Occasionally, paranormal literature throws up a case so incredible that we either dismiss it as fantasy, or edge towards the idea that demons and possessions are a reality. The facts are just so fantastic, rational inquiry is often forgotten.
But are we right to either dismiss or accept? Or is it possible that rational explanations can be placed upon the subject within an overall cultural explanation of phenomena? I opt for this middle ground.
Consider the case of Anna Ecklund, born into a religious family from the American Midwest about 1882.
Believed to have been abused by her father, at fourteen, she showed signs of possession involving acute sexual fantasies. A monk from Wisconsin was called in, who exorcised her in 1912, claiming she was possessed by the Devil.
Failing, she reverted, being possessed until age forty six. Eventually being taken in once more by monks, she threw a fit and for over three weeks swayed between unconsciousness and erotic behaviour, including copious vomiting, levitating and speaking in strange voices.
Eventually her body went rigid and the possession was over.
Robbie Mannheim - the believed influence behind The Exorcist - was similar. Just before an aunt died, she and Robbie tried to contact spirits on a Ouija board. After her death, his behaviour changed, the boy swearing incessantly.
Strange disturbances then began in the house, and cuts appeared on his body. His parents called in a priest who said he was possessed. Exorcisms were attempted, but each time Robbie got worse, attacking one priest with a bedspring, resulting in a hundred stitches.
On Easter Monday 1949, Robbie woke up and his demon was gone.
THEORIES ON ENTITIES
The idea that entities can possess the person was accepted as fact through most of human history. In 1917 teacher Max Freedom Long began a study of the Huna of Hawaii.
His work confirmed the belief. The Huna believe that, rather than being an individual, man has three separate selves; the low, middle and high self. Long identified these as the unconscious, conscious and superconscious mind, the latter being the region of possession.
Canadian psychiatrist Dr Adam Crabtree would see it differently. During therapy he would create entities. Typical was depressive Sarah Worthington. During therapy Crabtree asked if she ever heard voices. Saying she had, he asked her to recall them.
Her persona then changed, becoming confident and she had a different voice. Crabtree asked who this possession was. It turned out to be her grandmother, who seemed to have problems of her own.
Using this form of psychodrama, Crabtree treated Sarah by psychoanalyzing her grandmother.
In the above we have two separate and distinct ideas upon possession. In the former, we see the possibility of the human mind having higher levels of consciousness, whilst in the latter, we see the possibility of entities being ‘split-off’ aspects of mind.
This aspect is seen in the phenomenon of multiple personality, where the mind can seem to fragment into a number of different ‘personalities’, taking it in turn to inhabit the host.
Could an amalgamation of multiple personality and the possibility of higher consciousness be merged to produce a credible theory of possessions such as Ecklund and Mannheim?
One well accepted theory of multiple personality is that it does not exist, as such. Rather, we have a chaotic mind coming upon a therapist, or idea, that it exists. Hence, a form of role-play comes into being, the patient playing to the therapist.
In this way, a form of transference has occurred, with the therapist validating something that comes into being purely because of his validation. But what, exactly, is involved in such role-play? What part of the mind does the therapist’s bidding?
It is interesting that each personality displayed seems to exhibit a particular emotion of the host. Hence, could it be that, in multiple personality, the role-play revolves around specific emotional traits within the mind?
Emotions tend to be chaotic things. But more than this, whilst an emotion may be expressed for a variety of ‘personal’ reasons, the actual nature of various ‘emotions’ seem to be identical in all people. Hence, could emotions be of the ‘species’ rather than the person?
If so, then we can see a ‘communal’ element of mind being tapped in multiple personality, suggesting that its similarity to possession is greater than we think, with an actual ‘outside’ entity being manifested.
Carl Jung gave us a similar concept in his ‘collective unconscious’ – a mind below the ‘personal’ with ‘communal’ traits. And these traits included ‘archetypes’, or shared personality types such as the Child, Sage, Trickster and Hero. Could we therefore argue that, in multiple personality/possession, we are dealing with an archetype as entity?
A SUGGESTIVE CULTURE
Jung’s archetypes also include all manner of symbols, and together with the personality archetypes, we can see the collective unconscious expressed in mythology and society. It is almost as if ‘culture’ itself is an expression of this communal aspect of mind, but within the world we experience.
Culture can, of course, come in many forms. An on-going culture can be built-up over millennia, as the ideas and communal symbols are passed down from generation to generation.
Such a cultural form can be suggestive in the extreme. After all, if it is an outside expression of the inner mind, it would be, as one would be in sympathy with the other. And possibly so, too, with the ‘archetypes’ that transcend both.
THE DEMON LET LOOSE
If we return to the above cases we can ask what would be the reaction, in terms of culture, of a suggestive, possibly disturbed person being told that they were being possessed?
Bearing in mind the cultural legacy inherent in the suggestion, combined with the authority of the priests who are enforcing the concept, can we imagine this person being very good and, as in the role-play involved in multiple personality, exhibiting the behaviour expected of him?
And as the cultural expression increases, reinforcing the displayed entity’s existence, we can imagine an emotional archetype out of control, and a ‘possession’ in existence that is ‘communal’, in that it is ‘other’ than the personal mind.
And as its ferocity increases, and the patient is further reinforced towards ‘possessed’ behaviour, we can also imagine the priests being similarly infected by the role-play suggested by the possession. And in such a cultural feed-back loop, the exorcists see what they think they’ll see.
© Anthony North, September 2007
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