Medium 9780253204677

How about Demons?: Possession and Exorcism in the Modern World

Views: 860
Ratings: (0)

"Quite an interesting book... " —Religious Studies Review

"It is by far superior to anything else on demons we have seen in the past few years." —The American Rationalist

"... Goodman is to be commended for a stimulating and wide-reaching treatment of a compelling and much-debated subject." —Journal of Folklore Research

Rich in detail derived from the author's fieldwork and the anthropological literature, this work paints a picture of possession as one of the usually positive and most widespread of human religious experiences. It also details the ritual of exorcism, which is applied when things go wrong.

List price: $24.99

Your Price: $19.99

You Save: 20%

Remix
Remove

9 Chapters

Format Buy Remix

Chapter 1: Possession’s Many Faces

ePub

In order to understand possession, we need first of all to come to terms with the concept of the soul. The behavioral sciences, such as psychology or anthropology, consider human beings to be biopsychological systems. According to this view, all experience results from the interaction of the various parts within this integrated unit. Obviously, there is no room for the soul in a theory of this sort. As Virchow, a famous German surgeon of the nineteenth century, used to say, “I never found a soul with my scalpel.” We may ask, of course, whether the scalpel is the most useful tool for finding the soul. Ancient sages as well as religious specialists active in societies today the world over, including our own, certainly never used it for that purpose. They simply took the existence of the soul for granted, building their entire belief system on the conviction that indeed humans do have at least one or possibly even several souls.

The two opinions are clearly at loggerheads with each other, and although as Westerners, we are inclined to opt against the soul theory, we should at least be fair and ask the following question: If you disagree with the idea that humans are integrated systems, a heap of cells having unimaginably complex interconnections as well as psychological dimensions, but nothing else, then what are you going to propose as a countertheory? The answer we will get from those cleaving to the “soul hypothesis” is that in their view, humans consist of a shell, something like a box, namely, the body, and an ephemeral substance or essence residing within, usually termed the soul. All the various religious faiths and systems we are going to become acquainted with in these pages take the soul theory for granted, as a given, as their unshakable foundation.

 

Chapter 2: Spiritualism

ePub

To many people, the idea of possession by an alien entity is a frightening one, because the word conjures up stories of malevolent, demonic intrusion. Actually, though, the experience does not always involve evil spirits. Quite often, instead, the beings in question are kindly, helpful, or, at most, dangerous. As to the reasons why there should be such a variety of traditions about this experience, we have to turn briefly to the history of human cultural evolution.1

The whole complex of possession and the rituals concerning it must be quite old, judging from the fact that the tradition is so widely distributed. It is known, for example, to horticulturalists, as we saw with the Ynomamö (see chap. 1), where the medicine men invited the spirits into their chests. The horticulture of the Ynomamö Indians is a very ancient form of cultivation, arising directly from the original style of subsistence of all humankind, that of hunting and gathering. It survives to this day as a sophisticated adaptation to tropical rain forests, for instance in South America. Its name derives from the Latin word hortus, “garden,” because instead of open fields these societies work small, gardenlike plots. The area for the gardens is burned over and yields a harvest only for about three years. That forces horticulturalist societies to be on the move all the time, and their villages are not permanent. Such mobility necessitates a constant close interaction with their surroundings, their natural habitat, which demands flexibility and adaptiveness. Quite logically, their ethical system is also based on appropriateness, for they cannot afford the rigidity of a world view that is based on the cleavage between good and evil. It follows that their spirits are adaptable, too; they are neither good nor evil, they are simply powerful. In Japan, the only large modern state with strong ties to horticulturalist tradition, spirits of this nature tend to predominate in possession, as we shall see in chapter 5.

 

Chapter 3: Healing in Umbanda

ePub

Continuing with our review of positive spirit possession, we want to treat Umbanda next. This Brazilian religion has a complex history, with its roots reaching back into Africa, Europe, and Indian America. The sugar plantations in the northeastern part of Brazil employed African slaves in the sixteenth century. They brought with them their own religious observances from Dahomey, the Congo, and Angola. They also carried along the Yoruba tradition, a syncretic form of which evolved into Haitian vodun, which we touched on in chapter 1. Gradually, beliefs concerning the Catholic saints of the plantation owners and the African gods began to overlap; they became syncretized. When in 1888 the slaves were emancipated in Brazil, they began moving south, into the cities that offered jobs in their developing industries. Once there, the Afro-Brazilians started cult centers for the practice of their various religions. These were already syncretic, some even incorporating American Indian traits. But they varied according to which of the African traditions was predominant.

 

Chapter 4: Pentecostalism: A New Force in Christendom

ePub

Pentecostalism is another important possession religion in the modern world characterized by the experience of a positive possession by an otherworldly being or force. Compared to Umbanda or Spiritualism, the spread of the Pentecostal movement is overwhelming. Figures on Spiritualist membership nationally are not available, but a glance at the telephone book of a medium-size city such as Columbus, Ohio, my hometown, which has about 600,000 inhabitants, is certainly instructive: there are nine Spiritualist churches listed, as against fifty-two Pentecostal and sixty Apostolic congregations. And that is counting only the two principal Pentecostal denominations and not all the many smaller ones, such as Assemblies of God and others. John Thomas Nichol, an American historian, is obviously justified in calling Pentecostalism the third large force in Christendom, next to Catholicism and Protestantism.1

The start of the Pentecostal movement is usually attributed to Charles Fox Parham, although experiences similar to his appeared in the English-speaking world on both sides of the Atlantic at about the same time, and many events and personalities played a part. In this country, speaking in tongues is reported sporadically at least since the middle of the nineteenth century, later especially in the American Holiness movement, an outgrowth of revivals after the Civil War. Parham was born in Iowa in 1873. As a young man he was a lay preacher in the Congregational church. Later he joined the Methodists, and then the rapidly expanding Holiness movement. In 1900, he founded his Bethel Bible College in Topeka, Kansas. From scriptural studies he and his students became convinced that in Apostolic times a baptism by the Holy Spirit was always accompanied by the outward manifestation of speaking in tongues, and they wondered whether the same should not also be true in the modern age.

 

Chapter 5: The Dangerous Spirits of Japan

ePub

From the benevolent spirits experienced in possession by Spiritualists, Umbandists, and Pentecostals, we now pass on to another class of spirit beings, namely, the dangerous ones. Powerful, but neither absolutely good nor absolutely evil, they represent humanity’s horticulturalist heritage (see chap. 2). They can and most of the time do act in a friendly manner, and thus on the face of it there seems to be little to distinguish them from the kindly entities we have come to know. But if crossed, they may become threatening, and it is this potential for mischief, this perceived underlying threat, that marks them as qualitatively different. They may even start out causing harm, but then turn around and come to be helpful friends. To us Westerners, whose thinking is schooled by a pervasive good/bad categorization, it is sometimes disconcerting how in a particular story a spirit who to our way of perceiving the world is clearly up to no good can still be classed as benevolent. The ancient exu spirits of Umbanda retain some of this peculiar scintillation, but they are mainly known to anthropologists from their study of surviving small horticulturalist societies, for instance in South America. Of the large modern industrial societies, Japan is the only one where they still play an important role, appearing in many of the modern sects called in the literature the New Religions.

 

Chapter 6: The Multiple Personality Experience and Demonic Possession

ePub

The multiple personality experience or “disorder” is not usually covered in discussions of demonic possession. That is regrettable, for as we saw in chapter 1, there is a lot that it can teach us about possession, and it also offers some insights into its demonic variant. Perhaps because the multiple personality syndrome is relatively rare, authors of texts on comparative religion are usually not even aware of its existence and would disregard it anyhow, because of the prevailing view that it is exclusively a psychiatric problem.1

Briefly, as will be remembered from chapter 1 and the case of Eve White, patients suffering from this condition experience themselves as having several discrete personalities called alternates that do not share consciousness or memories with their host. That means that the host does not know or is not able to recall what the various alternate personalities do, and extended periods of amnesia, often starting during childhood, are characteristically reported by these patients. Each one of the alternates has its own complex social patterns and behavior. When a given personality is dominant, it will control the individual’s behavior. As should be obvious by now, this description could just as well be cited in any discussion of the experience of possession. There are, however, in the main two differences between this disorder and possession as a religious experience. One of these concerns how the phenomenon is located culturally, that is, what society, especially those charged with treating the patient, thinks is going on. The other is the nature of the beings involved in the possession.

 

Chapter 7: The Ghosts that Kill

ePub

While the multiple personality disorder is rarely interpreted as a condition of demonic possession (although in some instances, as we saw, that would certainly be appropriate), in other contexts the term is bandied about with considerable bravado. In the opening speeches at a newly founded Christian Center for Information about the Occult in Santa Fe, New Mexico, in 1985, everything popularly subsumed under New Age, such as astrology, aura balancing, crystal healing, plus anything having to do with Spiritualism, was classified as demonic possession. The speakers at this center were fundamentalist Protestants, but when it comes to indicting Satan for the supposed ills of the age, Catholic popular writers do not lag far behind. A Viennese author writing in 19761 includes all the above, while adding also black magic, satanic cults, divination, and spirit journeys to the list. In a 1985 television interview, a Pentecostal minister advocated exorcism for gays, which thus by implication is also classified as possession by an evil spirit. It seems that even in this supposedly rational and scientific modern age, there is no dearth of those who will summarily accuse people of being possessed by abominable spirits if they succumb to the allure of anything culturally decried or censured at the time. But the spirits called up under such circumstances seem rather anemic as devils go. Upon closer examination, they turn out to be no more than flimsy masks used to give an aura of authority to a parochial, dogmatically informed judgment: “In a manner of speaking,” if I see a certain behavior, such as people wearing a crystal on a necklace or paying for an astrological chart, I should warn them in Christian charity that Satan is close by, tempting them to commit an act that within our doctrine, which represents the only Truth, is a Sin. The Evil One, in fact, may have already taken possession of them, and poor benighted ones, they do not even realize it.

 

Chapter 8: A Legion of Demons

ePub

In addition to the African variant of demonic possession, there are innumerable stories also of another type, which we will here call the Eurasian variant, because it is reported from India and China, as well as from Christian Europe. In a number of characteristics this Eurasian form of possession agrees with its African counterpart. In both, the noxious spirit entities invade their victim uninvited, but have to wait until a path opens for them, a breach of sorts in the personality of their intended victim. Their presence is signaled by illness. If a trance is ritually initiated, the spirits reveal their presence. Healing is accomplished by dislodging, expelling, that is, exorcising, the malevolent being.

But differences emerge all along the line, with the African variant in each instance simpler and at the same time much more sinister, which confirms its greater antiquity. In the African variant, the invaders are always ghosts. In Eurasia, on the other hand, there is a great variety of such evil beings. According to European folk belief, for instance, also fervently held by Protestant fundamentalists in this country, there is a whole slew of demons, associated with Satan as his entourage, fallen angels and unredeemed humans, roaming the earth, eager to possess, corrupt, and plague humanity. In the Christian West, the principal guardian of the tradition about demons is the Catholic church. According to a contemporary catechism,1 devils or demons represent temptation, confusion, deception; they are inimical to humans, barring their entrance to heaven.

 

Chapter 9: Two Recent Cases of Demonic Possession

ePub

Stories about possession by evil spirits have always fascinated people, and our own century is no exception. The film The Exorcist, based on an actual case, had numerous reruns both here and abroad. Hostage to the Devil, by the Jesuit father Malachi Martin,1 which recreates six contemporary possession cases, was widely read in this country, and in the German-speaking parts of Europe, the case of a nurse called Magda, described by Adolf Rodewyk,2 also a Jesuit father, has gone through four editions since it was first published in 1965.

Yet demonic possession is not just the stuff of scary stories. As explained before, we are dealing with actual, catastrophic physical and psychological changes, bringing great suffering to the afflicted. To demonstrate the point, I want in the following to describe two recent cases. They show first of all how little the symptoms of the affliction have changed over time, that is, how stable the syndrome actually is, and second, they raise the important question about what role, if any, modern psychiatry and allopathic medicine might play in the cure.

 

Details

Print Book
E-Books
Chapters

Format name
ePub
Encrypted
No
Sku
B000000031879
Isbn
9780253014627
File size
453 KB
Printing
Allowed
Copying
Allowed
Read aloud
Allowed
Format name
ePub
Encrypted
No
Printing
Allowed
Copying
Allowed
Read aloud
Allowed
Sku
In metadata
Isbn
In metadata
File size
In metadata