Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Full Circle: Death Practices And Comtemporary Burial Alternatives

"Bite the dust",  "Buy the farm" and the ever popular "passed away". We will say almost anything other than to name the actual event when someone dies. In the modern lexicon we don't die, we "expire" or enter into "eternal rest". If the person speaking is of a religious bent, then we are "called Home" or "Go to be with the Lord". Not all euphemisms are evasive; as "Going the way of all flesh"is a rather accurate description, as is "Breathed his/her last". Those of us practicing Pagan or other Occult traditions are rather fond of saying someone has "crossed the Veil" or something else that denotes reincarnation, regeneration, rebirth, because many of us believe in some form of continual existence on another plane of reality that transcends the physical universe.

Because our Pagan faith traditions view death as a part of the cycle of life, it is less taboo to speak of death and the dead. We welcome death as merely the end of our earthly existence because that fits our belief in a general esoteric cosmology. We believe there is more. Individual traditions have specific versions of what takes place after death. The most popular idea is the Summerland, a concept shared by Spiritualists,Theosophists, Pagans and New Age spiritual practices. Each individual has his/her own idea of exactly what the Summerland is like, but most agree that it's a beautiful place of peace and serenity where the soul is at peace. Those who believe in reincarnation believe it's the place where the deceased dwell until the soul is ready to incarnate again. Some believe it is a permanent place, a next level of existence that is a part of an ongoing enlightenment. Yet others believe we simply become a part of the Cosmic Cake Mix when we die, the elements of the body and mind melding with the Universe, providing elemental and spiritual material used by the Great Source to renew the species.

I believe that dying, death, tending to the body afterward and ultimate disposal of the remains are all sacred acts. When we lived in a predominantly agrarian and tribal societies, death was an intimate occurrence that eventually affected everyone. Those in our social group died from injuries or disease or simply grew old. The community came together and everyone pitched in to help get things back to normal function. That included preparing the body for burial, usually in a local church yard on one's own property in a family grave plot. The community's actions were instinctive because they were a cohesive group and death was a natural occurrence.

Death became a business and funerals a commodity during the Civil War, mostly out of necessity. The number of lives lost was phenomenally unlike anything the United States had experienced previously in its history. Disposal of the corpses became a public health issue that far surpassed one of aesthetics. Unsanitary conditions, lack of hygiene, tainted water, poor diet and lack of shelter. Diseases such as dysentery, malaria, smallpox, typhoid fever and pneumonia swept through camps belonging to both the Union and the Confederacy and contributed to as many deaths as injuries incurred in battle. This led to war dead being quickly buried near the site of battle, which outraged the sensibilities of many surviving families, particularly in the North. Union families wanted their dead returned for what they considered a "proper" burial, that is, on Northern soil accompanied by Christian rites- which entailed shipping bodies long distances out of the war zone, notably by train, in oppressively hot weather. Army and civilian surgeons contracted by the Union performed embalming services on the battlefield, in field hospitals or another suitable place using a cocktail of formaldehyde, arsenic and alcohol to prevent corpses from putrefying in order to return them to their loved ones. Some civilian "undertakers" were also trained in this procedure. Embalming had monetary advantages for all of these individuals as they were commissioned by the Army Medical Corps, somewhat lessening the nobility factor of preparing bodies out of emotional concern for the survivors.

Embalming, as a temporary method of preservation, worked well and served the need for which it was designed-but when the body began to ultimately break down, the chemicals inside it seeped out into the soil and eventually into the water table, poisoning both. Cemeteries began using grave liners made of wood or brick, and eventually cement to control sinking of the grave and erosion, and to contain leakage. Public cemeteries expanded beyond the humble churchyard to 'memorial parks' designed to express eternal rest and peacefulness. In the late 19the and early 20th centuries these memorial parks became gathering places for family, friends and the public, weekly destinations in which to walk and ruminate, and even share a picnic meal.

Today the funeral industry is a big business. Secular/corporation run cemeteries are too, because after all, what else are you going to do with a body (short of cremation)? On average it costs thousands of dollars for a modern funeral, a financial burden that as a minister I believe borders on taking obscene advantage of those grieving the loss of a loved one. Add that to the environmental impact of cremation (carbon emissions) and burial (including that some areas are running out of space for traditional graves). The projection of needed burial space for urban areas in the future is staggering.

Which is why I have become interested in alternatives. If you are a minister,HP/s, elder or have another type of leadership roll in a spiritual tradition, you will eventually be faced with the mortality of one of the members of your group and family, friends and colleagues will seek your counsel. We owe it to those we serve to have at least a basic knowledge of the funeral industry and viable alternatives. Most of the alternatives are still on the drawing board or in the test stage and not yet available to the public, with the exception of two- Resomation and Green Burial.

Resomation (or Biocremation as it is sometimes called) is the process of alkaline hydrolysis where the body tissue is dissolved using a mixture of hot water and potassium hydroxide (lye) in a special chamber. What is left is a liquid containing amino acids, sugars, salts, peptides and calcium phosphate.The resulting liquid is sterile and can be released to the common sewer (embalming does the same with cadaver blood and body liquids), while the bones have become fragile, chalky fragments which are processed (reduced to ash) and returned to the next of kin. Resomation uses less fuel than  contemporary cremation and releases no mercury into the atmosphere. Resomation is available in limited areas through specific funeral providers, but is gaining in popularity.

Green Burial is being touted by some as a return to more natural way of disposal. The body is buried in a designated 'green cemetery' sans embalming, in a biodegradable container or simply placed in the ground in a shroud. Family and friends are given the option of preparing the body of their loved one themselves, mostly under the guidance of a specially trained undertaker (which is not necessary but may be desirable).
More information in the link; be sure to read the entire website, especially the 'education' section. Also for reference, Circle Sanctuary in Wisconsin has maintained a green burial ground for years especially for Pagans and others who's practice is earth and nature oriented.

Educational/Resource information:

[Undertaking LA is a progressive funeral home/service owned and operated by Amber Carvaly and Caitlin Doughty, founding member of The Order of the Good Death, whose videos "Ask A Mortician" has broken ground in informing the public about often taboo subjects relating to death,postmortem history and the funeral industry. Available on YouTube and Facebook]

More Resources:

The Pagan Book of Living and Dying
Starhawk, M.Macha Nightmare and the Reclaiming Collective

Death and the Pagan: Modern Pagan Funerary Practices
Carrie West and Philip Wright
(Kindle edition)

The Journey Into Spirit: A Pagan's Perspective on Death, Dying and Bereavement
Kristoffer Hughes

Natural Burial: Traditional-Secular Spiritualities and Funeral Innovation
Douglas Davies and Hannah Rumble

A Humanist Funeral Service and Celebration
Corliss Lamont

Funeral Celebrant's Diary: Interfaith Funeral Service Details
John Merrill

Weddings, Funerals and Rites of Passage

More Weddings, Funerals and Rites of PassageRev.Amy E. Long, Universal Life Church Seminary,
with contributors from other interfaith sources

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Saint Michael

First things first: he isn't actually a saint by canonical proclamation, even though Christians, Jews and Muslims refer to him as such. Michael is actually an archangel, one of four (or seven,depending on the source you're using). He is the defender and protector of the Roman Catholic Church. Depictions of Michael usually show him engaged in battle with his foot upon the neck of a serpent, dragon or Satan. In the Biblical Book of Revelations he leads God's armies where he defeats the forces of Evil. He is also mentioned in the Book of Daniel as "the prince of the first rank". His attributes also include healing the sick and guiding the dead to heaven; he is often cited in Roman Catholic prayers in his role as Angel of Death. The myth of Archangel Michael varies among traditions,but his favor as Protector is sought by all.

St. Michael is also revered in esoteric/occult traditions such as ceremonial magic and Haitian Vodou (where he has developed into a popular loa). Famed HooDoo practitioner and author Ray.T Malbrough credits St. Michael with intercession relating to peace, harmony,finances and success.Some magickal practitioners assign the Archangels Gabriel, Raphael,Uriel and Michael to the four quarters, and when this variation is used, Michael represents the South due to his fiery nature.

A couple of years ago when I was newly moved into my present apartment, I experienced a series of incidents of being touched by unseen hands (usually on the foot if it were sticking out from beneath the bed covers). None of these encounters seemed to malevolent in nature, and I believe the individuals or spirits involved were merely curious or were perhaps testing me to see how I would react. Not wishing to be bothered by them, I began to ask St. Michael to surround me with protective light. I have not been touched since. Invoking St. Michael results in peaceful sleep and restful conditions for me.

St. Michael Protection Oil, from my personal BOS:

In a small bottle of olive oil (about 6 ozs.), add two pinches of frankincense, 2 pinches of myrrh,  one pinch of dragon's blood, a pinch of cinnamon, a few slivers of ginger and a few grains of sea salt.

Oil may be used to anoint candles, altars and tools.It is very potent and will go a long way.

>>Keep this oil away from your eyes, nose and mouth, and do not inhale the contents during mixing and use. Be sure to thoroughly wash your hands after handling!Do not take this concoction internally or rub it on your body. The ingredients of this oil are irritating and poisonous.<<


Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Slowly Gathering Power

There is a figurative saying that the New Year is a blank slate; Tabula Rosa-an absence of preconceived ideas or predetermined goals. The first few days of the New Year always feel a bit luminous to me-reflecting light but of no real substance. They sort of just sit there and glow until they settle into a normal routine. This year has felt anything like routine, owing in large part, to our new unpredictable Presidential Administration. I think we're all feeling more than a little off balance. At least I do. Try as I might, meditation and mindfulness keep being interrupted by an insidious anxiety that seeps into my consciousness whenever I seek calm.

This is not who I am, and to be rather truthful, I resent this outside influence intruding upon my peace of mind. Days like this I double down on my esoteric and spiritual pursuits to remind me of my power. According to Native American wisdom keepers,we all have this power as a birthright. But there are times-like these- when we forget who we are.

And sometimes, that calls for a little (or a lot) of magick.

Many years ago I dedicated myself to this spiritual path at Imbolc; Brid is my patron. Brid the Poet, Brid the Smith, Brid the Healer: writer,creative force, seeker of mending that which needs repair and renewal-  I am all of these and more. I have to remind myself of this as I fight to steer my spiritual boat away from the rocks we seem to be heading for in the last few weeks. To do this, I have had to return to the Place of Deep Indwelling. Digging deep into the Earth to be planted and gathering the energy to push back up to the goal of rebirth takes time and patience and energy. Spring is coming!
I am just blooming a little late this year-but I know the result will be worth the delay.

Here the Mountain Ash (Rowan) have begun to set bud; the greening of all things a sure sign of what is to be pushing back against the cold and hibernation of Winter. There is a season to lie quiet and regenerate, and a season to put forth and blossom, and that season is coming, both in Nature and in our current political situation. If we are minding our own garden,tending our seeds of change, then we are gathering energy day by day. This energy is quietly building until it is needed, but until then...
sometimes patience is its own reward.

Meanwhile, self-shielding and warding are a good place to start. Rosemary makes a potent protector either burned as an incense or used to smudge. Focus on inner peace and mindfulness for the days to come. Pay attention to what is taking place in the World and the impact of decisions our politicians are making. Listen beyond the words being said for the Truth of what is coming. And remember-our personal power, our magick, our Craft- will sustain us through this time.

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Child of Wonder

This time of year the early setting of the sun brings darkness at a time when we're just getting comfortable for the day. It's a time for candles, a hot cup of something, and maybe a good book. I use this time of year to study, to re-evaluate and discern my spiritual path in the hope of forwarding my journey authentically, with sincere gratitude.

Since I am a 'night person', the darkness is comforting. It is also the time that I'm my most productive and can take advantage of being uninterrupted by the busyness of others during daylight. I connect well with Midwinter.

By my own admission, I am a festival junkie. I love all the holidays throughout the year (although I have my favorites). I enjoy decorating because I love the special feeling in the air. Most of all, I love the celebrations that express our humanness and interconnection with each other and the world around us. For me, there is an archetypal energy that comes to the forefront, particularly in the festivals of the latter half of the calendar year. They feel like a doorway to other dimensions that we only feel at a distance at other times. There is a deep soul-level alignment from Samhain to Yule that awakens within us which I believe correlates with the myth of the Divine Child.

The birth of that Divine Child of Many Names holds eternal hope in our hearts: we continue in the mundane physical world as the earth receives returning light and warmth with every new day and nature around us slowly awaken from a cold sleep. Spiritually, we see the sacredness of life renewed in the birth of a child of potential which represents our future. We go innocently into the newness of Life mindfully, with the feeling of being surrounded by something undeniably holy. Perhaps for just a time, our communities are united and optimistic. Whatever we call our holidays and festivals, the energy is joyously the same and we are caught up in the wonder and love of it all.

Each year at this time the story of the birth of a vulnerable infant who survives despite being born in an unwelcoming environment with the odds against him echoes throughout many cultures and religious traditions. The motif of the Divine Child is a global one.

The noted psychologist Carl Jung created a list of archetypes which includes "the Child" and had some rather profound things to say about it. Jung's Child appears in our consciousness when we are at our most vulnerable. At a time when we are too emotionally weak and feel powerless, when there is seemingly no way to survive against personal challenge, the birth of potential and possibility takes place within our psyche. It survives and grows in that moment of deep despair when we are overwhelmed and ready to give up. If we are open and receptive to nurturing this newness, it becomes our reality, and that reality becomes a driving force to survive. Jung, who was well acquainted with the metaphysical, understood how to create thoughtforms.

Within everyone of us lies a spark of the Divine represented by this Child of Wonder. The birth of every child is holy. The knowledge of the ages are reflected back to us in the eyes of children, something we have lost as we become older and jaded by society and culture. We come into this world from Spirit bathed in light but soon forget who we are and where we came from. This is what I love about my Pagan spirituality-we have so many ways to remember we too are filled with the essence of divinity. We are god/dess in our own right, created in the image of the Universal Source.

Saturday, December 3, 2016

Why Mary Matters

We are all familiar with the Biblical story of Mary and her husband Joseph, and the particulars of the birth of Jesus. It is a tale that's been told over and over ( more or less) in the same way for thousands of years by millions of people: how the couple made their way from Nazareth to Bethlehem to pay taxes and found themselves without a place to stay upon arrival; how a benevolent inn keeper allowed them to stay where the animals were kept; how Mary gave birth to a child supposedly conceived by the Holy Spirit-the Son of God-destined to become the Savior of a world fallen to sin. And so on and so forth.

Not meaning any disrespect, but if you found yourself yawning just now...well...let's just say you're not alone. We've heard the story so often for so long that it's become rather pedestrian and routine. Time for a cup of coffee and a cookie to keep the eyes from glazing over.

For all the holy hoopla surrounding Christmas, every account of Jesus' birth is astounding in it's lack of details. It takes several sketchy predictions from the Old Testament and all four of the New Testament Gospel writers to corroborate the linage and meaning of His birth. There is even less factual information about Mary: other than being the daughter of the elderly Joachim and Anne, being betrothed to the carpenter Joseph, the Nativity narrative, a fleeting mention of being a guest at the wedding where Jesus turned water into wine and the Crucifixion, there is scant else said about her in the Bible. This is pretty skimpy, considering the  extensive body of Mariology and Marian devotion in Christian and Eastern Orthodox churches worldwide. While the Christian core of Marian devotion in the West is centered in the Roman Catholic Church and has found its way into dogmatic teaching, the Eastern Church bases its devotion in liturgical rites. Meanwhile the majority of Protestant Christians believe Mary's divine mission was over when she gave birth to the Divine Child. She was,  in effect, historically cast aside and devalued as all women have literally and figuratively been after providing a male heir to continue a linage.

In fact, there is more written about Mary in the Quran, where she is mentioned throughout from beginning to end. She is the only woman specifically mentioned by name in Muslim scripture, where she is considered one of the most righteous persons in the Islamic religion. These texts not only speak to her divinity, but to the sanctity of her humanness. The nineteenth chapter of the Quran (Maryam) is named for her and talks extensively about her life. Her importance in Islamic culture and spiritual tradition is evidenced by the inscription of verses from the Quran relating to her on the walls of prayer rooms in mosques. According to Muslim sacred text, after her birth, Mary was dedicated to service in the Temple under the guidance of the prophet Zechariah, who was her uncle. She had her own special place in the temple for prayer, and was set apart as virtuous prior to the birth of Jesus.  (An interesting aside: the alternate meaning for the word virgin is a woman who devotes herself wholly to divine practice and is unimpeded by the preoccupation of husband, family and home life.  As a single woman she was owned by no man and was not any man's property. She was "of her own" by choice although fully capable of assuming the role of wife and mother if she desired.)

Through an otherworldly gentleness and spiritual nature, virtue, and personal resolve, Mary is the archetype of the All-Mother and is The Creator Mother personified. She is known by an endless variety of names- "Virgin Mother of God","Queen of Heaven","Holy Rose"," Immaculate","Rose of Sharon"- the list is exhaustive. She shares characteristics with nearly every mother goddess throughout history and transcends specific cultures as creatrix and nurturer. (Compare the births of Mithra, Osiris, Krishna, Horus and even the Buddha.) As such, she is the rightful "Queen of Heaven" in a more modern mythos.

I believe there is an ancient memory of the Great Mother in our collective psyche which accounts for  apparitions of Mary world wide. For every individual sighting approved as legitimate by the Church, there hundreds and perhaps thousands that are rejected or go unreported. Although there are some appearances of her that are seemingly incredulous, who's to really say what is and is not real? Entity manifestations often begin in the subconscious as thought forms. It's been psychologically proven  that someone desiring union with a divine entity can invoke the desired result (even if that manifestation is due to hysterical psychosis). To this reasoning, any appearance is valid. Belief in a religious context does not always require evidence other than individual experience; faith is the trust in that experience. In my humble opinion, it's motivation and intention that matters most. I think the Feminine Divine is alive in this world, and it doesn't matter what name we call her. It's how I, as a Pagan, can stand behind the Christmas narrative and the importance of Mary- by putting it in perspective along side the many other Great Mother/Divine Child myths in history. It isn't a form of appropriation from one culture to another as much as a need for the story to continue for all of us no matter who we are.

I rather like the image of Mary as Rosa Mystica, as found in the writings of Saint Brigid, in which Mary herself tells the saint ( I'm paraphrasing here for clarity): "... The rose gives a fragrant odor; it is beautiful to the sight and tender to the touch, and yet it grows among thorns, unaware of its beauty and tenderness. So may those who are mild-tempered, patient, and beautiful in virtue be put to the test in the world. As the thorn guards the beauty of the rose, so does adversity keep us from wrong- doing by the example of its destructive nature." It fits with my definition of the Feminine Divine which equally shares strength and power.

In Pagan theology, we are all God/dess, co-creators who share in the Divine Mysteries of Birth, Living and Dying and everything that lays between them with the gods. As a woman and priestess, I can connect deeply to this, more deeply than when I was a part of a faith tradition founded by men where I was stripped of my inherent worth and dignity and considered second best as a human being. I say these words without anger, because I also believe that to get to the place of spiritual confidence I have today, I had to have gone through that experience. I believe it's true that everything is a lesson. You have to start and leave somewhere in order to make a journey. It is a journey I make guided by the Mystical Rose along a path of my choosing. Here we are joined, and I, too, am Mary. I carry within me the Divine Child of possibility and wonder which is in constant renewal. And I'll tell you a secret: I'm not always enraptured by knowing this, especially when I realize the responsibility it carries. Being a priestess of the Mystery of the Holy Rose has both its exultant glory and its unfathomable burdens. And while I'm being candid, both scare the hell out of me for a lot of reasons.

So in this period of personal discernment in the weeks of waiting before Winter Solstice and Yule, I'm going to work on being a little less scared and less doubtful of my abilities. I'm going to try to be less pessimistic about my fellow human beings, a little more hopeful about the world, and more grateful about all of it. I'm going to remember I have the Divine spark in me, too, and see magick and wonder at every turn. And maybe, just maybe, the Mystery of the Holy Rose will bloom in me.

Friday, November 25, 2016

A Season of Stillness and Waiting

In contrast to the hysterical blowout of Black Friday, the following Sunday is the first day of the Season of Advent, days of quiet reflection and waiting leading up to the Nativity of the Son of God. The Latin word adventus stems from the ancient Greek root parousia, meaning presence or arrival.Usually it's associated with the birth of Christ at Christmas, but I have purposely left this definition vague for reasons explained later. Right now, let's just frame this period of time as 'weeks of waiting'.

Beth Owl's Daughter begun a lovely interfaith tradition for this time of year which is emotionally uplifting. It's a cyber event that I've been participating in for several years now; I find it transformative. It's an excellent alternative to the traditional Christian Advent, and everyone is invited to participate:

I look forward to this time of year because it feels like a little otherworldly-a magickal time outside of time. The waiting for the birth of the Divine Child is a space set aside for deep introspection and connection with the sacred. There are a few things I have adapted from the Christian tradition of Advent  and made a bit more universal. It's easy to apply Pagan terms and tradition for these Weeks of Waiting. Allow me to share a past post on the subject with you:;postID=5457978819530187517;onPublishedMenu=allposts;onClosedMenu=allposts;postNum=5;src=postname

I believe that building toward Yule and the coming of Sol Invictus makes the holiday holy in the best definition of the word; it adds layers upon layers of richness and meaning to The Longest Night of the Year.Within all of these layers of meaning,I still immerse my spirit  in the words of the Anglican Hymn O Come,O Come Emmanuel. It is a translation of a much older Latin hymn Veni,Veni Emannuel, part of the 8th century 'O Antiphons' related to the Magnificat sung during the weeks proceeding the Nativity of Christ. The age of the English text of the hymn is up for debate because there are various versions, but the music dates to much earlier, to 15th century France. The number of verses is also up for discussion and even the order in which they are sung and on which particular Sunday in Advent. (I must admit, when you are walking in procession garbed in heavy liturgical vestments, the 5-7 most popular verses feel like there are hundreds and physical discomfort can become distracting).  But all the same, it does not feel like Advent has begun until I sing this particular hymn.

Thank you, Anglican tradition for instilling in me a love of liturgy and ritual. I truly wish something similar to this music existed within the Neo-Pagan traditions other than the appropriated 'Pagan Carols' we've all heard. While well meaning, many of them are...what's the word I'm looking for? Oh,yeah...corny.  The majority of them lack meter and sound a bit shallow to my ear. That's just me; maybe you like them, and if you do, that's fine. But I still would love to see someone come up with some original lyrics and music that are Pagan-centric and don't sound like hashed-over Christmas carols. ( One standout-the Unitarian Universalist Within the Shining of a Star, which relates the birth of a Divine Child to all children ).

Until then, I'll stick with the Christianized versions that are vaguely celebratory of the Birth of the Divine Child, whomever he or she may be.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

The Devil Made 'Em Do It

According to recent Catholic news sources, exorcisms are once again on the rise in the United States. According to two popular exorcists, Fr. Gary Thomas and Fr. Vincent Lampert, they can "hardy keep up with the demand".

The two priests claim that the rise in demon possessions are influenced by things like pornography, drug addiction and the lack of competent mental health care in the US. They also have stated that an increase in public interest in Atheism and Paganism are " a doorway to many possessions".

Valter Cascioli, a psychologist and 'scientific' consultant to the Vatican endorsed International Association of Exorcists is quoted saying," It is dangerous to underestimate a phenomenon that is caused by the direct actions of the Devil, but also by a decline in faith and values." He also went on to qualify his observation by saying it was important not to confuse diabolical possession with psychiatric illness. Only one percent of people claiming to have problems with demons have real need of an exorcist", citing that they had "violent reactions to prayer of liberation and to holy water."

Reading this article from the Telegraph brought out the counselor in me, because what Dr.Cascioli didn't mention in his assessment is the fact that some psychotic individuals are extremely sensitive and reactive to sound, tactile sensations, and the power of suggestion. Imagine what is going through the mind of someone who is experiencing a mental disorder where thought, reason and rational perception are distorted. Add to that the disturbing and frightening elements of being surrounded
(and possibly restrained) by several individuals engaged in a ritual frenzy which features hysterically shouting epaulets about evil beings and demons and anointing them with holy water and oil against their will. For someone with that level of mental illness, it's an emotional train wreck that borders on the abusive. More likely than not it would cause them to admit to anything suggested just to make the others leave them alone.

Those in the field have also pointed to the rise in popularity of interest in the Occult ( which they label as 'pagan activity') such as using talking boards 'to summon the dead', failure of the mental health care system, a spiritual void in the lives of Americans, and the diminishing authority of the Church. They blame popular culture for being a gateway that lets Satan into society through sin.

But the hardcore, conservative clergy backpedal their comments when pressed for further explanation of how these things actually work in regard to demonic possession. They rely not on scientific or spiritual research, but regurgitate what the Church has been habitually saying since medieval times- "The Devil made them do it". What a nice little piece of scapegoating by a clergy who have failed to retain membership and control over the members who remain in recent years. Sounds to me like a denial of responsibility by an outdated religious hierarchy being rejected by enlightened people of the modern age.

The reformed edition of Exorcisms and Certain Supplications is a document of litany and ritual used by the Roman Catholic Church regarding demonic possession. The new edition actually warns not to confuse mental illness with possession by evil entities. It removed descriptions of Satan that conflicted with Church dogma ( and sounded down right silly to modern society). Vatican guidelines state several supposed signs of a person being possessed after the elimination of medical explanation have been exhausted: Speaking in an unknown language, revealing things that are far away or hidden, and demonstrating physical strength beyond the norm for the age or health of the individual in question. Included again is a warning  that "these signs are only an indication" and may not be the work of the Devil.
At this point, may I interject that this sounds exactly like what  Pentecostals and Evangelicals refer to as "being of the Spirit of God", a spiritual practise which includes 'speaking in tongues (glossolalia),prophesying, and other spiritual feats-all of which are hallmarks of their faith tradition. I have witnessed charismatic Pentecostals stopping mid-service to engage in a 'deliverance'. The most rabid of the lot find Satan hiding behind every tree and attribute even the slightest misfortune to him.To their minds, nothing happens by chance;everything is either the Lord's doing or Satan's.There is no middle ground. Satan influence Eve to manipulate Adam into from the Tree of Knowledge and thus doomed mankind. Personally, I don't think this illustration speaks very well about God's first human, who looks pretty gullible,weak-minded and reflects poorly on Himself as a Creator. Their literal belief in this event has been comprehensively examined by both Jewish and Christian scholars who agree that it's a moral story meant to underscore the superiority of God oven Man.

It's also a mindset which rather conveniently excuses Christians of any responsibility for their behavior because,"God's in control".

While there are things that are beyond our control, those things are not necessarily caused by the Devil and his minions. Electricity go out while you're reading Scripture? It's a breech of the electrical grid and not cause by a nefarious entity. Sleep through weekly Bible class? Your body needed rest or you ate something that jacked up your glucose level. Car won't start and you miss Sunday worship service. It's more realistically a mechanical issue that requires the attention of a mechanic rather than a priest because you think a demon kept you from worshiping Jesus at your favorite church.

Sadly, this is a world view forged from the fear of the unknown and the "Other", a view which does not joyously embrace the randomness of Life. It is grounded in an obfuscated myth created by those confused by the conflicting attributes of their deity.

As for a 'decline in faith and values', this is nothing new. Numbers in all mainstream denominations have been in a downward spiral through at least the last several decades. Out of all of them, the Roman Catholic Church in particular has had significant losses. According to a 2015 Pew Forum report, the total number of Roman Catholics in the United States dropped by 3 million since 2007 and now comprises about 20% or one fifth of the total population. Much of that is due to dissatisfaction with a church it's members have determined is out of step with the times, and because its leadership stubbornly clings to the belief that they hold sway over parishioners rather than be in ministry together. The stark truth is that many modern Catholics have evolved spiritually and moved on from antiquated dogma. Some in the priesthood stand with their enlightened view, while others still uphold doctrine that is for all intents and purposes obsolete.

What I have cited in this post is verifiable fact regarding the Church's fascination with a phenomenon become obsession, a level matched only by their counterparts in the Middle Ages. Our belief systems have changed so much that it necessary for those practicing extreme Charismatic  theology to come to terms with the fact that the evil in our world is the fault of humans and not supernatural entities. Nor should we finger-point at mental illness which has risen due to lack of available treatment. Collectively, we do bad things to others and ourselves-often in the name of religion. Humans have wrought ruin of every nature upon one another, and it's time we acknowledge that.