Discover more from Outspoken with Dr Naomi Wolf
What Good and Evil Flow Around Us?
I promised God, as you recall, in the hospital where I lay nearly dying, that, if I was allowed to live, I would write the things which I most feared to write.
So here we are: starting.
I sought my entire career to secure a reputation as a serious, academically-trained intellectual in the post-Enlightenment tradition. I did largely achieve that.
However, that came with a cost.
For this tradition — especially now, since World War Two — is a thoroughly mechanistic one. If you are a “serious person”, in the discourse of the West, today, you cannot possibly believe in anything that cannot be objectively measured — and measured, to take that one step further, with the physical instruments that currently exist. If you believe in anything beyond the purely mechanistic, materialist Newtonian universe, you are a rube, a fantasist, credulous, ignorant, deceived.
So — like many people — I have taken care to censor rigidly the fact that all my life, I have also had experiences that were dramatic, and that made deep impressions upon me — but that went beyond what the physical universe could contain or explain.
I am, having come so close to death, as a friend put it, “playing with House money.” Meaning that I have a second chance at life, and I have nothing left to lose.
So I am putting a match to my reputation once again, by sharing my conviction, and attesting to my lived experience, that the world is awash with ‘energies’, both good and evil, and that these affect humans - and probably animals, and the planet itself — in profound and important ways.
Ever since I was first conscious, I was aware that I perceived some things differently than did many of those around me. In kindergarten, I realized (without, of course, having the word for this) that I had synesthesia — the condition in which one sense spills over into another; people with this form of perception hear colors, or taste sound, or in other ways activate different senses at the same time [https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/322807]. In my case, I so vividly saw numbers as colors — “1” as yellow, “2” as green, “3” as red, “4” as brown, “5” (my least favorite number) as black, “6” as light blue, and so on — that I was astonished to discover that this way of seeing the colors of numbers, was not experienced by everyone in my class. That was the first time I felt ashamed and embarrassed when I realized that my perception made me different from the peers with whom I wished so much to fit in.
Somehow I managed to suppress this “odd” way of seeing numbers - a suppression which also, sadly, later made it quite difficult for me to enjoy numbers (or, as a result, to do math).
Though I managed to censor my synesthesia, my awareness as a child that perception was fluid, and that currents of all kinds were continually flowing around us all — and that the physical world was illuminated and glowing and magical, but also that it contained dark and scary forces — could not be suppressed.
Luckily I was born into a family of eccentrics, and of people who believed in and respected the creative fire. My father knew the literature of the mystical poets and of the Transcendentalists very well. He knew that the way I saw the world was not that unusual, and that plenty of reasonable people — from Walt Whitman to Henry David Thoreau to Emily Dickinson — has similar sensibilities. My dad knew his William Blake, so he was fine with his weirdo daughter’s tendency to see “a World in a Grain of Sand/ And a Heaven in a Wild Flower.” [https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/43650/auguries-of-innocence]. My mother, when I was a child was a folklorist. Nothing I shared, as a child, was too weird for my folks.
The world of intellectuals has not always been as divorced as it is today from mystical perception. In the 19th century, for example, intellectuals pursued mysticism: indeed, there was a word for it: the perception of, or the artistic capture of, “the Sublime.” Instead of mocking those who were aware of the larger currents animating the physical world, many 19th century aesthetes, and certainly our own Transcendentalists, actively pursued awareness of the Sublime; they read poems and looked at paintings to hone their sensibilities in that direction. It was understood then that anyone could perceive the Sublime, and that doing so, ennobled the observer.
Here is Walt Whitman in the 1855 Leaves of Grass:
“What do you think has become of the young and old men?
And what do you think has become of the women and children?
They are alive and well somewhere;
The smallest sprout shows there is really no death,
And if ever there was it led forward life, and does not wait at the end to arrest it, And ceased the moment life appeared.
All goes onward and outward . . . . and nothing collapses,
And to die is different from what any one supposed, and luckier.
Has any one supposed it lucky to be born?
I hasten to inform him or her it is just as lucky to die, and I know it.
I pass death with the dying, and birth with the new-washed babe . . . . and am not contained between my hat and boots […]
I am the mate and companion of people, all just as immortal and fathomless as myself; They do not know how immortal, but I know.” [https://whitmanarchive.org/published/LG/1855/poems/1]
But by the time I was coming of age, though, those days were gone. I was growing up in a jet age, a Jetsons age. The Transcendentalist poets were passe.
My family accepted me, but the larger world would be a problem.
If you could not measure it, it did not exist.
When I was nine, I invited a little friend to see the “magical place” that I knew was hidden like a gem, in a corner of a sedate garden. It was a garden that dated to the beginning of the twentieth century; there were stone garden walls rising up to the magical place, and they were covered with moss; there was a little concrete bench set into the wall, at an angle outward into the street, crafted in that 1910 style. Parts of the ancient garden were overgrown — an elegant, elderly lady lived in the lovely old house and rarely emerged, but when she did, she was as beautiful as her forgotten garden.
This little grotto was — just magical.
If you stood on the bench and looked into the corner of the garden, which was raised up, you could see nasturtiums made of tongues like fire — with apricot and russet, lemon-yellow and radiant orange, petals; all of them were streaked with deep red at the hearts, and all bore tiny cups of honey.
You could see pale-blue bluebells too, bending their necks like dancers. The nasturtiums and the bluebells were like two companies of ballerinas, clothed in different costumes. There were shafts of sunlight somehow within that circle of nasturtiums and bluebells. And all of this treasure was contained somehow within another circle, one made up of dark green — of wet, tangled, protective grasses, that overshadowed and enclosed the secret place.
The magical place looked like a ballroom for fairy dances.
The glow of its magic was palpable to me.
My little friend asked her mom if she could go see it; and her mom — who as I recall was something really glamorous and cool and slightly intimidating, like a flight attendant — was excited, in spite of herself as an adult, to see this magical place of which I spoke.
So the mom drove her daughter over. And they got out of the car. And I showed the grotto to them.
And there was silence.
And more silence.
Neither of them had any idea what I was talking about.
After a beat, I could feel that my friend was confused, and that she was a bit sorry for me. There was nothing to see!
The mom turned away with a brisk motion. “Come on, let’s get home.” She was terse and annoyed. There was nothing there.
And to my amazement, I looked at the magical place and — there was indeed nothing there!
The magic had fled at the denial of perception.
What had happened? It was nothing now, it was utterly banal, it was just a tangle of grasses, a dim mess of foliage.
I was — again — horribly humiliated and embarrassed. No one saw what I saw! I was such a weirdo.
I was never invited over to play with that child again, and she never came over again to my house.
So yet again, I tried to put away my troublesome perception.
I mention all of this because many experiences in my life as an adult, followed this theme — that the world is animated with energies, for good and evil, and embroidered all over with magic; and I sustained these experience but did not discuss them. I also learned that lots of people suppress similar experiences along these lines.
Once in a while I would tell a story about a metaphysical experience — one that really had happened to me — and then everyone else — lawyers, editors, journalists, scientists — would rush to share their own stories of the metaphysical. So I learned that lots of us are not talking about important experiences, from which we could all surely learn important lessons.
And when I ask these folks why they don’t talk more publicly about their experiences, I get the same responses that I recognize in my own inhibitions: no one wants to be seen as hallucinating, or not credible, or unbalanced. Two thirds of people, according to Yougov.com, say that they have had a paranormal experience. [https://today.yougov.com/topics/society/articles-reports/2022/10/20/americans-describe-paranormal-encounters-poll] About half of Americans, according to Pew Research, say that they have had a mystical or metaphysical experience. [https://www.pewresearch.org/short-reads/2009/12/29/mystical-experiences/]
That is a lot of Americans who are, understandably, keeping quiet in public.
I think we are awash with energies, good and evil, beyond those for which postwar science has names.
Some of these energy fields are beautiful and miraculous. Perhaps they are even healing.
When I went to visit the grave of the “Lubavitcher Rebbe” — Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, one of the most revered holy men of the 20th century — I was directed to the “Ohel”, or “tent”, a gathering-place in Queens, built adjacent to the Rebbe’s gravesite. This is a destination where people from all walks of life gather to pray at this saintly person’s final resting place. [https://www.chabad.org/therebbe/article_cdo/aid/244372/jewish/The-Rebbe-A-Brief-Biography.htm]
“The Rebbe keenly understood that our every action is part of a bigger picture,” explains Chabad.org. “Every good deed we do brings humanity closer to the ultimate goal, the era of cosmic perfection and universal awareness of G‑d, known in Judaism as the time of Moshiach. The Rebbe spoke tirelessly about this time, demonstrating how the world is heading closer and closer to this special era and how every person can actualize it by increasing in acts of goodness and kindness.”[https://www.chabad.org/therebbe/article_cdo/aid/244372/jewish/The-Rebbe-A-Brief-Biography.htm]
I was early to my appointment. So I walked for many blocks around my destination. And the further away from the gravesite I wandered - - block after block, into the peaceful Queens suburbs — the fainter grew the aura or force-field of holiness.
But as the time of my appointment drew closer, and I walked toward the Ohel — the closer I drew to the sacred location —- the more intensely one could feel the magnetism of great holiness. It was like a giant ziggurat of sacred energies, ascending to a peak over the quiet cemetery in Queens; and gently sloping off into all directions, like a mountain of emotional gold.
At the gravesite itself, the vibration of sanctity was so palpable one felt as if one were in the presence of an aspect of the Divine.
So many places are vortices of sacred energy.
When I visited the Scottish island of Iona, I was an ill-informed, day-tripping tourist. I had done no research on the island; and this visit was before cellphones or the internet. To my amazement, the moment my feet touched Iona’s earth, I wandered the island in a state of joy and exaltation; in a daze of glory. Was that what Heaven felt like?
I did not realize — until I boarded the tourist bus again, and the bus driver explained — that Iona was a sacred island. It always had been, back to pre-Christian times, and right up to the present. The sacred presence on the island had been described and testified to, over and over for centuries. It was believed in the traditions related to the place, that Christ had visited Iona — and would reappear again on that sacred island. [https://sacredconnections.co.uk/index.php/iona-sacred-isle/]
Some people react like that, explained the bus driver — most people; most wander around in a state of exaltation and joy.
And some people simply cannot take it, he said; — the energies burn them; and they need to get off the island as quickly as possible.
Some of the energies out there, are simply alarming.
The leadership institute I cofounded long ago in the Hudson Valley was housed in a fine old building on three hundred acres of land. I recall that the real estate broker would not get out of the car when she first showed the building to me.
She sent me in alone.
Once we bought it, we realized it was truly haunted.
Kitchen cabinet doors would swing open of their own accord. There was a spot in the library which was always icy cold. Lights would flicker off and on, and doors would bang shut in empty rooms. Retreatants would have troubled dreams.
It got so bad that we expected the presence in the house — everyone agreed that it was a masculine one — to act up at certain times during retreats. When we lit the Shabbat candles, the candles would flicker. Or one candle would be snuffed out.
At one point, two serious witnesses— neither prone to exaggeration — described a Shabbat candlestick dematerializing. It simply disappeared.
By now, we had learned that the long-ago owner of the home had been murdered (in the Library), by his tenant, who lived in a smaller home on the property.
The house subsequently had had so much supernatural activity, that, in the 1940s, there had been an actual old-school exorcism. This exorcism had been matter-of-factly reported in the local newspaper.
I was at a loss. The paranormal activity was taking a toll on everyone. I described this disturbing situation to my then-therapist, a spiritually-oriented gentleman. He suggested that the being in the house seemed to be trying to get our attention when we lit the Shabbat candles.
He suggested that we say the Kaddish next time we lit the candles — the Jewish prayer for the dead.
We did. We said Kaddish.
And the house filled with peace.
The unsettled presence seemed right away to have moved on — and nothing ever bothered anyone in that house again.
Other energy fields, I have no doubt, are just pure evil.
When I visited Guantanamo, in the first six months of President Obama’s administration. I could feel the presence of what one might call Satan; or of some other magisterial, high-level administrator of evil.
I felt that presence. Not in the service men and women assigned to that post, not in the housing for reporters; not in the cynical mockup of the courtroom on the site; not in the prison yard — where I could see the men penned up for years without charge or trial, and I could hear their roar of distress and outrage.
Rather, I could feel the presence of Satan — or some other adjudicator of evil on earth — standing right behind the “doctors” and the “nurse” and the “psychiatrist”, in the pristine “medical facility,” where “difficult” prisoners were housed. That facility was part of the creepy tour that the US government had arranged for reporters who were covering the prison.
These “healers” in the medical bay, were showing me rather proudly how they forced tubes down the throats of the recalcitrant prisoners who went on hunger strikes. They showed me — as if this selection were a treat — the range of flavors of liquid nutrition — chocolate, strawberry, vanilla — that they pumped into the unwilling bodies of striking prisoners.
A prisoner who had been on hunger strike, and who was being force-fed, died of starvation while I was at the facility.
I could almost smell the evil of the forcefield that surrounded those “doctors” and “nurses” at that scene. There was something huge, and awful, and terrifying, and intelligent, and dark — just behind them; inhabiting them; all around them.
I could go on and on.
But what I wish to do in this essay, is simply to open a door to this discussion.
I think we are in a time of extraordinary change — the nature of reality itself is changing, as you know I believe — and that if we are to survive this time and indeed if we are to evolve safely to wherever we are supposed to arrive next, we need to talk honestly about good and evil energies; about healing and killing energies; and about sacred and profane energies.
This discussion is not even as metaphysical as it sounds. Brian, my husband, who very early in his military career worked in “SIGINT”, or “Signals Intelligence”, points out that everything has a vibrational signature or frequency— and that mapping those signals is how many technologies work, that scan a field to gather intel through the interception of those signals.
So many technologies use various energy fields that we scarcely notice how weird they would have seemed in an era before their mechanisms were understood. Is it so weird to grapple with energies?
Sonograms send sound energies into our bodies to give our doctors intelligence. Ultrasounds also use sound waves: “When used in an ultrasound scanner, the transducer sends out a beam of sound waves into the body. The sound waves are reflected back to the transducer by boundaries between tissues in the path of the beam (e.g. the boundary between fluid and soft tissue or tissue and bone).” [https://www.nibib.nih.gov/science-education/science-topics/ultrasound#:~:text=When%20used%20in%20an%20ultrasound,tissue%20or%20tissue%20and%20bone).] X-Rays send electron radiation into our bodies: “X-rays are created by radiation coming from electrons. When they've been excited, atoms emit packages of energy called photons. These make up every kind of light. X-rays are particularly energetic photons that are emitted by electrons outside the nucleus.” [https://www.anl.gov/article/7-things-you-may-not-know-about-xrays#:~:text=X%2Drays%20are%20created%20by%20radiation%20coming%20from%20electrons.&text=When%20they%27ve%20been%20excited,by%20electrons%20outside%20the%20nucleus.]
Given all this, is it surprising that we “vibe” with some people and that our energy fields “clash” with others? Is it surprising that people who are happily married, have heart rates that align when they sit side by side? Is it surprising that the stories about relatives who know at a distance of thousands of miles, that something bad has happened to their loved ones, are as commonplace as stories of finding bargains at a mall?
We live in a mysterious world. Mechanics do not explain the totality of it.
We are held together human to human, by energies of love that are as strong as death. Our lives are held in the palm of the Divine, like leaves on the surface of water.
Who knows all that is around us and that animates us?
Our ancestors dealt with these mysteries by inviting and seeking and invoking blessings, and by assiduously avoiding curses.
Every culture except out own has amulets, phylacteries, prayer shawls, talismans, Yad Fatimas, invocations, prayers for protection.
Every culture except our own seeks the blessing of positive energies, and respects the miraculous nature of positive powers.
Every culture except out own fears and dreads curses and maledictions; is wary of the workings and powers of negative energies; and seeks Divine protection from them.
Is it time for us, too, urgently perhaps, to relearn some ancient wisdom?
Is our denial of powerful energies — especially in a time of great pressure and great change — a form of cultural suicide?
Are we super-enlightened?
Or just really incredibly dumb?