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Spirit possession

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Spirit possession is a concept of paranormal, supernatural and/or superstitious belief in which spirits, gods, daemons, demons, animas, or other disincarnate entities may take control of a human body, resulting in noticeable changes in behavior. The concept of spiritual possession exists in Christianity [1] and other contemporary religions and can also be seen in the mythology and folklore of many cultures.[How to reference and link to summary or text]

In demonolatry Edit

Some individuals who practice demonolatry invoke the demons, taking their spirit by invitation into themselves as part of worship.

In Haitian Vodou and African traditions Edit

One way that those who participate or practice Haitian Vodou and related traditions can have a spiritual experience is by being possessed by the lwa. 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 experience this as being a beautiful but very tiring experience. Most people who are possessed by the spirit get 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 in the works. 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 spirit/lwa can choose who it wants to possess, for the spirit may have a mission that it can carry out spiritually. Also, it is believed in Haitian Vodou and related traditions 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.

It is also believed in Haitian Vodou and related traditions 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.

In Sudan and certain other East African cultures exists the Zār Cult, a ethnomedical healing ceremony involving possession typically of Muslim women by a Zār spirit.[2]

Demonic possessionEdit

Demonic possession is a subset of spirit possession and is often the term used to describe the control over a human form by Satan himself or one of his assigned advocates. Descriptions of demonic possessions often include: erased memories or personalities, convulsions, “fits” and fainting as if one were dying.[3] Unlike in channelling or other forms of possession, the subject has no control over the possessing entity and so it will persist until forced to leave the victim, usually through a form of exorcism. Many cultures and religions contain some concept of demonic possession, but the details vary considerably. The Roma people believe that demons can also possess animals, plants, deceased persons or inanimate objects.

The oldest references to demonic possession are from the Sumerians, who believed that all diseases of the body and mind were caused by "sickness demons" called gidim or gid-dim [4]. The priests who practiced exorcisms in these nations were called ashipu (sorcerer) as opposed to an asu (physician) who applied bandages and salves[5]. Many cuneiform tablets contain prayers to certain gods asking for protection from demons, while others ask the gods to expel the demons that have invaded their bodies.

Most illustrations portray these spirits as small, gruesome characters with inhuman distinctiveness. Often referenced as a witch’s “familiars” demons and other evil-spirits employed by witches are also displayed as society’s cast-offs or those beings incapable of caring for themselves thus seeking refuge with a witch. Witches would provide shelter and nourishment via the “witch’s teat” in exchange for the valuable services of the familiars in addition to spells, potions and other attempts by a witch to cause evil or “maleficium” over another.[6]

Shamanic cultures also believe in demon possession and shamans perform exorcisms too; in these cultures often diseases are attributed to the presence of a vengeful spirit or (loosely termed) demon in the body of the patient. These spirits are more often the spectres of animals or people wronged by the bearer, the exorcism rites usually being comprised of respectful offerings or sacrificial offerings.

See alsoEdit


  1. Mark 5:9, Luke 8:30
  2. 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 Nov 1989)
  3. Ferber, Sarah, Demonic Possession and Exorcism in Early Modern France(London, Routledge, 2004, 25, 116).
  4. Sumerian "gidim"
  6. Willis, Deborah, Malevolent Nurture: Witch-Hunting and Maternal Power in Early Modern England (New York, Cornell University Press, 1995)


  • 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

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