Rev. Steve Sanchez

Rev. Steve Sanchez
Swedenborgian Minister

Monday, April 27, 2015

Part Two: Possession and Exorcism in Scripture and History Before and In the Time of Jesus

There were many other practices of a magical and malevalant character that were based on using the power of evil spirits, gods, or the power of the sender themselves. The purpose of these practices were usually to curse others, or to protect oneself from a curse. A common example of this throughout the mediterranean world is the practice of “the evil eye”. The gesture of pointing with the finger and staring was regarded as maleficent (Ogden p. 212). Below are a few examples of the evil eye from Biblical, apocryphal, and historical sources:

Do not eat the bread of one having the evil eye, do not desire their delicacies; for like a hair in the throat, so are they. “Eat and drink!” they say to you; but they do not mean it. You will vomit up the little you have eaten, and you will waste your pleasant words (Proverbs 23:6-8).
Remember that an evil eye is a bad thing. What has been created more evil than the eye? Therefore it sheds tears from every face (Sirach 31:12-13).
When one looks at what is excellent with an envious eye he fills the surrounding atmosphere with a pernicious quality, and transmits his own envenomed exhalations into whatever is nearest to him (Heliodorus (3rd c.) Thea.i.140).
Self-bewitchment is most frequently brought about by the streams of particles reflected from sheets of water or other mirror-like surfaces; these reflections rise like vapor and return to the beholder, so that he is injured by the same means by which he has been injuring others (Plutarch, Quaest. Conv. 682F).

Magic was not employed secretly by individuals (as we would tend to imagine today), but was publicly used by tribal leaders, kinship families, and kings in official activities for the purpose of destroying others. Kings of Isreal made public displays of divination, such as endowing magic powers to their arrows and shooting them toward the enemy in order to curse them. Public curses were also solemnly uttered against enemies before battles. These were believed to possess great power. Local and larger gods were invoked for this purpose, but it was also believed that individuals possessed the power to curse. David and Goliath cursed each other before battle. The ultimate curse was called the herem. It was a vow of total destruction on the enemy and everything he possessed, with the malicious intent of leaving no spoil.
These practices and many others paint a dark picture of the spiritual state of the time. The stifling, growing presence of evil in the historical and New Testament times corresponds to, and is a real manifestation of the terrible imbalance occurring in the spiritual world. All historians describe the strange nature and preponderance of evil spirits before the time of Christ, but do not address the cause of it. The long decline in the religion of humanity, the over accumulation of hereditary evil, and the resulting imbalance is the cause. In this imbalance evil spirits were able to wreck havoc and possess people in a way that is not normally allowed by the Lord’s divine order. There was a cruelty in the society that was commonplace.
Lets examine the nature and origin of these evil spirits as Swedenborg describes them in the spiritual world. The worst of these are called the genii, also known as naphelim, and anakim:

Those before the Flood who perished are in a certain hell beneath the heel of the left foot. Shutting them in is a rock enveloped in mist which is a projection of their dreadful delusions and persuasions, and by which they are segregated from all other hells and kept apart from the world of spirits. They are continually pressing to come up out of there but can never get beyond the attempt to do so. For they are such that if they were to enter the world of spirits with their dreadful delusions and with the choking and toxic effects of their persuasions, they would deprive every spirit they met, apart from good ones, of his ability to think. And if the Lord by His Coming in the flesh had not freed the world of spirits of that abominable crew the human race would have perished (AC 1266).

He further describes his personal experience of the genii while being protected by the Lord and His angels:

Presently some were let out of that hell; but the Lord made such a disposition by means of intermediate spirits and angels that they could do me no harm.
Their persuasions are of such a nature that they extinguish all truth and good, so that those into whom they flow can perceive nothing whatever, and after that cannot think; and therefore the other spirits were removed. When they began to flow in I fell asleep. Then while I slept they flowed in by means of cupidities, and this with such violence that if awake I could not have resisted them. In my sleep I was sensible of the vehemence of it, which I cannot describe, save that I afterwards remembered that they tried to kill me by a suffocating afflatus, which was like a terrible nightmare. (AC 1270).

One can imagine the havoc these spirits cuased when given free riegn during the imbalance. This is why there was such a paranoia and obsession amongst the people to rotect themselves against spirits and the dead. In the present day possession is not allowed as it was back then. In normal times it is a law of the Lord’s divine order that spirits cannot compel people on earth to their will, which means they are not allowed to possess. But this law was superceeded during the imbalance. It was an awful situation to live in, but the people grew up in it and were used to it, and didn’t know the difference.
We get a pictue of a practitioner of magical arts that was common in the streets of the city in the book of acts with a man called Simon.
For unclean spirits, crying with loud voice, came out of many that were possessed with them: and many taken with palsies, and that were lame, were healed.  And there was great joy in that city.  But there was a certain man, called Simon, which beforetime in the same city used sorcery, and bewitched the people of Samaria, giving out that himself was some great one: To whom they all gave heed, from the least to the greatest, saying, This man is the great power of God. And to him they had regard, because that of long time he had bewitched them with sorceries. But when they believed Philip preaching the things concerning the kingdom of God, and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women. Then Simon himself believed also: and when he was baptized, he continued with Philip, and wondered, beholding the miracles and signs which were done.
Simon is an example of the many magical practitioners that practiced among the people, but apearantly he was one of the better ones. He demonstrates the false leadership the people were seduced by, particularly in that they thought his power came from God. The episode gives the impression of a strange passivity the people operated under, which I think is a function of the imbalance and resulting partial loss of freedom. In this state there is a kind of niavita which I think results from being compelled by evil as I described above. This scripture also demonstrates how easily the people would have profaned in that it shows how inclined they were to magical arts. Simon himself changes his mind very easily (though perhaps not very deeply) when he sees the real work of Philip and Peter – implying he was run by evil spirits like a puppet. He reminds me of the Wizard of OZ in that he is dealing in deception and playing with evil, but he is not all bad in his heart. When Peter shows up a moment later on the scene he deals with Simon with great power and love. Simon sees Peter’s ability to heal the people of evil spirits, and Simon proposes to pay Peter that he might have these powers. He rejects this and assesses him severely and accurately, ‘your heart is not right with God…I see you are poisoned by bitterness and bound by inequity’. Yet Peter does not give up on him, but asks him to repent and pray, and there seems to hope that Smon will come around.

In daily life the people lived normal lives, receiving satisfaction and pleasure from their work, the enjoyment of nature, relationships, business, and regular activities. But it was a time of true apocalypse. The whole earth would have been gradually consumed in darkness, and heaven too, if the Lord had not come. This was not the first time that the universal church of humanity had come to an end, (another was the time of the flood and Noah). How all the universe changed after the coming of the Lord is a subject of great significance, and it will be described in part in a section below.
Realizing why the Lord came, and the darkness He faced, gives the observer of history and the Bible, key insight into the life of Jesus. To understand redemption, we must understand what we were redeemed from. Otherwise it is not possible to fully understand the mighty work that Jesus acccomplished from his own power.
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