Obsession is a term that gets thrown around a lot in the magical community. It’s used a lot by Ceremonial Magicians and Pagans, and is often times the reason for not working with spirits or using extreme caution when doing so. So it’s surprising that the theory of Obsession was developed completely outside of the Ceremonial and Pagan communities.
Obsession has its origins in Spiritism. If you didn’t know, Spiritism is a fairly modern belief system developed in France that is very similar to the American and British developed Spiritualism. Spiritualism predates Spiritism, but not by much, and the two belief systems have a huge cross-influence. So much so that there are only a few minor distinguishing differences between them.
Although cross-influences are common throughout the metaphysical community, the fact that obsession has gained such high regard in Western ritual magic systems is, at the very least, confusing. The idea of obsession runs counter to the practices of the founders of modern Ceremonial Magic who were active in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, it runs counter to the practices of the Pagan founders who were active in the 50s and 60s, and it runs counter to the practices of the Medieval European magicians that these systems are largely based in.
There’s also a lot of confusion about what the definition of obsession is. Very few magicians can give you a clear definition that would help determine the difference between an obsessed individual and your normal practicing magician. However when the term first appeared in Spiritism, it was adequately defined.
Obsession simply means that your actions or personality have to some extent been influenced by a spirit. On the surface this may seem like a bad thing, but the definition is actually overly broad, and note that nowhere does it mention manipulation or control.
If, for instance, a spirit came to you and told you that in the next week you would be in a horrible car accident, and because of that warning you started wearing a seatbelt, you suffer from obsession. If a spirit comes to you and tells you there’s a great sushi restaurant down the street that you didn’t know about, and you go to eat there, you suffer from obsession. In both instances your actions have been influenced by a spirit.
The idea of obsession was developed by early Spiritists because they saw it as a real danger. A good deal of Spiritists and Spiritualists are not magicians themselves, but use magicians, in there case mediums, to facilitate their magic. The average adherent lacks the methods of protection and spiritual attack which are available to a person with a background in ritual magic. It’s also less likely that the average adherent will have taken time to develop skills in self-awareness, mental focus, and energy manipulation, all of which help prevent spiritual manipulation.
Meanwhile Western ritual magicians have always worked with spirits. We constantly communicate with spirits for information, we summon them forth, we revere and worship them, we fight with them, and we use them to achieve our goals. We have always surrounded ourselves with the spirits and allowed them access to our lives. And yes, you can practice a form of Ceremonial Magic or Paganism that doesn’t directly utilize spirits, but even so the act of doing magic will draw spirits towards you, so eventually you’ll get to a point in your practice where you have to deal with them.
As you can see, the idea of obsession as it was originally defined when viewed through the perspective of a ritual magician is absurd. Some people do hold true to this definition though. By associating with, talking to, and working with spirits they believe a person risks seriously harming themselves through obsession.
Because they don’t know the true definition of the term or its origins, many ritual magicians try to determine what the term actually means, which leads to all sorts of fanciful ideas. It doesn’t help that besides the Spiritist definition, there has never been a clear definition of what obsession is. All that is ever given are aspects of what obsession is. It involves working with spirits and becoming obsessed with them.
An idea has emerged that working with a particular spirit or spirits in general causes one to eventually become obsessed. This has nothing to do with the nature or type of spirit being worked with, it is simply a byproduct of working with spirits. There is also never a clear indication in the definition of when or under what circumstances a magician will cease to work with spirits in a healthy and productive way and become obsessed. There is never even much of an explanation as to why this would occur. It seems to be nothing more than a fanciful idea without any reason or evidence attached to it.
Certain spirits can be manipulative in their nature. There are too many stories to deny that this happens. Manipulation can be something as simple as a lie or as mystical as a thought suggestion or even outright possession. Whether or not a person is manipulated, and how badly they are manipulated, is going to be dependent both on the nature and power of the spirit and on the magician. It’s a danger, it happens. However it won’t inevitably happen just because someone works with spirits.
Sometimes we also see personality changes. These can be a lot harder to pinpoint as spiritual manipulation though. Anyone who is actively exploring their spirituality, such as through seances and evocations, would be experiencing personal growth, and this in turn can lead to changes in their personality. Connecting into spirits and becoming possessed by them can also modify a person’s personality, sometimes permanently. Often times magicians willingly allow spirits to do this to them in order to help them grow spiritually. Some spirits may also do this with the best of intentions, wanting to help the magician, but without permission. In either case there are a lot of pros and cons that must be weighed before we can even determine if what happened was a good thing or a bad thing.
These personality changes are also not as drastic as many like to believe. Often times spirits just work to nudge a person into a particular direction they were already swaying towards, or pull some aspect of their personality to the surface that they usually repress, or simply offer them a temptation that makes them do something they wouldn’t have done for free.
Lastly some people do have obsessive problems with magic in general. Most of us who have profound and surreal spiritual experiences will go through a phase where we give up on reality and immerse ourselves in our spiritual life. For most of us though that is just a phase, and we eventually come to some realizations and ultimately find a balance between the spiritual and mundane aspects of our life. There is a small number of people who never even try to achieve that balance, and instead just immerse themselves more and more into the spiritual aspect of their life as the rest of their life is left to deteriorate.
Although spirit contact may be involved, this has nothing to do with spirits. It has to do with practicing magic. Many of the people who fall into this trap have serious mental problems to begin with, everything from severe depression to schizophrenia, and instead of helping with their mental issues their spiritual path just exasperates them.
We also have to note that when we practice magic and allow spirits into our lives, they’re going to effect us in some way. If you joined some new club next week, started hanging out with the people in the club, making friends, seeing them all the time, it would have some sort of effect on your life. Your world views would change a bit. You might find yourself trying new activities. You would have new people in your life who would be calling you up because they need rides to the airport or someone to help them move. When you work with spirits you’re letting something new into your life, and your life is going to change because of it, and yes sometimes they’re going to do things to your life, and it won’t always be pleasant things.
So yes there are dangers when working with spirits. They aren’t really as big or common as the idea of obsession makes them out to be. It’s really similar to the dangers you experience whenever you work with magic. And the best defense is actually to practice magic. The more practical experience you have working with magic and dealing with spirits, and the more you grow spiritually, the stronger you will be and the less dangerous magic will be. On the other hand stronger magicians tend to pull stronger spritis and bigger problems towards themselves, so you never actually get to be safe.
The idea of obsession meanwhile is largely bullshit. It’s based largely off anecdotal evidence of a handful of people who had very bad experiences working with spirits. It’s being perpetuated by people who are, for the most part, novice practitioners and armchair magicians. These are not people who know about obsession because they have experience working with spirits and have been obsessed. These are the people who have never worked with spirits or only work with spirits while following strict guidelines for protection because they believe it is dangerous. That’s why the information on obsession is largely unclear, indefinite, and doesn’t follow logical reasoning. It is derived entirely from speculation and secondary sources, not from the practical experience of people who have actually worked with spirits.