New Dawn No. 114 (May-June 2009)
That isn't true - at least not always. If the
publishers don't like the title, they will change it.
Dossey had written on a provocative subject:
He called his book Toxic Prayer, but the publishers, Harper San Francisco (now Harper One), were extremely uncomfortable with this title.
They feared a backlash from fundamentalist Christians, who, they imagined, would take up arms against the idea that any kind of prayer could ever be harmful.
After an anxious discussion that went all the way to the top of the company's hierarchy, another, safer, though more flavourless title was chosen:
Whether the decision was a wise one or not (controversy sells books, after all), the whole story raises an awkward issue:
Of course it depends upon what you mean by prayer.
In the conventional
monotheistic view, prayer is addressed to the one true God
(or sometimes his subordinates, such as Mary or the saints or the
angels). Since God is all-good, he will either grant this
request if it is beneficial or ignore it if it isn't.
By this view, a thought, whether positive or negative or neutral, has effects that can be felt in the psychic dimension and sometimes physically as well.
This perspective, which takes us out of the sphere of religion per se and into that of magic, provides a far more equivocal picture of prayer.
This definition, while correct up to a point, is too general to be entirely adequate.
If I move a coffee cup around my table with my hand, I am effecting change in conformity with will, but no one would claim that that is magic as such. Magic has to do with effecting change by occult means - that is, by means invisible to ordinary sight and inadmissible by ordinary consciousness.
If I were to move the
same coffee cup around the table without touching it, this would
start to look like magic, since the cause of the movement, whatever
it is, cannot be seen.
Most occultists believe that there are unseen creatures inhabiting dimensions of reality that intersect with our own:
According to the magical world view, it's possible to engage with these creatures.
The magicians of the Renaissance, for example, evoked certain spirits using occult rites. If these spirits were approached the right way (through seals, signs, rituals, invocations, and so on), it was believed that they could be beseeched or, more often, forced to obey the magician's will.
The moral status of these
spirits was ambiguous - they were often thought to be demons - but
that could prove an advantage when there was dirty work to be done.
Taken from a fifteenth-century manuscript of necromancy found in Munich, it is designed to make someone lose his mind:
As unsavory as these practices may sound, they are universal or practically so.
Here is another example, this one from the other end of the world.
Max Freedom Long, the redoubtable investigator of the Hawaiian form of shamanism known as huna, discusses the death prayer as practiced by the shamans or kahunas:
Once a kahuna had some of these spirits under his will, he would offer them food and drink so as to imbue them with mana or vital force and then give them very specific instructions about what to do with this energy.
They might, for example, be told to find a given person and enter his body or attach themselves to it.
Once they had done this,
they would suck up the victim's vital force. When the victim died,
the spirits would return to their master, further strengthened by
having absorbed the dead person's mana.
There are a number of
ways of supplying it. In ancient times the method of choice was
blood sacrifice; as the victim's blood spilled, the vital force
would, as it were, evaporate so that the spirits could consume it.
He became involved with a
Hawaiian girl, who then ended her engagement with a Hawaiian boy.
The girl's grandmother, not trusting the young Irishman's
intentions, tried to break up the affair, but without success.
The pricking numbness that afflicted his feet gradually crept up his body, making him unable to move. The young man did not believe in magic or death prayers or any such nonsense, so he called in conventional American doctors.
They were unable to help him. The numbness had spread to his waist by the time an old doctor who had practiced in the islands for many years was summoned.
He recognized the symptoms of the death prayer, and making inquiries of the patient, soon learned about the girl and her grandmother.
The doctor paid a visit on the grandmother, who said,
The doctor tried to explain the situation to the still-unbelieving Irishman.
Although he resisted at
first, finally the patient was persuaded to take the grandmother's
advice. The same day he was able to walk again, and that evening he
caught a Japanese ship headed for the West Coast of the US.
Kahana, a Hawaiian ana'ana priest (priest of the dark forces), explained in an interview:
One detail in Long's story raises an issue that has long been disputed:
Dossey cites one researcher who contends that in such cases,
Long's story contradicts this claim.
The victim did not believe in such things and continued to scoff at them even as he was dying; moreover, nobody even told him that the death prayer had been aimed at him.
Attempting to write off such effects purely as a matter of suggestion would then be inaccurate (although it is easier for scientists to accept, since they feel obliged to dismiss actual occult causes from the outset).
Indeed Michael Harner, the noted scholar of shamanism, observed that the Jivaro shamans of South America prefer the victim to be unaware of the psychic attack, because then he would take no measures to counter it.
This second approach involves sending not spirits but thought forms - mental images infused with vital energy that can thus make their effects felt in the physical world.
The difference between the two methods is in the tools:
Admittedly, the line between these two types of magic can be a thin and wavering one.
In his Meditations on
the Tarot, a contemporary classic of Christian esotericism,
Valentin Tomberg writes that this method of creating a thought
form is precisely how you create a demon.
A desire that is perverse
or contrary to nature, followed by the corresponding imagination,
together constitute the act of generation of a demon.
One famous instance of the creation of an egregor is related by Alexandra David-Neel, a Frenchwoman of the early twentieth century who penetrated the then-forbidden country of Tibet to learn its occult practices.
By dint of intense meditation, she was able to generate the form of a monk that took on a quasi-autonomous existence and even made its presence felt to other people.
When the entity started
to make a nuisance of itself, David-Neel had to devote another
several months of intense meditation to destroying it.
Dossey mentions the case
of a patient of his, a woman afflicted with chronic fatigue
syndrome. The woman was domineering and manipulative while her
husband was extremely unassertive. He had always resented his wife;
after she fell ill, he started to hate her.
The man was overcome with
guilt, convinced that his hatred had killed his wife. He refused to
enter psychotherapy and instead joined an extremely conservative
fundamentalist church, where he was able to assuage his conscience
by believing that her death was the will of a wrathful God.
A four-year-old child, for example, may hate his brother and wishes he were dead. The brother then dies; the child then believes that somehow he was the cause of the death.
It is a version of the old logical fallacy,
Clearly not every case of misfortune can be traced to someone else's negative thoughts, even if that person really did have those thoughts. Nor is it absolutely clear what the determining factor might be, but it very likely includes the intensity of the desire.
A passing irritation that leads a person to say,
But when the thought is fed and nurtured with intense emotional energy, even unintentionally, it can begin to gain power.
The man who thought he
had killed his wife had probably directed a huge amount of hatred at
I had spoken to them about it, but it did no good except to change the source of the noise:
I felt the negative energy accumulating in myself, and although I intended no harm to them - I merely wanted them to stop disturbing me - a strange thing happened one day.
I put a letter in their mailbox asking them yet again to deal with these issues; it was the only time I ever did that. Then I drove to work as usual and was gone for the rest of the day, only getting back late in the evening.
The next morning I noticed something strange:
Neighbors later told me
that a truck had hit the tree that day, and it had to be taken down.
The coincidence was disturbing, and I had the uncanny feeling of being at psychic war with these neighbors; moreover I began to feel an intense psychic charge around my house.
A few months later, not
wanting the situation to escalate any further, I solved the problem
by moving away.
But like spirits, these
thought forms do require some energy or vital force in order to
The Dangers Posed by
In the first place, wishing for harm to someone else is remarkably common; one poll indicated that 5 percent of American surveyed had done it (and we have to assume that this is a low figure, since it only accounts for those who were willing to admit as much).
In the second place, it is remarkably dangerous. Indeed magical practices of any kind are dangerous, even when one's intention is reasonably pure; almost invariably something goes awry, producing results that are not exactly what you might have wanted.
Occult magic is rather
like trying to sculpt something out of nitroglycerin - a sloppy but
also highly explosive material.
Thus if you are creating
something negative, you can be sure that it will return to you in
some form or another, just as in huna the spirits return to the
kahuna after they have consumed a victim's energy. And they are not
always easy to control when they are aroused, even by their supposed
During a trip to the Mauna Loa volcano to collect native plants, Brigham found that one of his servants, a twenty-year-old boy, started to fall ill. Although there was ostensibly nothing wrong with him, he began to waste away and, like the Irishman, lost feeling in his legs.
The boy believed that he was being prayed to death, and Brigham's servants, who regarded him as a great kahuna, begged him to send the spirits back to the one who had launched them.
Finally, mustering a supreme concentration of power and will, Brigham let out a tremendous roar.
Soon the suffering boy
felt better, and in an hour he was up and eating. Later Brigham
learned that the kahuna who had sent the curse had neglected to
cover himself with the usual occult protection, and by the next
morning he was dead.
Otherwise the thought form will bounce off.
A positive mindset is a good start, so purging thoughts of hatred, judgment and violence from your mind is a necessity.
It's also helpful to clear away negative thoughts that are aimed at yourself:
If this kind of thinking
has been a lifetime habit, it may prove difficult to break, but even
the smallest efforts can bring results and will also create a
momentum that gradually builds.
But the exact technique you use is probably less important than the clarity and power you bring to the thought, so you will probably do best by experimenting which methods work for you.
Conventional prayers can also be employed, such as the Lord's Prayer, which after all includes the petition "Deliver us from evil."
Again, the specific form
of the prayer is not as important as whether it arouses a powerful
and positive emotional response in yourself.
For this reason, a
healthy, grounded, common-sense mindset may be the best protection