Clarissa Johal: Spiritual and Demonic Possession

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Spiritual and Demonic Possession

In this post, I tread lightly.

The topic idea came to me while my daughter and I were watching a program on television. During one of the many commercial breaks, a movie preview came up which was completely inappropriate for children. Why do The Great Commercial People do that? I seriously want to kick their behinds or at the very least, make them get up in the middle of the night to calm a freaked out ‘tween. In this case, the preview was for a movie produced by Sam Raimi called The Possession. And supposedly, it’s based on a true story.

Now, I enjoy a good scare like anyone else. In fact, the novel I’m working on now is paranormal horror. However, once the line between “fact” and “fiction” is blurred, my enthusiasm wavers. My older daughter, who also loves a good scare, is begging to go see The Possession. My younger one, not so much. And me? Nope. No desire to see it or take my daughter to see it. We already sat through The Exorcist and I ended up having nightmares. I know of too many cultures that take this stuff seriously and have personally witnessed too many weird things via anthropology courses I’ve taken (thank you for the memories, Professor Crane).

For those of you living under a rock (and who have never seen The Exorcist) here’s a definition of the two kinds of possession:

Spirit Possession: a supernatural event in which spirits, gods, demons, animas, extraterrestrials, or other disincarnate or other entities take control of a human body or inanimate object. The concept exists in many religions, including Christianity, Buddhism, Voodoo, Wicca, and Southeast Asian and African traditions.

Demonic Possession: held by many belief systems to be the control of an individual by a malevolent supernatural being. Demonic possessions often include loss of memory, change in personality, convulsions and fainting. Other descriptions include sudden knowledge of foreign languages, changes in vocal intonation and facial structure, the sudden appearance of injuries (scratches, bite marks) or lesions, and superhuman strength.

There are people in many cultures, including our own, who believe that such things exist. As an anthropology student some years ago, I was able to witness an exorcism wherein the person possessed truly believed they were being taken over by a malevolent spirit. After the exorcism was over, they considered themselves “free” and went on to live a normal life. Odd? Yes. Interesting? Very. Kind of creepy in a “what if” kind of way?
Most definitely.

My thought is this; if the belief is there, then in fact it’s real. At least real to them. Did the possessed person's head spin around and did he vomit pea soup? No. Do I believe those things can happen? I've never witnessed anything of the sort so I would have to say at this point, no. Unless I personally witness something and cannot find a plausible explanation, I remain a skeptic. Do I think that the power of belief can change someone’s thought processes, actions and personality? Absolutely. If you believe in prayer or positive thinking, I would challenge that you believe in the same.

Science and religion are continuously at odds with such beliefs. In order to believe in demonic or spiritual possession, one must believe in demons and spirits. (Some cultures and religions use the term “malevolent spirits," others define these spirits as actual demons; fallen angels, the devil or Satan.) The medical field attributes beliefs of this nature to dissociative disorders, Tourette's syndrome, schizophrenia, sexual abuse, and/or group hysteria. The demons of science. Whichever you believe, possession in both forms is an interesting phenomena and one that continuously pops up in movies, literature, cultures and society.

Of interest:

Fascinating paper by Ralph B. Allison, M.D. on The Evolution of a Belief System Regarding Exorcism & Possession

The Exorcist was loosely inspired by the case of Robbie Mannheim.
Read more about that here: The Exorcism of Roland Doe

And for you brave souls who wish to see the movie preview of The Possession, here you go. Don't say I didn't warn you...
Based on a "true" story.
Read more about that here: The Dibbuk Box Story-The Haunted Jewish Winebox


Peter Lukes said...

I saw the same ad last night and I know exactly what you're talking about! I still have vivid memories of an ad for the movie "Magic" which was this awful 70's movie that was out when I was little. The ad was only a puppet talking, but it scared the hell out of my little five year old self and to this day I remember it.
I guess all horror requires some suspension of belief unless you truly believe in ghosts, paranormal events, demonic possession, etc. But maybe there's a little part in even the skeptics that make them "want" to believe, and therein lies some of the allure of the horror genre?

Clarissa Johal, Author said...

Now you KNOW I'm going to have to look up that movie because I'm unfamiliar with it,lol. One thing I learned in anthropology is that the power of belief is pretty strong, which always gives pause for thought!

Sloane Taylor said...

I didn't see the ad and I'm grateful! The Exorcist ad was bad enough and still haunts my brain. It also convinced me to never watch the movie.

Thanks for the definitions and examples, Clarissa. Now it's clearer.:)

Clarissa Johal, Author said...

And now you can sleep at night, lol. Thanks for stopping by and commenting, Sloane (:

Sheri said...

Well, your post certainly has me curious about the Dibbuk Box story. I now have it on my Kindle. I love this kind of stuff! Scary but fascinating......from afar.

Clarissa Johal, Author said...

It's interesting. I downloaded the sample chapter of that too. I hate to say, it does look like a bit of a hoax (and nothing related the movie). Thanks for stopping by, Sheri!

Anonymous said...

Interesting thoughts. I am totally with you about commercials coming on that are not appropriate for kids. I guess we just can't let them watch television...ever.

_ said...

They do the same at the movies. Spooky subject. What are you doing for Halloween? <g Enjoyed the blog. Emma Lane

Clarissa Johal, Author said...

Thanks for stopping by and commenting, Dusty and Emma! And yes, Dusty, my kids don't watch much TV (Food channel excluded. Darn Cupcake Wars, lol) but it's part of the culture around us too. All you can do is leave the lines of communication open as to what your kiddos see. Emma, we do kid things, you know how it is when you have kids. Carve pumpkins, local harvest festivals, kiddo parties, etc. (:

Rhea Rhodan said...

Another very interesting post, Clarissa. Although I do believe in disincarnate spirits (too many experiences not to), I've never encountered anything along the lines of possession. I feel that it's possible, though. I still enjoy scary horror, but I'm not a fan of the bloody hacking variety. My husband doesn't enjoy horror of any variety, and I rarely watch anything alone. I saw "The Exorcist" when I was still pretty young. I was unimpressed (just too over-the-top). Haven't seen the one Peter Lukas mentioned, though. As for kids, I feel sorry for anyone trying to raise them today! I like Clarissa's prescription, though.

Clarissa Johal, Author said...

Thanks, Rhea! I definitely don't write slasher horror, more psychological paranormal stuff. You're safe, lol (: Thanks for taking the time to comment.

Penelope Crowe said...

I had a friend who had an exorcism in Portugal. Terrible stuff-and I've also blogged and written in a book about it. Very scary. I liked your article :)

Clarissa Johal, Author said...

Thank you for stopping by, Penelope! That sounds like an interesting read.