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Possession
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What is a 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.

Source for information~— Stuart Clark

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My husband and I are going through a divorce after being married for 17yrs and having 3 children together. I swear about 1 yr ago he woke up one day and it was like he hated me, scred of me, paranoid of me, etc. I after a few months told him I think he needed to go to church or something because its like he is possessed or the devil got him or a curse has been put on him because he changed so suddenly and it was ruining our marriage. Needless to say I haven't taken any pictures of him since we started failing. Last night while he was here visitng I took a few of him and some of him and the kids and in each picture everything is nice and clear but his face. His face is all blurred or hazy and I don't get it. Can anyone help me here? I will send 3 pics of this in this email but each and every picture I took of him, this is how he appeared. It is very freaky to me and has me a bit nervous. Thanks
 
 
UPDATE~
We ended up divorcing, he went even crazier, had a heart attack, laid in a coma 14 months and passed away this March. No one was allowed to see him or even know what really happened. Our children are devastated, he was cremated with no permit, etc. The remains are no where to be found. Never any closure. He was with some evil woman that wouldn't even let his own kids know what happened.

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