Spirit possession

Spirit possession

Spirit possession is a paranormal and/or supernatural event in which it is said that spirits, gods, demons, animas, extraterrestrials, or other disincarnate or extraterrestrial entities take control of a human body, resulting in noticeable changes in health and behaviour. The term can also describe a similar action of taking residence in an inanimate object, possibly giving it animation.

The concept of spiritual possession exists in many religions, including Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, Haitian Vodou, Wicca, and Southeast Asian and African traditions.[1] Depending on the cultural context in which it is found, possession may be considered voluntary or involuntary and may be considered to have beneficial or detrimental effects. Scientific materialists[who?] also have opinions about the nature of the phenomenon.[vague]



According to the Indian medical literature and Tantric Buddhist scriptures, most of the "seizers," or those that threaten the lives of young children, appear in animal form: cow, lion, fox, monkey, horse, dog, pig, cat, crow, pheasant, owl, and snake. But apart from these "nightmare shapes," the impersonation or incarnation of animals could in some circumstances also be highly beneficial, according to Michel Strickmann.[2]

Ch'i Chung-fu, a Chinese gynecologist writing early in the thirteenth century, for example, wrote that in addition to five sorts of falling frenzy classified according to their causative factors, there were also four types of other frenzies distinguished by the sounds and movements given off by the victim during his seizure: cow, horse, pig, and dog frenzies.[2]

Taoism and other East-Asian religions

Certain sects of Taoism, Korean Shamanism, Shinto, some Japanese new religious movements, and other East-Asian religions feature spirit-possession. Some sects feature shamans who become possessed, or mediums who channel beings' supernatural power, or enchanters who imbue or foster spirits within objects, like samurai swords.[3]

African and African diasporic traditions

In Sudan and certain other East African cultures the Zār Cult conducts ethnomedical healing ceremonies involving possession typically of Muslim women by a Zār spirit.[4]

In Haitian Vodou and related African diasporic traditions, one way that those who participate or practice can have a spiritual experience is by being possessed by the lwa (or Loa). When the lwa descends upon a practitioner, the practitioner's body is being used by the spirit, according to the tradition. Some spirits are believed to be able to give prophecies of upcoming events or situations pertaining to the possessed one, also called Chwal or the "Horse of the Spirit." Practitioners describe this as a beautiful but very tiring experience. Most people who are possessed by the spirit describe the onset as a feeling of blackness or energy flowing through their body as if they were being electrocuted. According to Vodou believers, when this occurs, it is a sign that a possession is about to take place.

The practitioner has no recollection of the possession and in fact when the possessing spirit leaves the body, the possessed one is tired and wonders what has happened during the possession. Not all practitioners have the ability to become possessed, but practitioners who do generally prefer not to make excessive use of it because it drains immense energy from them. It is said that only the lwa can choose who it wants to possess, for the spirit may have a mission that it can carry out spiritually. It is believed that those possessed by the lwa probably are at a very high spiritual level such that their soul is mature and at an advanced level.[citation needed]

It is also believed that there are those who feign possessions because they want attention or a feeling of importance, because those who are possessed carry a high importance in ceremony. Often, a chwal will undergo some form of trial or testing to make sure that the possession is indeed genuine. As an example, someone possessed by one of the Guédé spirits may be offered piment, a liqueur made by steeping twenty-one chili peppers in kleren, a potent alcoholic beverage. If the chwal consumes the piment without showing any evidence of pain or discomfort, the possession is regarded as genuine.[citation needed]

Balinese Sanghyang

The animist traditions of the island of Bali (Indonesia) include a practice called sanghyang, induction of voluntary possession trance states for specific purposes. Roughly similar to voluntary possession in Vaudon (Voodoo), sanghyang is a sacred state in which hyangs (deities) or helpful spirits temporarily inhabit the bodies of participants. The purpose of sanghyang is to cleanse people and places of evil influences and restore spiritual balance. Thus, it is often referred to as an exorcism ceremony.


Wiccans believe in voluntary possession by the Goddess, connected with the sacred ceremony of Drawing Down the Moon. The high priestess solicits the Goddess to possess her and speak through her.[5]


Roman Catholic doctrine states that angels are non-corporeal beings[6] and that they are purely spiritual creatures who have intelligence and will.[7] Fallen angels, or demons, are able to "demonically possess" individuals without the victim's knowledge or consent, leaving them morally blameless. [8]Traditionally, Christians have believed that there are many spirits in the world, but only the Holy Spirit is considered pure and trustworthy. They see the human body as having been created to be a temple to the living God.[9] Finally, Christians believe that Jesus came to the earth to fill all things with His Holy Spirit, which is the fullness of God literally living inside of a believer.[10]

Spiritism and Spiritualism

In Spiritism and in some schools of Spiritualism, the undue influence exerted by spirits upon new and imperfectly trained mediums is considered a distinct danger to both the mediums themselves and to the communities they serve. Both the Spiritist author Allan Kardec and the Spiritualist author Paschal Beverly Randolph wrote on this topic. In modern Spiritism and Spiritualism, deleterious spirit possession is generally referred to as spirit obsession, to distinguish it from African-influenced traditions of spiritual possession.

Scientific materialism

Scientific materialists, skeptics, and empiricists, have said that those who have experienced demonic possession have sometimes exhibited symptoms similar to those associated with mental illnesses such as psychosis, hysteria, mania, Tourette's syndrome, epilepsy, schizophrenia, or dissociative identity disorder.[11][12][13] Common features of possession include involuntary, uncensored behavior, and an extra-human, extra-social aspect to the individual's actions.[14] He is dehumanized, bereft of normal powers of recognition and reaction, and his speech and movements are distant from the societal norm. In the cases of animal possession, the individual's deportment suggests that of an animal.[2]

However, cultural context is critical for proper diagnosis of spirit, or demonic, possession as psychosis or spiritual. In western industrialized nations such as the United States, spirit possession is not normative, and therefore calls for caution in acceptance of this condition as actually caused by spirits. The DSM-IV-TR, in describing the differences between spirit possession and Dissociative Identity Disorder, identifies only the claim that the extra personality is an external spirit or entity, lacking that, there would be no difference between the two conditions.[15] Dissociative Identity Disorder in the United States is itself extremely rare. All forms of DID constitute only about 1% of the entire population. Of those, 98-99% are of the type of DID commonly recognized as the traditional form of Multiple Personality Disorder, rather than related to spirits.[16]

Those most susceptible to being possessed are people with weak boundaries and low self-esteem, pointing to dysfunctional ego involvement in manifestations of this phenomenon rather than actual outside entities.[17]

Popular Culture

49 Days (49일) is a South Korean television drama series broadcast by SBS in 2011. Shin Ji Hyun was enjoying absolute bliss as she was about to marry her fiancé, Kang Min Ho, but her perfect life is shattered when she gets into a car accident that leaves her in a coma. She is given a second chance at life by a reaper, but it comes with a condition: she has to find three people outside of her family who would cry genuine tears for her. In order to do this, she borrows the body of Yi Kyung, a part-time employee at a convenience store for 49 days. This TV series was inspired by the deeply rooted Korean cultural belief that a soul usually wanders the earth for 49 days, and then moves on to the next life. Other than spirit possession, 49 Days explores the themes of Christianity, reincarnation, soul, karma, and afterlife.


See also


  1. ^ Mark 5:9, Luke 8:30
  2. ^ a b c Michel Strickmann (2002), Chinese Magical Medicine, edited by Bernard Faure, Stanford University Press, p. 251.
  3. ^ Ed. Oxtoby & Amore, "World Religions: Eastern Traditions," 3rd Edition. Oxford University Press, 2010. p. 9, 256-319.
  4. ^ Janice Boddy, "Wombs and Alien Spirits: Women, Men and the Zar Cult in Northern Sudan (New Directions in Anthropological Writing) University of Wisconsin Press (30 November 1989)
  5. ^ Margo Adler, Drawing Down the Moon. Penguin, 1997.
  6. ^ Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraph 328.
  7. ^ Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraph 330.
  8. ^ p.33, An Exorcist Tells his Story by Gabriele Amorth translated by Nicoletta V. MacKenzie; Ignatius Press, San Francisco, 1999.
  9. ^ The Esv Study Bible. New York: Crossway. Print. 2 Cor. 6:12
  10. ^ Campbell, Stacey, and Wesley Campbell. Ecstatic Prophecy. Grand Rapids, Mi: Chosen, 2008. Print.
  11. ^ How Exorcism Works
  12. ^ J. Goodwin, S. Hill, R. Attias "Historical and folk techniques of exorcism: applications to the treatment of dissociative disorders"
  13. ^ Journal of Personality Assessment (abstract)
  14. ^ Michel Strickmann (2002), Chinese Magical Medicine, edited by Bernard Faure, Stanford University Press. p. 65.
  15. ^ DSM-IV-TR p.527
  16. ^ http://www.webmd.com/mental-health/dissociative-identity-disorder-multiple-personality-disorder?page=3, accessed 06/26/2011.
  17. ^ The Call of Spiritual Emergency: From Personal Crisis to Personal Transformation, Bragdon, Emma. Harper & Row Pub. 1990. p.44.


  • Clarke, S. (2006): "What is spiritual possession", SSRF
  • Heindel, Max, The Web of Destiny (Chapter I - Part III: "The Dweller on the Threshold"--Earth-Bound Spirits, Part IV: The "Sin Body"--Possession by Self-Made Demons—Elementals, Part V: Obsession of Man and of Animals), ISBN 0-911274-17-0, www
  • Klimo, John (1987). Channeling: Investigations on Receiving Information from Paranormal Sources. St. Martins Press. ISBN 0-87477-431-4.
  • Lang, Andrew (1900) Demoniacal Possession, The Making of Religion, (Chapter VII), Longmans, Green, and C°, London, New York and Bombay, 1900, pp. 128–146.
  • Peck, M. Scott, (1985) People of the Lie ISBN 0684848597
  • Card, A. Josie (1992–1998) Demoniacal-Possession said to have been carried from a "passed life",neutralised and dignosed as schizophrenia in late -1997*.

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