The material in this essay is being published prior to a review of Slaying Dragons: What Exorcists See & What We Should Know, Charles Fraune, 2nd edition, Slaying Dragons Press, 2019. It seems to me desirable, to prevent the review being forbiddingly lengthy, to abstract this issue, and then simply refer back to it in the review. For a fuller understanding of the issue, the review should also be read, because there is also a question of authority to speak on these matters, which I shall delve into there, but not here.
By the way, Mr Fraune has a web site, www.TheRetreatBox.com, which offers for his sale his books, prayer cards, music, CDs, and other assorted items. It is worth looking at: as we shall see, his mission is clearly a timely one.
In what follows, I am indebted to Fr Peter Joseph’s article “Healing the Family Tree,” at https://www.amicidilazzaro.it/index.php/healing-the-family-tree-new-age-under-the-guise-of-religion/
As a final introductory matter, Charles Fraune candidly states on p. 93 in note 11: “Generational spirits are not a defined teaching of the Church.” I shall be submitting that, despite his sincerity, the idea of “generational spirits” is actually a wrong-headed elaboration of the basic idea of demonic activity. The fact of demonic activity is a critical one for anyone attempting to live a spiritual life, but I do not believe that there are such things as “generational spirits.” Further, I see there as being a danger that we could become caught up in the sort of taxonomy (cataloguing) which occurs when one becomes fascinated by the demonic, with collecting the supposed names of devils and declaring a knowledge of their specific functions and sins (see p. 10 of Slaying Dragons, and compare the demonic roll-call in Book I of Milton’s Paradise Lost). This can lead one into the very dangers Mr Fraune is rightly warning us against.
Generational Spirits: The Idea
What are these things called “generational spirits” which we are increasingly hearing about? Charles Fraune states:
Demons … tend to cling to families and move through the family line. This is called a generational spirit. Sacred Scripture points to these spirits at different moments in both the Old and New Testaments. In the Old Testament … we see reference made to the Lord permitting a punishment on the children of the guilty father down “to the third and fourth generation.” (p. 12)
Footnote 43, which is the reference for this statement, points to Exodus 20:5, and advises “As a balance of God’s mercy to this passage, read Deuteronomy 7:9.” He offers, at pp. 104-105, as “a perfect example” of children suffering from a generational spirit, the Lord’s healing of a boy in Mark 9:20-21:
And they brought the boy to him; and when the spirit saw him, immediately it convulsed the boy, and he fell on the ground and rolled about foaming at the mouth. And Jesus asked his father, “How long has he had this?” And he said, “From childhood. (pp. 104-105, see also p. 12)
Fraune states that this boy would have been “troubled ‘from infancy’ by a demon as a consequence of original sin.” He then cites two exorcists as authority for the proposition that “these spirits can also dedicate themselves to a certain family for many generations, or to a cultural generation (like the ‘hippies’), or to a country in an intellectual way (like Nazi Germany).” (p. 12)
A little later on, Fraune appeals to an exorcist to say that the “generational spirit” can “enter the authority structure [of a family] … and typically comes in through a sin committed by the father of the family.” (p. 25) Again, Fraune refers to Exodus 20:5, saying: “This sin opens the door for the demon to enter the entire home.” This is what I call “the contagion principle.” The word comes from the Latin contāgiō, meaning first “a touching,” and then “a noxious contact, an infectious touch,” and figuratively, “contagion, pollution, infection.”
The same ideas, with the same references, and appealing to the same exorcists, are repeated at pp. 92-93 with the addition that, like Eve, the mother of a family can “also bring evil into the family …” (p. 93) Fraune states: “These generational spirits can cause problems on many levels, from a general increase in temptations, in their frequency and intensity, to the possession of family members.” (pp. 101-102) By way of illustration, on p. 102, Fraune gives one exorcist’s conviction that a ten month baby, possessed by the devil, tried to gouge out his (the exorcist’s) eye, and that “They later discovered that it was a generational spirit that had possessed him.” The family is thus seen as an organism which can be infected by the act of one of the parents, even at an age of ten months when the subject of demonic possession can have had no moral culpability whatsoever. We are not told whether the infant had been baptised or not, or exactly how they “later discovered that it was a generational spirit that had possessed him.”
There is no authority given for this idea that “generational spirits” can lead to possession. We must, I suggest be clear on this point, Mr Fraune is not speaking of temptation here, but possession. On p. 102 he quite fairly and properly cites one exorcist’s uncertainty that there are generational spirits, although that same exorcist stated that cases of demonic possession “have emerged where ancestors of the possessed were involved in witchcraft,” with the conclusion that curses can be transmitted from one generation to another, especially if issued by a parent against a son, his marriage, or future children. On p. 147 we read that a Freemason can curse his entire family from himself down, but that prayers can be said to break the curse. The contagion principle first applied to demonic activity, is thus extended to curses. The whole thing is thus starting to sound like a battle between evil magicians and their virtuous counterparts.
This short review does not exhaust Fraune’s use of the “contagion principle” (see also pp. 103-104 on Freemasons, and 112 on the dangers of picking up a shotgun shell used in a murder.) But I shall return to these points in the review: here, I wish to concentrate on the idea of “generational spirits.” I have set out the idea as fairly as I could. I turn now to my critique.
Generational Spirits: A Critique (Part One, Mark 9)
Let us work through this methodically, commencing with Scripture. First, and most importantly, I shall commence with Mark 9. First, there is an inconsistency in Mr Fraune’s account. The narrative is offered as an example of the operation of either a generational spirit (pp. 12 and 105) or a curse (p. 105), or of original sin (p. 12). Fraune does not cite the possibility that the boy himself could have sinned. I return to that below. Now if the cause could have been original sin, there is no need for the thesis of either a generational spirit or a curse.
But what if the boy’s possession was not due to original sin alone? Can a generational spirit have been implicated as either a sole or concurrent cause? First, there is nothing in the text of the Gospel which indicates that it was a generational spirit. Had it been so, one would expect that perhaps the Lord would also have made some comment to that effect, and exorcised the father. But that is a conjectural refutation, so here I will just note that there is nothing in St Mark’s text, or in the parallel texts of Matthew 17:14-21 and Luke 9:37-43. That is, the idea that a generational spirit was at work is a projection onto the text: to say that the instance of the exorcism in Mark 9 illustrates the operation of a generational spirit is to assume the very theory which has to be established.
Second, it seems to me that there is an enthymeme here, that is, a part of the argument is omitted by Mr Fraune. In this case there are several missing links. I use an asterisk to indicate what I see the tacit lines of argument:
- A child was possessed by a mute spirit.
* 2. A child is incapable of morally responsible actions.
* 3. That being so, the child must have been possessed through no persona zfault of his.
* 4. The only other way for such a child to be possessed is by a generational spirit or through a curse or by original sin.
- Therefore, the child was possessed by a generational spirit or through a curse or by original sin.
I do not wish to be unfair to Mr Fraune, but I see no alternative. If it is fair to say that this is the fullness of his argument, then it need only be put that way for its weakness to be apparent. It is not enough to assume the chain of reasoning: it must be established.
So let us look at it. First, the son (huios, v. 17) is said to have suffered from childhood (ek paidiothen, v. 21). BDAG simply offers “from childhood” for this word. For paidion, the root from which paidiothen is derived, it states: “a child, normally below the age of puberty.” In 1 Corinthians 14:20, the word is used to signify “one who is open to instruction.” This quite leaves open that the man’s son was in fact possessed when he was morally responsible, for very many people not of the age of puberty have attained to that state. In such a case, the second link of the argument cannot be made out in this case, and the third and fourth links also fail, and with them, the entire contention that this is an instance of possession by a generational spirit.
Curses: A Brief Examination
Can it have been a curse which caused the lad to be possessed? I might quote Fr Peter Joseph here (see the article referred to at the head of this piece):
… do curses work? Unlike the sacraments of the Church, curses or spells do not work ex opere operato (by virtue of the rite itself). God has not given the devil such unfailing power. His influence is limited, sporadic and determined by God. The rituals and formulas prescribed by the devil and his agents have no intrinsic force, but are mere devices employed by the devil: to deceive and degrade the gullible; to increase his hold over his victims and extract their subservience; to ape the rituals of the Church; and to gain for himself the worship due to God alone.
So it is that curses and superstitions seem to work only on those who believe in them! In other words, they are purely psychological, or if demons are at work, they can work only where the recipient of the curse starts to worry about it. So, in either case, the answer is to despise any attempt to curse you, trust in God, practise your religion faithfully and be at peace.
The faithful practising Catholic need fear nothing from the witchcraft and sorcery practised by others. A man from Kenya told me how, where he lived, the witch-doctors lamented the impotence of their sorcery against Christians, because the priests told the catechumens that once they are baptised they will have put on Christ who has conquered all evil powers and they are protected as His family members. Pope Paul VI said, in one of his famous 1972 discourses on the devil: “Everything which defends us from sin protects us of itself from the invisible Enemy. Grace is the decisive defence.”
What did Our Lord say to do if people curse you? “Bless those who curse you” (Lk 6:28). That is all. Charity in deed. He never advised seeing some expert to get it “lifted”. (p. 3)
Generational Spirits: A Critique (Part Two, Exodus 20)
I would, therefore, suggest, that while it is quite clear from the account in St Mark that Our Lord elicited from the boy’s father a declaration of faith (and it was quite a remarkable one: “I believe! Help my unbelief!”), this does not work in the opposite direction. That is, the father’s faith was sufficient for the Lord when He came to heal the child, but it by no means follows that the father’s sins, or those of anyone else, could have opened the door to possession.
The next biblical text to note is Exodus 20:5-6:
You shall not bow down before them (idols) or serve them, for I the Lord, your God, am a jealous God, inflicting punishment for their ancestors’ wickedness on the children of those who hate me down to the third and fourth generation; but showing love down to the thousandth generation of those that love me and keep my commandments. (NAB)
The first thing to note is that nothing at all is said here about “generational spirits.” We know of God’s punishments, they include exile and death, sickness and flood, abandonment to the worst passions, and so on. Therefore, I see little reason to think that this is in any way an allusion to “generational spirits.” There is the question of whether the work of demons is a punishment sent by God: the “house divided” logic would indicate that it cannot be. I therefore conclude that the notion that this reference is to such spirits is wrong. The phrase is so wide and vague that to identify the punishment in that way actually demonstrates the weakness of the argument for “generational spirits.”
But as others have noted, the emphasis in this passage is not on the punishment down to the great-grandchildren, but rather on the mercy of God, which far outstrips His wrath. Jeffrey Tigay, writing in the Jewish Study Bible, states:
Here, the phrases of those who reject Me and of those who love Me modify (the threat of divine retribution) to indicate that God punishes or rewards descendants for ancestral sins and virtues only if they act as their ancestors did. For further outright rejection of transgenerational retribution, see Deuteronomy 24:16; Jeremiah 31:29-30; Ezekiel 18:1-20. … (While the phrase) Upon the third and … fourth generations (that is), upon the grandchildren and great-grandchildren- the descendants the guilty are likely to see in their own lifetimes. This indicates that punishment of descendants is intended as a deterrent to, and punishment of, their ancestors, not a transfer of guilt to the descendants in their own right. (p. 149)
I might quote Ezekiel 18:18-19 so that the point is not lost:
As for his father, because he cruelly oppressed, robbed his brother by violence, and did what is not good among his people, behold, he shall die for his iniquity. Yet you say, ‘Why should the son not bear the guilt of the father?’ Because the son has done what is lawful and right, and has kept all My statutes and observed them, he shall surely live. (NKJV)
It is also worth noting Fr Peter Joseph’s remark in the article cited above:
The true Catholic vision of our links with our ancestors is found in our doctrines of Purgatory and the Communion of Saints. To teach people that their ancestors are to blame for present spiritual ills, and need pacifying or whatever, is a reversion to pre-Christian paganism and fatalism.
I think has been enough to show that there are no scriptural reasons for believing in the existence of “generational spirits.” In fact, all of the Biblical texts are, if anything, against it. And the remarks made by Fr Joseph on this point and curses do, I suggest, satisfactorily enable us to say that belief in “generational spirits” is inconsistent with Catholic doctrine, as if belief in the power of curses.
Throughout this article, I have critiqued ideas and not people: the proper Catholic procedure. Now there is more that can be said, especially on the question of authority, but I shall come to this in the review of Mr Fraune’s otherwise worthwhile book, Slaying Dragons.