In Bondage to Evil

A Psycho-Spiritual Understanding of Possession

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T. Craig Isaacs
  • Eugene, OR: 
    Pickwick Publications
    , January
     2018.
     246 pages.
     $30.00.
     Paperback.
    ISBN
    9781532631412.
     For other formats: Link to Publisher's Website.

Review

T. Craig Isaacs, the author of this unusual book, is an Anglican priest and practitioner of “Christian psychotherapy and spiritual formation” (drcraigisaacs.com). His website features items such as “Understanding Qigong and Tai Chi in the Light of Christ.” It also leads the reader to Dr. Isaacs’s other sites, including one on threat assessment, which encourages Christians to enroll in NRA approved weapons training in order to stem violence, terrorism, or pedophilia in a church. In this vein, Dr. Isaacs also has a book called Wolves among Sheep: Protecting Your Church from Violence (2011).

In the book under review, Isaacs covers a great deal of territory. He examines the relationship between mysticism and possession and provides brief conspectuses of shamanism, voodoo, spiritualism, witchcraft, and Satanism in relation to possession. He has concise chapters on different neuropsychological theories and states which contribute to his understanding of possession. These include brief chapters on hypnosis, dissociative disorders, and hysteria. Other chapters address Jungian psychology and existentialism. Finally, the author addresses diagnoses of possession that distinguish it from other pathologies, includes fourteen brief ethnographies, and provides conclusions. There’s a veneer, occasionally even a deeper degree, of analytical acumen in his descriptions. But by the end it becomes obvious that Isaacs has gone about all of this  to restate that possession is demonic and can be traced back to Satan. To this reviewer it was a tiresome and unhelpful conclusion, even if occasionally ingenious, offering little insight into a series of states of mind that all the theorists he cites found much more interesting, compelling, and revealing of the human mind and condition than he did.

Among the questionable assertions in the book is that forms of possession throughout the world are always distinguished from forms of madness or mental disorder. The evidence from India, at the very least, thoroughly contradicts this (cf. Frederick M. Smith, The Self Possessed, Columbia University Press, 2006, chapter 12). The descriptions on which Isaacs relies are stereotypical examples of possession as found in the Western Christian world (prominently in the US as a result of the 1973 movie The Exorcist) of levitation, flying objects, an acrid, sulfurous odor, and so on. After spending much of the book summarizing an array of psychological states, depending to a great extent on the fourth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of the American Psychiatric Association [DSM IV], Isaacs finds present diagnostic categories inadequate. The answer, rather, is already known, namely possession by Lucifer, by Satan. 

Part of this diagnosis lies in Isaacs’s unquestioned assumption that the individual self is unitary, that a divisible self by definition is inadmissible—even worse, it is fragmented. The fragmentation is in fact possession by evil, by Satan, of the imago dei to which a healthy ego is ideally tethered. The usurpation of the role of the imago dei by evil results in many possible forms of psychosis. This usurpation in fact reveals that the individual has cut a deal with the Devil, with the imago diabolus. This is not the only form of possession, but it is the most difficult kind. Healthy archetypes, taken from Isaacs’s reading of Jung, are replaced by dark archetypes. Schizophrenia, depression, loss of libido, inexplicable paranormal activity, dramatically inflated ego, wrongheaded sense of power, all these and much more are due to an individual accepting a relationship with the inner Devil, as Isaacs calls it. Isaacs relates all of this to various analyses of intrapsychic functioning. In the end, he says, psychology is still a young science that will, he hopes, change some of its positivistic views. Through this change, he contends, psychology will be able to bridge the gap with spiritual explanations he provides here.

Finally, it is important to note that throughout the book I felt I was reading antiquated scholarship. This was confirmed by the bibliography. With the exception of a reference to another book of his on possession and the Book of Revelation, there in nothing in Isaacs’s extensive bibliography beyond the late 1980s. There has, however, been a small library of books written on possession since then. Thus, it appears that this book was written three decades before it was published. It is not always a bad idea to publish old research or to reprint out of print books. But in this case it did not serve the subject matter well, because possession research has advanced well beyond what is found in this book.

About the Reviewer(s): 

Frederick M. Smith is Professor of Sanskrit & Classical Indian Religions at the University of Iowa.

Date of Review: 
November 12, 2018
About the Author(s)/Editor(s)/Translator(s): 

T. Craig Isaacs is a clinical psychologist practicing psychotherapy and spiritual formation in Marin County, CA. He is also a priest of the Anglican Church North America. He is author of the book Revelations and Possession: Distinguishing Spiritual from Psychological Experiences (2009), as well as two books on preventing violence in churches: Wolves Among the Sheep (2011), and The Wolves Among the Sheep Workbook (2013).

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