CW/TW: discussion of violence, trauma, suicidality, self-harm, mental illness, and oppression
I’m writing this article because I’d like to offer some insight and suggestions for recovery and re-rooting from a spiritwork and healing justice lens. I’ll also be alluding to concepts found in Generative Somatics (Staci K. Haines) and Cultural Somatics (Resmaa Menakem, Tada Hozumi, Dare Sohei, Larissa Kaul), as well as briefly comparing them to concepts found in complex trauma theory, attachment theory, behavioural psychology, cognitive psychology, psychodynamic psychology, psychoanalysis, and ego psychology. I mention psychological concepts in case the reader’s frame of reference is mostly from psychology, only to assist them in a better understanding of these spiritwork-based concepts.
This article is divided into the following sections:
- Background: The Tikbalang
- Getting Lost Versus Led Astray
- 5 Common Soul Wounds and Their Demons
- The Healing Journey
- Basbasan: The Transformation of Spirits
- Sakom: Soul Retrieval
- Review of Soul Wounds, Demons & Homecoming Teachings
If you’re new to this work, I suggest scrolling down to the bottom and starting at the section called “Review of Soul Wounds, Demons & Homecoming Teachings”. There will be relevant quotes if you don’t have time to read each of the articles in full, but there will also be links to all 7 articles that are the basis for this one.
BACKGROUND: THE TIKBALANG
The tikbalang is a spirit of (the islands colonially known as) the Philippines with a complicated history, whose horse-headedness could be traced to Hinduism and/or Spanish colonizers bringing horses. However, in this article I am talking about the spirit’s actions and function, whether it is depicted with a horse head or not. I am talking about how the spirit can be a benevolent elemental guardian, and also how it can be known as a being that “leads travellers astray”. When a tikbalang “plays tricks” on a human, it is most likely that the human has not respected the land that the tikbalang protects. There is an offense, and the human becomes lost. In the traditions, a human traveller needs to turn their shirt inside out (to prove that they have not stolen anything of the land or are harbouring weapons against the land) and/or speak out loud that they are passing through and mean no harm. A couple of European equivalents to spirits that lead humans astray are known as will-o’wisps or jack-o’lanterns.
In the context of this article, I am comparing a specific kind of unhealed situation to the situation of being led astray by a tikbalang. This is the situation where a violence, an offense, is done to a human soul, thus creating a soul wound, and demons, enraged by the wound, but fed by the suffering (the energy or “blood” of the wound), lead the human away from their purpose (or their centered and grounded self). As long as the human is led astray, the demons can keep feeding off the wound. When I titled the article as “transforming tikbalang”, what it alludes to is that not only must the Community help bring the human back Home to Centre, but also must heal the Soul Wound (usually through retrieving and integrating a lost soul piece), and transform the demons feeding off the wound into spirits or the energy of Creation. Thus, the tikbalang that is harmful to a human transforms once again into a spirit focused on their purpose in Creation.
Another way to look at this, popularized by the colonial world, is that behaviours that become entrenched patterns which can be described as “personality disorders” can be traced to recurring intrusive thoughts and beliefs usually stemming from one or a series of early traumatic moments. Recovery can require addressing the source, the thoughts/beliefs, and the patterns themselves by creating secure attachments, establishing as much safety as possible, and affirming dignity in a network of relationships.
GETTING LOST VERSUS LED ASTRAY
In regards to the Homecoming Teachings, when an individual or community “gets lost”, it’s possible that they forgot their own teachings in pursuit of a goal that created an imbalance (for example, getting so caught up in “protecting” their people that they start destroying anything they perceive as a threat). Usually, an elder, teacher, or a keeper of the culture can remind the person or community to return to core values, to collective purpose, to Home.
However, when an individual or community is “led astray”, it is because a demon is deliberately tampering with them to not return to Centre. If it’s a personal demon, it is focused on feeding off the individual’s soul wound and if the person is led astray into being a Fugitive, then they have no time or energy to transform the demon and heal their wound. If it’s a community demon or oppression demon, it can be focused on an individual’s soul wound, or a community’s soul wound. If a community is the target, multiple people can be led astray, and the demon may try to specifically target and/or possess elders, teachers, or anyone that could remind the community of their culture or values.
Another way to know the difference is that there’s pushback, there’s a form of violent backlash, when led astray. For example, when one gets lost, those who tend the Centre and the rest of the Community, welcome the return, and are ready for the integration process of coming home. But when those led astray attempt to return, the demons will aggravate the wound so they can continue to feed, causing immense suffering in the individual or community, forcing folks to flee back in the opposite direction of the Centre.
5 COMMON SOUL WOUNDS AND THEIR DEMONS
To illustrate the process of being led astray, I’m going to review five common soul wounds and some of the ways, individually or communally, they become a source of fuel for demons that then lead people astray. I will not be offering detailed examples of what can cause these soul wounds, but I will explain what those situations have in common — there is a violence witnessed or experienced that creates a severing in the soul, usually where one’s innate dignity is pitted against one’s safety, or one’s sense of belonging is pitted against one’s dignity, or one’s safety must be sacrificed to keep security. In that moment, where dignity, safety, and security are negated or seem to be enemies of each other, an “understanding” of the situation then rips the soul apart, which can look like one or all of the following: creating different parts of the self (sometimes those different parts merging with outside spirits, such as in my own case), separating the self from community, separating the self from other beings, and separating the self from all of Creation. This severing also creates a “rift in time”, where the moment gets trapped in the mind or the body, usually keeping all the pain of the emotions.
The 5 types of “understandings” or soul wounds I’m going to cover are the following:
- “My Needs Won’t Be Met” Wound
- “I Am Greatness or I Am Nothing” Wound
- “My Destruction Is My Only Control” Wound
- “Other People are Painful” Wound
- “Other People Are My Identity” Wound
“My Needs Won’t Be Met” Wound
The violent incident and the understanding of that violence as “my needs won’t be met” creates this particular soul wound, which commonly attracts demons that insist a variety of things, such as: “you shouldn’t have needs”, “expressing your needs will only cause more suffering to yourself or others”, “take care of others’ needs instead”, etc. These commands lead the soul wound bearer astray into Tyrant-Martyr, where their behaviour becomes controlling in the way they will caretake others and then collapse from overextension and then finally receive some form of care and perhaps try to move towards Trickster-Protector but the demons will then trigger them again if they do receive care, pushing them into the same Tyrant-Martyr behaviours once they recover from the collapse. A possible equivalent to this process may be what’s called psychologically or in the colonial world as codependence or aspects of dependent personality disorder.
“I Am Greatness or I Am Nothing” Wound
The violent incident and the understanding of that violence as “I am Greatness or I am nothing” creates this particular soul wound, which commonly attracts a host of demons that insist any or all of the following: “you are inferior to everyone”, “you are superior to everyone as long as you maintain perfection and not let anyone see your true self”, “making a mistake means you are worthless and disgusting”, “other people don’t matter unless they contribute to and worship your perfection”, etc. These commands lead the soul wound bearer astray into Destroyer while being dismembered both into Tyrant and Adversary. The soul wound bearer’s Destroyer behaviour is combative and abusive, devaluing others through endless criticism or objectifying them if they are useful. Their Tyrant behaviour is bent on manipulating others as allies or enemies to be crushed while their Adversary behaviour is an entitled response to desires and wants, regardless of the cost to others. The demons respond to any move towards Healer, Leader, or Trickster with re-opening the soul wound, creating a flood of shame and self-hatred that is so painful, if the soul wound bearer doesn’t collapse, then they rally all their energy so that they can be led astray back to the Destroyer-Tyrant/Adversary. A possible equivalent to this process may be what’s called psychologically or in the colonial world as narcissism or aspects of antisocial personality disorder.
“My Destruction Is My Only Control” Wound
The violent incident and the understanding of that violence as “my destruction is my only control” creates this particular soul wound, which commonly attracts demons that command the following: “punish those who hurt you by hurting yourself”, “give in to the control of others”, “rebel against the control of others by destroying yourself”, “there is no hope but acts of self-destruction”. These commands lead the soul wound bearer astray into Tyrant-Destroyer — and sometimes dismembered into Martyr, though that may actually be a deception, as whatever looks like caretaking for another person is actually a “giving in” with the intent at self-destruction or self-annihilation, first emotionally/mentally, and then physically. Behaviours for these types of Tyrant-Destroyer manifest as passive-aggression, self-deprecation, self-harm, and suicidality. Any attempt at moving towards the Trickster-Healer is interrupted by demons who reopen the soul wound and trigger agonizing flashbacks whenever the soul wound bearer faces any kind of loss of control, driving them back into Tyrant-Destroyer. A possible equivalent to this process may be what’s called psychologically or in the colonial world as aspects of borderline personality disorder.
“Other People are Painful” Wound
The violent incident and the understanding of that violence as “other people are painful” creates this particular soul wound, which commonly attracts demons that insist they know what must be done to stop the pain. These demons usually fall into two camps or both camps of commands: preemptively “avoid people” or “hurt/push away people if they get too close”. As they command an individual or community to avoid or hurt others, they lead them astray to the Hermit, Destroyer, Tyrant, or a combination of the three. Behaviours of these types of Hermits, Destroyers, and/or Tyrants, involve controlling the environment through withdrawing from as much human contact and interaction as possible, or attacking others if they try to breach that isolation, in a stuck flight and/or fight response. Any attempt to return to Centre, moving towards the Seeker, Healer, or Trickster, will be interrupted by painful flashbacks, especially any time the bearer of this soul wound has a social interaction that isn’t a particular/perfect form of pleasant or fun. These flashbacks are the soul wound reopening, which the demons enjoy, even as they lead the bearer astray once again in their triggered state to engage in Hermit/Destroyer/Tyrant behaviour. A possible equivalent to this process may be what’s called psychologically or in the colonial world as aspects of avoidant personality disorder.
“Other People Are My Identity” Wound
The violent incident and the understanding of that violence as “other people are my identity” creates this particular soul wound, which commonly attracts demons that have opposing commands, such as: “merge with this other person or you are nothing” and “don’t merge with this other person or you will disappear”. These commands lead the soul wound bearer astray into Tyrant, usually dismembered in both Destroyer and Martyr, or Hermit and Martyr. Whichever person becomes the holder of the soul wound bearer’s identity is then subjected to fawn responses and fight/flight responses. For example, in one instance the soul wound bearer will try to emulate and anticipate the needs of the identity holder, and then in another instance, the soul wound bearer will have an angry outburst at or begin to avoid the identity holder. Any attempts to move towards Trickster, Protector, Healer, or Seeker, will be interrupted by painful flashbacks, especially any time the bearer of this soul wound interacts with or remembers the identity holder, reopening the soul wound and pushing the soul wound bearer into Tyrant-Martyr-Destroyer/Hermit behaviour once again. A possible equivalent to this process may be what’s called psychologically or in the colonial world as codependence or aspects of dependent or borderline personality disorder.
THE HEALING JOURNEY
For folks who have been led astray, their healing journey may begin with basbasan (spirit transformations for their demons), or it may start with a sakom (soul wound retrieval process). Either of those is probably recommended first, for even if they begin with trying to do a Homecoming Ritual, the demons will aggravate the soul wound, and probably create a crisis that immediately needs to be attended to.
Regardless of which one occurs first, it’s probably best for both the spirit transformation and the soul wound retrieval process to happen close together, such as in the same week or month. This is because if one soul wound heals, the demons who are feeding off of it will get desperate and try to rip open other ones, and the longer they are not supported in their transformation, the more likely their attempts at aggravating other wounds may succeed. Alternatively, if demons are transformed but the soul wound is still not healed, it can continue to attract other hungry demons until it is closed or the lost soul piece is retrieved to close it.
When a soul retrieval process and spirit transformations have been completed for a particular soul wound and its demons, then a person or community who has been led astray can then engage in Homecoming Rituals, specifically Revelations, Embodiments, and Practices detailed in the specific articles on Homecoming Rituals to Healer & Protector, Seeker & Visionary, and Leader & Trickster.
It’s also important to understand that this isn’t a one-time process, that this may be a continuous journey, especially as people and communities usually have more than one soul wound that they bear, and demons that you think have been transformed may have been part of a larger oppression demon that requires more than a one-time ritual by yourself. It may be helpful to journal or document this journey, and record how behaviours have changed, and the major insights received when returning to Centre and aligning with purpose and values in roles like the Leader, Trickster, Healer, Protector, Visionary, and Seeker. This way, even if it feels like no progress is being made, when you re-read the log of your healing journey, you realize that it may be another demon telling you that there isn’t any improvement, as you see your behaviours shift over time to re-align with values and your community honouring you and re-aligning with their values as well.
BASBASAN: THE TRANSFORMATION OF SPIRITS
In my 3 articles on demons, I allude to their transformation. My understanding of spirit transformation comes from both exorcism practices of my spiritwork background (such as the basbasan of my Bikol ancestors), and Buddhist tantric meditation and Chöd practices as a student of the works of Machig Labdrön, Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche, and Lama Tsultrim Allione. I also ground this in many other teachings, that can be summed up in the common saying “hurt people hurt people”. Demons are spirits that are hurt in some way, and their only understanding of how to continue is to cause and feed on more hurt. In some creation stories and teachings, these beings exist to test humans, while in other stories and teachings, the oldest of these beings in existence were the first who got lost into the Tyrant, Adversary, Destroyer, Martyr, Hermit, and Fugitive. Because of this, they know how to lead others astray into these energies and roles, and they feed on suffering because that has replaced their Centre.
When you restore balance in a demon, when you bring them to the Centre, they may transform into their original spirit form or into an altogether new spirit. The demon could have been an unhealed ancestor, filled with rage, possessing you. The demon could have been a grief-stricken land spirit whose river has been destroyed or whose mountain has been mined into nothing. The demon could have been an animal spirit who has had enough of human cruelty. The demon could have been a sacred tool or piece of technology infused with the suffering and terror of thousands of humans. The demon could have been a spirit older than any of these, so lost in the direction of Tyrant or Destroyer that there’s no way to find their original self so when transformed they return as energy into the spirit worlds or Creation.
The many rituals involving spirit transformation have a few in common — they confront the demon head on, and offer something that ultimately leads to the transformation. I find this more effective than banishments or boundary setting, simply because demons can return. Destroying a demon may backfire, as the act of destruction could create a soul wound in another person or community that could birth or attract another demon, usually a Destroyer type. However, by focusing on the transformation, you are actually restoring a larger balance to Creation. The key to the transformation is in the offering — it is a gift, freely given, that is more potent than suffering and pain, and can bring the spirit back to the Centre. The offering is usually some form of unlimited love/compassion, and it feeds the spirit until they remember their original form or transform into something new.
As I wrote about in the other articles, the larger the demon, the more folks will need to be involved in its transformation. I suppose it’s a question of the level of hunger and the age of the demon, how much people the spirit has affected, and how the offering can respond to all of those factors. Generally, collective action is the best response to community demons and oppression demons.
SAKOM: SOUL RETRIEVAL
In Soul Wounds & Personal Demons, I briefly outline what healing soul wounds could look like, in a ritual that my Bikol ancestors called sakom (though whether it is similar to what soul retrieval rituals look like nowadays is of course up for discussion) and is also similar to many other rituals, such as the one Erika Buenaflor describes in her book Curanderismo Soul Retrieval.
I don’t recommend doing soul retrieval work by yourself, because part of how the soul wound was created in the first place was due to the severing from self and community, from a sense of belonging and connection, into a place of meaningless suffering. If you have a cultural somatic/ancestral/spiritwork practice, then calling in ancestors, land spirits, and deities does count as community, and they can possibly guide you through sakom.
For example, in the type of sakom that I’ve experienced and helped to facilitate, we begin the process by calling in all the benevolent, guiding, and healed/healing ancestors, guardian spirits, deities, land spirits, spirits of place, elementals, the directions, sacred tools, plants, animals, and living humans to offer their blessings and guidance. A specific helper spirit then accompanies or guides the soul wound bearer, usually in a trance, through space-time, to the soul wound and/or to where the soul piece is (the soul piece is the part that was ripped from the soul and its absence creates the wound). This soul piece can look like a younger or different version of the soul wound bearer, or an object, an animal, an entire pocket dimension. The piece carries the “understanding” of the violent incident, and oftentimes the soul wound bearer and gathered community members spend time offering a different understanding of the incident or of the truth of the soul piece and why it must return. This new understanding can be conveyed in music, dance, storytelling, offerings of food and smoke cleansing, herbal baths and the conferring of sacred items. The ritual is closed when folks need to disperse, with a promise to the soul piece of when the next ritual will be if the piece is still not ready to return. It may take an hour or days, or a recurring weekly/monthly/yearly ritual until the soul piece returns. Even after the soul piece returns, there may be another ritual to celebrate the closing of the soul wound, and to honour the soul piece through a name, purpose, or token. There may also need to be a period of rest, to support the integration, which can look like avoiding stressful and strenuous activities, while staying in, drinking plenty of liquids, and eating nourishing food.
Lastly, sakom can seem similar to Homecoming Rituals because sakom is a type of Homecoming Ritual, in that there is a Centre that the soul piece is returning to. I would even go so far as to suggest that a person who is led astray may be part of the lost soul piece of a Community’s soul wound. Working on the Revelation, Embodiment, and Practice of a person’s or community’s purpose, values, and commitment is good preparation for sakom, and can prepare the way for a more thorough Homecoming of one who is led astray.
REVIEW OF SOUL WOUNDS, DEMONS & HOMECOMING TEACHINGS
[This section was taken out for this excerpt.]
- Soul Wounds & Personal Demons
- Community Demons
- Oppression Demons
- Pagliwanag: Homecoming Teachings
- Homecoming to Healer & Protector
- Homecoming to Seeker & Visionary
- Homecoming to Leader & Trickster
Want to read the full article? Become a patron on Patreon for as little as $1/month to support my Elders and healing work among my communities. $5/month, and you can get an audio recording/podcast of the livestream chat about this article with community members on our free Discord server. (If you want to join the Kinaban Discord server, send me an email!)