The Mind Possessed: A Physiology of Possession, Mysticism an

That's French for "the ancient system," as in the ancient system of feudal privileges and the exercise of autocratic power over the peasants. The ancien regime never goes away, like vampires and dinosaur bones they are always hidden in the earth, exercising a mysterious influence. It is not paranoia to believe that the elites scheme against the common man. Inform yourself about their schemes here.

Re: The Mind Possessed: A Physiology of Possession, Mysticis

Postby admin » Sun May 26, 2019 9:29 pm

8. Drugs, magic and possession

Like sexual techniques, drugs have also been used from time immemorial to induce feelings of possession by gods and spirits, and one of Aleister Crowley’s disciples is entirely in harmony with thousands of years of religious and magical tradition, and too much modern tragedy, when he says that ‘the only really legitimate excuse for resorting to drugs is the scientific one, i.e. for the acquisition of praeterhuman knowledge and power, which includes poetic inspiration or any form of creative dynamism.’1 Poetic inspiration, prophetic power and other forms of ‘creative dynamism’, whether drug-induced or not, have been regarded in many societies as the result of temporary possession of a human being by a supernatural being or force.

It is a pity that modern proponents of the use of marijuana, L.S.D. and the rest have so seldom inquired into the vast literature of this subject, for the effects produced by various different drugs have been reported time and time again in the past. In the East, the early Vedic hymns sang the praises of soma, the ‘King of Plants’, omnipotent, all-healing, the giver of immortality, consumption of which elevated the worshipper to the level of the divine, and which was itself considered a god. What soma was is uncertain, but it may have been a mushroom, Amanita muscaria or fly agaric. Tantric and other Indian sects ‘have continually resorted to drugs to shift the plane of perception and attain ecstatic states and mystical illumination. Drugs, drinks, chemicals (e.g, mercury) and special medicinal preparations were and still are used for this purpose.’2

Gordon Wasson in his book on the Divine Mushroom quotes Endereli as describing its use as an abreactive and trance producing drug: ‘And now there began an indescribable dancing and singing, a deafening drumming and a wild running about the [yard], during which the men threw everything about recklessly until they were completely exhausted. Suddenly they collapsed like dead men and promptly fell into deep sleep.’ Wasson also quotes Kapec describing a journey in Asia. When in Siberia he met an ‘evangelist’ who recommended that he take these mushrooms ‘that are I can say miraculous . . . they are the most precious creation of nature.’ Kapec goes on.

Hearing so many strange things about the merits of that mushroom ... I ate half. . . Dreams came one after the other. I found myself as though magnetized . . . I started to have confidence in its supernatural qualities . . . For several hours new visions carried me to another world, and it seemed to me that I was ordered to return to earth so that a priest could take my confession ... I should add only that as if inspired by magnetism I came across some blunders of my (confessor) and I warned him to improve in these matters, and I noticed that he took these warnings almost as the voice of Revelation.3

The sacred plants of Mexico included the peyote cactus, from which mescaline is derived, the psilocybe mushroom, which was significantly called ‘god’s flesh’, and Datura stramonium or thorn-apple. Peyote cults began to flourish among North American Indians in the 1870s and the peyote religion is now their principal cult. Stramonium was also smoked in North America, and in both California and Siberia a hallucinogenic toadstool was used to bring about communication with the divine and to induce ecstatic visions. Francis Huxley has commented that the use of hallucinogenic mushrooms ‘may have been much more widespread in the past than we realize, and its effects quite possibly helped to give form to a number of traditional descriptions of heaven’.4

Alcohol is one of the drugs which has frequently been used in this way. Wine was evidently an important aid to ecstasy in the worship of Dionysus, who among numerous other roles was the god of wine. The worshippers were predominantly women and their rites have been summarized by Professor Guthrie as follows:

Clad in fawnskins and taking in their hands the thyrsos, which was a long rod tipped with a bunch of ivy or vine-leaves, the god’s own potent emblem, and with ivy-wreaths upon their heads, they follow their leader (a priest of the god) to the wildest parts of the mountains, lost in the bliss of the dance. Many carry snakes, wreathed about them, twined in their hair or grasped in the hand as may be seen in the vase-paintings. Their dance is accompanied by the heavy beat of the tympanum . . . and the strains of the reed-flute, as well as their own excited shouts and Cries. Nothing is lacking which can serve to increase the sense of exaltation and of shedding the self of everyday existence; to the darkness, the music and the rhythmic dance are added the smoky light of torches and no doubt the god’s especial gift of wine. Erotic enjoyment probably also contributed to producing the final state oiektasis (standing outside oneself) and enthousiasmns (possession by the god). (In this state the worshippers saw visions, and nothing was impossible to them . . . Endowed with superhuman strength, they hurl themselves up on animals, wild or tame, and tear them to pieces with their bare hands for the ‘joy of the raw feast’.)6

Professor Dodds remarks that the Maenads, the female votaries of Dionysus, ‘became for a few hours what their name implies -- wild women whose human personality has been temporarily replaced by another’, and that the tearing to pieces of animals and devouring of their raw flesh is based on a simple piece of primitive logic. ‘If you want to be lion-hearted, you must eat lion; if you want to be subtle, you must eat snake; those who eat chickens and hares will be cowards, those who eat pork will get little piggy eyes. By parity of reasoning, if you want to be like god, you must eat god . . . And you must eat him quick and raw, before the blood has oozed from him; only so can you add his life to yours, for “the blood is the life”.’ The slaughtered animals are embodiments of the god, and it is likely that ‘there once existed a more potent, because more dreadful, form of this sacrament, viz., the rending, and perhaps the eating, of God in shape of a man . . .’6

Modern magicians in quest of the same objective also whip themselves up into a state of mental and emotional intoxication in which reason is overwhelmed, with or without the use of drink, drugs or sex. One of them gives this account of possession by what he calls an ‘astral force’ or a ‘god-form’, through whose power the magician hopes to achieve his purposes. ‘The climax of all magical ritual occurs when the adept draws into himself the astral force he has evoked so as to project it towards a chosen object. To do this he must surrender his complete being to the astral force which is waiting to possess it, and this he does by cultivating a state of mind or, rather, madness, akin to the divine frenzy of the Bacchantes . . .’ He goes on to say that, ‘Some magicians cultivate the sweet madness by reciting one word over and over again . . . While engaged in this, the adept imagines that the god-form ... is materializing behind his back. He visualizes this in as much detail as possible.’ Slowly he begins to sense that it is towering in the magic circle behind him, and ‘by now his heart will no doubt be beating furiously’, but he must not panic. ‘At last -- and he will certainly know when -- the god-form will take control of him. To begin with, the adept will feel an exquisite giddiness somewhere at the base of his skull and quickly convulsing the whole of his body. As this happens, and while the power is surging into him, he forces himself to visualize the thing he wants his magic to accomplish, and will its success.’ Sex is frequently used to reach this climax. ‘The outburst of power is effected at the same time as orgasm is reached, with possession occurring a few seconds before.’7

In his book The Black Arts, discussing the elaborate and exhausting techniques of European ceremonial magic, designed to summon up supernatural beings and subject them to the magician’s control, Richard Cavendish has summed up the physiological effects on brain function which help to create belief in magic and in the reality of spirits and demons:

The magician prepares himself by abstinence and lack of sleep, or by drink, drugs and sex. He breathes in fumes which may effect his brain and senses. He performs mysterious rites which tug at the deepest, most emotional and unreasoning levels of his mind, and he is further intoxicated by the killing of an animal, the wounding of a human being and in some cases the approach to and achievement of orgasm. Through all this he concentrates on a mental picture of the being he hopes to see. It does not seem at all unlikely that at the high point of the ceremony he may actually see it.8

Frenzy, induced by sex, drugs, mantras, concentration, rhythmic music, chanting, dancing, jumping, twirling, over-breathing, is undoubtedly immensely effective in creating an absolute conviction of the presence of a god. For reasons already explained, it produces intense faith, not only in those who experience it but also very often in onlookers, who become much more suggestible in response to the excitement of the ‘possessed’ and who will then accept as true claims and beliefs of which they would normally be critical.

William James has the following to say about alcohol: ‘The sway of alcohol over mankind is unquestionably due to its power to stimulate the mystical faculties of human nature, usually crushed to earth by the cold facts and dry criticisms of the sober hour ... It (can) bring its story from the chill periphery of things to the radiant core. It makes him for the moment one with truth. Not through mere perversity do men run after it.’9

James then goes on to point out that nitrous oxide and ether stimulate mystical consciousness to an extraordinary degree, especially when given in suitably modified strength. ‘Depth beyond depth of truth seems revealed to the inhaler . . . metaphysical revelation.’ James was writing at the beginning of this century, and we are now seeing the same claims being monotonously repeated for any new drug that for the moment catches popular attention. James seems to have been greatly influenced and even ‘converted’ by his own drug experiences. After experimenting with nitrous oxide and ether, he came to the following conclusion:

One conclusion was forced upon my mind at that time, and my impression of its truth has ever since remained unshaken ... all about it (normal waking consciousness), parted from it by the flimsiest of screens, there lie potential forms of consciousness entirely different. We may go through life without suspecting their existence; but apply the requisite stimulus, and at a touch they are there in all their completeness . . . No account of the universe in its totality can be final which leaves these other forms of consciousness quite disregarded . . . Looking back on my own experiences, they all converge towards a kind of insight to which one cannot help ascribing some metaphysical significance. The keynote is invariably a reconciliation. It is as if the opposites of the world, whose contradictoriness and conflict make all our difficulties and troubles, were melted into unity.10

Unfortunately, the schizophrenic in his temporary or permanent madness also finds similar unities occurring. And when he tries to explain them, they may be as nonsensical as many of the unities experienced through inhaling anaesthetics. One of Christopher Mayhew’s correspondents — Mayhew himself will be quoted later — wrote about what happened when he was put under an anaesthetic for a short operation: ‘I had a complete revelation about the ultimate truth of everything. I understood the entire works. It was a tremendous illumination. I was filled with unspeakable joy . . . When I came round I told the Doctor I understood the meaning of everything. He said, “Well, what is it?” and I faltered out, “Well, it’s a sort of green light.”'11

A schizophrenic doctor patient of mine suddenly woke up one day feeling that he had found the basic cause of all neurological illness, cancer and infections; he felt certain that he had suddenly stumbled overnight on a great universal discovery. When asked what the basic cause was, he said ‘sin’! But with his recovery from the severe attack of schizophrenia, he lost this conviction. Now well and practising medicine, he might, however, still feel that something of real importance had been vouchsafed to him on his illness, if asked to be quite honest about his feelings. Such revelations, whether they occur under drugs or during a schizophrenic illness, carry with them a certainty which may override the normal intellectual standards and attitudes of the person experiencing them.

Possession by Dionysius 500 BC

Dancing to trance among the nomadic Samburu tribe in Kenya

The god Ogoun gives advice and help to his worshippers through the priest in trance, Dahomey

The expulsion of a possessing spirit in Zambia. That patient is in trance and has collapsed

Casting out possessing spirits in Kenya and Zambia by drumming. A collapse phase finally supervenes

Voodoo possession in Haiti

Inducing possession by Holy Ghost, Clay County, Kentucky

Inducing possession by Holy Ghost, Clay County, Kentucky

Possessed by an Indian spirit during Macumba ceremony in Brazil

Voodoo possession in Haiti

Possession by the Holy Ghost: snake handling, North Carolina

Collapse phase, West Carolina

Another of Mayhew’s correspondents, after having teeth removed under nitrous oxide, gave the following report of his anaesthetic experience ' . . . of everlasting hell. I lost all consciousness of my surroundings . . . there was no consciousness of myself as the subject of suffering, but only an experience of suffering itself, outside time. It was this experience of being “caught in eternity” which ... I shall never forget as long as I live.’12

J. A. Symonds, however, had a quite different experience under chloroform:

I thought I was near death; when suddenly my soul became aware of God, who was manifestly dealing with me, handling me, so to speak, in an intense personal present reality. I felt him streaming in like light upon me ... I cannot describe the ecstasy I felt. Then, as I gradually awoke . . . my relation to God began to fade . . . To have felt for that long dateless ecstasy of vision the very God, in all purity and tenderness and truth and absolute love, and then to find that I had after all no revelation, but that I had been tricked by the abnormal excitement of my brain . . . Yet, this question remains. Is it possible that the inner sense of reality which succeeded, when my flesh was dead to impressions from without, to the ordinary sense of physical relations, was not a delusion, but an actual experience? Is it possible that I, in that moment, felt what some of the saints have said they always felt, the undemonstrable but irrefutable certainty of God?13

Both Symonds and James were profoundly affected by their anaesthetic experiences, which may have decided or fortified James’s own brand of religious faith. Leuba14 states that:

In our experience Wm James has erred not in considering ‘pure’ experience as unassailable, but in unwittingly regarding as such more than the given. He has confused pure experience with the elaboration of it . . . for what in mystical experience does James claim invulnerability? The uncritical mystic believes that Christ, or the Virgin, or some saint, has manifested himself to him ... James regards them as illusory . . . They form, however, he affirms, a kernel immediately given, intuitional, and therefore invulnerable. What is this kernel ? He answers that it consists in a feeling or conviction of vastness of reconciliation, of repose, of safety, of union, of harmony. In these terms does our distinguished philosopher define the kernel of unassailable truth revealed in mystical (drug) ecstasy . . . The truth-kernel of religious ecstasy is, as we have shown, no other than the truth-kernel of narcotic intoxication . . .

And so the argument proceeds between those who have ‘experienced’ and so ‘know’, and those on the sidelines, who observe the variety of ‘knowing’, the contradictory variety of ‘certainties’, to which drugs, trances, mystical states of possession and the rest give birth in human minds.

Leuba goes on to say that if by ‘union’ William James had merely meant to indicate that, as the trance progresses, the mystic notices the gradual disappearance of boundary lines between objects, the merging of ideas into one another, the fusion of feelings, and that he enjoys a delightful sense of peace, there could be no objection to this observation:

. . . but James seemed to imply much more than this, a union with someone or something else . . . The universality of the mystical conviction is frequently offered as proof of its truth. But the truth of a belief is not proved by the fact that it is shared by all known men, (in fact) most of the users of narcotics and many of the subjects of spontaneous trance regard its contents just as they do their dreams, i.e. as having no other than a subjective validity . . . Hocking holds, with James and the mystic philosophers in general, that the immediate in ecstasy does not remain meaningless ... it conveys a direct and truthful assurance of God and of the mystic’s own relation to him; it is a divine substance known intuitively to come ‘from heaven’ ... it suffices to lift man above fatal doubt and disbelief.

Whatever the truth of the matter, people have frequently acquired unshakeable faith from drug revelations, and continue to do so. Christopher Mayhew was convinced by his own experiences of mescaline that God exists, and that he had been in God’s presence. When argued with, he would point out that he had experienced God under the drug, which the critics who questioned the reality of his experience had not done. He showed, after the mescaline experience, the calm unshakeable assurance of belief which can equally come from the other methods we have described.

Aldous Huxley, in his writings and in talking to me personally, also insisted that, mescaline had taken him into the presence of God. But as in Mayhew’s case perhaps, this was what Huxley was really interested in when he took the drug. Robert Graves, who was more interested in the beliefs of the ancient world, took the ‘sacred’ mushrooms which, he thought, might have been used in the Eleusian mysteries. Graves told me he did not, in consequence, enter God’s presence like Huxley; he had a different type of drug experience which helped him to understand what the initiates of the mysteries had been trying to describe. He seemed to have a similar experience to theirs which, at the time, he wanted to do. People seem to obtain under drugs, or equally through mystical or revivalist or sexual techniques, what they want to obtain, or what they expect to obtain, or what conforms to the general setting and background. Converts were not possessed by Buddha at Wesley’s revival meetings.

Another experience under ether shows the variety of religious experiences obtainable:

I did not see God’s purpose, I only saw his intentness and his entire relentlessness towards his means. He thought no more of me than a man thinks of hurting a cork when he is opening wine, or hurting a cartridge when he is firing ... I realized that in that half-hour under ether I had served God more distinctly and purely than I had ever done in my life before ... I was the means of achieving and revealing something, I know not what or to whom . . .14

Sir James Crichton-Browne also reported many years ago that nitrous oxide inhalation provoked varying effects:

In persons of average mental calibre they are pleasant and stimulating but in no way remarkable; but in persons of superior mental powers they become thrilling and apocalyptic. A working man describes it as if he had had a little too much beer, and a philosopher announces that the secret of the universe had been, for one rapt moment, made plain to him.15

Sir Humphrey Davy very early on had also found that in nitrous oxide inhalation in persons of intellectual training and distinction, the thoughts are in nine cases out of ten connected with some great discovery, some supposed solution of a cosmic secret.

One can suppose that those of Davy’s scientific friends who agreed to experiment at so early a period were interested in just such things. Marghanita Laski in her book on Ecstasy, from which some of the quotations have been drawn, says in discussing drug ecstasy:

But from mescaline people may derive genuine religious overbeliefs yet not have had the kind of experiences generally regarded as religious ones. Mr Huxley believed he had attained the Beatific Vision. The female figure seen by Rosalind Heywood is described by her as ‘celestial’ and as a messenger of the ‘High Gods’. Alice Marriot describes her vision as ‘Paradise’ and Mr Mayhew accepts the possibility of deriving religious experience from mescaline. Only Mr Mortimer and Professor Zaehner altogether deny that mescaline experiences are related to or can be assimilated to religious ones.16

Yet if we start using LSD in a non-religious setting, we get all sorts of non-religious effects, and the same applies to mescaline. But the non-religious ‘truths’ which take hold of a person under drugs can impress themselves on him with a religious certainty and fervour.

R. E. Masters in an article on chemically induced or enhanced eroticism reports that under LSD, ‘A sexual union that in fact lasts thirty minutes or an hour may seem “endless” or to have ‘the flavour of eternity” ... it may even take on symbolic and archetypal overtones. The couple may feel they are mythic, legendary . . . one has transcended the ordinary boundaries of self, the limits of time and space, so that something more, some infusion of the divine or supernatural, must have occurred . . . with surprising frequency the feelings are shared . . . Religiously devout or mystically inclined people may have the sense of a unity that is also a trinity with God present in the oneness.’17

Another writer has said, ‘That is the cosmic beauty of LSD. You flow in essence of god-love exactly to where you should be flowing in the manner and the moment you should be flowing. One day when we are all more highly evolved, more aware, in incarnations to come, it will all be happening without acid.’ Hashish can give similar mystical and less dangerous effects. ‘This is the very acme of love. This first moving in together . . . It’s the beginning of time, the primordial chaos when all is formless and one, and in racking agony of pleasure, two forms give birth to one another. White light crashes through our minds. We are gone.’18

A patient of mine, previously under treatment by a doctor who believed in birth trauma, told me how under LSD he had relived his own birth. He was in no doubt at all about it. After taking the drug, he had felt tight and constricted in the chest and abdomen, and very fearful. His breathing became laboured and rapid. Only a nurse was with him, and on his asking her what his symptoms meant, he was told to think hard and the answer would come to him. It suddenly did. He became quite certain that he was reliving his own birth; and as he felt himself coming out of his mother’s womb and vagina, he had a sudden feeling of reliefs. Although he obtained no permanent mental relief from his drug-induced experience, and only recovered later when he was given electroshock therapy, he still persisted in the conviction that he had actually relived his own birth. He pointed out that no doctor had been present at the time, to suggest it to him or to brainwash him. However, he was living in an atmosphere of hospital group therapy where many patients were receiving LSD. Most of them were just as intellectually indoctrinated with the probability that birth trauma was a cause of their illness as was their doctor himself. They talked about it at meals and in spare moments. It is not surprising, therefore, that when claustrophobic and panicky feelings came upon this patient, and he asked what it meant and was told to think out the answer for himself, that it came to him that he had re-experienced his own birth trauma.

Other psychotherapists, using similar abreactive drugs, obtained and will always obtain quite different supposedly remembered experiences from patients, depending on their own or the patient’s special interests. When during the war ether, pentothal and methedrine were all used to ‘abreact’ the horrifying war experiences of patients, it soon became obvious that, if pressed to do so, some soldiers would abreact experiences they had never had, sometimes made up on the spur of the moment to please the doctor or to put a good appearance on a cowardly act. Every abreacted experience had to be carefully examined and checked on, otherwise it might become all too real to the patient and come to be fully believed by him.

Freud, when he was working with Breuer, induced more than ten consecutive Viennese women under hypnosis to remember vividly having been slept with or interfered with sexually by their fathers. He thought he had stumbled on the basic cause of hysteria in women, until he realized that 10 out of 10 meant 100 out of 100, and that every Viennese father must be sleeping or sexually interfering with his daughter. This was obviously nonsense, and Freud was so disappointed that he said later that he nearly gave up psychoanalysis, which had led him so sorely astray. To solve his dreadful dilemma he invented his concepts of the sexual ‘subconscious mind’ and explained that many of his patients had ‘subconsciously’ wanted to sleep with their fathers, instead of actually having done so. Under drugs, hypnosis, induced abreactive excitement, or any other conscious or subsconscious method of implanting suggestion, the patient will generally play back to the doctor what the doctor wants to hear. For a time Freud really believed that he had discovered the basic cause of hysteria, and in his letters at the time he described his sadness when it proved that the information obtained from his patients was false, entirely because of his eagerness to believe his theory. Similarly, Freudian and Jungian analysis of the same patient can produce quite different dreams, repressed memories and remembered incidents, proving that the analyst can readily obtain the information he needs to confirm his confidence in his own theories. The patient thus helps to re-brainwash the therapist.

All this is reported in detail in Ernest Jones’s Life of Freud.19 It is mentioned here to draw attention to the essential moral of this book. However real and vivid personal and apparently remembered experiences may seem, this is no evidence of their reality, if they are brought to the surface under conditions of stress and in states of abnormal brain activity and heightened suggestibility. And the overwhelmingly vivid and convincing nature of so many experiences reported in the same states of brain activity induced by meditation, drugs, sex, hellfire preaching, mob oratory or other mind-bending agencies, provides no evidence of their truth. Wesley’s own beliefs about sudden conversion were confirmed when he found that more than 600 of his followers had all experienced it, and so he preached that sudden conversion was the only sure road to salvation. Good works alone, or intellectual adherence were of no value to Wesley and so were of no value to his vast congregations. But his converts never realized that their sudden and totally convincing state of faith had been brought about by Wesley’s own beliefs and preaching methods, which in turn, in a circular way, their dramatic conversions had reinforced.



1 Kenneth Grant, The Magical Revival, Frederick Muller, London 1972, p. 91

2 G. Wasson, Soma, Divine Mushroom, Harcourt Brace, New York pp. 244-5

3 Benjamin Walker, Hindu World, George Allen & Unwin, London 1968, vol. 1, p. 312

4 Man, Myth and Magic, Purnell, London 1970-72, vol. 2, p. 711

5 W. K. C. Guthrie, The Greeks and Their Gods, Methuen, London 1968, pp. 148-9

6 E. R. Dodds, The Greeks and the Irrational, University of California Press 1951, appendix 1

7 David Conway, Magic: An Occult Primer, Jonathan Cape, London 1972, pp. 78, 130-32

8 Richard Cavendish, The Black Arts, Routledge & Kegan Paul, London 1967, pp. 256-7

9 W. James, The Varieties of Religious Experience, Longmans Green, London 1914, p. 387

10 James, op. cit., p. 388

11 M. Laski, Ecstasy, Cresset Press, London 1961, p. 261

12 Laski, op. cit., p. 262

13 James, op. cit., pp. 391-2

14 J. H. Leuba, Amer. Journ. Psychology, 1895, 7, p. 345

15 James, op. cit., pp. 392-3

16 Laski, op. cit., p. 276

17 R. E. Masters, The Sexual Revolution Playboy Press, Chicago, 1970, p. 134

18 Experience, vol. 2, no. 10, 1972, p. 41 and vol. 2, no. 7, 1972, p. 43

19 E. Jones, Sigmund Freud: Life and Work, Hogarth Press, London 1955. 2 vols
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Re: The Mind Possessed: A Physiology of Possession, Mysticis

Postby admin » Sun May 26, 2019 10:11 pm

Part Two

9. African experiences

The second part of this book is mainly concerned with my personal studies of possession, trance, the creating and stabilizing of various faiths, and primitive healing methods, as seen, studied, photographed and filmed in many parts of the world. Opportunities to do this were made possible by my being repeatedly invited to lecture abroad, mostly on psychiatric problems. It was fortunately often possible at such times to make suitable research breakaways from the route of my ordinary medical travels.

The first to be discussed is a visit to the Samburu and Molo tribes in northern Kenya, when I was on my way to lecture at the Centenary of the Melbourne Medical School in Australia in 1962. We stopped off in Kenya for several days, finally reaching Australia via India. Owing to the kindness of John Brooke, my wife and I were able to use the Brooke Bond Company aeroplane to get to the Samburu and Molo tribes.

The Samburu

The Samburu are a nomadic tribe. They live in compounds called manyattas in the open pastoral areas of the country. These manyattas have to be moved every four months or so, to provide fresh grazing for the animals. Their boundaries are composed of cut thorn and other brushwood, to keep wild animals out and their own cattle in at night. The huts are mostly made of mud with a hole at the top for the smoke to get out.

These people are very subservient to their tribal and group leaders. Each manyatta had its own leader, and there were other leaders and tribal chiefs controlling groups of manyattas. The chiefs and leaders seemed to combine the functions of the priest and political leader in more sophisticated communities. During their initiation ceremonies, the adolescents are made to believe that their God will kill them at the request of a tribal leader.

The first thing that struck me, as an untrained observer, was the presence of the same basic personality types that one sees almost anywhere else in the world. Among these primitive people one saw dignified and competent chiefs who could well have been company directors in a more modern cultural climate. The girls had varied personalities very similar to those seen in mixed groups of girls in any civilized country. This was my first glimpse of so-called ‘primitive’ nomadic people, yet they seemed in temperament, outlook and general behaviour basically no different from the men and women of England or other supposedly more civilized countries. I find it hard to believe that the brain of man has altered much in the last million years. We see the same basic patterns of behaviour, temperament and mental illness in primitive tribes, in Greek, Roman, medieval and modern times. If it were not so it would be quite impossible for us to understand the behaviour of people in Shakespeare’s plays, or in classical literature and history. And in classical times Hippocrates and Galen both described the same symptoms of nervous illness that are still to be seen in our day.

Because of the constant need to seek new grazing land, the Samburu tribal system has certain interesting features. There are, as usual, initiation rites at puberty in which both male and female adolescents are broken down as individuals and then reindoctrinated with the special beliefs and social behaviour patterns required of them by the custom of the tribe. We saw some of these recent initiates who had been circumcised and were going through a very strenuous course of initiation training. They were dressed differently from the rest while they were being systematically indoctrinated and disciplined, and they danced incessantly. When they had gone through all this, the girls become marriageable and the men became Morans or warriors, who would be allowed no wives until their main fighting days were over. They had to fight for the new grazing land and the building of new manyattas. When they had earned by their labours a certain number of cattle which could be exchanged for a wife, they were allowed to become husbands. But they were given little chance of obtaining the required number of cattle for a wife until their early years as the advance guard of fighters were over; and in the meantime the elders took unto themselves the pretty young girlfriends of the Moran.1

As there is no actual fighting to be done at the present time, these Moran seem to lead a pretty idle life. Their existence is almost psychopathic and vain; they dress up in elaborate costumes and do very little work. But they generally remain subservient to the tribal leaders. Their initiation rites are undoubtedly very powerful in their effects, and once the young people have been broken down and indoctrinated to accept the tribal values, religious and social, they remain 'sensitized' to what might be called 'agents of disruption'. If deviation occurs, this may be dealt with by the arousal of fear and the use of drumming and dancing to induce trance, when the deviant is often again 'brought to heel'. He must unquestioningly accept the validity and fairness of tribal ideas and tribal group behaviour. All this resembles the English public school system of indoctrination, in which boys are rapidly broken down and re-indoctrinated to accept the school's values. Similar indoctrination techniques are used in armies, especially in crack regiments. The raw recruit is rapidly changed from a critical individual into a numbered soldier, wearing a special type of costume, loyal to the group and uncritically obedient to commands, sensible or otherwise, for years afterwards. Whether in a 'primitive' tribe or at school or in the army, the process is essentially the same. Severe stress is imposed on the new recruit, by subjecting him to arbitrary and frightening authority, by bewildering him, abusing or ill-treating him, by telling him that his old values and sentiments are childish, and so inducing in him a state of unease and suggestibility in which new values can easily be drummed into him, and he recovers his self-confidence by accepting them. The initial conditioning techniques may have to be reinforced from time to time by further conditioning procedures, and follow-up indoctrination is considered most important in all types of religious or other conversion.

What I wanted most to study among the Samburu was their dancing, which is often carried to the point of trance and collapse. Talking to some of the young Moran through an interpreter, I was told that the effects of their dancing were twofold. Firstly, after dancing themselves into a trance, and especially after the collapse phase, the Moran lost all fear of fighting. Trance and greatly increased suggestibility made them immune from normal fears and doubts about going into battle.

A second, and surprising but extremely important effect was that trance and collapse freed them from any dangerous resentment which they might have built up against their leaders. These leaders have several wives, and one of the Moran may suddenly lose his girlfriend, who becomes perhaps the fifth or more wife of the elderly head of a neighbouring manyatta. This might naturally cause intense resentment, but the Moran told me that as a result of dancing into trance and collapse, 'the anger leaves our hearts'. In effect, dancing is used specifically to alleviate the resentment and hostility which naturally builds up against the tribal elders and the customs and conventions imposed by society on the young. This is probably effected by recreating the 'conditioning' of the initiation procedures and maintaining a state of suggestibility controlled by the elders.

It was most illuminating to see how the Samburu had found, and for centuries maintained, this method of keeping control in the hands of the few. It seemed to me that civilized men may have to go back and study 'primitive' methods of keeping the majority of people in a state of comparatively cheerful subjection to unequal and often grossly unjust political and social systems. I was now beginning to understand better how Hitler, for instance, had been so successful in using mass rallies, marching and martial music, chanting of slogans and highly emotional oratory and ceremony, to bring even intelligent Germans into a condition of intellectual and emotional subjection. Or how the new ‘youth culture’ of the West, based on frenzied dancing to the pounding repetitious beat of very simple music played at almost intolerable volume, has helped to create the ‘permissive society’ and to bring down in ruins a whole structure of beliefs and conventions cherished by the elders of our society. We see in Western countries today, in fact, the same dancing and whirling to a powerful beat, carried sometimes to states of exhaustion and semi-trance, which is little different from what I saw in Africa, though in our society it is not under the control of the elders but ranged on the opposite side.

You remember that big concert they had back in the 60’s, where everybody was smoking pot, and they were doing experiments on young people? Guess who did all of the flying in of all the bands and drug dealers and everything? Who arranged it all? General Sheehan’s father. Woodstock, New York. That’s where he’s from. Now, isn’t that unusual that the head of NATO would be [organizing a rock concert?]

And his brother was doing all kinds of weapons deals, and selling things to the military. And I went to his wife’s home after my husband disappeared. They lived in a Virginia house.

[Pastor Strawcutter] Was Woodstock a –

[Kay Griggs] Of course! A testing ground for drugs! Of course, it was just an experiment. Like the Jim Jones thing down there. I think even little David Koresh was used.

-- Mrs. Kay Griggs on How the Government Works, Interview with Eric Hufschmid

During our stay with the Samburu we saw four different groups dancing. On each occasion the women began the dancing by themselves, then the men started to dance in their own group, and finally towards the end both sexes joined in the dancing together. When the men danced, they sometimes repeatedly jumped in the air, which seemed to be another way of inducing a mild form of trance. The women were not allowed to go into full trance, but some of the photographs taken show them in a highly suggestible and almost ecstatic state. When one woman did go into full trance, the others stopped her and led her away. I got the impression that the reason for not allowing the women to fall into trance was possibly because then the chiefs could not control the situation created. Wives sometimes dance with unmarried Moran, and one could see how many emotional transferences could be built up if trance was freely allowed in mixed dancing. Trances were much more common in the male groups. The male dancing was far more energetic and so led on to semi-trance, and full trance in some cases. The men used a form of intensive rhythmic overbreathing with a grunting expiration. I was most interested, a year or two later, to witness, the same type of overbreathing in Trinidad in 1964 while studying trance states induced by religious pocomania. It was almost uncanny to see the same type of special overbreathing used to attain similar mental states in both a primitive tribal and a Christian religious setting. A somewhat similar chanting and overbreathing technique also occurs among the Arabs on certain occasions, when they want to go into trance.

While the Samburu were overbreathing and harshly expelling their breath, they were also rhythmically dropping back hard on to their heels. The whole movement required much muscular effort and obviously would soon start to cause bodily and nervous exhaustion. I showed a film of this nomadic dancing to a research bio-chemist who felt that, if it had been possible to take arterial blood samples, a high degree of blood alkalosis would have been found, leading to brain alkalosis. We know that brain alkalosis tends to produce suggestible behaviour and trance. Undoubtedly the heavy stamping and rhythmic dancing would create more lactic acid in the blood stream, because of the excessive muscular effort involved, which might counteract some of the alkalosis produced by overbreathing. However, the total effect on the biochemistry would still seem to be an increasing tendency to brain alkalosis, which is what is required if a state of trance is to be fairly rapidly induced.

Had these tribal ceremonies been more spontaneous, instead of being specially prepared for us, we might have seen more than one real trance ending in collapse, for we were told that these trance states and collapse phenomena occur much more frequently when the Moran are dancing in full tribal ceremonies. One man, who did go into trance, left the group and went away by himself; he was followed by two others who supported him while he continued to overbreathe very rapidly. It was very similar to what one sees in a state of hysterical hyperventilation in some Western patients. The overbreathing went on for quite some time and he obviously lost consciousness at the end, although he did not drop to the ground as he was being supported. However, I managed to get photographs of the final collapse with a dropping to the ground in other Samburu ceremonies. On talking to the man after the attack was over, he confirmed that when one wakes up there is a loss of all fear and tension.

Many of the other dancers approached very near trance, and showed states of increased suggestibility at the end of a long and intensive period of repetitive and monotonous dancing. They looked very much like fans of the Beatles or other ‘pop groups’ after a long session of dancing.

The Moran took short rest periods between their dancing sessions. They often joked, and were very friendly. The women particularly wanted my wife to join in the mixed dancing, so to please them she did. After some initial difficulty in picking up the rhythm, she found that the only way to imitate the dancing was to imitate the movements of sexual intercourse. When she did this, she found that she was moving in the same way as the native women. It is important to remember that sexual intercourse itself produces overbreathing, and leads on to states of excitement, increased suggestibility, feelings of possession of the loved one, and final collapse.

The Molos

Following our visit to the Samburu, we flew up to Lake Rudolf near the Kenya-Abyssinia border and there we were able to see the even more primitive Molo tribal dancing. The Molos are a very backward tribe. Only about eighty of them are left. They were living by the side of the lake in very deserted and arid country. Their diet was mostly fish collected from the lake; they had not even proper boats but went out fishing on badly shaped logs of wood. To produce fire they rubbed pieces of wood together. There was a fishing lodge with an air-strip just near the Molo huts, which were made of fibre. The tribe had recently moved up nearer to the lodge. They could have obtained matches at the lodge but preferred to go on rubbing pieces of wood together to make fire. The health of this small group was on the whole very poor, most of them suffering from malnutrition and the Molo tribal leader had obviously suffered from severe rickets.

When we asked the Molos to arrange a dance for us, they agreed to do so, but being so few in number they had to ask some of the Samburu living near them to join in the dance. The dancing was basically similar to what we had already seen among the Samburu. The men and women again danced separately, and states of trance were quickly induced in the men, though not so much in the women. We saw two sessions of dancing and took some photographs, though at this time my photography was far from good and many films were spoiled by my poor technique. However, enough facial close-ups were obtained to demonstrate the identity between modern and virtually prehistoric methods of achieving the same result.

I also tried to see the trance states that are reported to occur among the Bushmen in the Kalahari Desert and elsewhere. But it proved too difficult to arrange. Richard Lee describes these very well and shows how trance occurs with rhythmic dancing, overbreathing and heavy foot falls in other very primitive people; and where there is trance, ideas of possession may often follow. Lee says that the purpose of these trance states in Kung Bushmen is to ‘cure the sick, to influence the supernatural and to provide mystical protection for all members of the group.’ This is what this present book is all about. He goes on to say that ‘of 131 adult males of a Bushman group, at least 60 were trance performers.’ It happens here, as elsewhere, in normal persons and includes an altered state of consciousness. ‘The actual entrance into trance may be gradual or sudden. In the first instance, the trancer staggers and almost loses balance . . . (later) falls down in a comatose state, a state called “half death” by the Bushmen.’ The sudden entrance on the other hand is characterized by a violent leap or somersault and a later collapse into a state called ‘little death' in other parts of Africa. ‘While in trance, some rise up and move among the rest trying to cure people by laying on of hands, moaning and sometimes uttering piercing shrieks. After about an hour, the trance healer lies down and sleeps.’2



1 P. Spencer, The Samburu, Routledge & Kegan Paul, London 1965

2 R. B. Lee, Kung Bushman Trance Performances, Trance and Possession States, edited by Raymond Prince, Bucke Memorial Society, Montreal 1966, pp. 35-54
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Re: The Mind Possessed: A Physiology of Possession, Mysticis

Postby admin » Sun May 26, 2019 10:17 pm

10. Tribal Sudan

In 1963 I was fortunate to be able to visit, by a Nile riverboat, some of the tribal areas of the Sudan. Dr Basher, chief psychiatrist of the Sudan, who later became Minister of Health, took me on this journey. First of all we flew down to Malacal, which is 800 miles south of Khartoum, and there we found that the paddle-steamer was an old English one which was used previously by the British administration before handing over the Sudan. Dr Basher, another doctor and myself were accompanied by two non-medically qualified assistants, who sometimes have to treat in the tribal areas owing to the shortage of doctors. Most of the other people on the boat had worked previously in the old British Medical Services of the Sudan and they knew friends of mine. I was impressed by the high standard of intelligence and ability of so many of the Sudanese on board. On the way to Bentui, which is down the Nile towards the border of the Belgian Congo, we stopped at various places for medical purposes. But it was not until we reached Bentui, where a visiting boat is only seen around once a month, that we were able to see and film some primitive tribal dancing, specially arranged for us.

These tribes, such as the Dinkas and the Shilluks, can be called primitive but they have a highly organized social life and customs. Once again we saw the same basic personality types among them as in England or other supposedly more civilized countries. I saw a local judge who was clearly suffering from a typical endogenous depression. He complained of early morning waking, being much worse in the morning and getting better as the day went on, so that he found that it was extremely difficult to pass judgement in the morning, but easier in the afternoon sessions. We treated him in exactly the same way as we would any judge in England. He was prescribed one of the new anti-depressants, namely Tofranil, and I learned from Dr Basher later that he had made an initial satisfactory improvement; but then he relapsed, as some patients do, and had to come up to Khartoum for electric shock treatment, when he made a more permanent response. In Bentui we also saw a typical state of anxious depression in a local policeman; he complained of a rapidly beating heart and typical attacks of phobic anxiety in certain specific situations. He was placed on another group of antidepressant drugs which are much more effective in phobic anxiety than in depression, i.e. Nardil, and I have no doubt that he will have responded just as well as similar patients do in England, but I was not able to follow up this particular patient.  

The power of the witch-doctor is very great in these regions. The witch-doctor is primarily a healer, but those who really believe in his power can actually die of fear, just as people in the West can die of fear when their basic terrors are aroused. At Bentui the District Commissioner told me how a local witch-doctor had been interfering with the authority of the tribal chief. He was therefore summoned to Bentui, and the District Commissioner locked him up in an open cell next to his office, where he was visible to anyone who cared to come and see him. The witch-doctor was foolish enough to put a public curse on the District Commissioner implying that he would be dead in three days. Three very quiet and tense days ensued, while everybody waited for the dire prophecy to be fulfilled. But the District Commissioner did not die, because he had no fear of the curse. On the fourth day be opened the prison door and released the culprit, who had lost status and credit because it was obvious to everybody that his powers were null and void when put to the test. Witch-doctors frequently try to make their threats come true by using poisons, but such intense faith in the witch-doctor is created by initiation ceremonies in an atmosphere calculated to inspire uncritical belief that a curse can kill by itself. The victim may become so frightened that he goes into a state of acute anxiety, in which most of the bodily secretions and metabolic functions are severely disturbed; secretions essential to life are dried up by fear, and he eventually dies of fright physiologically, though not metaphysically, as is believed by some. Similarly, in England, when coloured people believe in spells, it has been found that they, too, may be so frightened that they gradually waste away and die. But if they are given a drug such as Largactil, also used in schizophrenia, it stops the mental fright spreading to the whole bodily organism and thus prevents premature death.

Another cause of death by fear of the witch-doctor’s curse is a state of panic, in which the victim runs off into the jungle and may there be eaten by wild animals. In fact, in a true Pavlovian ultraparadoxical reaction, the victim does exactly the opposite of what he would do when well. There is certainly no secret mystery about death by cursing. It is simply a physiological fright process spreading from the brain over the whole body. There were deaths from fright in acute schizophrenia and depressive states before the advent of modern physiological methods of treatment in psychiatry, which are now so successful in preventing them.

While at Malacal, we drove about fifteen miles into the surrounding country and visited the head of a tribal group who ordered some of his men to dance for us. Unfortunately, by the time the dancing began it was becoming dark -- too dark for film-making -- and a valuable opportunity was lost of recording this. However, some of the photographs I took show the same states of semi-trance being produced in the Sudan by dancing and rhythmic drumming that one sees in all other parts of Africa.

Down in Bentui a tremendous dance was organized for us. Even a group of totally naked convicts, working on a drainage project, danced on request. Most of the other people, male and female, were dressed in colourful tribal costumes. A large military band turned up in our honour, since visitors are a great rarity in these regions. Again we saw the dancing going on and on in the hot sun until the performers became entranced, and there were occasional emotional collapses.

On this trip to Bentui I realized what is perhaps the main function of the dance in primitive society. Along the lush banks of the lower Nile living is very easy; great Nile perch can be caught easily, and food is readily grown in the fertile soil near the river. The tribesmen have very little to do all day and it is obvious that boredom and tension can build up. And so, once or twice a week, groups of tribesmen and women meet and dance together to the point of exhaustion, and thus disperse their built-up tensions and dissatisfactions. All over the world, among ‘primitive’ peoples, who have learned over thousands of years how to maintain tribal solidarity and social peace in a system whose benefits go mainly to the chiefs and elders at the expense of the younger and more virile members of society, dancing seems to have played an essential part in their stabilization. I would like to point out again that whenever human beings, even in the most advanced societies, are forced to dance to strong and repetitive rhythms, an atmosphere of increased suggestibility is induced which loosens the hold of tensions, hatreds and other emotions on the participants. Belief in religious or political or social leaders or gospels can then be fortified, or can equally be swept away and replaced by some different belief, depending on the attitudes and motives of those who are in control of the proceedings.
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Re: The Mind Possessed: A Physiology of Possession, Mysticis

Postby admin » Sun May 26, 2019 10:50 pm

11. Expelling spirits

During my first visit to Kenya in 1962 a meeting was arranged with four of the leading witch-doctors, or traditional healers, in the town of Kisumu where the Luo tribe live. A local Court Judge kindly acted as interpreter. My wife and I spent a fascinating two hours talking to the witch-doctors and discussing their problems of healing in relation to modern medicine. The word ‘witch-doctor’ is in fact a total misnomer, invented by Europeans. They are the local and often very highly respected medical practitioners of the town or district. Their healing methods are often handed down from father to son, and it would be more appropriate to call them ‘traditional healers’. Some have become healers because they have been through a severe illness, have been cured by traditional methods, and so have become interested themselves in curing others. All four of our witch-doctors were extremely interesting and intelligent, and, I gather, were among those earning the most in the town.

I asked them about their methods of diagnosis. One of the methods was to shake several cowrie shells in the hand and then drop them on the ground. Depending on the pattern in which the cowrie shells fell on the ground, so one could make a diagnosis of the patient’s illness, even if he was not present. If one special cowrie shell fell in a certain manner, it meant that the patient was going to die, in which case the healer could not charge a fee. I tried throwing the cowrie shells myself several times, and it seemed that the fall indicating impending death very rarely occurred. In other words, it was not very often that the healer could not charge a fee for his services, even if death eventually resulted.

I was told that if the case was obviously organic in nature, due to some definite lesion or infection such as malaria, they would often send the patient straight on to the Western doctor in the town. They realized that their work predominantly concerned the treatment of functional or nervous illness, often thought to be due to spirit possession. These healers showed a remarkable degree of insight. When I asked how they treated a patient suffering from depression, I was in turn asked if I meant a good man who had recently become depressed, or a person who was always depressed. They could heal the good man who was depressed but found it much more difficult to heal the man who was always melancholic. In other words, they have found what we have proved in our psychiatry; that a patient who is nervously ill is fairly easily helped to get well again with modern methods provided the previous personality was adequate. But it is a different matter when the previous personality has always been a poor one. Most illnesses in Africa, unless clearly diagnosed as organic, are thought to be due to spirit possession. The patient has become possessed by a bad spirit and it is the duty of the doctor to cast it out, or in some way to stop the fight going on between the person and the possessing spirit.

Because I was obviously serious in my inquiries and established a good rapport, one of the healers finally asked me whether I would like to go with him to his compound, some miles outside Kisumu in the bush, to see how he treated nervous illness. This was the opportunity I had been waiting for. We quickly got into the Land-Rover and made our way to the compound. There was a hut adjoining the compound. The patients were summoned from near by and we were shown a healing ceremony. Two other people looked on and commented to me on the ceremony, through an interpreter. There was a small number of drummers, and about ten patients to be treated. The ‘healer’ went to change into his traditional ceremonial robes. The treatment, we were told, would last about a fortnight, and as far as I could gather there would be two curative ceremonies of dancing each day. The patients to whom I spoke through the interpreter were mostly suffering from various forms of neurosis. One described a typical anxiety state, with feelings of tension in the head, another was severely depressed with very severe headaches and was slow and retarded in his movements. The patients were all women, except for the one very depressed man.

When the drumming started, the patients went round and round in a circle and soon several of them started twitching, jerking, performing all sorts of strange bodily movements. They eventually fell to the floor, still jerking and shaking, until the movements gradually ceased. We were seeing, in fact, a repetition of the usual induction of states of excitement leading on to tremendous emotional and muscular discharge, and ending as usual in almost total collapse. While they were jerking and twitching, the ‘spirits’ possessing them might speak. In the case of one woman an ‘ancestral spirit’ started to talk when the patient had gone into deep trance. The witch-doctor paid close attention to what the ancestral spirit was saying, but the patient, being in trance, would probably have no recollection of what had been said.

In spite of these abreactive excitatory states, induced twice a day for two weeks, some of the patients were unable to go into the desired trance and collapse. This was true of one patient suffering from severe depression, for instance, who went circling round and round without apparently getting any relief of his symptoms. On the second day we saw him acting as an assistant male nurse, when he could not go into trance himself, helping the other jerking and entranced patients; when they fell to the ground he helped to contain their wilder movements.

At the end of a very exciting session of abreactive discharge and trance states, we were taken into the healer’s hut. Here a very impressive ceremony ensued. Some of the patients entered with us. The witch-doctor himself then went into trance and the ‘ancestral spirits' started speaking through him instead of his patients. There were two spirits talking, the interpreter told us, one male and one female, although the female was talking in a lower voice than the male. It sounded just like a Punch and Judy show. The ancestral spirits discussed some of the causes of the illnesses of those in the group. It seemed fairly obvious that, during the repeated phases of trance and collapse, and while the possessing spirits were talking through the patient, and being listened to by the healer, a great deal of information had been picked up about the patients.

It was certainly most impressive to hear psychiatric interpretations and advice given by the ancestral spirits through the mouth of the witch-doctor himself. My wife was particularly conscious of the atmosphere of awe and emotional tenseness that was built up in the darkened hut. The ancestral spirits giving their interpretations seemed far more impressive than the modern psychoanalyst giving his interpretations to the patient on the couch! It is a pity that the spirit of Freud cannot be summoned to speak through the mouth of a 'possessed’ psychoanalyst, when some really important interpretations are to be given.

However, the whole ceremony became a little unreal when later the ancestral spirits asked, through the witch-doctor, whether the white witch-doctor was going to put a spell on the black witch-doctor. The ancestral spirits also asked the white witch-doctor if he was going to pay the other witch-doctor anything for showing him his methods! There were some parts of the ceremony which we did not fully understand, but it seemed clear that the abreactive methods being used were very similar to what we had seen and were going to see elsewhere and were in some ways basically similar to the more advanced methods used in psychiatry today. We learned that the methods used were only applicable to the milder forms of neurosis, such as anxiety states and mild depressions, and were found to be ineffective in severe forms of mental illness, such as schizophrenia and melancholia, and in ‘mad’ people. The healer said that in these latter illnesses much more drastic methods amounting almost to torture were necessary. In some cases drugs were put into the patient’s ears, probably to try and counteract the hallucinations of schizophrenia. He offered to show us some of these more drastic methods, but we declined as they sounded rather terrible.

Finally one of the other witch-doctors told us that if we would like to come the following day, he would show us a far larger healing compound. But when we arrived there the following morning, he said there was to be no ceremony because all the patients had been healed and had gone home! We were rather astounded at this, but the interpreter and one or two others present told us that the witch-doctors had become afraid that I would learn their secrets. They had probably discussed among themselves the possible reasons why I was showing such interest in their ceremonies, and appeared so willing to learn from them instead of teaching them the Western methods of healing. Fortunately I had taken films and photographs of the previous day’s work.

We were very disappointed and decided to drive back to the compound of the witch-doctor who had been so helpful the day before, but he was not there. We persuaded his deputy to give us another demonstration and this time it was, if anything, even more impressive. The patients’ faces were painted with white stripes, the drummers played, and the deputy witch-doctor produced even more severe and exciting trance states. One thing that struck me was the way the patients, having gone into trance, would stand or sit very near the drums and be drummed into what almost looked like epileptic fits. We saw for the first time what we were later to see repeatedly in Africa, that once a patient is in a trance he becomes completely subservient to and dominated by the beating of the drums; in a way paralleled among Mesmer’s patients. The effect was as if the patients were experiencing a series of orgasms. The deputy healer himself went into an acute state of trance and ‘possession’. He stumbled about the compound, making impulsive but harmless rushes at the camera, and I found myself completely at sea to know what to do. But here the patients came to my aid. They rapidly came out of their own trance states, and one or two took over the drums and drummed the witch-doctor into a more placid quiescence. As his movements became less violent and the drumming continued, we gradually edged him, in trance, towards and into the ‘interpretation’ hut where he fell down, apparently fast asleep. We were to see many more examples later of the witch-doctor or healer going into a state of trance and possession in the sight of his patients and, so to speak, together with them. On several occasions we saw the patients helping the healer during his own trance, and after he had been safely dealt with they would resume their own trance activity.
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Re: The Mind Possessed: A Physiology of Possession, Mysticis

Postby admin » Sun May 26, 2019 10:55 pm

12. Experiences in Zambia

When I visited Lusaka, the capital of Zambia, in 1966, Dr Howarth, who is in charge of psychiatry in Zambia, introduced me to various witch-doctors and healers. One of the most interesting of them I met in the market square, where he had a stall containing an extraordinary collection of herbs, plants and skins, including snake skins and the skin of the wild-cat which seems to have particular potency in healing ceremonies. He was an intelligent person in his early thirties. The theory behind his drug practice was that man derived from the earth’s surface and so probably had the same chemical constituents in his make-up as the earth. In illness some of these constituents were driven out, or there was a shortage of them, and the giving of drugs derived from the soil helped to replace what had been lost. Not surprisingly, he had herbs and roots which he claimed were of exceptional value in a large variety of sexual troubles. There was a root to make the penis grow larger, but he was anxious to point out that this was only efficacious during the period of puberty, which is the normal time for penile growth. He said it was not effective after puberty. He also had drugs which increased the power of penile erection, and other preparations and herbs to keep the vagina ‘moist, dry and warm’, as he put it. Other drugs were for bringing out the best in one’s personality and allowing a person to show his real potentialities. He also had drugs for various types of mild and severe nervous disturbances. He admitted that if a patient was seriously physically ill he would take him to a Western doctor, and only if the Western doctor said he could do nothing for the case would he be prepared to try his herbal and root remedies. It was much the same in the case of mental illness, and only if Dr Howarth failed would he try his own methods in severe cases. But I got the impression that he did in fact treat many persons without medical supervision. Nevertheless, he was well aware that Western-medicine was superior to his own in many serious cases.

One of his methods of healing involved the use of a black doll with a prominent vulva and breasts. The sick patient would be instructed to take the doll to bed with him and to look at it intensively for some time in candle-light, then close his eyes and try to remember the after-image he saw; he also had to try and remember his dreams that night. As if he was a precursor or follower of Freud, the healer was able to find the hidden cause of the patient’s illness or problems when the dreams were described to him. Another and even more extraordinary method of healing was later shown to me, which consisted of smoking out any spirits possessing the patient, for along with his other theories he still believed in spirit possession: there were good and evil spirits and one of the common causes of illness, apart from mineral depletion, was possession by evil spirits.

I was able to witness this healer’s treatment of an intelligent and educated civil servant who worked in the Finance Department of the Zambian Government in Lusaka. The patient told me that in spite of his education he still believed in possession by evil spirits. He described how he had had a dream that somebody came to him and dropped something harmful into his ear. When he woke up he became giddy, could not always keep his balance, and sometimes fell down. His condition seemed to me to be a typical anxiety state, with rapid heart beat, various fears and phobias of fainting, with perhaps a depressive and hysterical overlay. Dr Howarth had given him some medicine but it only worked for a time and he relapsed. So now the witch-doctor was prepared to treat him. His method was to hold the head and upper part of the patient’s body over a brazier which contained a heap of burning herbs and emitted clouds of smoke. Over the patient’s head was put a cloth cover, so that he was virtually enclosed by the cloth, and breathing the heavy smoke. I found it difficult to understand how he could stay in this atmosphere of intense smoke for as long as five minutes, but he did. When he was brought out of what would seem severe suffocation, he said he had not lost consciousness but it was an unpleasant experience and the smoke had made him breathe very rapidly and, probably, shallowly; this presumably would help towards the production of states of suggestibility and hysteria. He insisted that he felt very much better immediately after this treatment and when I saw him half an hour later he had maintained his improvement. The patient was keen to emphasize to me that, although he knew I would not believe him, he was certain he had been got at by an evil spirit, when something was put in his ear while he was asleep, and this had caused his illness. In this instance trance was not induced to the point of collapse, as so often in other healing ceremonies. But putting the patient under a cover in such intense smoke must have caused changes in brain function, if only because of the rapid and shallow overbreathing which probably occurred. As already noted, overbreathing produces a state of brain alkalosis when the carbon, an acid, is blown out of the blood stream, and this often brings about hysterical dissociation and states of increased suggestibility.

I did not see this healer using drumming techniques to bring people to the point of trance and collapse, although I saw it on several other occasions in Zambia. For instance, Dr Howarth took me out to a compound where a man had been ill and had been cured through the casting out of his possessing spirit by drumming. This had so impressed him that he himself had now become a healer and was treating other people by the same method. The patient to be treated was dressed in ceremonial costume and for about half an hour he was made to dance round and round, until finally trance and collapse set in. One of the drummers went off into a trance as well. This was not the first time I had seen the drummers becoming ‘possessed’, although this is not part of the normal procedure.

Dr Howarth also took us to a healing ceremony in one of the poorer areas of Lusaka. The woman healer had herself been sick for some three years with what sounded like a depressive illness. Having been cured by the casting out of spirits, she had decided to become a healer and use the same methods. I noticed with interest that one of the patients seemed to be much too deeply depressed for it to be possible to excite him with drumming or send him into collapse or make him suggestible. He had a tired melancholic appearance and was sitting listlessly on the ground. We then watched him being drummed and drummed, with a large number of people surrounding him, trying to get him to respond. Finally, after a long delay, he did start to twitch and jerk; he gradually became more and more excited, and ended up in a nervous collapse. In other words, they had been able, by drumming, to induce a state of excitement leading on to a nervous collapse, which I felt would have been much more easily achieved by electric shock treatment. I gathered that this patient would have the same drumming treatment twice a day until he was completely recovered. Two other girls, also being treated, went more quickly into trance and dissociation, and the drumming continued until they fell to the ground.

So again we had seen in Lusaka the widespread belief that much illness, both of body and mind, is caused by possession by evil spirits. These spirits can also be put into you by somebody who has evil intentions towards you. It is the role of the witch-doctor to drive out the evil spirits or to make the patient ‘come to terms’ with them.

When I was in Zambia there was only one large mental hospital, very much understaffed. There was also, in line with modern treatment ideas, a psychiatric ward which had recently been established in one of the big general hospitals, some distance from the mental hospital. At that time, as there was no psychiatrist available for the mental ward, it was put in charge of a male nurse, with a psychiatrist visiting from time to time. Practically all the patients coming into this ward were being given electric shock treatment because, in the normal course of events, the neuroses and milder depressions do not enter psychiatric wards in Africa. They tend to remain in their huts awaiting spontaneous remission, or treatment from the witch-doctor. It is generally the acutely violent, very agitated and suicidal patients who are finally sent to psychiatric hospitals when they can no longer be controlled and looked after by their families. Many of these patients have probably already been to witch-doctors or traditional healers, and only when these have failed have they been persuaded to go to a psychiatric ward or hospital. Hence it was exciting to learn that of five hundred admissions to the psychiatric beds of the general hospital, no less than four hundred and ninety, after having electric shock treatment, were able to go back to their homes; some were also given antidepressant drugs and the schizophrenics would receive psychotropic drugs.

It is satisfying to know that but for the existence of this psychiatric ward in the general hospital these several hundred patients would have had to go into the mental hospital and perhaps stay there for long periods. I felt I was on the right road to learning why electric shock treatment and drumming and dancing were both so effective in their overlapping treatment spheres with both sophisticated and more primitive patients.
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Re: The Mind Possessed: A Physiology of Possession, Mysticis

Postby admin » Sun May 26, 2019 11:03 pm

13. Possession

On my first visit to Khartoum in 1963, Dr Basher took me to see a very ancient form of mental treatment called Zar healing. Until I persuaded Dr Basher to take me to one of these ceremonies I believe he had never seen one nor had he been particularly interested in this method which is used in large areas of the Middle East. The theory behind it is that the atmosphere is full of Zars, which are good or evil spirits waiting to enter into a person. In Ethiopia, which is a Christian country, the Zars are often called Satans. Elsewhere, as in Kenya, they may be called Pepos. But it does not matter what they are called, they may have the same function of causing illness in the human being. The aim of the practitioner is to find out the particular type of Zar possessing a sick person, and either to drive out the spirit, replace it by a more suitable Zar or to reconcile the patient to having a particular Zar within him; the possessing Zar and the patient may have to learn to live together in harmony rather than disharmony, just as Western man has to learn to live with his personality difficulties.

It is believed that many different Zars can enter the body in various circumstances. These circumstances are often very similar to the circumstances that can precipitate an anxiety neurosis, a depression, or even schizophrenia, in Western cultures. For instance, Zars take possession after a person has committed a breach of moral law, or following childbirth, or after some accident or a severe physical illness. In the Sudan they can be ‘doctor' Zars, ‘Abyssinian' Zars, ‘leopard' Zars and ‘child-killing' Zars. They can be good or evil. Generally the possessing spirits are not Sudanese but are Zars from neighbouring countries or districts; and in the Sudan there is even an ‘English’ Zar!

The first step for a person supposedly possessed by a Zar is to go to a healer. By means of questions and long discussions about the patient’s symptoms, the healer gets some hint as to which particular Zar is possessing him. Then there may have to be a period of dancing, and if the patient goes into trance with certain rhythms this will confirm the type of Zar. The ceremony for casting out the Zar may be a long one, perhaps lasting two days, with continued dancing to the point of repeated exhaustion, followed by the ceremonious killing of an animal. If the person is poor it may be a comparatively cheap animal, such as a chicken; but in the case of a wealthy family even a camel may be killed as part of the formal ritual. I was not able to see one of the prolonged rituals, but I learned that when the patient goes into trance, perhaps several times, he is covered with the blood of the killed animal. After trance, dissociation and collapse have occurred, the patient may wake up freed from the possessing Zar, or he may feel in greater harmony with it.

I did have occasion to see Zar healing in three or four different settings. The first was in the Sudan, others were in Cairo and Ethiopia. A patient at Dr Basher’s clinic put us in touch with the Zar healer so that we could study his methods. This patient when deeply depressed would come to the clinic for electric shock treatment, but in her milder attacks she found that attendance at the Zar ceremonies was sufficient to relieve her. The tempo and rhythm recorded at the Khartoum drumming ceremony were also found to be effective in putting ordinary people into trance when tested out later in England. When I was playing this recorded music at one meeting, a woman doctor told me that it was very like the old Greek iambic rhythm, a rhythm that was thought to be so powerful in its effects that some say it was forbidden in ancient Greece except under the control of priests. The Zar ceremony is essentially for women, although men take part in running it. The male leader of the Sudan Zar ceremony told me that he himself had had a special and 'personal’ experience around puberty, which made him realize that he was destined to be a healer. So many healers who use these methods have been through trance experiences themselves, either spontaneous or induced by their teachers, which gives them great faith in the methods they are going to practice on others.

We saw women dressed up to represent various Zars which it was thought had or were possessing them. For instance, if it was the English Zar the woman came in smoking a cigarette and brandishing a walking-stick and when in trance spoke in what was meant to be pidgin English. In other parts of Africa the possessing spirit might be a railway train, so much do they try to keep up to date!

Moslem women lead a very shut-off life, often in purdah in their homes where there are few sources of emotional outlet. Weekly or fortnightly discharges of emotion at the Zar ceremonies, together with trance experiences and feelings of reconciliation with the spirits, or having them driven out, often help these emotionally starved or tense wives. The cult is reported to be useful, on occasion, when a woman is afraid of losing her husband. If she suspects him of saving money to take another wife, she may become ill and tell her husband that she has been to a healer and that the only way she can get better is for him to pay for a special ceremony to cast out the possessing Zar. This ceremony will be costly and the wife hopes that the money her husband is saving for the new wife will be spent instead on the Zar ceremony. If the husband refuses her request, he is told that the Zar will probably never leave her and she will become so ill that she will never be fit to work again.

We saw three other Zar healing sessions, at different times in Cairo. On the first occasion in 1963 we were taken to a small, dirty and dingy cellar. There was a very inadequate light, but I was able to take interesting photographs. There was a priestess of Zar with a male attendant. There was the usual music and the gradual induction of trance in several people present. But after a while we were asked to leave as further ceremonies of a more private nature were to take place. In another Zar ceremony we were also asked to leave half-way through. In this instance we saw the chickens the patient had brought for the ceremony. The chicken’s throat is cut and the patient is smeared with the blood.

Zar is officially forbidden in Egypt and so the ceremonies are held in secret. The last one we attended, in 1970, was held in a small room on the ground floor. The patient was a man of middle age, suffering from severe pain in his head and noises in his ears. Both the patient and his wife danced twice while I was present, and both went twice into trance and finally collapsed. In trance he spoke, or at least the Zar spirit spoke through him, but his wife was silent. Then the healer went into trance himself and the Zar spirit spoke to me through him. The interpreter told me that he asked if I had any children. When I said I had none, the spirit said, through the healer, that the reason I had no children was because my sister in the Zar spirit world did not get on with my wife’s brother who was also in the spirit world. It was necessary, he said, for the Zar brothers and sisters to be reconciled and then we would be able to have children. These pronouncements were made in an impressive manner, though the atmosphere was not quite so compelling as in some of our other experiences. We had to leave this ceremony early too, because the anthropologist who took us there felt that it was wrong for us to be present when the sacrifices were taking place; though I would very much like to have seen this. The Zar healer seemed quite willing to let us stay, expecting money to be forthcoming, but the anthropologist did not want her long-standing relationship with the healer to be in any way impaired by letting us see what was supposed to be sacred and secret in the ceremony.

The third ceremony was also held in the slums of Cairo. Here, there was a more elaborate band, and the man and woman being treated responded to the Zar music by prolonged excitement, dancing, and much repetitive bodily movement, including head jerking, which ended in almost total collapse.

A Zar ritual we watched in Ethiopia in 1966 was perhaps the most exciting of all. It took place about forty miles outside Addis Ababa, on the estate of Colonel and Mrs Stanford, two English people who have lived in Ethiopia for many years. We went to a very primitive hut on the estate, where the ceremony was held. People and their animals lived in the hut and I had the impression that the ceremonies may well date back thousands of years as the life of these people cannot have altered much during all that time. The healer and chanter was a male. There was no music, as somebody had lied in the hut next door and they did not want to disturb them. Instead, rhythmic hand-clapping was used. The atmosphere was very impressive. Again we saw the usual induction of trance, with the body jerking backwards and forwards and very rapid movements until the final stage of collapse was reached. Children are brought up to accept these ceremonies as an ordinary part of life, and were clapping their hands along with the rest.
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Re: The Mind Possessed: A Physiology of Possession, Mysticis

Postby admin » Sun May 26, 2019 11:06 pm

14. Casting out devils

Apart from our experience of the Zar cult in a very primitive and ancient form in a hut on a country estate in 1966, where men and their animals all lived together, we were unable to see any more Zar ceremonies in Addis Ababa. Wherever we tried, we were told that they could only be shown at a high price, and everywhere we seemed to be dealing with people who were out to fleece the visitor. Then Professor Critchley, brother of Dr Macdonald Critchley the famous neurologist, who was working in the Medical School at Addis Ababa, said I might like to see an interesting ceremony which he had already visited, some sixty miles outside Addis. He suggested that we went on a Sunday night, to attend the ordinary service and see another special healing service the next morning.

In Ethiopia the air is full of lurking Zars, Satans and other spirits which pounce on and possess human beings and are said to be the cause of a number of nervous illnesses. The number of these demons is legion, just as in popular belief at the time of Christ, and in medieval Europe. The air is so full of them that possession is generally multiple rather than single. Childbirth, accidents, any physical illness, moral offences such as adultery, or feelings of envy, can all give the Satans an opportunity to enter a victim.

In discussing with Professor Critchley what we were about to see, I realized that it was the same exorcism of spirits which was practised by Jesus and other healers of the time, and using the same basic method. This consists in the healer addressing the possessing spirits and commanding them to leave the body of the possessed person.

We arrived at the church in time for the evening service. Outside the door of the church, sitting begging alms, were a number of the ‘halt, the maimed and the blind’. I also saw lepers who were ‘living among the tombs’ in Addis Ababa, just as Jesus had seen in Palestine. Inside the church, which was small and made of wood, was a varied collection of fetters and chains. These were the ‘bonds’ of lunatics who had come in their fetters and had cast them off when they were healed -- just as they did in the days of Christ.

The church was crowded, and there was no doubt about the popularity and influence of the priest. Some high officials of the province attended the service. We heard that he was famous all over Ethiopia, although he had been forced to leave the official Coptic Church because of the methods of healing he used.

He started to preach and intone in a slow monotonous voice. But gradually he worked himself and his audience up to a higher pitch. As he went on, members of the congregation moved down the centre of the church to a square space in front of the pulpit. The priest came down from the pulpit to this space where most of the men and women who had gathered were in trance and started talking through these ‘possessed’ people. The priest talked directly back to the Satans, commanding them to leave the bodies of their victims. It is most important to understand, that the dialogue was between the priest and the possessing spirits, not between the priest and the patients. Again and again the priest touched them on the forehead or the shoulder with his cross at the same time ordering the Satans to leave. In one case several different voices were talking through a possessed woman’s mouth in a manner closely resembling the Punch and Judy effect I had observed in the witch-doctor’s tent in Kenya. One man was possessed by ten spirits; seven of them left him at the command of the priest but the other three remained, giving various reasons why they had entered his body and intended to stay there. The verbal battle went on until the patient suddenly collapsed and fell exhausted on the floor. Yet again we found that when the final collapse stage had been reached, after the prolonged verbal battle between priest and spirits, the person possessed would wake up sometimes in his right mind again.

After the service we had dinner with the priest. I tried to discuss his methods with him, but he cut me very short and asked me whether or not I believed in the power of God. He believed that he could heal only because he was an agent of God and ordained by God to cast out evil spirits. He was not interested in questions of the necessity of first exciting the patient and then bringing him to a state of final collapse, and would not talk about it. To him the healing was God’s doing and nothing else explained it. Naturally, the numerous cures he obtained created intense faith, in the mind of the priest himself, in those who were apparently cured, and in the crowds of people who came to witness the cures.

The meeting the next morning was of a very different type. This time it was as though the priest had read about Pavlov’s work and the abolition of previous conditioned patterns of behaviour when the dogs went into a state of inhibitory collapse after being nearly drowned (see Chapter 1). It was fascinating to compare the technique now being used with Pavlov’s findings in the Leningrad flood.

A bench was placed near the altar. There were several large tanks of water near by, and a modern bath spray. Holy oil was poured into them, so that they now contained holy water. Then, one by one or in groups of twos and threes, those desiring special healing sat down on the wooden bench. Men and women alike were stripped to the waist and water was sprayed on to their faces and bodies. When they opened their mouths to breathe, they were forced to gulp down water, which gave them a feeling of suffocation and drowning, and their breathing was necessarily rapid and shallow. Later on, I had this done to myself, and a very unpleasant experience it was, although after watching it in others I had learnt how to avoid some of the most unpleasant effects. Through rapid shallow breathing, the patient went into a state of trance and ‘possession’ while being sprayed. The spirit possessing him would begin to speak and there was again a verbal battle between the priest and the spirit. But with the holy water being sprayed deliberately into the patient’s mouth when the Satan was talking, the effects were far more dramatic. Unless you kept your head down and prevented the water from spraying straight into your mouth, you began to feel suffocated. The patients, not realizing this, often put their heads back, only to receive a further mouthful of water, which must have increased the frightening feeling of suffocation. This further increased the overbreathing and the tendency to fall into trance. After a tremendous battle between priest and spirits, and the continued spraying of water on the patient’s face and body, the patients finally dropped to the floor in a state of temporary inertia and collapse. It was expected that they would come round healed.

It was noticeable that the priest paid more attention to some patients than to others. He had talked to some of them before the healing ceremony started. A spastic boy received only a cursory spraying; another patient, who seemed to me to be a typical schizophrenic, also received only a token spraying. On the other hand, a handsome, full-breasted girl, who may well have had a reactive depression or an anxiety hysteria, received much attention and repeated spraying, until she went into trance and was finally reduced to total collapse. Case after case was treated, some thoroughly, some cursorily. And I had no doubt that the priest himself had a very clear idea of the type of patient he could help, those suffering from neuroses and milder depressions, and of those he could not help, who seemed to me to be the cases of organic diseases and schizophrenia. And the number of cripples and mentally ill sitting outside the entrance to the church must have convinced the priest that his method must have selective, even if widespread, uses.

On my return to Addis Ababa, while staying with the Dean of the Medical School, I played him some of the tape recordings of the casting out of Satans and the Satanic talking, and the maid waiting at table burst out laughing. She explained to the Dean’s wife that her sister had been healed by this priest after a five-year depression following childbirth. The possessing Satan had talked to the priest and said that he had entered the girl because she liked fine clothes and wanted to become a prostitute, and the maid said this was true of her sister. She emphasized that her sister had recovered from her illness and had been better for a year or more after her cure.

There can be little doubt, if one reads about Jesus’s miracles and studies the number of successes obtained by this Ethiopian healer, that the method was extremely effective, and in the first ceremony seemed identical with that used by Jesus. The second ceremony, using the spraying of Holy Water, seemed to be a modern modification of the old healing method of repeated immersion in a river. It is known that for centuries immersion in water, which naturally induces fear of drowning, has been used in baptisms and other religious ceremonies, both as a method of healing and as a way of being ‘born again’, cleansed of your old self, your old worries, troubles and faults. Having seen its effective use by the priest in Ethiopia, I was better able to understand its possible power.  
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Re: The Mind Possessed: A Physiology of Possession, Mysticis

Postby admin » Sun May 26, 2019 11:12 pm

15. Nigeria and Dahomey

During one of my trips to Africa in 1966 I was able to spend a week or two in Nigeria and Dahomey. In Nigeria, Dr Azuni, one of the leading psychiatrists, took me to see two interesting religious ceremonies. The first was a service of the Church of the Cherubim and Seraphim, conducted by a preacher in a small rather dilapidated building in Ibadan. Here again we saw the same pattern of dancing, trance, ‘possession’ and collapse, but this was a Christian ceremony, in which some of the worshippers became possessed by the Holy Ghost. Many young people took part in this service, which I filmed and photographed. There were young people among the drummers, and most of the dancers were young. I was horrified to see youngsters aged about ten to fourteen going into trance and collapse, and this was taken to be a manifestation, not of tribal ancestral spirits, but of the Holy Spirit and of the same God who is worshipped all over the Christian world. When I asked some of the older members of the congregation what effect the induction of trance and emotional collapse had on the youngsters, they said that the children ‘often behaved better’ and ‘worked better at school’ when the Holy Ghost had come upon them. The preacher himself danced and went into a state of near-trance and possession by the Holy Ghost. Although completely collapsed and apparently unconscious, a few of the performers quickly came round again, and in ten minutes or so were helping to take up the collection, which is always a prominent feature of such services.

At a second service in another part of Ibadan, this time in a small house, there were many more adults than children. The same ‘possession' by the Holy Ghost took place, while the male preacher led the congregation in hand-clapping and singing, and members of the congregation were dancing, jerking, shaking and obtaining the ‘gift of tongues’ so prized as a sign of God’s presence by the early Christians and since in many parts of the world.

I was extremely fortunate to be taken by Pierre Verger to see the worship of other gods in various parts of Nigeria and Dahomey. Pierre Verger has published a famous book, Les Dieux d’Afrique,1 and it was this book that first made me interested in examining the similarities that seem to exist between African modes of healing and religious worship with the casting out of spirits, and some of the more modern methods of psychiatric healing and Christian Worship nearer home.

Verger took me to the home of a local Nigerian king. Next to his palace was a courtyard given over to the worship of the great god Shango, god of thunder. Shango is a very powerful god in this part of Africa and is worshipped by very many thousands of people. We were allowed to look into some of his sacred temples and to see a ceremony which was meant to convey his power to his followers and worshippers. A Shango priest in the courtyard danced himself into trance to the sound of numerous drums, and while in a trance he made certain gestures to show that Shango was protecting him from harm. Shango did not speak through the priest (as happened later at a shrine dedicated to the god Ogoun) but the priest put out his tongue and drove a large iron spike through it. The spike was held there for some time and was then withdrawn, without any blood being visible. The spike was then placed against the priest’s eye and appeared to be hammered into it. Again when the spike was withdrawn there was no visible damage to the eye. Next the long iron spike was apparently driven into the throat of the priest and when it was withdrawn after a while there was no damage or loss of blood. A fourth feat, which seemed to me to be an old trick, was to hold a stone ball suspended in space on four cords. When the priest loosened the cords the stone tended to fall, and when the cords tightened it stayed in the air. But this was a trick I had learned as a child, and it made me wonder how much of the spiking of the tongue, the eye and the throat was mere trickery. The spike obviously penetrated the tongue, but there might well have been a hole in it. The apparent penetration of the eye and the throat might have been an optical illusion. But the priest was in trance and possessed by the great Shango and the onlookers were duly impressed by the power of the god.

At another shrine in Dahomey, of Ogoun the god of iron, the temple was entered by the priests while the drumming was going on outside to instil religious fervour in the worshippers who were hand-clapping and singing lustily. The priests of Ogoun eventually came out of the temple in trance, but before entering it they had visited a small shrine of Elegba, the Devil. And here I must digress to say how interested we were to find in Trinidad a Christian sect still offering sacrifices to Elegba before going on to a sacrifice to Christ and the Saints. This is an example of the mixture of Christianity and African religions in the West Indies, partly derived from Nigeria and Dahomey, from which many of the slaves were brought to the New World.

After coming out of the shrine of Ogoun, the priests marched up and down, shaking their iron instruments, which made a clanging noise. The chief priest then went into a trance, and the god Ogoun spoke through him to the people. Ogoun also spoke personally through the high priest to several individuals present, reassuring them, telling them to calm their fears, and giving them messages of hope. There is no doubt that when a religion produces a god who actually speaks direct to his worshippers through the priest, much greater faith is created than in religions where the priest is the representative, not the embodiment, of God, who does not so dramatically manifest himself to the worshippers. The more primitive forms of worship inspire a surer faith, and so does Christianity where it has readopted these forms, as in some of the African Christian Churches or at revival meetings where people are flung to the ground, writhing and groaning, and become possessed by the Holy Spirit.

At an international conference on ‘Possession States’ in Paris in September 1968, many people spoke who had worked in various parts of Africa, the West Indies and Brazil, and who had spent months or years studying various religious cults involving spirit possession. It struck and surprised me that some of the anthropologists present had acquired a semi-belief in the gods whose cults they had studied. One very famous anthropologist, who shall be nameless, told me that he hoped to go back one day, not merely to film Shango speaking through his priests but actually to film the great god Shango himself!

Certainly, Shango and his like are believed by their worshippers to be just as great and powerful as is the God of the Christians by the millions who worship him; and they are far closer to their followers because they so frequently appear in the person of the possessed priests and talk directly to the people. This is surely relevant to the failure of our own accustomed brand of restrained and respectable Christianity to convey any sense of a deity who is vividly real and alive. Where possession takes place it conveys intense faith because it appears to bring worshippers into the closest possible touch with the divine, just as convinced faith was created among the early Christians when they saw the manifestation of the Holy Spirit at the services. It was this type of experience which sustained the early Church and still does wherever ‘enthusiastic’ religious techniques are employed.

In Nigeria and Dahomey we were also able to visit the homes of two healers or witch-doctors, both of whom claimed to have helped patients suffering from neurosis and milder forms of depression by various faith-creating methods. In both places, however, we saw lunatics chained and battened to the floor in irons. Some of these would certainly die of starvation unless they were fed by their relatives. One man, in a virtual cage, told me that he had come back to Africa from England a few months previously. He had been put into the care of the witch-doctor by his relatives and had been shut in there for nine months; he saw no hope of getting out. He was, I think, suffering from schizophrenia, but he was still sufficiently rational to recognize the fate that awaited him.

Another prisoner in the cellar described how he had been there for seven years, with no hope of release. Upstairs in the same house were people, more prominently on view, who had been helped by the laying on of hands, by the expulsion of possessing spirits and by the use of holy oils. In West Africa the rauwolfia root is also used in the treatment of severe forms of mental illness, and has been so used for centuries in Africa, and also in India. It has only recently been used in tablet or other form, as Serpasil, to treat the nervously ill and cases of high blood pressure in the Western world.

Finally, Pierre Verger took me to one of the convents of the Orisha cult. People enter the convent to become servants of the gods. Much of what happens within the convent is kept secret; but we saw a girl who was going through the three weeks to three months training which would make her a priestess of Ogoun or Shango or other gods or goddesses in the hierarchy of the Orisha cult. Soon after the postulants enter the convent they are put into a prolonged trance by various techniques. They take part in many ceremonies which lead ultimately to complete nervous collapse. Then, when in a highly suggestible state of mind, they play the role and act out the behaviour of a minor goddess, or a servant of the chief gods and goddesses, and for the whole of the period that they remain in the convent they are treated as, and believe themselves to be, servants of the gods and in union with them.

Pierre Verger himself has become a priest of the Orisha cult, so he could not tell me about many of the secret ceremonies which took place in the convent. But he was able to say that it was a severe brain-washing process in which the normal personality is replaced by a new personality. The postulant is never permitted to remember his normal personality, what he was like and how he behaved as his former self. But when he leaves the convent he is given back his old personality by a special process, and has little memory of what happened during his time in the convent. People go back into the convent from time to time and by the same hypnotic process revert to their god-like personality, to emerge once more with their ordinary personality when they return to the outside world. It will be possible to say more about this dissociation process when we describe Macumba in Brazil, for undoubtedly Macumba is a modification of the Orisha cult in the Old World which has been carried to the New.

Pierre Verger also accompanied me to the seaboard town of Ouidah in Dahomey, which was one of the main African slave-trading ports where slaves for Brazil and the West Indies were brought to be shipped to the New World. Here we saw an outdoor ceremony devoted to Voodoo gods. There was the usual drumming, dancing and trance, but no other special ceremony. However, we did see here the worship of the original Voodoo gods with the same symbols which we were to see again during our visits to Haiti, where Voodoo worship has reached its most spectacular development.



1 P. Verger, Les Dieux d’Afrique, Hartman, Paris 1954
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Re: The Mind Possessed: A Physiology of Possession, Mysticis

Postby admin » Sun May 26, 2019 11:18 pm

16. Macumba in Brazil

I visited Brazil on two occasions, in 1964 and 1968, and, as already mentioned, attended a Congress on ‘Possession States' in Paris, where I learned more about the interesting Brazilian possession cults. The so-called Macumba derives from the religions of West Africa, primarily from those of the Yoruba people who number about 5,000,000 and who worship numerous deities. Macumba is still spreading very fast in Brazil and gaining many converts from Christianity. It not only involves the poorer people but also more and more of the rich and the intelligentsia, who are becoming attracted to this form of worship as opposed to the official Roman Catholicism of Brazil. Often people will worship at both forms of service.

On my first visit to Brazil in 1964, while seeing a Macumba ceremony at Recife, I was first tactfully told that the people were supposedly being possessed by the spirits of various Christian saints. When I remarked that although they were given the names of Christian saints, I believed that they also all had equivalent names of African gods, the answer came back: ‘Your Christian saints are really dead. Our Macumba gods come all the way over from Africa and show us their living power by entering and taking possession of us.’ I may have been in a suggestible state myself during all the drumming, the excitement and the ‘possession’ I was witnessing, but I felt I was hearing a fundamental truth. For successful religions -- those which really grip people’s hearts — are those which produce evidence of the actual existence of their gods. The Christian religion, in most of its official forms, rarely now demonstrates the power of its God, and to most worshippers our Christian saints are indeed very dead. The fact of the Macumba gods and goddesses coming all the way from Africa to Brazil to take possession of the worshippers and talk through them is sufficient to create absolute faith in them. In addition they are potential healers of most ills.

Recife is a steamy hot old town in the north of Brazil, and here I met a very famous Brazilian, Gilberto Freyre, who wrote the fascinating book The Masters and The Slaves.1 He arranged for us to see a Macumba ceremony, but it was quite obvious that we saw only what was permitted to non-members of the Orisha cult, which was brought over from Nigeria and Dahomey by the slaves and quickly became established among all classes.

Certain of the Orisha gods and goddesses, and there are at least fifteen of them, were given the additional name of a Catholic saint, but no worshipper, especially a possessed worshipper, had any doubt that he was worshipping not the saints but the Orisha gods and goddesses. Going down to the area where the ceremony was to be held, I noticed outside the door of the building a tree with many decorations on it, obviously connected with the service that we were about to see. In the room there was drumming and dancing, the men and women going round and round to an ever-increasing and exciting crescendo of drums, until they were possessed by a variety of gods and goddesses. It is possible to tell by the behaviour of the dancers which particular deity is possessing them and, often, talking through them. In some ceremonies only one god or goddess, such as Shango, is specifically worshipped and if other deities possess the people then they are removed from the ceremony. But in the one we were watching a number of gods were supposedly present and taking possession of the worshippers, as we saw happen later in the Voodoo ceremonies in Haiti. In the present group, when they were possessed they did not go out and dress up in the special uniform of the particular god or goddess possessing them as in other Orisha ceremonies. This did happen at another ceremony to the god Ogoun, when only those possessed by him went out and came back to dance in the special costume which showed that this god was manifesting himself through them.

The states of possession and trance in Recife were some of the most violent and dramatic we had yet seen anywhere. Extraordinary facial changes occurred, and almost all of the possessed ended up in a state of collapse. Often they fell to the floor and had to be carried out to a special private room. In the intervals we were shown some of the sacrifices that had been performed before the main ceremony began. It was evident that animals had been burnt and offered in sacrifice to the gods of Orisha. There were other rooms set apart for the Orishas and their servants which visitors were not allowed to enter.

There are hundreds of Macumba groups all over Brazil, especially in the areas where slaves were employed in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Although the Orisha cult still remains secret, one could from various sources obtain quite a lot of information about it. Often entry to the group follows attendance at a ceremony as a spectator, when visitors may suddenly become ‘possessed’, tremble and shake and fall to the ground, and sometimes even exhibit hysterical cataleptic trance. They are then carried out, stiff and rigid, as happens sometimes in deep states of hypnotic trance.

Dreams also have significance in the Orisha cult. If the dream is disturbing or enigmatic, the candidate for initiation will consult one of the Mothers or Fathers — or priests and priestesses — managing the group. The devotee is put into trance, but quickly taken out of it, and initiation is not proceeded with until after a period during which decisions are made as to whether the person really wants to join the Orisha group, whether money is available, and whether he is fit to take part in what may be a prolonged initiation ceremony. As in Dahomey and Nigeria, initiation into Macumba may last seven days or sometimes even up to three months.

It was difficult to get details of the initiation ceremonies, but we did discover that they include the killing of animals and covering the initiate with the blood, and all sorts of elaborate, and sometimes frightening ceremonies, besides the usual dancing to drumming rhythms. And I was able to obtain a series of photographs of one initiation ceremony which are substantially correct according to some of my informants. These ceremonies usually occur twice a year, when several people are to be initiated. The priest or priestess has to decide which of the gods or goddesses have taken possession and the initiation will vary accordingly. This entails deep hypnotic trance, during which the person to be initiated may show cataleptic phenomena, and then there is the final breaking point. During initiation the person experiences a change of outlook, a change in the way of life, and becomes consciously or subconsciously guided by a particular Orisha. During these sessions lasting two to three weeks, all sorts of suggestions can be made while the initiate is in trance and a new pattern of thought and behaviour can be implanted in place of the old. There are different initiation ceremonies for different groups, and the cult is also used to heal, apparently genuinely, various diseases. One person reporting on these cults says that after initiation some people with a drink problem have been known to turn teetotal.

It seems that the initiate, when brought back into the outside world, remembers very little of what happened during his weeks or months of initiation. Memories are mostly repressed, but the person’s conduct is often materially altered. Whereas in modern psychotherapy hidden conflicts are brought to the surface with a view to making the patient understand them better, in Macumba the implantation of new beliefs and new attitudes to life during the initiation ceremonies is consciously forgotten, but continues to influence the way of life, perhaps for years afterwards, supported by return visits to the convent or monastery for ceremonies and services when the believer is again possessed and his faith is reinforced.

On speaking to a white woman in 1968 who had been through weeks of Macumba initiation, and also to a couple of people who had been present at her ceremony, it emerged that it is strictly forbidden for people to see themselves, in photographs or on film, while they are in the process of initiation to Macumba. For instance, while two of the group had photographs of the third person during her initiation, they dared not show them to her for fear of driving her mad. She must never see what a totally different person she is when acting as a goddess. She may see her friends in the group being possessed and how they behave, but she must never see pictures of herself acting as a vehicle for the manifestation of the gods on earth. The two separate lives, of course, do still substantially influence each other subconsciously.

Going to Bahia, lower down the coast of Brazil, in 1964, we had to wait quite some time to see a ceremony, because a revolution had broken out in Brazil and all drumming was banned as liable to excite people to riot. However, the Governor of Bahia finally gave permission for a ceremony to take place, and I took photographs of what happened. In this particular case only Ogoun was allowed to manifest himself, and a number of other people possessed by different Orishas had to leave the room and were not allowed back during the ceremony. We saw homage being paid to Ogoun, who was represented by an earthly Mother of the Orishas sitting on the seat of honour. When a person became possessed by Ogoun he had to go out of the room, to return dressed in Ogoun’s ceremonial costume, including a hat and a small dagger.

On a second visit to Bahia a few years later in 1968, through an invitation to attend a meeting of the World Psychiatric Association of Transcultural Psychiatry, I was hoping to see and film more of Macumba. But this was not possible, although I had letters of introduction from Pierre Verger, who spends some time in Bahia as well as in Nigeria and Dahomey, since much of his research work involves tracing the influence of slaves who came to the New World, some later returned to their native land as slave traders themselves. The trouble seemed to be that the Macumba group to which I had obtained an introduction were too high in the social scale to allow themselves to be filmed or photographed while in states of possession and trance. At the end of my visit, while flying down to Rio, feeling thoroughly frustrated, I sat next to a man who had spent the whole of the preceding weekend filming Macumba ceremonies among the poorer communities of Bahia. He said they were not so worried about being photographed and probably more open to receiving money than the group to which I had been introduced. Furthermore, this time there had been no Gilberto Freyre to make my task so much easier, as in Recife.

However, I did see at Bahia on my second visit a formal ceremony dedicated to Shango. Even here I was told that it was doubted whether so many people should be invited to what was essentially an intimate ceremony of a particular group. Nevertheless, the leader agreed that the ceremony should take place, and there were about a hundred or more people present. The same sort of drumming and dancing took place, but possession was very slow in occurring. The next day the leader kindly invited me to lunch and we talked at considerable length about the previous day’s ceremony. He said he was disappointed, in spite of all the drumming, that Shango had not presented himself, and he explained that it is forbidden to ask Shango to descend and show himself through one of his worshippers. This must be done voluntarily on the part of the god. However, he had hit upon a device which was not against the rules. He played the particular rhythm used in one of the worshipper’s own initiation ceremonies and this proved successful in bringing Shango down to earth to manifest himself through that dancing worshipper. The man possessed by him, traditionally, went out still in trance and donned the particular robes of Shango belore returning to dance, very beautifully, still in trance. None of the members of the cult doubted that Shango was personally now among them.

I was also allowed to see some of the more private rooms and the temple of this mixed white and coloured intellectual group, to whom Shango and other African gods meant so much. Their religion seemed as important to them as to any devout Christian, and their whole lives were influenced by it.

There is no doubt of the hold these cults have on even highly intelligent people. Their belief in the existence and power of these African gods is a very real one. At the meeting in Paris, in 1968, there was a white woman present who had been possessed in a Bahia cult group and had been through a long initiation ceremony lasting three weeks. She was giving an account of her experiences, and I asked her whether as a result she now believed in the existence and power of Shango, Ogoun and other Orisha gods. She was very emphatic in saying that ‘of course’ she did.

As already emphasized, in these cults the trance life and the ordinary life are different and divorced from each other, and each life is complete. But sometimes there is some memory of what goes on in ordinary life when the person is possessed, and vice versa. But as one person described it, all the moral values and all the emotions of the other state disappear. One may intellectually appreciate that one is a different person in trance, but the accompanying feelings and connecting links with the other life are largely destroyed by the hypnotic process used. It was certainly very interesting to see these hypnotic techniques, which have been used for centuries in African religions, now transferred to the New World, when you remember that hypnosis only came into official use in Western medicine less than two hundred years ago.

Undoubtedly, further studies of Macumba and similar religions in Brazil would reveal a vast amount of material on ‘possession' and healing by African deities. And what little I saw, and was able to film and photograph, showed me once again the same basic techniques of breaking down the nervous system, and so producing states of suggestibility in which quite bizarre beliefs can be devoutly accepted, which we have observed in so many different societies and religious or other contexts in this book. The power of these methods to produce new attitudes and new happiness in living is very great indeed, far greater than most of our modern methods of psychotherapy, or the use of intellectual arguments and persuasion alone. I could not help being again forcibly impressed by the deep and certain faith which this age-old pattern of brainwashing creates.



1 G. Freyre, The Masters and The Slaves, A. Knopf, New York 1956.
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Re: The Mind Possessed: A Physiology of Possession, Mysticis

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17. Experiences in Trinidad

After my first visit to Brazil in 1964 I went straight on to Trinidad. Here I was fortunate in having the help of Professor Michael Beaubrun, who was then working in Trinidad and is now Professor of Psychiatry in the University of the West Indies in Jamaica.

With the help of friends of Professor Beaubrun’s and some of the mental nurses in one of the hospitals in Trinidad, we managed to see very interesting ceremonies and to film and photograph them. At least two of them belonged to what could be called ‘transitional religions’; that is, religions which originated in Africa, were brought across to Trinidad by slaves and became established there with a veneer of Christianity on the surface. While the British were in control in Trinidad many of these transitional cults were discouraged as much as possible. But they lived on underground, and have now come more into the open. In some of them bell-ringing, rhythmic overbreathing and hand-clapping had to be substituted for the noisier African drumming, and bell-ringing and rhythmic breathing are still being used as a means of ‘bringing down the Holy Ghost’, although more drumming is now allowed.

One of these ceremonies took place in the suburban slums of the capital, Port of Spain. It was only through a friend of Michael Beaubrun’s who had been brought up in this compound and whose sister was still a worshipper there that we finally prevailed on the leader of this group to let us see the ceremony and even to film it. This particular group of services has been going on for over 100 years and had never before been opened to outside inspection. We were helped in gaining entry by saying that I was a doctor and had nothing to do with the press, and that I felt that they might have more to teach me, religiously and medically, than I could teach them. I also had to agree to pay quite a considerable sum of money so that a goat and four chickens could be bought for the sacrifice which is an essential part of the ritual.

Although the acting group leader agreed to hold the services for us, no ceremony could take place without the presence of a much older man who was still technically head of the whole group. He had become old and infirm and so had handed on the leadership of the group to his nephew, with whom I had to negotiate.

The services were held in a compound where there was a covered floor for dancing, a small chapel, a burial ground for members of the group, and several houses in which some of the group lived. The buildings were mostly old and decayed, but a few new ones had recently been added.

We had to get up early for the first service, which took place before the worshippers went off to their daily work. For much of the night before, as a goat was to be sacrificed in the morning, preliminary ceremonies were being held which we did not attend; but in the morning we were in time to see the ceremonial killing of the goat. Its throat was cut and the blood collected in a bowl, and then its head was cut off. This sacrifice was made to the great god Ogoun, who was also called St Michael. Four chickens were sacrificed, their heads also being cut off. The first chicken was sacrificed to Elegba. Elegba is the same Elegba as in the Yoruba religion in Dahomey and nominally approximates to the Devil, although he is not really the Satan of Christianity but more in the nature of a mischievous imp who brings chaos into the ceremony and so is always given the first sacrifice, to keep him appeased. When I asked if they had ever omitted this sacrifice to Elegba, to see what happened, they said they would never dare to do this. The relationship between this supposedly Christian ceremony and the Yoruba religion in Dahomey was obvious from the start. We were told that the founder of the group had come from Dahomey more than 100 years ago, but they denied that he came to Trinidad as a slave, though this seems more than likely.

The goat was killed in the open while the worshippers stood around, dressed in white, and some of them started to go into trance and states of possession. The goat was finally cut up and parts of its body were placed on the altar. The group then proceeded to dance in the small dancing hut which had open sides. Three drummers, and the leader, took part, while the old hereditary leader also sat beside the drummers. Before long, several other women went into states of possession, and we were told that they were possessed by Christian saints, though when closely questioned later few of them had any doubt that the Christian saints were also African gods and goddesses. One woman possessed by the Virgin Mary danced with a veil, symbolic of her carrying swaddling clothes. Another, representing St Michael, danced with a wooden sword, a replica of the sword that had been used in beheading the chickens and cutting the throat of the goat. Nobody was harmed, although the sword was waved about by the entranced woman. Another woman was possessed by St. Francis, yet another by Joseph the Carpenter; she danced up and down the hut waving a saw. In some cases the people in trances would take up the instruments or symbols which showed who possessed them, in others the instruments were handed to them. We were told that most women were possessed by the same saint, but it was possible for some people to be possessed by various saints at different times. At this ceremony no men became possessed.

After quite a long period of dancing and trances, the ceremony ended and some of the worshippers went off to work. The sacrificial meat was then cooked and served at lunch, which I ate with several of the women who had taken part in the ceremony. I was able to talk to these women about their feelings as they went into trance. All denied having any memory of what they had done in the possessed state. Some confessed that they had felt fearful or had apprehensive feelings in the stomach, but few of them seemed to fear going into trance, and indeed most of them welcomed it as an honour to have been specially chosen by the saint. Again it was believed that the spirits had travelled over from Africa to gain possession of them.

These people’s faith in the reality of their saints was absolute because they had personally experienced them; and again one noted the difference between their intense personal experience of possession and our forms of Christian service, in which few now have any real sense that God or Christ or the saints are near or in them. The Christian saints can be prayed to for help, but without any personal contact being achieved. It is the feeling of personally being possessed by the saints which creates an absolute faith, which can rarely afterwards be destroyed by logical argument and reasoning.

The women told me that on some occasions, when a service was in progress, a woman who had not gone to it but had stayed at home would suddenly feel that she was beginning to be possessed, and later would find herself at the service and just coming round from trance. What had happened was that she had gone into trance at home, had become possessed, and had walked, several miles perhaps, to the service while still in trance, with no memory of it later. One person told me that she had suddenly become possessed while watching one of the ceremonies. As a result, she had been confined to bed for seven days, almost mute and in a condition which sounded very much like hysterical stupor. When she recovered, she became a regular worshipper at the church. She had since experienced possession frequently without any severe after-effects.

What was most impressive about the people we talked to was their normality, though they had been in states of full possession only an hour or two before. We saw the same thing later, in Voodoo. In our culture a person exhibiting repeated hysterical dissociative and trance phenomena would be considered nervously ill, but the same phenomena occurring in normal people in many African cultures leave very little nervous upset behind them; on the contrary, they help to relieve accumulated tension, as well as to create a deep conviction of being important, personally and individually, to the god or gods who are worshipped.

We inquired about the healing functions of these services and were told that depressed people, after a period of possession would feel very much happier and better than before. But I was told by another man in Trinidad that when he was deeply depressed the services and feelings of possession had no beneficial effect on him. He had to go to the hospital to have electric shock treatment and antidepressant drugs before he was able to benefit at all again from the religious services. In Africa, the West Indies and the USA, I saw several people suffering from depression or schizophrenia who were not amenable to these group abreactive religious techniques, but who could be helped with EGT and drugs, an electrically induced abreactive treatment, which can be repeated up to twenty times if necessary and has beneficial effects on the mentally ill, as opposed to normal people who are less severely depressed and can get relief by repeated dancing and trance with temporary collapse.

That same evening, after working hours, another drumming ceremony with multiple possessions took place. Although there had been so much initial worry about letting non-members witness and photograph the services, when the final decision had been taken several people were invited to come, including the Trinidad Minister of Health. Many of the local visitors were amazed to see what happened, and had been happening for a hundred years, in their midst. Generally you only see such services (which may well be held among black people in England) if you can gain entrance to a depressed social group who, during the week in working hours, may be building up emotional tensions which they have to inhibit at work, but which they can discharge from time to time in sessions of abreactive dancing and emotional release. After epidemics of plague in Europe in the Middle Ages, with the fearful strain which they imposed, abreactive dancing to the point of collapse was common, and there were sporadic groups which used flagellation to stimulate the nervous system to the point of collapse. Hitler animated a depressed and despairing Germany in the 1930s with mass excitatory techniques including rhythmic chanting. This generally resulted in mass hysteria, greatly increased suggestibility and renewed feelings of hope and faith in Hitler as virtually a god. Visitors from other countries could be caught up in the group fervour and some returned home with a similar faith in Hitler as a superman.

On our second visit to Trinidad in 1965 we went to another ceremony, in a purer and more primitive cult of the god Shango. Normally, the worshippers of Shango devote only one week in every year to intensive ceremonies; with persistent dancing leading to states of possession. But other lesser services are held from time to time. The leader of one of these groups arranged a ceremony for us and promised to let us see the type of possession that occurred. The meeting, however, went on for only a short time as several people did not turn up and some of those who did took too much of the rum which we had been asked to provide; the whole affair ended in considerable disaster.

Before the meeting I had a chance to talk to two of the group and was given the same information about possession which I had already received so often elsewhere. They, too, believed that the gods came over from Africa and, under the names of Christian saints, manifested themselves to the group. Ogoun was St Michael and Shango was Christ himself, the Good Shepherd. When they offered sacrifices and worshipped, sometimes all night, they sang hymns to St Michael and St Peter, to Jonah, St Anthony, St Francis, Joseph the Carpenter, St Philomena, Moses, St Teresa and, of course, the Virgin Mary. All these appear to have their equivalents in the Yoruba religion of Dahomey, where the great gods have assistant gods and goddesses. These lesser deities can be called on for help when the great gods are busy or when it is felt that a request is too trivial to bother them with. I was also told that the African gods had been converted, and had now become Christian saints, which I had heard before, at Macumba meetings in Brazil.

When the actual possession occurs, St Michael carries a cross or a sword, the Good Shepherd a crook, and John the Baptist an axe; the Virgin Mary wears a veil or carries swaddling clothes, and Joseph the Carpenter carries a saw. Usually, one saint regularly possesses you, but another saint may substitute for him if your own saint is busy elsewhere. I also learned that the more you try to resist being possessed when you feel that it is beginning to happen, the more certain it is that possession will occur. This suggests that the brain is in an ultraparadoxical phase of activity, as discussed in earlier chapters.

Without meaning to be unduly cynical, the same conclusion is suggested by the impressive amount of love and friendship displayed by those in possession, and the absence of quarrelling. I was told that if you are at odds with someone else at the meeting, the moment you are possessed your saint will go over to that person and smoothe out the disagreements, and you will again feel friendly to him or her. This seems a good way of resolving group difficulties and tensions without loss of face on either side.

In talking to people who take part in these forms of worship, I was repeatedly impressed by the dignity and the evident, mental balance which many of them showed. In many cases they were living in dire poverty and yet felt that life was well worth living. They were upheld by their religion and sustained by their African or Christian gods.

One of the women, when initially possessed, remained prostrate and unconscious for nine days in bed. These long trances are called ‘travelling’ (and we heard of this phenomenon also among other groups). This woman said that while she was lying in bed her spirit left her body and she saw St Michael in a red garment. She then travelled farther on and was told by St Michael to climb a ladder and try to reach the top. This she did, and then realized that she had climbed Jacob’s Ladder into Heaven. She saw a beautiful world and felt very happy and pleased that her first attempt to climb the ladder had been successful. Some people apparently may have as many as seven tries in their 'travels’ to get to the top of the ladder, and some never succeed. She did not remember coming down the ladder again, but she had also been to Africa in her ‘travelling’ state. She found she understood the language there, though she had never heard it before. She also went to China and was taken into a shop there. Then she returned and woke up in bed. The parallel with the ‘travelling’ experiences we discussed in Chapter 3 is clear. This woman not only attended the ceremonies of a Shango group but also went to Mass as a Catholic and she felt that in both she was worshipping the same group of gods, but ‘it is the African saints who possess us’.

Another woman had been possessed from time to time by St Francis for the past eight years. She did not need to be at a service or in her bed to become possessed; it could happen at any time, even while she was working. She described, her head as ‘getting light’, and she felt very depressed, but following a period of possession she could ‘do everything again’. This particular informant had not ‘travelled’, but she had had a dream in which she was flying high over the sea and looking down at the water; she had been alone and not with St Francis in her dream. (This incident reminded my typist, a very sane person, of a dream she had had just before the 1939-45 war. She was carried through the air by ‘Death’ dressed in black, over a vast extent of land where millions of people were lying dead. This gave her a great sense of security during the war although she was living in the heart of London. Death in this instance resembled the figures she had seen many times on Underground posters.)

We were also able to attend Spiritual Baptist services in 1964. Leader John, who ran the Spiritual Baptist group, had a wife who was leader of a Shango group, but they rarely overlapped. The Shango group usually held its ceremony once a year, while Leader John’s group of Spiritual Baptists met twice a week, or more frequently, all year round. If was here that I saw one of the congregation being brought back after seven days of ‘travelling’ and ‘mourning’.

If a person has attended this Spiritual Baptist group and wants to become a full member and make a fresh start, he may ask to undergo a period of ‘travelling’ and ‘mourning’ so that all his sins may be forgiven. First of all, his heart must be ‘reconciled with God’, he must make friends with all his enemies, he must confess all his sins, and the congregation are asked whether any person present has anything against the would-be traveller. At the appointed time, after a period of singing, sudden quick bodily movements and head jerking take place, followed by what is virtually the speedy induction of a deep hypnotic trance. The subject is laid on the floor, with a band containing certain secret signs tied round his forehead. The hands and feet are tied together, and the traveller lies in this manner for up to seven days, and maybe more. On the third day the subject is ‘raised’ and ‘put down’ again at special services. We saw this happen to a woman who was put into ‘mourning’ on the Sunday, and on the Wednesday we went to see her ‘raised up’ as ‘from the tomb’; then she was put down to complete her further four days of mourning and travelling. She was brought out on the following Sunday. While lying on the hard floorboards of the chapel, the travellers have an attendant of the same sex with them to attend to their needs, such as giving them a little milk or honey, and to attend to toilet necessities.

While being put into hypnotic trance by Leader John the subject is given a secret word which he must concentrate on and repeat continuously. The word is like a ‘mantra’ and is known only to the subject and the Leader; it may also become a threatening word. For instance, if in future any trouble occurs, the preacher has only to mention this word, to which the subject is highly sensitized, and it is enough to recreate the feeling of the hypnotic and mourning process and all it entails. Another interesting point is that if the mourning and travelling period goes satisfactorily, God gives the person, during this process, another secret word which is not made known to the preacher. If, when the person is in trouble, the preacher uses his secret word and he does not want to obey it, he can always use the word God has given him to counteract the other. This is reminiscent of the traditional relations between the African patient and the witch-doctor.

During the seven days of mourning and travelling, the soul leaves the body to visit various parts of the world. Travellers generally go to India or to Syria where, one man told me, he was given the job of drawing water. They can travel as far as China or to Africa where, another person told me, he temporarily became the Bishop of a church. I received no account of anybody travelling to England. The travellers may bring home messages to the preacher. It was also said that sometimes souls travel from other countries to this chapel and attend the services in various guises, so that visitors to the services are sometimes suspected of being travellers from another group in a far country.

When the period of mourning and travelling is over, later periods of trance occur in which travellers speak with the ‘gift of tongues’ in languages of the countries they have visited. Among the congregation, as in St Paul’s time, are people who claim to be able to interpret the various strange tongues spoken. One remembers St Paul, when discussing the frequency of ecstatic states, saying that they needed more ‘interpreters’ of tongues for, wrongly interpreted, the tongues could create confusion among the congregation. St Paul, in his capacity as an administrator was evidently dubious of too much personal communication between the worshipper and God without administrative intervention. The religious administrator since his day has too often tried to make himself the essential intermediary between each man and his God.
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