Facing and embracing our Demons

Down the Hatch by Aaron Johnson, 2007, Courtesy of Stux Gallery.

In Tibetan tradition there is a story about the great cave-dwelling yogi Milarepa that illuminates the bumpy road we all travel when we try to make peace with ourselves.
One day Milarepa left his Himalayan cave to gather firewood, and when he returned he found that his cave had been taken over by demons. There were demons everywhere!
His first thought was, “I have got to get rid of them!”

In the story, he lunges toward them, chasing after them, trying forcefully to get them out of his cave. But the demons are completely unfazed. The more he chases them, the more comfortable and relaxed they seem to be.
Realizing that his efforts are failing miserably, Milarepa tries a new approach and decides to teach them his religion. If chasing them out won’t work, then converting them is the answer. So he takes his seat and begins teaching about existence and non-existence, compassion and kindness, the nature of the spiritual life.

After a while he looks around and realizes all the demons are all still there, staring at him with their huge bulging eyes; not a single one is leaving!

At this point Milarepa lets out a sigh of surrender, realising that just maybe, these demons have something to teach him! So he looks deeply into the eyes of each demon and bows, saying, “It looks like we’re going to be here together. so I open myself to whatever you have to show me.”

In that moment all the demons but one disappear. One huge and especially fierce demon, with flaring nostrils and dripping fangs, is still there. So Milarepa lets go even further.
Approaching the final and largest demon, he offers himself completely, holding nothing back. “Eat me if you wish.” He places his head in the demon’s mouth, and at that moment the last demon bows low and dissolves into space.

One of the things I love about this story is how it doesn’t feed our romantic vision of spiritual life.

We sometimes imagine that if we can lead our spiritual life the “right” way, we won’t suffer and struggle. We will be on a direct path to ever-increasing tranquillity and joy.
We are not prepared for all of our unfinished business being exposed, and all our unresolved trauma pushing up from the unconscious depths like a fountain of black sludge.
Milarepa’s story feels much closer to the truth.

Working with all that has been pushed down and ignored in me is pivotal to the spiritual journey. And when those demons appear, it’s impossible to simply relax and let go.

A female Tibetan teacher Machig Labdron (1055-1145 CE) suggested five slogans to deal with our demons:
1) Confess your hidden faults to yourself. 2) Approach what you find repulsive in others. 3) Help those you think you cannot help or those you do not want to help. 4) Let go of anything you are attached to. 5) Go to the places that scare you.

Embracing our deepest fears is often our salvation.

Radical Christ 28 – Good Friday Recipe: Roast leg of Scapegoat

I love pourquoi stories.  They are tales we have told through the ages to explain certain phenomena.  Pourquoi (pronounced pork-wha) is French for “why?”, any pre-schooler’s favourite word!

You know the story of the family that always cut the end off the lamb roast, before cooking. No one knew why.  On consulting great granny they discovered that in her day she had a small roaster and had to cut the joint to make it fit!

Pourquoi stories are the way cultures, religions and families pass on their rituals and sadly, their biases too.

The Crucifixion of Jesus is a multi-layer pourquoi story which like the mythical Urobouros swallowing its own tail, circles around and challenges our comfort zones.

The most common level of the story tries to explain why a peaceful prophet from Galilee was cruelly killed at the hands of Rome and the religious establishment in Jerusalem.  This orthodox answer is an extremely unhelpful one, “God planned it to be this way.” 

What! That’s a disgusting image of God! What father would kill his own son? How the church came to this brutal understanding of the horror, requires some questioning.

The Church was trying to make sense of Jesus’ unfair death and rationalised it back to animal sacrifice which was the religious forgiveness ritual then.

But why animal sacrifice in the first place?  Pourquoi?

Well, it’s preferable to sacrificing humans!  The Bible story of Abraham wanting to sacrifice Isaac, but God substituting a ram, is another pourquoi explaining the transition from human to animal sacrifice.

The pre-schooler in me continues – Why human sacrifice?  The answer to this one lies in our collective unconscious, and long before the bible was written.

Paleo-Anthropology studies these ancient myths and Rene Girard was one of its great scholars.  Studying ancient pourquois, Girard discovered that as humans began living in groups, they had to deal with troublesome people who didn’t fit in and disrupted the status quo.  The easiest, primitive solution was to demonise these characters, which then justified killing them.  

Individuals and groups were treated this way in times of stress. Medieval Jews were blamed for Bubonic plague just as recently, some blamed the Chinese for COVID19!  Ironically, right now the Christian church itself is being scapegoated for all the troubles in the world from paedophilia to colonisation. 

Yet in a strange anomaly within our mental processing, a residue of remorse lingers toward those we have scapegoated and destroyed.  

So the Greeks took Oedipus who killed his parents and they made him a god. Many of the Greek gods were rebels who achieved divine status.  We scapegoat our suspicious ones then remorsefully deify them.

Preachers proclaim that God killed Jesus, but if that’s true, we’ve been exonerated from our collective culpability in the greatest scapegoating crime ever committed!

Humans, not God, kill and destroy those who challenge and threaten us.

Jesus broke no taboos. He taught only an inclusive path of love, yet we killed him for it.  

Why in God’s name do that?

The Radical Christ 27 – The Decolonial King

Colonization has been a hot topic for a while now.  

Traditionally understood, colonization was the process whereby European powers, mainly in the 16th and 17 centuries, expanded their reach into newly “discovered” continents, subjugating the indigenous populations and replacing their cultures and religions.  

Colonization had happened before during the Greek, Roman and Crusading eras, but not on the scale of the European waves. 

The human rights atrocities and destruction of human lives, communities and environment that accompanied this process are well documented.

It would be erroneous however, to assume that colonization has ended.  

Slavery, as well as religious and cultural hegemony, may not be as blatant as those dark days, but a mutant form of colonial expansionism is currently in full swing.

No longer territorial, this colonising does not redraw the world map, but its impact is every bit as life changing and oppressive.

Continents like Africa and South America and the subcontinents of India and China, have been colonised in this process, and this time the colonists are Americans.

The USA has been amazingly successful in propagating its culture globally. 

One example is that South Africans born after 1985 now speak American English and not UK English as my generation does.  

Not only our language, but our eating habits, portion sizes, and fast food culture is decimating populations with diabetes, obesity and sedentary lifestyles as we sit slumped in front of the Americans’ most powerful vehicle of colonisation, our television sets.

Coupled with a rabid global consumerism of chasing the American dream by those unable to afford that dream, and we understand how families and communities have been captured in debt bondage every bit as vicious as the shackles of the old slave traders.

And if that weren’t enough, the American fundamentalism of certain churches, has added yet another a layer of unthinking anti-intellectual  brainwashing to the spirits of colonised people. We are so brainwashed we don’t even realise we have been colonised!

And none of this is new.  

When Jesus rode a donkey into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, which the church commemorates this weekend, he was entering a completely colonised city.

Read the scriptures here: John 12: 12-19 Zechariah 9:9

At all the levels described above, including religious power mongering, Jerusalem had been colonised by Rome.

So Jesus arriving as a humble king on a donkey and not on a Roman war horse or chariot reenacted ancient Jewish tradition and made a rebellious statement. 

He was protesting the physical and mental colonisation of Rome. His parade was one that recalled the servant kingship of David the shepherd, and the estimated 600000 citizens of Jerusalem loved it. “Hosanna” they cried, seeing Jesus as a new David, a liberator from the Roman tyranny that so controlled and consumed their lives.

But by the end of that same week, in fact by the Thursday night, that same crowd had been flipped by those in power. The colonists had won the battle for hearts and minds. 

Jesus had been called out and cancelled, skilfully scapegoated to be crucified on the Friday morning.

Radical Christ – The Only Commandment


“Love God and Love your neighbour” is for Jews and Christians the Greatest Commandment.
This Video Explores the Radical New Ethic proposed by Erich Neumann in his Book Depth Psychology and the New Ethic. (1990)
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Erich_Neumann_(psychologist)

Using ancient Rabinnic Midrash methods in Hebrew Translations Neumann came up with an amazing insight into what neighbour can also be translated to mean.
In a world where the old laws and religions no longer inform and modify our behavior there is a need for a New Ethic.
No longer a dualistic and shadow projection onto an external enemy -which justifies: wars, genocide, racism and self-righteousness.
The new ethic invites us to love our own inner evil and enemy and thereby heal and save the world by saving ourselves.

Please like and subscribe this video to help get it out there.

Thank you!

Below is a podcast version of the video.

Radical Christ – Saviours and Scapegoats

Early on in the narrative of Jesus’ ministry, the crowd want to make him King.

Both occasions are after he has miraculously fed them (John 6:12-15) and extravagantly made wine from water. (John 2:23-25).
In a publicist’s nightmare, on both occasions Jesus withdraws from the projection and idolization, “because he knew what was in people’s hearts”.

What was it that Jesus knew?

Carl Jung in his work Aion, has helped us understand the psychology of projection which I unpack in this video.

Understanding how we project our own gold out of the shadows of the unconscious can help us understand (if not desist), from falling in love, worshiping the wrong objects, and even from falling prey to scapegoating others when they don’t meet our unrealistic expectations of them.

We cannot blame the devil, nor make Jesus responsible for our salvation.

As the poet Mary Oliver says, “You are the only person you can save.”

Also available on podcast. The diagram isn’t (grin)


The Radical Christ 4- Pivotal Life Stages for Jesus and for Us

In this fourth video of the Radical Christ Series Peter maps the Life Stages that Jesus, with every hero in mythology, and our lives follow. Myth is understood as an “Absolutely True Story that probably never happened”
Jesus as the proto-typical (arche-typal) human life has in the stages of his life the experience and the cure for every human condition.
The key lies in being able to connect where we are in our life stage, with the corresponding stage in Jesus’ life.

You can contact Peter by emailing peterwoods.pe@gmail.com

The Radical Christ 2 – I AM Conscious, that I AM

Setting the scaffold for understanding the Radical Christ, in this video I explore the origins of religion as a consequence of the consciousness of Homo Sapiens.
Animated cave art, abstract thinking, projection and the return of God to the flesh of human being are all markers on this fascinating human unfolding.
There is no religion that didn’t begin as a human conversation trying to explain the mysteries of a conscious existence.

The Five Gates of Grief – Gate 5

This week as we consider Ancestral Grief, we conclude our study of the Five gates of Grief outlined by Francis Weller .
Looking at our family trees or our clan origins, we realise that along with their DNA we may have inherited our ancestors’ grief. One of the realities of diverse South Africa is unless your heritage is Khoisan, most of us descend from ancestors who arrived from somewhere else. They were either displaced by the expansion of other tribes who squeezed people further and further south, or by colonial forces that promised struggling Dutch, British and German peasants a better life in a foreign land. Some of us may have servitude and slavery in our heritage, our families brought here simply as units of labour.
And despite the hopes and dreams they brought, they must have carried a deep grief at their loss of land and roots which they had to leave behind.
We are the descendants of aliens and immigrants, those people who arrived here on unfamiliar soil, and whose grief and sadness has found its way into our beings.
These ancient unknown characters also had a part in shaping the world we inherited.
Most people believe there is some form of afterlife where those who have gone before find themselves “in a better place”. This Valhalla, Xanadu or Heaven is imagined as a place where the ancestors share perfect knowledge and insight they never had while alive.
In my Gates of Grief workshops, I encourage participants to imagine their ancestors in this place of full insight, writing a letter of apology to us living now.
We owe it to ourselves and them to recognise the many untruths which we drank in with our mother’s milk and made our own.
Our task in this generation is to examine those beliefs and decide which of them are no longer true nor valid. Then for the sake of our own health we must let them go.
Consider for example the prejudices, suspicion and bigotry they passed on to us. Their violence, sexism, racism, exploitation of women and children and of the earth in general. Their promotion of tobacco smoking, slavery, child labour, and corporal punishment. These misconceptions, errors or deliberate strategies have scarred us and are part of the deep sorrow we carry in our collective unconscious.
Along with the ancient grief in our bones, there may also be our experiences of the grief and loss of our immediate parents and grandparents which we are required to mourn. The Swiss Psychiatrist, Carl Jung wrote, “The greatest burden a child can bear is the unlived life of its parents.” Perhaps our own lives were stunted because our parents projected onto us their unfulfilled agendas and could not allow us to become who we were born to be.
These deep ancestral memories invite us to create rituals of mourning from a past that is asking to be redeemed. To mourn these ancient griefs is sacred work.

You can schedule one on one Skype or Zoom sessions with Peter by emailing peterwoods.pe@gmail.com

Lost Soul?

I sometimes fear we have lost our souls. I look around and see the departure of soul from so many sectors of life.


The same soul flight seems to have affected our religious traditions.
Is it possible to still encounter soul in the superficiality of modern life?


If soul is that which animates us, it seems to currently live in interesting places. Many pilgrims witness that they are enlivened by travel and wilderness experiences. There is a new spirituality that doesn’t need to conform to dogma. In caring for plants, animals and people who are suffering. In stewarding ecology and once again finding divinity in nature, soil and sea.

On closer investigation it seems we haven’t lost our souls, they are very much with us, but need a different diet to cope with the challenges of our hyper-driven world.

Food for the soul is still abundant and this video explores how to find and nurture soul.