Spirit Possession

When I think about defining words like health and illness it brings me back to my Ethics in Public Health Care class. In this class we looked at tens of definitions attempting to narrow down what health is so that appropriate action can be taken. In this context, I think it’s important to generalize more rather than go into specifics. Health to me is like mentioned in the lecture, an absence of illness and vice versa. One cannot be defined explicitly without the other. Both are referring to not just the effects on one’s physical attributes, but mental and spiritual in some cases.

Personally, I believe my thoughts on this has come from my education as of now. Before that however, I would say a combination between my family, the media, and what personal experiences I’ve had. My father is a doctor so that has allowed me to both be sensitive as well as casually accept the physical and mental changes that occur throughout time. I’ve learned what should be taken seriously versus what I can easily brush off. And of course the media has played a role, because that is part of the experience of evolving as a person in society today.

Cancer to me is clearly an illness. It is something foreign to the body, negatively effecting it and in turn, damaging the body.

Menstruation was a little more tricky for me, but I believe it is not an illness. This is because it is not causing harm or pain to negatively impact a person. It is a natural cycle of life, and necessary to survive for a woman.

Finally, Spirit possession to me was the most complex of the options. This is because depending on the culture you’re in it could be good or bad. For that reason, I would say it could be an illness, but it would be up for debate.

4 thoughts on “Spirit Possession

  1. I agree with you that cancer is definitely an illness, and really a disease. It causes uncontrolled growth of abnormal cells and it has no known cure, so this is why I believe it is an illness. I also agree that menstruation is not an illness because it is a normal body function that women have. Spirit possession was something that I didn’t cover on my original post because I was also on the fence about it. From research that I did, and also from other classes where I’ve learned about it I would still say that it really depends on what part of the world you are in. I think if you asked someone in the United States they would say it was an illness, but if you were in parts of Africa they would say it was not an illness.

    Some tribes in Africa do practice shamanism as a healing method. It is based on the belief that spirits are always around and interfere with daily decisions and actions of people. The shamans channel the spirits through meditation or dance and either heal the person who is sick, find the source of illness, or just to give a diagnosis. In this culture, the shaman communicates with the spirits but it is seen as a healing process that all of the tribe partakes in. It is very community based and needs everyone to believe in the process.


  2. My responses to cancer and spirit possession were very similar. I also believe that cancer is clearly a disease but I wonder if there are conflicting views out there. I also had trouble categorizing spirit possession. I ended up with the decision that since I have no experience with it, not personally nor through acquaintances, I am not the one to judge what it is. With my current knowledge, I just don’t know how to approach it at all. I did mention that I believe it is culturally defined and can’t really be looked at through the biological approach.

    I did not analyze menstruation but again, I agreed with your judgement. I believe it is necessary and healthy. At the same time, it is kind of ironic that while most students stated the same, there seems to be a negative view associated with it in our own country. I feel like many girls, especially young ones, are embarrassed by having to go through such a thing and can only discuss it with other females whom they confide in, at least while at a young age. Schools give information to young students but split up girls and guys, an underlying message that says it isn’t appropriate to talk about in front of everyone; that it’s private and perhaps abnormal. When I was doing my research online, I was surprised to see that many taboos against menstruation are present in Judaism and even Christianity. According to Thomas, Jewish law forbids any physical contact with women during the menstrual cycle. This includes smelling her perfume, sleeping in the same bed, sitting upon the same cushion, eating her leftover food, etc. Although I’m sure this is only followed by very strict Jews and less often than in the past, it is surprising to me that such taboos exist in Western religions. I expected to mainly find information on exotic cultures but now I can see where our modern perception has stemmed from.

    Source: http://www.scribd.com/doc/20776809/Menstrual-Taboos-in-Religions-and-Cultures

  3. I completely agree with you on cancer and menstration. I think cancer is definetly concidered an illness due to the fact abnormal growth of cells are infecting the human body. I don’t consider menstration an illness either. Menstrating is a part of the process the female human body goes through.

    Spirit posession is hard to put in the category of illness. While I do not think it is, many other cultures around the world have a strong belief in it. I read an article about one particular culture who heavily believes in spirit posession. The Chuukese people are part of a Micronesian culture. Some of their beliefs are a lot different than ours. For example, women take precautionary measures when walking by the sea because they believe sea spirits cause miscarriages or problems with childbirth. Some Chuukese people even go as far to believe they get “bitten” by ghosts. They contribute severe pain, headaches, and abdominal pain to posession.


  4. I completely agree with you about cancer being an illness. I pretty much said the same thing in my post. And also, about menstruation being a natural part of life rather than an illness. Although I didn’t use this in my post, I would agree that it is slightly more complicated to categorize. It does involve signs/ symptoms of illness, And for some women this can be much more hindering to normal routines.
    The one I would like to discuss is Spirit Possession. I did not include this in my post, and also found it far more complicated to define or categorize. I thought doing some research would help (it did a little) but I’m still fairly torn. Its not something I would normally include in the illness category (some of the info I found actually suggested it being seen as a healing method instead – shaman, mediums, etc.) (1), but as you also said, many varying cultures have different ideas about spirit possession which can in turn cause it to be seen as an illness. “Historical observation reveals that the social and cultural background of a civilization determines the variations, degrees, and meaning of possession. The very experience itself is dependent upon the beliefs, norms, customs, and expectations of society” (2). This, as well as an the information suggesting that it is considered an actual syndrome as far as mental health is concerned(3), helped to shape an opinion that it is in fact an illness. It was given an actual name, Spirit Possession Syndrome (SPS), and is so closely tied (understandably so) and comparable to Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID) or Multiple Personality Disorder, that they were even used to diagnose each other. I found it interesting that it was compared to issues such as DID, schizophrenia, and even epilepsy (4).


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