On a recent family holiday to Sri Lanka, I found myself unexpectedly embroiled in a hooniyan (witchcraft) ritual with a local healer. We weren’t forging a South Asian outpost of the #MagicResistance movement to hex Trump out of office, but rather, attempting to ascertain whether my Achi-amma was, as she had suspected for some time, being plagued by an evil spirit.
Achi smelt a rat when disparate elements of her life simultaneously shot up in flames: her husband fell ill and grew increasingly dependent and her normally stable business was threatened by local heavies pressuring her to shut shop. Sorcery, as clear as the worry lines forming on Achi’s furrowed brow. How else to explain her sudden demise?
That’s how I came to be in the lounge room of a Colombo apartment entertaining a young healer, outfitted in the convincing spiritual garb of head to toe white.
Funnily enough, Achi was not present to hear the verdict of her own demon possession. She had snuck over unbeknownst to concerned family members, who prohibited any forays into voodoo. Sri Lanka’s generally poor societal understanding of mental health, compounded with social stigma and practical barriers to treatment services, certainly create a fertile climate for enterprising individuals to demand hundreds of thousands of rupees for “exorcisms” in lieu of adequate psychological help. Achi had stolen just enough time to explain her symptoms to the healer before returning back home without raising suspicions.
That left Mum and I holding a woven basket: the vessel through which the healer would communicate with his guiding protector spirit of choice, a force with the power to reveal the answers about Achi’s condition. He warned us that once he conjured and began to converse with the spirit, the basket would move of its own volition. We were only to rest it lightly on a single finger and let it do its thing. Movement to the right meant yes, to the left meant no.
The healer repeated a series of mantras under his breath, followed by questions, which brought forth the promised phantom movement. As the basket turned to the right and left–sometimes slowly, sometimes with startling force–Mum and I stole disbelieving looks at one another, like two kids demanding to know if the other was guiding the letters at a séance.
The bad news that Achi had indeed been hexed came with a silver lining: the spirit was not quite as vengeful as feared.
The witch doctor prescribed a puja ceremony to lure the wraith with offerings of “dark foods” (fried eggs, fish, and arrack), before trapping it in a pumpkin placed on Achi’s stomach and striking it out with a sword, banishing the unwelcome visitor once and for all. While the brandishing of knives near human flesh might elicit trepidation, the healer assured us that protective spirits would first be conjured to ensure the safety of all involved parties.
Accepting only a humble donation and leaving it up to us to set a date for the exorcism, the healer vanished in a flash of white. I was left well and truly convinced of the existence of supernatural energy realms, and a lucky few who walk among us with the power to infiltrate and manipulate them.
But, what did this acceptance of the supernatural mean for my regular life?
I was about to move to New York, a magical city known to either charm or curse at whim all who dare enter. What if a vengeful nemesis from the past or a new rival put a hex on me, and sans healer I was powerless to reverse it? Achi-amma wasn’t the only one in my lineage with firsthand experience of demon possession; I’d heard stories of other family members plunged to the depths of despair or frothed up into a hysterical tizz at the punishing wand of voodoo. I was genetically at risk.
Unfortunately, at the time of publishing the Lankan healer does not offer Skype exorcisms, which left me scouring the Internet for alternate solutions. A simple Google search conjured up the Wild West of online healing–distance coffee cup readings that reimagine the sediment in your cup as an oracle, in depth distance Astrology services based on birth dates and times, remote tarot, traditional psychic services, and beyond.
Like me, others were curious about exactly what is being tapped into during an online reading and what impact (if any) the distance has on the experience and its outcomes.
Psychic medium Anthon St Maarten demystifies the exchange as follows:
Psychics do not make a connection with you on this earthly plane or realm, or what we know as this reality of space and time. Instead, the connection is made in the spiritual realm.
Every living being past, present and future has a “spiritual address” or “soul coordinates” embedded in the Universal Field or Matrix…When I want to connect with you as a client on the other side of the world, all I need to do is link my energy with yours, almost like connecting two “psychic computers” over this “spiritual internet”.
Digital readings struck me as useful towards eliminating the sceptic’s assertion that what is really being read is your clothing, age, general demeanor, and other signifiers.
Where one tarot reader claimed distance readings improve his capabilities and allow him to “act as the unbiased instrument of your subconscious,” Beverly Anderson (practicing psychic) refuses to Skype her international clients lest she blow up computers with the sheer force of her electromagnetic flux.
I landed on intuitive healer Marianne Lee*, mainly because I was curious about a friend’s description of the primal and pleasant experience of having her body “inhabited” by Marianne.
Marianne’s tasteful website introduces a “true Scorp” who spends her days providing intuitive healing services and running an animal welfare initiative in Malta. She first discovered her deep intuition as a chronically ill 26-year-old forced to live in isolation, and after her recovery went on to study and hone this “guiding light” in order to share it with others. Her testimonial section brims with endorsements of the “shocking clarity” of her “genius,” and gratitude for her role in guiding the transformations of her clients.
Readings are conducted on a donation basis (the minimum donation is 80 euros). I was in.
After some initial correspondence in which I outlined my hopes for the session (a helping and healing hand to allow me to let go of negative past emotions and move positively into my new life), Marianne intuited that she could be of help and we swapped Skype logins and set a date.
The first thing that struck me about Marianne was her incredibly calming, dulcet voice and nurturing manner. She enquired about how I was settling into New York and my new job, before seamlessly transitioning to a direction for me to slow down my breathing and relax in order to allow her to request to make a connection to my body.
When I first make a connection with you, the words that you say feel somewhat disconnected from your body. A sensation of being overwhelmed.
The outcome of that is that I can’t feel your strength, and you can’t feel your strength. The third energy centre which relates to competence, confidence mastery, and ability to handle life’s challenges is feeling extremely stuck, just frozen, can’t breathe out, can’t breathe in.
Over the course of 90 minutes, Marianne guided me to connect with and rest in my feelings and emotions as she entered my body and worked with me to release the conscious and unconscious trauma locked in my tissue. It turned out I had a lot of it. Marianne explained that because she is not personally connected to my pain, she is able to release it with a level of clinical detachment.
There were taps, muffled noises, and bursts of song as Marianne gave voice to my deep-seated insecurities – “It’s all too much!” “Does anyone want me?” – and the uncanny sensation of experiencing my body and innermost thoughts with and through a stranger who came to feel like something else entirely. I was brought to tears more than once.
We all push down traumatic content, we have to in order to get by, but if it just sits there in the body it’s unresolved. You can rationalize that whatever happens wasn’t that bad, but to the body’s energy center it was that bad.
Mercifully, Marianne was able to open up my third chakra and “get some light in that dark space” of clogged personal power. As the session drew to its close, she shared my body’s request for at least one more meeting (at a heavily discounted rate) to ensure deep release and get my feet firmly back on the ground.
I wasn’t sure exactly what I had just experienced, but it had touched the often gaping divide between my cognitive ability to rationalize situations and the stunted emotions lurking within. Who was I to refuse my own physical yearning for more of that release? Especially when Marianne only suggests a second session with around one in 15 clients. I was the chosen one!
We closed with a tailored personal mantra set to a round of EMT (emotional freedom techniques) tapping:
Even though I don’t know if I have much worth in some moments, even though I’d like to tell myself that I’m really fine and have it all together, but underneath I struggle with a sense of “Does anybody want me? Do I have any worth? Am I valuable to people, to others?” Even though I struggle with all of those things and even though all that is true of me, I still totally and completely love and deeply accept and respect myself.
I’m starting over. Watch me breath, watch me feel, watch me come into my strength. I’m ready to do this, more and more. Starting today, I’ll pay attention to what I feel, I’ll pay attention to my breath, and I will release and feel.
You’re on the ground. Can you feel that? And everything good can emerge from that. You’re here and you’re ready to move on.
Goodbye for now Tara. Don’t eat or use technology for an hour and drink plenty of water.
As I hung up, I wondered how my partner and friends would take the news of my deep dive into a course of intuitive healing with the enigmatic Marianne Lee. I was reminded of Achi-amma, enabling her own healing journey with a trail of white lies to avoid harsh words and rolled eyes. We weren’t so different.
*Name has been changed to protect our intuitive healing relationship moving forward.