MARY OF AGREDA
BEYOND SPACE AND TIME
The phenomena with which we are concerned
Professor H. H. Price
Presidential Address to the
Society for Psychic Research, 1939.
The preceding chapter previewed Agreda’s innumerable confrontations with what has been called the shadow or dark side of human nature. In her case the confrontations took the form of apparitions, yet of such apparent substance as to have to be reckoned with as though they were flesh and blood. In other words, even if their origin had been subjective, their appearance was objective; or even if they were "thought forms," they appeared to be materially substantial.
The responsibility for guiding one so young and gifted through so crucial a passage fell to Mary’s spiritual director. Fortunately, while cognizant of the danger she faced, he also recognized her crisis as spiritual and as calling for spiritual remedies. Had she been living today, chances are she would have been diagnosed as mentally ill and treated accordingly. And should the treatment have been "successful," then her paranormal gifts might also have been "normalized."
Jung, speaking from years of clinical experience, decried what he called a "lack of imagination for evil, even though evil has us in its grip."1 Moreover, he saw the difference between psychological and spiritual crises as blurred, and maintained that in either case the resolution was a matter of faith—either its discovery or recovery. He held that blindness to evil—even in the face of it—was due in part to a person’s refusal to take personal responsibility for the evil that dwells close at hand.
How ironic for a society that denies the reality of evil to pay it such inordinate attention—but under the guise of "fiction"! Presently, the subject of "the dark side" commands far more attention than in Agreda’s time. This is evident in the popularity of such themes as evil spirits and demonic possession in every type of writing—from movie scripts to philosophical and psychological novels—and to the extent that at any hour of day or night horror films can be viewed on tv, video, or dvd, and in the comfort of home. What might be achieved should equal attention be focused on understanding the shadow side of human nature?
Or is saturation how the shadow of human consciousness is playing itself out in an emptying, exhausting way? But what are the consequences to society? Is mass fascination with fictionalized evil a contributing factor in acted-out violence? Can we claim temporary cultural insanity?
Another related cultural anomaly may be the deafening intensity by which the decibels of sound tracks have been raised to back up explosive, nonstop violence on the screen. It is as though persons’ senses—along with their sensitivity to evil and violence—have been dulled, and so, in grand finale are indulging in a critical sensory-overload.
On the hopeful side, the above may signal a climax-before-collapse of a world-view based on the assumption that the world of the five senses is all there is. If so, what are the dawning indications of an expanded world-view? What hopeful signs may be an indication that the pendulum has begun its swing back from the extremity of rationality and materiality? Will a new consensus take us beyond the world of space and time? Will Agreda’s paranormal experiences, as well as those of ordinary people, come to be viewed as adjunct to the norm?
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If psychology is about the soul (or at least used to be), and sociology is about the collective interaction of lives, might the findings of parapsychology provide a third way through which to see our individual and collective lives within a multidimensional context? And even though research in the field of the paranormal has been ongoing for over a hundred years now, it has been severely hampered by a predominantly rational outlook. This has been in spite of well-evidenced data which has been amassed and scrutinized. An early example was an 1886 book titled Phantasms of the Living.2 Even earlier, the Society for Psychical Research in England undertook an apparitions census. To 17,000 people the question was posed:
Have you ever, when believing yourself to be completely awake, had a vivid impression of seeing or being touched by a living being or inanimate object, or of hearing a voice which impression, so far as you could discover, was not due to any external physical cause?"
Had Agreda been part of this survey she would have been among the nine percent who answered affirmatively and were questioned further. In compiling the study, all of the experiences reported were gone over and sifted out for error. From what remained, G. N. M. Tyrrell drew up a descriptive appraisal of apparitions which he presented before the sponsoring group as the F. W. H. Myers Memorial Lecture.3
Another census was performed by the Swiss Fortnightly Magazine in 1954 and 1955 in which 1500 replies involving personal paranormal experiences were received. Aniela Jaffé compiled a study from these in her book titled Apparitions and Precognition.4 Jung, in the preface to this book, remarked, "One doesn’t speak of these things, however; they simply happen and the intellectuals know nothing about them." In reflection he wondered why nobody thinks of asking the fundamental question of why the same old stories are repeated over and over again without losing their appeal.
Parapsychologists postulate two different views about ghostly apparitions. One—the spiritist theory—posits they are external, self-existing beings or "spirits." The other—the animist theory—accepts them as visible and audible, but as projections of the unconscious similar to hallucinations. Both views, however, understand the manifestations as autonomous occurrences, and, therefore, out of the conscious mind’s ability to create or negate.
Jaffé suggests that it is within the bounds of possibility that both explanations are insufficient and that one day the two theories may prove to be complementary. Could Agreda’s teenage apparitions have been a case of the convergence of the two theories? Going a step further, could her confrontations with vile and lewd characters have been manifestations of her own shadow self? If so, were they an expression of the rejected, repressed "other side" of her conscious personality’s piety and purity? In light of Jung’s "map of the soul," the manifestations would have had their origin in the personal level of Mary’s unconscious mind. Her predicament might then have been further complicated by simultaneously-arising manifestations from deeper, non-personal levels.
Questions concerning existence beyond space and time are premised on beliefs about the "hereafter." Therefore any discussions about hauntings and other paranormal phenomena also touch upon the subject of life after death. And here, no matter what the theologians may say the Bible does or doesn’t teach on the subject, ordinary people have always wanted to know more, and so have turned to other sources. One such source is folk tradition and its "ghost stories." Here apparitions are attributed to "discarnate" souls who are said to be "wandering at large" in a "nether world" with the hope of finding an opening back into the physical realm. Part of the same belief is that souls can become "stuck" between worlds, leaving them "earthbound." No longer a part of the physical world, they have yet to find a place of rest in another dimension. Not necessarily evil, they are truly "lost souls." Could this in-between realm be the "outer darkness" Jesus referred to as where the sound of "weeping" and "the gnashing of teeth" is heard?5
In less belief-specific language, phenomena such as Mary experienced are sometimes attributed to psychically-energized "fragments" of living or dead personalities. In more psychological terms, similar phenomena are viewed as "free-floating" anxieties, fears and other forms of psychic energy.
Belief that certain places are haunted is another familiar folklore theme, and one being given scientific credence in biologist Rupert Sheldrake’s theory of "morphic resonance." In his book, The Presence of the Past,6 Sheldrake expands on the idea that "fields of resonance" build up as "cumulative collective memories." Perhaps in Mary’s case the haunting presence of the past was another consideration. Had there been lingering imprints in the atmosphere of the convent, Mary would have been a likely percipient, particularly considering that the convent for generations had been her family’s castle.
Complex as the reasons may be, the question remains as to how she came to be the target of so distasteful an attack. How did the back-door into her mind happen to be open? As asked in the previous chapter, was it a matter of homeostasis? Does the life of the spirit as well as the body demand balance? Was it Mary’s extreme asceticism that set in motion an equal and opposite reaction? Was there a counterforce at work impacting her mentally, emotionally, and physically—pelting her with obscenities, tormenting her with fear of having displeased God, and pressing in upon her frail physical form with crushingly heavy weights? Even should this explain why, there is still the how. Nor can we help wondering who her tormentors were. With so many difficult and even impossible to answer questions it is tempting to fall back on Samaniego’s explanation that the disturbances were caused by "the Enemy," and let it go at that.
There remains, however, another perspective from which to gain further understanding into the psychological and spiritual forces converging in Mary’s life. This is that of another seventeenth century Spanish mystic—St. John of the Cross—who lived into the decade just before Mary was born. Her spiritual adviser would have been of the same generation as St. John, and possibly familiar with his descriptions of the "dark nights" of "soul and spirit," and his claim that the latter was "more horrific" than the former. Interestingly, this terminology is also descriptive of the psychological/spiritual "descents" about which Jung wrote—the one into the personal and the other into the collective level of the unconscious. Jung made clear that he wrote from his own personal experience. Most certainly St. John also did, and as one on a spiritual path markedly similar to Agreda’s.
The experiences of other contemplatives also suggest that the prolonged silences required of those who seek God in their innermost centers open them to the deeper regions of the unconscious where the remnant phantoms of fear, trauma and unfulfilled human lives and desires roam aimlessly. Jung has described the result of his own descent into these deeper levels as when he ceased to live for himself alone. He describes this as his "night sea journey"—his death of self-will—which led to his rebirth and to a sense of his life as having a transcendent purpose. But in coming to this higher perspective he too had his share of paranormal experiences. And it was through these experiences that he came to appreciate that under certain conditions "phantoms of the past" indeed do have access to the awareness of the living.7
The "nether world" is familiar territory in the experience of another psychiatrist, Kenneth McAll, who combines his clinical practice with his role as a lay minister in the Church of England. Born in China, McAll received his medical training at Edinburgh and then returned to China as a missionary-surgeon. During World War II he was interned in Japanese concentration camps along with some of his Chinese patients. When he returned to England after the war it was to complete a degree in psychiatric medicine in order to integrate what he had learned in the East into his practice as a Western physician of the soul.
McAll’s work is of interest to this study because it corresponds to Mary’s sacramental way of dealing with her haunting experiences. As she relied on self-examination, confession, and communion, so McAll came to rely on the Anglican’s Church rite of communion as his preferred means of assisting the healing of haunted minds, and sometimes haunted places as well.
In interviewing patients, he looks to their family tree for possible connections between the problems of the living and things left unsaid or unresolved with those no longer in physical form. He enlists his patients’ knowledge and memory for genealogical clues. Depending on what came to the surface, he next advises patients to ask forgiveness for or from the deceased. As a way of sacramentally completing the healing, he instructs the patient to receive the Eucharist on behalf of the deceased family member. It is interesting that his method so parallels the one Mary used to put her ghostly apparitions to rest, some of whom she even noted involved persons who had died.
Possibly from his many years in China, McAll’s awareness of ancestral influences goes beyond that of most Westerners. He also has spiritual gifts similar to Agreda’s—both insight and a remarkable clairvoyance through which he often observes souls finding their way into a larger life through the portal of the Eucharist. And if we think about it, the sacramental application of the Blood of Christ is both a numinously-charged and a symbolically-compelling means by which to bring healing to the family bloodline, or, as in Mary’s case, to deal with beleaguering apparitions of unknown origins.
My daughter met McAll in Southern California where he was giving a seminar on methods set forth in his book, Healing the Family Tree.8 Her notes included his comments concerning the West’s mistaken appraisal of the East’s emphasis on "ancestor worship." If Eastern religions have been misjudged for paying too much attention to ancestors, could it be in the West too little is paid? While the consciousness of the East may be more naturally multidimensional, could the West benefit from a more open-minded consideration of the wisdom behind deferential treatment of ancestors?
And what about Agreda’s ancestors? Should they be factored in as a possible contributing cause to her hauntings? Had they been, her method of dealing with the problem would have been remarkably in line with McAll’s recognition that the intercessions of the living sometimes are needed to "right the wrongs" of the troubled or troublesome dead. As one final note on generational influences: for those who experience this form of healing, the result if often a lasting sense of interconnected continuity, even when the family members involved were not known in this life. Compassion for those who came before seems to be the key, and also the key in Agreda’s ability to paranormally transcend physical limitations in order to reach out to the tribal peoples of the American Southwest.
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On a little different note, some of the experiences of comtemplatives and mystics are similar to those of persons having serious mental disorders. At times both appear to be speaking of a twilight zone about which the solid and the sane citizens of ordinary reality have no knowledge. Without equating the two, what might a comparative study of these two extremes reveal about the heights and depths of human consciousness?
In Jung’s map of consciousness there are personal levels and the deeper, collective levels, with the deepest being the "psychoid" realm where nature and God—the created and the uncreated—merge. Jung proposes this as the realm of origin for synchronistic happenings—those acausal events which, without having any direct connection to a situation, nevertheless are related to it through meaning. In Mary’s case, if the abbess and her sister nuns were harassing her in her outer, convent life, the apparitions were doing much the same in her inner, spiritual life. Yet the one had no direct, causal connection to the other—only the insight Mary could gain from the "coincidence" of the two, and how this could help her clarify the meaning and purpose of her life and God’s will.
At this deepest level, the boundary between good and evil fades as meaning rises up out of otherwise senseless happenings. Job, of course, is the biblical example. And like Job, Mary learned that evil is only evil until good comes of it. In her case come it did, as her year of torment became her ladder to God.
Tyrrell viewed apparitions as telepathically caused by an agent—living or dead—but constructed in conjunction with certain mental levels of the percipient. He regarded the phenomena as material "things" without physical occupants. He noted some fascinating characteristics of ghostly apparitions: that they did not necessarily originate with the percipient, but from some other source which had the ability to depict and project a convincing image. A case in point would be Padre Pio’s disguised monk. According to Tyrrell, such a manifestation could show remarkable likeness to a real-life person. Anticipating Sheldrakes’ "morphic resonance," he also held that not only images but an environment could be psychically projected and appear to the percipient as real. Here fans of the Star Trek television series will recognize a construct of human imagination and ingenuity called the "holodeck," where, for recreation and other purposes, crew members can select a virtual reality program with which to interact.
As for how to tell an apparition from a real person, the consensus was that this is not easily done, the reason being that an apparition can provide details as convincingly vivid as a fully-embodied person. Moreover, an apparition can stand out in space and appear to be as solid as a three-dimensional form. A person can even move around and view the image from different angles, much like a laser-projected holographic image.
Another place offering clues on the subject of apparitions is in the New Testament where Jesus’ post-resurrection appearances are detailed. Even earlier in the gospels, when Jesus comes walking on water towards his disciples they actually are reported as saying, "It is a ghost."9 But more often than ghost, the word used is "spirit." My concordance, in fact, defines "spirit" as "an apparition or ghost." An alternate definition is "to signify the soul, which continues in being even after the death of the body." Here the example given is of Stephen who, when being stoned to death, prayed, "Lord Jesus, receive my spirit."10 Additionally, the Bible speaks of "the spirit of fear," of "foul" and "unclean" spirits, of "evil" and "familiar" spirits. With these and many other examples offered, the word spirit, as used in the Bible, can mean the soul or some aspect of the soul which can be either in or out of a physical body, and include apparitions and other ghostly manifestations.11
In the census referred to, apparitions were sometimes heard to breathe, their feet to shuffle, or their skirts to rustle. In other experiences, apparitions were seen to smile, to talk and even to answer a question, if, that is, a person had the temerity to ask. For some the sense of smell was involved, and for others the sense of touch, particularly the sensation of cold. All told, the senses may not be as limited as previously assumed, or their five known ways of functioning limited to the physical world.
As for Mary, it is impossible to know exactly what she experienced or through what means. Nevertheless, an examination of this trying period of her life offers much food for thought, not only for the psychologist and parapsychologist, but also for the theologian, and for the student of mysticism as well. Her story, in fact, is illuminating for anyone seeking greater understanding of how the sensory world sometimes overflows its limited boundaries into an extended world—into Agreda’s omniverse.
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In taking the "natural" world—the ordinary one of the five senses—and the "supranatural" world—the world of spirits, angels, apparitions, ghosts and poltergeists—for two worlds, the mind becomes closed to the reality that it is all one world. But to those whose horizons extend to worlds beyond, the boundaries are like a mountain ridge which appears as a distant shadow in the haze of a summer’s sun, until coming closer and closer it is revealed for what it actually is.
According to the all-one-world paradigm, the phenomena in question—whether experienced by sinner or saint—differ only in degree and intent. The trance of the medium becomes the ecstasy to the saint. The out-of-the-body experience of the pharmacological mystic becomes the teleportation of the servant of God. The clue seems to be that the paranormal faculty thrives in a climate of dedicated service to humanity. Psychic abilities, in their highest function, are gifts from the Creator to human beings and intended to be used accordingly. Unfortunately they sometimes are used destructively or for self-aggrandizement. It is agreed that in this case the gift becomes detrimental to the user, and was so in the book of Acts when a magician named Simon tried to buy the gift of the Holy Spirit for his own purposes,12 and thereby attained linguistic infamy in our word "simony."
In the novitiate experiences of both Sister Mary and Padre Pio, each was forced to face fear-evoking images. Each was subjected to experiences in which the presence of dark and malevolent spirits were felt. As Tyrrell warns, there are valid reason why the mind tries to persuade the body to adhere to its own limited domain. In this way the mind tries to prevent life from becoming overwhelmingly complex. This point bears repeating because it may explain the resistance to research in the area of the paranormal, even though it is also the way of the upward and onward path that takes us beyond the world of duality—of good and evil—and into the mystic’s knowledge of the unity and the interconnection of the All.
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The sequence of the paranormal in Mary’s life is important, as is the unfolding pattern of her spiritual attainments. From these a supposition may be drawn as to how psychic gifts evolve into spiritual gifts, and how these then serve humanity as a whole. Mary first began conversing with God, and even having visions, as a young child. She later withdrew or became guarded concerning her inner life, until in her late teens she was plagued by apparitions and hauntings. After her spiritual victory—when she was able to forgive her sisters at the convent for their harsh judgments and ill treatment—she again experienced visions, ecstasies, levitations, and finally, the extensive teleportations in which her paranormal powers became the spiritual gifts that aided her in her life as a missionary, spiritual leader, and, in the end, one of the most surprising mystics of all time.
How fortunate she was to have had a spiritual director who could guide her through her adolescent years of doubts, fears, and inner struggle, a time when her physical, psychical, and spiritual selves were in conflict. The lack of this guidance explains why so many young people today fail to find their spiritual needs met in religious organizations not equipped to recognize and address their inner needs and conflicts.
Dr. Fodor has related many fascinating incidents of people who experienced trials similar to the young nun’s during periods of immense stress and crucial decisions. He has suggested that biology may have to revise some of its concepts and admit to the possibility of there being a force of human consciousness that can move objects at a distance without any physical contact. Chemistry also may need to account for the fragrances and stenches sometimes associated with apparitions. As for physics, this field already has allowed that physical laws can no longer be considered immutable. But perhaps most difficult of all will be religion’s admission that not only saints, but ordinary people as well, can and do have spiritual experiences that cannot be rationally explained.13
Tyrrell has pointed out that there is an independent faculty for creating sense experiences of a psychological nature. This auxiliary function of the physical senses corresponds on the psychological level to the same data-gathering senses as sight, touch, sound, smell and taste, and which psychic senses are also linked to the perception centers of the brain. In telepathy this parallel psychic function of the senses is operational, and as evidenced in the apparitions already examined, including Padre Pio’s "stenches." These psychic senses are as effective in telepathic communication as the physical senses are in the ordinary world. If this concept is difficult to grasp, part of the difficulty is the necessity of having to use words—verbal language—to discuss another mode by which thoughts are transmitted. In telepathy, according to Tyrrell, the communication is through thought forms, etheric images, apparitions, and whatever other means of communication can be established.
Because of the varied nature of telepathic communication, it is difficult to acquire data about this unconventional mode. Moreover, the transitory nature of an apparition makes laboratory analysis difficult, perhaps impossible, except in the case of the poltergeist which, in recent times, has come under scientific and even police investigation. Poltergeists are usually associated with youth—as in Agreda’s case—and attributed to adolescence as a normal time of life when there is an overabundance of psychic energy.
Hundreds of poltergeist cases have been recorded, including one reported in the Los Angeles Times a number of years ago, with a full account later given in Fate Magazine.14 A family that included three children felt forced to move out of a new home because of mysterious blows that seemed to come from an inside wall, and with a power that shook the house. Police and psychic researchers investigating the phenomenon concluded that the poundings were paranormally caused and directly related to the twelve-year-old son.
The study of poltergeists is one of the most fascinating of the paranormal. The word comes from the German: polter, to racket; geist, spirit. Thus a poltergeist is defined as a racketing spirit, or a noisy ghost. Well-documented evidence covering a period of several hundred years exists on this mischief maker. Spontaneous and uncontrolled, the phenomena illustrates how objects can be noisily tossed about without apparent physical cause. The noises, which are also paranormally produced, are explained as similar to apparitions, only here the manifestation is audible rather than visual. As Dr. Raynor Johnson explains:
We adopt the purely psychometric theory that a persistent dynamic memory of a focus of bottled-up energy in the psychic ether is the approximate cause, but that the phenomenon can only manifest itself through the release of this energy when a person of the right telepathic affinity comes into the neighborhood.
In light of this, it should be mentioned that America’s most famous psychic, the late Edgar Cayce, commented that earthquakes "could be caused by the inner state of mankind," or what Jung called the collective unconscious.
In the years before Hitler took over Germany, Jung found the evil god Wotan "going on a rampage" in the dreams of his patients. Hitler, he said, did not lead the German people into unbridled evil, but was chosen as their leader because he represented what was already transpiring on a collective, unconscious level.16
Once, when I was talking with a group of young people in a county juvenile hall, their comprehension of what is termed "unexplained vandalism" (the release of bottled-up psychic energy?) led me to believe it is the same phenomenon as the poltergeist, only in this instance the psychic energy takes possession of living bodies rather than departed spirits, causing persons to rampage with no apparent cause.
Father Zephyrin Englehardt, in The Holy Man of Santa Clara,17 relates how Father Magín Catalá handled a nineteenth-century rampage. One very hot midday the people saw him in surplice and stole, walking down the Alameda of San Jose, California, exorcising a whole legion of devils who had come to vandalize that town. Suddenly everything became quiet. Then clouds of dust were seen to rise and terrible noises, howlings, and shrieks were heard, together with the sounds of bellowing beasts. Then once again all was silent in this place where public, outdoor devotions often took place. The account of this incident was carefully documented by then-living witnesses. The story recalls Jesus’ act of casting out a "legion" of demons who, entering a herd of pigs, went over a cliff and into the sea.18
Father Magín was highly precognitive and wrote an accurate prophecy of the San Francisco earthquake a hundred years before it happened. He, too, was also known for his levitations and teleportations. A story is told of how once, when his injured foot couldn’t take him to the scene of a service, he surprised the parishioners by transporting himself there. But of all his spiritual gifts the one he used most effectively was his ability to handle the racket-ghosts who often were intent on disturbing his religious meetings.
To some readers, the spontaneous phenomena presented in this chapter may seem impossible to accept on evidence alone, and without scientific proof. If so, recall the profound statement Thomas Edison made in 1921: "We don’t know what gravitation is. We don’t know what electricity is. We don’t know what heat is. We don’t know anything about magnetism. We have a lot of hypotheses, that is all."19
Yet, not knowing what electricity was, Edison nevertheless was able to direct it and bring it to productive ends. Taking a previously invisible principle, he demonstrated the possibility of lighting up the dark. Similarly, if paranormal occurrences are to emerge from the shadows of fiction, then they will have to be transferred to the world of serious inquiry. This could, in effect, lead to insight into how the visible and invisible realms of spirit and matter interpenetrate in the one, total world.
1. Memories, Dreams, Reflections, ed. Aniela Jaffé (New York, 1961).
3. Published by Society for Psychic Research (London, 1942).
4. (New York, 1963).
5. Matthew 25:30
6. (London, 1988)
7. Memories, Dreams
8. (London, 1982)
9. Matthew 14:26
10. Acts 7:59
11. Cruden’s Complete Concordance, Winston, Philadelphia, 1930
12. Acts 8:18
13. Haunted Mind (New York, 1959)
14. Bayless and Gilroy, "Thumping Poltergeist," Fate, May, 1966.
15. Imprisoned Splendour (New York, 1953).
16. "Wotan" Civilization in Transition, in Collected Works, Vol. X (New York, 1964).
17. (San Francisco, 1909).
18. Mark 5:1-20.
19. Quoted by Mrs. Charles E. Cowan, Streams in the Desert (Grand Rapids, 1925).