The idea of territorial spirits is pagan and not biblical
There is no doubt that pagans accept the idea of territorial spirits as a reality.
The following article shows how well organised the concept of 'territorial spirits' is in pagan culture. In contrast, biblical teaching exposes it as a web of lies spun by the devil in order to keep people in bondage, being no more than a demonically projected virtual reality.
The problem now is that some Christians accept the notion of 'territorial spirits' as readily as pagans, the only difference being that they believe that such 'spirits' should be confronted through authoritative prayer and commands issued 'in the Spirit'. Those who believe in 'territorial spirits' may well take the information in this article as a justification for their position, whereas those who reject the idea of 'territorial spirits' will see the article as proof of the pagan origin of this idea.
Since real demonic spirits, operating behind the scenes, are in the business of reinforcing these notions to the minds of spiritually gullible human beings, their trickery must be unmasked. Further-more, for real communication to take place in discussions on this topic, it is always important to distinguish between the different uses of the term 'spirit'. Sometimes 'spirit' is used as label for the territorial mask assumed by a demon or group of demons, whereas at other times it refers to the actual demon or demons hiding behind the mask.
Here Charles Hoole, the Academic Dean of Colombo Theological Seminary, brings us a fascinating case study of a 'territorial spirit' system operating in central Sri Lanka
Territorial spirit: a case study of Bandara Deiyo
Many American Kingdom teachers(1) stress the importance of personal confrontation with ruling principalities, that is, with spirits which rule over cities, villages and people groups.
In the Kingdom literature, the spirits are generally referred to as 'territorial spirits', emphasising the culturally and historically specific nature of their activities. The information pertaining to these spirits, according to the spiritual map-makers, can be obtained through a variety of sources that include research into history. The ensuing discussion will investigate the activities of one particular spirit, its origin and function, with the aim to clarify the ambiguous concept of 'territorial spirits'.
Bandara Deiyo is an active village guardian in a number of village shrines of the district of Kandy, which, prior to 1815, belonged to the Kingdom of Kandy. Being a local god, he is thus equivalent to a territorial spirit, and in that capacity rules over the village on a 'varan' (authority) from the greater deity, Skanda, whose chief residence is the great devale at Kandy. In the village, Bandara Deiyo's task is to project all beings within the 'sima' (limit, parish), banish disease and fulfil secret wishes and thoughts. Kapurala, the local shaman, mediates between the beneficent deity and the people. He performs rituals for Bandara Deiyo to obtain his protective benevolence within the 'sima' of the village.
Bandara Deiyo does not act independently on his own initiative. He belongs to a religious (moral) hierarchy. Immediately above him are four deities of equal status: Vishnu, Skanda, Nata and Pattini. They are collectively addressed as 'hatara deiyo'. Although they are viewed as defenders of the Buddhist faith, their special task is to protect the secular kingdom. Below him are 'yakkhas' (demons) and 'pretas' (spirits). At the apex of the pyramidal structure is the Buddha, who still continues to exercise his authority through Sakra, the protector of the universal Buddhist church ('sasana'). Through Sakra, power and authority are delegated to the gods and demons below.
It is not an accident that there was a high degree of correspondence between the religious and the socio-political structures in the kingdom, between the divine and the human orders. Both orders were based on 'feudal' notions pertaining to authority and devolution of power. Just as Sakra, with the assistance of the 'hatara deiyo', has 'sima' of authority over the 'sasana', the king of Kandy, an absolute monarch considered a living god or Bodhisattva, with the assistance of (about) four ministers or 'adikaramvaru', formed a council that had 'sima' over the kingdom. Similarly, Bandara Deiyo's role at the level of the district is replicated by the 'disava' (governor) and 'rate mahatmaya', who have 'sima' in the province or village through 'varan' obtained from the king.
It is also significant that the personalities of Bandara Deiyo and the 'disava' are identical. From the point of view of the villagers, they are both provident 'father' figures in relation to whom the petitioner is a 'child'. It needs to be recalled that in the pre-colonial days, many villages were private estates of the 'disava'. Peasants in these villages were bonded serfs who could be evicted by the proprietor of the estate. Their rights over the land were contingent on the performance of various services to the lord, including a yearly customary visit ('yatra') to his 'valavuva' (shrine) with loads of gifts ('dana'). The 'disava' in his manor was very much a god-like father figure. In many respects, the relationship between the serf and the 'disava' was similar to the one between the worshipper and Bandara Deiyo.
Linguistic evidence alone would strongly suggest that Bandara Deiyos were in fact 'disavas' in their previous 'incarnations'. Since gods, as well as humans, are caught up in the same wheel of rebirth, it is of course logically possible for a 'disava' to assume the status of a beneficent deity in his next life. This sort of metamorphosis occurs frequently in Indian religious traditions. The popular Tamil god Murukan was originally a tribal chieftain, and was worshipped as a great hunter and lover in the classical ('cankam') age by the people of 'kurinci', a hilly region of South India. In that same form, Muru-kan is still worshipped by the Lankan Veddhas who know him as 'Malai Pey' (demon of the hill) and 'Gale Yaka'. Murukan, as well as Krishna, were originally historical figures who became Hindu deities in the popular mind.
Bandara Deiyo clearly illustrates the extremely ambivalent character of our so-called 'territorial spirits'. They are mostly human creations. God-men and culture-heroes of today do become the 'territorial spirits' of tomorrow.(2) There is, however, no biblical warrant for the belief in 'territorial spirits'. It is no more than a human construct. Also, the biblical doctrine of creation makes it clear that man is not a god, and that the human can never become divine. All this means that when we are confronted with god-like pretensions, our task is to unmask these powers, and so make our world more human and liveable.
The following contrasts emerge from this discussion. The idea of 'territorial spirits' is pagan: it depicts a world that is peopled by gods ('devas' and 'yakkhas'), a world full of chaos and terror, but is nevertheless made safe by the manipulative power of shamans ('kapuradas', 'kattadiralas'). The Bible portrays a world that is peopled by humans, a world that is also fallen and therefore full of divine pretensions. The church belongs to the world of humans, called by God to redeem it by filling that world with the knowledge of Yahweh (Isaiah 11.9). In the past, the lack of knowledge and confidence in Yahweh's world led to man's fall (Genesis 3) and his divine pretensions (Genesis 11.1-4); and so the spread of true knowledge of God under the banner of Christ will restore humanity's relationship with God (Isaiah 11.10) and, in consequence, transform the very face of the earth.
(1) For example, Peter Wagner (ed.), Breaking strongholds in your city (Monarch Publications, 1993).
(2) Recently in Durban, South Africa, I visited the shrine of the god Prabhupada, whose previous life as the founder of the Harikrishna movement ended in 1977. He is now a benevolent deity looking after the welfare of Durban Hindus.