Spirit Possession

I personally define health as the overall physical and mental well being and the absence of diseases and foreign pathogens that cause your body and brain to be faulty in their function. Factors such as diet, exercise, stress, social relationships, I believe, can affect one’s health whether it is mentally or physically. These are just some of the factors that determine if someone is healthy or not. Illness can be defined as a disease or the absence of it, but relates to one’s personal experience of discomfort by foreign pathogens influencing their brain and body or simply their feelings telling them they are ill. My ideas of health and illness have accumulated since I was at a young age and I believe have been affected by several factors. Some include my family, the society and culture I was born into and also the one I later was introduced into, a variety of media that has evolved and has a huge impact on people’s ideas and beliefs today, the schools I have attended and what I have learned throughout my education, etc. Through personal experience, all factors have influenced my thoughts and ideas on how to define health and illness and continue to do so as I become more knowledgeable. From the conditions that were listed in the activity, some may say certain ones are not considered an illness. I believe every one could be defined as an illness since feeling ill is one’s personal feelings and experience of something. Shyness was one of the conditions. At first I did not constitute it as an illness, but shyness is a personal feeling that your brain triggers when being around social situations and you feel uncomfortable. There are some people who chose to defeat the feeling and others who might make it worse by having many negative thoughts of them and get to a point that the thought is overpowering their brain and they feel “ill”. Spirit possession is another condition mentioned. In our culture if someone believed they were possessed, others might think they have gone insane and consider the individual to be ill and hospitalize them. In other cultures, spirit possession could mean a spirit is trying to communicate with your soul to treat a disease. That spirit could be believed to be a holy spirit that an individual might have prayed to in hopes of being healed. Illness is an internal experience and such feelings vary from culture to culture since beliefs vary as well.

This Post Has 3 Comments

  1. Amber Schmenk says:

    Hi Rei!
    I definitely agree with your comment about spirit possession. With the medical advances we have made as an American culture, many people would think someone was insane if they believed they were possessed. However, spiritual possession is often more common and differently interpreted in other cultures. For example, in Chuuk, a state in the Federated States of Micronesia, over 40 cases which could be called spirit possession were collected by a single Peace Corps volunteer in only two months. The Chuukese perceive spirit possession as a fairly common illness, most often associated with women, and treat it just as they would any other illness. Though they often turn to traditional treatment or to Christianity to help cure spiritual possession, Chuukese do also realize that symptoms perceived as possession can also be due to underlying psychological issues. It seems that, in Chuukese culture, spiritual possession can often be brought on by family issues or tension. When the issues are resolved, signs of possession typically go away, making the possession therapeutic for both the individual possessed and the family as well. In the article referenced on possession in Chuuk society, the author even goes as far to compare the therapeutic qualities of spirit possession to using drinking to cope with issues.

    Hezel, Francis. Spirit Possession in Chuuk: Socio-Cultural Interpretation. Micronesian Counselor 11. July, 1993.

  2. Hassan Ahsan says:

    Rei,
    I chose to respond to your selection of the illness of spirit possession as it is something that falls into a gray area of discussion. There are many cultures, as you mention, that believe that a spirit can be both a symptom and a cure to illness and healing. According to the article by Maria Cruz ‘Causes of spirit possession in African culture (1), it is believed that the majority of possession occurs within women though men can also be affected. Interestingly, according to African culture, spirits seem to favor married women and their use of beautification items such as henna or perfumes attract the spirits more. Emma Cohen of Oxford University describes possession as “complex series of patterns of thinking and behaviors”. Thus, spirit possession can be a religious, cultural, medical or psychological behavior that is dependent on an individual’s personal culture. Cohen further suggests that there are two types of possession, (though I will only mention one here due to word limitations). Executive possession can occur when there is a separation of a person from their body and the ‘temporary establishment’ of a ‘new person-body’ formation (2). Different cultures have different beliefs about spirit possession but it is important to note that the connotations can be positive or negative. Also, possession can include or exclude a trance state whereby an individual’s persona is replaced or controlled by another entity. The topic of possession requires an in depth discussion but is fascinating to learn about.

    1) Cruz, Maria. “Causes of Spirit Possession in African Women.” http://web.wm.edu/so/monitor/issues/07-1/3-cruz.htm (accessed 7th July 2013).

    2) Cohen, Emma. “What is Spirit Possession? Defining, Comparing, and Explaining Two Possession Forms”. Ethnos 73, no.1 (2008) 1-25. http://users.ox.ac.uk/~soca0093/pdfs/CohenEthnos08.pdf (accessed 7th July 2013).

  3. Dylan Bieber says:

    I agree with what you have to say about the decline of belief in spirit possession in the United States. I believe you have accurately described how I would think of someone if they told me they were possessed. I believe that this has to do with the modernization of medicine. In India, for example, religions healers normally conducted traditional medicine for spirit possession. I have found an article that describes how allopathic and religious healers reported that cases of spirit possession were becoming less prevalent. In it, one psychologist, Dr. K Gireesh, reports how forty percent of his patients reported possession in 1999, which is much higher than the five percent who reported this condition in 2005. This article attributes part of this decrease in belief of possession to India’s developing health care system, as well as to patients seeking out modern medicine more and traditional medicine less. In addition to this, the article claims that the idea of possession is important to the average Indian citizen as a way of experiencing and treating illness. It is also possible that the move toward modern medicine in India could be in part due to social pressures. This region of the world has been influenced by ideologies of many different cultures and religions.

    Halliburton, Murphy. “Just Some Spirits”: The Erosion of Spirit Possession and theRise of “Tension” in South India. Medical
    Anthropology: Cross-Cultural Studies in Health. 24 (2005): 111-44.

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