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An Unusual Interaction with the Imagination

Use of clinical hypnosis can lead to unexpected experiences.

Key points

  • A face value approach to a fanciful patient story can lead to a therapeutic resolution.
  • Expressing great doubt about the reality of patient stories can disrupt the clinician/patient relationship.
  • Much successful clinical hypnosis work involves use of imaginary metaphors.

Any clinician who has used clinical hypnosis for many years will encounter some unusual accounts from patients. My approach has been to accept and deal with patient reports at face value (Anbar, 2021). I believe that categorically expressing doubt about the truthfulness or reality of patient stories can disrupt the relationship between patients and their clinicians that serves as a foundation for successful therapy. This approach does not preclude a discussion with the patients about the possibility that a story may represent a metaphor or have been made-up by their imagination.

In my experience, a face value approach to a patient story can often lead to a therapeutic resolution, even when the story appears to be of a fanciful nature. This observation should not be a surprise, since much clinical hypnosis work that is associated with major clinical improvement involves use of imaginary metaphors.

Nickolai/Shutterstock
Source: Nickolai/Shutterstock

As an example of an unusual account and resolution of its associated symptoms, in this blog post I present the story told by a 14-year-old patient who was being seen for anxiety. During the month before the described encounter, the patient reported seeing a man in a dark suit following him in the shadows throughout the day. He told me he thought this man was a demon, and that his name was Leviathan. Despite his symptoms, the patient was performing well in school, had friends, and was an active participant in extracurricular school activities.

The patient was Lutheran and informed me that the sum of his religious education was “Happy Jesus stories” that he learned about in Sunday School. In this blog, I have changed the patient’s name to “Daniel.”

Because I am a native Hebrew speaker, who has studied the Bible, I knew that in the Hebrew Bible Leviathan was thought of as a sea monster who represented a powerful enemy of God. There are references to God’s ability to defeat even the great Leviathan in the books of Isaiah, Amos, Job, and Psalms, as a demonstration of God’s power.

Daniel already had learned how to use hypnosis to calm himself, and to interact with his subconscious. He had the ability to engage in “automatic talking” through which his subconscious could talk directly to me. Usually, when he realerted from hypnosis Daniel was unable to recollect what his subconscious had discussed with me.

The Encounter with Leviathan

I asked Daniel’s subconscious to allow me to talk directly to Leviathan, which he agreed to do through automatic talking. The transcript that follows represents my recollection of the discussion, based on the notes I took during the interview. Leviathan’s responses are in italics.

What do you want of Daniel?

I want to kill him.

Why?

I want to kill many people.

Why?

If I kill enough people, I am hoping God will come down to fight me.

Why?

I seek revenge against God.

Why do you seek revenge?

God killed my sister.

Who was your sister?

She also was a Leviathan.

Why did God kill her?

To prevent the birth of little Leviathans.

Why did God not want little Leviathans?

They would help to destroy humanity.

Why would they do that?

This is how it worked. God created Leviathans first. Then he created Man, and I thought that God wanted my sister and I to be gone because Man was going to supplant us. So, Leviathans were going to destroy mankind. Now that God has killed my sister, I am going to be alone. Forever.

[According to the Talmud (a compendium of Jewish laws and legends in which Rabbis interpreted and expounded on the oral and written Torah and the rest of the Old Testament), Leviathans were created on the fifth day of creation. The Torah states that mankind was created on the sixth day. The Torah was completed around 300-400 B.C., and the Talmud was written and compiled over a period of 400 years beginning in 200 A.D.]

I understand now why you seek revenge. So, if you killed all of mankind, would you feel better?

No. I would remain bitter. But God would be angry.

It sounds as if you are condemned to an eternal existence of bitterness. Can’t you think of something more redemptive to do? Something that could help you feel better?

What do you mean?

Why don’t you ask God what you might do?

God said that it’s like the story of Cain and Abel. I have to give up something precious.

[In the Biblical story of the brothers Cain and Abel, God accepts Abel’s sacrifice of his finest sheep, while rejecting Cain’s offering of ordinary produce. This made Cain jealous, and shortly thereafter he murdered his brother.]

You are a creature of the water, correct?

Yes.

Then, perhaps you might protect a species of fish that is about to go extinct. Or perhaps you could protect the ocean, as mankind has not been kind to the seas. And perhaps you could find something precious to offer God.

OK. What I’ve decided to do is to protect the fish and the sailors. And I will offer God my precious silver necklace that is the last thing I have from my sister. She used to wear it.

Daniel appeared to be looking in the distance. “I can see the necklace.”

“What does it look like?” I asked.

“It has writing on it.”

“What does it say?”

“I can’t read it. It’s in Hebrew,” he replied.

I went to the internet on my computer and pulled out a Hebrew letter chart from Google. “Why don’t you point to the letters you are seeing on the necklace.”

He pointed to five Hebrew letters. I immediately knew what they meant.

The first two letters were lamed and vav. “Those two letters represent the number 36,” I explained to Daniel. “In Hebrew, every letter corresponds to a numerical value. According to a story in the Talmud at any given time there are the 36 righteous men who live on earth. They do not know who they are, and are the reason that God allows the world to continue to exist.”

The remaining three letters were tet, heh, and raish. I explained to Daniel that these spell the Hebrew word tahor, which means pure. I turned back to Leviathan.

That necklace seems to be saying something good, perhaps about the purity of the 36 righteous men. It seems that your sister may have known that mankind can be holy. It does not fit as something to be worn by someone who would destroy mankind.

My sister would never have killed anyone. I was the one who was going to kill mankind.

Perhaps you can go ahead and take care of the fish and the sailors and give God the necklace.

God said that I can keep the necklace, as long as I wear it. I will do so. And now I will depart to take on my new job.

Daniel said that at this point Leviathan turned into a 110-foot-long sea serpent/monk fish that was jet black. He had very bright eyes and a huge mouth. The creature’s appearance caused Daniel to grimace. He said that Leviathan then dove into the ocean.

I said, “You should not be repelled. You should love him as you should love all of God’s creatures.”

Daniel told me at the conclusion of the session that he felt good but tired.

Outcome

Daniel never saw Leviathan again. And I was left with questions. Why did this story come into his mind? Was it a metaphor for some of his fears? How is it that Daniel was able to see Hebrew that he never studied and didn’t understand? Was it a coincidence that Daniel was working with me, as a clinician who was well versed in Hebrew and the Bible? How did he come up with such a mythic sounding story?

I started to investigate the story of Leviathan on the internet. It turned out that the story of Leviathan appears in the Talmud. It is described there that God kills the female Leviathan, but there is no mention that she was a sister, nor is there a mention of a silver necklace.

The Talmud mentions Leviathan in its discussion of the Jewish holiday of Sukkot. This is a fall harvest holiday that is being celebrated at this time. In this holiday Jews are supposed to spend time in a sukkah, which is a temporary hut covered by branches. It is supposed to symbolize the shelter that God gave the Israelites after they left Egypt, as recorded in the Hebrew Bible.

The Talmud teaches that when the Messiah comes, the righteous will come to Jerusalem and the Leviathan will be slain. Its skin will be used to make the walls of a giant sukkah, and the righteous will dine on the flesh of the Leviathan in that sukkah.

I made two other subsequent discoveries. The 6200-page Talmud (in standard print) is divided into many small sections, and there is one section about the holiday of Sukkot. It turns out that the story regarding the 36 righteous men also is in the Sukkot section of the Talmud. Thus, Daniel seemed to be aware of a story similar to the one told by the Rabbis who wrote the Talmud.

Finally, given the insight derived from the inscription on the necklace, I thought about the modern Hebrew word for “Leviathan,” which means whale, and is spelled lamed, vav, yud, tav , and nun. Again, the lamed and vav can stand for 36. The remaining letters spell out yiten that means “will provide.” The very word used to describe the sea monster thus appears to suggest that God will provide the 36 righteous men who will help the world continue to exist.

Takeaway

If Daniel had been seen by another therapist he might have been labelled and treated for various psychiatric diagnoses including psychosis and paranoia. However, through the hypnosis work that included interactions with the "demon" at face value his symptoms resolved without medications. He had no further visions during the subsequent 5 years, and is a very successful college student at this time.

I will leave it up to the reader to ponder the answers to the curious questions that arose from this unusual encounter.

Copyright Ran D. Anbar

References

Anbar, Ran D. 2021. “Changing Children’s Lives with Hypnosis: A Journey to the Center.” Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield.

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