The Urantia Book -- Part III. The History
PAPER 87: Section 6.
Coercion And Exorcism
When men believed in ghosts only, religious ritual was more personal, less
organized, but the recognition of higher spirits necessitated the employment
of "higher spiritual methods" in dealing with them. This attempt to improve
upon, and to elaborate, the technique of spirit propitiation led directly
to the creation of defenses against the spirits. Man felt helpless indeed
uncontrollable forces operating in terrestrial life, and his feeling
of inferiority drove him to attempt to find some compensating adjustment,
some technique for evening the odds in the one-sided struggle of man
In the early days of the cult, man's efforts to influence ghost action were
confined to propitiation, attempts by bribery to buy off ill luck. As the
evolution of the ghost cult progressed to the concept of good as well as bad
spirits, these ceremonies turned toward attempts of a more positive nature,
efforts to win good luck. Man's religion no longer was completely negativistic,
nor did he stop with the effort to win good luck; he shortly began to devise
schemes whereby he could compel spirit co-operation. No longer does the religionist
stand defenseless before the unceasing demands of the spirit phantasms of
his own devising; the savage is beginning to invent weapons wherewith he may
coerce spirit action and compel spirit assistance.
Man's first efforts at defense were directed against the ghosts. As the ages
passed, the living began to devise methods of resisting the dead. Many techniques
were developed for frightening ghosts and driving them away, among which may
be cited the following:
- Cutting off the head and tying up the body in the grave.
- Stoning the death house.
- Castration or breaking the legs of the corpse.
- Burying under stones, one origin of the modern tombstone.
- Cremation, a later-day invention to prevent ghost trouble.
- Casting the body into the sea.
- Exposure of the body to be eaten by wild animals.
Ghosts were supposed to be disturbed and frightened by noise; shouting, bells,
and drums drove them away from the living; and these ancient methods are still
in vogue at "wakes" for the dead. Foul-smelling
concoctions were utilized to
banish unwelcome spirits. Hideous images of the spirits were constructed so
that they would flee in haste when they beheld themselves. It was believed that
dogs could detect the approach of ghosts, and that they gave warning by howling;
cocks would crow when they were near. The use of a cock as a weather vane
is in perpetuation of this superstition.
Water was regarded as the best protection against ghosts. Holy water was superior
to all other forms, water in which the priests had washed their feet. Both fire
and water were believed to constitute
impassable barriers to ghosts. The Romans
carried water three times around the corpse; in the twentieth century the body
is sprinkled with holy water, and hand washing at the cemetery is still a Jewish
ritual. Baptism was a feature of the later water ritual; primitive bathing was
a religious ceremony. Only in recent times has bathing become a sanitary practice.
But man did not stop with ghost coercion; through religious ritual and other
practices he was soon attempting to compel spirit action. Exorcism was the employment
of one spirit to control or banish another, and these tactics were also utilized
for frightening ghosts and spirits. The
dual-spiritism concept of good and bad
forces offered man ample opportunity to attempt to pit one agency against another,
for, if a powerful man could vanquish a weaker one, then certainly a strong
spirit could dominate an inferior ghost. Primitive cursing was a coercive practice
designed to overawe minor spirits. Later this custom expanded into the pronouncing
of curses upon enemies.
It was long believed that by reverting to the usages of the more ancient mores
the spirits and demigods could be forced into desirable action. Modern man is
guilty of the same procedure. You address one another in common, everyday language,
but when you engage in prayer, you resort to the older style of another generation,
the so-called solemn style.
This doctrine also explains many
religious-ritual reversions of a sex nature,
such as temple prostitution. These reversions to primitive customs were considered
sure guards against many calamities. And with these simple-minded peoples all
such performances were entirely free from what modern man would term promiscuity.
Next came the practice of ritual vows, soon to be followed by religious pledges
and sacred oaths. Most of these oaths were accompanied by self-torture and
later on, by fasting and prayer. Self-denial was subsequently looked upon as
being a sure coercive; this was especially true in the matter of sex suppression.
And so primitive man early developed a decided
austerity in his religious practices,
a belief in the efficacy of self-torture and self-denial as rituals capable
of coercing the unwilling spirits to react favorably toward all such suffering
Modern man no longer attempts openly to coerce the spirits, though he still
evinces a disposition to bargain with Deity. And he still swears, knocks on
wood, crosses his fingers, and follows
expectoration with some trite phrase;
once it was a magical formula.