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Spiritual Healing and Shamanism

Healing States:
A Journey Into The World Of Spiritual Healing And Shamanism an excerpt from the book by Alberto Villoldo, PhD and Stanley Krippner, PhD

The Artists and the Psychotherapist

Sir Oliver Lodge's question came to our minds again on a recent visit to Brazil. For example, suppose that you were an artist who suddenly found yourself in the spirit world, and wanted to communicate to your fellow humans that there is life after death: One possibility could be to return to paint new masterworks through a medium or sensitive who would lend his or her hands for communication from the "other world." This is what the purported spirits of Michelangelo, Modigliani, Toulouse Lautrec, and other renowned artists from the past claim to do as they create new works of art through the medium Luis Antonio Gasparetto, a Brazilian psychologist.

We first met Gasparetto in 1972 when he was nineteen years old and a psychology student at the University of Sao Paulo. He explained that he had grown up in a family of mediums, and had been incorporating spirits since the age of twelve. Before his twentieth birthday Gasparetto had painted over 2,400 canvasses by over four dozen different artists, each an original signed by the artist Leonardo da Vinci, Monet, Degas, and others. All the paintings were done in a dimly lit room where one color could not be distinguished from another, and at extraordinary speed, each work being completed in less than ten minutes. Each painting had the unmistakable print of the artist, who sometimes spoke through Gasparetto, offering healing counsel and advice to individuals attending the spirit-painting sessions.

Gasparetto claims he cannot paint at will, that he must set a time when both he and the painters are available, as they lead busy lives in the spirit world. The artists return to help him, he says, "to create a revolution in the way we think about death and about life." He claims that whether one believes in spirits or not, there are many people suffering from illnesses that have, their origins in the spirit world. In addition, there are many souls trapped between this world and the next, suffering because they died unconsciously and under the influence of drugs or medication. Gasparetto believes that a little recognized yet essential aspect of healing is for the living to learn how to die peacefully and honorably and the dying to learn to enter consciously into the spirit world.

As a spiritist, Gasparetto believes that the awareness of the continuity of life after death is an essential part of the healing process. Fear in general, but particularly fear of death, is seen as the culprit preventing an ill person from mobilizing all of his or her physical and psychological healing resources. With the awareness of life after death, this burden of fear is lifted, and the person's path to recovery is accelerated. In addition, Gasparetto claims that during the painting session a "window" between the worlds opens and healing energy can flow from the spirit plane to ours, helping to heal physical and spiritual ailments.

Luis Antonio Gasparetto is an accomplished psychologist and today directs a thriving clinic where he treats persons afflicted with psychic and psychological ills. Accompanied by a research group, I (Villoldo) visited his clinic in April 1983 just as his last patient was leaving. We were received by a young psychologist, who ushered us into a large meeting room. She informed us that Luis Antonio usually worked in the dark, and would be very disturbed by the high-powered lights that we needed to photograph his work. Later, the medium explained that the bright lights burned up the ectoplasm of the visiting spirits, and made it difficult for them to remain connected to his physical body.

The first step in the psychic painting session was summoning the spirits of the painters. Gasparetto closed his eyes and entered into the mediumistic trance, in which he claims to set aside his rational mind so that a foreign intelligence can take over his body. The psychologist had changed from his clinical clothes into paint-stained overalls, and was sitting on a high stool in front of a drawing table on top of which several canvasses had been placed. He asked us to hold hands and form a circle around him, concentrating and sending energy to him. Gasparetto then took several deep breaths, softly praying: "I ask God for the presence of the spirits, the guides, to help us to understand more of the spiritual life, helping to resolve our doubts. In the name of God and the spiritual friends, we can start."

At the end of this invocation, the medium's features appeared to change, his face becoming tense and drawn, and his eyes acquiring a faraway look. One of the assistants turned on classical music, while the medium reached for a blue pastel crayon and began to draw the outline of a figure at a furious pace. The canvas had to be held down or it would have torn from the ferocity of his movements. We stared in silence as he completed a portrait of a young woman and signed it "Claude Monet." The painting was executed in less than five minutes, and Gasparetto had his eyes closed or covered most of the time that he was drawing. He later explained that the paintings had already been completed in the spirit world, and were laid over his canvas like a template. He explained that he simply followed the designs, moving as fast as possible, for his movements were being guided by the "thoughts" of the master who was painting through him.

As soon as he finished the Monet, he began a painting of a young woman with a swanlike, elongated neck. Three and one-half minutes later the portrait was finished and signed "Modigliani, 1983. " Like the Monet, the Modigliani signature was identical to the painter's own. So were the color combinations used, and even the models resembled those the artists employed while still alive. "The spirits come to me," Gasparetto explained, "and show their styles, sign their own signatures, and do incredible works. I see Toulouse-Lautrec. I speak with Van Gogh, and these artists want to show that they are still alive, that they preserve their personalities, and that life is eternal. This realization alone can heal the deepest wounds of our spirit."

Gasparetto is not the only psychic painter in Brazil. In 1983, one of us (Krippner) spent an evening with another Sdo Paulo medium, Jodo Pio de Almeida-Prado. Within sixty minutes de Almeida-Prado produced ten credible pastel drawings "signed" by Manet, Picasso, Renoir, Portinari, and others. Later he sold several of his paintings at reasonable prices to members of the group. Gasparetto does not charge money for his trance paintings, as he earns his living from the practice of psychotherapy, but he will accept donations for his charities from people who want copies of his works.

Spiritual Psychotherapy

Gasparetto warns that not all communications from the spirit world are valuable. The mere fact that one has died does not automatically make one wise or holy. As in the ordinary world, in the world of the spirits there are also evil and mischievous beings who can become attached to living persons, and can cause both physical and psychological disease. Persons with highly developed psychic abilities who have "open windows" into the spirit world are most vulnerable to these influences, and often become victims of their own psychic powers. These individuals who are constantly bombarded with unwilling communications from the spirit world make up the majority of Gasparetto's patients.

As a psychologist, Gasparetto must differentiate between psychological illness and psychic or mediumship disorders. He claims that people with severe psychological problems often do not want to be helped. "What we commonly call psychosis," says Gasparetto, "is a personal decision, where one does not want to take responsibility for one's life. When I was at the university I had to go to the mental hospital to study disturbed individuals. Based on my psychic sensitivity, I estimate that 80 percent of the people in psychiatric hospitals today are psychics or mediums who could be healed with the proper education and support."

Gasparetto's clients must also attend one of the six hundred spiritist centers in the city of Sao Paulo, where they receive psychic healing free of charge. Although they are not required to accept the philosophy of the spiritists, they must accept the possibility that they may possess highly developed psychic abilities. Gasparetto believes that until a person takes full responsibility for his or her unconscious connections with the spirit world, that person will not be healed. He explains that while a trained medium is able to connect with "higher" sources of knowledge and information, an untrained and unconscious medium is at the mercy of these forces, picking up the symptoms from which many spirits still suffer.

During my 1983 visit I (Villoldo) was introduced to Marta, one of Gasparetto's patients who for the past few weeks had been coming to the Spiritist Federation healing. For several years Marta had been suffering from migraine headaches, insomnia, and general nervous conditions that physicians were unable to identify or treat. After having exhausted all the possibilities of Western medicine, she went to see Gasparetto and was referred to the spiritist center for treatment. The spiritists believe that psychic and mediumship problems affect the entire family, yet manifest only through the most sensitive member of the family. So together with her husband, Marta went to the Spiritist Federation of Sao Paulo, the largest of all the spiritist healing centers, where over two thousand patients receive treatment daily.

All patients at the Federation must undergo an "entry" interview to determine whether the origin of their disease is physical, psychological, or spiritual. All physical and about 20 percent of the psychological problems are referred to professionals trained in medicine and psychiatry. The reason for this is that the spiritists believe they can effectively treat only those illnesses having a spiritual origin, even though these are often accompanied by physical symptoms including certain cancers, some cases of high blood pressure, epilepsy, and even schizophrenia.

Marta's problem had been diagnosed as "obsession," where a disturbed spirit had become attached to her and was provoking physical and psychological distress. She was unconsciously attracting suffering entities and picking up their symptoms. Marta and her husband were sent to the intensive therapy section, where thirty other persons who also suffered from unconscious connections to "lower spirits" waited. The spiritist explained that "obsession" is a very serious ailment that must be treated early, before it results in irreversible organic disease. One of the healers sat before the group and read passages from the writings of Allan Kardec, the French scholar whose writings have been influential in Brazil. Each person then came to the front of the room for laying on of hands, to balance the subtle energy fields that the spiritists believe surround the physical body, and which form the bridge between the physical and spiritual worlds.

Marta and her husband were then led to a smaller room where three groups of six to seven mediums sat in circles. Marta took her place in the middle of one group of mediums, and her husband in another. Although Marta was experiencing the symptoms, it was possible that the disturbing spirit was a deceased relative or friend of her husband's. The mediums said a silent prayer and began to call on the entity.

Suddenly one of the mediums in Marta's circle bolted upright and with a contorted expression began to speak in a loud and vulgar voice. The female medium had "incorporated" an entity who identified himself as a young man from the north of Brazil who had lost his life in an automobile accident. He last recalled being in a friend's car and seeing a truck swerving onto his path. The young man refused to believe that he had died and claimed that this was only a bad dream from which he would soon awaken. Roberto Rodrigo, the healer in charge of the session, explained that the young man was still in shock and had been attracted to Marta because of her psychic il openness." Through her he could attempt to regain his identity by connecting again with a physical body.

The medium was not able to withstand the force of this spirit inside her, and "passed" the spirit to another female medium in the circle. The young man continued to claim that he was still alive, and laughed at the healer who was explaining to him the events of his death. The healer asked the young man to look down at his body, and in shock he realized that it was the body of a woman, that it was no longer his own. The healers then called on their spirit guides to come to the aid of this confused young man. The spiritists believe that there are hospitals in the other world to help spirits like this be born into the next dimension-they conceive of death as the beginning of a new life. However, whether in this world or in the next, birth is a complicated and often painful affair.

The mediums were careful to point out to us that this was not an exorcism, that their intent was not to toss the spirit of the young man back into the darkness. Their goal was to treat both Marta and the ailing spirit, on whom they conducted "psychotherapy" to help him carry on with his life in the spirit world. They explained that it would take more than one session to free Marta from the offending spirit and bring some relief to the young man.

Was the spirit of a young man truly disturbing Marta, or was this merely a convenient bit of psychological theatrics? In 1976 1 (Villoldo) was a speaker at a psychological congress in Sao Paulo. I took the opportunity to attend a spiritist healing session conducted by a team of medical doctors in order to assist several of their ailing patients. A number of these patients were said to be afflicted by spirits who had died unconsciously and were caught between this world and the next, still experiencing the symptoms of the diseases that caused their deaths.

At the close of the session, after the Lord's Prayer had been recited and the lights were about to be turned on, one of the mediums, an attractive woman in her late thirties incorporated a spirit who began to speak Spanish instead of the Portuguese spoken in Brazil. The spirit began to describe her pain, explaining she was a woman in her seventies who had been hospitalized in an oxygen tent for weeks, and that her lips were dry and her heart ached for her family. The healer in charge of the session explained to her that she had died, that she was now in the spirit plane, and that she was no longer in her former body. To prove it, the healer suggested she examine the medium who had incorporated her spirit. The spirit felt the body of the medium and realized in shock that it was not her own body; these were not her breasts, nor was the dark skin of the Brazilian woman her own.

Suddenly the medium looked in my direction, cried out my childhood name, and ran into my arms, asking where her son (my father) was. She entreated me to help her end her pain; she had been in the hospital too long and wanted to die.

I found myself unable to speak. I simply held the crying woman, unwilling to believe this was my deceased grandmother, yet overcome by the way she called my name as my grandmother (who had died three months earlier) used to. The head of the healing session asked that we send healing energy to this spirit, that she might become conscious of where she was. He explained that by inhabiting the body of the medium, the spirit had regained consciousness and now had to reach a "critical mass" of awareness outside her body so she could complete the journey to the spirit plane. Moments later, the spirit cried out that she could see her own long-dead mother and father (whom she called by name) as well as her husband, all calling to her as if through a translucent veil. The healer instructed her to reach out to them, to allow them to guide her into the next world.

Within minutes the spirit who had identified itself as my grandmother claimed that her pain was diminishing and that she was feeling younger and stronger every moment. The healer told her to imagine herself any age she wished, that her disappearing pain was the result of leaving the physical world; as she reached for her family in the spirit plane she would leave the nightmarish realm between the physical and spiritual worlds behind.

All the while, I had been holding the medium in my arms, tears streaming down my face and unable to say one word. As the group said a final prayer for this spirit, the medium turned to me and still speaking in Spanish said, "Take care of your father, he needs your help. I will always be with you when you need me."

Was this a cleverly devised psychodrama my friends improvised to help me get over my grief at the loss of my grandmother? Although I knew most of the members of the healing group personally', none of them was aware of my grandmother's death or knew her name. Even if they had known of her passing away, they had no way of knowing the name of her deceased husband or relatives. Could the experience be explained as a case of telepathy? In other words, had the healers unconsciously sensed my loss and obtained all the relevant names and information from my own memories?

Regardless of the many alternative explanations for this phenomenon, the experience was not easy for me to dismiss. Moreover, I found it greatly consoling to think my grandmother had been released from her pain.

Messages from Beyond

The artists with whom Gasparetto claims to work bring important messages during the psychic painting sessions. They point out that we live in a society that does not prepare people to die. In our hospitals, we use drugs that confuse the dying, who then enter the spirit world unconscious and unprepared for the next life. These spirits often find themselves trapped between this world and the next in a state of confusion that can last for years. Furthermore, the spirit painters warn us that not all spirits are sources of infinite wisdom. As in the world of the living, there are also dishonest and deceitful spirits, for one does not automatically become "holy" when one dies. In their training, the spiritists must learn to differentiate between the valuable and trivial communications and to make the connections only with the most advanced spirits.

The spirit painters warn that people who have had great mystical fantasies have the most difficult time adapting to the day-to-day realities of the spirit world. On leaving their bodies, they expect to be greeted by Christ sitting on a throne or by the Buddha. Unfortunately, if these individuals led meaningless lives on the Earth, the artists say that this is exactly what they will find in the spirit world. They believe our spiritual work begins on this Earth and continues for all of eternity. Even when they are painting through Gasparetto, such masters as Picasso and Modigliani claim that they are working on their spiritual development by helping us understand that life goes on long after the physical body returns to dust.

Both Gasparetto's parents and grandparents were spiritists and encouraged his mediumship from an early age. He claims that although we have been taught by our religions that we live for eternity, we avoid this issue because, in his words, "We would no longer be able to make decisions without responsibility, not thinking about the future, because life will go on. All the actions we do today will have a reaction tomorrow."

In 1974 Gasparetto was informed by his spirit guides that he should study ballet. This was a baffling communication as he had no predilection for dance. Nonetheless he followed the instructions, and one year later, during a trance painting session, he rolled up his pants cuffs and to everyone's surprise began to paint with his feet. Twelve minutes later he had completed a portrait of a beautiful young woman which he signed "Renoir." He explained that by the time Renoir died, his arms and hands were so atrophied from arthritis that he was forced to paint with brushes tied to his shoulders and elbows.

Since then, we have observed Gasparetto paint as many as three paintings simultaneously: one with his feet, and one each with his left and right hands, each by a different artist. The medium claims that the spirit painters do not need to use his hands, and that his ballet training was to give his feet the movement and dexterity needed to begin painting with them. During a 1983 visit, Gasparetto again demonstrated the ability to paint with his feet. This time he completed a portrait of a young woman, signed "Monet," in less than ten minutes. Gasparetto's hands were always by his side; he picked up the paint, squeezed the acrylic from the tubes, and spread them on the canvas using only his toes.

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