Shamanism is a way of knowing from antiquity which survives to this day. It appears a feat of a unique individual in a far away community (through space, culture, and time) yet at once appears in workshops at self-help healing spiritual centers alike. It comes in different forms, and all share some unique features that can bridge its many manifestations (for more information on that, I recommend Micheal Harner’s book “The Way of the Shaman”).
Demons and devils are common to our more localized myths and the grand stories of the vast Abrahamic religions. How do we deal with them? Many do not, seeing that they are imaginative stories or creatures who dwell in distant, unseen realms. Shamanism has tools to deal with the unseen both directly and indirectly. The Abrahamic religions do as well – in the stories of old, heroes rise up and, in the name of Our Father, stand against the legions of evil which attempt to take control and assume the role of G-d for their own empowerment. These stories may read like a history book, and one that is difficult to support empirically. Another way these tales may be read is symbolically and analogously; each thread corresponding with situations in our internal worlds (realms of emotion and instincts, often subconscious and unconscious). Like the devils in stories of old, spirits of evil within us may tempt us as we struggle to ascend in service of HaShem. This is true too for the mythical creatures of good – angels and sages – who may live within us and be cultivated.
This correspondence between the outer world of myths and the inner world of experience we may find useful guidance and stories coming to life.
I remembered the tale of one holy hermit who, in the night, suddenly heard the bellowing of various wild beasts and shortly afterwards saw the shapes of all manner of creatures coming towards him, and could hear the howling of wolves, croaking of ravens and grunting of pigs all around him. The servant of our Lord armed himself with the weapon of Christ’s crucifix and, clasping it in his hand, he scorned the threats of the demons, shouting at them; immediately all the accursed spirits had fled away.
The words he had used, taught to us by Eappa, rang clearly in my memory: ‘Oh you wretched, perverse spirits, your power is seen and your might is made known. Now, wretches, you take on the form of wild beasts, and birds and serpents, you who formerly exalted yourselves when you aspired to be equal to G-d. Now I command you in the name of the eternal Lord, who made you and flung you from the height of Heaven, to cease from this disturbance!’
via Brian Bates’ “The Way of Wyrd”, Part 1, Chapter 2: A Forest of Phantoms
In this passage, from a novel documenting Anglo-Saxon indigenous spirituality through the tale of a sorcerer’s apprentice, we see an example of demons in myths and the way they are handled. What do we find if we consider these fabled demons as being internal aspects of ourselves which wreak havoc and hold the qualities of these beings? States of being they are, and imagine if one handled them a similar way as the servants of our Lord from a land of myth. For one, that one would appear crazy! Better kept as a personal practice; how do you think your bad habit would react if you uplifted a religious (ritualized) symbol of personal significance and Power, clasped such a device in the face of those ‘demons’, scorned their threats and shouted at them as did the hermit cited in the Way of Wyrd…