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Tricks of Ministers

By Mriana --

I have not written a whole lot about my minister great uncle, but last Sunday I went to meet Darrel Ray at a lecture he was giving to our local Freethought group and there were a couple things that started me thinking.
Of course, this is how I understand the little tricks ministers do in their services to put people in an altered state of mind as I remember watching it and I may just add this to the book I am writing too.

My minister great uncle was a Free Methodist minister. In seminary, he had an affair which created a baby out of wedlock. From then on out, his ministry life was a bit limited. Some FM churches still accepted him as a minister. Others did not and would not have him grace their door as a minister. Those that did he was quite the charmer- ministerial wise that is.

He would do magic tricks for Jesus, causing people, especially children to “Oo!” and “Aw!” However, the catch was you had to listen to a sermonette while he was doing these tricks. This was not the usual screaming and shouting hellfire and damnation sermons though. It was a little more sedate, but you still heard about hell and alike while he was doing his magic tricks. It just was not quite as frightening, but even as a kid I was well aware that I needed to watch him carefully, even while he did these magic tricks.

Why do I mention these seemingly harmless sleeve tricks? Well it has something to do with couple of things Darrel Ray said not only in his book The God Virus (p 143-152), but in his lecture too. Something I caught onto when I was just knee-high to a grasshopper, as the old saying goes, but I did not know exactly what it was. Basically it was the same thing with the Ouija board that my mother and I played with and sometimes I played with it by myself. She was the one moving it when we played together and I even told her so.

Darrel laughed when I told him about the Ouija board and said, “You caught on to it.” Yes, I did and was not much more than seven years old when she burned that board for nothing, along with the 8-track tape of “Jesus Christ Superstar”. There were no demons in that board or that soundtrack and somehow I already knew that. I thought my mother had lost it as I watched her burn those things and more in shock and with my chin dropped. It was just human craziness, probably brought on by some subliminal message or suggestion for all I know. Why do I say this?

Well, Darrel mentioned that the age in which indoctrination is most favourable is before the age of seven. Between five and seven I believe were his exact words. My parents did not take me to church often before I was seven years old, except when we visited my mother’s relatives and even after that it was sporadic until I was fourteen. So, I was not fed the “Word of the Lord” as much as most children were, which is something my mother seems to regret, but I do not regret it because it gave me a lot of time to think.

Secondly, Darrel showed an example of hypnotism, in which he stated, was one of the hat tricks ministers used, adding that by the time the minister was done, he could have a whole congregation of “500 people under a trance”, save for me. I added that last and when I told him my story, he said, “But you still saw it.” I cannot argue that, but what he said, I recognized very well and was able to put it altogether with my bachelor level of psychology. I maybe wrong in this analysis, but I am going to be open and honest concerning my thoughts as to how I see it.

The way I see it, there are two kinds of trance inducements that ministers use. Maybe even three if you consider the way churches, such as the Episcopal Church, do it.

One of the more frightening ones, in my opinion, is where the minister bellows for you to come to his altar and be saved. This may include shouting for one to turn their life over to the Lord and/or rededicating your life to the Lord. It is filled with guilt, fear, and anger, all from the minister. If he knows some of the issues among the congregation, he will state some of those “sins” within his bellowing altar call.

This is the kind that caused me to want to run out of the church as I saw everyone turn into snakes, but my mother would go into tears due to all the guilt her beloved uncle imposed. By the way, this uncle was also her second cousin, due to the fact he and my grandfather married two sisters. So this was family all the way around and they did not miss a beat when it came to knowing what was happening within the family. Thus, this guilt and fear of hell caused her to feel as though she was a bad little girl in the eyes of God, even though all she did was attempt to leave a very abusive man.

The guilt and fear was imposed by my great uncle with such a sermon, with or without the altar call at that point. However, we are not done yet. If he did not do the altar call then, he did during the closing hymn, which was generally a song that could lull a cobra into a trance, as well as bore a little kid who would rather be reading a book, other than the Bible, or running around outside. During the song, he would speak in a gentle, albeit annoying voice to me, as he called the sinners to come to his altar, which of course was everyone in his congregation on a given Sunday. This is why so many in the Wesleyan churches are constantly being born again. They are constantly backsliding, or so they believe, into sin and rededicating their lives to Jesus. You cannot attain perfection if you are always screwing up and that was the goal- to be in a state of Christian Perfection, but even Wesley admitted humans could not be perfect, at least not until after they died and went to heaven. Even so, Christians are to strive for perfection and because of that, there is this altar call at every single freaking service and the minister knows who did what, especially if they are family. There seems to be no escaping that fact, especially if the minister is your uncle/cousin. So, who is actually playing God, especially during altar calls?

Whether the altar call was during his bellowing sermon or during the closing hymn, he would not stop until everyone was up at his altar crying for forgiveness, save me. I was not going to move from that pew, short of him bodily dragging me up there kicking and screaming. OK, sympathy for my mother when I was fourteen did it, but I was not crying nor was I begging anyone’s forgiveness, contrary to their illusion. I placed my hand on my mother’s back and was trying to comfort her, not ask anyone for forgiveness. Still, that is what they all thought, including my mother and next thing I knew, I was being cornered about baptism.

It was all nice hat tricks, nothing more, but there is a reason for my fear of my great uncle. First, the very same bellowing tricks he used, my abusive father used when he was about to beat the hell out of me. Secondly, the soothing voice trick was the other trick my abuser used in an attempt to have his way with me sexually. So, as the therapist I had in my twenties stated, I was hyper-vigilant. I had been well conditioned to be leery of such techniques and was not about to let anyone control my inner thoughts, especially since I could not think of any way to escape.

In fact, I would hear my great uncle, but my mind would be fighting his every word. I remember thoughts such as, “I am not going up there”, “I am not going to do this or that”, “He is not going to make me move from this spot”, “I will not move” and many other thoughts. Secondly, if he was talking like a snake charmer, I would think, “Stop already!” “Is he ever going to quit?” The older I got my thoughts became, “That’s so annoying! Enough already! Stop it!” So even though I heard my uncle, I could not tell you every single word he said during such times, but I can mimic him and other such preachers quite well to this day.


Yes, that is quite annoying and I really hate getting into character and really get going just as my minister great uncle did, even if it is just aping him. I avoid it like that plague and the other day my older son said he did not know what I was talking about and I almost started to show him, then stopped saying, “I really hate to get into such a character.” He seemed to show compassion on his face and said, “Don’t. It’s OK. I think I know what you mean.” However, such things by ministers really get other people so wound up that they willing do as they told, much like being in a trance. It is rather disturbing, especially to a seven year old who was rarely taken to church.

No one ever ran out of the church when my uncle got going. Instead, they just did whatever he told them to do, believing that they were the scum of the earth. Here he was screaming and scolding grown ups for whatever they did wrong and they were just crying like they were some child in some serious trouble and about to get their butts beat black and blue with a belt. Now why would anyone be crazy enough to go for a butt whipping? Not that they did, but it really was not too much different in tone of voice. However there were two other differences: 1. He did not use any cuss words and 2. He did not call anyone any four-letter names. Be that as it may, his bellowing still did a number on people’s minds and they seemed to truly believe they had all did something wrong.

So I am left standing there, knowing full well I had not actually done anything wrong, except exist. My crime with my father was that I existed and my crime with my great uncle was that I existed. That and I supposedly could not do anything right in either of their eyes. Everything was my fault, right down to the abuse I got from my father. Even so, there was no way I was going to move no matter how loud he bellowed or if he became a snake charmer. Like my father, he was going to have come get me, because I was not moving.

Luckily, my great uncle was not that sort of man, in which he would bodily attack or drag someone. Verbally, yes, he would attack a person, but not with four-letter words. That would be a sin and fall quite short of a perfect Christian. My grandfather was not too much different when he got angry either. You knew when he was mad just by looking at his face, but he would not use foul language. He would be very stern and forceful with his voice though. If he said jump, you had better jump or you would get a good dose of “honour your elders or else”, even if he did misquote it and if you did not want to hear it, you had better follow his orders. My own grandfather’s sermons, although he was not an official preacher with the Church of God, could be just as frightening too.

Ironically when I was discussing this with my older son and stated no one has been able to hypnotize me, he said, “That is because you don’t want to be hypnotized”. He has a point too. I refuse to allow anyone to control me mentally and going back to what the therapist in my twenties said, I am too hyper-vigilant to relax enough to be hypnotized. Any behaviour that subconsciously reminds me of my great uncle, causes anxiety in me, which is not conducive to relaxation and alike. One has to be relaxed and comfortable with their environment, as well as the person they are with, in order to have any sort of altered state of mind. They have to be willing to sit back and enjoy the show, so to speak, and if they are not comfortable, it is not going to happen. One has to not only be a willing participant, but also have a willing mental state of mind in order to fall under any trance.

While I am not willing to be under the mental control or manipulation of someone else, I can put myself under a trance with certain types of music, but I have to be in an environment that I am comfortable in, as well as in the mood, and that is generally my home. I can also have feelings of transcendence with my pets, but again, I am comfortable with them and I know for a fact they are not going to hurt me. The same holds true with similar feelings in nature. One has to be at ease and free of anxiety before nature can take over the neurology in one’s brain. It just does not happen if one is not willing and susceptible to such things at the time.

So what attracted me to the Episcopal Church, short of my mother demanding I attend church even though I was not living under her roof anymore? If I was hyper-vigilant, especially when it came to other humans, why would I even bother seeking out something I could stomach better in order to appease my mother? How was it I was so willing to succumb to the “magic tricks” of the Episcopal Church and not any Evangelical Fundamentalist church?

Well, I think I can safely say that since nature has always had a way of triggering feelings of transcendence within me, that there might be a relationship in the way an Episcopal high church does services. To me, incense smells good, just as nature does, and candles are almost like the sun. Not only that, the music was rather appealing in comparison to the Free Methodist and Church of God services. Throw in beautiful artistic statues of St. Francis and Mother Mary and you have something to “meditate” upon as all your senses are overwhelmed. If one throws in fasting, the words, “Remember you are dust and dust you shall return” do not register like they do when one is not fasting and the “Blood of Christ” does not seem to register as much as the blessed wine touches one’s lips during a fast. Through fasting, the neurology of my brain had been slightly altered, just enough to be more sensitive to visual and olfactory stimulation. These senses had already been stimulated long before the congregation went up to the altar to receive Holy Eucharist or the Imposition of Ashes. The whole environment is different and more sedate than any Evangelical service, because not even the priest is bellowing from the podium.

The fasting just made my state of being more sensitive to all the sensory stimulation and the very same practice of no food and water is often done for various American Indian ceremonies, such as a Sweat or even a vision quest. Fasting for various ceremonies has been a long time practice of many religions because it has a way of intensifying the effects of external stimuli.

The Episcopal service starts with lovely organ music softly playing and only gets louder when the procession is about to enter. Then everyone stands and the smoke of incense is swung in their direction. Once the procession and the priest are up front, there are various motions the congregation, even the lay minister assisting the priest, goes through that are quite stimulating mentally, especially if you are not just going through the motion but allow yourself to be part of the service. Even the “caring” touch of the priest’s hand on one’s forehead, if s/he gives you a blessing can trigger feelings of transcendence. It is all like a dance as you become one with the surroundings.

Both types of services stimulate various neuro-chemicals in the brain which cause different feelings for different people, but for me, I can honestly say I had feelings of transcendence every now and then in the Episcopal Church, much like I did with nature and other animals. I surmise, depending on the person, one works better than the other to keep people under mental control and even one priest told me it was very much like performing when you are in front of the congregation. The difference is, those upfront of a congregation are not seen as actors or magicians, but they very much are actors and magicians and they expect their audience, which is the congregation, to get involved in the show. The more into the performance the actors are, the more into it the audience will be.

However, this does not mean they do not all use various modes of guilt and fear. They all most certainly do, including the Episcopal Church, but the means and modes in which they administer such things vary. They all attempt to control people in various ways and no church is free of such things. All churches perform their magic in various ways, some more sedately than others, but it is still there, as well as the guilt and fear.

Like my minister great uncle, all ministers do their slide of hand tricks, but some are harder to notice than others. Even my great uncle was not so obvious when he was not doing actual magic tricks, but he was still performing slide of hand tricks when he did his altar calls, much like the Episcopal priest does in his/her service. The tricks maybe different but they have the similar affects on the willing participants.