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Down the Rabbit Hole
Paul Kiritsis, PsyD candidate, DPhil., MA (Psychology), MA (History)

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Negative Transformation: What do Hallucinations Reveal About the Human Condition?

Paul Kiritsis - Wednesday, September 19, 2012

  Hallucinations by Christos Stamboulakis (2011)

The fact that the steepest descent into madness is usually accompanied by a conscious communion with a pecking order of spiritual entities substantiates the idea that the dynamic of the inner realm has remained much the same over vast expanses of time. Four centuries ago a Catholic or Orthodox priest would have told you you’re suffering demonic possession and that you were in urgent need of an exorcism. Nowadays a clinical therapist or psychiatrist will tell you that you’re suffering from a psychosis with auditory and/or visual hallucinations and propose the best line of action to be incarceration in a psychiatric ward where other trained professionals will attempt to relieve you of wretchedness by pumping you full of Risperdal, Seroquel, and Zyprexa. One seeks cure in faith and divine intervention, and the other hopes to conceal the symptoms with drugs, a little cognitive behavioural therapy, and any other pseudo-method that seemingly addresses the dysfunction so that he or she might be ejected prematurely back into society.

In which approach should we place more faith? The traditional and religious or the modern and scientific? Their cosmological underpinning is obviously different; one attributes etiology to an external supernatural agent whilst the other to a psychologized version that internalizes them as aspects or subpersonalities of one’s own creation. Further, the first is a child of ancient and medieval occultism and the second of scientific rationalism. At first glance the two may appear to be radically different but an exhaustive and significant list of similarities far outweighs their differences; the type, the form, and the nature of hallucinations experienced by patients in contemporary society is similar–if not identical–to those described in Biblical, medieval, early modern (i.e. Renaissance, Enlightenment), and some modern occult literature.

Anyone who wishes to shed light upon the range of conditions or “diseases” that relate to the mind and to the coloured spectrum of human consciousness and experience inevitably resorts to the lenses of phenomenology. In other words, to understand the condition and penetrate through to its cause we must wear the same striped clothes and disproportional hat and dance in the same oversize shoes as one suffering from acute psychosis does. Unhappily for mechanistic forms of science, afflictions of the mind do not lend themselves to physical examination through diagnostic equipment like powerful electron microscopes; x-ray, ultrasound, and MRI machines; bone densitometers; endoscopes; laboratory centrifuges; and defibrillators. In any hierarchy of consciousness, the automatic laws and archetypal models of a more advanced state can faithfully be applied to the reality of a lower or more rudimentary state but not vice versa. A sentence is composed of subject and predicate but the latter two can never contain one another or convey more progressive levels of meaning intrinsic to the former. Similarly, a three-dimensional cube contains two-dimensional squares and a square of four equal sides and angles. The higher world of three dimensions knows two-dimensional flatland as well as an even more constricted flatland of one-dimensional lines and angles; intermediary flatland only knows the flatland of one-dimensional lines; and the last and most rudimentary of all is completely ignorant of the existence of the other two. Hence diagnostic equipment that works within the constraints of a lower level of being by strapping things to instruments, rulers, and clocks, by measuring, and by quantifying cannot offer as much as a grain of insight into the higher psychic worlds. In effect the only diagnostic tool that is truly ours to work with in that intangible dimension is the authenticity of individual experience. Anyone brave enough to spend time with psychotic patients will inexorably be struck by similarities and consistencies in their hallucinatory experience. If enough people are attesting to a particular experience without the slightest notion that others have made similar or identical claims, then we must make our provisional extrapolations accordingly and accept it as an objective truth about higher realities.

What I am saying in layman’s terms is that the greatest insights into the acute psychotic state and the hallucinations that manifest as a by-product of that state are garnered by what sufferers themselves have to say about their own symptomology. All will swear in the name of what is dearest and most sacred to them that the vast ocean of menacing voices and alien forces that plague them are real. These are always perceived to be others–beings, spirits, or persons–distinct from the individual having conscious intercourse with them. They are Aeolian and alive; as real as a burn we might acquire for staying out in the scorching summer sun for too long or a spray of mist exploding from a saltwater geyser. In no way does the ineptness of a socially-balanced individual to perceive them invalidate their existence. The voices are with, around, beside, and even in the individual sometimes. They live with, speak to, and engage with him or her in exactly the way that two embodied creatures do. The tone, pitch, and authenticity of the voices are vividly and disturbingly real and suspend disbelief. Most bide their time trying to snuff out the flickering candle of their hostage’s hope and dismantle his or her self completely. They’ll unleash an unrelenting, unmerciful barrage of verbal threats, assaults, and invectives on the sufferer, trying to embarrass him or her with outrageous propositions and insinuations. The fact that the sufferer’s peers, loved ones, acquaintances, and work colleagues cannot perceive or understand the experience of this private war exalts their anxiety and paranoia. How would you feel if you never quite knew which aspects of the environment were palpable to everyone and which were only palpable to you? How would you feel if you were progressively sinking in the quicksand of psychedelic grey and could never return to the solid ground offered by black-and-white dualism? How would you feel if your own life was pinching out right before your very eyes?

Because the voices are perceived as a threat to personal security and autonomy, the individual may feel that his or her only option is to bottle up his experiences and keep quiet about them. I suppose most people would go against the grain of their own common sense and better judgement if it means sustaining credibility and reputation. I know I would. If word of such experience ever reached professional ears there’d be far-reaching consequences to be had. It’s almost impossible to determine the severity of their reaction to my claims; the best case scenario might encompass a few hours of professional supervision and a little slap on the wrist but the worst would definitely entail forced restraint and incarceration in the psychiatric ward of a hospital. Who can handle two levels of persecution synchronously?   Nobody. Thus speaking openly and sincerely those suffering from auditory and visual hallucinations feel the only recourse is to remain passive and unobtrusive. As far as the subject is concerned nothing valuable can be learned from the spirits themselves and any remaining vestiges of conscious effort are always focused upon exorcising them from self-awareness. Professional steeped in humanistic psychology report fasting, dieting, long-winded invocations to God, apathy, and even attempted compromise with the voices as therapeutic vehicles of salvation but sadly they all prove futile. The voices don’t go away and the subject ultimately suffers a lamentable lapse into uselessness and helplessness. From there life morphs into a meandering plunge into a primeval chaos of spirits that keep recounting subject’s vices and occasionally God-given potential that went ashtray. 

Curiously the vast majority of hallucinations are conscious mentation and exchange between spirits that have no life outside the afflicted’s own projections of thought-desires and the afflicted himself. It’s as if the subject’s own desires and feelings have found a way to detach themselves from the unified ego of their human creator and begin to feed off his or her own vital force to stay alive. In assuming the role of little bloodthirsty vampires, these subselves proliferate in strength and eventually subdue a psyche already crumbling beneath the weight of habitual uselessness and social withdrawal. Of course there are exceptions which I’ll mention later but in the majority of cases associated with acute psychosis the spirits personify the subject’s psychic makeup–his innermost desires, aspirations, fears, wishes, liabilities, thoughtlessness–that are continuously pouring themselves out into a hostile desert environment in which a springtime downpour of the subject’s potential never transpired and the sunflower seeds enfolding his natural tendencies never took root. The spirits or entities wage psychic war against their own source in quite the same way that autoimmune disease inverts the immune defences so that the human body begins to destroy its own cells and tissues. We could extend this simile to radical gene mutations that modify the internal composition of a cell in such a way as to damage the mechanism mediating cellular mitosis, spurring a wanton replication of cancerous cells that eventually kill the organism. Or to overt patriotic feelings that rear their heads in military parades and can lead to civil and global war when they aren’t policed properly. Chaos and devotion strike long before hallucinations make their maiden appearance, a phenomenon that can be faithfully attributed to the subject’s failure to act responsibly and constructively in choosing a social path pertinent to his or her natural trends, talents, and propensities. As you might expect the consequence of this laziness, inertness, and apathy to choice is to be swept about like a leaf in a tempest caused by the pneumatic winds of one’s own thoughtforms. All this because the subject never cared or listened.

From the available psychiatric literature and other case material I’ve come across, voices heard by psychotic patients can be grouped into two distinct categories: the lowly personal and pre-personal types where the spectrum of awareness and level of cognition is below that of the patient and higher transpersonal types that operate with a mental aptitude far superior to the patient’s own. Generally speaking lower types might be explained as fragmented aspects of the patients’ personalities, thoughtforms or thought-desires that have grown sentient and acquired a disembodied form. They bear a striking resemblance to evil spirits or demons in that their agenda revolves around illuminating all of the patients’ vices in the most hostile and contemptuous way possible. Conversely, the higher types are benevolent or benign, enigmatic, and much more difficult to pigeonhole phenomenologically because they exhibit an intellectual capacity as well as a breadth and depth of knowledge that falls way outside the frontiers of the patients’ own awareness. Same even have powers of extrasensory perception. Who and what are these beings? Are they archangelic forces that enter human consciousness from without for soteriological reasons? Whatever the case the two classes align in a definitive relationship with one another that gaudily recalls George Ivanovich Gurdjieff’s ladder of selves’ theory.

If we compared this realm of voices or spirits with a funnel, the magnanimous archangelic types would inhabit the sprawling, overarching space of the conical mouth whilst the lower demonic types would be confined in a constricted airspace near the conical stem. Sensitivity, love, compassion, religion, intuition, and truthfulness are to be found in the upper echelons of the funnel though these progressively invert as we descend until we reach an extremely narrow stygian region permeated by hostility, atheism and hatred of religion, perversion, insensitivity, and deceitfulness. From their place above, the archangelic voices can hone in and observe the most intimate and minute details of the demonic ones including their elementary shape and physiognomy. They also have a tangible degree of control over the latter. The opposite does not seem to hold true; the demonic voices theorize that the archangelic ones exist yet they know close to nothing about them. This should come as no surprise for the light emanating from Love wishes to gather all the differing aspects of its creation, nourish them, and unite them in fundamental harmony whilst the projected darkness of Hatred exhausts its own vital energies trying to annihilate Love’s ultimate creation, the human mind. Does it seem at all bizarre at this stage that unconscious thoughforms acting in consciousness have dramatically illumined the inherent natures of good and evil along with the proverbial cosmic battle between the two forces? It shouldn’t. For those that proceed with esoteric ideas about the outer reflecting the inner and vice versa in mind, it should have been expected. Being one of these people myself, I’m inclined to believe that the original impetus for the comprehensive development of a dualistic cosmogony that has pervaded a vast number of world religions, spiritual traditions, and metaphysical philosophies from time immemorial goes back to “heavens” and “hells” intimated by this spiritual dichotomy. Ironically we witness a literal rendition of it when patients are crucified on the cross of unrealized potential.    

Many people wonder what listening to lower demonic voices sounds like. Do you really want to know? Just imagine a lascivious, lying, threatening, foolish, immature drunkard who won’t stop following you around like a stray dog. There’s no way you can offload him somewhere or turn him off. Once he’s been switched on he stays on, irrespective of whether you’re sleeping, eating, reading, working, or just minding your own business. He’s mock you about your sense of style and then complement you for it a few hours later. He’ll insist that you balance a vase on your head; if you muster the courage to take him up on his suggestion he’ll laugh and make a mockery of you and if you don’t he’ll call you a wimp, a loser, and every other possible name under the sun. This drunk knows your every thought and the anatomy of your conscience. He knows which buttons to push to upset you or disconcert you and will keep pushing them until you buckle at the knees. If you don’t comply with his requests he’ll threaten to possess a part of your body or inflict physical pain and carry it out without mercy. He’ll rob you of your insights, intrude upon your fantasies and chastise you for them, and lie to you about who he is and what his name is. Actually, he’s a nameless shadow; he’ll adopt whatever name people give him or whatever physiognomy they imagine him to have and has no recollections outside what he knows of you the exact moment he entered you. He can possess you at any time he wants and move your limbs or speak through you. He is scared of being discovered by anyone called a psychologist or a therapist and will go to great lengths to extend his life with the only person that knows, sees him, and hears him–you. Religion and spirituality seem to enrage him beyond reckoning; he can’t stand God or anything to do with the divine. His only real talent is to shape-shift like Proteus and Thetis; he’ll make his voice change in pitch and tone or assume the voice of real people you know to befuddle you. The drunk has limited cognitive ability; he lump from one topic to the next and has nothing new to say or add other than echo what you’re thinking or feeling. In truth he’s an even bigger basket case than what you are!

The hallucinations of a lower demonic voice just described above sound remarkably like spirit possession. If the voice related to a specific historical case, you probably wouldn’t be able to tell whether it was from the 700s, the 1400s, the 1800s, or the 1990s. This demonstrates how authentic experiences can in fact garner objective truth about the nature of consciousness. Evidently these authentic experiences aren’t all malefic and harrowing. Once every so often the archangelic voices put in an appearance, operating in a manner antagonistic to the lowly malefic types. As a rule of thumb, these benevolent higher types encompass a more comprehensive standpoint and are much more subtle and sublime in their mode of operation. Their preferred method of communication is symbolic and implicit, and they filter through perceptions and feelings as useful and instructive material fine-tuned to each patient’s natural trends and motives. Initially, this phenomenon might strike one as a little strange and unfounded; I mean, what’s to say that archangelic emanations recognized by the ailing mind of a patient as intervening disembodied forces aren’t just fleeting moments of mental clarity amidst the spiritual cyclone?

On the whole, it’s an interpretation much more sensible and viable than a paraphysical one evoking the paranormal or soteriological causes where benevolent voices are angels sent from heaven to guide the blind patient out from a dark labyrinth of madness. But the second of our two archetypal models is inadequate at explaining why the higher order of archangelic voices are harbingers of a wisdom and knowledge hitherto unknown to the patient; why they can readily duplicate implicit, verbal means of communication; and why they can actively penetrate thoughts and feelings and then flit about in a manner than intimates autonomy from conscious will. These phenomena just don’t conform to a “scientific” interpretation bent on internalizing all aspects of human consciousness. Scientists, physicians, and anyone else working in the area of cosmology today will pride themselves on their ability to descry objective reality through conventional models advertised in academic journals, books, and other media but their tendency to hold onto theories incompatible with new discoveries and phenomena inadvertently reveals a grave fallacy in human reasoning. Personal beliefs, pride, self-worth, and credibility always get in the way of critical inquiry. Nobody wants to be an avant-gardist of hypothetical models confined to the historical trash compactor. Those are under rug swept and quickly forgotten. The ego’s predilection is for fame and exaltation, conditions which are somewhat discordant with science’s overarching requisite for neutrality and detachment. When the former surmount the latter scientists become victims of an emotional and religious subjectivism that their own predecessors and “founding fathers” fought hard to subjugate. As a child of medicine modern psychiatry suffers from the same sort of myopia.

I guess any philanthropist would be much more concerned with the efficacy of treatment rather than the nature of the pathological agent and its symptoms. From this perspective it makes much more sense to concentrate on the end rather than the means. Therapists following a more humanistic approach to therapy and studying the phenomenology of hallucinations themselves find that the archangelic, benevolent voices widen a patient’s contracted field of consciousness and vastly enrich his or her repository of monochromatic values and beliefs. Nobody has every reported an encounter with a voice of higher order that wasn’t non-invasive, reassuring, compassionate, and instructive in character. For some mysterious reason manifestations are scant, much scanter than the lower malefic types which plague all acute psychotics. What is an experiencing involving the archangelic voices like? Rather uplifting and heartening one would think. Some are soteriological entities akin to Jesus Christ, the Buddha, and Hermes Trismegistus whose primary motivation is to offer the patient practical information on societal division and fish out helpful lessons how other disenfranchised minorities might be helped. Others are much more symbolic and mythical in their chosen manner of conscious participation.

One archangelic type described to me by a close relative made its presence known by descending from a “second” sun in the sky (which he called a black sun) in the shape of a white dove. The magnificent bird proceeded to beat its wings furiously, illuminating a viscous, clear fluid within all persons that happened to be in close proximity. The voice told him that the liquid was the unifying life force that animated all human beings and that the fact would be remembered again in time. What stumped me about this experience and caused my mind to race at a million miles per second was that he was describing esoteric concepts–the alchemical nigredo, the Gnostic Sophia, and the mesmeric fluid of Franz Anton Mesmer (1734–1815)–of which he had no prior acquaintance with. From memory, there are similar experiences in journals of psychology recounting the archangelic obsession with cosmic sympathies and antipathies, universal symbols, and lesser known mind marvels that open up whole new meanings and levels of reality. The way I see it is that if a voice is mostly concerned with directives based on mythological and emblematic animism, then it must in itself be a conscious projection of the cosmic law itself. If this is true, and I have a hunch that it might be, then the archangelic voice might indeed be an angel or some analogous entity from worlds beyond our own. As harbingers of an all-inclusive cosmogony or what the Germans call Weltanschauung, these archangelic voices are very reminiscent of Jungian archetypes, Platonic forms, and Neo-platonic planetary daemons that stand outside the spatiotemporal world and at the same time exercise unshakable laws upon it. Angels are just that–unshakable laws.

In light of the evidence presented we can claim with authority that auditory and visual hallucinations are the subject’s own thought-desires or feelings. When we brood upon these without engaging in useful and meaningful activities concordant with our natural potential, we create little psychic vortices that wreak havoc in our subconscious. By resorting to idleness, inner fantasy, and conceit, we reject natural trends and inclinations for psychospiritual growth and fail to transpose an inner being aching for expression to the concrete and phenomenal level of reality. Both the growing detachment from society and the fundamental harmony of the cosmos will manifest passively in fantasy and paramnesia and actively through hypnagogia and night terrors. Some elect to channel the negative vibrations released by mounting disillusionment into self-destructive habits (i.e. drinking, smoking, and gambling) that further remove them from the shared spectrum of communal reality. When the psychic mechanism holding the bundle of psychological impulses that are one’s character is pushed beyond its functional limits by the pressurized forces of unreleased inner potential, it ruptures the barrier which separates awareness of self from awareness of the environment. The inner flows into the outer like a river that has just burst its banks and the two become confounded. In due course the thought-desires fragment from their weakened parent consciousness and acquire a level of sentience that allows them to act upon it. Their involuntary creation of a realm of separateness where their own parent is perceived as an archenemy that must be denigrated and vanquished signals the final dissolution of the autonomous ego. The fact that in most cases of acute psychosis visual or auditory hallucinations personify different aspects of a formerly integrated personality tells us that failure to participate consciously, actively, and constructively in the phenomenal world inevitably plunges the ailing individual back into a primordial confluence of formed and unformed matter. Those who elect to remain inert and unresponsive to the unshakable laws of becoming eventually become conscious of a lot more than what was bargained for when they incarnated. But should one really need to hit rock bottom and start hearing voices before they realize that it’s time to act?

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