Photograph by B. Gerard in Africa:  A Continent Revealed
 by Rene Gordon (London:  Country Life Books, 1980)

Chapter 10
Personal Spiritual Beings

Topics in Chapter:

Undergirding Principles Concerning Personal Spiritual Beings
Types of Personal Spiritual Beings
Perspectives of Relating to Spiritual Beings

His glassy eyes, torn ragged clothes, and matted hair were outward signs of inward demonic control. With demented voice he cried, "I'm going to kill this animal." Adrenalin surged through the veins of the missionary. He urgently desired to confront these demons. He thought of the words of Jesus, "I have given you authority . . . to overcome all the power of the enemy; nothing will harm you" (Luke 10:19). However, he hesitated thinking, "What if nothing happens? All the people gathered would ridicule me." He stepped back into the crowd to watch from a distance. The demoniac, sensing his fear, threw off the stranglehold of those gripping him and rushed to confront the missionary face to face. The missionary later confessed, "There I was--a defeated missionary in the interior of Brazil, ready to pack up and go home. When face to face with the enemy I was afraid. Who had told me how to deal with demons?" (Lewis 1973, 203-204)

How inadequate Western missionaries are in dealing with personal spiritual powers! Because their heritage is conditioned by secularism and empiricism, Western missionaries frequently discount the existence of personal spiritual beings, ascribing them to the realm of fiction. The spiritually besieged are drugged, institutionalized, and kept out of sight. While some theologians discount the validity of the demonic by assigning demons to myth and demythologizing this aspect of the scriptures, others acknowledge that they once existed but for some reason have ceased to exist. Missionaries conditioned by secular culture are ill-prepared to impact animistic cultures where malevolent personal beings are prevalent.

This chapter seeks to help the missionary by providing understandings of personal spiritual beings. Animistic societies view unseen spiritual personalities as pervading the world. Some societies recognize few personal spiritual beings while others visualize multitudes. In some societies gods, spirits, and ancestors have definite stratified positions; in others the relationships between these powers is hazy and ill-defined. While in the previous chapter impersonal unseen powers were discussed, this chapter classifies and documents various types of personal spiritual powers who hold peoples' allegiance in animistic contexts.

Undergirding Principles Concerning Personal Spiritual Beings

Several presuppositions ascribed to animistic peoples underlie the animist's belief in personal spiritual beings (Hiebert 1978, 14). Understanding these concepts--animation, metamorphosis, possession--will aid the missionary in analyzing the nature of personal spiritual powers.


Animation is the general conception that personal spiritual beings can influence and possess parts of nature, animals, or humans. This perspective is fundamental to the animist, who conceives of the world as a living organism animated by spiritual powers.

Spirits are frequently thought to animate objects of nature, giving them a type of personhood. Such "nature spirits" animate physical features (mountains, rivers, sun, and moon) and physical manifestations (thunder and lightning). The Israelites adopted the pagan customs around them and delighted in sacred oaks (Isa. 2:29). They worshipped idols "on every high hill and on all the mountaintops, under every spreading tree and every leafy oak" (Ezek. 6:13). The deuteronomic literature designates that such places of nature worship must be destroyed (Deut. 12:2-3). Sacrifices to God must not be initiated at these places lest the sacrifices to God take upon themselves pagan significance (Deut. 12:5-7, 11-14). Such beliefs are also present in various tribal societies. The Kimbu of Tanzania believe marshlands are inhabited by "water spirits" (Shorter 1985, 175-186). The Tanzanian Sukuma believe that spirits infuse distinctive rock formations. Shamans construct their houses nearby in order to use power emanating from the rocks. Traditional Kambas of Kenya believe that baobab trees are animated by spirits. Today such beliefs in the personhood of objects are disappearing in the face of technological advances. The bulldozer, which destroys sacred trees and displaces holy rocks in order to build a government road, provides a shock to the animistic belief of nature animation. When humans use technology to control nature, the animist's perspective toward nature spirits is frequently shattered.

Spirits are also understood to animate animals. In European folklore witches entered cats at night in order to accomplish their malevolent deeds. The fear of "a black cat crossing one's path" is a remnant of this animistic superstition. In Africa hyenas are frequently thought to possess spirits of the dead (since they eat dead bodies) or to be the incarnation of malevolent spiritual practitioners. Therefore these animals are greatly feared. In the gospels the evil spirits which were cast out of the Geresene demoniac asked to be allowed to go into a herd of swine rather than be thrown into the abyss (Luke 8:26-35). This belief that spirits animate animals is found in many areas of the world.

Humans are thought to be animated by spirits in varying degrees ranging from inspiration to possession. Christians believe that the Spirit of infinite God indwells finite humans. Homer's Iliad and Odyssey describe heroes empowered by Greek gods. In the New Age Movement practitioners are thought to channel ancestral and astral spirits, who invade a human body and use it to communicate with the living. In Brazilian Spiritism mediums are possessed by spirits who ride them like horses (cavalos) as they divine solutions to human problems. Many animistic beliefs are based upon the presupposition that humans are in some way animated by personal spiritual beings, perhaps even to the extent of possession.


Metamorphosis is the transforming of life into other forms by magic or sorcery. As a cocoon changes its outward form and becomes a butterfly, so spirits are believed to change from one form to another. A certain mutsai (witch) among the Giriama of Kenya is known for his ability to escape capture from the police or from those wishing to kill him by changing into a baby, a dog, or whatever form might best facilitate his escape (Talley 1988, 13). Reflecting the Voodoo perceptions of his country, Dr. Francois Duvalier, President of Haiti from 1957 to 1971, ordered the wholesale slaughter of dogs after hearing that a traitorous guard of the famous Tonton Macontes had escaped prison by turning himself into a dog (Newsweek 1986, 54-55). The newspapers of Cote d'Ivoire in West Africa at various times vividly describe revenants, ancestral spirits who come back in the form of other people (Baggett 1988, 2). Among the Nuer of South Sudan, people struck by lightning are thought to be metamorphosed into powerful spirits, called colwic, who stand between the great spirit Kwoth and humans (Evans-Pritchard 1956, 52-62).

All societies seem to believe that human spirits are immortalized at death. This is the most prevalent metamorphic belief in the world. One study indicates that among Zulus of South Africa, 69.6 percent of all Christians and 88.6 percent of all non-Christians affirm that ancestral spirits "accompany a person to protect him and bring him good fortune" (Congdon 1985, 297). Confucian beliefs of filial respect lead many Chinese, Koreans, and Japanese to emphasize ancestral veneration. Christians in these contexts are frequently looked upon as those who do not respect elders since they do not venerate their recently deceased ancestors. Thus the phrase "Die without people mourning" has become a derogatory designation of Christians in Taiwan (Hung 1983, 39).

The animist's view that spirits can change into other forms makes his world both unpredictable and dangerous. He fearfully seeks to discover what types of spirits are at work around him. Are they benevolent or malevolent? Can some malevolent spirit be induced to become benevolent or is the spirit intrinsically malevolent? What various forms is the spirit taking? When does a spirit or practitioner change forms?


The animist who believes that the world is animated with personal beings and that these beings are metamorphosed into different forms will likely deduce that stronger spirits possess weaker spirits and that divining spirits possess mediums. Such possession is defined as the invasion of a being by foreign spirits for the purpose of coercion, healing, or divining. In this invasion the person's spirit is submerged and the foreign spirit is allowed to speak through him.

From a Christian perspective possession is the ultimate grip of the satanic on the human soul. While faithful Christians are harassed and tempted by Satan, those who overtly align themselves with Satanic forces come directly under their power. The anthropologist Noel King writes: "It is better not to believe in spirits than to dabble with them . . . or try to use them. Without proper precautions, supervision, and instruction, they are dangerous to humans" (1986, 65). Grayson Ensign and Edward Howe give an example of a Christian who naively dabbled in a satanic cult and became possessed while participating in rituals in which a blood sacrifice was made to Lucifer (1984, 22).

Creator God is never understood as possessing humans. God is above such manipulative acts. He desires the allegiance of those who are in charge of their own mental and physical faculties. God, as pictured in the scriptures, indwells rather than possesses. Prophets, under inspiration, seldom lost their own free will but communicated the inspired message in terms of their own language and culture. Christians, indwelt by the Holy Spirit, control their own faculties as demonstrated by the exhortation to flee from sexual immorality (1 Cor. 6:18-20). God does not manipulatively control his disciples but relates with them in a way that they maintain their own free will.

However, all other types of personal spiritual beings--high spirits (gods), low spirits, and ancestors--are understood to possess humans (King 1986, 61-63). The high spirits of West Africa, frequently organized into pantheons, possess their human representatives in order to divine the cause of evil (Mitchell 1977, 27). Among the Kimbu of Tanzania water spirits were understood both to cause illness and to possess mediums to help in divination (Shorter 1985, 175-186). Practitioners of the Egungun society among the Yoruba of Nigeria become possessed by spirits of ancestors during certain festivals (Mitchell 1977, 6). Dr. Francois Duvalier appeared to the Haitians to be a possessed man. He wore black, took on a whispery voice, and developed the slow-motion movements of one close to the spirit world. Many Haitians considered him the embodiment of the deceased Baron Samedi (Cooper 1986, 27). These illustrate how fundamental possession is to understanding the role of personal spiritual beings.

Types of Personal Spiritual Beings

Spiritual beings may be categorized either according to their power, greatness, and closeness to humankind or according to their moral intent in relation to people.

The first type of taxonomy distinguishes between great gods and lesser spirits (Sahlins 1968, 103). While great gods have no geographic boundaries, lesser spirits are limited to specific localities. The great gods are too powerful to be manipulated by human control; lesser spirits are controlled by magic and paraphernalia. While gods are worshipped, lesser spirits are manipulated and controlled by the animist. The worship of gods (or God) and belief in lesser spirits coexist in most animistic cultures. For example, the Kimbu of southwestern Tanzania believe in creator God but also acknowledge ancestors and nature spirits. While God is distant, ancestors and spirits are ever present. Water spirits are frequently thought to possess mediums to divine problems of the living. Unlike God, these water spirits may be manipulated and coerced (Shorter 1985, 175-178).

The second category classifies spiritual beings according to their moral intent. They can be either benevolent, some malevolent, depending on their disposition at any particular time. This section will be organized according to this taxonomy. While studying the moral intent of spiritual powers, distinctions between the great gods and the lesser spirits will also be described.

Religious terminologies describing spiritual beings are dynamic and changing. Within a given context there may be disagreement concerning the meaning of emic terms. For example, there has been much debate about the term jok among the Langi and Acholi people of Uganda. Some researchers claim that jok is a broad, inclusive term ranging from fate, to spiritual beings, to God. Others insist that the Langi and Acholi have no traditional name for God; rather, jok is a spirit, possibly malevolent and frequently impersonal, which is present in natural phenomena and decides fate (P'Bitek 1971, 41-58; Russell 1966, 4-6).

While realizing widely differing conceptions of spiritual powers and differences of usages within given contexts, the missionary is greatly helped by studying a general taxonomy of personal spiritual powers. He learns how to recognize the types of spiritual beings in various contexts, how people manipulate or relate to these spiritual beings, and how to communicate the sovereignty of God in contexts where allegiances to other beings exist.

Benevolent Spiritual Beings

The disposition of many spiritual beings--God, angels, saints, and totemic spirits--is benevolent toward humans. These benevolent beings will be studied on a continuum from most powerful to least powerful.

God. Animists view God in different ways. He is understood to be (1) a distant, unapproachable Creator; (2) the Supreme Being who reflects his nature in lower spiritual beings; or (3) the impersonal power that permeates all of nature. In each case the biblical view of God, the Creator who desires a personal, intimate relationship with his creation, is lost. Determining the relationship between God and lower spiritual beings is vital to the missionary in understanding the animistic context.

The Creator who Is considered distant and unapproachable. Most frequently God is understood in animistic contexts as the all-powerful creator who is remote and withdrawn. God created the world and then left it to its own devices and is, therefore, "too exalted to be concerned with the affairs of men" (Burnett 1988, 36-37). Since God is considered distant, unapproachable, and exalted, spirits closer to the realm of the living are appealed to by animistic people. The Filipino, therefore, calls upon lower spiritual beings to handle the mundane affairs of life (Henry 1986, 21; Sitory 1969, 61). These may be saints, ancestors and ghosts, or other non-human spirits. In some African contexts non-human spirits and ancestors are frequently appealed to as the listening spirits since God is not concerned with everyday human affairs. Among the Kipsigis Asis, the Creator, is traditionally described as che bo kelyek sogol, "the one who has nine legs." The rays of the sun are thought to be the nine legs of God impacting the earth. However, the traditional Kipsigis are more concerned about ancestral spirits, called, oik, who are understood to be more intimately involved in their lives. These worldviews show a disconnectedness between God and the lower spirits: they operate autonomous of God's sovereignty and independent of his morals and ethics.

The Supreme Being whose nature is reflected through lower spiritual beings. Other animists believe that God's disposition and desires are reflected through lower spiritual beings. Idowu, the West African theologian, says that in every African context "ultimacy is . . . accorded to God" and calls this permeation of God's influence through intermediaries "diffused monotheism" (1973, 135-136). He vehemently rejects perceptions that the African God is distant and untouchable. Olodumare, the Supreme Being of the Yoruban pantheon, is pictured as a king who operates through subordinate gods, called orishas. These orishas derive their power from Olodumare as demonstrated by the saying: "Every festival is the king's festival" (Idowu 1973, 136). The Nuer of Sudan perceive the presence of the supreme spirit Kwoth everywhere: "He sees and hears all that happens, and he can be angry and can love" (Evans-Pritchard 1956, 7). Kwoth's closeness to humankind is shown by Nuer invocations. He is invoked as "God who is in this village," or "God who is in this home" and called "God of the shrine" (Evans-Pritchard 1956, 114). Although the Nuer do not have a pantheon of gods like the Yoruba, they do believe that certain spirits are instruments of God. God is thought of as "the father of the greater spirits of the air, and the lesser of them are said to be children of his sons, of his lineage" (Evans-Pritchard 1956, 119). These spirits are the "refractions" of God on the earth. Various kinds of spirits are considered distinct manifestations of Kwoth each having differing degrees of importance (Evans-Pritchard 1956, 116-117). In a similar way God is understood to operate through saints in Christo-pagan Catholicism. According to this cosmology, God works through lower spiritual beings who reflect his nature.

The Impersonal Power that permeates all of nature. Animistic conceptions which have been conditioned by Eastern mysticism project God as intuitive in every person and part of the entire cosmos. These pantheistic conceptions reject God as a transcendent, all-powerful personality. This is expressed with the New Age epithet "We are gods." If god can be within us, our purpose, according to New Age analyst Theodore Roszak, is "to awaken to the god who sleeps at the root of the human being" (1977, 225; Groothuis 1986, 21). "Kneel to your own self. Honor and worship your own being," Swami Muktananda says. "God dwells within you as You!" (Hunt 1980, 106; Groothuis 1986, 21). And Shirley MacLaine--in the television extravaganza "Out on a Limb"--could cry with arms outstretched over the Pacific Ocean, "I am God." Groothuis summarizes these pantheistic perceptions when he writes, "Whether it comes from Eastern religions such as Hinduism--'Atman is Brahman' (the individual self is really the universal Self)--or from classical occultism--'as above, so below' (God and humanity are one)--or from the self-actualizing psychologies--all knowledge, power and truth are within and waiting to be unlocked--the New Age raises the placard of pantheism high: you are god!" (1986, 21-22)

The pantheistic perception of God is actually a rejection of God as a personal spiritual being. God is reduced to an impersonal "it." In fact, New Agers equate Universal Life Energies (discussed in Chapter 9) with God. He might also be called a force, consciousness, principle, essence, or ultimate reality. The result is a negation of God as a personal spiritual being. Supplicative prayer to a personal God is reduced to meditative monologue (not dialogue) with the god within (Groothuis 1988, 107-108). Morality is no longer absolute because there is no divine perfection with which to measure human imperfection.

In contrast to these animistic views of God, the God of the Bible is a personal God who desires the total allegiance of his people. From the very creation of the world he has personally interacted with his people by sending prophets, judges, and finally the Messiah to redeem and deliver his people. He is stirred to jealousy when his followers worship other gods. In the Song of Moses, God is described as the rock of our salvation who becomes jealous when other rocks are worshipped (Deut. 32:4, 15-18, 21, 31, 39). The kingdoms of North Israel and Judah were both carried away into captivity because they forsook their God and served gods who were no-gods (2 Kgs. 17:14-18; Jer. 17:1-4).

When communicating the gospel in animistic contexts, the Christian evangelist must establish God's sovereignty and describe his nature. Only then will the message of the work of God in Christ become comprehensible. After the people of Lystra wrongly understood Barnabas and Paul to be Zeus and Hermes, they proclaimed the living, creator God, who continues to testify to his nature by giving rain, crops, food, and joy (Acts 14:8-18). Paul's heart was provoked when he saw idols to pagan gods in Athens, where numerous personal spiritual powers were being worshipped. Paul began his sermon in this animistic context by defining the nature of the all-powerful, living, creator God (Acts 17:22-31). In contexts where numerous personal spiritual beings are known to exist, Christian communication must begin by proclaiming the sovereignty and eminence of Creator God.

Angels. Angels, found in religions of a Judeo-Christian tradition, are a second type of benevolent spiritual beings. They serve as both emissaries of God and ministers to human beings (Heb. 1:14). An angel provided Elijah with food and drink when he was fleeing from Jezebel (1 Kgs. 19:1-9). As God's emissaries, they mediate his presence on earth either as agents of revelation or as executors of God's will. The angel Gabriel appeared to Zechariah (Luke 1:11-20) and to Mary (Luke 1:26-37) to tell of the impending births of John the Baptist and Jesus. Samson's mother also heard from an angel that she would soon bear a son (Judg. 13:3-5). Gideon was told by an angel that he was to save Israel from Midian. When Gideon asked for a sign that the Lord was speaking to him, the angel caused Gideon's offering of meat and bread to be consumed by a fire (Judg. 6:11-23). Gabriel visited Daniel to explain messages and visions (Dan. 8:16ff.). An angel delivered the apostles from jail (Acts 5:17-20). Angels are of the host of heaven whom God judges (Ps. 82). As servants and messengers of God, they are not to be worshipped (Rev. 19:10) but to reflect the nature of God, whom they serve. Their presence reflects God's activity in the human realm.

Saints. Saints are understood to have been elevated at death into heavenly realms. Because of meritorious living or power-laden existence on earth, they have been given power to intercede for sinners, provide merit for successful endeavors, and heal the sick. Veneration of saints is especially prevalent among Christo-pagan Catholics and folk Muslims.

Veneration of saints in Christian churches had early origins. When Polycarp, Bishop of Smyrna, was martyred around 157 B.C., his followers decided to hold a yearly celebration of his martyrdom. As early as the end of the third century, saints were being appealed to as intercessors (Crim 1981g, 641). In the Eastern Orthodox church icons of saints were venerated. These images were understood as "vehicles of the presence of their subjects" (Crim 1981d, 336). Healing power was elicited by touching or praying to the image. In the Roman church relics of the saints were considered objects of veneration. The remains of saints or any object believed to have been in contact with them were considered items conveying their power. Frequently the eucharist was observed and churches built over the tombs of saints (Crim 1981e, 610). During the Middle Ages saint veneration was significant in European churches of Catholic and Eastern traditions.

Throughout the centuries the church has had differing perspectives toward saints. Some theologians sought to counter idolatrous practices by distinguishing between "worshipping" (latreia) God and "honoring" (douleia) saints. Saints were never to be "worshipped" but only "honored" (Thorne 1978, 872). To guard against false claims of sainthood the Roman Catholic church in 993 A.D. initiated a canonization process for determining who was a saint. However, the entire process of canonizing saints was loudly decried by early Protestant reformers. They vehemently objected to the sale of magical relics, equated the invocation of the saints with prayer, and believed that Catholics treated saints as gods (Ferguson, Wright, and Packer 1978, 609). Such veneration, they claimed, was a negation of Christ, the sole mediator between God and humans (1 Tim. 2:5).

Veneration of saints, although not as overt and prevalent as during the Middle Ages, is still widely practiced in Roman and Orthodox Catholic contexts. For example, thirty years ago Charlene Richard, a typical twelve-year-old girl in southern Louisiana, suffered courageously while dying of leukemia. According to Catholic priest Joseph Brenan, "She died in excruciating pain, but in perfect grace." From the time of her death those who believed in her sanctity began to pray to her for healing. When Paul Oliver's one-year-old daughter was diagnosed as having an incurable cancer of the larynx, he went to Charlene's grave and prayed for healing. His daughter is presently (in 1990) a nineteen-year-old junior at the University of Southeastern Louisiana. While Catholic priest Floyd Caliais was chaplain at a state hospital in Lafayette, he prayed to Charlene asking her "to inspire the bishop to assign him a parish." He was soon appointed pastor of the church where the girl was buried. Today there is a box beside her grave for petitions from those desiring healing. In August 1989, an estimated 4,000 attended an evening mass in her honor with many arriving as early as noon. Thousands of Louisiana Catholics would like to see her canonized as a saint (Abilene Reporter-News, August 13, 1989, 22A).

Recently I taught the gospel to Charles Guma, a 28-year-old Ugandan art major studying at Abilene Christian University. Raised as a Roman Catholic, Charles believed Catholic martyrs who had been canonized as saints served as intercessors between God and humans. He conceived that Kalori Lwanga, a Ugandan martyr killed when Kabaka Mwanga executed Christian converts in the late 19th century, was the saint through whom he had access to God. While we were studying the Bible together, he was shocked to hear the words of Christ, "No one comes to the father except through me" (John 14:6). After comparing his belief in the intercession of saints to the biblical conception of the sole mediumship of Jesus Christ, Charles with joy accepted Christ as his Lord and Savior and was baptized into Jesus Christ.

Folk Muslims, as well as Catholics, venerate saints. Sufi pirs are respected as men of great baraka, which is thought to increase at death. When a pir dies, he is thought to be mystically united with Allah and transformed into a saint (wali) with increased baraka. This mystical union called an ur ("marriage") is celebrated annually in order for disciples to obtain baraka from their departed saint. Shrines are established at the place of the pirs' burial, especially in North Africa. The faithful visit these shrines regularly to receive baraka from the saints. Although the saint has died and is buried, his devotees believe that he is able to hear their prayers, heal their illnesses by imparting baraka, and intercede on their behalf before God (Parshall 1983, 87-88).

Baraka may be obtained in two ways. First, a sympathetic relationship is established between the worshipper and his saint. The worshipper may leave a lock of hair or a piece of clothing attached to or near the saint's tomb. He may also kiss the tomb or buy a baraka-laden relic of the saint. Second, baraka may be obtained through ritual acts, such as sacrifices. Such rituals force the saint to bless his client. Prayers are offered directly to the saint because of his proximity to God. Thus, the saint in folk Islam is frequently considered "an intermediary of baraka, which has its source in God" (Barth 1982, 3).

There is a significant contrast between worship in the mosque and worship at the tombs. In the mosque worship is characterized by great dignity and respect for Allah. Worship is highly ritualized with no singing or talking. Worship at the tomb is highly emotional. Disciples express their inner feelings of devotion for their saint with singing, dancing, sermonizing, and ritual recitation of the names and attributes of God (Parshall 1983, 87-88).

Totemic Spirits. In many tribal societies kinship groupings and individuals have totems which are thought to mystically provide them with benevolent aid. These totems are animals, plants, or physical features which are affinally linked with particular kinship groupings and individuals. Totemic spirits are typically not as powerful as other spirits. The Nuer call them "spirits of the below" as contrasted to more powerful "spirits of the above" (Evans-Pritchard 1956, 63-77). Rituals determine how people treat their totems; and the totems in turn empower, heal, or guide their human counterparts. Kipsigis traditionalists of the Kapkaon clan feel a mystic affinity with the lion. A member of this clan who is forced to fight believes that he takes upon himself the courage of the lion. His angry declaration "I am of my lion" (A bo ng'etunnyon) tells those around that he is ready to fight. Such totemic beliefs presuppose a worldview in which parts of the physical world are affinally linked together and are mutually beneficial. A corporate life, a mystical link, is thought to exist between totems and their human counterparts. Human souls are thought to merge with the world rather than to stand over the world controlling it.

Tribes, clans, and lineages, and individuals may have their distinctive totems. Many ethnic groups of West Africa have tribal totems: the duiker, a small antelope, is the totem of the Ga; the buffalo of the Akwamu; and the leopard of the Fon (Burnett 1988, 73). Among the Nuer of Sudan clans and lineages are distinguished by differing totems. Sacrifices are made to totems and cows dedicated to them (Evans-Pritchard 1956, 63-77). The crocodile is the totem of the Cany lineage. Sacrifices are made to these totemic spirits by pouring milk from cows dedicated to crocodile spirits into a crocodile-infested stream. Lineage members carry the name of this totem, calling themselves nya nyanga, "daughter of the crocodile." If one of this lineage kills a crocodile or eats its flesh, he may beget a deformed child with arms resembling crocodile legs. Those of this lineage are thought to be able to wade through crocodile-infested waters without fear (Evans-Pritchard 1956, 66-67). The gourd is the totem of the Gaatgankir, the largest clan of the Nuer. Members of this clan will neither step over the stems of gourds nor cut and prepare them for use as utensils (Evans-Pritchard 1956, 72). The Juak clan "respect" rivers and streams. Their ancestors are said to have come out of the lagoon. Before crossing a river, a clan member tosses a bead into the water as an offering and asks the river spirit to grant him a safe crossing (Evans-Pritchard 1956, 73). Thus animals, plants, and physical features all serve as totems to Nuer lineages and clans. Among the Loma of Liberia individuals have their own distinctive totems. Their emic word for totem is derived from a root word meaning "thing at the back of a man," demonstrating how it "accompanies a person to guide and help" (Burnett 1988, 74). Thus a swift runner is thought to have a leopard as his totem, a fertile woman having many children is thought to have a banana (plantain) totem, and a wealthy man having malevolent powers a snake totem (Burnett 1988, 74-75).

These beliefs in totemic spirits have developed in many ways (Evans-Pritchard 1956, 84-87). The most frequent explanation of totemic development among the Nuer is twin births: a person and an animal are born at the same time, and they in some way resemble each other. Sometimes a human and his totem are thought to have been conceived in the same stomach so that all of their descendants have an affinal relationship. At other times a person is saved by an animal or plant during a time of trouble and begins to look upon this savior as a totem. While people of the Gangni lineage were dying of thirst on a journey, they spotted a monitor lizard. They followed it intending to kill it. The lizard, however, led them to life-saving water. Since that time the Gangni lineage has respected the lizard as its totem (Evans-Pritchard 1956, 66). A person may also be thought to be seized by the totemic spirit of some animal and afterward respect it as his totem.

Among the Kipsigis belief in totemic linkage serves two cultural functions. First, exogamous customs require Kipsigis to marry outside their clan. Elders discussing the marriage of their children first ask, "What is the animal of your clan?" If they are found to be of the same totem, cultural taboos forbid their marriage. Thus a man of the Kapkaon clan cannot marry a woman whose totem is the lion, for such a relationship would be incestuous. When a Christian man and woman of the same clan eloped, the entire community condemned the relationship as incestuous. They vehemently declared that the marriage could not continue without spiritual repercussions. Second, clan members take collective responsibility when homicides occur. When a clan member is killed, restitution must be made to the clan or revenge will be taken. When a clan member commits murder, all clan members are expected to help pay restitution.

Belief in the mystical linkage between people and totems has significantly waned. Recently a Kipsigis whose totem was the elephant was travelling with friends through the Mau Forest, home of many elephants. Although his fellow-travellers acknowledged their deep fear of elephants, the man of the elephant totem confidently assured himself: "They cannot kill me. We are of one kind." When elephants appeared, his fellow-travellers climbed up trees to escape, but he was killed by the elephants. A Kipsigis interpretation was: "If he had faith like Kipsigis of olden times, he would not have been killed." In a world of increasing education and urbanization animistic belief in nature spirits has tended to decrease while other types of Animism, such as spirit-possession and astrology, have simultaneously tended to increase.

This section has discussed benevolent spiritual beings--God, angels, saints, and totemic spirits. However, most spiritual beings are not so hospitable toward humanity.

Ambivalent Spiritual Beings 

The disposition of other spiritual beings, classified as gods and spirits on the one hand and ancestors and ghosts on the other, may be either malevolent or benevolent depending on the relationship of humans to the spiritual beings and the feelings of these beings to human activity. In most contexts the greatest number of personal spiritual beings fall into this category. Although ancestors are typically understood not to be as powerful as gods and spirits, they are closer to the living than any other spiritual being because they have just passed from life to death. Ancestor veneration is prevalent in areas where filial respect is given to elders (especially among Chinese, Koreans, and Japanese) and in rural contexts where myths transmit the heritage of the fathers to their children (especially in homogeneous tribal societies). As people migrate into urban centers, where there are fewer ties to ancestral lands and heritages, animistic beliefs are frequently reformulated to give more credence to spirits and gods and less to ancestors and ghosts.

Gods and Spirits. Gods and spirits, as contrasted to ghosts and ancestors, are transempirical beings who have always existed in spirit form and have never been humans. Gods are those higher spiritual beings who have been elevated into a hierarchical position under creator God. These deities may either partially project God's nature or reflect the ambivalent nature of human beings--doing good or evil depending on their dispositions and desires. Spirits, as contrasted to gods, are non-human beings diffused into the lower realms, who may have little more strength than ancestors. While gods may be worshipped as sovereign beings, spirits are almost always manipulated by magic.

Gods and Spirits of Africa. Many West African societies have pantheons of higher gods who rule over specific realms as well as lower, more diffused spirits. The higher gods frequently serve particular roles in a structured pantheon and are frequently associated with natural phenomena. For example, traditional Yoruba of Nigeria recognize a pantheon of gods under Olodumare, the supreme being who is viewed as a king with subordinates under him. His chief subordinate is Obatala, who gives riches or poverty, strength or deformity. Other subordinate gods are Shango, the god of thunder; Orisha-oko, the goddess of the farm; Ogun, the god of both war and iron; Shopona, the god of smallpox, boils, and other skin eruptions; and Eshu, the power of mischief (Mitchell 1977, 26). Idowu suggests that because these gods are understood to be emissaries of Olodumare and receive their power from him, the Yoruban religious system should be understood as a type of diffused monotheism rather than polytheism (1973, 148). Ray objects to this perspective perceiving the Yoruban god as a distant, inactive creator with lower gods considered active (1976, 52-55).

In contrast to these West African spirits and gods, spiritual beings in East Africa are generally more distant from God, are seldom organized into well-defined pantheons, and are not typically related to facets of nature. While many West African high gods are "worshipped" because of their elevation and nearness to God and lower spirits are coerced by magic, almost all spirits in East Africa are "manipulated and controlled" by the magic of human practitioners.

West African deities and East African spirits can be contrasted by other characteristics. Some West African gods are frequently worshipped by people of certain occupations. For example, traditional Yoruban blacksmiths naturally worship Ogun, the god of iron. Festivals to honor the gods and receive blessings from them occur on a regular basis. Worship is very overt and sacrifices to the gods apparent to outsiders. Frequently gods call people to worship them by causing sickness. A diviner might attribute an illness to a specific god and designate the rites to perform in order to satisfy the divinity. Practitioners in West Africa are frequently possessed by the spirit of their god in order to divine for the common person (Mitchell 1977, 26). In East Africa, on the other hand, few spirits or gods are publicly worshipped. Only during times of catastrophe, especially during extreme illness, are spirits propitiated under the direction of diviners, who determine what spirit is bothering a person and what must be done to appease the spirit. Appeasement of spirits, therefore, is a private affair carried out by an individual or family under the direction of a diviner. Although in some cases divination is carried out while a person is under possession, East African shamans typically divine by technique. Thus the gods and spirits of Africa cannot be easily grouped into neat, etic classifications.

Gods and Spirits of India. In no geographic area are there more gods and spirits than in the subcontinent of India. A study of this subcontinent clearly reveals the difference between high gods and lesser spirits. The dominant gods of the Hindu pantheon are Brahma, the creator; Vishnu, the preserver; and Shiva, the destroyer. Vishnu, the god who preserves and maintains life, incarnates himself periodically as an avatar to reveal truth to the world. The most venerated of these avatars are Krishna and Rama (Kennedy 1984, 33, 86, 198). Although considered by pure Hindus as illusions in a transient world, these gods are popularly worshipped and venerated by the masses of India. The lesser spirits are frequently grouped under the broad term bhut. Although originally meaning "the spirit of the dead," the term bhut has developed into a broad classification referring to a wide range of lower spirits. Thus various types of lesser spirits are categorized as bhut. These include pret, the spirits of the dead between the time of death and the termination of burial ceremonies; rakshasa, a demon always hostile to humankind; pari, benevolent female spirits; sayyid, extremely malevolent martyr spirits; and jogini, malevolent nature spirits who inhabit mountaintops, waterfalls, and wooded areas. People fearfully protect themselves from malevolent lesser spirits and seek the help of benevolent ones while worshipping the greater gods (McClintock 1990, 38-46). While the religious Hindu will categorize all these gods and spirits as pure illusion, the masses of India fearfully worship, appease, and manipulate myriads of spiritual beings.

Gods and Spirits of Ancient Greece and Rome. The ancient Greeks deified nature and created a pantheon of gods with specific functions in nature. Greatest of these were Zeus, the god of the sky and considered the father of gods and men, and his wife, Hera, the patroness and guardian of marriages (Guthrie 1950, 66). Under Zeus and Hera were gods with particular roles and areas of control. Poseidon ruled the sea; Aphrodite held the power of love; Artemis was the goddess of wild nature; and Athene dispensed wisdom and skills. In addition to these, there were gods of rivers, springs, trees, fruit, and forests (Parrinder 1971, 147-149). Ancient Romans also had their pantheon of gods. Dominating the pantheon was Jupiter, the "Best and Greatest." His queen was Juno, the power of femininity. Gods controlled all aspects of Roman life. Mars was the god of war; Mercury was the god of merchants; Hercules insured success in practical affairs; Apollo was a god of healing; and Fortuna was a power of fertility (Parrinder 1971, 164-165). No area of life was left unprotected by some god. Over a period of time Greek and Roman gods became almost interchangeable: Zeus was identified with Jupiter, Hera with Juno, Neptune with Poseidon, and Artemis with Diana.

Gods and Spirits of Brazil. Although Brazil is officially a Catholic nation, it has been called "the land where spirits thrive" (Maust 1985, 48). In fact, more Brazilians participate in spiritistic rituals than go to mass (Nielson 1988, 94). Spiritism is a new religion derived both consciously and unconsciously from marriage among many different streams of Brazilian thought and culture. Early Portugese settlers, while nominally Catholic, were highly animistic. Their worship "centered on a cult of the saints, promises, communications with the dead . . . largely to the exclusion of doctrinal matters and the sacraments" (Bruneau 1982, 24). Religious reforms which touched other parts of the European continent had little influence upon Christo-pagan Catholicism of Portugal. African slaves added another element to Brazilian spiritism. Although the slaves were forced to outwardly embrace Catholicism, the gods that they brought from Africa were intertwined with this new religion. Their feeling was that if their African gods could not help in a certain situation, maybe the other deities could be induced to act. In time the West African gods became interchangeable with Catholic deities. Olodumare, the supreme Yoruban god, was transformed into Jehovah. The name of Obatala, Olodumare's chief subordinate also known as Orixala among the Yorubas, was shortened in Brazil to Oxala and became Jesus Christ. Shango, the Yoruban god of thunder, had the spelling of his name changed to Xango and became the personification of John the Baptist and St. Jerome. Other West African gods also experienced a name change and were merged into the same categories as Catholic deities (St. Clair 1971, 62). This African heritage is reflected in Condomble, the form of Spiritism most prevalent in the Brazilian state of Bahia. Some animistic practices, which are disappearing on the African continent as people accept Islam and Christianity, have become institutionalized in Condomble. Condomble spiritism has become more African than Africa. Brazilian Spiritism was also influenced by the writings of Denizard Rivail, a French doctor who claimed to be the reincarnation of the Druid Allan Kardec. A high class Spiritism, called Kardecism and characterized by "reincarnation, seances, healings, and enough Christian terminology to confuse people" (Maust 1985, 49), developed from this French influence upon Brazil. Finally, Brazilian Spiritism was also influenced by the animistic beliefs of indigenous Indians.

This merging of Catholic, African, French, and Indian streams of Animism has led to distinctive contemporary forms of Spiritism in Brazil. For example, Umbanda, the largest of the Spiritist groups, has effectively syncretized animistic belief in spiritual beings to fit the Brazilian context. Zelio de Moraes, Umbanda's founder, divined solutions to people's problems while possessed by the spirit of a Brazilian half-breed named Caboclo of the Seven Crossroads. Caboclo was half-Indian and half-African. Because of his mixed breeding, he communicated directly with the local Indian spirits who once inhabited the land and the African spirits of Condomble. Brazilians understood this mixing of blood. Caboclo was one of them. As a half-breed, he could understand their nation and their problems. Caboclo told Zelio that neither Kardecism nor Condomble was right. Caboclo began to dictate a new set of rules incorporating parts of Kardecism, Condomble, and Catholicism with other distinctive elements into a new whole (St. Clair 1971, 136-137). Like Caboclo and the nation of Brazil, Umbanda seeks to unify a people of miscegenation.

Spiritism, whatever its distinctive form, is based on the belief that humans can contact spirits and influence them to act on their behalf. Hundreds of believers come to spiritist centers to seek guidance from spirit-gods. During an orunko ceremony, the spirit-gods come down and "ride" the mediums, who are considered the cavalos ("horses") of the spirit-gods. Through the mediums these gods divine solutions to all types of human problems: A woman estranged from her lover seeks the cause of the disrupted relationship and the course of action to bring reconciliation; the sick yearn to know what has caused the illness and how health can be restored; and the businessman seeks the reason his business has fallen apart and how it might be rejuvenated.

Condomble, Kardecism, and Umbanda are distinct contextualizations of animistic beliefs drawn from various cultural streams. Christians, however, classify these pagan gods as the demonic dressed up in contemporary garments.

Spirits of the Islamic World. Before the days of Muhammad and the formulation of orthodox Islam, belief in spiritual beings called jinn was prevalent in Arabic culture. Jinn were understood to be created beings who were lower than angels but higher than humans, and who were usually malevolent but occasionally benevolent. The Qur'an, which makes numerous statements about jinn, says that they were created of smokeless fire even before Adam's creation (Sura LV:14). Muhammad was sent to preach to them as well as to humans (Zwemer 1920, 125). With the spread of Islam belief in jinn permeated all cultures where Islam took root.

Muslims believe that jinn make their presence known by causing illness, especially convulsions, epileptic seizures, fits of madness, and epidemics like cholera and smallpox. Some people are more apt than others to be affected by jinn. Newborn babies and their mothers and the newly married are very susceptible. Because of their close association with blood, which is always "haunted," butchers are also in danger of being affected by jinn (Westermarck 1933, 6-7). A person who is angry or frightened is susceptible to the deeds of jinn. Therefore, to awaken a sleeping person suddenly is dangerous. He must be awakened gently by touching his little finger and saying, "God be praised" (Westermarck 1933, 7). Because they are especially fond of darkness, jinn are numerous at night. Most people stay at home after sunset to avoid coming into contact with roving jinn (Zwemer 1920, 144). If one stumbles in the dark, he is thought to have stepped on jinn (Westermarck 1933, 6). Jinn frequently disguise themselves as animals, especially cats, dogs, or snakes. Muslims would never hurt a cat at night because they cannot be sure that it is not actually a jinn. Since jinn also disguise themselves as dogs, it is considered dangerous to throw a rock at a dog (Westermarck 1933, 6).

Although most jinn are thought to be malevolent, some are summoned to help humans with specific problems. Jinn may help to discover the identity of a thief, look into the future and give advice concerning an upcoming event, gain news about absent friends, or aid in practicing witchcraft. These benevolent jinn are few and are largely ignored because it is considered more important to appease the malevolent jinn than to honor the benevolent ones (Zwemer 1920, 143).

Men have learned to protect themselves somewhat from malevolent jinn. In Egypt and Morocco propitiation is made to jinn by leaving food for them at sunset. Oil and meal are thrown into a corner of a new house to appease the jinn who are already inhabiting it. Knives and daggers are placed under the pillows of the sick to guard against the jinn (Zwemer 1920, 130). Because jinn are terrified of light, candles are kept burning where there are newborn babies and their mothers. Jinns' fear of gunpowder has led to the custom of constantly firing guns at Moorish country weddings. The most powerful prophylactic against jinn, however, is holy words or passages from the Qur'an. Even those jinn who have no fear of light or gunpowder flee at the sound of sacred words (Westermarck 1933, 9).

Gods and Spirits in Biblical Perspective. From a biblical perspective God is supreme over all spiritual forces, and subordinate deities have no power or rule except as he grants. Christians, however, object to the worship of these lower gods because glory and honor, elements of praise given to these gods, should be reserved only for creator God. Since these gods are petitioned in times of trouble, true God, who rightfully deserves all praise, becomes jealous. False gods are usurping the position of sovereign God.

The Bible does not negate the reality of these gods and spirits. Throughout the Old Testament there is continual encounter between Yahweh, the God of Israel, and the gods of the nations, the Baals, and Astoreths. Although these spirits may appear benevolent by providing fertility of field and family, the source of their power is of another realm. A synonymous parallelism of the Song of Moses equates "demons which are not God" with "gods who have recently appeared" (Deut. 32:17). Although these gods are no-gods in that their essence is not of God, demons stand behind these symbols of alienation. Sacrifices offered to the idols of gods are in reality offered to demons (1 Cor. 10:20). The gods and spirits of this world are thus symbols camouflaging the sovereignty and control of the demonic realm. They, therefore, must be treated as enemies of the cross and encountered both by proclaiming the reality of the sovereignty of God in Christ (truth encounter) and by confronting their power with the awesome power of God (power encounter).

Ancestors and Ghosts. The terms ancestors and ghosts indicate spiritual beings who once lived in human form (Burnett 1988, 58). They may be contrasted to spirits or lesser gods who have never existed as humans. Because ancestors are considered partly human and partly spirit, they are described as "the living dead" by John Mbiti, an African theologian (1969, 83). They are feared, respected, and venerated because they are specifically remembered and are part of the extended family. Ghosts, on the other hand, are those spirits of the dead who are disappearing into the past and are no longer individually remembered by their families.

Almost all peoples of the world have concluded that there is some type of continuity between the living and the dead. This is evidenced by Filipinos, who in large numbers visit cemeteries on All Souls' Day to bring food to the grave sites of ancestors. They frequently spend the whole day and part of the night with departed family members. These ancestors are understood to be intermediaries between God and the living (Henry 1986, 13, 8). Ninety-eight percent of all Chinese on Taiwan zealously venerate ancestors. Hung reports that ancestor veneration is the great stumbling block hindering the Chinese from coming to Christ (1983, 32). From an African perspective ancestors are the closest links of people with the spirit world; Africans believe that ghosts pervade their world and cause various kinds of sickness. The African theologian Idowu contends that even the Westerner holds this view, "Modern sophisticated man may wish . . . to dismiss as puerile stories of experiences of ghosts and of haunted places; but deep down in the minds of thousands of men and women of every level of spiritual or intellectual attainment is the . . . persistent notion, that the deceased still have a part to play, for better or for worse, in the lives of the living" (1973, 178). Because of this propensity to believe in the continuity of the dead, animists are generally more concerned with ancestors and ghosts than with any other type of spiritual being.

A linkage is assumed between the living and the dead. Ancestors are understood to continue their existence as spirits after death and have power over the living. Alexis Kagame's epigram succinctly states the African perspective: "The living man is happier than the departed because he is alive. But the departed are more powerful" (Taylor 1963, 148). The Kipsigis of Kenya say "Igimitu ng'atutietab chito ne kigome" (The command of one who has died is strengthened.). For example, before one Kipsigis Christian died, he adopted the Western custom of making out a will. Many Christians questioned the wisdom of taking such an action. They reasoned that if the wife and sons were not able to carry out the very difficult commands, many in the village would attribute any future illness in the family to the deceased's impatience with their disobedience. Kipsigis believe that it is easier to make amends with the living than with the dead.

Ancestors and ghosts may be either benevolent or malevolent toward the living. Ancestors, still part of the family but freed from the restrictions of the physical world, have greater power than the living and can influence the lives of their earthly descendants. The power of parents to bless or curse children for deeds or misdeeds is reflected by ancestors who continue to bless and curse their family from the other side of death (Idowu 1973, 148-150; Burnett 1988, 61). Ancestors are generally seen as the guardians of family affairs, traditions, ethics, and activities. Besides these benevolent manifestations, ancestors are also anxious to be remembered and work havoc on all those who either forget them or disobey their wishes. The living, therefore, are careful to show respect for ancestors. The Ga of Ghana pour a small portion of food or drink on the ground as an offering to the ancestors (Field 1961, 196). The Chinese show respect for ancestors by fastidiously caring for their graves. Problems in the family are thought to originate with the ancestor who feels he has not been given proper respect (Burnett 1988, 64). Ghosts are more generally considered to be malevolent since they are not intimately related to the living.

The ancestors who create the most fear in the hearts of people are those who pass away with a grievance in their heart, succumb unexpectedly, or die with great wealth. The Nuer believe that it is "a most serious matter if a man dies with a legitimate grievance in his heart" and believe that "injustice cries out from the grave" (Evans-Pritchard, 1956, 173-176). Ancestors are resentful of injustice and seek to avenge a wrong done to them while they were still living. Because of past problems, making peace with the dead is often impossible. Sometimes those who die suddenly do not realize that they have passed into the spiritual realm. St. Clair tells of Kardec spiritists of Brazil who helped inform a spirit of the dead that he had suddenly died and could now depart from the land of the living (St. Clair 1971, 107-110). Radin similarly describes a Winnebago warrior who died in battle but did not realize that he had died. When he entered his house and his wife and children did not see him or hear his voice, he realized that he had been killed. He then returned to the battlefield to see his body and verify his disembodied state (1957, 115). Filipinos believe that a person must be "at peace before he can go on to heaven." The spirit of one who died in a tragic accident or one who died very young must be appeased because a lingering spirit haunts the living. To appease an ancestor, masses (or movennas) are frequently held on the anniversary of his death (Henry 1986, 13). In India those who die abnormally, do not have children, or have much wealth might stay around longer than other ghosts (Hiebert 1983). These who have died are thus envious of the living. None of these people were ready to die and, therefore, are thought to leave the realm of the living only by coersion or appeasement.

Ancestors and ghosts communicate with the living overtly through dreams and possession and indirectly through illness. John Beattie tells of a Banyoro man in Uganda whose deceased father warned him in a dream that a neighbor was using sorcery against him. The next morning the man searched for and found the horn that had been used in the sorcery and burned it. The neighbor, whose sorcery had come back upon him by the burning of the fetish, died two days later (1967, 257). Among the Kipsigis of Kenya an ancestral spirit appeared to a diviner in a dream. He revealed that he was killing his brother's sheep and goats because the living brother continued to dislike him. The diviner was informed that the brother must sprinkle his animals with milk, sacrifice one to the displeased ancestor, and pray to Asis. When the living brother came to the diviner to determine the reason for his calamities, the diviner was prepared to relay the ancestor's demands (Orchardson 1961, 139-140). Sometimes a human is possessed by the spirit of ancestor who has been offended. In such a case, a diviner must determine which ancestor is making his power felt in this way, how he was offended, and how he can be appeased (Taylor 1963, 150). Often Africans view illness as caused by an ancestor who has been neglected or who is calling attention to a breach of social ethic on the part of the ill person (Taylor 1963, 150).

In contexts where ancestors are venerated, Christian theologians vary in their perception concerning communion with the dead. For example, the continuity of filial respect once one's father and mother have died is perhaps the greatest theological debate in Asia. Chinese Christians are typically expected to participate in Buddhist and Taoist burial rites which venerate the deceased. Despite the impact of Western ideas, increasing urbanity, industrial expansion, "emerging values and goals . . . remain consistent with traditional Chinese values" (Smith 1989, 28). One writer states, "One of the puzzles of Hong Kong is that it is so Westernized on the surface and so stubbornly Chinese underneath" (Agassi and Jarvie 1969, 156-157). Many of the incense and food offerings are understood to provide for the needs of the ancestors in the world beyond. Christians typically do not participate in these sacrifices. When Daniel Hung became a Christian, his mother told him, "Fortunately, I have six other sons to offer food sacrifices to me after I die" (Hung 1983, 33). Christians who forsake these offerings are frequently accused of breaking the fifth commandment, "Honor your father and your mother." Thus on New Year's Day, 1971, Catholic Cardinal Yu Ping of Taiwan declared that ancestor worship was "not idolatry but in accordance with God's will, the fifth commandment" (Hung 1983, 34).

Henry Smith advocates a "contextualized" strategy wherein Chinese Christians accommodate these traditional practices, reinterpret them by presenting a Christian conception of the afterlife, and innovate new forms within the Chinese context (Smith 1989, 27-38). He superimposes over Chinese culture the distinction between the religious and the secular by looking at ancestral rites as social customs which have lost their religious underpinnings. Nowhere in his article does he deal with the core issue of the sovereignty of God in the context of other sovereignties. In the name of contextualization he provides a syncretized gospel where Christians venerate the ancestors while they worship God. Daniel Hung, a cultural insider, provides a more biblical model of contextualization while maintaining his sensitivity for his people's heritage. He believes that Christians can respect ancestors by sweeping their graves, holding memorial services on the anniversary of their deaths, displaying their pictures in the living room, and wailing while making such statements as "Lord, guide so-and-so to heaven safely and into [your] bosom" (1983, 35, 39). However, Christians must not participate in any ancestral rites of veneration: They must not offer incense, make sacrifices, or pray to the dead (Hung 1983, 36). Such idolatrous worship disrupts a Christian's relationship with Christ, "in whom all the fullness of deity lives in bodily form" (Col. 3:9).

The role of ancestors is also widely discussed among African theologians. The African innately believes that the dead are still present in spirit form. Thus forsaking the dead is understood to be equivalent to mistreating the living. Mbiti brings these traditional beliefs into contemporary Christianity. He believes that communion with the dead is not the worship of ancestors. His beliefs are capsulized by David Hesselgrave: "Mbiti . . . insists that the phenomenon which Westerners have called 'ancestor worship' is not really worship at all. The acts of giving food and drink to ancestral spirits are symbols of communion, fellowship and remembrance. To fail to remember the dead in this way is, in effect, to excommunicate them and deprive them of that which is needful for another existence. But to remember is not to deify them" (1978, 152).

Other African theologians, building on Mbiti's foundations, have elevated the ancestors to the position of mediators between God and humans, equivalent to the position of saints in certain Catholic theologies. Muzorewa writes, "The ancestor becomes a saint, charged by God with the responsibility of insuring the welfare of the people of his own tribe" (1983, 36-37). In this intercessory role the ancestor is considered the agent through whom God works to save the people; ancestors become "the way to the Father!" (Musorewa 1983, 36-37). Muzorewa arrives at this conclusion based on the understanding that the Christian faith and African beliefs must be "synchronized in a way that does not jeopardize African existence" (1983, 37-38). However, such theological formulations allow ancestors to usurp the intercessory role of Christ (1 Tim. 2:5) and displace him as the fullness of all deity (Col. 2:9).

Thus the attempt of African and Asian theologians to show continuity between the living and the dead reflects their cultural bias. These theologians must remember the biblical injunction against the living consulting the dead (Deut. 18:11; Isa. 8:19). The pervasive, all-sufficiency of God in scripture negates any mediating and divining roles that might be assigned to ancestors. The Christian, while respecting those who have gone before him, must never venerate or worship them; he must give total allegiance to sovereign God.

Malevolent Spiritual Beings

The disposition of other spiritual beings, especially Satan and demons, is malevolent toward humans. Satan is frequently considered king over a malevolent realm, the lord of forces hostile to Creator God. In such a hierarchical system demons are viewed as the malicious messengers of Satan. When there is no such hierarchy, demons are understood to serve their own malevolent purposes.

Satan. Christians and Muslims regard Satan as the sovereign lord of the demonic realm. The Bible shows Satan as a distinct, malevolent personality who has opposed the work of God "from the beginning" (1 John 3:8). The terms Satan ("the adversary") and Devil ("the slanderer") are used interchangeably as the malevolent being "who leads the whole world astray" (Rev. 12:9). His control over the unbeliever is described by the title "the ruler of this world" (John 12:13; 14:30; 16:11). As the ruler of the world, he is "the god of this age" who blinds the unbelievers so that they cannot see the light of the gospel (2 Cor. 4:4), "the prince of the kingdom of the air" who works in the disobedient (Eph. 2:2), and "the tempter" who causes new Christians to fall away from their relationship with God (1 Thess. 3:5). He is a "real" being, not a mere projection of evil upon a spiritual personality and thus a creation of the human mind (Wink 1986, 26-30).

Although the Old Testament references to Satan are few, they reflect his activities as a tempter desiring to bring about the fall of humankind: Satan enticed Eve to commit the first sin (Gen. 3:1-5), tempted Job to forsake God (Job 1:6-2:10), incited David to number the people (1 Chr. 21:1), and stood before the Lord accusing Joshua, Israel's high priest (Zech. 3:1-2). Although Satan's relationship with God may be dynamic and changing, the scriptures picture Satan throughout history as the arch-enemy of God.

The New Testament depicts Satan as the great tempter, hostile to God, and working to overthrow divine purposes. Satan severely tempted the incarnate Messiah to change the purpose and direction of his earthly ministry (Matt. 4:1-17; Luke 4:1-13). He entered the heart of Judas (John 13:2) and desired to have Peter so that he might sift him as wheat (Luke 22:31). Paul feared that the Thessalonians might fall from the way of God because of the enticements of the great tempter (1 Thess. 3:5). As "the deceiver of the whole world" (Rev. 12:9), Satan constantly lays snares to make people his captives (1 Tim. 3:7; 2 Tim. 2:26). The great deceiver frequently "masquerades as an angel of light" to entice the unwary to follow him. This deception is reflected in his followers who pretend to be "servants of righteousness (2 Cor. 11:14-15). His aggression against humanity is depicted by the imagery of a prowling lion seeking to devour all those who do not resist him (1 Pet. 5:8). Christians can only stand against such awesome power with the might of the Lord of Hosts. They must understand that the One in them "is greater than the one who is in the world" (1 John 4:4)! They must not glory in their own power and might but in the indwelling power of God who uses them as his earthen vessels.

In Islam Satan (Shaitan) is pictured as the fallen angel who tempted Adam and was subsequently thrown from heaven for his disobedience (Qur'an Sura 2:34-38). As the one estranged from God, he became the "personification of evil" (Crim 1981e, 657). The Qur'an says that he will preside over hell until judgment day (Sura 15:30-44) yet implies that he may one day be redeemed (Sura 14:38).

Umbanda, the flourishing spiritist religion of Brazil, has a hierarchical line of evil spirits with Exu as the supreme devil. Exu, a term derived from Eshu, the god of mischief among the Yoruba, is equated with the Catholic Lucifer. Spiritists petition Exu and his followers when they desire to "cross the path" of an enemy, that is, make everything go wrong. Quimbanda is the Brazilian term used for these Satanic rituals and beliefs to capriously bring harm upon others. Because Exu is thought to be too distant and constantly involved in fighting Oxala (Jesus Christ) he is seldom petitioned directly; his subordinates, however, are frequently called upon to grant requests (St. Clair 1971, 173).

Many tribal peoples of the world have no concept of Satan. Evil, rather than emanating from one malevolent being, is attributed to many spiritual beings, understood to be morally ambivalent. The concept of Satan has typically been introduced by Christian or Muslim influences. For example, Christian missionaries introduced the concept of Satan to the Kipsigis people of Kenya. When Western linguists worked with Kipsigis to first translate the Kipsigis Bible, the concept of "Satan" was erroneously translated as oindet, the singular of oik, meaning "ancestral spirits." To the Kipsigis consultants, who had not yet grasped a biblical cosmology, this translation was logical because they viewed ancestral spirits as always malevolent, and no other malevolent spirits were thought to exist. Today the Kipsigis typically substitute setaniot ("Satan") for oindent when orally reading the Bible.

Although Satan is the sovereign of the malevolent realm, under him are a host of demons seeking to carry out his will. Satan must always be studied in relation to his underlings.

Demons. Demons, the second type of malevolent spiritual beings, are pictured in the scriptures as the servants of Satan. They are graphically portrayed in John's Apocalypse as evil spirits looking like frogs which spew from the mouth of the satanic trinity--the great dragon representing Satan, the beast depicting the emperor who promotes Satan's cause, and the false prophet delineating the priests of the emperor cult (Rev. 16:12-14; McDowell 1951, 160). Demons, when loosed by Satan, the star which has fallen from heaven to earth, are pictured as locusts which swarm in droves from the depths of the abyss to harass all those who do not have the seal of God on their foreheads. Their king, the sovereign ruler of the demonic realm, is called "Destroyer" in both the Hebrew and Greek languages (Rev. 9:1-11). Demons, therefore, carry out the Devil's schemes (Eph. 6:11-12) and are part of the kingdom of Satan (Matt. 12:25-28).

Although the word for demon is seldom used in the Old Testament, demons are seen in different forms. Demons of the Old Testament dressed themselves up in the garb of gods. Perhaps they had been angels set up by God to care for the nations, but being desirous of their own praise, they rejected the sovereignty of God and set up their own kingdoms (Deut. 32:8; cf. Caird 1967, 48-49; Wink 1984, 26-35). However, these gods were in reality demons. The Song of Moses relates that the Israelites "sacrificed to demons, which are not God--gods they had not known, gods that recently appeared, gods your fathers did not fear" (Deut. 32:17). Child sacrifices made to pagan gods were in reality made to demons (Ps. 106:36). However, demons masquerading as gods are still demons.

Sometimes the false gods of one age become the demons of another. In Greek culture the word daimon at one point was used interchangeably with theos but over a period of time grew to mean malevolent beings (Ferguson 1984, 36-59). The asuras of India were gods in ancient Vedic Hinduism but became powerful malevolent beings ultimately defeated by the avatars of Vishnu in more recent Hindu mythology (Crim 1981b, 214). However, from a biblical perspective followers of God have always placed demons into one category: They are of the realm of Satan carrying out his wishes. It should not amaze the Christian that the gods eventually show their true colors and are seen to be what they really are--demons.

Although other world cultures give various names and attributes to demons, they are universally thought to cause misfortune. In India raksasas are considered malevolent beings who attack people in order to cause misery, drive them mad, and finally possess them. However, unlike the beliefs of Christians and Muslims, these evil spirits have no malevolent ruler (Crim 1981b, 214). Bolivian tin miners pay homage to Tio, the demon of the mines. Tio is thought to lead the miners to rich veins of ore and, when offended, cause the death of a miner. Miners seek to appease Tio in the ch'alla ceremony, when he is offered coca and alcohol and recognized as the true owner of the mine (Nash 1989, 258-263).       

In Umbanda of Brazil a hierarchy of evil spirits exists under King Exu. One demonic spirit, named Exu of the Closed Paths, is called upon by devotees to "cross the paths" of enemies. Because of the evil designs of this powerful demonic spirit, businesses are made to fail, romantic endeavors go sour, marriages disintegrate, and sicknesses occur. Those fearing that these Quimbanda rites have been used against them will quite likely go to other Quimbanda practitioners to "uncross their paths" or acquiesce to the desires of those who have crossed their paths through the power of Exu. St. Clair tells of Helena, a widow who was being unjustly evicted from her home by her landlady. The landlady claimed that her son wanted to live in the house, but she actually wanted to rent the house to someone else for more money. Helena, having no legal recourse, invited St. Clair to go with her to perform Quimbanda rites to cross the path of the landowner. Helena petitioned Exu of the Closed Paths, gave to him the offerings that she felt he desired (the best sugar cane brew available and an expensive cigar!), lit candles in his honor, and laid a photocopy of the eviction notice in the midst of the burning candles. Within a few days the son of the landowner called Helena saying that she could stay in the house. Upon hearing the good news, St. Clair exclaimed, "Thank God!" to which Helena objected, "Thank God nothing! Thank Exu!" (1971, 159-163, 172-175). In a similar vein various Satanic cults in North America pray and offer sacrifices directly to Satan or other spirits in the Satanic hierarchy.

James Frazer describes the animist's pervasive fear of evil spirits:

They dog his footsteps, dazzle his senses, enter into him, harass and deceive and torment him in a thousand freakish and mischievous ways. The mishaps that befall him, the losses he sustains, the pains he has to endure, he commonly sets down, if not to the magic of his enemies, to the spite or anger or caprice of the spirits. Their constant presence wearies him, their sleepless malignity exasperates him; he longs with an unspeakable longing to be rid of them altogether, and from time to time, driven to bay, his patience utterly exhausted, he turns fiercely on his persecutors and makes a desperate effort to chase the whole pack of them from the land, to clear the air of their swarming multitudes, that he may breathe more freely and go on his way unmolested, at least for a time. (1922, 633-634)

Such fear of demons and desire for deliverance create a readiness to hear the Christian proclamation of a loving and faithful Creator God who is not distant but the great I Am of all existence. Only benevolent Creator God can free those overwhelmed by demonic forces.

The Christian and the Diabolical Realm

In Christ, God has invaded the domain of Satan to reclaim what has been alienated from him. God created the world to live in relationship with him. However, at some point created spiritual powers rebelled against God and began to draw people away from him. Perhaps they became jealous of the special relationship that the newly created beings on earth had with God. These powers invaded society to distort the laws, customs and traditions of people. Thus insidious sin infiltrated society, and dreaded death spread its tentacles everywhere. However, Christ came into the world for the express purpose of destroying the works of Satan (1 John 3:8), especially death, his ultimate tool (Heb. 2:14). He came to rescue the creation from the domain of darkness and bring them into his kingdom (Col. 1:13). This was accomplished on the cross when Christ disarmed the principalities and powers and made a public display of them (Col. 2:15).

However, the whole world continues to be in the hand of the evil one (1 John 4:4); only Christians have been freed from Satan's domain. They have been raised to sit with Christ in the heavenlies (Eph. 2:6) far above all the principalities and powers of Satan (Eph. 1:20-21). From this vantage point Christians can make effective war on Satanic forces. However, Christians must not underestimate their foe. They must rather put on the whole armor of God to fight effectively against the powers of Satan (Eph. 6:10-18). The ultimate victory of the kingdom of God is certain as depicted by the seventh angel who blew the final trumpet in the book of Revelation: "The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he will reign for ever and ever" (Rev. 11:15).

This chapter has discussed various cultural concepts of spiritual beings according to their disposition toward human beings. Some spiritual beings--God, angels, saints, and totemic spirits--are considered benevolent. Some spiritual beings--lower gods and spirits on the one hand and ancestors and ghosts on the other--are considered either benevolent or malevolent depending on their current disposition. Other spiritual beings--Satan and demons--are always malevolent toward the living. Certain questions must now be asked about personal spiritual powers: How do humans relate to personal spiritual beings? Do these culturally defined beings reflect their actual nature? How does God perceive of these myriads of personal spiritual beings?

Perspectives of Relating to Spiritual Beings

Christians and animists relate to spiritual beings in different ways. Christians seek to relate personally to God giving all glory, honor, and praise to him. Animists, on the other hand, have little personal relationship with Creator God but seek rather to manipulate and coerce lower spiritual beings.

The Christian and Personal Spiritual Beings

According to the scriptures, God is unique among the spiritual beings of the world and therefore must be given undivided loyalty. The spiritual beings of the nations are considered as nothing before his incomparable being. Moses praises the distinctiveness of God in relation to the gods: "Who is like you among the gods, O Yahweh? Who is like you, majestic in holiness, awesome in praises, working wonders? (Exod. 15:11). His attributes are unsurpassed by pagan gods: He is "the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin" (Exod. 34:6-7a). His holiness and greatness are a contrast to the moral ambivalence of lower gods (Ps. 77:13). His mighty acts in history show him to be the creator of the world, the deliverer of the oppressed, the righteous judge of the wicked, and the redeemer of humanity. He alone is deserving of glory, honor, and praise!

God is not distant; he desires an intimate, personal relationship with his followers. God is like a father who tenderly loves his son and does not want to give him up when he declares his allegiance to other gods (Hos. 11:1-11). He is like a faithful husband who devotedly loves his unfaithful wife even when she seeks other suitors (Hos. 1-14). He is like a husbandman who lovingly shapes and cultivates his vineyard (Isa. 5:1-7). He is like a physician who compassionately cares for his patient (Isa. 1:5-6; Matt. 9:12). Judeo-Christian religion involves a moment by moment, day by day, year by year personal relationship between God and his people--a communion of love between the eternal Creator and his living creation.

God has chosen to work through his son Jesus Christ. Christ came not only to carry the message of God as the incarnate Word of God (John 1:14) but also to become the message by dying on the cross (1 Cor. 15:1-4; Acts 2:22-24; Acts 17:2-3). The message taught by the early church was simply described as "preaching Jesus" (Acts 5:42; 8:8, 35; 11:20; 17:18). Because of reconciliation in his death, Christ became the only mediator between God and his people (1 Tim. 2:5). The only way to God is through Jesus Christ (John 14:6). Thus true Christians give full allegiance to Creator God and his son Jesus Christ. In the midst of a discussion of idol worship, Paul writes, "For us there is but one God, the Father, from whom all things came and for whom we live; and there is but one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom all things came and through whom we live" (1 Cor. 8:6).

The great Christian response to Creator God is worship. He must be glorified as the King of kings and the Lord of lords. He must be praised as the deliverer and redeemer of his people. He must be acknowledged as the ever-working, ever-present "I Am." All praise should be given to Creator God, who delivers and saves, rather than to the undeserving gods of the nations:

        No one is like you, O Lord;
         you are great,
         and your name is mighty in power.
     Who should not revere you,
         O King of the nations?
            This is your due.
        Among all the wise men of the nations
            and all their kingdoms,
         there is no one like you (Jer. 10:6-7).

While God, the true king who wrathfully punishes the nations who follow other sovereignties, is everlasting, false gods will perish (Jer. 10:10-11). All followers of God must therefore "give thanks to the Lord, call on his name, [and] make known among the nations what he has done" (Isa. 12:4). The nature of God and his mighty acts call us to worship him.

While worship is the Christian response to Creator God, encounter is the Christian response to all spiritual beings who seek to usurp the place of God. Two types of encounter can be discerned.

The first type is the Christian encounter of the ideological system which stands behind the animist. This type of encounter provides the animist with a new paradigm through which he views reality. This encounter shockingly portrays to the animist that there is no such thing as a neutral spiritual power. Ambivalent spiritual powers who sometimes seem to act benevolently and at other times malevolently are in actuality messengers of Satan. Allegiance to any of these powers is ultimately an allegiance to a power other than God. God and Satan are confronting each other in a cosmic conflict. Myriads of demons are allied with the Prince of Darkness, and thousands of angels serve as helpers to the Prince of Peace. Such encounter assumes that God is not distant but mightily acts in his world; that other gods must never be worshipped or propitiated; that God in Christ has defeated the principalities and powers for all those who believe; and that followers of God must never appeal to lower spiritual beings to solve their immediate, everyday problems but must patiently wait on the Lord. This type of ideological encounter might be called truth encounter.

A second type of encounter calls the spiritual powers into account on the functional, everyday level of life. Overt confrontation takes place with the demonic and the demonic invasion of the laws, customs, and traditions of society. The altars of the gods are torn down to test their validity. Christians are exhorted to burn their fetishes and destroy their household gods. Personal spiritual beings are prayerfully confronted with the power of Jesus to heal those they have victimized. The laws, customs, and traditions which have been contorted by Satan are challenged and Christian alternatives given. This type of encounter is called power encounter.

Christians, then, are to live in awe of God giving to him glory, honor, and praise. They must at the same time encounter the demonic inroads of society whether personalized or institutionalized.

The Animist and Personal Spiritual Beings

Animists tend to follow whatever power, whether personal or impersonal, that works. Instead of patiently waiting for Creator God to work, animists impatiently seek whatever power might solve their immediate problems. They would never deny God but would seek other powers in addition to him. In Christian contexts such people are called Christo-pagans and in Muslim contexts folk Muslims. Such adherents simultaneously follow God and the gods of this world. They are like the people of Judah during the days of Jeremiah. They have turned their backs on God but not their faces; only when severe problems come which lower gods cannot resolve, do they return to God crying, "Come and save us!" (Jer. 2:27). Like the Samaritans, "they worshipped the Lord, but they also served their own gods in accordance with the customs of the nations" (2 Kgs. 17:33). Slowly these followers of God lost their relationship with Creator God as they went whoring after pagan gods.

Animists seldom seek to relate personally with Creator God. God is either understood to be distant, unconcerned about human events; to relate to humans through intermediaries; or to be pantheistically a part of nature. Animists, therefore, consider lower spiritual beings as closer to the living and more likely to hear human petitions. Since they lack the power and majesty of higher spirits, lower spirits are also manipulated and coerced by human ritual and magic. Thus while Christians have an intimate, personal relationship with God, animists impersonally relate to spiritual powers through coercion, ritual manipulation, and mystical union. While Christianity is relational, Animism is largely coercive and manipulative.

The words of the Martin Luther's song "A Mighty Fortress is Our God" depicts a Christian response to a world full of malevolent spiritual beings:

        And though this world, with demons filled,
            Should threaten to undo us,
        We will not fear, for God hath willed,
            His truth to triumph through us:
        The Prince of Darkness grim, we tremble not for him;
            His rage we can endure,
        For lo, his doom is sure;
            One little word shall fell him.

These words, although ancient, continue to have contemporary significance. By the power of God and the blood of Jesus Christ, the demonic hosts are being defeated.


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