to completely deny their existence.

He describes witchcraft at length, which covers a broader range of activities than just spells and hexes.  Even when used for the most mundane and apparently innocuous personal purposes, witchcraft and genuine magic are always interaction with Satan and always come with harmful side effects.  In 2002, our neighbors' teenage daughter told me and my sister that she had been practicing witchcraft in her spare time, and had recently managed to open a door without touching it.  Later she complained of seeing a man in black at the foot of her bed at night.  Naturally I can't verify any of it, but it may be a useful case in point.

The moral of the story?  Witches aren't funny.  Dress your kids up as saints, for pity's sake.

And read this book.  (But not late at night.)

War On Debt

The entirety of this household's debt is now represented by one student loan.  It is the final major obstacle to greater financial security, the beginning of the adoption process, and generally getting on with our lives.

They say it will take 18 years to pay it off.

They say it will cost another $21,000 in interest.

I say it will not.

Let the games begin.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

New Routine

I finally took a job.  I really couldn't justify not trying given my wide open schedule.  It's one of those thankless and faceless part time retail jobs, but I wanted something disposable.  The real miracle is that they were still willing to hire me after I demanded never to work weekends or any later than 4 PM on weekdays.  That should nicely coincide with the husband's schedule, so there shouldn't be any real disruption of our home life.  That is, when we have a home life.

Deployment is every bit as sterile an existence as I remember.  The only thing to do is to somehow make the time go by without being terribly conscious of it, because if I were I'd be twice as miserable.  On the other hand, not having anyone to spend time with has allowed me to get a remarkable amount of work done on those Christmas stockings commissioned this year.  Despite an earlier bout of despair, I might actually get them all done in time.

But, speaking of deployments and general loneliness, I've been realizing just how vulnerable I am.  Living alone anywhere is still very new to me, and more than a little unsettling, especially with the strange characters we've had knocking on the door lately.  I've started making an effort to brush up on my target practice when I visit the old homestead, but that doesn't do me much good in the meantime.  So, in the interest of taking at least minimal precautions, I swung by Target after work today and picked up an old fashioned, wireless, all-purpose offensive weapon with built in fire escape.

Best of all, it doesn't require a license.  Yet.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Timing Is Everything

My current sewing entertainment is a show called "I (Almost) Got Away With It," a docu-drama about fugitives from justice who were eventually captured.  It's a fairly routine true crime show, but one thing keeps jumping out at me.  It crops up in almost every episode.

"Minutes after the murder, police arrive . . ."

Note the key use of the word "after."  Don't live in the green zone people; your safety is your business. That is all.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Hello! This Is Reality Calling . . .

Wednesday I was trapped for an hour in the waiting room of the Hyundai dealership while my car was serviced.  The widescreen TV was of course tuned to MSNBC.  It was a long hour.

There aren't any liberals in my house.  There really isn't any liberal media in my house.  I know they're out there, but watching their programming was like stepping through the looking glass.  Are they serious?

This isn't a political race, it's a schoolyard war.  The commentary amounted to little more than "Hey, stupid!" and "Yeah, your mama!"  Maybe the conservative networks are the same way these days.  I don't really watch any of it.  The whole democratic process has become a farce.  People are either slaves of the media zombies or have no idea what is really going on.  And the two are not mutually exclusive.

I found myself sitting there feeling sour and thinking, "Yeah, well we'll just see how all your precious government programs fare when hyperinflation strikes and the currency implodes.  Suckers!"  For a second, I was actually hoping the crash would happen sooner rather than later just so we could have a big "TOLD YOU SO!"  Not very Christian, I know.  Sorry.

But, seriously, it's coming!  The party is over.  We have bigger problems than tax hikes or free condoms.  Don't like it?  Shut up and take a number.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Concerning Psychics

Now this is a word most traditional Catholics have a strong reaction against.  If not completely bogus, we are under the impression that all activities of psychics and mediums are strictly forbidden by Church teaching.

This is almost true, and really depends on what we mean by "psychic."  Perhaps we would be more comfortable with "clairvoyant" or "mystic."  The issue is not the ability, but the source of the ability and our attitude towards it.

In a nutshell, genuine psychic individuals are either gifted with a special charism or paranormal talent by God, or have purchased forbidden powers from Satan.  Those who are trying especially hard to become psychic risk falling into the latter category, which is no laughing matter.  

Father Amorth claims to often make use of people he calls "seers" and "sensitives" during his exorcisms.  They can be useful in identifying evil presences, curses, hexes, and in revealing their causes.  He also cautions that these feelings are not always 100% accurate and must be thoroughly investigated.  

Because of the proliferation of suspect spiritualists at large, Father Amorth offers some criteria for identifying the good ones in An Exorcist Tells His Story.

"I would like to suggest four guidelines for determining the presence of true charisms.  (1) The individual or the community lives the Gospel in a profound way.  (2) The individual or the community performs the services completely free -- not even accepting donations, as through these it is easy to become wealthy.  (3) The practices used must be common means to obtain grace approved by the Church, avoiding unusual or superstitious actions.  For instance, they must not use 'magic' formulas but prayers, the Sign of the Cross and imposition of hands, and nothing that could offend modesty.  They should avail themselves of water, incense, and relics and avoid anything that is extraneous to the normal ecclesiastical use.  They should pray in the name of Jesus.  (4) The fruits must be good.  This is an evangelical rule that sums up all the other rules, 'the tree is known by its fruit' (Mt 12:33). . . .
"I will say that the seers and sensitives I have chosen to consult -- among the many that I have been offered as such -- have all been very prayerful individuals, rich in goodness and charity, and especially very humble.  If I had not discovered them by chance or because someone informed me of their talents, they would never have told me.  What are these talents?  Charisms?  Paranormal abilities?  I tend to believe that it is a paranormal gift that the person uses to serve others.  I do not exclude that it can be a charism.  I have never noticed in these people any sign of tiredness or loss of strength.  I have witnessed a gradual strengthening of these gifts through their use; this leads me to believe that we are faced with paranormal talents.  I will add that it is very difficult to find true seers or sensitives.  On the other hand, there are a multitude of people who believe they have and are reputed to have these gifts.  We need to be very careful."
Obviously, trying to contact the dead is still very much out of the question.  And like all extraordinary gifts and graces, being "psychic" is not something anyone should go clamoring after.  So don't even think about sending an application to any of those psychic schools or spiritual colleges popping up everywhere.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Music Break

Ok, time out.  I've just found a brilliant new addition to my "Saddest Music of All Time" playlist.  I don't know why I gravitate toward songs that are essentially emotional wrecking balls, but their cathartic value is truly amazing.  Today's offering is Things Left Unsaid by Disciple.  Like a lot of other songs I want, it's a hidden bonus track on the special edition of the CD in question, and iTunes doesn't carry it.  Phooey.  In the meantime I'm stuck with YouTube.  I didn't make the video, so I can't be held responsible for any typos.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Ghosts, Part I

"We're Catholic; we don't believe in ghosts."

We've all heard it.  We might have even said it.  As Catholics, we do focus rather a lot on the minutia of the Four Last Things, insisting on categorizing and defining everything about them we possibly can.  Consequently, while we certainly believe in the existence of disembodied spirits, we like to think they are all neatly organized into their various compartments, Heaven, Hell and Purgatory.  But are they?

We know that demons "prowl about the world seeking the ruin of souls," in the words of the prayer to St. Michael the Archangel.  I remember a question raised in our theology class about the nature of Heaven, Hell, and Purgatory, namely whether they were physical places with boundaries outside this world or instead simply different states of being -- within the beatific vision, permanently deprived of the beatific vision, and temporarily deprived of the beatific vision.  I'm not qualified to make any conclusion and hope to do more research on the topic.  More on that later.

When someone today says, "My house is haunted," it sounds a little sketchy to those of us who have been conditioned to dismiss ghost stories.  But all he's really saying is that there is a spirit of some description loose in his home, which isn't so far-fetched.  Our friends and neighbors on the secular side of the fence are simply observing things the Church has recognized all along.

If you ask your average ghost hunter or paranormal enthusiast to describe different kinds of hauntings, you'll likely be told they come in two varieties, intelligent and residual.  Those of the intelligent variety are either benign or malignant.  For now we'll just consider the malignant ones, which are certainly the most urgent cases, and also the ones most thoroughly addressed in Catholic tradition.

Demons are most often responsible for malignant "hauntings."  Quite possibly they are always responsible.  There is apparently still a great deal of debate among exorcists and theologians as to whether damned souls can participate in demonic activities such as possessions and infestations.  The evidence would suggest that they can, but that evidence generally comes from the mouth of a victim of possession during exorcism, rendering it essentially useless.  The Devil is a liar, after all.

(I'm assuming, of course, that we all believe in Satan.  Contrary to popular belief, he was not suddenly done to death in the 1960s by the advances of modern science.)

The Devil acts in the world in a number of ways, ordinarily by temptation to sin, experienced on a daily basis by every human being since the dawn of time.  He also engages in a number of extraordinary activities which, like all things Catholic, have sophisticated names.

  • "Infestation" refers to demonic activity associated with places or things.  Catholics are more likely to give credence to a haunted house if it is instead called a case of demonic infestation.  The classic symptoms include everything on a ghost hunter's list: footsteps, bangs, voices, growls, cold spots, objects being moved or thrown, the feeling of being watched, strange smells and odors, power outages and surges, moving doors and windows.  Pets often respond negatively to a demonic presence in the home.
  • "Oppression" refers to any physical action or harm done by a demon, including beatings, scratches, pushing people out of bed or down stairs.  Many saints have experienced this.  Demonic oppression can also include the sabotage of the victim's work, health, or relationships.  The Book of Job in the Old Testament is a prime example.
  • "Obsession" is a kind of super-temptation, a mental attack which takes the form of an unnatural fixation or obsession, hence the name.  Italian exorcist Father Francesco Bamonte, quoted by Matt Baglio, says, "Some are thoughts and impulses that urge people to harm others; some make people think that only a pact with Satan can get them out of their troubles or bring them success; some are thoughts to profane the Eucharist; others are thoughts to drive one to suicide."  Obsession can also cause nightmares.
  • "Possession."  This is the one everybody knows about.  It's more common than most people think, but the rarest kind of extraordinary demonic activity.  I'll devote a whole post to this topic later.

With this background, those paranormal reality shows start to make more sense.  Don't laugh; it can be quite telling to see what the uncatechized have to say about the phenomena they witness.  My recent favorite is The Haunted by Animal Planet, a series of biographical sketches of families and their pets and the hauntings they encountered.  Once you get past all the sound effects and the sensational editing, at least half of them seem to be describing textbook cases of demonic infestation, oppression and obsession.  Some episodes include legitimate house blessings and exorcisms performed by Fr. Bob Bailey of St. Maria Goretti Parish in Pawtucket, Rhode Island.  Fr. Bob has apparently become the go-to priest for the mainstream paranormal scene, allegedly with the permission of his bishop.  

A generalized profile of an infested house is as follows.  There is usually an initial cause of the infestation, some involvement in the occult or hardened habitual sin.  This may predate the family currently in residence.  Many people describe an oppressive atmosphere in the home.  Small, inexplicable things happen: instruments play, doors open and close, objects move, pictures fall from the walls.  Pets become skittish, stressed, fearful, aggressive or overly protective.  Dogs fixate and bark at nothing.  Members of the family may see shadows or hear noises at night.  Some may have chronic nightmares.  There may be inexplicable temperature fluctuations.  In extreme cases, people claim to hear voices or see large black shapes, usually with red eyes, in the closet or in corners of the room or at the foot of the bed.  Members of the family may become severely depressed, have obsessive thoughts of suicide, or even attempt suicide.  Their condition may improve, however, when they are removed from the house.  The relationship between family members often becomes strained; disproportionate fights and arguments occur regularly for little or no reason.  This also can improve when the family leaves the house.  In cases in which the infestation predates the family in residence, some research into the history of the home may reveal other suicides.  Any one of these things might be explained away, but taken together they generally spell trouble.

If this sounds like your house, or a friend's house, schedule a house blessing as soon as possible.  Not just the holy water blessing, but the salt-throwing kind.  Father Amorth strongly recommends having blessed and/or exorcised water, olive oil and salt on hand in the home at all times.

Source Material

These are my two primary sources, An Exorcist Tells His Story by Gabriele Amorth (one of the leading exorcists in Rome), and The Making of a Modern Exorcist by Matt Baglio, both of which I highly recommend.  There is a bit of overlap, as Mr. Baglio also uses Father Amorth as a source.  Other books I've read on the subject include More Stories by Father Amorth, and Hostage to the Devil by Malachi Martin.  Hopefully I can broaden my library soon.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Stubborn Realities

"It's not real."

I remember hearing that explanation quite often when I was a kid.  Ghosts aren't real.  Witches aren't real.  Magic isn't real.  Spells aren't real.  Curses aren't real.  Don't worry, it can't hurt you because it doesn't exist.  My mother was very firm and practical about it, and I was satisfied with that.  After all, if we had a choice, most of us would prefer to live in a world in which dark spiritual complications don't exist.  Unfortunately, I've been doing a bit of research over the past few years, and guess what . . .

It's all real.

Growing up in a Catholic home, we never questioned the existence of Satan.  Demons were simply a fact of life, as were angels, heaven, hell, and purgatory.  That, however, was the extent of our awareness of the spiritual world.  To some degree we felt, like the rest of the modern population, that we lived in a rational scientific world in which things like witchcraft were at worst a pathetic waste of time.  Now, as I read the accounts of respected modern exorcists who deal with preternatural phenomena on a regular basis, I'm discovering that some of those things we dismissed in our childhood are actually very real and can be very dangerous.

But, before anybody decides to sleep with the lights on, rest assured the Catholic Church has an answer for all these problems.  Some people would prefer not to know about any of this for their own peace of mind, but ignorance is no protection.  I would rather be informed and have a plan of action before I am ever confronted by something the exterminator can't explain away.  Forewarned is forearmed, after all.

October is here.  That usually means people are picking out their pumpkins and fussing over children's costumes.  With Halloween and All Souls Day just around the corner, there's no time like the present to consider some of these spiritual realities which can be all too easy to ignore or forget.  I'll be posting about them all month.