Sacred Web vol 9
Sacred Web 9

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The Problems that result from locating Spirituality in the Psyche
by Rama P. Coomaraswamy

"As my body without my Soul is a Carcase, so is my Soul without Thy Spirit, a chaos, a dark obscure heap of empty faculties: ignorant of itself, unsensible of Thy goodness, blind to Thy glory: dead in sins and trespasses. Having eyes, I see not, having ears, I hear not."
       Thomas Traherne, Centuries 93

"The Subconscious, not the intellect, is the organ through which Man lives his spiritual life. It is the fount of poetry, music, and the visual arts, and the channel through which the Soul is in communion with God."
       Arnold Toynbee, A Study of History

"If we carefully consider the human soul in its nature, we see two different regions in it: the one belongs to the sensible order, the other to the supersensible or intellectual order. The sensible part of the soul is that which is common to men and animals; it includes the external senses and the internal senses which comprise the imagination, the sensible memory, and the sensitive appetites, whence spring the various passions or emotions which we call sensible love and hatred, desire and aversion, sensible joy and sadness, hope and despair, audacity, fear and anger. All this sensitive life exists in the animal, whether its passions are mild like those of the dove or lamb, or whether they are strong like those of the wolf or ox. Above this sensitive part common to men and animals, our nature likewise possesses an intellectual part which is common to men and angels, although it is far more vigorous and beautiful in the angel. By this intellectual part our soul towers above the body, and this is why we say the soul is spiritual. True intelligence which alone deserves the name of "intellect unqualified", is a faculty which, if it not be hindered as a result of insubordination on the part of the lesser faculties, its appointed handmaids, will fly straight to the mark. It does not think. It sees. The catalyzing of this power to see, which everyone bears within himself, whether he be aware of it or not, is the aim of spiritual method in every man."
       Marco Pallis, Private correspondence


Modernist misconceptions of Spirituality

Arnold Toynbee, in the passage quoted above, has clearly delineated the prevailing attitudes and convictions about the nature of "spirituality". This opinion however is a gross distortion, the consequences of which are fraught with dangers for those who legitimately seek out the "higher" things in life. Our psyches, which include not only our subconscious drives but also our egos and our thinking processes, are notoriously unstable in the sense that what we think or feel at any given time can easily shift and change. Moreover, they fail to embrace the totality of what we are as human beings. That spirituality should have its foundation on such "shifting sands" belies its intrinsic nature, for spirituality, if it be true and real, must be established on more solid ground. At the same time, the modern view ignores what is most central to our nature as human beings made in the image of God. It almost inevitably follows that spirituality has become divorced from religion, from true intellectuality, from reason, and even from common sense; and consequently some of the most bizarre cults unfortunately become characterized as religion.

One of the reasons for this view is that there is currently considerable confusion between "religions" and "belief systems". Indeed, there is an attempt on the part of certain academics to reduce all religions to belief systems, arguing that religions are merely belief systems that have somehow "caught on" and become accepted by large numbers of people and thereby become established as religions. But it is necessary to distinguish between these, for genuine religions are based on revelation which provide them with a fixed creed, code and cult that is independent of any individual thought or feeling, while belief systems not based on revelation are inevitably subject to human opinion. One recognizes of course that many founders of modern sects base themselves partially on what they might term "revelation"—accepting what they like and rejecting what they find offensive—and that almost all of them claim to be inspired by the "Holy Spirit". But the fact remains that all of them are based in part, if not completely, on the thinking and understanding of a human person. The problem is that such thinking and feeling resides in the psyche and is subject to illusion, a problem that can only be avoided by adhering to a fixed external source. Unfortunately, many representatives of traditional religions currently attack the revealed basis of their faith in an attempt to accommodate them to the values of the modern world, which in effect reduces them to the same level as other belief systems.

If one agrees that most of our belief systems are based on feelings and thoughts—all properties that, as will be shown, lie within the realm of the psyche—it follows that it becomes impossible to criticize any given belief system. As each person's psyche and thoughts can be argued to be of equal value as those of any other person, it follows that all religions and belief systems are of equal value because everyone's truth or beliefs—providing they do not create a problem for others—become acceptable. For one to claim that any given cult or religion is false would accordingly be an act of presumption. Moreover, it is thought that this kind of presumptive exclusive outlook has led to conflict and war—all in the name of God—and hence such attitudes must be eschewed. (It should be noted however that it is, as St. Paul said, "our lusts and our greed" that are the cause of war, and however much we like to indulge these in the name of gods or of ideals, they remain the root cause of conflicts.)  In the practical order, "whatever works" for an individual is considered acceptable. And indeed, psychiatrists are now recognizing that religion has its practical uses as a means of helping people face the problems of life, and, by providing for a belief in the afterlife, as a way of dealing with death.1

Many people prefer to describe themselves as "non-believers", but I have never in fact met a "non-believer". Most people believe, for example, in Evolution and that they themselves are the product of an ongoing evolution which makes them more intelligent than their ancestors. They believe in the inevitable Progress of mankind towards a united humanity which will be Socialist in its organization.(without however reducing their personal holdings). They admit that things aren't perfect yet, but with the help of Science such defects can be corrected. In essence, they are sincerely convinced in the perfectability of the world, and above all of man. This evolutionary secular "vision" was well described by H.G. Wells' Outline of History in the 1920s, which clearly replaced the principle of Gloria Dei—Glory of God—with the principle of Homo Mensura—man as the measure of all things. Many of the ideas of modern man may not be clearly thought out or formulated, but then the same might be said of the belief systems of many outwardly traditional people whose beliefs are simply accepted without much thought.

Behind all this confusion is a certain "self-image" of what we are as human beings. It is easy for philosophers to specify the origin of this self-image, but most people don't read philosophy or even think in terms of the nature of man. However, it is useful to have some idea of the philosophical background involved. Now in some ways one can trace this self-image back to the fall of Adam but, more immediately, we can start with Decartes. From Decartes we learned that all reality was encompassed and limited by what he called res extensa (basically, what had extension and therefore could be measured) and res cogitans (or what we could think about). Such ideas took some time to permeate society, but from the middle of the 1800s this Cartesian dualism has been the philosophical bedrock of scientific endeavor, as well as a great influence on all branches of academia and the political and social order.

Our self-image based on the Cartesian world-view is vastly different to that of the traditional world-view. Because of our convictions about progress and evolution we have blinded ourselves to other possibilities. The opinions of our traditional forebears might be studied as part of a historical survey—usually in a somewhat distorted form—but are rarely seriously considered as solutions to our modern problems. That would be foolish, like attempting to reverse the hands of the clock. And so it is that we remain stuck with our modern self-image and stubbornly refuse to consider other alternatives. It may surprise us to know that our modern self-image is not exactly new. For example, Boethius, in the fifth century, commented that those who think man is only an animal who reasons have forgotten who and what they are. Be this as it may, let us for a moment consider the more traditional ("traditional" in the sense of "handed down") view of man.

The traditional view distinguishes three aspects of man: Spirit, Psyche (which includes our usual thinking processes), and Body. The following table outlines these in various cultures:







Spiritus (Animus
vel Intellectus)










One should add that the Spirit in Hindu and Buddhist terminology is referred to as Atman; in Egyptian as Amon, in the Jewish tradition as Ruah2 and in the Chinese as Ch'i (Tai Ch'i or Wu Ch'i to avoid the limited meaning of Ch'i in martial arts). Again, the medieval theologians and physicians distinguished between Animus vel Intellectus (the spiritual foundation of man) and Anima (the psyche, including the mind or mental processes). It is unfortunate that the term "soul" is currently used interchangeably for both Animus and Anima, but such is perhaps inevitable since many contemporary theologians, while paying lip service to the spirit, in fact perceive the world in Cartesian terms.3

Even though traditional psychologies often speak of a tripartite anthropology, Psyche and Body are frequently classified together as the lesser "self" or "ego". Thus it is that we have St. Thomas Aquinas teaching "duo sunt in homine," ("there are two in man") and St. Paul speaking about the law of his members being opposed to the law of his mind (Rom. 7:23)4. In this scheme, the Psyche and the Body are conceptually merged for two reasons. First, the Body in se has no directive force. It needs some higher "power" such as the Psyche to direct it, or at least to go along with it. And, second, both Psyche and Body lack permanence or consistency in so far as they are always in flux, or in a state of what the theologians call "becoming." Note that traditional psychologies have equated the lesser self with the "ego". Theologians use the term "ego" in a slightly different sense than Freudian psychologists. Both groups agree that self-centeredness (which, when excessive, is termed by psychologists "malignant narcissism") resides in the ego. But while the psychologist speaks in terms of "ego strengths," the theologian sees egoity as equivalent to pride and seeks to control or convert this lesser self by having it accept the direction of the Spirit. Its refusal to do so renders the individual as "self-ish." In such a state, the lesser self or ego is in conflict with the Spirit, and thus many individuals are "at war with themselves." Now the ego resides in the realm of the Psyche (for it clearly is neither the Body nor the Spirit), and is in itself a very nebulous entity. It is "nothing but a name for what is really only a sequence of observed behaviours." Or again, in the words of Albert Ellis: "this 'I' is an ongoing ever changing process." Yet the Psyche (including our thoughts and how we see ourselves) is to a great extent organized around our egos. It is its very instability which makes this lesser self the subject of psychiatric endeavour.

As opposed to this lesser and potentially unstable "self" (the self or "selves" that psychiatrists and psychologists deal with and attempt to modify5), traditional psychologies hold that man also has a higher or inner Self. This inner Self, often distinguished by the use of a capital S, goes by many names, some of which have been listed above. It is seen as "divine," and is variously described as the "indwelling of the Holy Spirit," the Scholastic Synteresis, the Hindu "source of the breaths" or Atman, the Arabic Ruh, Philo's "Soul of the soul" and Plato's "Inner Man", among other examples. The traditional outlook further presumes that the average person is "at war with himself" precisely because these two selves (the unstable "self"/"ego" and the higher "Self"/"Spirit") are in conflict, and  true sanity or wholeness is ultimately to found only in the saint whose two selves are "at one"—the essential nature of "at-one-ment" or "atonement," a state in which the "lamb and the lion" can be said to lie down together. As Socrates prayed: "may my outer and my inner man be one." St. Thomas Aquinas tells us that tranquility and happiness can only result from the ordered life, by which he means that Spirit, Psyche and Body must be ordered properly—any departure from the hierarchy being sinful. It is in this sense that we speak of being in control of one-self, and so we admonish the distraught to "get hold of your self" or "pull yourself together." It is also in this sense that one can speak of some forms of mental illness as a "dis-order."6

On the practical level it is clear that one can center one's life in the Body, in the Psyche or in the Spirit. The latter of course demands that we not do "as we like," but "as we should." From a metaphysical viewpoint, to choose to center our lives in our psyches is to ascribe to ourselves the property of discerning what is true and false—and as the Jewish Fathers state, to make oneself the source of truth is the greatest form of idolatry. It is to declare that "we will not serve," that we are gods unto ourselves, a condition which in the last analysis is nothing other than pride.

Many New Age belief systems declare that we are in fact gods unto ourselves.7 And even those who declare that they will decide for themselves what is true are unwittingly being "gods unto themselves". It is important for us to understand in just what sense traditional religions envision the indwelling of God in man. Turning to St. Teresa of Avila's explanation, we are told:

"It is often of the greatest importance, that you should understand this truth, namely that God dwells within you and that there we should dwell with Him...Let us not imagine that the interior of our hearts is empty...And to understand how God is always present in our soul, let us listen to St. John of the Cross, another distinguished master of the science of the saints: "In order to know how to find this Bridegroom, we must bear in mind that the Word, the Son of God, together with the Father and the Holy Spirit, is hidden in essence and is present in the inmost being of the soul...And this is why St. Augustine, speaking to God, said: 'I do not find Thee without, O Lord, because I had no right to seek Thee there, for Thou art within.' God is therefore hidden within the soul." (A Spiritual Canticle, Stanza I)."8

St. Teresa cites John of the Cross at greater length, as he expounds his view that God may be present in the soul in three different ways:

"To explain this, it must be observed that there are three ways in which God is present in the soul. The first is His presence in essence, and in this respect He dwells not only in souls that are good and holy but likewise in those that are bad and sinful, and indeed, in all creatures; for it is this presence that gives them life and being, and if it were once withdrawn they would cease to exist and would return to their original nothing. Now this kind of presence never fails in the soul. The second manner of god's presence is by grace, when He dwells in the soul pleased and satisfied with it. This presence of God is not in all souls because those who commit a mortal sin lose it. The third kind of presence of God is by means of spiritual affection; for God is wont to show His presence in many devout souls in diverse ways of refreshment, joy and gladness."

St. Theresa comments as follows:

"Of the first kind of divine presence we can never be deprived. The second we must procure for ourselves with all the powers of the soul, and we must guard it at any cost. The third isn't within our power. God gives to whom he pleases."

To say that God dwells within each and every one of us is not pantheism. Indeed pantheism is a fairly modernist concept, for other societies who give God's many manifestations a variety of names, have, to our knowledge, never denied the unity of God. What then of pantheism?9 It is the idea that God is in everything and everything is in God—as such, no demands are made on us to either worship Him or conform to His commands. It is one thing to proclaim the immanence of God in all creation—for clearly He is immanent in all things-- and quite another to deny His transcendence. Both are realities. Transcendence without immanence cuts us off from the Divine, Immanence without transcendence cuts the Divine off from us. Both the Transcendent and the Immanent must go together because of the duality "Principle and Manifestation." While the Supreme Principle in itself is neither transcendent nor immanent, but "That which It is," from the perspective of the plane of manifestation, there must needs be a transcendent Creator, and the resulting creation must needs be embraced by immanence for its very existence. And both—transcendence and immanence—are united in the theophany in the Logos—the traditional concept of the Man-God. From our human point of view one can say that transcendence annihilates the manifestation, while immanence ennobles it. According to  tradition, on the one hand, transcendence reduces man to "sinner" and "slave", and on the other hand, immanence raises man's status to be the "child of God" and His "Representative" on earth. These two can be said to meet in the Man-God: for if, on the one hand, "God alone is Good", on the other, "He who has seen me has seen the Father".10

Those who recognize the indwelling of the Holy Spirit immediately recognize that Truth, Justice and a host of other values, cannot depend upon our feelings or even our personal thoughts. There has to be some external and objective source for criteria to which one can appeal, or to which one's thoughts can conform. This may be as a result of that immanence we have referred to above, or based on transcendent principles. Despite all the theories about the super-ego, patients, and each of us, often "know" when we are doing something wrong. As mentioned earlier, we have an intellectus vel spiritus (not to be confused with the commonly understood meaning of intellect which is merely a synonym for reasoned thought) that can direct our thoughts and will. The problem is that when one relies on "immanence," one rens the risk of error, for the Intellectus can be distorted, or in St. Paul's famous terminology, "we see through a glass darkly."  Before the Fall, Adam "walked and talked with God."  His intellect had a clear vision and understanding of Truth and Reality. After the Fall his disobedience and self-will clouded his intellect, leading to his expulsion from Paradise. Adam, originally made in the "image and likeness" of God, lost that likeness which it is our task to regain. Our intellects, while capable of apprehending Truth and Reality, are distorted by our passions and personal opinions. Hence it follows that, unlike Adam who before the Fall had an experiential immediacy of access to God, we—humanity after the Fall—have need of a Revelation which provides us with a clear cut-source of Truth, direction and access to transcendence.

Freud found that patients did in fact have a sense of right and wrong. Being a convinced Cartesian, which precluded the possibility of his allowing for a "superconsciousness," Freud had to find the source for this sense in what he called the "super-ego" which he related to the subconscious and the ego—formed, in his view, by both societal and parental pressures. Granted that our morality is greatly influenced by family and society, but it is also based on external principles—something Freud philosophically denied, necessitating his development of the theory of the super-ego. Jung conceded the existence of God, but then postulated that God and the various "archetypes" were all  rooted in the subconscious. We are in many ways the prisoners of a psychology based on Cartesian principles, and though at times we may use our innate faculty of the Intellectus, in the practical order we deny its existence.

We have earlier made a distinction between a "religion" and a "belief system" in that a religion is based on Revelation, on a code, cult and creed that is fixed and external to the individual. Indeed, Webster's Dictionary defines a religion as an "adoration of expressed in formal worship in obedience to divine commands..."(emphasis added). A "belief system", by contrast, is based upon what some individual has thought was worthy of belief, and frequently is accepted because the "collective unconscious" of the prevailing society finds it acceptable. As mentioned above, there is a tendency among scholars to regard true religions as popularly established "belief systems", but this fails to recognize the nature of true religions.11

To subject man to the necessity of obedience to divine commands immediately arouses the protests of those who declare the individual mind to be free and not subject to any external authority. These protesters insist that all matters are subject to the human mind which is free to decide all things for itself. And this is understandable in one whose whole outlook is based on the Cartesian dualism of Body and Mind. If those are the only components of man, then indeed, the protest might be valid, for the mind and body of any one individual has no more authority necessarily than that of any other.12

This tendency to place not only good, but also evil within the realm of the Psyche has increasingly been accepted in the public arena. As a result one rarely hears evil spoken of, for evil implies a choice which evolutionary reductionism to a great extent denies. Evil is seen as the end result of childhood traumas or societal pressures. The fact that man is endowed with an Intellect (to know the Truth and what is right and wrong) and a Will (by which he can choose between right and wrong) is almost forgotten. Belief systems based on the Psyche rarely have a fixed morality with which to face such realities. Indeed, our moral codes are to a great extent based on public opinion which, of course, can be easily manipulated.

One direct result of the Cartesian outlook which places values and spirituality in the realm of the Psyche is that we no longer have a basis for morality. Having served on ethics committees at hospitals, it is clear to us that decisions are made by vote, never on principle. This is not to deny that those involved do their best and vote according to their conscience, but only to say that any person's conscience is only as good or as bad as his neighbor's. More recently Princeton University has hired a Dr. Singer who has developed new criteria for deciding about the life and death of children, namely determining if they are "sentient." Have we forgotten that similar criteria were used by the Nazis to slaughter schizophrenics and others in mental hospitals?

Another major problem that results from the Cartesian outlook is a false spirituality, a spirituality based more on feeling than on principle, a spirituality grounded in the Psyche rather than the Spirit. Many people, aware of the fact that crass materialism is insufficient to satisfy a certain inner hunger, seek for something "spiritual" in their lives. Where to look? The tendency is to seek for an answer in the realm of the Psyche, and not in the Spirit, whose existence is denied.13 They turn to music, art, or a host of other interests such as ecology, ecumenism and world government, many of which they label as having their source in the "spirit," but which in the long run do not satisfy their hunger for something real. And those who guide them—often for a hefty price—are happy to keep their search sequestered in the realm of the Psyche. Religion has become a discouraging collection of cliches and sentimentalities, more concerned with social issues than with Truth. Our religious spokespersons are no longer trusted or respected, for they too, despite lip service, are Cartesians.

The Psyche can never be synonymous with the Spirit. The Psyche is a level of being based on the subject/object polarity, where "objective" experience is conditioned by the "subjectivity" of the experiencer. Spirit or Intellect, on the other hand transcends this polarity. We can describe it as perfectly Objective, since it is what it is whether or not I am aware of it, and whether or not I accept it. The Absolute is like a "ray" of the Divine intersecting with the human soul, and as such it is the ultimate witness of all that is happening, either on the plane of the Spirit or within the Psyche. The important thing is that it transcends one's individual subjectivity, for we always tend to "see through a glass darkly".

Placing spirituality in the Psyche has many other consequences. Not only is our morality completely subjected to public opinion, but dying patients are supported in group therapy based on these same principles—for example, they are taught and encouraged to engage in self-hypnosis which allows them to damn their souls in complacency. Again, various methods of "meditation" and "yoga" are taught which also allow for self-hypnosis, and not infrequently leave the soul open to invasion by negative influences. While little spoken of, it is known that those so engaged can at times have severe psychiatric problems. The opening of the Psyche to external influences, the nature of which is poorly understood, is always of great danger (and clearly forbidden by all the religions) as there are evil forces both within and outside us, against which the Psyche in isolation has very poor defenses.14

Another resulting problem is that religion is viewed as something that should be psychologically studied, which is in fact an inversion since the higher should always delineate the lower. This attitude is embraced in a variety of ways. Thus for example, Dr. Hans Naegeli Osjord explains:

"Modern psychology and psychiatry place any exorcistic effort into categories of persuasion, i.e., conveyance of a (counter-) opinion to convince the patient; suggestion, direct influence of the emotion and imagination of the patient, and auto-suggestion, a change of opinion and perception accepted by an essential part of the personality."15

Or again, Delacroix, on the basis of his own investigations of St. Teresa, Madame Guyon, St Francis de Sales, St. John of the Cross and Heinrich Suso, concludes that the mystic possesses a peculiar aptitude that is founded in an unusually rich subconscious life:

"Although undoubtedly subject to exceptional and inescapable physiological and psychological processes, including the automatisms and intuitions of the subconscious self, the mystic uses them toward a self-chosen end: the total transformation of the personality."16

While this well recognized author wrote in 1908, this attitude is still pervasive, and colors the thinking of many psychologists and clergy.17

Akin to this is the current phenomenon of using various forms of meditation for supposed psycho-physical benefits. That such benefits are associated with spiritual practices is obvious, but to divorce such practices from the purposes for which they were intended risks creating serious problems. The use of mantras, the meaning of which is unknown to the individual (and which are sometimes chosen by computer!) has resulted in some "TM" practitioners being hospitalized in psychotic states. The use of Yoga for health reasons can be of some benefit, but also is not always benign. Yoga, which derives from an etymology signifying "yoke" or "union", ultimately aims at union with God, and in India would never be practiced apart from a qualified spiritual director. Practices involving the "emptying" of the mind without such direction allows for self-hypnosis and the possible invasion of inferior forces.

These problems are by no means limited to the western world. Consider the case of Sai Baba who is said to have 20 million Hindu followers as well as many western disciples, and who informs us that he is the reincarnation of a saintly Sai Baba who lived some 100 years ago. His firm belief in reincarnation departs from the orthodox Hindu doctrine and is a hallmark of Spiritist belief.18 In addition, Sai Baba performs magical tricks which are taken for miracles, as if any saint would perform miracles simply for the purpose of impressing his followers. He maintains links with New Age gurus in America who send him disciples. He is also alleged to be an active homosexual, though this is denied.19 Or again, consider the Ashram of Sri Aurobindo, where prayer is forbidden, and where many of the more well-known New Age "lights" in California have their roots—to say nothing of the fact that Catholic priests like Father Bede Griffith have tried to blend their beliefs with his. Or again, consider the innumerable "gurus" who wander the world teaching Spiritist principles and claiming these to be Vedantic in origin.20 It is important to understand that we are in fact facing this subversion on a worldwide basis.

Spiritism is in fact an excellent example of  "false religion". We label it "false," not because we personally disbelieve its tenets, but because it is not based on any immanent or transcendent principle, but only on what has been found in the Psyche of certain individuals. It should be clear that Spiritists—and indeed, most modern cults that pass for religions—do not base their beliefs on any body of doctrine, and indeed such is impossible within the framework of their roots. This lack of creedal stability is one of the hallmarks of non-revealed religion. Faith, instead of being defined as what traditional doctrine based on Revelation teaches, is reduced to any warm feeling. A recent essay in the New York Times (May 20, 2000) points out that "the boundaries separating denominations have long since grown blurry for many Protestants, who say that being Methodist or Presbyterian or Baptist does not really matter to them or, indeed, that they are not sure what it means." The article further comments that this is "not really surprising...denominations were based, after all, on distinctions of social class, region, ethnicity, and race, along with (perhaps more than) distinctions of doctrine, practice and policy...mobility, education, intermarriage and the common media-borne culture of entertainment and advertising have all taken their toll on these differences."  Unfortunately, the Catholic Church is currently joining this trend in its desire to unite itself with the various Protestant groups. A union such as Vatican II envisions, demands that creedal differences be suppressed if not abolished. Paralleling this change in attitude is a tendency to make religion a matter of feeling. One sees this particularly in the various Charismatic and ecumenical movements which eschew doctrinal distinctions and are clearly built on emotionalism.

All this can be delineated in yet another way: by considering the post modernist outlook on religion. In essence, this outlook is as follows: (1) There is no objective truth, therefore (2) reality is not perceived but rather constructed, by inherent patters of perception, or by history, or by society and language, or by the individual. It follows that (3) all attempts to create comprehensive world views that transcend history, or society, or even (ultimately) the individual are oppressive. Therefore, (4) all such arbitrarily constructed world views should be deconstructed in order to celebrate diversity and preserve the rights of marginalized minority constructions of reality (which, of course, since they too are constructed must also be deconstructed. So much for the preservation of minority rights. Postmodernism inevitably ends in deconstructionism, and deconstructionism ends (or hopefully will) in the deconstruction of deconstructionism.

A Deeper Examination of Spiritism

Most individuals, have a desire for truth. This thirst cannot be dismissed as a psychological aberration. As Aristotle said, "All men desire to know." In the scientific world of which we are products, the idea of immortality is much scoffed at, and so this search for something real frequently takes the form of desiring to have some knowledge of what happens to us after death. There is however, no greater danger than to seek for Truth within the realm of the Psyche. The reason for this is that the Psyche lacks stability within any given individual, and is itself subject to the various passions. But once one has rejected the possibility of anything higher in man than his feelings and thinking processes, where else can one look? And it is here that many fall into a bottomless pit. It is little recognized to what extent psychiatrists have explored the world of the Psyche in seeking for some greater understanding—an understanding that can only be derived from the Spirit of God. Thus for example Sonu Shamdasani in her introduction to Theodore Flournoy's "From India to the Planet Mars" tells us:

"At the end of the nineteenth century, many of the leading psychologists—Freud, Jung, Ferenczi, Bleuler, James, Myers, Janet, Bergson, Stanley Hall, Schrenck-Notzing, Moll, Dessoir, Richet, and Flournoy—frequented mediums. It is hard today to imagine that some of the most crucial questions of the "new" psychology were played out in the seance, nor how such men could have been so fascinated by the spirits. What took place in the seances enthralled the leading minds of the time, and had a crucial bearing on many of the most significant aspects of twentieth century psychology, linguistics, philosophy, psychoanalysis, literature, and painting."21

In the subsequent period the involvement of psychiatrists in Spiritist or spiritualist studies varied between those who, like Freud, were committed to a more or less completely materialistic viewpoint, and those who, like Jung (as Dr. Richard Noll has demonstrated) became deeply involved with the world of spirits.22 This dichotomy remains within modern psychiatry even today, with "authorities" like Kubler-Ross, whose influence on thanatology or the treatment and assistance of dying is pervasive. Kubler-Ross, a committed spiritualist, communicates with the spirits of the dead and encourages those facing death to rejoice because they also will be able to continue living in another form while waiting to be reincarnated once again on earth.23 Lest one think this individual represents a "fringe" aspect in modern psychiatry, I offer the comments in 1976 of Dr. Robert Gibson, who the following year became the president of the American Psychiatric Association:

"I know Dr. Ross, and I cannot find words to express fully my tremendous admiration for her contributions to our understanding of the final stages of life. Her research in death and dying is remarkable. It will have enduring value for decades to come."

This same individual, the author of several books and many articles, was asked to testify before Congress on the subject matter of treating the dying. She, along with Dr. Moody and others, have also been involved in the study of  "near death" experiences. Near death experiences—and these are by no means always pleasant—are entirely within the psychic realm, as is clear from the fact that they can be analyzed by the discursive intelligence.

What is the attraction of belief in "spirits"? For people brought up in a materialistic world, it provides the comfort of immortality, the sense that life goes on and isn't over when we die. This is also particularly consoling to those who have lost loved ones and have been left behind. At the same time such beliefs make few demands about how one is to live one's life, for concepts such as sin and evil are mitigated by the fact that the spirits are themselves evolving to ever higher states of existence. This seeking for contact with the dead is very much with us, as is well illustrated by the episcopalian Bishop Pike who died in the Israeli desert while attempting to contact his recently deceased son.

Many will protest that they are not themselves "Spiritists," and certainly there are many different varieties of Spiritist belief systems running all the way from Theosophists, Santoria and Voodoo, to New Age cults and Reincarnationists. What do these all have in common?  It is their belief that one can communicate with the dead. It is believed that the "spirits" of the dead act on matter and produce physical phenomena such as knockings and noises and a host of other paranormal phenomena. These actions are indirect and exercised through the intermediary of a living person who is called a "medium."24 Their conception of the human being is ternary in that they distinguish between the "spirit" (not the Spirit of God, indeed, this spirit is never clearly defined), the "perispirit" (a kind of "aura" which some claim to see) and the body. Nothing changes with death except that the body disappears. The spirit itself remains exactly the same as in life except  "disincarnated." Such an understanding allows for communications to occur. These "spirits" may be described as more evolved or higher "souls," but in all cases, it is some dead person providing  wisdom or what passes for wisdom. It may surprise some that we include Reincarnationists within this category, but most Spiritists hold that the spirits evolve from lower to higher stages, and are reborn in this world as part of their continuous development and progression.

While haunted houses have been with us since time immemorial, it would appear that Spiritism developed with the Fox sisters who lived in a haunted house in Rochester, New York, a house in which a murder had occurred and in the basement of which a skeleton was subsequently found. The Fox family publicly advocated belief in "spirits," and when they ran into opposition, the Quakers came to their support.25 In France the movement was given impetus by the publication of the books of Allen Kardec—whose writings to this day provide the Santoria movement with their intellectual foundation. Kardec was actually an individual named Hyppolyte Rivail, who on the "advice of the spirits" adopted the Celtic nom de plume of Allen Kardec, and whose actual writings were the production of a group of Spiritists who wished to remain anonymous.

Spiritists believe they are taught by the "spirits" they are in touch with, and they do not hesitate to claim that these teachings are in fact a "revelation." If this statement seems a little extreme, one has only to examine the Theosophical beliefs in the "Masters" who are highly evolved spirits, and whose teaching and direction is so greatly respected. Spritists even go so far as to state that the founders of genuine religion (such as Christianity) were men who were very powerful mediums, seers and wonder-workers combined. They diminish miracles to the measure of the phenomena that are produced in their seances, prophecies to the messages they receive, and the Gospel healings to what can be demonstrated by Charismatics. If some of the messages received are rather trite, Spiritists explain this by referring to "inferior spirits" and even "rogue spirits," who are less "evolved," and point to the teaching of the "superior" or more evolved "spirits" as more pertinent. Yet even these communications are closely related to the ideas that are current in the milieu in which they are formulated, and indeed one suspects that the real source of these communications is to be found in the subconscious of those who are present, and above all in the subconscious of the medium. Thus for example, reincarnation was acceptable in France while Anglo-Saxon Spiritists initially rejected it with vigor. Kardecism (the works of Allen Kardec), retains traits of Socialism as it was born in the socialist milieu of 1848. The point is important, for Spiritism was surprisingly acceptable in Communist circles because it preached Bolshevism!26

Mention has been made of Reincarnation which first came upon the scene in the middle of the 19th century. Prior to that time it was virtually unheard of. Madam Blavatasky adopted it from the French Spiritists and brought it to England as part of Theosophy. She also introduced reincarnationist ideas into India where they were surprisingly acceptable, especially among the better -educated (English). It should be clear that no orthodox religion teaches such a  doctrine, though there are passages in both Scripture and in other religions that can be given a reincarnationist interpretation. Now, what is extraordinary is that both Spiritists and reincarnationists consider that what survives is the individuality of the deceased. One loses one's physical body, and then one's astral body (akin to the perispirit), but retains one's individuality and, if reborn, while maintaining the same individuality, one assumes yet another body in which to evolve further. Nowhere is it clear what the end process of all this evolving is, but what is clear is that the whole idea of a heaven or hell is destroyed. Again, in this "astral world" there is no room for demons or evil spirits, for there is nothing in this intermediate world but human beings in various stages of evolution.27

There are of course many varieties of Spiritists, and also of reincarnationists. Some insist that the same gender is retained throughout various reincarnations, while others deny this or claim that gender is alternated with each earthly visit. Again some claim that humans are reincarnated on other planets and Allen Kardec felt that, after a series of earthly reincarnations, one finally achieved a planetary one. Theosophists claim that only terrestrial reincarnations are possible.

We have mentioned how pervasive Spiritist ideas are. For example, Anna Lea, foundress of the Shaker movement claimed that she was in touch with "spirits" who assisted her. The Mormons also claim contact with entities outside of this world, namely an angel named Moroni. They further believe that when they die, they go to a special planet and live in glass houses. The founder of the Quaker movement had visions or hallucinations that today would land him in a psychiatric hospital.28 Many cults and believers of witchcraft29 fall into this category.30  A recent text entitled Psychology and Religion, published with the approval of the America Psychiatric Society, while not openly promulgating Spiritist teachings, clearly places "spirituality" in the realm of the Psyche and repeats all the false notions that primitive man developed his religious ideas because of his fear of Nature's forces. The attempts to define "spirituality" in this text gives proof to all we have said. And of course, this simplistic approach leaves the way open to all the other aberrations. Truly the number of cults offering or promising a false spirituality is legion.31

Many of these ideas have infiltrated the Catholic Church, bringing it closer to the level of current "spirituality." Mention has already been made of the Charismatics whose Glossolalia is so highly praised—forgotten is the fact that Glossolalia has always been considered a symptom of diabolical possession. (Cf. Knox, Enthusiasms), theCursillo movement, Renew and a host of similar programs that periodically change their names. Catholic colleges are teaching "Enneagrams" in the same vein as Jung and Gurdjieff, to determine personality and spirituality types. Recently I came across a city boy attending a Catholic retreat who was sent on an American Indian "vision quest"—three days alone in the mountains. We could give countless examples of similar situations.

An important outgrowth of the Spiritist movements is the purposeful intent of individuals to make contact with the Spirits. Here we run into the problem of "Channeling," that is, to invite spirits to use one as a channel so that their "teachings" can be shared with others. Here it is no longer the spirits of the dead, but any spirit at all that may be wandering around in the intermediate plane—like "a lion, seeking whom he may devour." Clearly, to invite such "spirits" to enter one's life is to invite, not just the dead, but demons (who are skilled in presenting themselves as "angels of light") into one's soul—again, into one's Psyche and body, since demons by definition cannot attack the Spirit of God that dwells within us. It is no wonder that all the revealed religions forbid such activities.

Given the fact that devils do exist, it is clear that they cannot attack the Spirit. While they can attack the body in isolation, it is the lower soul or Psyche that is, as it were, their playground. While the will remains free, they can, through the memory, imagination and passions, influence the will. If one lacks the safeguards that a truly religious culture provides—what would be called in Christianity the "sacramentals," and above all, if one denies the influence of the Spirit and places the Psyche at the apex of one's being, one is clearly open to whatever influences the devil may wish to exert.

It is clear then that our philosophical beliefs inevitably color our views of religion. Our conviction that man is nothing but a rational animal who has evolved over the centuries to his present high estate; our conviction that, being more intelligent than our forefathers, we cannot turn to them for wisdom but can only look ahead to some perfect future when the perfection of man will be complete; our belief that there is nothing in man that surpasses his Psyche and thinking processes; all this forces us to place the Spiritual in the realm of the Psyche, and precludes the possibility of our looking beyond these limited horizons.32 It is not that everything in the Psyche is bad, but that there can be no integral humanity which does not take into consideration the whole man. The Jewish Fathers taught that the worst form of idolatry was to assume to oneself the right to determine what is true and false. This indeed occasioned the fall of Adam and it is nothing other than that pride and egoity which displaces the divine with the human. The net result is that many who have a thirst for what is real are led into the dark pit of the Psyche—well described by both psychoanalysis and spiritual writers—and never find their way out. "By their fruits ye shall know them." Modern man has lost all the safeguards that were once provided by religion against spiritual delusion, and not only becomes enmeshed in a variety of cults that range from the benign to the diabolical, but actually succumbs to become a channel for inferior influences—remembering that the devil can appear as an angel of light. Even at best, these tendencies discourage us from seeking the "one thing needful"—for by their influence we forget that the Kingdom of God is within us, and that the aim of spirituality is to say with St. Paul, "I live not I, but Christ lives in me."


1 Psychoses expressed in religious forms are a natural result when sick people have been brought up in a religious atmosphere. As Dr. William Wilson says: "In summary, it can be said that religions or religious experiences do not play a significant role in the etiology of schizophrenia. Religion can and does influence behavior as a result of its effect on the content of the patient's thinking. Because of the blunted effect associated with schizophrenia, religious experiences are uncommon once the psychopathology has developed. They do, however, occur frequently in psychotic state...Symptomatically, religion colors the illness of both manic and depressed patients. Religious beliefs can profoundly color the behavior of manic patients because their increased affective tone and energy may act on their religious delusions...These delusions are exaggerations of normal religious beliefs and impulses, in contrast to those of schizophrenics that are bizarre and autistic. Many patients are often moved to preach, pray long prayers, indulge in exaggerated liturgical exercises, and are witness to the marvels of their religious experiences to any and all who will listen."  William Wilson.  Religion and Psychoses in Handbook of Religion and Mental Health, Ed. Koenig. Academic Press, 1998.

2 The term Ruah is also translated as "life breath," and the discussion of this term by Neil Gillman (The Death of Death, 1997, Jewish Lights, Woodstock, VT., USA) parallels the Hindu teachings about Prana.

3 A clear exposition of this can be found in William of Thierry's The Golden Epistle of Abbot William of St. Thierry to the Carthusians of Mont Dieu, tr. Walter Shewring, London, 1930. Another example is provided by Duns Scotus: "The woman is the rational soul (anima), whose husband (literally vir or 'man'—with the connotation of 'active power'—not maritus or onjunx) is understood to be the animus, which is variously named now intellect (intellectus), now mind (mens), now animus and often even spiritus. This is the husband of whom the Apostle speaks "the head of the woman is the man, the head of the man is Christ and the head of Christ is God."  In other words, the head of the anima is the intellectus, and the head of the intellectus is Christ. Such is the natural order of the human creature. The soul must be submitted to the rule of the mind, the mind to Christ, and thereby the whole being is submitted through Christ to God the Father...Spirit revolves perpetually about God and is therefore well named the husband and guide of the other parts of the soul, since between it and its creator no creature is interposed. Reason in turn revolves around the knowledge and causes of created things, and whatever spirit receives through eternal contemplation it transmits to reason and reason commends to memory. The third part of the soul is interior sense, which is subordinate to reason as the faculty which is superior to it, and by means of reason is also subordinate to spirit. Finally, below the interior sense in the natural order is the exterior sense, through which the whole soul nourishes and rules the fivefold bodily senses and animates the whole body. Since, therefore, reason can receive nothing of the gifts from on high unless through her husband, the spirit, which holds the chief place of all nature, the woman or anima is rightly ordered to call her husband or intellectus with whom and by whom she may drink spiritual gifts and without whom she may in no way participate in gifts from on high. For this reason Jesus says to her, 'Call your husband, come hither.'  Do not have the presumption to come to me without your husband. For, if the intellect is absent, one may not ascend to the heights of theology, nor participate in spiritual gifts."  Translation of Christopher Bamford in The Voice of the Eagle, Lindisfarne Press, 1992. Again, Origen teaches "Let us see also allegorically how man, made in the image of God, is male and female. Our inner man consists of spirit and soul. The spirit is said to be male; the soul can be called female. If these have concord and agreement among themselves, they increase and multiply by the very accord among themselves and they produce sons, good inclinations and understandings...The soul united with the spirit and, so to speak, joined in wedlock...";

4 "Mind" is another ambiguous term, and is often used to translate the Greek nous or pneuma. Clearly St. Paul is not here speaking of "mental processes."  The previous verse makes this clear as Paul speaks of the "law of God, according to the inward man."

5 The use of the plural "selves" is most appropriate as the innumerable currrent attempts at explaining the nature of the self make clear. How could it be otherwise when this self is always in a state of flux—always becoming?

6 Medieval psychiatrists—however differently titled—viewed psychiatric illness as originating in the Body; in the Psyche, or in some distortion of the Spiritual side of man.

7 For example, the contemporary religious preference is universal and non-sectarian, best portrayed as perennial wisdom or philosophy. Typically, it is not premised on piety, nor worship. Rather in Campbell's words, "The contemplation of life thus is undertaken as a meditation on one's own immanent divinty" (cited in B. Karasu, Spiritual Psychotherapy, American Journal of Psychotherapy, Vol 53, No. 2, Spring 1999).

8 This and the following quotations are taken from St. Theresa of Avila's Pater Noster.

9 Pantheism is a philosophical conception that amounts to a kind of atheism adorning the world with the name of "God". A pantheism which includes a kind of vague theism also exists among liberal theologians as well as among Westernized Hindus, who deduce crude simplification from the symbolism of their Scriptures.

10 This brings us back to the issue of prayer: one cannot pray to oneself, but only to a transcendent God.

11 All the great religions—Islam, Hinduism, Judaism and Christianity—clearly declare that they are based on Revelation. Adherence to Revelation is not a "fundamentalist" position (as currently understood, for the term's meaning has changed over the years). In contrast to "fundamentalism", "orthodoxy" is defined as "true faith and sound doctrine." Religious orthodoxy is rooted in Revelation. As Cardinal Manning stated  (The Four Great Evils of the Day, 1872, many editions): "Revelation of faith is no discovery which the reason of man has made for himself by induction, or by deduction, or by analysis, or by synthesis, or by logical process, or by experimental chemistry. The revelation of faith is a discovery of itself by the Divine Reason, the unveiling of the Divine Intelligence, and the illumination flowing from it cast upon the intelligence of man; and if so, I would ask how can there be variance or discord?  How can the illumination of faith diminish the status of the human reason? How can its prerogatives be violated? Is not the truth the very reverse of all this? Is it not the fact that human reason is perfected and elevated above the self by the illumination of faith?".

12 It was Protestantism which formalized taking the decision-making process about Truth out of the hands of the Church and placed it in the individual's own thinking process—for the "free interpretation" of Scripture was nothing other than the application of private opinions to standard understanding. Of course the forces favoring this formalization were in the air-- Huss, Wycliffe, and others—and were fostered by corruptions in the body of the Church which gave rise to resentments, to say nothing of the economic forces at play which led the German princes to back Luther.

13 Albert Storr, for example, posits a return to self through solitude, which allows a way of putting the individual in touch with his deepest feelings. Solitude, a Return to Self, New York, Ballantine Books, 1988.

14 The close ties of Yoga with New Age cults is well recognized.

15 Possession and Exorcism New Frontier Center, 1988, p. 45

16 See Psychology of Religion, David Wulff, p. 23

17 The tremendous resistance to accepting the proper relationship between religion and psychiatry is well illustrated by the following quotation from Aldous Huxley: "I had motives for not wanting the world to have meaning, consequently assumed that it had none, and was able without any difficulty to find satisfying reasons for this assumption. For myself, as no doubt, for most of my contemporaries, the philosophy of meaninglessness was essentially an instrument of liberation. The liberation we desired was simultaneously liberation from a certain political and economic system and liberation from a certain system of morality. We objected to the morality because it interfered with our sexual freedom."

18 It is true that many Hindus believe in reincarnation, but then, so do many Catholics. The ideas of reincarnation were introduced into India by Annie Besant and is supported by the misinterpretation of statements in some of the sacred writings. There is however nothing in the Vedas to support this theory. See Ananda K. Coomaraswamy, Hinduism and Buddhism, second edition, IGNCA, Delhi India, 1998, and his many references in Volume 2 of Selected Papers, Metaphysics, Bollingen Series, Ed. Roger Lipsey, Princeton Universtiy Press.

19 Tal Brooks, The Avatar of Night: The Hidden Side of Sai Baba, Delhi: Vikas/Tarang, 1982. It may seem tenacious to point to his homosexuality; however there is a high correlation between the various cults and sexual inversion. Homosexuality and sodomy is forbidden in all the genuine traditions. It might be said that Mr. Brooks' experience was negative, but this touches the heart of the matter, for it was hardly a real Hindu experience. Not only does Sai Baba teach the heresy of reincarnation, and perform many relatively useless "miracles" to impress his audience, he also democratizes Hinduism; makes no requirement that caste rules be obeyed, and while he tells many charming stories from the Mahabharata and Ramayana (which every child hears again and again), he makes no true spiritual demands. He accepts westerners as disciples without insisting on their engaging in serious disciplines or learning solid doctrine, or requiring them to learn to live as simple Hindus prior to entering the supposed spiritual life. This is dangerous for westerners as explained in a forthcoming article of mine in the next issue of Sophia entitled On "Gurus" and Spiritual Direction.

20 See The Desacralization of Hinduism for Western Consumption, in Sophia, Vol 4, No. 2.

21 From India to the Planet Mars, A Case of Multiple Personality by Theodore Flournoy with a new Introduction by Sonu Shamdasani, Princeton, 1994.

22 Dr. Richard Noll, The Jung Cult, Princeton, 1994 and The Aryan Christ, Random House, 1997. Jung openly said that "I restrict myself to what can be psychically experienced and repudiate the metaphysical." (R. Wilhelm and C.G. Jung, The Secret of the Golden Flower, New York, 1931).

23 Dr. Kubler-Ross has contributed useful clinical insights such as her delineation of the stages passed by people facing death—denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. The best discussion of her spiritualist involvement is that of Paul Edwards, Reincarnation: A Critical Examination, Promethius Books, New York, 1996.

24 "Now a man or a woman who is a medium or a spiritist shall surely be put to death. Thay shall be stoned with stones, their blood guiltiness is upon them." (Leviticus 20:27)  While fraud among mediums is recognized, it is assumed that this is by no means always the case. Jung informs us that mediumistic sensitivity plays an important role in such individuals and describes them as "open to the four winds," intellect, sensation, feeling and intuition.

25 The Fox sisters later admitted that they were involved in a fraud.

26 I am indebted to Rene Guenon's l'Erreur Spiritiste, translated by myself and Alvin Moore Jr., and currently in press under the English title of The Spiritist Fallacy, for much of this information.

27 An excellent scientific evaluation of Reincarnation is available by Paul Edwads, Reincarnation: A Critical Examination, Promethius Books, N.Y., 1999. Psychiatrists who use hypnosis to uncover "past lives" also use the same techniques to discover "future lives". Also Ian Wilson, All in the Mind, Doubleday, N.Y., 1982.

28 AI was commanded by the Lord of a sudden to untie my shoes and put them off. I stood still for it was winter, but the word of the lord was like a fire in me so I put off my shoes, and was commanded to give them to some shepherds who were nearby. The poor shepherds trembled and were astonished. Then I walked about a mile till I came into the town, and as soon as I got within the town, the word of the Lord came to me again to cry 'Woe to the city of Litchfield.'  So I went up and down the streets crying with a loud voice 'Woe to the city of Litchfield.' And no man laid hands on me, but as I was thus crying through the streets there seemed to me a channel of blood flowing down the streets and the marketplace appeared to me like a pool of blood. And so at last some friends and friendly people came to me and said, "Alack George, where are thy shoes? I told them 'It was no matter.'" (George Fox, founder of the Quaker movement).

29 One who uses divination, one who practices witchcraft, or one who interprets omens, or a sorcerer, or one who casts a spell, or a medium or a spiritism or one who calls up the dead. Whoever does these things is detestable to the Lord. (Deuteronomy 18:10-12).

30 Some cults or teachers with Spiritist tendencies are: Course of Miracles, Scientology, EST, Temple of Understanding, Gaia, Celestine Prophecies, Wikka and Witchcraft (Philip Davis's book Goddess Unmasked shows clearly that this is a 20th Century concoction), the Church of Satan (with its own inverted bible), Syncretism, Deepak Chopra, Radhaswami Movement, The Hindu-Aryan Myth and Neo-Nazism (Hitler's Priestess—with its close ties to the Green political party), the Cult of Tilak, Eckankar, the Maharishi (who salvaged the Beatles with "TM", and whose picture adorns their record cover along with one of the world's greatest Satanists, Alexander Crowley).

31Another text defines it as "a sense of connectedness to nature, humanity and the Transcendent" Handbook of Religion and Mental Health, Ed. Harold Kowenig, Academic Press 1998. There are a host of similar books recently published which all to one degree or another accept the same principles. A good summary of variouspositions is provided by John Schumaker's Religion and Mental Health, Oxford, 1992. It contains, for example, a chapter by John Shea which accuses Religion, and specifically Catholicism as being responsible for sexual maladjustments. It would seem clear that the current prevailing sexual maladjustments, which any psychiatrist is familiar with, can have little to do with religion—though of course in a religious culture they will manifest themselves in religious terms.

32 This is well shown in a recent web site ( in which scientists document their "spiritual" experiences, events that fall into the category of the Psyche, paranormal events, or "feelings of elation" and a sense of "oneness with God" which one scientist described as  "cosmic consciousness events."


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