The Advent of the Adversary: Negative power in certain religio-therapeutic systems

Roland Littlewood
Emeritus Professor of Medical Anthropology

If I cannot move the Higher Powers, I will move the Infernal Regions

Freud’s epigraph for The Interpretation of Dreams, 1899 – quoting Juno in the Aeneid

The argument of this paper is fairly straightforward. Any novel system of Euro-American healing or salvation which presumes a wider cosmological framework starts from offering a relatively straightforward psychological therapy, which is in harmony with understandings of health, life and generation, and which is aimed at the amelioration of a characteristic dilemma. This core dilemma, whether sickness or sin, has its own fundamental and logical solution which is advocated as the basic practice of the movement and which, with its own redemptive narrative, is incorporated as a primary principle into a standardised procedure and personnel, such as a healing session, medical practice, prayer group, or congregation. However, over time challenges start to appear: (1) dissident members leave the group whether their dissent was occasioned by a personal quarrel, or by theoretical or practical disagreements; (2) there is external criticism and sometimes public action against the group for its disturbing novelty; (3) members experience disappointments and failures of prediction with doubts about the efficacy of their healing in particular instances; (4) they themselves are affected by sickness, age and debility.  

The primary principle by itself now seems inadequate to explain these challenges: a more complex system is called for. The movement responds by elaborating a second principle, which explains all four challenges as related to another power, one which is opposed to health, life, and generation; this is of the same general nature as the primary principle – the original core healing process – but now of countervailing polarity. Opposition and interaction between the original principle and its new negative may proceed by a continued conflict which is considered to exemplify the current crisis, or by complementarity, balance, and incorporation, and by embodiment in certain persons and situations which reference the group’s general principles and powers. The negative itself may become reified as a malevolent force, possibly personified, against which members must struggle. Whether personified or not, the opposition between the two serves to contain them as discrete and antagonistic counterparts.

Mary Baker Eddy (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

Malicious animal magnetism

The Church of Jesus Christ, Scientist (generally known as Christian Science) has endured extensive prosecution and lawsuits concerning the failure of its members to obtain conventional medical treatment for their own families and for their patients – although its founder, Mary Baker Eddy (1821-1901), did finally accept morphine at the end of her own life. And the church’s history has been synonymous with internal disputes, quarrels, and schisms since its foundation in 1879. The central religious teaching, partly veiled in the language of nineteenth century popular science, is that Man is a perfect manifestation of a perfect God. Consequently, Man cannot truly be sick, suffer, sin or die. Through understanding the nature of God, we can obtain control over our body and mind.  

Mrs. Eddy’s idealist position equated Spirit with Mind and counterposed them to the material: “There is no life, truth, intelligence, nor substance in matter. All is infinite Mind… Spirit is immortal Truth; matter is mortal error.” And ‘illness’ and physiological events can thus refer only to a belief or suggestion [Note 1]. Adherents of Christian Science prayed to understand that they lived in a world without sin, sickness, and death. Its founder predicted that in the future she would be able not only to alleviate pain but to spiritually influence the actual physical process which apparently caused pain (Gill 1998: 630). Humans would become less sexual, just like angels, and one key follower announced that her own child was parthenogenically conceived, Mrs. Eddy having acted as the Holy Spirit: this announcement caused yet another quarrel and subsequent schism and external derision.

The church grew up in a New England milieu of Unitarian Universalism and Transcendentalism, Emersonian self-reliance and pragmatism; it was characteristically American in its emphasis on self-actualisation and perfection. In childhood, Mary Baker, the daughter of a small farmer, had experienced various ill-defined ailments which continued into adulthood despite recourse to hydrotherapy, phrenology, homeopathy, mesmerism, and spiritualism. She was cured intermittently by ‘Dr’ Phineas Quimby, a watchmaker and mesmerist (hypnotist), who proposed that diseases were only a product of the mind, and a cure could be obtained by the patient achieving the correct view. He played down the fears of illness which he said were typically encouraged by the local doctors (Fraser 1996: 56). Quimby argued that the effective mesmerist took on himself the patient’s illness (which he could then later dissipate) and that he did not have to be actually physically present at the healing session. In partial remission from her troubles, Mrs. Eddy enthusiastically took up his ideas and began to practice herself.

In the Third Edition (1881) of her book, Science and Health which went through multiple revisions in her own life and after, Mrs. Eddy included a chapter on “Demonology” in which she denounced two early followers with whom she had quarrelled. As Christian Science grew, a series of such favourites were taken up by her, promoted and then discarded, with continuing internal disagreements, splits, and secessions, as it faced a critical popular press as well as denunciations from competing local churches. Eddy herself was undoubtedly a difficult personality [Note 2]. She began to play down the original significance of Phineas Quimby as her own group grew, and a continuing theme within Christian Science studies remains the actual significance of Quimby for Eddy’s teaching. His mesmerism was no longer considered a healing practice, and indeed was now regarded as the quite unhealthy influence of the mesmerist on other people. Recognised as the force opposing the purely spiritual healing of Christian Science, this was now termed Malicious Animal Magnetism (MAM). By the 1860s Eddy, having started on her own healing mission, realised she was more successful in educating the students in her Metaphysical College than in actual healing. And Christian Science, like the Jehovah’s Witnesses, is didactic in its rituals: early on the church similarly banned extempore prayer and indeed any vocal prayer. Church meetings and treatment consist of reassertions and paraphrases of the Bible and Mrs. Eddy’s Science and Health (first published in 1875). Unlike the Witnesses, Christian Science is what Brian Wilson (1970) calls a ‘manipulationist’ group in which the means to salvation remain religious if textual, but the goals really being secular – education, health, and happiness.

If disease is simply intellectual error, then prayer alone is insufficient to cure it. A serious Christian Scientist must perform daily mental work in repeated assertions that error is powerless, and that truth and goodness are all pervasive. Unless this work is done, error might seem to have power, so afflicting people through their worries with real sickness and death (Wilson 1970). Certain of its themes of mind/body interaction appear again in forms of later secular psychotherapy: thus the bodily experience of soreness might be attributed to the recognition that somebody somewhere “is sore” with you (Wilson 1970: 164), recalling the ideas of the psychoanalytically-influenced Psychosomatic Medicine of the 1940s in which a lump in the throat – a physical sensation – is caused by one not being able to “swallow” something mentally. Pierre Janet (1925) argued that Christian Science was the predecessor to modern psychotherapy in its emphasis on the mental, yet MAM, here following Quimby’s teaching, can act at a distance, thus recalling our idea of witchcraft – but a witchcraft which can only affect the mind not physical nature itself [Note 3].  

MAM operated, like healing, through the inculcation of a ‘belief’: “a belief in homesickness tried to tempt Mrs. Eddy” (Gill 1998: 523): i.e., in conventional terminology she was almost homesick. Her third husband’s death through MAM, she argued was through the sending to him of a belief in arsenic poisoning: “the theory of arsenical poisoning [through MAM] allowed her to reconcile her Christian Science doctrine with the fact of [her husband’s] death” says her biographer (Gill 1998: 291). She maintained that truth was always manifest in practical experience – what she termed a ‘demonstration’.

To counter the seditious effects of MAM – endless schisms, law suits, accusations of conspiracy to murder and so on – groups of students were encouraged to mentally resist it together, and in her later years Mrs. Eddy, now known as ‘Mother’, organised special shifts of her household staff called the ‘watchers’ to guard against it by prayer in such cases of malicious press attacks, household accidents and lost articles, the common cold and even bad weather. Each watcher specialised in averting one particular form of Malicious Animal Magnetism. As the explanation for misfortune, sickness and the deaths of patients and family, MAM became increasingly salient in Mrs. Eddy’s teaching: some students complained that the majority of her classes now focused on it rather than on healing (Gill 1998: 651). Fear of MAM, along with the Christian Science doctrine of the unreality of disease, could proceed to the neglect of conventional medical and obstetric procedures, thus often leading to a death, and so to the confirmation of the actions of MAM itself (Gill 1998: 331): MAM occasionally killed members of her staff who were then brought back to life by Mrs. Eddy. Interpersonal accusations were followed by counter-accusations as favourites were dropped, and the students and staff quarrelled and feuded: Mary Baker Eddy’s generally sympathetic biographer, Gillian Gill, concedes that paranoia was ‘endemic’ in the movement from the beginning (Gill 1998: 433).

William Reich (Source)

Negative orgone energy

In modern physics, energy is the capacity of a physical system to perform work, a conserved extensive property of a system which cannot be observed directly. Conserved, neither created nor destroyed, it can be changed into different forms. The concept emerged historically out of the idea of a living force (Aristotle’s ἐνεργεια: activity or operation), and has been used in the modern sense since Thomas Young in the early nineteenth century amidst continuing arguments as to whether energy was actually a discrete substance or only a physical quality. In 1847 Helmholtz proposed in his law of the conservation of energy that all types of energy (mechanical, electrical, chemical, and so on) are forms of a single universal energy (Kraft). ‘Energy’ then became a popular and powerful trope, both in the mechanical world (Rabinbach 1990) and also in literary culture (Gold 2012).

Brücke, a physiologist who taught Sigmund Freud in Vienna, argued that all living systems are energy systems and coined the term ‘psychodynamic’ to emphasise that the brain-mind system operates along the principles of physics. He reduced psychology to neurology and “described mental processes indifferently in physical and psychological terms” (Ellenberger 1970: 479). The neurologist Beard likened the human being to an electrical battery, and the term ‘psychic energy’ was used to refer to the number of the (newly discovered) brain cells: a limited number of neurons led to a weak nervous constitution (or neurasthenia) and thus to a weak will – as exemplified by women in comparison with men (Littlewood 1996). This rather material idea of psychic energy harked back to Mesmer’s eighteenth-century notion of a magnetic fluid which pervaded the universe and which was the basis for all matter, an idea which maintained a certain wayward existence in the continuing practice of hypnotism; experiments on transferring personalities by means of electromagnets continued to be carried out into the twentieth century. Freud, a neurologist, abandoned his early attempt to place psychic energy on such a distinct physical platform, but his disciple Jung developed that possibility in assuming psychic energy was somehow related to physical energy; even if that could not be demonstrated, or psychic energy measured, its principles paralleled those of the physical, notably in its properties of conservation and transformation (Ellenberger 1970).

Freud’s follower and later critic, the Austrian psychoanalyst Wilhelm Reich (1897-1957), took Freud and Jung’s early and concrete reading of mental energy to its most developed form. Rebelling against Freud’s apparent downplaying of libido (psychic energy) in the 1920s he considered his own ideas on energy, love, disease, and the cosmos to be purely natural science (Rycroft 1971). By the 1930s Reich argued he could isolate ‘life energy’ (‘bioenergy’, ‘primordial cosmic energy’) in the form of vesicles (bions) and store it in accumulators (the famous healing orgone boxes, for marketing which he was later imprisoned in the United States). Bions could be seen under a microscope or be recorded by a Geiger counter, electroscope or thermometer as Reich carried out numerous experiments in his laboratory: “the discovery of libido in vitro” as he put it (Reich 1973: 9). Once stored, bions could be used to control the weather, cure cancer or be condensed into new life forms. Reich equated this orgone energy with love: blue in colour as exemplified by the hue of sexually excited frogs, it had the power to move the planets and reconcile all polarities.

Reich left Austria to escape the Nazis, and then was forced out of Norway by the medical establishment there, and settled uneasily in America with a few followers, becoming increasingly conspiracy-minded as he grew older (Reich 1969). Orgone energy was he now argued opposed by its converse, Negative (destructive) Orgone Energy, such as nuclear energy, and which was manifest in clouds and in the stillness of the landscape, and in the silence of birds as leaves lost their turgidity. Negative orgone energy was bioenergy that had become stale and blocked. It had become “sequestered” (Rycroft 1968) from orgone energy and turned against it. When thus damned up it caused serious personality disturbances (character armour) and neuroses, cancer, and fascism. Reich located the opposition between the two in the autonomic nervous system, with the parasympathetic subserving pleasure and the sympathetic anxiety (Rycroft 1968).

Freud had argued that in the face of the conflict between the instinctual sexual drive (libido) and group conformity, characteristic defences were developed by the ego which lead to an individual’s character. Reich argued that these defences are a pathological armour, just like psychological symptoms but represented in the body’s posture and musculature. He proposed the healthy genital character which was motivated purely internally and naturally, and was not subject to the “compulsive morality” of an authoritarian culture (itself formed on the basis of similar individual repressions). Such mature genitality was demonstrated by Jesus Christ, the archetypal genital character, who was in close communication with the world’s organic forces. Eventually, Reich identified himself with Christ as a similar martyr of genitality. Therapy consisted initially of bodily exercises often whilst naked, and on occasion sex with Reich. Sexual energy if not regularly discharged, said Reich, would be converted into anxiety (this had been an early idea in Freud’s preliminary psychobiological schema which he himself then discarded in the 1920s) and thence into sadism. “Psychic health depends on orgastic potency… the capacity for surrender to the flow of biological energy, without any inhibition, the capacity for complete discharge of all damned-up sexual excitation” said Reich, for God “represents nothing but the personification of the natural laws which govern men and make him part of the universal natural process… One day science will succeed in handling biological energy, as today it masters electrical energy. Not until then will the psychic plague [the generation of negative orgone energy] find its master” (Reich 1968: 39, 114 340). As his pupils built machines to shoot down UFOs (Turner 2011), eventually humans would evolve into a healthy spherical form. This materialised life force, later to be negatively personified in the form of Modju, the grotesque dictator, led to his expulsion from the International Psychoanalytical Association and the German Communist Party [Note 4] in the same year. It is still maintained by Reichian groups in the United States under the name of Bioenergetics.

‘Sleep and his Half-brother Death’, depicting Hypnos and Thanatos, by John William Waterhouse, 1874 (Source: Wikimedia Commons)


Sigmund Freud’s introduction in the 1920s (in his book Beyond the Pleasure Principle) of a second biological instinct, the death instinct (Thanatos), which was opposed to libido, has been variably attributed to his own diagnosis of cancer in 1922 and to his consequent debility, but also to the deaths of a daughter and grandchild, to doubts in his circle about the very efficacy of psychoanalytical treatment (Robinson 1969: 20), and to increasing disputes over succession in the “Byzantine politics” (Roazen 1979: 363) of the psychoanalytic movement. Certainly, Freud had quarrelled with and split from a large number of colleagues [Note 5], but looking at the chronology of the introduction of his new idea suggests that it marginally predated the formal diagnosis of his own sickness (Sulloway 1980). Freud’s initial positioning of instinctual libido against social conformity was, after the First World War (in which three of Freud’s sons had risked their lives), replaced by an interest in our evident ability to destroy and self-destroy. In war-ravaged Vienna, a miserable and starving remnant of the once extensive empire (with Freud losing all his savings in the post-war inflation), both Freud and Reich turned to elaborating new bipolarities in which each of the pair had a similar nature rather than the old opposition between the quite distinct biological and social. Reich protested that the new theory of the death instinct meant that the primacy of Freud’s original genital libido was betrayed, and he complained that all interest in sexual libido had now been lost (Reich 1973), but it is debateable how many of Freud’s orthodox followers have fully accepted the death instinct. Freud acerbically commented that Reich explained the new death instinct, not as biology but as capitalism (Robinson 1969: 37) [Note 6].

There had been earlier precedents for the new idea of thanatos: Jung’s patient and lover, Spielrein, had suggested a death instinct in 1912, and Freud’s colleague Adler as far back as 1908 had proposed a primary aggressive drive which Freud had then denied. In 1915 during the First World War, Freud had published an essay ‘Thoughts for the times on War and Death’ in which he argued that aggressive instincts seemed evidently stronger than was previously believed, and our main problem was how to channelise aggression. He no longer attributed hatred to transformations of the libido alone but to some separate, and at first vague, non-libidinous instinct (Ellenberger 1970, Sulloway 1980). At the same time, he was also concerned with explaining the compulsion to repeat found in hysteria and in children’s play and which was also found in shell shocked soldiers’ morbid and self-punishing dreams of extreme violence. The 1920s reformulation of these concerns into Thanatos now “sought to restore the intellectual unity that had been undermined by certain conceptual inconsistencies that emerged in the previous decade” comments Sulloway (1980: 395).

Together with dealing with the ‘negative therapeutic reaction’ (i.e., the not uncommon finding of the patient becoming clinically worse as the psychoanalytic treatment proceeded), Freud’s ‘death instinct’ (he himself seldom used the actual term “thanatos” [Note 7]) was less a drive to death than an explanation of the compulsion to repeat traumas [Note 8] and to return to an earlier, simpler, state, an explanation which 

Harked back to his thoughts in the 1890s on a psychological entropy of tension reduction. (Perhaps a more appropriate term for the death instinct would have been Freud’s preferred label, the Nirvana instinct.) If the death instinct of Thanatos and the life-affirming libidinal instinct of Eros are opposed, they always go together and are necessary in life, effectively shaping and complementing each other. Life is a dialectic between the two until Thanatos eventually prevails at our death, with dissolution of the organism and our return to inanimate matter, the state before birth. In this sense, said Freud, “the aim of all life is death”, Eros (libido) being the postponement of death through flight forward. Whilst libido is psychic energy and increases tension, Thanatos is the converse. And aggression is simply Thanatos directed outwards in the service of Eros.

Reich is more monist in his schema in that for him libido should always seek expression and ideally triumph.  Freud, at least, had a preference for dualist positions and he was generally opposed to monistic schemata (Wolheim 1971: 180; Roazen 1979: 274, 338) [Note 9].


The postulation of our second, ‘negative’ complement to the primary principle, as found in Eddy, Reich, and Freud, seems to owe something to the personification of evil as an opposing but subordinate principle in the Judeo-Christian tradition. Paul Ricoeur (1967) has argued there has been an historical development from early ideas of human impurity to a more internalised and individualised sense of sin in a strong sense, and existing small scale enclosed communities, such as those typically studied by social anthropologists, seldom have an idea of a strong absolute Evil which is opposed to a strong absolute Good. Neither, we might presume, did the earliest civilisations of the ancient Mediterranean and Middle East: the closest the ancient Hebrews came to metaphysical evil was evil in a weak sense, as impurity, defilement, blasphemy or the breaking of a contract. The Hebrews revered only their own god, and he eventually became their idea of the one and only God. Like other early absolute Gods, he seemed to have manifest characteristics of what we would now characterise as a coincidence of opposites, good and evil: “I am the Lord and there is none else. I form the light and create darkness: I make peace and I create evil: I the Lord do all these things” (Isaiah 45: 6-7). 

The idea of evil in a ‘strong’ unregenerate form seems to have developed in settled agricultural communities (Parkin 1983), and Iranian religion dichotomised the two emerging principles into separate deities with one good god of light and one evil god of darkness who endlessly contend but with some indication that the good one will eventually triumph. Humanity is the battleground. Where, as with the Hebrew Yahweh, there was strictly only one single God, his evil aspect became split off into a separate but still subordinate being. Lesser malign spirits had been personified as angelic tempters or obstacles (satans) sent or permitted licence by the high God – as happens in the Book of Job. In the post-exilic literature of the Hebrew Apocalyptics, these and various other and doubtful characters came together with the evil aspect of divinity to yield eventually something approaching a single negative principle (Russell 1977: ch.5): the “children of God” (who were certain angels) [Note10], along with various named [Note 11] adversaries, accusors, obstacles, temptors, rebels, angelic watchers, the spirits of the giants and other reprehensible figures. Satan then is a coalescence of what were once distinct characters such as these fallen Hebrew angels and who also become identified with various Hellenistic nature spirits and demons and with the pagan gods [Note 12]. Satan appears now as a unitary figure in the Christian New Testament but is named variously – as Diabolus, Belial, or Beelzeboul, the enemy, the temptor, the accuser, the evil one, the ruler of this world, the prince of demons, and he becomes associated with the serpent of Genesis. St. Paul equates this Satan with absolute metaphysical evil.   

It became evident that the coming of Christ had not resulted in the final abolishment of sin, which was put off till his second coming; as the Christians awaited this, the idea of a contemporaneous Hell, which barely features in the New Testament was elaborated (Russell 1977). The earlier rather nebulous Middle Eastern and Mediterranean afterworlds, such as the Greek Hades, now became transformed into a counterpart to Paradise as the site of eternal torment for sinners (a notion perhaps encouraged by the clearly demonic afterworld proposed by Zoroastrianism – a religion which impinged on Christianity not only through its earlier influence on the Hebrews in their Babylonian exile but through the contemporary Mithraism and Manicheaism).

Another important dualism entered Christianity through Greek philosophy (and perhaps through the ‘mystery cults’ of the eastern Mediterranean) and was partially equated with divine/satanic: that between Spirit and Matter which had important resonances in early Christian asceticism (Brown 1988, Littlewood and Dein 2012) [Note 13]. In the form of Man versus Nature (or as Mind versus Brain), it is still with us as vulgar ‘Cartesianism’.

All of this of course introduced a problem: if God was supreme and good, then how could he permit a Satan to do evil? Later Jewish and Christian thinking attempted to resolve the question through different solutions – that ultimately apparent evil is only a higher good, or it is the creation of human free will, or else evil has no real existence but is the inevitable product of a good world, or even that the whole thing is a mystery which only God can comprehend (Russell 1977). Whatever the solution, Satan remains subordinate to God and can still act on his behalf as a temptor, but his new enhanced form has greater autonomy than in the past; he increasingly acts as though he were somehow independent of his divine creator, a process which continued throughout Christianity (Russell 1977: 259). The Christian figure of Satan thus preserved the semi-dualism of the Hebrew Apocalyptics; although created by and remaining subservient to God, he has considerable autonomy in leading humanity astray encouraged by his own pride and jealousy and his wish to supplant God (Luke 10: 15). So Evil always threatens to become a separate, equal, but of course contrary, principle: “the God of this world” (2 Corinth. 4:4). Semi-dualism allowed Satan to be the agent of natural evil – earthquakes, floods, epidemics – as well as of moral evil which depended on humanity’s free will although of course influenced by Satan, God’s original temptor: even in the early modern period Satan could still punish us as a divine warning to repent (Maxwell-Stuart 2011).

By the end of the second century of the Christian era, we have then something resembling the definitive Satan. God created the world and mankind and angels, but a number of angels led by Satan rebelled against God through their own pride and were thrown out of heaven. Satan, now identified with the serpent in the garden of Eden (or having entered him), promotes the Fall of Man who, knowing sin, is expelled from the garden. Man is currently alienated from God, but all will be resolved by God’s victory at the end of time, and Satan will be bound forever [Note 14].

The parallelism between the kingdom of God and the kingdom of Satan is shown well by the figure of the AntiChrist (McGinn 1994). A general word for a false prophet in the Epistles of John, in the Book of Revelation the AntiChrist becomes the false prophet. A human figure, in whom some said Satan was incarnated, he was the leader of Satan’s mundane deceivers, and the term was used by Athanasius and others to refer to various heretical leaders within Christianity such as Arius: Protestants and other critics used the term to refer to certain popes. The AntiChrist closely imitated Jesus, but as inversion: thus, he had the power to make trees grow upside down (Almond 2014: 174) [Note 15]. If Satan was lord of this earth, then some heretics (Gnostic Christians, Cathars) argued for a fuller dualistic system in which Satan had actually created the world. The late medieval equation of the satanic with folk magic and witchcraft envisaged a whole counter-church in which rituals, prayers, gestures, objects, vestments were all turned upside down in a demonic parody [Note 16]. And some critics commented that this symbolic inversion equated to a belief in two antithetical Gods (Almond 2014: 213).

If Christianity postulated a metaphysical universe of two principles, then the New Testament had already been packed with this-worldly healing stories. The Christian promise is therapeutic, not only spiritually but also physically: the blind shall see, the deaf hear, the crippled walk, and so on. And there was some sense that in an imperfect world, Satan was the ultimate cause of sickness. And certain missionary orders and congregations (Adventists, Salvation Army, Christian Science) have taken on bodily healing as virtually on a par with spiritual healing.

‘The Fall of Satan’ by William Blake, 1825-1826 (Source: The Metropolitan Museum of Art)

Negative Power and/or Complementary Power?

Cultural psychiatrists and anthropologists have typically described non-Western nosologies and therapies as more dispersed than in biomedicine, typically extending out into the social and political world less contained. Parkin (1995) has argued that there is something particularly Western (Christian) about the epistemologies of biomedicine in that the disease (or spirit) is ideally totally eradicated rather than accommodated. So, there is a therapeutic preference for the total elimination (or exorcism) of the undesirable rather than an accommodation with it, as in the way an intruding disease or spirit may be supplicated and bargained with in most non-Western therapies (e.g., Crapanzano 1991, Boddy 1990). If my thesis is correct, we can expect an affinity between Christianity and biomedicine in their severe sequestration of the undesirable (disease eradication, surgery, ‘exorcism’) as opposed to the affinity between the more dispersed (latticed) notions of pathology (and psychopathology) found in the non-Christianised small-scale communities traditionally studied by social anthropologists. The clinical implications are beyond the scope of this present paper but follow the bipolarity of contained versus extended.

One can of course perceive binaries anywhere, but is the dualism or near dualism suggested by our examples aetiological (and thus to be overcome – as with Jung), or a frank bipolarity, or an ambivalence, or what? Whatever the theoretical elaboration, it seems likely that for the sick person or the sinner, the appearance of the second force is overwhelmingly powerful. It is as a concrete personage. The sick person and the sinner are not especially interested in the analytics of the system. They just want to be rid of this sickness, of sin. And whether analytically we regard the second principle as a simple negation of the first’s emphasis on life and health, or as its complement, is fairly arbitrary, depending on whether we take the system under consideration as being the original principle alone or whether as manifest in the byplay between the first and the second in a wider set-up.

If I have argued a similar nature (but opposed polarity) for the two principles, then how distinctive is the second, ‘negative’, principle? Satan, for instance, always threatens to become an independent, autonomous power but (heresies aside) he does not. He still has a role as God’s temptor of Man. Although assimilated to the material world, he remains, like God, a spiritual power, distinct from God but created by God. Mary Baker Eddy is practically concerned with combatting Malicious Animal Magnetism among her congregation and is not deeply metaphysical, relying on the moral schema already afforded by local Christianity. Freud is the most dualist in maintaining two quite separate biological principles (instincts), Eros and Thanatos, but they can interact to produce other patterns such as aggression. Reich starts from Freud’s psychoanalysis but his second principle, Negative Orgone Energy, develops out a transformation of his first principle, Orgone Libido, after which Orgone and Negative Orgone seem mutually exclusive.

Malicious Animal Magnetism (although Christian Scientists of course must have known that mesmerism had preceded Christian Science) is regarded as a jealous and vindictive antithetical power like Satan, attacking Mrs. Eddy’s congregation. Negative Orgone Energy, also like Satan, seems – as blocked or sequestered primary energy – similarly gone astray, as having experienced a ‘Fall’ from grace. And Freud? Although originating independently but in a similar way to the vital energy of Eros, Thanatos maintains a fairly complete autonomy as a sort of negative vital energy.

In all three, each of the pair of principles acts against the other, but in this ‘complementary opposition’ (Needham 1973) they generate the dynamic texture of life as lived: in retrospect, the initial power alone now seems inadequate, one dimensional, absurdly simplistic, and pathetically optimistic. If, as Bateson (1972) argues, a single unlimited unilateral power is unbalanced, making no sense in a relational epistemology, then the second principle is necessary. The immediate dialectical symbiosis, each shaping the other [Note 17], (never a synthesis) of the two appears most evident in Freud: one imagines that Eddy and Reich would have been appalled by the possibility of concerted action by Christian Science and Magnetism acting together, of Orgone and Negative Orgone, although the Christian idea of an eventual resolution lies behind both, given their generally optimistic metaphysics. Eddy and Reich, like mainstream Christianity, talk of a final bliss at the end of time with humans becoming angels, the negative power neutralised, overcome in struggle with the primary principle, whilst Freud’s more dualistic (and pessimistic) schema envisages the two, Eros and Thanatos, in an eternal play. Until our death.

Title image: Satan Smiting Job with Sore Boils by William Blake, c.1826 (Source: Tate)


I am grateful to participants at two UCL research seminars (Medical Anthropology, History of Psychology) and to the 2015 World Association of Cultural Psychiatry Conference in Mexico, where this paper was first presented. It reuses a couple of paragraphs from Littlewood, R. and Reynolds, E. (in press) The Embodiment of a Floating Signifier.

  1. Thus “there had recently been a belief of a birth in the house” (Gill 1998: 286), i.e., a baby had been born.
  2. “Shallow, egotistic, mad, ambitious, mercenary, tyrannical, man eater, drug addict, mesmerist, illiterate, illogical, uncultured plagiarist” were some of the attributes then given to her (Gill 1998: xvii).
  3. Certain contemporary African Christian interpretations of witchcraft would maintain the same: that it only works through affecting the mind. As referred to below in the text, in the causation of bad weather MAM seems to be able to bypass the receiving mind to directly affect the physical world itself, a teaching which was implicit but not really elaborated in Christian Science. On the whole MAM is mind to mind.
  4. In his earlier, more conventional thinking, Reich had argued that psychoanalysis could understand the Marxist dilemma of why the working class did not always act in their own class interests.
  5. Breuer, Fleiss, Adler, Jung, Stekel, Kahane, Rank, Rado and arguably Ferenczi. After quarrelling he dropped his academic references to them when reprinting his papers. According to Helene Deutsch, Freud described one erstwhile associate as a “bum” and as senile (cited in Roazen 1979: 490), Adler was “loathsome” and “trash”, a “pernicious creature”, whilst Stekel had ideas the size of a pea, and Jung was “crafty” (ibid: 201, 268, 23l, 270). Another ex-colleague was “a case of moral insanity” (ibid: 232). Freud engineered the expulsion of Reich from the movement, and three close disciples committed suicide when in dispute with Freud – Tausk, Silberer and Federn: Roazen (1979) lists at least 13 suicides among Freud’s close associates. Like Mrs. Eddy, he had to “protect myself against people who have called themselves my pupils… Now I must accuse them and reject them” (ibid: 272). As with Eddy, he had moved away from purely therapeutic endeavours to concentrate on producing a new generation of loyal followers (in his case through training analyses).
  6. “(T)his wish to die was somehow [Freud’s] own. He was sick. He was miserable. He was alone” countered Reich (1973: 73). But Reich also attributed Freud’s new teaching to the analytical movement’s turn against his (Reich’s) faithful emphasis on libido and towards what became ego psychology: away from the biology of instinct towards a psychology of consciousness.
  7. “Thanatos” had been popular in nineteenth century Romantic literature as the urge to destruction and self-destruction, death being likened to orgasm (petit mort), and was used by the psychoanalyst, Stekel. A popular book of short stories had been published under that name in 1906.
  8. Previously noted among criminals by Gustave Tarde in 1890.
  9. Whether we take the tendency to antithetical dualisms as a universal human proclivity as do the followers of Lévi-Strauss, is beyond the scope of this paper.
  10. Who descended to earth to teach women agriculture and have sex with them to produce a race of giants (Genesis 6: 2 and the Apochryphal books of Enoch and Jubilees), and who introduced vanity, violence and sorcery into human society, and were punished by God. St. Clement unusually attributed the eventual fall of these demonic angels to Man.
  11. Originally as common nouns which then became proper nouns as the names of identified personages, as a satan becomes Satan.
  12. Such as phallic Pan, winged Hermes and trident wielding Poseidon.
  13. And, of course, a number of other dualisms were polythetically linked to God : Satan such as Male : Female ::  Spirit : Body :: Light : Darkness :: Knowledge : Ignorance, etc.
  14. Origen’s suggestion that even Satan would finally be redeemed did not catch on.
  15. As Origen said, the AntiChrist was the simulation and negative of Christ, of the same character but opposite moral potency (Almond 2014). I am indebted to my student Dr. Athar Yawar for pointing out to me that the AntiChrist (Dajjāl) also features considerably in Islam: a human deceiver, he will eventually be defeated by Jesus (Kabbani 2003).
  16. Black candles, prayers backwards, kissing Satan’s anus, etc.. This had become possible at the end of the millennium (1000 CE) on some interpretations of the Book of Revelation 20: 1-10.
  17. Bateson’s schismogenesis.

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