So, I chewed through chunks of Joe Fisher’s The Siren Call of Hungry Ghosts and while I have precious few things that I identify as ‘required reading,’ this might be one of them. I say that with some qualifications, because while Fisher does give the appropriate nods to cross-cultural warnings about working with these spirits, he doesn’t see those traditions which seem to have found effective ways of working with them. His survey of spiritualists are notably absent the most sophisticated spiritualisms that developed in tandem with practices like Palo, Ocha, Candomble, and Quimbanda.
One of the things that I found very helpful about this book was its journalistic quality. Fisher gives the details of both the spirits’ personalities and their conversations, providing the material for making some sense of the commonalities across these spirits’ behaviors.
You know what the biggest warning sign seems to be? These spirits like to talk and receive attention. They will do all kinds of things to hold that attention and extend their contact with the medium, often providing an admixture of practical advice, healing, and metaphysical speculation. The more a spirit actively seeks out your attention, the more likely it is a hungry ghost. The more that spirit speaks in human terms, the more likely it is a hungry ghost.
(As an aside, that puts Gordon’s recent post in a new light, doesn’t it? If the spirits aren’t talking algebra to you, it is probably sign number two that they are banally hungry.)
The second thing is that these spirits are territorial, discouraging other spirits from interacting with their person of choice. While there do seem to be alliances between them, especially in terms of allowing a fellow hungry ghost to get its claws into someone of their own, they do a lot of trash talking of each other. Of course, that trash talking may be somewhat calculating. If they point out each other’s lies, they mutually strengthen themselves as truth sources for their mediums.
The third thing is that these spirits are very interested in base matters, like sex and food. If the spirit is particularly interested in sex, especially in getting to watch or participate in some way, the signs point to the spirit being a hungry ghost.
All that said, these spirits do provide good advice, both speculative and practical, but it is embedded in these lengthier discourses and parasitic skin-riding, both of which take a toll on the medium and those who consult them. More problematically, in terms of extracting value from the material, the effort to preserve contact means that the material is often over-elaborated and baroque. You can see many, many cases of this in the channeled materials of both the theosophists and their New Age relatives. Christopher Knowles examination of Alice Bailey’s work to point out Lovecraft’s debt to her? Yeah, all over that. Awkwardly, I have to admit that these signs are present in both the Enochian material of Dee and Kelly, as well as in that of the Yeats’s material.
Worse, in both the Enochian and Yeatsian material, there are other flags. These don’t necessarily invalidate the material (again, note the mix of truth and elaboration above), but it does underline the importance of bringing discernment to the material.
The funny thing about Philip K. Dick is that this largely doesn’t apply. The elaborateness of the material rests firmly in the hands of Dick himself who is actively exploring alternative explanations. I think Jung’s work, too, may pass that test, though perhaps a little more narrowly.
I wonder if there is something about the Q&A approach to spirit work that specifically opens the door to these problems? Neither Dick nor Jung did a lot with channeled entities, either, engaging spirits of a more alien nature than that.
Speaking of Dick. Some of Fisher’s own ideas could be readily incorporated into Dick’s fourfold world scheme. They may form an essential and consitutive element of the Black Iron Prison. If so, we would expect them to show up most intensely precisely where breakthroughs are occurring. The hungry ghosts would function as a reactive counter to Zebra’s self-transformation. Their tendency to masquerade as higher beings itself a sort of adaptive strategy meant to protect it from cannibalization, the truth in the rambling forming part of that mimicry…which would make their talkiness a feature rather than a bug, because it would activate the ego functions that resist change.
While Fisher focuses on channeled entities claiming to be the spirits of the departed, he does mentions, briefly, the story Iamblichus tells of a Roman soldier playing at Apollo. That opens quite a can of worms.
Oy. I am going to have to think through how I have incorporated some of the Yeatsian material into my thinking, for a start.