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Visions, voices, and "presences"
by Diane Vera
Copyright © 2006 by Diane Vera. All rights reserved.
If you see a vision, or if you hear a mysterious voice, or if you feel a mysterious "presence," you should consider the possibility that it may be a hallucination. It might be a real spiritual presence, or it might not be. But, either way, it doesn't mean you are crazy.
One popular misconception about hallucinations is that the only people who have them are people who are insane, or perhaps drunk or on hallucenogenic drugs such as LSD or peyote. In fact, there are other circumstances under which otherwise normal people can have hallucinations. One is extreme tiredness or sleep deprivation. Another is fasting for a long period of time. (See What causes hallucinations? on health-cares.net. See also The Vision Quest by Paul Devereux; note the use of both fasting and sleep deprivation in traditional vision quests.) Hallucinations can also be symptoms of some physical illnesses, or side-effects of some prescription drugs. There are also some otherwise normal people who have hallcinations often. (See Hearing Voices: Some People Like It by Andrea Thompson, LiveScience.com, 15 September 2006.)
Occultists are particularly likely to have hallucinations, due to their deliberate cultivation of altered states of consciousness. Frequent meditation, especially if one goes into deep trance often, can cause hallucinations. Even the regular performance of a banishing ritual can result, paradoxically, in being haunted by "the little nasties," as Donald Michael Craig calls them in his book Modern Magick. (Craig regards the "little nasties" as more than just a hallucination, but nevertheless his advice is to treat them as if they were just a hallucination, i.e., don't take them seriously. I think it's simpler to conclude that they are in fact just hallucinations, since it is known that frequent trance can indeed induce hallucinations.)
This doesn't mean that spirituality in general is totally "unreal." But it is up to us to figure out whether a given "spiritual" experience really means anything. If an experience gives you some useful insights, or if it gives you some information which you can confirm later, and which you couldn't have figured out on your own, then it may well be more than just a hallucination. But you shouldn't assume that everything you "see," "hear," or feel necessarily means anything important.
Lately on the Internet, quite a few pages have sprouted up talking about one particular category of hallucinations that can occur in otherwise normal people, namely "hypnagogic" and "hypnopompic" hallucinations, which occur just before or after sleep. Often these experiences are accompanied by "sleep paralysis" - the paralysis which is a normal part of sleep itself, and which some people also experience just before going to sleep or when just starting to wake up. Here are some web pages about it:
- What is hypnagogic hallucination? on health-cares.net
- Science News: Night of the Crusher: The waking nightmare of sleep paralysis propels people into a spirit world by Bruce Bower
- Seven Oaks: Sleep paralysis and the power of words by Rhiannon Coppin
- J. Allan Cheyne: Sleep Paralysis and Associated Hypnagogic and Hypnopompic Experiences
- The Skeptical Inquirer: Waking Up to Sleep Paralysis by Chris Mooney and Abduction by Aliens or Sleep Paralysis? by Susan Blackmore
- About.com: The Terror of Sleep Paralysis
- Atlantic Paranormal Society: Sleep Paralysis: The Scientific Explanation...
- Jorge Conesa: Sleep Paralysis and Lucid Dreaming and What is Sleep Paralysis or Isolated Sleep Paralysis?
- Robert Chapin: Why Do Some People Experience Isolated Sleep Paralysis?
- William Dement: Sleep Paralysis
The above pages all talk about scary experiences involving sleep paralysis and/or hypnogogic/hynopompic hallucinations. So far, most of these authors haven't gotten around to noticing the existence of people with non-scary experiences. (I've experienced sleep paralysis quite often and don't recall, offhand, being frightened by it; I always figured it was just a normal part of being very, very sleepy. I always knew the paralysis wouldn't last long; either I'd go back to sleep or I would wake up more fully and it would go away.) Anyhow, if you're having scary or annoying hypnogogic/hynopompic hallucinations, there's no cure other than, perhaps, to make sure you're getting enough sleep and to regularize your sleep schedule as much as possible.
If you're having hallucinations at times other than just before or after sleep, try stopping all your spiritual practices, other than, perhaps, prayers to your primary deity, to be said from a normal or close-to-normal state of mind, not a deep trance. If your hallucinations don't go away in a week or two, then you should probably see a doctor. If they do go away and you wish to resume at least some of your spiritual practices, resume them gradually and methodically. Don't jump back into the deep end of the pool all at once.
The above also applies if you feel that you're being haunted by hostile spiritual entities, such as the "angel attacks" that the Joy of Satan folks complain about a lot. If you can't make them go away by spiritual means, then you should consider the possibility that they may be just hallucinations. Try stopping all spiritual activities other than prayers to Satan, or whoever your primary deity is, and see if the problem goes away after a week or two. If it doesn't go away, don't be afraid to consider the possibliity that your problem may be biological rather than spiritual.
Of course you should also consider possible spiritual causes, including those that can be remedied on a physical level. For example, if you're living with fundy Christian parents, do everything you can to move out as soon as possible. And stop pretending to be Christian yourself, especially if, as part of that pretense, you have to go to church every Sunday (especially a Pentecostal/charismatic type church with trance-inducing church services). You don't have to tell your family you're a Satanist, but, at the very least, you can let them know you're not Christian anymore and that you're now learning about a variety of other religions - which, if you're a recent deconvert from Christianity, you really ought to be doing anyway. If they try to convert you back to Christianity, shut them up with some good arguments against traditional Christian beliefs.