Thursday, November 18, 2010

Demons among the ruins

In Masechet Berachot 3a-3b, there is a story of R. Yossi entering a ruin in Jerusalem to pray. Eliyahu comes and guards the door while he prays, and then chastises him for praying there when he is done. R Jose states that, among other things, he learned that one should never pray in a ruin. Eliyahu then asks him what he heard while praying. R Jose replies that he heard a divine voice (בת קול) that was lamenting over the destruction of the temple. The Gemera continues with a discussion of why one should not pray in a ruin. The main reason given is to avoid demons (מזיקין). But if there are two righteous people then the demons will not manifest unless it is a place that is known to be haunted.

The word for Demon is מזיק which derives from the root נזק and means something that causes damage. This offers a relatively simple definition of a demon or bad spirit. It is one who causes us damage. The passage also supplies a relatively simple method for avoiding demons - keep good company when doing spiritual practices. But it is not enough to be with others when opening to the shamanic realm, the others must be כשרים or Kosher! Literally it means that they are proper or fit. To prevent spirits from damaging one needs to be surrounded by people who are upstanding and nourishing.

Places absorb energy from the people who lived there. Depending on the energy, different types of souls will be attracted to that place. In the ruins of Jerusalem not long after the destruction of the Temple, there would be a lot of dark energy surrounding those ruins. The last people who lived there likely died by either starvation or murder or worse. The first thing that he would have felt there would have been that pain. R. Yossi entered those ruins, opened himself to the spiritual world and heard a divine voice mourning the destruction. R. Yossi felt but was not overwhelmed by the sadness and pain. For another person, that pain might evoke fear or pain which makes a person in the spiritual realm more open to negative influences.

R. Yossi's initial prayers had called an exceptionally strong spiritual presence to him in Eliyahu hanavi. The text reads: בא אליהו זכור לטוב ושמר לי על הפתח Eliyahu, of blessed memory, came and guarded me on the opening. The traditional way of reading it is that Eliyahu guarded the door, but one could also read it that Eliyahu guarded the spiritual opening so that R. Yossi could hear the divine voice without being overwhelmed by the pain and sadness of the place or becoming susceptible to the spirits that are attracted to a place like that.

One can contrast this to the demons who do damage. The angels guard and nourish us. When we are with people who we trust and love, then the energy we create draws good spirits to us. When we are with people who's actions and intentions are questionable, the distrust and fear draws bad spirits to us. This is especially true if we are in a place that is full of dark energy. The gemera refers to places that are known to be haunted by demons. These are the dark places of power. Even when we are with trusted companions, we have to be careful in these places before we enter into the spiritual world there.

By and large, who we are determines the spirits that we encounter when we enter the shamanic realm. That's why it's very important to continually work on oneself as one walks this path. R. Yossi teaches us to be careful with our company and where we pray so that each opening into the shamanic realm is not filled with pain but instead we encounter those who guard and guide us even through difficult situations.

Photo courtesy of Callmetim