Filan, Kenaz; Kaldera, Raven
Drawing Down the Spirits: The Traditions and Techniques of Spirit Possession
Inner Traditions/Bear & Company. Kindle Edition.
Link to Amazon Paperback
Drawing Down the Spirits is a fascinating book written by two practitioners of a rarely practiced art – actual possession by the deities and spirits to which they give worth. This book is not a “how to” manual; rather, it is a fairly in-depth study of the phenomenon of possession as it is manifesting in neo-pagan circles today. One of the authors is an initiated houngan (priest) of Haitian Vodou while the other is a shamanic practitioner of Norse polytheistic paganism. Both of the writers have extensive experience with possessory work in their respective traditions and they continuously cite the experience of other spirit workers who work with possession as well. Some of the referenced spirit workers are well known in pagan circles and others are not.
As someone who has experienced what the authors refer to as aspecting (having an awareness of a deity or spirit without losing control of one’s body or having missing time experience), I found the writers’ in-depth analysis of what constitutes possession quite interesting. In their view, and I would tend to agree, a trance possession occurs when an individual is overtaken by a god or spirit to such a point that that being has complete control of their body and that the person has little to no memory of the event. Such possessions are seen commonly in the Afro-Caribbean traditions, such as Filan’s Vodou, but are a relatively new phenomenon in neo-pagan circles.
Drawing Down The Spirits is, in my view, the authors’ attempt to establish that possession is actually happening in the neo-pagan world and to establish some sort of frame work in which this practice can be safely performed. The authors make the case that, even though faith is an often derided concept in neo-pagan thought, the direct contact with the gods afforded by the possessory experience can and does have a powerful effect on those who are ready for it and open to the possibility. Imagine, for just a moment, what it might be like to encounter the Norse god Odin or the Greek goddess Athena in the flesh. If you were prepared, such an encounter could literally be life changing.
The authors of this book do not pull any punches. Filan and Kaldera both acknowledge that mistakes have been made (calling a goddess known for modesty into a naked priestess, for example, or the disruption of an event at a pagan festival by a drunken lout) and this work provides a nice framework for doing a possessory ritual in public in the index. One of the things that made me quite happy was that the authors did not succumb to the often seen habit of books in the neo-pagan realm to try to cast everything in the most positive light. Both writers stress that they are working with powerful spirits who have powerful personalities and who can very clearly be angered if they are not accorded the respect that they should receive.
Filan tells the story of a disastrous public ritual in which he and a partner called the spirits of Vodou (called lwa or loa). Both he and his partner were experienced solo practitioners but had no experience doing a fet (a Vodou service to the lwa). Things went well until they called forth Damballah, the serpent lwa of creation. I will let you read the painful tale yourselves but suffice to say that the event did not go according to plan and injuries, both physical and psychic, were sustained in the process.
In addition, I was pleased to see that Filan and Kaldera did not sugar coat the actual possessory experience and made a strong case for avoiding it altogether unless one is really called to it. This practice is not something that “would be cool to do” at the next full moon ritual. As I mentioned, I have aspected deities (somewhat akin to having a back seat driver) and this experience was trying enough. A full on possession is something that should only be undertaken after skilled training and, as the authors recommend, only at the specific calling of the gods. In indigenous cultures, individuals called to shamanic work are really not given a choice and will often try hard to avoid the call until the classic shamanic illness comes on them. This attitude should be echoed in anyone who is considering being a “horse” to the gods and the authors provide extensive first hand commentary about why this should be the case.
I strongly recommend this book to both my pagan and non-pagan readers. My non-pagan readers might ask why this book would be of any interest to them. Very simple. As, I have pointed out over the course of this blog, those who are interested in the paranormal and Fortean are often amazingly blase’ about spirits. This book brings home, in a powerful way, the reality and power of the beings that some call gods and also of the lwa and other spirits. The people in this work are not doing what they do because they think that the energy of an archetype is going to come through them. Rather, they know, in the depths of their being, that these spirits are real, sentient, present beings.
You may not share their belief but, after reading this book, it is my hope that you might gain a new respect for the power of the spirit based belief system and come to the understanding that something is effecting the changes in the physical, psychic and spiritual world of these people and that the something could also be a part of a lot of the phenomenon that we study at this blog.