views updated May 21 2018


In February 2001, a 53-year-old Oklahoma woman who had no history of mental illness, drug or alcohol abuse, or domestic strife, began working a Ouija board with her daughter and two granddaughters. Later that night, claiming to be possessed by a spirit from the Ouija board that told her to kill, the woman stabbed to death her son-in-law, who was sleeping in another room, and attempted to kill other members of her family. Police later apprehended the woman, who was hiding in a wooded area, and commented how unbelievable it was that she could have allowed a Ouija board to "consume her life."

International newspapers carried an account in March 2001 describing how demands for exorcisms were soaring in Brazil due to the fact that demonic possession was on the rise. A priest was quoted as saying that he believed the number of evil spirits among the populace could only mean that the Apocalypse would soon be manifesting.

In April 2001, Croatian newspapers reported that the Roman Catholic clergy were desperately looking for exorcists to deal with the large numbers of men and women who gave evidence of being possessed by Satan.

In June 2001, a new Gallup poll of adult Americans indicated that 41 percent believe that people can be possessed by the devil or his minions.

The majority of healthcare professionals discount possession by spirits as superstitious nonsense and believe such claims to be primitive responses to a variety of mental illnesses, and there are few contemporary clergymen who will acknowledge the existence of demons and the possibility of demonic or spirit possession. However, Dr. Morton Kelsey, an Episcopal priest and a noted Notre Dame professor of theology, has this to say to those who protest that demon possession is a superstitious throwback to the Middle Ages: "Most people in the modern world consider themselves too sophisticated and too intelligent to be concerned with demons. But in thirty years of study, I have seen the effect of demons upon humans."

Kelsey maintains that demons are real and can invade the minds of humans. Demons are not the figment of the imagination, but are negative, destructive spiritual forces that seek to destroy the possessed host body and everyone with whom that person comes into contact. The most severe cases of possession can trigger suicide, Kelsey said, because the demon is trying to destroy people any way it can.

Among those traits which the Roman Catholic Church might find indicative of possession, rather than mental illness, are exhibition of superhuman strength; knowledge of languages outside of a person's education or training; demonstration of hidden insights into a person's private life or past indiscretions; and aversion to all things spiritualholy water, the mass, a crucifix, or the name of Jesus.

While the skeptical might argue that LeBar is a priest, an exorcist, and that his theological training has conditioned him to believe in demons, they may wish to take into serious consideration the comments of Dr. Ralph Allison, senior psychiatrist at the California state prison in San Luis Obispo: "My conclusion after 30 years of observing over one thousand disturbed patients is that some of them act in a bizarre fashion due to possession by spirits. The spirit may be that of a human being who died. Or it may be a spirit entity that has never been a human being and sometimes identifies itself as a demon, an agent of evil."

Dr. Wilson Van Dusen, a university professor who has served as chief psychologist at Mendocino State Hospital, is another health care professional who has stated his opinion that many patients in mental hospitals are possessed by demons.

"I am totally convinced that there are entities that can possess our minds and our bodies," Van Dusen said. "I have even been able to speak directly to demons. I have heard their own guttural, other-world voices."

And all too often, some researchers say, those hellish guttural voices have commanded their possessed hosts to kill, to offer human sacrifice to Satan.

In a recent report released by the American Psychological Evaluation Corporation, Dr. Andrew Blankley, a sociologist, issued statements about the rise in contemporary sacrificial cults, warning that society at large might expect a "serious menace" to come. According to Blankley, human sacrifice constitutes an alarming trend in new religious cults: "Desperate people are seeking dramatic revelation and simplistic answers to complex social problems. They are attracted to fringe groups who provide the ritualistic irrationality that they crave. In the last ten years, fringe rituals often include the sacrifice of a human being."

Dr. Al Carlisle of the Utah State Prison System has estimated that between 40,000 and 60,000 humans are killed through ritual homicides in the United States every year. In the Las Vegas area alone, Carlisle asserts, as many as 600 people may die in demon-inspired ceremonies each year.

Based on a synthesis of the studies of certain clergy and psychical researchers, following is a pattern profile of what may occur when someone has become the unwilling host of an uninvited spirit presence and become possessed:

The possessed may begin to hear voices directing him/her to do antisocial or perverse acts that he/she had never before considered. He/she will claim to see the image of a spirit or demonic presence. In the weeks and months that follow, he/she may fall into states of blacked-out consciousness, times of which he/she later has absolutely no memory. On occasions, he/she will fall into a trance-like state. The possessed will be observed walking and speaking differently, and acting in a strange, irrational manner. He/she will begin doing things that he/she has never done before. In the worst of cases, the possessing spirit or demon will consume the victim's life. It may reach to a climax where the possessed commits murder, suicide, or some violent antisocial act.

Healthcare professionals will point out that many of the above "symptoms" of possession may also indicate the onset of stress, depression, and certain mental illnesses.

Dr. Adam Crabtree, a psychotherapist in Toronto, has stated his view that the spirits of the deceased can possess their living relatives. Crabtree, who is a former priest and Benedictine monk, said that entities from beyond the grave usually seek a living person's mind and body because they have unfinished business on Earth. Crabtree has encountered such cases when emotionally disturbed patients came to him complaining that they seemed to feel a "presence" in them that was different from their usual mental awareness. Crabtree discovered that these people were adopting traits and characteristics that were not their own. They complained of hearing voices that told them what to do, and they saw mental images of dead relatives who were dictating their actions.

While more conventional psychotherapists might provide a different diagnosis from Crabtree's, in his opinion because the spirits were related to the living person and were emotionally tied to them, their physical relationship made possession easier to accomplish. The reasons for such possession vary. According to Crabtree's research, sometimes the dead simply do not realize that they have changed planes of existence and wish to maintain their relationship with their relatives. In other cases, the spirits want to take care of unfinished business and have no compunction about using their living relatives to attain their goals.

Dr. C. Fred Dickason, chairman of the Theology Department at Moody Bible Institute in Chicago, relates a number of cases of demonic possession through ancestral lines in his book Demon Possession and the Christian (1987). In one case, a Chicago-area pastor consulted Dickason to receive his advice concerning his father, who had been invaded by demonic spirits because his mother (the pastor's grandmother) had been heavily involved in occult practices. The entities had begun to enter the pastor's young daughter, but alert to possession, he prayed with his wife that the spirits be dismissed from her.

Dickason is of the firm opinion that demons, who are nonmaterial entities that may exist for thousands of years, feel that they have the right to enter any man or woman regardless of how innocent he or she may be whose ancestors were involved in occult and demonic activities.

Delving Deeper

Crim, Keith, ed. The Perennial Dictionary of World Religions. San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1989.

Harpur, Patrick. Daimonic Reality. London: Penguin Group, 1994.

Karpel, Craig. The Rite of Exorcism: The Complete Text. New York: Berkley, 1975.

Kinnaman, Gary. Angels Dark and Light. Ann Arbor, Mich.: Servant Publications, 1994.

Mack, Carol K., and Dinah Mack. A Field Guide to Demons, Fairies, Fallen Angels, and Other Subversive Spirits. New York: Owl Book, Henry Holt, 1999.

Montgomery, John Warwick. Powers and Principalities. Minneapolis: Dimension Books, 1975.

Van Dusen, Wilson. The Presence of Other Worlds: The Findings of Emanuel Swedenborg. New York: Harper & Row, 1974.


views updated May 29 2018

possession The altered state of consciousness known as ‘possession’ has been, and remains, extraordinarily widespread in societies and cultures across the globe. Typically it involves the occupation of human beings (although animals, too, can be possessed) by spirits who act and speak ‘through’ their hosts' minds and bodies. Instances abound of powers, deities, devils, or ancestors possessing the living in this way, and of ritual and ceremonial procedures for identifying them, communicating with them, interpreting their pronouncements and demands, and getting them to depart. In many cases, possession is associated with cults and occupies a highly significant place in the life of a culture or community — as it does, for example, in the Haitian folk religion of vodou. Hosts come to have a privileged social position as spirit mediums and often acquire therapeutic and other thaumaturgical powers. In these circumstances, spirit possession may be a highly desirable and voluntary experience and bring all sorts of communal benefits.

In the past, anthropologists have viewed such benefits in social–functionalist terms, interpreting possession as a form of conflict resolution, as a means for absorbing innovative forces or deviant persons into familiar frameworks, and as a way of enhancing the status of deprived or marginal groups and individuals. A much-discussed suggestion is that possession is a strategy for redressing the frustrated ambitions of female hosts, who otherwise experience only subservience and affliction. Alternatively, possession has been seen in terms of the psychodynamics of intrapsychic tensions and multiple personality disorders, as well as the physiology and epidemiology of trance states. More recently, the tendency has been to read possession for its symbolic meanings and its importance as a cultural resource and as learned behaviour. Here the stress is on the beliefs and values that support it, the codes and conventions in terms of which it is structured and modelled, and the opportunities it provides for communication between the spirit and human worlds and for negotiating questions of identity and selfhood.

In Christianity, possession has usually meant involuntary occupation of the body by the forces of evil. Possessing devils and other ‘unclean spirits’ were frequently the subject of Christ's own miracles, and the power to cast them out was devolved on his disciplies and their followers (Matthew 10: 1; Mark 16: 17). This made exorcism simultaneously a much sought-after therapy and a powerful means of religious propaganda, since the true Church was defined and marked out by its successful use of the exorcistic powers proffered in the gospels as legitimating signs. It has been said that exorcism lay at the heart of the early Christian communities, and it featured prominently in medieval hagiography as the occasion for victories over devils by saints, either personally or at their shrines. Thereafter, formal rituals of exorcism were adopted by the Church throughout the medieval centuries.

When, on the other hand, the Protestant and Catholic Reformations brought deep religious division to Europe in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, exorcism naturally became contested. At the same time, demonic possession increased dramatically, probably because demonism in general and witchcraft in particular were preoccupations of the age. Northern Germany was particularly affected, with possessions becoming almost epidemic after about 1560, but cases are recorded from all over Europe, with female ‘demoniacs’ predominant. France in particular became notorious for the collective possession and exorcism of entire communities of nuns — notably at Loudun in 1634 and at Louviers in 1643–7. There was even a ministry of exorcists in Rome, and most Catholic clergymen were expected to free demoniacs of their devils by performing either the official Roman ritual or one of the many unofficial exorcisms that circulated in Catholic Europe. In this respect the Protestant clergy were at a disadvantage; they attacked Catholic possessions as fakes and the Catholic ritual of exorcism as a form of magic, but their own parishioners were just as likely to demand help for the same affliction. Eventually, possession again became a powerful propaganda weapon, with Catholic priests urging devils to make anti-Protestant statements and driving them out of their hosts by using Catholic sacraments — above all, the Mass. This often happened in front of substantial crowds and with a good deal of ecclesiastical drama, as in the cases of Nicole Obry at Laon in Picardy in 1565–6 and of Laurent Boissonet and others at Soissons in 1582. In effect, the early modern possessed became sites of confrontation, ostensibly between devils and exorcists but also between different churches.

In addition to these high-profile occasions, ordinary men and women would often become possessed and be diagnosed as demoniacs by their own families or by local village healers. Countryside exorcists were much in demand throughout Europe. The case-notes of the seventeenth-century English astrological physician Richard Napier mention patients of his who attributed ‘troubles of mind’, temptations, suicidal thoughts, religious anxieties, and hallucinations all to possession. The more spectacular symptoms of the condition, as established by sixteenth- and seventeenth-century physicians and theologians, included wild physical contortions, superhuman strength, speaking in unknown languages, and reacting adversely to holy words and objects. Possessed individuals often took advantage of their situation to blaspheme or behave in shockingly immoral fashion. Generally, they were not regarded as guilty of any sin or crime but as innocent victims of demonic attack; however, in several cases demoniacs did claim that they had been possessed as the result of witchcraft. This happened notably in 1692 at Salem, where the famous witchcraft trials and executions originated in the possession of a group of young and adolescent girls.

The principle that devils might inhabit humans was not abandoned by a substantial portion of the literate classes of Europe, including the medical profession, until the eighteenth century and beyond. In 1737 Isaac Newton's successor at Cambridge, William Whiston, was still saying that possession was as reliable a phenomenon in nature as gravity. But the seventeenth century was marked by considerable controversy surrounding the subject, with some physicians already arguing for a purely pathological, non-demonic explanation of the symptons and others suggesting that many cases were fraudulent — as indeed they were. Thus, Sir Thomas Browne, writing in 1646, allowed that ‘the devil doth really possess some men; the spirit of melancholy others; the spirit of delusion other.’ In modern times, disease and deception have naturally become the preferred categories for possession in the West, although exorcism is still available as part of the Catholic Church's rituals. During the nineteenth century a favoured approach — adopted particularly by the pioneers of French psychiatry, Louis Calmeil and Jean-Martin Charcot — was to assimilate possession naturalistically to hysteria, and this too has become a common theme in the recent historiography of the subject. Meanwhile, speaking in tongues and other more positive aspects of possession have become features of Pentecostalism and other forms of charismatic religion, notably in America.

Stuart Clark


Bourguignon, E. (1976). Possession. Chandler and Sharp Publishers, San Francisco.
Walker, D. P. (1981). Unclean spirits: possession and exorcism in France and England in the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries. Scolar Press, London.

See also witchcraft.


views updated May 23 2018


According to "possession" beliefs, spirits or demons may control the bodies of human beings. Such beliefs are ancient, widespread, and linked to concepts of the duality of the human person, consisting of a body and a separate animating entity (one or more souls, a spirit, etc.), which may be replaced by another being. Comparisons between possession and multiple personality disorder have been made.

In Western tradition, possession beliefs are rooted in Jewish and Greek sources. Among non-Western people, Christian missionaries have often misidentified positive possessions by ancestral spirits with demons to be expelled.

Ritualized possession generally involves an altered state of consciousness (trance, dissociation). In Haitian vodou, a religion that combines Catholic, African, and local elements, a spontaneous trance state, illness, bad dreams, and/or personal problems may be interpreted as calls for initiation by a spirit. These symptoms themselves are not considered to be evidence of possession. Initiation turns the spirit into a protector and helper. It is the spirits who claim their human servants. A woman possessed by a male spirit enacts a male personality, a man possessed by a female spirit, a female personality. The majority of possession trancers are women, most of whom have male spirits. Spirits are invited to participate in ceremonies by means of drum rhythms, songs, and dances. Each spirit has its own personal attributes, as well as songs, dances, and tastes in food, drink, adornment, and colors. Spirits interact with each other and with their human faithful, state their demands, and give advice.

Women possession trancers are referred to as wives of spirits. Men may marry a female spirit in a ceremony in which a possessed woman acts as the spirit's vehicle. These men may then experience the presence of the spirit in dreams. Spirits are said to "mount" their human hosts, who are also referred to as "horses." The dances of some aggressive spirits are also more sexually suggestive, even orgasmic.

Haitian spirit possessions and rituals are related to those of Cuba, Trinidad, and Brazil and are derived from the same African origins: Both men and women may be possessed and may be priests, and women comprise the majority of possession trancers. In Brazil the strong value placed on assertive masculinity may inhibit men's participation as possession trancers in African-derived religions. Men who do participate are often perceived as effeminate; many are homosexuals.

The predominance of women in possession-trance religions has been noted from many parts of the world. In Burma, for example, where the dominant religion is Theravada Buddhism, a woman medium, who may already have a human husband, undergoes a formal marriage ceremony with a spirit who has fallen in love with her. If she refuses this call to her profession, she risks illness and misfortune. Her work requires the help of this spirit.

In Bali, where the dominant religion is Hinduism, possession appears in many forms: among women healers, little girl trance dancers, men and women kris dancers, men and women who dance with a kris, or Balinese knife, pressed against their chests, male hobbyhorse dancers, and in masked ritual dramas, where men act out the role of female characters. Ritual possession is common, controlled, socially useful, highly valued, encouraged, and satisfying. This is in contrast to parts of India where negative possession and exorcisms are found. The possessing spirits are those of the dead, and the victims are most frequently young married women. The exorcism is harsh, seeking to drive out the spirit by causing it pain.

In traditional Judaism, too, the victims of possession are frequently young women, and the possessing spirits are those of dead sinners, mostly men. The exorcism ritual, conducted by a rabbi, involves questioning the spirit about its identity, its sins, and the sins of the victim that made the attack possible.

Possession has a long history in the United States, yet it virtually disappeared in the nineteenth century. It has experienced a revival since the 1970s and has become the subject of mass media attention, both as reportage and as fiction. In this context, possession is understood as harmful, causing physical and mental disorders. The possessing sprits are demons and the cure is exorcism by a Catholic priest, a Protestant minister, or lay self-trained exorcists who take their scriptural authority, in part, from references in the Gospels (Luke 8:30, Mark 5:1-13, Matthew 10:11). Exorcism is seen as a means of treatment of a variety of perceived social and psychological maladies, which are understood as being caused by demon possession. These complaints range from schizophrenia and depression to alcoholism and apparent character changes. In the United States the Exodus movement, a branch of the ex-gay movement since the early 1990s, links "treatment" of homosexuality and the forcible expulsion of the presumed demonic possession that causes individuals to succumb to the homosexual way of life.

Several television programs, including primetime specials on the ABC network, and widely syndicated newspaper stories demonstrate the widespread popularity and growing faith in the efficacy of exorcism as a form of intervention and treatment. In the American theater and cinema classic Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? George, the male protagonist, mockingly recites a lengthy passage from the rite of exorcism of the Catholic Church to rid his wife of alcoholism and other demons that seem to plague their lives.

Since the mid-1960s, accelerating in the United States during the 1980s, in Catholic, Protestant, and secular cases, demonic possession has been identified as the force believed to impel adolescent girls to behave in ways considered excessively or inappropriately sexual. In other cases, in which homosexuality is the presenting problem, families have sought the intervention of exorcists. These are sometimes laypersons who are prepared for their tasks in a set of community-recognized (not church-sanctioned) practices. At other times, ordained Catholic priests, who are not assigned the position of exorcist in their diocese, perform the rites in violation of church prohibitions against their practice.


Bourguignon, Erika. 1991. Possession. Prospect Heights, IL: Waveland Press. (Orig. pub. 1976.)

Catechism of the Catholic Church. 1994. Vatican City: Libreria Editrice Vaticana.

"Homosexuality: Christian Approaches." Exodus International. Available from http://www.exodus-international.org/library_counseling_11.shtml.

Martin, Malachi. 1992. Hostage to the Devil: The Possession and Exorcism of Five Living Americans. San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco. (Orig. pub. 1976.)

                                      Erika Bourguignon

                                        Melinda Kanner


views updated May 18 2018


The ownership, control, or occupancy of a thing, most frequently land orpersonal property, by a person.

The U.S. Supreme Court has said that "there is no word more ambiguous in its meaning than possession" (National Safe Deposit Co. v. Stead, 232 U.S. 58, 34 S. Ct. 209, 58 L. Ed. 504 [1914]). Depending on how and when it is used, the term possession has a variety of possible meanings. As a result, possession, or lack of possession, is often the subject of controversy in civil cases involving real and personal property and criminal cases involving drugs and weapons—for example, whether a renter is entitled to possession of an apartment or whether a criminal suspect is in possession of stolen property.

The idea of possession is as old as the related concepts of private property and ownership. Our modern possession laws originated in the ancient Roman doctrines of possessio. English natural law inherited most of the Roman possession ideas, and later the British brought their law of possession to the American colonies. Following the war of independence, state and federal courts continued to use and expand upon the historical notions of possession.

Possession versus Ownership

Although the two terms are often confused, possession is not the same as ownership. No legal rule states that "possession is nine-tenths of the law," but this phrase is often used to suggest that someone who possesses an object is most likely its owner. Likewise, people often speak of the things they own, such as clothes and dishes, as their possessions. However, the owner of an object may not always possess the object. For example, an owner of a car could lend it to someone else to drive. That driver would then possess the car. However, the owner does not give up ownership simply by lending the car to someone else.

The myriad distinctions between possession and ownership, and the many nuances of possession, are complicated even for attorneys and judges. To avoid confusion over exactly what is meant by possession, the word is frequently modified by adding a term describing the type of possession. For example, possession may be actual, adverse, conscious, constructive, exclusive, illegal, joint, legal, physical, sole, superficial, or any one of several other types. Many times these modifiers are combined, as in "joint constructive possession." All these different kinds of possession, however, originate from what the law calls "actual possession."

Actual Possession

"Actual possession is what most of us think of as possession—that is, having physical custody or control of an object" (United States v. Nenadich, 689 F.Supp. 285 [S.D. N.Y. 1988]). Actual possession, also sometimes called possession in fact, is used to describe immediate physical contact. For example, a person wearing a watch has actual possession of the watch. Likewise, if you have your wallet in your jacket pocket, you have actual possession of your wallet. This type of possession, however, is by necessity very limited. Frequently, a set of facts clearly indicate that an individual has possession of an object but that he or she has no physical contact with it. To properly deal with these situations, courts have broadened the scope of possession beyond actual possession.

Constructive Possession

Constructive possession is a legal theory used to extend possession to situations where a person has no hands-on custody of an object. Most courts say that constructive possession, also sometimes called "possession in law," exists where a person has knowledge of an object plus the ability to control the object, even if the person has no physical contact with it (United States

v. Derose, 74 F.3d 1177 [11th Cir. 1996]). For example, people often keep important papers and other valuable items in a bank safety deposit box. Although they do not have actual physical custody of these items, they do have knowledge of the items and the ability to exercise control over them. Thus, under the doctrine of constructive possession, they are still considered in possession of the contents of their safety deposit box. Constructive possession is frequently used in cases involving criminal possession.

Criminal Possession

Both federal and state statutes make possession of many dangerous or undesirable items criminal. For example, the federal statute 26 U.S.C.A. § 5861 (1996) prohibits possession of certain firearms and other weapons. Likewise, the possession of other items considered harmful to the public, such as narcotics, burglary tools, and stolen property, is also made criminal under various laws. Criminal possession, especially of drugs, has been a major source of controversy. Making possession a crime allows for arrests and convictions without proving the use or sale of a prohibited item.

Historically, actual possession was required for a criminal possession conviction. Beginning in the 1920s, however, courts began expanding criminal possession to include constructive possession. The federal prohibition of intoxicating liquors spawned several cases involving criminal possession. In one of the first criminal cases to use constructive possession, the court found a defendant guilty of possessing illegal liquor in trunks in the actual possession of another person (People v. Vander Heide, 211 Mich. 1, 178 N.W. 78 [1920]). Subsequent cases, especially narcotics cases, have continued to expand the law of criminal possession.

Possession and Intent

In civil cases intent is rarely a part of possession. However, in criminal cases possession usually requires conscious possession. In other words, the person must be conscious of the fact that the item is illegal and that he or she possesses it. A person with possession of illegal drugs may avoid conviction if he or she believed the drugs were legal. Generally, to be guilty of criminal possession, a person must either know the item is illegal when it is received or must keep possession of the object after learning it is illegal.

further readings

Lafave, Wayne R., and Austin W. Scott, Jr. 1995. Substantive Criminal Law. St. Paul, Minn.: West.

Singer, George H. 1992. "Constructive Possession of Controlled Substances: A North Dakota Look at a Nationwide Problem." North Dakota Law Review 68.

Snyder, David V. 1992. "Symposium: Relationships Among Roman Law, Common Law, and Modern Civil Law." Tulane Law Review 66.


Adverse Possession; Drugs and Narcotics.


views updated May 23 2018


An altered state of consciousness in which the conscious personality of the individual is replaced with that of another personality, commonly thought of as a possessing spirit entity. Possession is a phenomenon common to all religious traditions but some traditions have a greater focus upon it. For example, many of the Afro-Cuban religions (Voudou, Santeria, Macumba) can be described as possession religions, and the being possessed by the deity is central to worship in these groups.

In the Christian West, possession, with rare exceptions, has been viewed as a negative phenomena. Taking the lead from New Testament examples in which several people are described as possessed by demons and are healed by Jesus, Christian leaders have largely equated possession with possession by a demonic force, or even the devil himself.

The negative evaluation of possession in the West has been reinforced by the development of secular worldviews that champion the autonomous individual, the maker of choices. Such worldviews emerged in the nineteenth century from European encounters with what were deemed "primitive" cultures with possession-oriented beliefs and practices, and by the spread of the practice of hypnotism, in which people could seemingly be made to do things that they would not or could not do if conscious. More recently, in this century, negative views of possession have been reinforced as a by-product of contemporary psychological exploration of the phenomena of multiple personalities, in which a secondary personality of the individual comes forward, usually as a result of extreme trauma.


Spiritualism emerged as a possession-oriented religion in the mid-nineteenth century. In Spiritualist mediumship, and its contemporary derivations such as New Age channeling, possession is a developed form of motor automatism in which the personality of the automatist is substituted by another, usually by as a discarnate spirit. The possessing personality aims to establish communication with this world through the organism of the entranced medium, by writing or speech.

The incipient stage of possession is personation, during which the medium's own personality is still in the body but is assuming the characteristics of someone departed. The next stage is partial possession, the excitation of the medium's motor or sensory centers by a discarnate agent either through the subconscious self or in some direct way. F. W. H. Myers suggested the word "telergic" as a correlative to telepathic for such action.

Full possession postulates the vacation of the organism by the medium to allow the entrance of another spirit. Alternating personalities offer the first suggestion of the possibility of possession. An arbitrary personality may possess the organism of the hypnotic subject at the hypnotizer's suggestion. Secondary personalities are often hostile and antagonistic to the primary one.

Traveling clairvoyance in dream states points to the wandering of the spirit while the body is asleep. Cases of religious ecstasy in which an excursion is made into the spiritual world furnish another instance of the temporary separation of body and soul. Once we admit the possibility of the soul leaving the body, we have to admit the possibility of another spirit entering it.

Whether possession actually takes place or whether a secondary personality speaks through the organism is a question of evidence. Such evidence has to be furnished by the nature and content of the communications. The testimony of the medium is usually not available, as she or he often does not remember what happened.

Swedish seer Emanuel Swedenborg remembered his excursions into the spiritual world, but in his case there was no possession. The subjects of Alphonse Cahagnet described heavenly visions in trance, but there was not enough evidence to rule out the possibility that even when evidential communications from discarnate spirits were produced, they did not come from the subconscious self alone. If no new knowledge is shown in the trance state, there is no reason to ascribe the communication to an external intelligence. The character of the communicator alone does not furnish convincing proof.

The medium Leonora Piper never remembered her visions of the spiritual world and, the fragmentary utterances during her passing from trance to waking life aside, she was the tool for the writing and utterances of "alien entities".

Paranormal knowledge the medium could not have acquired is an indispensable condition for proving the presence of an external spirit. It is believed incoherence in the communicator does not militate against possession. It is rather in favor of it. If the spirit of the medium vacates the body, his or her brain will be left behind in a dreamlike state. To control such a brain and to make it obey the will of the communicator may not only be an enervating process, but full of pitfalls and possibilities of confusion.

Possession and Psychical Research

Taken as a phenomenon, possession presents one of the central mysteries of human life. It involves a mind using a brain. Possession is always temporary and implies a surrender of the body on the part of the medium. If possession takes place against the will of the medium and endures in the waking state, the phenomenon is called obsession.

The possibility of an instrumental test of possession was first suggested by W. Whateley Carrington. He advised the use of a galvanometer, which measured the emotional reactions of the medium to a certain set of questions. The different controls, if they are different personalities, should exhibit different emotional reactions to the same questions. It was by such tests that the independence of the controls of the medium Eileen Garrett was established at Johns Hopkins University and the New York Psychical Institute in 1933.


views updated May 23 2018

pos·ses·sion / pəˈzeshən/ • n. 1. the state of having, owning, or controlling something: are you in possession of any items over $500 in value? he had taken possession of one of the sofas the book came into my possession. ∎  Law visible power or control over something, as distinct from lawful ownership; holding or occupancy: both teams attempting to gain possession of the ball they were imprisoned for possession of explosives. ∎  inf. the state of possessing an illegal drug: they're charged with possession. ∎  (in football, basketball, and other ball games) temporary control of the ball by a particular player or team: the ball hit a defender and Brown's quick reaction put him in possession.2. (usu. possessions) an item of property; something belonging to one: I was alone with no money or possessions that photograph was Bert's most precious possession. ∎  a territory or country controlled or governed by another: France's former colonial possessions.3. the state of being controlled by a demon or spirit: they prayed for protection against demonic possession. ∎  the state of being completely under the influence of an idea or emotion: fear took possession of my soul.DERIVATIVES: pos·ses·sion·less adj.


views updated May 23 2018

POSSESSION. The grammatical concept of one person or thing belonging to another, shown in English in four ways: (1) By verbs such as have, own, belong to. (2) By possessive pronouns that function as determiners: my house. (3) By the genitive or possessive case of nouns marked in writing by the possessive APOSTROPHE: John's book; the Smiths' farm. (4) By the of-construction: the end of the road. These cover a wide range of meaning from practical ownership (my clothes; I have a dog) through kinds of association (their parents; our country; Shakespeare's birthplace), to more general and often figurative and idiomatic relationships (have an appointment; a day's journey; a lover's quarrel; the story of his life). The genitive is also used to introduce the subject of a gerund, as in It's funny your saying that. In some instances, a genitive and an of-construction are both possible, though not interchangeable in all contexts. The genitive construction is likeliest when the possessor is personal or at any rate animate, or is in some way perceived as having personal aspects: Dr Johnson's house; a dog's breakfast; God's love; Scotland's national poet; the world's pressing needs. The of-construction is preferred with things not considered capable of possessing anything: the lid of a box rather than a box's lid. See GENITIVE CASE, GERUND, SAXON GENITIVE.


views updated Jun 27 2018

516. Possession (See also Enchantment.)

  1. Gadarene swine Jesus sends demons from man to pigs. [N.T.: Matthew 8:2832; Mark 5:113; Luke 8:2633]
  2. Legion man controlled by devils; exorcised by Jesus. [N.T.: Mark 5:9; Luke 8:30]
  3. Regan young girl gruesomely infested with the devil. [Am. Lit.: The Exorcist ]