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Spiritism: Brazilian healing heads to New York City

Published:Sunday | December 14, 2014 | 12:00 AM
Eduardo Guimaraes (left) and Angela Stewart.

Dr Glenville Ashby, Contributor

They are not large in numbers but they are fast becoming well known for their unorthodox, but effective healing methods.

They uphold the teachings of 19th century French physician and educator, Alan Kardec, who codified the laws that govern the spirit world and their wide ranging impact on the world. His books, The Medium's Book, The Spirits' Book, and Heaven and Hell, are biblical in scope, insightful, and the foundation of Spiritist philosophy.

Interestingly, practitioners are primarily Brazilians and are called Spiritists. They are believed to be in the millions in their native home, eroding the foothold that Roman Catholicism once enjoyed.

They hold that a high percentage of psychological and mental problems are rooted in the spirit world, and have built at least 10 psychiatric hospitals where conventional healing modalities are complemented with Spiritist practices.

They denounce exorcisms and dismiss criticisms of evangelicals who cite Deuteronomy 18:9-14 to prove their case: "Let no one be found among you who ... practices divination or sorcery, interprets omens, engages in witchcraft or cast spells, or who is a medium or spiritist or who consults the dead".

But having attended many Spiritist meetings and studied all of Kardec's books, it is clear that their teaching is at odds with the sorcery-like indulgences of the Old Testament.

Mediums are used as instruments to identify spiritual maladies and the entities behind them. This is the crux of the dis-obsession process, a complex undertaking that also involves fluidotherapy (passing of the hands around the body to transfer energy), and fraternal dialogue (the spirit entity is counselled and asked to relinquish its hold on the victim).

The number of treatments depends on the severity of the case and the resistance of the spirit.

Medium naturally gifted

A medium is naturally gifted but this is a blessing that must be cultivated and channelled. Angie Stewart, who is the director of Inner Enlightenment Spiritist Society in Midtown Manhattan, is one such medium. She's markedly candid and renowned for her spiritual attributes. She follows in the footsteps of Brazil's most illustrious medium, Chico Xavier. Her pro bono work is standard and consistent with the cardinal principle of Spiritism, to never charge for its services.

Eduardo Guimaraes, the group's former director, once said that Spiritism is not a religion. "It's a philosophy, a science that explains the origin and destiny of spirits." Spiritism, he conceded is misunderstood. "We are all spirits; only that we are yet to shed our physical encasement."

Stewart emphasised that, "Spiritism is not about Ouija boards and flippantly contacting familiar spirits." She went on to explain that spiritual healing must be predicated by living a clean and moral life. "This is what attunes you to your Guardian Angel and higher-level spirits."

Stewart discovered her mediumistic gift at a young age. Unable to fathom the enormity of the experience, her parents dismissed it as an overexcited imagination or just a psycho-emotional phase that trouble many children.

"But some of the spirits were not friendly," she said, recalling the escalation of these inexplicable events as she grew older. "I vividly remember one incident where I was harassed by several spirits, staring at and abusing me."

This is where the Spiritist doctrine offered a comprehensive explanation that helped her understand her sensitivity, and the role of past life experiences in current situations. They also nurtured her mediumistic abilities.

"At the end of the day, lower-order spirits are also in need of our prayers and assistance," said Stewart.

It is this ontological grounding that makes Spiritism difficult to dismiss as charlatanism, or worse, devilish adventurism.

"Too many Christians adopt a literal interpretation of the Bible," Stewart explained. "All the prophets were mediums. They spoke of visions, of hearing, seeing and dreaming. In fact, Jesus' healing ministry was characterised by his astounding mediumship. Of course, it was forbidden in Moses' time, because, like everything else, it was abused for power and control."

Stewart hardly minced words when asked to discuss revival ministries. "They dance and speak unintelligibly (in tongues), but there is no lucid, enlightening or meaningful message. They are only in touch with their subconscious or lower-level spirits who they believe are of the Holy Spirit."

Actions, thoughts influenced by spirits

Interestingly, Spiritists have long held that, "our actions and thoughts are witnessed and influenced by spirits."

This concept of multiple dimensions - unfettered by time or space - is only now corroborated by quantum physics.

"This is why it's so essential to guard our thoughts and behaviour," Stewart cautioned.

"We continuously do immoral things - drinking, taking drugs, having illicit sex ... you name it. We are consumed by jealously and greed. This explains why we are obsessed by negative spirits that crave these sensations they once enjoyed. They now live vicariously through us. This is the law of attraction at work."

Spiritism has responded effectively to countless cases of obsession.

"Most patients in psychiatric wards are obsessed by spirits but traditional medicine and psychology are unaware, or unwilling to adopt alternative methods. We do not perform exorcisms like Roman Catholics. We do not call obsessing spirits, 'devils' or 'evil spirits'. They are our misguided and troubled brothers and sisters who had some form of connection with the person they are besieging," argued Stewart.

"In our fraternal meetings, we counsel the obsessed person who is then sent home and asked to pray and refrain from negative indulgences. Then, in our private meetings, we invite, if not compel the obsessing spirit to speak through our medium. It is here that malevolence is transformed through counselling and prayer.

"Here, success depends on the will of the obsessed person. There must be a steely determination to get well, according to Stewart and Guimaraes. "Only then can good spirits intercede on the victim's behalf. The higher-order spirits will always respect your choice, for good or bad."

When asked about human destiny and the imminent apocalyptic doctrine as taught by Christians, Stewart responded with the teachings inscribed in, The Gospel According to Spiritism, known as the codex of this fast-growing movement in New York.

"We will continue to see natural disasters and the reshaping of the world in some form, making us think deeply about life's purpose. What is important to know, though, is that higher-order spirits are returning, influencing us toward a more fraternal, ethical and moral life. This process is slow, but inevitable."

Dr Glenville Ashby is a social critic and president of Global Interfaith Council. Send feedback: glenvilleashby@gmail.com or follow him on Twitter@glenvilleashby.