25 July 2014

Book Review: Fighting Malevolent Spirits

So on a lark I picked up the ebook of Fighting Malevolent Spirits: A Demonologist's Darkest Encounters by Samantha Harris. It's a book of one woman's accounts of performing cleansings/banishings of negative entities for others.  I'm always up for seeing how other people do what I do and their feelings on it, and hey for $10 why not? Oy vey.  I wouldn't say I enjoyed this book as much as I enjoyed pulling it apart (which I really did enjoy enough to make it worth the price).

First, my personal bias.  This book is written from a fairly mainstream spiritialist viewpoint with strong Christian tendencies and ideas.  I don't do well with Christian/monotheist terminology and viewpoints.  I'm a Pagan and a dark one at that.  I have dealt with too many close-minded monotheists (and light and love spiritualists) not to have a negative knee jerk reaction.  I had to constantly remind myself that there was nothing wrong with the author's point of view and to translate her terms into ones my brain didn't want to throw things at.  But that's my problem, not the author's.  Also, her tone is also a little overwrought at times, but no everyone can face horror with stoicism and it does make the stories more compelling to read if a little over the top.  So yeah, my review may be a little overly harsh because the author presses some of my buttons.

What this book gets wrong from my point of view

Frequency.  The author's definition of demon is way too liberal.  Just because something is happening that is paranormal and negative doesn't mean it's demonic.  There are plenty of things out there that are strong enough to make people unhappy that aren't demons.  If you've done 80+ cleansings in five-ish years you are just cleansing anything - not that you can perform too many cleansings.  My definition of demon is pretty narrow - malevolent entities that are just pure evil, not just amoral, but evil.  We're talking infernals only in my books and in the last 15+ years of messing about with dark magick I've encountered three, three!  I literally spend my free time mucking about in the darkest psychic landscapes I can find and I've had to deal with three infernals on this plain.  Quit scaring yourself, demons just aren't that common.  (And seriously, doing cleansings does not a demonologist make.)

Who's susceptible.  Ok, this is more of a word choice/tone issue than anything else.  The author repeats multiple times that demons prey on weak or ill.  Yes, people who are weakened emotionally/spiritually/psychically are easier prey for negative entities but that doesn't mean you need to be broken for a demon to mess with you.  This might be an issue of the author's broad definition of demon again - actual infernals are drawn to a lot of different types of people, not just the weak ones.  Lower level negative entities are much more drawn to those who are weakened because they need the easier prey.  Weakness/illness can cause cracks in your aura (your natural psychic barrier), making you more susceptible to psychic attack from anything.  But actual attack, from anything, is extremely rare. 

Causality.  I found a strong implication in this book that people/families who are afflicted by negative circumstances such as ill health, substance abuse, mental illness, and rashes of terrible luck are being plagued by demons and that those demons are the cause of the unfortunate circumstances.  I call bullshit.  People are plenty screwed up without the aid of demons thank-you very much.  Ill health and bad luck create negative energy that can attract negative entities, but most of the time it's just negative energy breeding more negative energy - the basic principle of like attracts like.  Bad luck and your life going to hell in a hand basket doesn't mean a demon is fucking with you.  Seriously, some times life just sucks.  However, whether the circumstances are caused by a negative entity or just pure concentrated energetic crap a seriously cleansing will help so I guess there's no harm done.  It's questionable whether letting people externalize the source of their problems causes more harm than good in the long run, but I'm no psychologist to say one way or the other.

Technique.  Ok, what the author says she does in her cleansings is fine for low level entities and general psychic smut.  Having faith and surrounding yourself with "white light" is all well and good when you're dealing with ghosts and most common fay, but it's not enough to face the truly demonic.  What the author does seems to be the general centering, shielding, and basic energetic cleansings that any magickal practitioner would know - she just doesn't call them that or bother thinking about why/how they work.  Her cleansings consist of the typical going through the house with sage and salt while reciting prayers: essentially using her psychic will to cleans and sanctify the house.  Which, as I said before, is fine for low level negativity but not nearly enough to chase out an infernal permanently. 

Lack of protection.  For the love of all you hold dear, if you're going to piss off negative entities on a regular basis you need a strong personal protection regimen.  The author doesn't say anything about what she does to protect herself from the entities she encounters and then bemoans the fact that entities constantly mess with her at home.  If you're going to much about with demons you need to shield the ever loving fuck out of your own house and cleanse like there's no tomorrow after leaving a client - no matter how well things went.  Maybe she does have a personal regimen that she doesn't describe, but since it's not in the book I assume it doesn't happen.

What the book gets right 

Symptoms. When the author describes what symptoms people experience that make them think a negative entity is around, that is when I believe her.  Sulfurous smells, nightmares, scratches of unknown origins, knocking in the walls (not caused by loose pipes or broken ducts), abrupt mood swings, odd shifts in a person's eye color, etc. are all signs that something very negative is around.  Her descriptions of the events she experiences do have all the hallmarks of negative entities, though not necessarily demons.  I you or someone you know ever experience they kinds of things she describes, it's time for a cleansing or three.

Prayer. Yes, prayer in the faith of the persons being affected can help a lot when dealing with malevolent entities.  Prayer strengthens spiritual will and makes it more difficult for negative entities to get a toe hold in a person.  Enough prayer and faith can act as a fairly effective shield against common negative entities, depending on the strength of belief of the person.  It's not an end all be all, but it helps.  Just don't expect reciting the Lord's Prayer to help an atheist - it's all about belief.

Final thoughts

All that being said, this is a book of personal accounts of what happened as the author perceived it.  There's no right or wrong to your own memories.  And, the stories are interesting and it's good to be reminded of how different people from different backgrounds approach these kinds of problems.  For me it was an interesting set of case studies where I could analyze the situations and think about what I would have done differently (which is pretty much everything, but hey I'm a shadow witch and I do most things a bit differently).  The important thing in scenarios like the ones presented in this book is that the people involved get the help they need to move forward without oppression and, at least as it's presented here, it seems the author has done that. 

Would I recommend this book to someone looking to learn how to do cleansings - absolutely not.  Would I recommend this to an experienced practitioner looking to understand the way other people do things - maybe.  I enjoyed this book in the same way I enjoy watching ghost hunting tv shows and shlocky horror movies - I enjoy entertaining stories and dissecting what people do wrong.  It's the joy of throwing popcorn at the screen and feeling smug.  This isn't a bad book, it's just one that really doesn't mesh with my experiences or my style of dealing with the paranormal.  Take that as you will.

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