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.

The Mind Possessed: A Physiology of Possession, Mysticism an

Postby admin » Sat May 25, 2019 10:17 pm

The Mind Possessed: A Physiology of Possession, Mysticism and Faith Healing
by William Sargant
© William Sargant 1973



Table of Contents:

• Inside Cover
• List of Illustrations
• Preface
• Part One
o 1 The mind under stress
o 2 Mesmerism and increased suggestibility
o 3 Hypnosis and possession
o 4 States of possession
o 5 More about possession
o 6 Mystical possession
o 7 Sex and possession
o 8 Drugs, magic and possession
• Part Two
o 9 African experiences
o 10 Tribal Sudan
o 11 Expelling spirits
o 12 Experiences in Zambia
o 13 Zar possession
o 14 Casting out devils
o 15 Nigeria and Dahomey
o 16 Macumba in Brazil
o 17 Experiences in Trinidad
o 18 Experiences in Jamaica and Barbados
o 19 Voodoo in Haiti
o 20 Revivals in the United States of America
o 21 General conclusions
• Bibliography
• Index

List of Illustrations

• Possession by Dionysius 500BC
• Dancing to trance among the nomadic Samburu tribe in Kenya
• The god Ogoun
• The expulsion of a possessing spirit in Zambia
• Casting out possessing spirits in Kenya and Zambia by drumming
• Voodoo possession in Haiti
• Possessed by an Indian spirit during Macumba ceremony in Brazil
• Possessed by Joseph the carpenter in Trinidad Inducing possession by the Holy Ghost, Clay County, Kentucky
• Voodoo possession in Haiti
• Possession by the Holy Ghost; snake handling, North Carolina
• Collapse phase, West Carolina

‘And something moved in John’s body, which was not John. He was invaded, set at nought, possessed. This power had struck John ... in a moment, wholly, filling him with an anguish he could never in his life have imagined, that he surely could not endure, that even now he could not believe had ripped him and felled him in a moment, so that John . . . lay here, now, helpless, screaming, at the very bottom of darkness.

Then John saw the Lord - for a moment only; and the darkness, for a moment only, was filled with a light he could not bear. Then, in a moment, he was set free ... his heart, like a fountain of waters, burst.

Yes, the night had passed, the powers of darkness had been beaten back. He moved among the saints ... he scarcely knew how he moved, for his hands were new, and his feet were new, and he moved in a new and Heaven-bright air.’

-- James Baldwin Go Tell It on the Mountain
Michael Joseph 1954

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....

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....

They looked very much like fans of the Beatles or other ‘pop groups’ after a long session of dancing....

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....

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....

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....

There cannot be the slightest doubt that among these poverty-stricken people religious services of this sort are of real help, in giving them a sense of dignity and faith in living, despite the appalling circumstances of their lives. We saw the same effects in Africa, where the same techniques are used to smoothe away resentments and tensions. I am sure that as the Black Power movement becomes stronger, this type of service will be bitterly attacked, so great is its power to keep people contented with their lot when they possess little or nothing: and indeed they cheerfully praise God for what little they have.

-- The Mind Possessed: A Physiology of Possession, Mysticism and Faith Healing, by William Sargant

Dr. Sargant was a prominent British Tavistock Institute psychiatrist, who spent two decades, beginning in the mid-1950s, working in the Congress for Cultural Freedom-linked Cybernetics Group/MK-Ultra project on the use of psychedelic drugs and other forms of brainwashing for mass coercion.

-- The CCF and the God of Thunder Cult: British Promotion of Irrational Belief Systems in America, by Stanley Ezrol & Jeffrey Steinberg
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Re: The Mind Possessed: A Physiology of Possession, Mysticis

Postby admin » Sat May 25, 2019 10:17 pm

Inside Cover

The Mind Possessed

Dr William Sargant was born in Highgate, London, in 1907 and educated at Leys School and St John’s College, Cambridge. Up to 1972 he was Physician in Charge of the Department of Psychological Medicine at St Thomas’s Hospital, London. He has been Associate Secretary of the World Psychiatric Association and on the staff of the Maudsley Hospital, London for many years. He was also Registrar of the Royal Medico- Psychological Association, Rockefeller Fellow at Harvard University and Visiting Professor at Duke University. He is the author of Battle for the Mind, The Unquiet Mind and, with Eliot Slater, Physical Methods of Treatment in Psychiatry.


A riveting investigation into possession -- by demons, gods, drugs, sex or religion -- which gives an enthralling insight into the human mind.

Dr William Sargant, famous author of Battle for the Mind , here relates his fascinating experiences as he studied the phenomenon of possession all over the world - casting out devils in Ethiopia . . . voodooism in Haiti . . . smoke-induced possession in Zambia . . . religious revival meetings in America . . . From these studies -- many of them experienced at first hand -- Dr Sargant raises crucial questions about us and our minds . . .

‘Compulsive and exciting reading’


‘The sheer weight of information provides great interest, stimulus and value ... In the stressed society in which we live this is vital information’


‘More important than Battle for the Mind, and essential reading for everyone interested in psychology’

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

Postby admin » Sat May 25, 2019 10:19 pm


Brought up in a large middle-class Methodist family, it was still possible, when young, to meet those, including members of my own family, who had been suddenly and spiritually changed, as it were in the twinkling of an eye. Their whole life had been altered and the change was permanent rather than transitory. Such happenings were thought to be due to the intervention of the Holy Ghost.

These alterations of thought and behaviour were forgotten during my medical and psychiatric training, and my interest was only re-aroused later on when I started to see what seemed to me to be basically similar sorts of phenomena in a non-religious setting with the introduction of the new shock treatments in psychiatry, and particularly during the intensive use of the emotionally arousing drug abreactive techniques in the Second World War.

In 1957 in Battle for the Mind,1 I tried to link abreactive and shock treatments with the physiology of sudden religious conversion and brain washing. This book has had very large and continuing sales, and an acceptance which has encouraged me to continue this research, alongside my main work of teaching medical students, and trying to learn better how to help patients, mostly along the new physical and mechanistic lines.

I have fortunately been able to travel frequently and in many parts of the world, studying, photographing and filming examples of religious and non-religious possession, healing and trance. Despite their tremendous importance — for a man’s whole life can be so easily changed when such things happen to him — such investigations earned no official research grants or help. Too often I was straying outside my own psychiatric territory and into that of other disciplines. Fortunately, book sales and frequent invitations to lecture abroad have made it possible to continue this work over many years.

Battle for the Mind correctly anticipated the recently ever-increasing interest in matters mystical and how life can be given — if so desired — a more philosophical and less materialistic purpose. In my Maudsley Lecture in 1967 on the Physiology of Faith I also discussed physical aids to the attainment of spiritual grace and do so again here, including dancing, drugs and sex which are being so much more used now for this purpose.

If at the end of this research, I come to the conclusion that many of the happenings examined and recorded are man-made, rather than originating from co-existing spiritual worlds, this makes it all the more important that man’s thoughts are somehow more continually directed towards good rather than evil ends; often most effectively, it also seems, by the mechanistic methods discussed here.

Man himself may well be our most approachable god; and so man must sooner or later start to behave as a beneficent deity rather than so often as the devil incarnate. With his increasingly godlike powers, he has, for instance, used these to kill no less than 60,000,000 of his fellow men in the last forty years and could now destroy all life on earth. Our prayers should constantly include ourselves and be about ourselves and our actions.

In Battle for the Mind and The Unquiet Mind,2 I was fortunate in having Robert Graves to help in the final re-writing and to provide additional factual information. This time, Richard Cavendish, formerly editor of Man, Myth and Magic, has been very helpful in both these same respects. Dr Alexander Walk has been as knowledgeable and helpful in his proof corrections and suggestions in this book, as in previous ones. I have to thank several research secretaries at St Thomas’s Hospital for help with the script and also my former secretary Miss M. English. My wife’s help has been invaluable in many respects, especially in the collection of sound, photographic and film recordings under sometimes strange circumstances.

William Sargant
London 1973



1 W. Sargant, Battle for the Mind Heinemann 1957

2 W. Sargant, The Unquiet Mind Heinemann 1967
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Re: The Mind Possessed: A Physiology of Possession, Mysticis

Postby admin » Sat May 25, 2019 10:37 pm

Part One

1. The mind under stress

The origin of this book dates back to the Second World War and the treatment of battle neuroses -- psychological disorders stemming from horrifying and mentally overwhelming experiences of war. Soldiers who had broken down, in combat or afterwards, sometimes became totally preoccupied by their memories of what had happened to them. In other cases, these memories had been repressed into the subconscious mind but were causing feelings of depression, fatigue, irritability, irrational fears or nightmares.

Experiments were made with various drugs which enabled previously ‘normal’ people, suffering from recent battle neuroses, to relive emotionally, or to ‘abreact’ as it is called, experiences which had led to breakdown. We would inject a drug intravenously or give ether on a mask to the patient. Then we would suggest to him, in his drug-disinhibited state, that he was back in the situation of terror and stress which was troubling him. If his best friend’s head had been blown off into his lap, or he had been trapped in a burning tank or buried alive by an exploding shell, he was made to put himself back into the experience and live through it again. If successful, the effect was to stir up intense nervous excitement which produced violent outbursts of emotion.

As we increased the crescendo of the patient’s excitement, he might suddenly collapse and fall back inert on the couch. At first we thought this collapse might be caused by the drug, but it later became clear that it was an emotional collapse, brought about by the excitement aroused during abreaction. After the patient had come round, he might burst into tears or shake his head and smile, and then report that all his previous fears and abnormal preoccupations had suddenly left him, that his mind was functioning more normally again, that he felt more like his old self, that memories which had obsessed and terrified him could now be thought of without fear or anxiety. This could happen after weeks or months of illness, and the failure of other treatments. But it was only a really intense abreactive experience, followed by a phase of collapse, which was likely to produce such a dramatic relief of symptoms.

Our method of treatment, supposedly new, was in fact of time-honoured antiquity. Alcohol had earlier been used to bring about states of sudden and violent abreactive emotional release, and hypnosis had been used extensively in the First World War, and was still sometimes employed in the Second, to induce a patient to relive traumatic battle experiences. But more significantly, as this book will show, our method of treatment was markedly similar to techniques which men have employed for thousands of years all over the world in their dealings with the abnormal: not only in terms of mental illness, but in relation to ‘supernormal' or ‘supernatural’ agencies — gods, spirits and demons.1

We found that traumatic events had to be relived in the present tense. It was of little value if the patient merely described what had happened to him in a dull recital of events in the past tense and without renewed emotion. We tried to put him mentally right back into the horrifying situation, to make him live through it afresh, feeling, remembering and describing the whole experience in words. It was this verbalizing and emotional re-creation of a harrowing past experience which both Freud and Breuer, one of Freud’s early co-workers, had insisted was the essential curative agent of the abreactive process. For it enabled repressed and highly traumatic memories to flood back into the patient’s normal stream of consciousness, instead of being isolated and shut off from it, perhaps even totally forgotten, but still existing in the patient’s subconscious mind and causing disabling symptoms.

Towards the end of the war we started to use more powerfully excitatory types of drug, such as ether and methedrine (an amphetamine), instead of the more sedative intravenous barbiturates, such as pentothal or sodium amytal. We now began to find that it was not always the reliving of specific traumatic incidents in the past that produced the most beneficial effects, but the release by one means or another of states of really intense emotional excitement, anger or fear. These states might be created around incidents which were comparatively trivial and unimportant. We even found on occasion that the release of great anger or fear could be more effectively produced around incidents which were entirely imaginary and had never happened to the patient at all, and such abreactions of imaginary events could have remarkably beneficial effects. In fact, in dealing with people whose minds had only just recently broken down under stresses and strains, it might only be necessary to produce a state of severe emotional excitement centred about almost anything, to break up a recently implanted abnormal pattern of behaviour; and this would help to return the nervous system to its more normal functioning. Though many soldiers still remained ‘scarred’ and sensitized in a variety of ways because of their sudden breakdown.2

We found that the two emotions which it was most helpful to arouse, to break up recently implanted abnormal patterns of behaviour and thought, were feelings of great anger and aggression, or of intense fear and anxiety. The release of feelings of depression did not bring any real benefit, and laughter was not a sufficiently powerful emotion for the purpose. Laughter is more useful in preventing a person from becoming too emotionally involved, angry and fearful in the first place, and helps to avoid breakdown rather than to relieve it later on.

When we could not provoke an overwhelming release of emotion around terrifying incidents in the patient’s past, we might still rouse him to intense fear, or anger by getting him to release all the repressed emotions he felt about some authority figure, a bullying sergeant-major perhaps, who had disciplined and terrorized him during the months before his breakdown. For a sergeant-major and the repressive discipline he imposed might have just as traumatic and disruptive effects on the nervous stability of some soldiers in the long run as the sudden acute stresses of a highly unpleasant battle experience.

We found that if a patient had always been chronically neurotic and unstable, long before the events leading up to his breakdown, our treatment usually had little lasting effect. Furthermore, if the patient was deeply depressed or melancholic, rather than anxious and hysterical, it was generally impossible to make him release intense anger or fear during the abreaction, and so no improvement resulted. It seemed that in this type of case the brain was too inhibited, in its deeply depressed state, to be able to release enough emotion to break up the depressive condition. Similarly, schizophrenics often became much more chaotic in their minds when too intense a release of emotion was encouraged in them. In fact, we soon gave up trying to treat seriously mentally ill patients by abreactive methods, which were far more useful in treating recent neurotic illnesses in previously normal people.

However, it is significant that since the introduction of electrical shock therapy and insulin-coma therapy, even deeply depressed and schizophrenic patients, with previously stable and conscientious personalities, can be helped by what is basically the same method. Electrical shock therapy creates states of intense brain excitement, leading on to the same phase of temporary inhibition and collapse which we induced through drugs. The same thing could happen when the blood sugar was lowered in the insulin shock treatment of schizophrenia. A series of these physiological shock treatments often brings a patient who is depressed, deluded, hallucinated, perhaps totally mentally disorganized, back to his old more normal self again.

In my earlier book. Battle for the Mind, I described how, towards the end of the war and while we were dealing with casualties from the Normandy beach-head in 1944, I went to visit my father at his house in Highgate and casually took down from a bookshelf the second volume of John Wesley’s Journal, covering the year 1739 and the early 1740s.3 And suddenly I saw accounts of excitatory and abreactive happenings, leading on to states of sudden religious conversion, which were strikingly similar to the reactions we had seen in patients under drug abreactive treatment. Wesley was a powerful and moving preacher, and it was an essential part of his message to put his audience vividly in mind of the eternity of agonized suffering in the flames of hell which awaited them, if they did not sincerely repent and resolve to lead a changed life. Some of those who heard this message were terror-stricken and ‘pierced to the heart’. They groaned and cried out, writhing, shuddering, pouring with sweat, struggling in agony of mind for hour after hour in some cases, until they collapsed. They would then come round with a profound sense of release and change. They said that their old sinful ways had somehow lost their hold on them, that they now saw things in an entirely new light and were ready to lead a new life, to adopt values and standards quite different from, and indeed diametrically opposed to, their previous values. Not only had their old patterns of thinking been violently disrupted, but they had evidently become far more suggestible and open to persuasion about the new patterns which should take place.

There is a clear parallel between these experiences at Wesley’s meetings and the artificially induced states of intense emotional excitement, leading to a collapse and followed by a sense of release and sudden change, experienced in the drug abreactive treatment of neurosis. It is worth comparing a doctor’s reported observation from Wesley’s Journal for 1739 with an account by two doctors of drug abreactions in North Africa in 1942, to emphasize the similarity. Wesley on this occasion was preaching in Newgate Prison to condemned felons who were soon to be hanged, which no doubt, as Johnson said, ‘concentrated their minds wonderfully’ and made them particularly sensitive to Wesley’s alternatives of hell-fire or repentance and salvation. ‘We understand,’ Wesley wrote on 30 April 1739, that many were offended at the cries of those on whom the power of God came; among whom was a physician, who was much afraid there might be fraud or imposture in the case. Today one whom he had known many years was the first who broke out “into strong cries and tears.” He could hardly believe his own eyes and ears. He went and stood close to her, and observed every symptom, till great drops of sweat ran down her face and all her bones shook. He then knew not what to think, being clearly convinced it was not fraud nor yet any natural disorder. But when both her soul and body were healed in a moment, he acknowledged the finger of God.

Some two hundred years later, Grinker and Spiegel, reporting on the use of intravenous pentothal in the treatment of battle neuroses, wrote: ‘The terror exhibited ... is electrifying to watch. The body becomes increasingly tense and rigid; the eyes widen and the pupils dilate, while the skin becomes covered with a fine perspiration. The hands move convulsively . . . Breathing becomes incredibly rapid or shallow. The intensity of the emotion sometimes becomes more than they can bear; and frequently at the height of the reaction, there is a collapse and the patient falls back in the bed and remains quiet for a few minutes . . .’4

The same phenomena are explained very differently in different intellectual climates. Experiences of this sort were described for hundreds of years in Europe, and are still described in many societies (and by a good many people in Europe, for that matter) in terms of ‘spirit possession’ or ‘demonic possession’, the entry into a man’s mind and body of some supernatural intelligence which controls him. Wesley himself put what was happening down to the intervention of the Holy Ghost. Later the effects of his preaching were sometimes so bizarre and disturbing that he thought the devil himself must have a hand in them. Charles Wesley was particularly inclined to this view and the Wesleys in fact helped to revive the decaying belief in a personal devil. Grinker and Spiegel, on the other hand, interpreted their results in terms of Freud’s theories of the subconscious mind. We ourselves were initially more concerned to observe exactly what was happening than to theorize about it, for very little was known, or still is known, about how the brain actually works, and this may remain the case for many years to come.

However, it was fortunate that, at the time, I had just been recommended to read Pavlov’s last series of lectures, which he gave around the age of eighty, based upon his years of experience in the conditioning and deconditioning of dogs,1 and his attempts, towards the end of his life, to apply the lessons he had learned from animals to problems of human behaviour. His lectures on Conditioned Reflexes and Psychiatry were translated by Horsley Gantt and published in 1941, but most of the copies had been destroyed in the London Blitz, and I was fortunate to obtain a copy from Major Howard Fabing, who was over in England at the time with the United States Armed Forces, and was himself interested in the treatment of battle neuroses and allied psychiatric states. He had been struck by the similarity of the final breakdown in normal soldiers under stress to behaviour reported in animals, and in some of Pavlov’s fascinating comparisons between the two.

In Pavlov’s account of the behaviour of his animals under stress there was one experience which seemed to provide a clue to what might be happening in the drug abreaction of our military casualties. Some of Pavlov’s dogs were accidentally trapped in their cages when the Neva River flooded Leningrad in 1924. The water entered Pavlov’s laboratory and reached nearly to the top of the cages containing his dogs. Towards the end, when they were swimming around the very tops of their cages, they were dramatically rescued by a laboratory attendant, who brought the dogs out under the water to safety.

All the dogs had met the frightening experience with initial fear and excitement. But after their rescue some were in a state of severe inhibition, stupor and collapse. The strain on the nervous system had been so intense that the fearful excitement aroused had resulted in a final emotional collapse, just as had happened when we produced artificial states of excitement in soldiers through the use of amytal, ether or methedrine. Other dogs met the situation with mounting excitement, but this had not led to a total emotional collapse at the time of their rescue.

Pavlov was most excited when he found that in all those dogs which had experienced the collapse, all their recently implanted conditioned reflexes had been abolished. It was as if the recently printed brain-slate had been suddenly wiped clean, and Pavlov was able to imprint on it new conditioned patterns of behaviour. Those dogs which had been intensely excited but had not collapsed, had not suffered this dramatic wiping clean of the brain-slate. But all the dogs had become highly sensitized by their terrifying experience. Years later, if a trickle of water was allowed to run in under the door of the laboratory, they all still showed signs of anxious sensitivity.

I came to the conclusion that we were probably seeing, in the drug abreaction -- of war neuroses — when soldiers suddenly collapsed and lay inert on the couch and then woke up saying that their recent fears and past horrors had suddenly lost their hold on them — similar reactions to those experienced by some of Pavlov’s dogs. And it was then that we started not to bother so much about the actual incidents which produced states of intense excitement in our soldiers, but to try to find the best chemical or psychological means of bringing on the maximum degree of non-specific brain excitement and collapse as a powerful treatment in its own right, somewhat similar to a psychologically induced shock treatment.

For instance, at the height of an ether abreaction we might also on Dr Fabing’s suggestion, inject an extra stimulant drug such as coramine, so as to add further excitement and emotion to the remembering of an incident; later we used intravenous methedrine. We found, in some instances at least, that it was the severity of the emotional upheaval itself that mattered in treatment, regardless of what had brought it about. Non-specific abreaction could disrupt recently implanted attitudes and fears, and could be curative, especially in recently ill but previously normal patients. Again I must stress that we did not and could not use this method to make a new stable personality out of somebody lacking previous qualities of stamina, drive, stability, or powers of resistance to ordinary stress. We did, however, seem able to restore the status quo, though still modified by a persisting sensitization to the overwhelming experience which had caused the breakdown. You cannot, I must repeatedly emphasize, ever make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear by so simple a technique. But because an increased state of suggestibility is a result of the treatment, it may be possible afterwards to redirect the basic drives and previous constitutional strengths of some patients to new ends, as this book will repeatedly show.

Pavlov’s researches proved useful at this time because they seemed to bring some order and sense into what we had been seeing for so long but did not really understand. But Pavlov provided nothing like the whole explanation. His work seemed most applicable to what was happening to the human nervous system when subjected to the severest stresses of modern war, stresses so great that they are rarely seen in peacetime and can finally result in even the most normal nervous system breaking down abruptly and completely. Such stresses only occur in peacetime when specifically created in situations such as are described in this book, or in disasters like train accidents and aeroplane crashes; or sometimes, of course, in overwhelming disasters of a personal nature, or following very long periods of stress, which can be disruptive and terrible in their total effects on man. Past history shows how often man has created for himself imagined terrors such as burning in eternal hell-fire, which may come to dominate his imagination and damage him as severely as a more justifiable wartime fear of being burned alive in a tank.

Pavlov stressed that dogs -- and the same has been shown to be the case in human beings — varied in their response to severe stress according to their respective innate and inherited constitutions. After over twenty years of research, he distinguished four main constitutional temperaments in his dogs, which he found to be the same as the four basic temperaments of man described centuries ago by the great Greek physician Hippocrates. There were the two extremes, a strong excitatory and a weak inhibitory temperament; and the two intermediate types, the controlled excitatory and the stable plethoric temperaments. The strong excitatory dog or man tends to respond with an excess of excitement to perhaps quite ordinary upsetting stimuli. The controlled excitatory type meets similar upsetting stimuli with controlled excitement or aggression, which does not go beyond the bounds of an accepted normality. The plethoric temperament can only be upset by anything in its environment with great difficulty; it remains remarkably stable under all sorts of different stresses. The weak inhibitory individual, on the other hand, after perhaps only a short period of excitement, responds by developing a progressive and finally paralysing inhibition of normal brain function. Pavlov found that what he called this ‘transmarginal’ (it has also been called ‘ultra-boundary’) inhibition eventually overcame all types of nervous system if stresses were too great. When it supervened, the brain had been reduced to the only means it had left of avoiding further damage due to continued nervous stress and fatigue, by developing a ‘protective inhibition’.

One of Pavlov’s most important findings describes what happens to conditioned implanted behaviour patterns when the brain of a dog — and again this has been shown to be true of man — is ‘transmarginally' stimulated by aggression, fear or conflict, beyond its capacity for showing its habitual response, resulting in what he called a ‘rupture in higher nervous activity’. Three distinct but progressive stages of ‘transmarginal’ inhibition succeed each other. The first is the equivalent phase of transmarginal brain activity. In this phase all stimuli of whatever contrasting strength produce the same sort of final result. For instance, normal people, during periods of great fatigue following stress, may find that there is little difference between their emotional reactions to important and trivial experiences. When well, the feelings of a normal healthy person will vary greatly according to the strength of the stimuli experienced, but when ill he may complain of being unable to feel joy or sorrow or any emotion as he would do normally.

When even stronger stresses are endured by the brain, the equivalent stage of brain inhibition may be succeeded by a paradoxical phase. Here weak and formerly ineffective stimuli can produce more marked responses than stronger stimuli. The stronger stimuli now only serve to increase the existing protective brain inhibition. But the weaker stimuli produce stronger positive responses, as there is less resulting brain inhibition. In this state a dog will refuse food accompanied by a strong stimulus, but accepts it if the stimulus is a weak one. This behaviour is often seen in human beings when behaviour and emotional attitudes change in a manner which seems quite irrational, not only to the detached observer but even to the patient himself -- unless either of them happen to have studied Pavlov’s experiments. As a simple example, the harder you try to remember something the less you succeed. When you stop trying to remember consciously, the forgotten name or incident soon comes to mind.

In the third stage of protective inhibition, the ultraparadoxical phase, positive conditioned behaviour and responses suddenly start to switch to negative ones, and negative ones to positive. The dog may then, for instance, be fond of the laboratory attendant he has previously hated, or attack the master he has previously loved. His behaviour, in fact, suddenly becomes exactly opposite to all his previous conditioning. In both men and dogs, after great stresses, one set of behaviour patterns can thus be temporarily replaced by other diametrically opposed ones. This is difficult to achieve by persuasive intellectual arguments alone, but can be done quite simply by imposing intolerable stresses and strains, either physical or psychological on to a hitherto normally functioning brain.

One other important finding, which is relevant to all the material we shall be discussing, is that when transmarginal-inhibition begins to supervene in dogs, a state of brain activity results which is similar to that seen in human hysteria. This can cause greatly increased suggestibility (or sometimes equally great counter-suggestibility). The individual suddenly starts to take notice of happenings and influences around him, to which he would normally have paid little or no attention. In this ‘hypnoid’ phase of brain activity, human beings become open to the uncritical adoption of thoughts and behaviour patterns, present in their environment, which would normally not have influenced them emotionally or intellectually. Hypnoid, paradoxical and ultraparadoxical states of brain activity can also cause a splitting of the stream of consciousness, so that certain thoughts, memories or patterns of behaviour implanted in the brain somehow become isolated and totally divorced from the main stream of consciousness, memory and behaviour. And we shall also frequently encounter the final inhibitory collapse phase, with its wiping clean of the brain-slate as regards recent happenings: this is often called the 'little death’, preceding rebirth to a new life, in primitive tribal rituals.

To sum up, then, human beings respond to imposed stresses or complex situations according to their different type of inherited temperament. A person’s reaction to normal stress also depends on the environmental influences to which he has been exposed, though they do not change his basic temperamental patterns. Human beings break down when stresses or conflicts become too severe for the nervous system to master, or as we might now say, to ‘compute’. At this point of breakdown their behaviour begins to vary from that normally characteristic of their temperamental type and previous conditioning. The amount of stress that can be endured without breaking down varies also with the physical condition. Fatigue, fever, drugs, glandular changes in the body, and other physical factors can lower resistance to stress. If the nervous system is stimulated transmarginally -- beyond its capacity to respond normally — for long periods, inhibition sets in, regardless of temperamental type. In the two less stable types, the weak inhibitory and the strong excitatory, breakdown is likely to occur sooner than in the two stronger types.

Transmarginal inhibition, once it sets in, can produce three distinguishable phases of abnormal behaviour — the equivalent, paradoxical and ultraparadoxical phases. And finally, stresses imposed on the nervous system may result in transmarginal protective inhibition, a state of brain activity which can produce a marked increase in hysterical suggestibility (or, more rarely, extreme counter-suggestibility) so that the individual becomes susceptible to influences in his environment to which he was formerly immune. All this has been set out in detail in Battle for the Mind, to which reference can be made for further factual and experimental data.

Some of the soldiers from the Normandy beach-head who arrived at our emergency hospital unit in England were still extremely frightened, weeping, speechless or paralysed. One such had served four years in the Army before his breakdown and had never reported sick with nerves, but he had suddenly been converted from a truck driver into an infantryman, and was then sent out to the front line where he broke down under mortar-fire and shelling. Not responding to immediate treatment in France, he was returned to England and on admission to our unit appeared to be mentally slow, tense and apprehensive. His condition did not change much during the first week; he walked slowly with bent back, his features were rigid and his fear and slowness of thinking made it difficult for us to get the story out of him. First, an intravenous barbiturate, sodium amytal, was injected, and he was then asked to say what had happened. He described being under mortar-fire for eight days in the same section of the front. He had then gone into a wood and become increasingly nervous, beginning to tremble and shake. Several men were killed by mortar-fire near him; he finally lost his voice, burst into tears and became partially paralysed. His recital of what happened, produced by the drug, released very little emotion and there was little change immediately after treatment, or on the following day. That afternoon he was given another abreaction, this time using ether instead of a barbiturate. Then we went over the same ground and he told the story with far greater release of emotion and at the end became confused and exhausted. He tried to tear off the ether mask and over-breathed in a panic-stricken way. When he came to, he got off the couch and an obvious change had occurred in him. He smiled for the first time and looked much less tense. A few minutes later he said that most of his troubles seemed to have gone with the ether, and a week later he was still feeling a different fellow. 'I feel fine,’ he said, and the improvement was maintained for the next fortnight.

A further case illustrates the dispersal of what can be called an obsessive stereotype of behaviour, again by the use of ether abreaction, though the use of ether was not in itself sufficient to induce a complete release of emotion and, after a preliminary failure, the patient’s excitement was deliberately stimulated again until he was brought to the necessary point of collapse. After this, the stereotype of his behaviour pattern broke up and he was very much better. In this soldier the neurosis had only come on gradually after he had been in action for several weeks. He, too, had been given front-line sedation treatment in France, but he had not responded and was sent back to our hospital in England. He was depressed and apathetic, complained of dizziness and inability to stand the noise of gun-fire or aircraft. He could not rid his mind of the thought of his friends who had been killed in France. In his imagination he constantly pictured a scene in which one of his comrades had died with a hole through his head, the chin of another had been blown off, and blood was spurting from the head of a third. When given the first ether abreaction and made to relive the scenes, he became excited and said he thought he was going to be the next to be killed, but the abreaction never went on to a phase of collapse. On coming back to full consciousness he wept. In the next abreaction he was made to relive another frightening experience which had taken place some time before his final breakdown. He had been subject to mortar-fire and dive-bombing in a churchyard, and when the therapist suggested to him, under ether, that he was back there again he began clawing at the couch, imagining that he was in a ditch. We deliberately played on his fears by giving him realistic comments on an ever-worsening situation until, reaching a crescendo of excitement, he suddenly collapsed and lay almost as if dead. Transmarginal had dramatically supervened. This time on regaining consciousness he smiled and said that everything had gone, everything was different he felt more open. ‘I feel better than I did when I came here.’ What was interesting in this patient was that when asked if he remembered his friend’s face being blown off, he grinned and said, ‘I seem to have forgotten about it. France is not worrying me any more.’ And when questioned about this incident, he said, ‘Yes, the fellow with a hole in his head.’ He could still remember it but the whole weight of the memory had been lifted from his mind. When asked why this had happened, he simply said he could not explain it. But he was now able to discuss the whole scene freely without his usual display of emotion, and later in the day he said he felt a lot better, it had gone out of his system. ‘I know all about it and it does not affect me in the same way.’ He then began to improve rapidly.

What is most important to emphasize about this case is that we used, as a means of stirring his excitement to the state of final collapse, a memory which was not the particular one which had been haunting him. But by creating a deliberate but artificial emotional explosion, harping on some other fear-provoking stimuli, we cleared away a whole chapter of recent emotional history and its associated behaviour patterns, which had been building up owing to the patient’s growing inability to stand up to continued battle stress.

A woman in her fifties, on her admission to hospital could not get out of her mind some of the scenes which had occurred when the V-rockets were landing on London in 1944. Eventually her own A.R.P. helmet had been blown off by a severe rocket explosion, and she had been hit on the back of the head. She said, ‘I saw terrible sights, plenty of people cut to pieces under the debris.’ And fifty people had been killed or injured around her. As soon as she closed her eyes to try to sleep, she saw people cut and bleeding, and the same sort of picture plagued her dreams; this had been going on for six months before she finally entered hospital. She was depressed and worried, unable to concentrate; she had lost quite a lot of weight and complained of giddiness, unreal feelings, disturbed sleep and weakness in the legs. This last symptom practically immobilized her. A neighbour reported that she had been a very energetic and bright person, but since her illness had become listless, forgetful and ‘flat’.

Ether was again used, and she relived the rocket explosion incident with great emotion and intensity, describing how she was buried under the debris with her husband until she was rescued by her brother. She interrupted her recital under ether, frantically shouting out for her husband, ‘Where are you? Where are you?’ She repeated this several times at the top of her voice, at the same time groping with her fingers as though searching for him among the debris. The climax came when she described the rescue, at which point she suddenly fell back and collapsed inert. On regaining consciousness, she found she had complete use of her limbs and a clear mind with no fears or visions. The improvement was maintained and she was very much better as a result of the treatment she had received.

It must be emphasized again that it was not always essential in these abreactive treatments to make a patient recall the precise incident which had precipitated the breakdown. It was often enough to create in them a state of excitement and keep it going until the patient finally collapsed; he might then start to improve very rapidly. Imaginary situations might have to be invented or actual events distorted, especially when the patient, remembering the real experience which had caused the neurosis or reliving it under drugs, had not reached the transmarginal phase of collapse necessary to disrupt his morbid behaviour patterns.

One other important fact must be mentioned. If any patient is subjected to repeated abreaction on the couch, as in psychoanalysis and other more intensive forms of psychotherapy, and if this occurs over a period of months or years, he often becomes increasingly sensitive and suggestible to the therapist’s suggestions and interpretations of symptoms. A hypnoid state of brain activity may result. Patients may come to feel that in some way they are in the hands of a person of almost divine wisdom; they avidly accept suggestions from the therapist about altering their behaviour, which would have been quite unacceptable to them in their more normal state of mind. Quite bizarre interpretations are accepted and false memories are believed as facts if they fit in with the analyst’s own beliefs. It is necessary to emphasize as strongly as possible that in this stage of brain activity, brought about by continually stirring up the nervous system, and whether or not the transmarginal inhibitory collapse phase is finally reached, the patient can become sensitized, suggestible (or, rarely, pathologically unsuggestible), and often much too willing to adopt new attitudes and new behaviour patterns which he would never have dreamt of accepting before. Freudians refer to this sort of thing occurring in psychoanalysis as the ‘transference situation’ or as ‘gaining insight’. I intend in this book to show how it happens in states of supposed religious possession.



1 W. Sargant and H. J. Shorvon, ‘Acute War Neuroses: Special References to Pavlov’s Experimental Observations and Mechanism of Abreaction’, Arch. Neurol. Psychiat., 1945, 34, 231

2 W. Sargant, ‘Some Observations on Abreaction with Drugs’, Digest Neural. Psychiat., 1948, 16, p. 193

3 C. Kelly, Journal of John Wesley, Standard Edition, London 1909-16

4 R. Grinker and J. P. Spiegel, War Neuroses in North Africa, Josiah Macy Foundation, New York 1943

5 I. P. Pavlov, Conditioned Reflexes and Psychiatry, Lawrence & Wishart, London 1941
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Re: The Mind Possessed: A Physiology of Possession, Mysticis

Postby admin » Sat May 25, 2019 11:03 pm

2. Mesmerism and increased suggestibility

The curious and alarming behaviour reported among audiences at Wesley’s revival meetings was exhibited again by some of Mesmer’s patients in Paris later in the eighteenth century. Mesmer was born in 1734 and studied medicine at Vienna. About 1766 he coined the term ‘animal magnetism’ for a supposed fluid or force which he thought existed everywhere in nature and was concentrated in the human nervous system and also in magnets. The idea that the human body has magnetic properties which respond to outside magnetic influences goes back far beyond Mesmer’s day and attempts had long been made to use magnets in the cure of disease. Mesmer at first treated his patients with magnets but then discovered that they were unnecessary, because the ‘magnetic’ curative influence flowed more effectively from the doctor’s own nervous system to the patient. What in fact he had discovered was ‘mesmerism’ or what we now call ‘hypnosis’.

Mesmer fell foul of the orthodox medical profession in Vienna and in 1778 went to Paris, where his reputation had preceded him and patients flocked to him for treatment. As he could not treat so many individually, he used a large wooden tub or baquet round which thirty patients could sit and be magnetized at the same time. In the baquet was a layer of powdered glass and a number of bottles containing iron filings. The necks of some of these bottles slanted over towards the centre of the tub and others slanted towards the patients. The bottles usually stood in water but the baquet could, if necessary, be a dry one. Protruding from the baquet were jointed iron rods, held by the patients, who were arranged round the tub in several rows and were connected to each other by holding hands and by cords which were passed round their bodies.

Mesmer spared no pains to make the scene as impressive and emotionally tense as possible and to create the effect of powerfully mysterious and magical forces at work. Soft music filtered in from an adjoining room and the patients, in the dim religious light of the thickly curtained main hall, had to keep absolutely silent while Mesmer walked about in a coat of lilac silk, carrying a long iron wand with which he touched the afflicted parts of their bodies. He magnetized them by staring at them, by making mesmeric ‘passes’ with his hands or by stroking them, and this might be continued for some hours. Initially he might seat himself opposite the subject, foot against foot, knee against knee, gently rubbing the affected region, and moving his hands to and fro, perhaps lightly touching the ribs.

The effects of the treatment varied considerably. Some patients felt nothing at all, some felt as if insects were scampering over their bodies, some coughed, spat, felt slight pain or a local or general heat which made them sweat. Some patients, however, fell into convulsions. This was called ‘the crisis' and was considered extremely salutary.

Bailly, who was one of the Commissioners appointed to investigate the phenomenon by the French Royal Society of Medicine, reported on the convulsions as follows:

These convulsions are remarkable for their number, duration, and force, and have been known to persist for more than three hours. They are characterized by involuntary, jerking movements in all the limbs, and in the whole body, by contraction of the throat, by twitching in the hypochondriac and epigastric regions, by dimness and rolling of the eyes, by piercing cries, tears, hiccoughs, and immoderate laughter. They are preceded or followed by a state of languor or dreaminess, by a species of depression, and even by stupor. The slightest sudden noise causes the patient to start, and it has been observed that he is affected by a change of time or tune in the airs performed on the pianoforte; that his agitation is increased by a more lively movement, and that his convulsions then become more violent. Patients are seen to be absorbed in the search for one another, rushing together, smiling, talking affectionately, and endeavouring to modify their crises.1

Bailly noted that the great majority of subjects who experienced the crisis were women, and that it took two or three hours to establish the crisis. ‘When the agitation exceeds certain limits, the patients are transported into a padded room; the women’s corsets are unlaced, and they may then strike their heads against the padded walls, without doing themselves any injury’.2

Besides reporting on the greatly increased suggestibility of the patients, for example in their response to the piano music, Bailly also observed the formation of a strong positive ‘transference’ to the magnetizer: ‘They are all so submissive to the magnetizer that even when they appear to be in a stupor, his voice, a glance, or sign will arouse them from it. It is impossible not to admit, from all these results, that some great force acts upon and masters the patients, and that this force appears to reside in the magnetizer.’3

Alfred Binet and Charles Fere, who published their extremely interesting book on mesmerism in 1887, remarked:

It must have been curious to witness such scenes. So far as we are now able to judge, Mesmer excited in his patients nervous crises in which we may trace the principal signs of the severe hysterical attacks which may be observed daily. Silence, darkness, and the emotional expectation of some extraordinary phenomenon, when several persons are collected in one place, are conditions known to encourage convulsive crises in predisposed subjects. It must be remembered that women were in the majority, that the first crisis which occurred was contagious, and we shall fully understand the hysterical character of these manifestations. We must again draw attention to some of the characteristics of these convulsive crises. The movements of all the limbs and of the whole body, the contraction of the throat, the twitchings of the hypochondriac and of the epigastric regions, are manifest signs of hysteria . . . 4

The mesmeric crisis appears to have been essentially the same phenomenon which we observed in the drug abreaction of battle neuroses during the Second World War, following the identical pattern of mounting nervous excitement and tension, leading on to states of collapse, temporary sleep and highly increased suggestibility. The same pattern of behaviour among Wesley’s audiences had been put down to ‘possession’ and it is significant that animal magnetism and mesmerism had an important influence on the development of Spiritualism, which in Europe and America today is the principal organized stronghold of the age-old belief in spirit possession. Communications delivered through a medium in trance come, in the first instance at least, from her ‘control’ or ‘guide’, who is believed to be the discarnate intelligence of someone who formerly lived on earth and who temporarily takes possession of the medium to communicate through her. An approved Spiritualist author defines the term possession to mean ‘the invasion of the living by a discarnate spirit or spirits, tending to complete possession for the purpose of selfish gratification. Trance mediumship operates on the same principle but is the result of cooperation between an intelligent spirit and the medium.’5 Non-Spiritualist observers generally tend to regard the ‘control’ as a subordinate personality of the medium herself, temporarily split off from her normal consciousness, but the number of people in the West who believe in the possibility of obsession or possession by the spirits of the dead is by no means negligible.

Mesmer and his disciples regarded the convulsions of the crisis as essential to the cure, and Deslon, one of Mesmer’s principal assistants, believed that it was only by means of the crisis that the magnetizer could effect a cure. Binet and Fere say: ‘We are now aware that these crises are real phenomena, of which the cause is generally admitted to be hysterical neurosis. Moreover, a considerable number of facts demonstrate that, under the influence of such crises, certain forms of paralysis, which have persisted for months, and even for years, may suddenly disappear. There was, therefore, a certain truth in the curative virtue of these convulsive phenomena.’6

The members of the official Commission of Investigation were particularly struck by the fact that these curative crises did not occur unless the subjects were aware that they were being magnetized. If a patient’s eyes were bandaged but she knew that she was being magnetized, she might have a crisis, but if the magnet or other magnetic agents were brought near her without her knowledge, nothing happened. Suggestibility obviously played a very important part.

So many people wanted treatment that the mesmerists were driven to magnetize trees and attach dozens of ropes to them. This enabled large groups of poor people to stand round the tree, holding the ropes and each other’s hands, and so receive the magnetic treatment; and the same abreactive crises followed.

The members of the Commission gave it as their opinion that they had demonstrated:

. . . that imagination apart from magnetism, produces convulsions, and that magnetism without imagination produces nothing. They have come to the unanimous conclusion with respect to the existence and utility of magnetism, that there is nothing to prove the existence of the animal magnetic fluid; that, this fluid, since it is non-existent, has no beneficial effect; that the violent effects observed in patients under public treatment are due to contact, to the excitement of the imagination, and to the mechanical imitation which involuntarily impels us to repeat that which strikes our senses.7

The Commission also prepared a special private report for the King in addition to the one publicly published. This dealt with the possible moral dangers of ‘magnetic’ treatment. They said:

Women are always magnetized by men; the established relations are doubtless those of a patient to the physician, but this physician is a man, and whatever the illness may be, it does not deprive us of our sex . . . The long-continued proximity, the necessary contact, the communication of individual heat, the interchange of looks, are ways and means by which it is well known that nature ever effects the communication of the sensations and the affections .... It is not surprising that the senses are inflamed . . . When this kind of crisis is approaching, the countenance becomes gradually inflamed, the eye brightens, and this is the sign of natural desire . . . The crisis continues, however, and the eye is obscured, an unequivocal sign of the complete disorder of the senses . . . the eyelids become moist, the respiration is short and interrupted, the chest heaves rapidly, convulsions set in, and either the limbs or the whole body is agitated by sudden movements. In lively and sensitive women this last stage, which terminates the sweetest emotion, is often a convulsion: to this condition there succeed languor, prostration, and a sort of slumber of the Senses, which is a repose necessary after strong agitation.8

Obviously the Commission was hinting that attacks of 'mesmeric excitement leading’ to trance and collapse were akin to what happens in female orgasm, as is indeed also the case, as we shall see, in some other applications of the same basic method. Deslon was asked point blank by Lieutenant-General Lenoir of the police, ‘whether, when a woman is magnetized and passing through the crisis, it would not be easy to outrage her’.9 Deslon agreed that it would be, though there was no evidence at all that such abuses were occurring.

The private report ended with the warning that there was nothing to prevent the convulsions from becoming habitual in certain patients, or from producing an epidemic of the type earlier reported in convents. The Commission even suggested that the damage caused to patients by mesmeric treatment might be ‘transmitted to future generations’, and they felt that there might be an injurious effect on public morals.

It is particularly interesting that the Commission noticed the parallel between the behaviour of Mesmer’s patients and the outbreaks of ‘demonic possession’ in nunneries in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries (which we shall consider in more detail in a later chapter). In both cases most of those affected were women, hysterical excitement was contagious and spread rapidly from one person in a group to others, the behaviour of women patients was orgasmic, and the patients became highly suggestible.

The first signatory of the report to Louis XVI was Benjamin Franklin. Lavoisier, the great chemist, was one of the eight others who signed it. Issued in 1784, it finally resulted in Mesmer having to leave France. He first settled at Spa in Belgium, where he established a free mesmerism clinic, and then went to Constance in Germany. The King of Prussia invited him to practise in Berlin, but he refused. However, a Chair of Mesmerism was established at the Berlin Academy and a hospital devoted solely to mesmerism was founded there.

In the same year, 1784, that the Commission’s report was issued, the Marquis de Puysegur, a physician living in retirement on his estate, started to magnetize patients after the manner of Mesmer, and he reported another important phenomenon, which we shall see repeated time and again.

A young peasant named Victor, 23 years of age, who had been suffering for four days from inflammation of the lungs, was thrown by magnetism into a peaceful sleep, unaccompanied by convulsions or suffering. He spoke aloud, and was busied about his private affairs. It was easy to change the direction of his thoughts, to inspire him with cheerful sentiments, and he then became happy, and imagined that he was firing at a mark or dancing at a village fete. In his waking state he was simple and foolish, but during the crisis his intelligence was remarkable; there was no need of speaking to him, since he could understand and reply to the thoughts of those present. He himself indicated the treatment necessary in his illness, and he was soon cured.10

This early report on the occurrence of the mesmeric trance state was virtually ignored by Mesmer himself, who was too preoccupied with producing therapeutic states of excitement and collapse, but it is also most important to our theme. Puysegur had also magnetized a tree, which grew on the village green near his house. The patients were seated on stone benches around this tree, with cords connecting its branches, to the affected parts of their bodies, and they formed a link by joining their hands together. An eyewitness, Cloquet, has given us a very valuable account of the states of trance produced. He says that the patients’ eyes became closed, and there might be no sense of hearing unless they were awakened by the voice of the master. One had to be careful not to touch the patient during a crisis, or even the chair on which he was seated, as this might produce a convulsion which only Puysegur himself could subdue. To arouse the patients from trance, however, Puysegur had only to touch their eyes, or tell them to go and embrace the tree. They would get up while still in trance, go straight to the tree and soon afterwards open their eyes. What is more, the patients had no recollection of what had occurred during the three or four hours of what was then termed a 'mesmeric crisis'.11

Puysegur was mainly interested in curing diseases, but he observed the same phenomena so constantly reported by the mesmerists and later by the hypnotists. One of the reasons why mesmerism influenced the development of Spiritualism was that a mesmerized patient often appeared to possess what seemed to be supernatural healing power, which Spiritualists later put down to the activities of spirit doctors. It was sometimes enough for a mesmerized patient merely to touch another sick person brought to him. The mesmerized person was also supposed to be able in his trance to suggest remedies for other people’s illnesses. Puysegur, who did not use a baquet like Mesmer, explained his successes more in terms of the transmission of a supposed mesmeric fluid between persons, than through the production of violent crises accompanied by cries, sobs, contortions, or hysterical attacks, stressed by Mesmer, and which ended in the patient often drifting off into mesmeric sleep. We now know that both these mechanisms are very important.

Puysegur also observed that the obedience of the magnetized person to the magnetizer’s orders enabled the latter to direct the patient’s thoughts and acts at his whim, and he stressed the phenomenon, which was rediscovered by Freud a hundred years later, of an increasing sensitivity, of ‘transference’ arising between the therapist and the patient. For instance, Puysegur said that the magnetizer alone should touch the sleeping patient, for fear of producing suffering and convulsions if anybody else interfered. Other observers reported that a subject in mesmeric trance was often able to read the thoughts of the person magnetizing him. Many instances were cited of people being able to read papers held behind their backs, and of many other examples of what is now called ‘extrasensory perception’. Such thought-reading feats under hypnosis have never been fully confirmed under the very strictest of experimental conditions, but it is clear that a person in hypnotic or mesmeric trance can become extremely sensitive to the lightest remarks and tiniest movements, and probably even to minute alterations in the breathing of those near him. In other words, we do see the person in trance becoming extremely sensitized and suggestible or, rarely, pathologically contra-suggestible, to the person who has put him into trance, and also to others who are near by.

Despite official medical disapproval, investigations continued and in 1813 Deleuze announced that faith was important to the success of mesmeric treatment. In the same year, Faria, an Italian mesmerist, gave demonstrations in Paris in which he seated a sensitized subject in an armchair, with closed eyes, and then simply cried out in a loud voice, ‘Go to sleep!’ After a certain amount of movement the subject would often fall into a condition of trance, which Faria in 1813 called ‘a lucid slumber’. And he found that this ‘lucid slumber’ could be induced most easily if the subject wished for it, but sometimes even when he did not, and even when the patient had put up a great resistance to being mesmerized.12

Later in the nineteenth century the term animal magnetism itself fell out of use, but people went on experimenting with the basic techniques, and continued to produce the same startling effects of nervous function and to obtain the same impressive treatment successes in some patients. In 1843, Dr James Braid, in England, changed the name of mesmerism to ‘hypnotism’, but insisted that it was exactly the same phenomenon, He stressed the need for further inquiries into the phenomena of hypnotism, which have been going on right up to the present time. Numerous disputes have occurred about the causes of what happens under hypnosis, but we hope to convince the reader that the same phenomena have been seen and reported over and over again, and not merely since Mesmer’s time but all through history.

What are these phenomena, so constantly reported and given so many different names and explanations? The first two can be termed ‘hypnotic lethargy’ and ‘trance’. The patient may appear to be in deep sleep, the eyes closed or semi-closed, the eyelids quivering perhaps; the face is expressionless; the head may be thrown back; the limbs hang loosely down and, if raised, they fall back into the same position in a lifeless manner. Movements of the muscles show that they have a heightened tone, and if you try to move the limb in certain directions you may get pronounced opposition. Sometimes the whole limb may stiffen and resist all movement, and there may be a state of ‘cataplexy’ in which the subject will maintain certain attitudes into which his limb's and body have been placed for quite long periods of time. The arms can be gently raised or bent, since this generally produces no resistance. In deeper trance the eyes may remain wide open, the gaze is fixed, and the face and eyes are expressionless.

In these conditions, despite the general body lethargy, there may be strong contractions of individual limbs. The hands may be tightly closed, and one arm may become quite stiff and rigid; the more you try to move the arm the more rigid it becomes; or the muscles contract and do just the opposite to what you are trying to do with the limb. The skin can also become very sensitive to the lightest touch. In hypnotized subjects special zones of the body seem to produce certain actions; pressure on one zone, for instance, may bring about an attack of acute hysteria, which stops as soon as the pressure is removed. Patients may be breathing rapidly and shallowly, or sometimes very deeply and quietly.

During hypnotic lethargy the senses may be mostly in abeyance, with the exception perhaps of the sense of hearing. Sometimes they become highly sensitive to small stimuli, just as in the paradoxical phase of brain activity; subjects may even feel the moving air produced by someone else’s breathing at a distance of several yards away; they may be very sensitive to even the whispered words of the hypnotist. The hypnotized subject, on waking, seldom remembers what has occurred during the hypnotic sleep, unless he has been specially ordered to do so by the hypnotist during trance. On the other hand, when the subject is in a hypnotic trance state he may remember all sorts of facts about his past life which he cannot remember when he is awake.

We observed exactly the same phenomena when we put people into what might well be called a mesmeric or hypnotic trance state, using drug abreaction instead of hypnosis, in the Second World War. Then the subject would be able to remember again, and to relive in the greatest detail, things forgotten in waking life — repressed battle experiences or memories of being bombed during the Blitz. In lighter mood, people have been reported singing songs when in trance which they cannot remember in their normal waking state, and one of the familiar techniques of the stage-hypnotist is to put subjects back into childhood to recall events and behave in ways which their normal adult selves have long forgotten and abandoned. It certainly seems clear that the brain’s memory bank, as we might now call it, is far more extensive than is generally realized.

Writing in 1887, Binet and Fere described what they regarded as two opposite types of ‘somnambulism’, the old term for hypnotic trance. These were the active and passive types:

The latter remains motionless with closed eyes, without speech or expression, and, if asked a question, she replies in a low voice . . . the subject retains her consciousness of places and of persons, and hears all that is said in her presence. The other subject is a singular contrast to the one we have just described, since she is in a state of perpetual movement. As soon as she is thrown into a somnambulist condition, she rises from her chair, looks to the right and left, and will even go so far as to address the persons present with familiarity, whether she is acquainted with them or not ... In the majority of subjects there is no marked difference between their normal life and that of somnambulism. None of the intellectual faculties are absent during sleep. It only appears that the tone of the psychical life is exaggerated; excessive psychical excitement is nearly always present during somnambulism. This is clearly shown in the emotions. It is, in general, perfectly easy to make a subject shout with laughter, or shed tears. He is deeply moved by a dramatic tale, and even by words in which there is no sense, if they are uttered in a serious tone. It is curious to note the influence of music; the subject expresses in all his attitudes and gestures an emotion in accordance with the character of the piece . . . Instances have been given of subjects who could, during somnambulism, perform intellectual feats of which they were incapable in the waking state. We ourselves have ascertained nothing decisive on this point, except that we have sometimes observed hypnotized subjects, who could read printing in an inverted position more rapidly than when they were awake, and who could even supply the omitted letters of a double acrostic. There is, indeed, nothing improbable in this quickening of the intellect. There are several instances of a thinker having, when dreaming at night, resolved problems to which he had devoted the fruitless study of many days.13

So suggestible are subjects under hypnosis that they can be made to experience hallucinations — to hear non-existent voices, for instance — or to do things which they would refuse to do in their normal conscious state. Although there is much greater reluctance to perform acts which are morally repugnant to the hypnotized subject, yet there is evidence that under hypnosis some people can even be induced to attempt murder. However, if a suggested act is too offensive to his moral principles, the subject very often wakes up abruptly.

Deep anaesthesia can also be produced under hypnosis, so much so that in the days before the use of ether and chloroform mesmerists reported that major operations could be carried out with the patient in trance. These included the surgical removal of women’s breasts. Major operations were performed in India by Esdaile, using hypnosis as his only anaesthetic.

There is also the interesting phenomenon of ‘post-hypnotic’ suggestion. While the patient is in trance he is instructed to go and put a certain clock forward an hour at some stated moment after he has come round, or to take off his clothes, or to do something startlingly foolish. He duly does so, and when he is asked why, he usually rationalizes, by saying for instance that he took his clothes off because it was too hot. He generally has no memory of the suggestion having been given to him while he was in hypnotic trance.

In the 1880s the famous French neurologist Charcot classified the symptoms shown by people under hypnosis into three categories. The first of these is the cataleptic state in which the subject is motionless and apparently awake but ‘fascinated,’ as if spellbound, with complete insensibility to pain though some of the senses, including hearing and sight, are still active. The second is the lethargic state, resembling sleep, which Charcot thought occurs primarily under the influence of fixing the gaze on some distant object, or alternatively is brought on in darkness. Charcot’s last category, of ‘artificial somnambulism’, was a state apparently between sleep and waking in which it was easy to induce the subject to perform very complex actions.

But it later became clear that in classifying hypnotic behaviour in this orderly way, all that Charcot was really demonstrating is that if you want a patient to exhibit this, that or the other symptom, then he will do so, simply because of his greatly heightened suggestibility to your wishes and beliefs. Other quite different states were produced for other investigators, and all the phenomena we have been discussing were lumped together in the end; quite rightly, because symptoms will always vary from patient to patient, depending on the particular doctor’s influence and the patient’s particular surroundings.

The ways in which these early experimenters produced trance states are of great interest and importance. Binet and Fere suggest that ‘sensorial excitement’ produces hypnotic trance in two ways; either when it is strong and abrupt, or when it is fainter but is continued for a prolonged period. Charcot did not need Mesmer’s baquet. In the end he could produce strong and sudden states of acute excitement in susceptible persons by the sudden introduction of light into a darkened room, by making the patient try to fix his gaze on the sun, or by the sudden incandescence of a strip of magnesium or the sudden turning on of an electric light. In an increasingly hysterical subject, any sudden excitement might suddenly bring on an equally sudden state of trance.

If the patient is seated at work, is standing, or walking, she is transfixed in the attitude in which she was surprised, and fear is expressed in her countenance and in her gestures. The same effect may be produced by an intense noise, like that of a Chinese gong, by a whistle, or by the vibration of a tuning-fork. When the subject is predisposed, comparatively slight, but unexpected noises, such for instance as the crackling of a piece of paper, or the clinking of a glass, are enough to produce catalepsy.14

If the excitement is moderate rather than violent, it may have to be prolonged in order to cause the onset of hypnotic or abreactive trance. One method is to fix the gaze on an object, which may be slightly luminous or altogether dark, such as a black stick, which should be held near the eyes and a little above them to produce a convergence of the eyes. What one is trying to do is to tire the subject out, because maintaining the inward convergent focusing of the eyes is very hard work, and will sometimes result in the patient suddenly falling into hypnotic sleep after a minute or two’s concentrated effort. Monotonous sounds can also produce hypnotic sleep. Some workers have produced hypnosis by causing the subject to listen to the ticking of a watch, and a faint but continuous musical sound may have the same effect. All sorts of prolonged excitements and stresses can also exhaust the nervous system. Music, singing, dancing, monotonous repetitive talk, prolonged questioning and answering can all be used. Trance can even be caused in sensitized persons by hearing a nurse’s lullaby, or by the noise of the wind, or by the reciting of prayers. By a process analogous to Pavlov’s conditioning, all such stimuli may eventually come to have marked effects on brain function, in producing hypnotic sleep and states of increased suggestibility.

Though many workers have insisted that the patient’s cooperation is essential, the fact is that subjects can be hypnotized against their will. There are some people, mostly highly obsessive or obsessional personalities who cannot be hypnotized, and when normal people refuse to cooperate or actively resist, they may be very difficult to ‘put under’. But equally, when a normal person actively resists, he so exhausts his nervous system that if pressure is maintained it may in the end become quite easy to put him into trance. Though the first attempt to hypnotize a subject frequently fails, repeated attempts are likely to succeed, and, once a subject has been hypnotized, the length of time needed to send him into trance will rapidly decrease with subsequent repetitions of the experience. When a subject has become accustomed to be hypnotized, he may be put into trance without realizing what is happening to him, as Binet and Fere noted:

Many persons are agitated by the idea that a stranger may influence and dispose of them as if they were mere automata. This is certainly dangerous to human liberty, and it is a danger which increases with the repetition of experiments. When a subject has been frequently hypnotized, he may be unconsciously hypnotized in several ways: first, during his natural sleep, by a slight pressure on the eyes; next, in the case of an hysterical patient, by surprising her when awake by some strong excitement, such as the sound of a gong, an electric spark, or even a sudden gesture. Some curious anecdotes are told on this subject. An hysterical patient became cataleptic on hearing the brass instruments of a military band; another was hypnotized by the barking of a dog; another, who had hypnogenic zones in her legs, fell asleep in the act of putting on her stockings.15

These were obviously subjects who had become extremely sensitive to a particular hypnotic mechanism, but the really crucial point which the whole history of hypnotism demonstrates is that the people most susceptible to hypnotic states are normal people. Hypnotism has never been very successful in treating the severely mentally ill, who have in fact been remarkably unresponsive to all the efforts of Mesmer, Charcot and succeeding generations of hypnotists. When patients develop schizophrenia, severe depression, severe anxiety states, obsessional neuroses and the like, they become far less amenable to hypnotic techniques. They have generally become much less open to suggestion than normal people. Many normal people, on the other hand, become hysterical under stress, and, when they do, they become amenable to hypnotism and to techniques which depend on the same brain mechanisms.

It is not the mentally ill but ordinary normal people who are most susceptible to ‘brainwashing', ‘conversion' ‘possession', ‘the crisis', or whatever you wish to call it, and who in their hundreds or thousands or millions fall readily under the spell of the demagogue or the revivalist, the witch-doctor or the pop group, the priest or the psychiatrist, or even in less extreme ways the propagandist or the advertiser. At the root of this all too common human experience is a state of heightened suggestibility, of openness to ideas and exhortations, which is characteristic of subjects under hypnosis and which is discussed in a broader context in the next chapter.



1 A. Binet and C. Fere, Animal Magnetism, Kegan Paul, London 1887, p. 9. In this and all the other quotations the italics are mine, unless otherwise stated.

2 Binet and Fere, op. cit., p. 10

3 ibid., p. 10

4 ibid., pp. 11, 12

5 Norman Blunsdon, A Popular Dictionary of Spiritualism, Arco Publications, London 1962, p. 148

6 Binet and Fere, op. cit., pp. 14-15

7 ibid., p. 17

8 ibid., pp. 19-20

9 ibid., p. 22

10 ibid., p. 27

11 ibid., p. 28

12 ibid., p. 32

13 ibid., pp. 144-7

14 ibid., pp. 88-9

15 ibid., pp. 101-2
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Re: The Mind Possessed: A Physiology of Possession, Mysticis

Postby admin » Sat May 25, 2019 11:23 pm

3. Hypnosis and possession

A state of heightened suggestibility, intense sensitivity to one’s surroundings and a readiness to obey commands even when they go against the grain, is one of the most striking characteristics of hypnotized behaviour, and hypnosis has given its name to the ‘hypnoid’ phase of brain activity. As described in the first chapter, this phase can be caused by stress and creates a state of greatly increased suggestibility in which a human being uncritically adopts ideas to which he would not normally be open. Breuer was interested in this phenomenon at the end of the last century and his findings, reported in a masterly chapter which he contributed to a joint book with Freud, were repeatedly confirmed in our own experience with drug abreactions during the war. Breuer begins by quoting Moebius as saying, in 1890:

The necessary condition for the (pathogenic) operation of ideas is, on the one hand, an innate — that is, hysterical — disposition and, on the other, a special frame of mind ... It must resemble a state of hypnosis: it must correspond to some kind of consciousness in which an emerging idea meets with no resistance from any other — in which, so to speak, the field is clear for the first comer. We know that a state of this kind can be brought about not only by hypnotism but by emotional shock (fright, anger, etc.) and by exhausting factors (sleeplessness, hunger, and so on).1

This account of a state of mind in which the ideational field is clear for the first comer, created not only by hypnotism but by emotional shock and by exhaustion, is of great importance. Excitement and stresses of various kinds, leading to the onset of protective brain inhibition and the hypnoid phase, may suddenly open the mind in a most uncritical manner to the implantation of new ideas. This ‘imprinting’ phase of brain activity, as it has been called, is normally present in very young children and can be induced artificially in adults.

In the hypnoid phase of brain activity, the mind may also become split. Pavlov showed with his dogs how one small special area of cortical brain activity could be so specially excited that it resulted in reflex inhibition of much of the rest of the ordinary cortical activity. Pavlov thought that the alterations were sited in the cortex, but we now know that the process could easily be initiated by alterations in the other part of the brain, for example, the reticular area of the mid-brain.

When it occurs in man, the subject may have no memory of long periods of time while in this hypnoid state of brain activity; but if later he is put back into it, he will remember exactly what happened during the time he was last in it. It is common knowledge that when a person is in a somnambulistic, hysterical or hypnoid trance, he can talk and behave apparently quite rationally. This happened to many soldiers in the war. During a hysterical loss of memory, which could last for days, weeks of in some instances years, soldiers still behaved quite rationally in all outward appearances, but later had no memory of what had happened in the amnesic state. They were living, in effect, two separate mental lives, and Breuer has this to say of the delusions which can flourish in ‘auto-hypnotic states’: ‘The amnesia withdraws the psychical products of these states, the associations that have been formed in them, from any correction during waking thought; and since in auto-hypnosis criticism and supervision by reference to other ideas is diminished, and, as a rule, disappears almost completely, the wildest delusions may arise from it and remain untouched for long periods.’2

He goes on to point out, as we amply confirmed with our own patients, that all sorts of hysterical symptoms, which may have lasted for years, ‘immediately and permanently disappeared when we had succeeded in bringing clearly to light the memory of the event by which they were provoked and in arousing their accompanying affect (emotion), and when the patient has described that event in the greatest possible detail and has put the affect into words’.3

Breuer and Freud unfortunately went their separate ways after this, largely because Freud came to believe that all traumas causing hysterical dissociation symptoms were sexual in origin, whereas Breuer knew very well, and experience in two world wars confirmed, that hysterical breakdown and dissociation can be the result of traumas which have nothing to do with sex. Our drug abreaction treatments during the war centred about the uncovering of repressed traumatic memories which had been implanted when the brain was in a hypnoid suggestible state and under great stresses, other than sexual ones. These memories had been repressed and shut off from the normal stream of consciousness, but they still remained operative on total brain function. We had to bring them back again into the normal flow of thoughts and memories. To do this, as Breuer suggested, it is sometimes, though not always, necessary to make the patient verbalize the events in great detail, and put all the accompanying emotions into words. Freud, too, emphasized that an abreaction or catharsis obtained without any release of emotion expressed in words was generally ineffective. But we found that the amount of excitement produced in abreaction might be much more important than the content of the repressed memories, and that reintegration and redirection of the mind could follow an emotional explosion engineered around events which were not those that had caused the trouble, of even around events which were entirely fictitious. This is extremely significant for an explanation of what really happens when a person is converted under emotional stress to faith in an idea or a person which he would not accept in his normal state of mind.

The mind sometimes splits in such a way that an apparently well-balanced person begins to live in two different mental worlds, one of which is dominated by hypnoid and highly suggestible brain activity. His previous intellectual training and habits of rational thought have no influence in preventing the acceptance of ideas which he would normally find repellant or even patently nonsensical. The new constellation of beliefs then coexists with his more usual habit of critically examining new ideas, and accepting or rejecting them in the fight of his prevailing outlook, his experience and his educational and intellectual background. His newly acquired set of ideas is shut off from and unrelated, or even diametrically opposed, to his other ideas, which have developed in a state of clear and critical consciousness. For reasons which he cannot explain, but which have to do with the equivalent, paradoxical and ultraparadoxical phases of brain activity discussed in Chapter 1, white is suddenly black, friends are enemies and enemies friends, small matters are more important than larger issues, or perhaps nothing seems to matter any more at all. Irrational attitudes and beliefs now live cheek by jowl with rational and critical thinking about other topics. When this hysterical split-mindedness is partial hysterical behaviour, hypnoid states, uncritical belief and sudden conversion can occur, in people whose thinking processes are still normal in other respects, though their behaviour may seem bizarre and incomprehensible to detached observers.

We have seen how under hypnosis people become both hypersensitive to their surroundings and able to call on memories and abilities to which they do not have access in ordinary waking consciousness. In hypnoidal states people can remember languages which they have consciously long forgotten, or they can construct new languages. They can act or give impersonations or produce art or music with a degree of skill which is not normally available to them. They may also feel convinced that they are in touch with divine powers or with the spirits of the dead and that they are vouchsafed special experiences which are unavailable to others.

Examples can be found in mesmeric, hypnotic, Spiritualist and religious literature, and in the annals of psychical research, and are legion. A recent case which attracted much excited attention was that of Mrs Rosemary Brown, of Balham, London, who appeared to be, and no doubt sincerely believed herself to be, in touch with famous composers of the distant past who dictated to her music which they had composed after death. They included Liszt, Beethoven, Brahms, Chopin and Schubert. As a girl Mrs Brown had been passionately interested in music and had received some musical training, but after her marriage circumstances had forced her to give up music entirely and concentrate her energies on years of difficult struggle to make ends meet. It seems likely that her production of music in the characteristic manner of celebrated composers of the past was the result of the mental mechanisms we have been considering and that, as Rosalind Heywood has suggested, she belongs to ‘the type of sensitive whom frustration, often artistic, drives to the automatic production of material beyond their conscious capacity’.4

The true explanation of some remarkable cases of ‘automatic writing’, the production of written material by someone who is not fully in conscious control of the pen or the typewriter, is very much in dispute, but they do suggest, as we know from other evidence, that the brain absorbs and records far more information than is normally remembered, but which can come to the surface in abnormal states of mind. The same thing underlies the phenomenon of ‘speaking in tongues’, which the early Christians experienced and which has revived dramatically in recent years. It has never been satisfactorily proved that anyone has spoken a foreign language with which they had no previous acquaintance, and while proving a negative is notoriously difficult, we do know that people in hypnoid states can sometimes remember foreign words and phrases which they learned in the past but have forgotten. In their suggestible state they may well come to believe that they are ‘speaking in tongues’, and they may easily convey this conviction to others around them who are equally uncritical because the whole group is in a state of heightened suggestibility. A good example of such a greatly increased state of group suggestibility is given in the following description of events:

About 1892 Mr Tout took part with some neighbours in a series of spiritual seances. Subjective lights were occasionally seen by himself and one other member of the circle. The ladies present were affected with spasmodic twitchings and other movements, sometimes of a violent character, chiefly in the fingers and arms. Mr Tout felt a strong impulse to imitate these motions, and occasionally gave way to the impulse, though never to such an extent as to lose complete control of his limbs. At later seances he on several occasions yielded to similar impulses to assume a foreign personality. In this way he acted the part of a deceased woman, the mother of a friend then present. He put his arm round his friend and caressed him, as his mother might have done, and the personation was recognized by the spectators as a genuine case of ‘spirit control’. On another occasion Mr Tout, having under the influence of music given various impersonations, was finally oppressed by a feeling of coldness and loneliness, as of a recently disembodied spirit. His wretchedness and misery were terrible, and he was only kept from falling to the floor by some of the other sitters. At this point one of the sitters made the remark, which I remember to have overheard, ‘It is father controlling him’, and then seemed to realize who I was and whom I was seeking. I began to be distressed in my lungs, and should have fallen if they had not held me by the hands and let me back gently upon the floor. As my head sank back upon the carpet I experienced dreadful distress in my lungs and could not breathe. I made signs to them to put something under my head. They immediately put the sofa cushions under me, but this was not sufficient -- I was not raised enough yet to breathe easily -- and they then added a pillow. I have the most distinct recollection of a sigh of relief I now gave as I sank back like a sick, weak person upon the cool pillow. I was in a measure still conscious of my actions, though not of my surroundings, and I have a clear memory of seeing myself in the character of my dying father lying in the bed and in the room in which he died. It was a most curious sensation. I saw his shrunken hands and face, and lived again through his dying moments; only now I was both myself -- in some indistinct sort of way -- and my father, with his feelings, and appearance.5

Another fascinating account was communicated to the Society for Psychical Research many years ago by William James, who knew the author. Here the trance state takes on more extreme characteristics.

Mr Le Baron (pseudonym) is a journalist, and has published some work on metaphysics. In 1894 he stayed for some time at an American Spiritualist camp meeting, and joined a circle which held seances at midnight in the pine woods for converse with the invisible brethren. At one of these meetings Mr Le Baron became conscious of new and strange sensations. He felt his head held back until he was forced flat on the ground. Then, ‘the force produced a motor disturbance of my head and jaws. My mouth made automatic movements, till in a few seconds I was distinctly conscious of another’s voice -- unearthly, awful, loud, weird -- bursting through the woodland from my own lips, with the despairing words, “Oh, my people!” Mutterings of semi-purposive prophecy followed.'5

A few days later he spoke again in the same involuntary manner to the friend with whom he was staying, in the character of her recently deceased mother. Again, after sleeping in the bed for some years occupied by his friend’s father, who had been lame, he awoke lame, and limped painfully for some hours. He soon began both to write and speak sentences of semi-prophetic and mystical character, such as, ‘He shall be a leader of the host of the Lord'; ‘I shall be in thy heart, and thou shalt answer to My voice.' He learnt to converse by means of a pencil and paper with this invisible monitor, which, or whom, he not very happily christens ‘the psychophysical spontaneity'. Various journeys were enjoined on him . . . Later he learnt that he was the reincarnation of Rameses, and received many messages concerning his high mission. Finally, it was given to him to speak in an unknown tongue, and to furnish himself translations of the same. Some of these fragments were written down at the time by himself; others were spoken into a phonograph in the presence of Professor James and Dr Hodgson. Here is a specimen, together with its translation:

‘The Unknown Tongue. Te rumete tau. Ilee lete leele luto scele. Impe re scele lee luto. Onko keere scete tere luto. Ombo te scele to bere to kure. Sinte lute sinte Kuru. Orumbo irnbo impe rute scelete. Singe, singe, singe, eru, Imba, Imba, Imba.’

'Translation. The old word! I love the old word of the heavens! The love of the heavens is emperor! The love of the darkness is slavery! The heavens are wide, the heavens are true, the heavens are sure. The love of the earth is past! The King now rules in the heavens!’

It is said that Mr Le Baron hoped that the unknown tongue he had been talking would prove to be a real language, and be some form of primitive human speech, and he spent a considerable period of time endeavouring to find the origin of the language in Coptic or Romany or some Dravidian tongue.

It has recently been found experimentally that the ‘gift of tongues’ generally comes to a person for the first time only when he takes part in a group happening. It rarely comes first when the person is quite alone, and without there being somebody present whom he knows has already been affected. But afterwards he may continue to speak with ‘tongues’ on his own, and may also infect others.6

Podmore, in Mediums of the 19th Century, from which the two above interesting and important quotations were taken, also points out that:

The two cases last quoted aptly illustrate two stages of automatic action. Mr Tout yields himself to the impulse to personation, and is yet half conscious that he is acting a part. He is apparently in the same psychological condition as subjects in a light stage of hypnosis, who will faithfully fulfil the hallucinations imposed upon them by the hypnotist, but will be partly aware all the time that they are making themselves ridiculous, and that the comedy or tragedy which they are set to enact is but an affair of pasteboard and tinsel after all. There seems to be here a real division of consciousness, the one part, acting as spectator and critic of the performance directed by the other. Traces of the same conflict of separate systems of ideas occur in dreams, and it is said to form a marked feature in the delirium caused by hashish.7

Many similar examples are provided by a vast literature, but another quotation from Podmore’s book, referring to Janet’s famous patient in France at the end of the last century, is particularly appropriate. For it firmly links up the phenomena which have been discussed so far with the phenomena and feelings of ‘possession'.

Achille is a French peasant of bad family history, his mother, in particular, and her family having been given to drunkenness. Achille himself in his youth was feeble, delicate, and timid, but not markedly abnormal. He married at twenty-two, and all went well until one day in his thirty-third year, after returning home from a short absence, he became afflicted with extreme taciturnity, and in the end completely dumb. He was examined by various physicians, who successively diagnosed his ailment, one as diabetes, another as angina pectoris. Achille’s voice now returned, he manifested symptoms appropriate in turn to either malady, and incessantly bewailed his sufferings. In the final stage, he fell into a complete lethargy, and remained motionless for two days. At the end of that period he awoke and burst into a fit of Satanic laughter, which presently changed into frightful shrieks and complaints that he was tortured by demons. This state lasted for many weeks. He would pour forth blasphemies and obscenities; and immediately afterwards lament and shudder at the terrible words which the demon had uttered through his mouth. He drank laudanum and other poisons, but did not die; he even tied his feet together, and threw himself into the water, ultimately coming safe to land. In each case he ascribed his deliverance to the fact that his body was doomed to be for ever the abode of the damned. He would describe the evil spirits which tormented him, their diabolic grimaces, and the horns which adorned their heads.

Ultimately he came under Professor Janet’s charge, and the latter satisfied himself that the unhappy man had all the signs of genuine possession as described by mediaeval chroniclers; that his blasphemies were involuntary, and many of his actions unconsciously performed. Janet even made the devil write at his bidding -- in French not too correctly spelt -- poor Achille the while not knowing anything of the matter, and further established the fact that during the convulsive movements of the upper part of the body, Achille’s arms were insensible to pricking and pinching — an old-time proof of demoniacal possession.

In the end this most guileful of modern exorcists (Janet) persuaded the devil, as a proof of his power over the unhappy man, to send poor Achille to sleep; and in that suggested sleep Mr Janet interrogated the demoniac, and learnt the secret of his malady. He had 'been acting out for all these months the course of a most unhappy dream. During the short absence which preceded his attack he had been unfaithful to his wife. Possessed with a morbid terror of betraying his fault, he had become dumb. The physicians who had been called in had unwittingly suggested, by their questions, the symptoms of one or two fatal maladies, and his morbid dream-self had promptly seized upon the hints, and realized them with a surprising fidelity.

In the slow development of his uneasy dream the time came for the man to die; and after death there remained for such a sinner as he nothing but damnation. The lesser devils struck nails into his flesh, and Satan himself, squeezing through the holes so made, entered on an ambiguous co-tenancy of the tortured body. It is pleasant to record that the skilful exorcist was able to dispel the evil dream, and restore the sufferer to his right mind.8

Quite early on, subjects in hypnotic trance not only experienced the phenomenon of possession by demons, or by God or the Devil, but, as today, also travelled through space on tremendous imaginary journeys. ‘Mesmeric space exploration’ was all the rage even in the early 1800s. In November 1813, we read of a girl of fifteen, daughter of a Mr Romer, seized with convulsive attacks, followed by catalepsy:

Ultimately she became somnambulic, prescribed for her own ailments and those of her father and other persons, rejecting all other medical treatment than her own. Romer frequently asserts that she displayed in the trance knowledge which she could not possibly have acquired from normal sources . . . further, she was conducted, sometimes by a deceased relative, but more frequently by the spirit of a still-living companion, one Louise, to the moon. But, alas! her description of her first voyage reveals a conception of the solar system scarcely more adequate than that of the Blessed Damosel, watching ‘from the gold bar of Heaven ’. ... It was night when she left the earth -- 5.30 on a January afternoon -- and continued night, apparently, as she voyaged to the moon, for she describes how that luminary, at one point, showed forty times larger, but there is no mention of the sun. However, she enjoyed a unique astronomical experience. She watched the sun rise over the lunar mountains, basked in his rays for a whole lunar day, witnessed his setting, and returned to the earth in time for supper. Miss Romer was probably not aware that in the ordinary course of nature about a fortnight would elapse between the rising and the setting of the sun on our satellite.9

Profound spiritual convictions resulted from these states of abnormal brain activity in some people, who adopted them with overwhelming, uncritical and unshakeable faith:

The central point of these teachings is that man consists of body, soul, and spirit, the two latter surviving death and forming the spiritual man. But the soul itself is clothed, for the time at least, after leaving the body by an ethereal body (Nervengeist) which partakes rather of the nature of body than of soul, and ultimately with progressive spirits, according to some somnambules, decays and leaves the soul free . . . There is, he says, but one absolutely immaterial Being — that is God. Below God there is an infinite chain from seraph to grain of sand, from highest self-consciousness to most absolute unconsciousness, each link in the chain having more of earth intermixed with its spiritual nature than that which went before. The soul of man occupies some intermediate position in this universal procession.10

Despite this wealth of extraordinary spiritual phenomena being experienced by so many persons, sometimes gathered together in groups, Braid in England as early as 1842 insisted that all such strange experiences and effects, all the apparent thought-reading by mesmerized subjects and their supposed ability to diagnose their own and other people’s complaints, were explicable in terms of states of increased suggestibility. Like the French Commissioners before him, he maintained that all the phenomena were caused by the subject’s imagination, acting on hints unconsciously furnished by the experimenters, who had failed to allow for the enhanced sensitivity and acuteness of patients in mesmeric trance. He also repeated the Commissioners’ demonstration that the presence or absence of magnets and other paraphernalia made no difference to the behaviour of patients, who responded according to the suggestions made to them.

Believers in mesmerism, magnetism, Spiritualism and all the other ‘isms’ dependent on trance states and heightened suggestibility, were entirely unaffected by Braid’s comments. One of the earlier workers in the field, Deleuze, who was an agnostic, found himself towards the end of his life being presented with a series of phenomena which almost converted him to a belief in heavenly spirits. A Dr G. P. Billot, treating hysterical patients, found that by means of leading questions (a technique which had been employed earlier by exorcists in demonic possession cases) he could induce patients in trance to announce that they were possessed by spirits. The spirits claimed to be the guardian angels of the patients', through whom they communicated, ‘confessed the Catholic verities’, and on occasion made the sign of the cross. Billot reported all this at great length to Deleuze between 1829 and 1833. In one of his last replies to Billot, Deleuze wrote: ‘I have unlimited confidence in you, and cannot doubt the truth of your observations. You seem to me to be destined to effect a change in the ideas generally held on Animal Magnetism. I should like to live long enough to see the happy revolution, and to thank Heaven for having been introduced into the world of angels.’11



1 Freud and Breuer, Studies on Hysteria, Avon Library, 1966, pp. 258-9

2 Freud and Breuer, p. 260

3 ibid., pp. 264-5

4 Rosalind Heywood, ‘Notes on Rosemary Brown’, Journal of the Society for Psychical Research, vol. 46, no. 750, December 1971

5 F. Podmore, Mediums of the 19th Century, University Books, New York 1963, vol. 2, pp. 303-4

6 Podmore, op. cit., vol. 2, p. 304

7 ibid., p. 305

8 ibid., pp. 309-10

9 Podmore, op. cit., vol. 1, pp. 98-9

10 ibid., p. 107

11 ibid., pp. 79-80
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Re: The Mind Possessed: A Physiology of Possession, Mysticis

Postby admin » Sun May 26, 2019 12:58 am

4. States of possession

States of supposed ‘possession’ have probably been with man always, and certainly remain with him still. What is believed to happen is that God or the Holy Spirit or the Devil, angels or evil spirits, satans or zars or pepos, or whatever the entities are called, enter a man’s body and take control of him. For thousands of years all over the globe certain forms of madness and other major abnormalities of behaviour have been accounted for in this way. But possession has also very often been deliberately induced, to give a human being the most direct and immediate possible experience of a deity, by becoming its living vessel, and to enable him to act as a channel of communication between gods and spirits and their worshippers on earth. The effects of this experience in creating and maintaining faithful adherence to systems of belief have been profound and far-reaching.

My argument in this book is that states of possession are products of the same mental mechanisms discussed in earlier chapters. We have already seen examples of the similarity between possessed states and somnambulistic or hypnotic states, and T. K. Oesterreich, in his classic book on Possession, first published in German in 1921, pointed out their fundamental identity:

A state ... in which the normal individuality is temporarily replaced by another and which leaves no memory on return to the normal, must be called, according to present terminology, one of somnambulism. Typical possession is nevertheless distinguished from ordinary somnambulistic states by its intense motor and emotional excitement, so much so that we might hesitate to take it for a form of somnambulism but for the fact that possession is so nearly related to the ordinary form of these states that it is impossible to avoid classing them together . . . the most important thing is to see that we are dealing with a state in which the subject possesses a single personality and a defined character, even if this is not the erstwhile one. The subject . . . considers himself as the new person, the ‘demon’, and envisages his former being as quite strange, as if it were another’s: in this respect there is complete analogy with the ordinary somnambulistic variations in personality . . . the statement that possession is a state in which side by side with the first personality a second has made its way into the consciousness is also very inaccurate. Much more simply, it is the first personality which has been replaced by a second.1

The age-old method of curing the possessed and getting rid of undesirable entities which have invaded them follows the same sort of pattern as our drug abreaction treatments of battle neuroses. The ‘possessed’ patient is worked up into a condition of frenzied emotional excitement, in which he expresses intense anger and fear, and this leads very often to a collapse, which may be followed by a feeling of calm and release, from the ‘demon’ which has been tormenting him, just as our patients felt released from traumatic memories.

In a case familiar to us from the Bible, the main elements are the frenzied excitement and convulsion, the commanding voice of the exorcist, ordering the demon to leave its victim, the collapse, and the subsequent recovery. ‘And they brought the boy to him: and when the spirit saw him, immediately it convulsed the boy, and he fell on the ground and rolled about, foaming at the mouth . . . [And] Jesus . . . rebuked the unclean spirit, saying to it, “You dumb and deaf spirit, I command you, come out of him, and never enter him again.” And after crying out and convulsing him terribly, it came out, and the boy was like a corpse; so that most of them said, “He is dead.” But Jesus took him by the hand and lifted him up and he arose.’2

Lucian’s Philopseudes, sardonically describing the same method of treatment in the second century AD, emphasizes the importance of identifying the possessing spirit, which is a common feature of accounts of exorcism and corresponds to the way in which our wartime patients relived, and so identified, the experiences which had been preying on their minds.

What about those people who exorcize ghosts and cure victims of demonic possession? There’s no need to quote individual instances, for everyone knows about that Syrian in Palestine who specializes in such cases. His patients are the sort who throw fits at the new moon, rolling their eyes and foaming at the mouth. Yet he always manages to cure them, and sends them home perfectly sane, charging a large fee for his services. When he finds them lying on the ground, the first question he asks is, ‘What are you doing in there?’ The patient makes no reply, but the devil explains, either in Greek or in some foreign language, who it is, where it comes from, and how it got into the man. Then the Syrian starts swearing at the devil and, if necessary, threatening it until it goes away.3

In Ethiopia in 1966 I watched a Coptic priest expelling possessing spirits, using the same technique which was employed by Jesus and so many others two thousand years ago, and with the same beneficial results as we obtained with drug abreactions during the war. Different explanations of the symptoms and the treatment have been given down the ages but the phenomenon itself has remained the same.

For instance, in the fourth century AD, a Christian author, Cyril of Jerusalem, gives this very interesting description of a typical possession state:

The unclean devil, when he comes upon the soul of a man comes like a wolf upon a sheep, ravening for blood and ready to devour. His presence is most cruel; the sense of it most oppressive; the mind is darkened; his attack is an injustice also, and the usurpation of another’s possession. For he tyrannically uses another’s body, another’s instruments, as his own property; he throws down him who stands upright . . . he perverts the tongue and distorts the lips. Foam comes instead of words; the man is filled with darkness; his eye is open yet his soul sees not through it . . .'4

Another author of the same period, Zeno of Verona, describes the methods of relieving states of possession. They are again very reminiscent of what we saw in the treatment of battle neuroses, though Zeno believed that the condition was caused by the souls of the dead:

But as soon as we enter into the field of the divine combat (exorcism) and begin to drive them forth with the arrow of the holy name of Jesus, then thou mayest take pity on the other — when thou shalt have learnt to know him -- for that he is delivered over to such a fight. His face is suddenly deprived of colour, his body rises up of itself, the eyes in madness roll in their sockets and squint horribly, the teeth, covered with a horrible foam, grind between blue-white lips; and limbs twisted in all directions are given over to trembling; he sighs, he weeps; he fears the appointed day of Judgment and complains that he is driven out; he confesses his sex, the time and place he entered into the man . . .5

As this description suggests, successful exorcism generally depends on working the patient’s emotional excitement up to the highest possible pitch. There is frequently a violent verbal battle between the exorcist and the possessing demon, in which the demon expresses mounting anger and fear, the two emotions which we found to play so crucial a role in treating our wartime patients. A typical case is reported from Germany in the eighteenth century, when a pastor attempted to expel Satan from a possessed woman. He had the woman brought into church, and read from the Bible, while Satan jeered at him through her mouth. Presently:

Satan broke into complaints against me: ‘How dost thou oppress, how dost thou torment me! If only I had been wise enough not to enter the church!’ . . . When at last I addressed to him the most violent exhortations in the name of Jesus, he cried out: ‘Oh, I burn, I burn! Oh, what torture! What torture!’ or loaded me with furious invectives . . . During all these prayers, clamourings and disputes, Satan tortured the poor creature horribly, howled through her mouth in a frightful manner and threw her to the ground so rigid, so insensible that she became as cold as ice and lay as dead, at which time we could not perceive the slightest breath until at last with God’s help she came to herself...6

Justinus Kerner, a German physician, recorded the following case in the nineteenth century:

Without any definite cause which could be discovered, she was seized, in August 1830, by terrible fits of convulsions, during which a strange voice uttered by her mouth diabolic discourses. As soon as this voice began to speak (it professed to be that of an unhappy dead man) her individuality vanished, to give place to another. So long as this lasted she knew nothing of her individuality, which only reappeared (in all its integrity and reason) when she had retired to rest . . . During five months all the resources of medicine were tried in vain . . . On the contrary, two demons now spoke in her; who often, as it were, played the raging multitude within her, barked like dogs, mewed like cats, etc. . . . 7

During the famous epidemic of demonic possession at Loudon in the seventeenth century, one of the nuns was possessed by the demon Asmodeus:

Asmodeus was not long in manifesting his supreme rage, shaking the girl backwards and forwards a number of times and making her strike like a hammer with such rapidity that her teeth rattled and sounds were forced out of her throat. That between these movements her face became completely unrecognizable, her glance furious, her tongue prodigiously large, long, and hanging down out of her mouth, livid and dry . . . Monsieur [brother of Louis XIV who went to Loudun to see the possessed women] having desired to see all the devils which possessed this girl appear, the Exorcist made them come into her face one after another, all making it very hideous but each one causing a different distortion.8

This is a fascinating example of how one person can influence the mind of another who is in a state of such extreme suggestibility that she can be made to behave as if possessed by various different demons. Three hundred years later, the celebrated medium Helene Smith took on the supposed character of Marie Antoinette, Cagliostro and other figures of the past. She also believed herself to have travelled in spirit to the planet Mars and gave a detailed account of conditions there, including a complete Martian language. Describing the Cagliostro possession, Flournoy reported:

Soon, after a series of hiccups, sighs, and various sounds showing the difficulty which Leopold experiences in taking possession of the vocal organs, comes speech, grave, slow and powerful, a man’s strong bass voice, slightly thick, with a foreign pronunciation and a marked accent which is certainly rather Italian than anything else . . . When she [Helene] incarnates her guide, she really takes on a certain facial resemblance to him, and her whole bearing has something theatrical, sometimes really majestic, which is entirely consistent with what may be imagined of the real Cagliostro.9

Trance and possession can occur in quite young children, and at a very noisy and excited service in Nigeria in 1966 I saw a girl of 11 'possessed' by the Holy Ghost. An anonymous German work published in 1892 reported the case of a boy of 10 who could not say a prayer or bear the presence near him of any object which had been blessed without falling into fits of violent rage. If he had to walk past a church or a wayside shrine or crucifix, he became uncontrollably agitated and fell down unconscious. He was exorcized by Father Remigius and Father Aurelian. The latter gave an account of what happened:

. . . the possessed uttered a terrible cry. We seemed no longer to hear a human voice, but that of a savage animal, and so powerful that the howlings -- the word is not too strong -- were heard at a distance of several hundred metres from the convent chapel, and those who heard them were overcome with fear . . . we had him bound hand and foot with straps ... we exposed the fragment of the Holy Cross. When the Sign of the Cross was made with it, the young man uttered an appalling scream. All the time he did not cease to spit forth vile insults against the fragment of the Cross and the two officiants . . . The clamour and the spitting lasted without interruption until the recitation of the litanies of the saints. Then took place the exorcism, which we pronounced in Latin. To all our questions the possessed made no reply, but he showed great contempt for us and spat upon us each time.10

We must also recognize a different type of possession, which has been termed ‘lucid’, when the possessed person knows what is happening to him and does not afterwards lose his memory of what took place, while he was possessed. In Oesterreich’s words: ‘In the midst of the terrible spectacle which he presents in the fit, he remains fully conscious of what is happening; he is the passive spectator of what takes place within him.’ This form of possession was described by one of the victims of an outbreak of demonic possession at a convent in Madrid in the seventeenth century:

When I began to find myself in this state I felt within me movements so extraordinary that I judged the cause could not be natural. I recited several orisons asking God to deliver me from such terrible pain. Seeing that my state did not change, I several times begged the prior to exorcize me; as he was not willing to do so and sought to turn me from it, telling me that all I related was only the outcome of my imagination, I did all that in me lay to believe it, but the pain drove me to feel the contrary ... I then felt the presence of the demon who was in my body; I began without thinking to run, muttering, ‘Lord Peregrino calls me’, so I came where the demon was, and before arriving there was already speaking of whatever thing they had under discussion and of which I had no previous knowledge.11

Similarly, Kerner reported the case of an old man who remained fully conscious during convulsions which threw him to the ground or hurled him out of bed at night. While in these fits he insulted and abused his dearly-loved wife and children for, without being able to give any reason, he felt he could not endure them. Though normally a gentle and responsible person, he would quite suddenly, perhaps in the middle of a conversation, be seized with raging anger and his expression, tone of voice and gestures would change dramatically.

The same phenomenon was frequently described in a setting of mesmerism and animal magnetism. One of Kerner’s women patients said:

When the magnetism, [the hypnosis] had been applied during three weeks I was obliged immediately after the magnetization to pronounce, in part mentally and in part by soundless movements of the lips, beautiful religious sentences from which I drew great hope of a cure, and the fits became less frequent. But after three weeks had elapsed the Evil One who was hidden within me began to rage again. I was obliged almost without ceasing to utter cries, weep, sing, dance, and roll upon the ground where I went into horrible contortions; I was forced to jerk my head and feet in all directions, howl like a bear and also utter the cries of other animals. . . I am never absent, I always know what I am doing and saying, but I cannot always express what I wish; there is something within me which prevents it . . . 12

These reports contain clear examples of the equivalent, paradoxical and ultraparadoxical phases of brain activity. Pierre Janet, for example, described the ultraparadoxical phase in one of his patients in a state of lucid possession in which in a deep and solemn voice he spoke curses and blasphemies against God, the Trinity and the Virgin Mary. Then in a higher voice and with his eyes full of tears, he said: ‘It is not my fault if my mouth says these horrible things, it is not I . . . it is not I ... I press my lips together so that the words may not come through, may not break forth, but it is useless; the devil then says these words inside me, I feel plainly that he says them and forces my tongue to speak in spite of me.’ In a case reported by Sollier in 1903 a woman said that she felt 'that another person is drawn out of me, as if my limbs were stretched to form new ones . . . The person is absolutely similar to myself. . . She speaks just as I do, but is always of a contrary opinion ... I feel her especially in my head, preventing me from speaking so that she may say the opposite of what I think. This lasts for whole days and exasperates me when I am obliged to hold a conversation. It leaves me with a head like a block of wood for a long time.’13 [/quote]

Sister Jeanne des Anges, one of the possessed nuns of Loudun, wrote her memoirs in the 1640s. Her account of what happened to her includes striking examples of the paradoxical and ultraparadoxical states of brain activity, which resulted in her doing and feeling just the opposite of what she normally wanted to do:

My mind was often filled with blasphemies and sometimes I uttered them without being able to take any thought to stop myself. I felt for God a continual aversion and nothing inspired me with greater hatred than the spectacle of his goodness and the readiness with which he pardons repentant sinners. My thoughts were often bent on devising ways to displease him and to make others trespass against him. It is true that by the mercy of God I was not free in these sentiments, although at that time I did not know it, for the demon beclouded me in such a way that I hardly distinguished his desires from mine; he gave me, moreover, a strong aversion for my religious calling, so that sometimes when he was in my head I tore all my veils and such of my sisters’ as I could lay hands on; I trampled them underfoot, I chewed them, cursing the hour when I took the vows. All this was done with great violence, I think that I was not free . . . As I went up for Communion the devil took possession of my hand, and when I had received the Sacred Host and had half moistened it, the devil flung it into the priests’s face. I know full well that I did not do this action freely, but I am fully assured to my deep confusion that I gave the devil occasion to do it.14

Father Surin, one of the Jesuit exorcists of the nuns of Loudun, finally became possessed himself by the spirits he was exorcizing. On 3 May 1635 he wrote to a friend, and the following further excellent examples of paradoxical and ultraparadoxical brain activity following stress may be quoted:

I have engaged in combat with four of the most potent and malicious devils in hell ... At all events, for the last three and a half months I have never been without a devil at work upon me . . . I cannot explain to you what happens within me during that time and how this spirit unites with mine without depriving me either of consciousness or liberty of soul, nevertheless making himself like another me and as if I had two souls, one of which is dispossessed of its body and the use of its organs and stands aside watching the actions of the other which has entered into me. The two spirits fight in one and the same field which is the body, and the soul is as if divided. According to one of its parts it is subject to diabolic impressions and according to the other to those motions which are proper to it or granted by God.16

Father Surin then goes on to complain that in the ultra-paradoxical phase his feelings were as follows:

When I wish to speak my speech is cut off; at Mass I am brought up short; at table I cannot carry the morsel to my mouth; at confession I suddenly forget my sins; and I feel the devil come and go within me as if he were at home. As soon as I wake he is there; at orisons he distracts my thoughts when he pleases; when my heart begins to swell with the presence of God he fills it with rage; he makes me sleep when I would wake; and publicly, by the mouth of the possessed woman, he boasts of being my master, the which I can in no way contradict.16

Father Surin finally developed a state of severe persistent melancholia, and his mental illness lasted for no less than twenty years. But eventually he recovered and was able to write his reminiscences of what had happened to the possessed nuns of Loudun and to himself. And no better description, in terms of the various phases of brain inhibitory activity under stress, and the suggestibility induced by the possession state, can be given than this fascinating document, penned by a sincere believing Catholic and Jesuit priest of the seventeenth century.

It is important to distinguish between the type of person who can become possessed while retaining his state of normal consciousness, and the type of person who becomes possessed, goes into trance, and subsequently has no recollection of what happened while he was possessed. The first type will almost certainly have many more obsessive or obsessional components in his personality. Strong obsessive and obsessional traits are generally a bar to states of complete hysterical mental dissociation, but they do not prevent states of equivalent, paradoxical and ultraparadoxical brain activity from being experienced in clear consciousness. Thus it is found that ‘normal’ people, who are not markedly obsessive, may experience complete dissociation under many varied stresses; while those with marked obsessional tendencies are much more likely to experience ‘possession’, if at all, in comparatively clear consciousness. Today many compulsive obsessional symptoms, the result of paradoxical and ultraparadoxical brain activity, are still reported by such people. They include a compulsion to curse God, an unnatural and persistent preoccupation with the sexual life of Jesus Christ, an urge to utter terrible blasphemies against Jesus, and the like. The only difference today is that these compulsions are not generally attributed to demons.

This is, of course, an important difference. In his study of the Loudun case, Aldous Huxley remarked that what began as hysteria was turned into an epidemic of demonic possession by the exorcists, playing on the heightened suggestibility of the nuns, and that this explanation was put forward at the time, by an author who preferred, not surprisingly perhaps, to remain anonymous. “‘Granted that there is no cheat in the matter,” wrote the author of the anonymous pamphlet, “does it follow that the nuns are possessed? May it not be that, in their folly and mistaken imagination, they believe themselves to be possessed, when in fact they are not?” This, continues our author, can happen to nuns in three ways. “First, as a result of fasts, watchings and meditations on hell and Satan. Second, in consequence of some remark made by their confessor -- something which makes them think they are being tempted by devils. And thirdly, the confessor, seeing them act strangely, may imagine in his ignorance that they are possessed or bewitched, and may afterwards persuade them of the fact by the influence he exercises over their minds.”’ Huxley concluded that the epidemic at Loudun ‘was due to the third of these causes’ and that it was ‘produced and fostered by the very physicians who were supposed to be restoring the patients to health.’17

It is clear that states of possession reflect and serve to confirm the beliefs of bystanders and observers, and that they also tend to confirm or inculcate these same beliefs in the possessed persons themselves. The unfortunate Jeanne des Anges at Loudun did not initially believe herself to be possessed, but was convinced of it by the exorcists, as she recorded in her memoirs. When a subject goes into trance or shows an increased state of suggestibility, it becomes much easier for him to accept beliefs which he would have regarded critically in his normal state of mind. Disbelievers and scoffers can be brought to accept that they really have been invaded by a god or spirit, good or evil, and they may now except religious beliefs which they previously doubted but which are held by those around them.

This is, in fact, the essence of the sudden conversion or faith state. A person suddenly accepts quite uncritically ideas and beliefs which he would formerly have subjected to critical examination. Now he no longer does so, and his new set of beliefs remains fixed and immune from criticism. One of the particular features of Moebius and Breuer’s ‘hypnoid’ state is the lack of criticism of any idea imprinted on the brain in this phase. Given the right circumstances and surrounding beliefs, a person in this state of brain activity can even become possessed by the spirit of a fox, as in a case reported in 1907 from Japan. A seventeen-year-old girl was lying in bed, suffering from exhaustion and nervous irritability after a bad attack of typhoid. Her female relatives were sitting round her bed, discussing a ghostly presence, resembling a fox, which had been seen near the house. Hearing this, the sick girl trembled and the fox-spirit possessed her. It spoke through her mouth several times a day in a domineering fashion, abusing and tyrannizing over her.18

The important part played by a heightened state of suggestibility to one’s surroundings in determining the content of states of possession is shown by the case of a patient admitted to a French hospital, where she was told that it was the Devil who was making her ill. ‘Presently under the influence of this idea her malady redoubled in intensity and in the delirious period of the convulsive fits she saw the devil . . . “He was tall, with scales and legs ending in claws; he stretched out his arms as if to seize me; he had red eyes and his body ended in a great tail like a lion’s, with hair at the end; he grimaced, laughed, and seemed to say: ‘I shall have her!”’ The nuns and the almoner had persuaded her that she was possessed by the devil because she did not pray enough, and that she would not recover. She had masses said for which she paid a franc or one franc fifty; she confessed and took Communion; the almoner sprinkled her with holy water and made signs over her.’ When she was later removed from this atmosphere and taken to a psychiatric hospital in Paris, she was still seeing visions of the Devil, but while there she went to church less and no one talked to her about the Devil, with the result that the visions ceased and she discarded the idea that she belonged to the Devil.19

Among our Normandy beach-head casualties we found that highly obsessive patients could only be made to abreact with great difficulty and that we were unable to exorcise their ‘demons’, the thoughts and fears which obsessed them. Similarly, as we have seen, in the history of demonic possession, people like Father Surin, who thought they were possessed, but were so in clear consciousness, and who did not experience trance and dissociation, because of a strong obsessive temperament, could not be helped simply by the abreactive method of casting out devils. They differed from persons in whom it was easier to bring about dissociation, trance, collapse and a temporarily heightened state of brain suggestibility. If a person cannot be put into such a dissociated state, and his abreactive excitement increased to the point of sudden collapse, strong suggestions associated with the casting out of their devils are less successful.  

The similarity of some states of possession to induced states of clinical hysteria in normal persons has been recognized for many years. Charcot and his pupils in Paris were able to produce states of hysteria through strongly-given suggestions to otherwise normal people. States have been repeatedly produced which are, in fact, identical with those thought in the Middle Ages to be due to possession by evil spirits, with or without loss of consciousness. For example:

Suddenly terrible cries and howlings were heard; the body, hitherto agitated by contortions or rigid as if in the grip of tetanus, executed strange movements; the lower extremities crossed and uncrossed, the arms were turned backwards and as if twisted, the wrists bent, some of the fingers extended and some flexed, the body was bent backwards and forwards like a bow or crumpled up and twisted, the head jerked from side to side or thrown far back above a swollen and bulging throat; the face depicted now fright, now anger, and sometimes madness; it was turgescent and purple; the eyes widely open, remained fixed or rolled in their sockets, generally showing only the white of the sclerotics; the lips parted and were drawn in opposite directions showing a protruding and tumefied tongue . . . The patient had completely lost consciousness.20

Oesterreich pointed out that the only real difference between these hysterical states and states of possession, reported all over the world and in every age and culture, is purely ‘psychic’. In states of possession the person possessed generally believes that he is possessed from the outside. In modern civilized cultures most individuals know that hysteria is an illness of the nervous system, and so they tend to blame themselves and their weak nervous systems for the symptoms which they would previously have taken to be caused by some higher power outside. However, Oesterreich took this to indicate a cardinal difference between states of hysteria and possession: ‘. . . difference so radical that, at least from the psychological point of view, it is impossible to speak of the states as in any way identical’.

I think this is a totally wrong opinion. A person only speaks spontaneously in his mesmeric or hypnotic dissociated state if he really believes that he is possessed by the Devil, or by some other spiritual agency able to speak through him. If on the contrary he believes that the condition he suffers from is due to hysteria and is basically his own fault, and if he does not believe in spirit possession, and is not living among others who do, he will only talk about himself and his past and present fears and weaknesses. Even if he goes into trance he never discusses the part being played by supposed metaphysical agencies.

It is instructive in this connection to examine the material obtained from hysterical and suggestible patients, suffering from exactly the same symptoms, when they are interviewed or abreacted by psychiatrists of different schools of thought. Given a psychiatrist who is interested in birth trauma, or in faulty parental attitudes, most hysterical and suggestible patients will finally produce many examples of disturbing parental attitudes, and may even remember in startling detail some supposed highly traumatic birth experience. But given another psychiatrist who is interested in quite different matters, such as whether or not the patient is mother-fixated, or has been sexually assaulted by the father, the hysterical patient, because of his state of greatly increased suggestibility, will produce a quite different set of memories which fit that psychiatrist’s explanation of the symptoms. Freud once made twelve consecutive patients remember and abreact what proved to be imaginary sexual assaults by the father, implanted by Freud’s belief, at the time, that sexual assault by the father was the major cause of hysteria. Later he realized how wrong he had been and proceeded to develop a concept of the sexual unconscious, which is now believed in by thousands who have been analysed and have come to explain their life-experiences in terms of later Freudian metaphysics. Where some people in the past heard the still small voice of God, and some heard those of the Devil and his minions, few in our modern Western cultural climate hear either. But the fact that many disturbed people nowadays accept explanation of their troubles which differ from those customary in the past should not obscure the fundamental identity of the mental processes at work.



1 T. K. Oesterreich, Possession, Kegan Paul, London 1930, p. 39

2 Mark 9: 20-27

3 Lucian, Satirical Sketches, translated by Paul Turner, Penguin Books, Harmondsworth 1961, p. 205

4 Oesterreich, op. cit., p. 7

5 ibid., p. 7

6 ibid., p. 10

7 ibid., pp. 10-11

8 ibid., p. 18

9 ibid., p. 19

10 ibid., p. 24

11 ibid., p. 41

12 ibid., p. 42

13 ibid., pp. 42-5

14 ibid., pp. 49-50

15 ibid., p. 51

16 ibid., p. 52

17 Aldous Huxley, The Devils of Loudun, Harper, New York 1953, pp. 188-9

18 Oesterreich, op. cit., p. 95

19 ibid., p. 99

20 ibid., pp. 126-7
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Re: The Mind Possessed: A Physiology of Possession, Mysticis

Postby admin » Sun May 26, 2019 1:24 am

5. More about possession

A study of states of possession suggests that the brain function of man has altered very little, if at all, over thousands of years. The same phenomenon is reported in higher civilizations and in more primitive societies, in the distant past and still to this day. The art of prehistoric hunting peoples in Europe includes representations of human dancers dressed in animal costumes. For example, one of the most perfect engraved drawings on deer antler, found at Teyjat, is of three small masked dancers disguised as chamois bucks. They are jumping in upright position, and their mighty leaps cause the skins to puff out and swirl. The legs of youthful dancers protrude from under the chamois skins.’1 Rhythmic dancing and leaping are among the principal methods of inducing states of ecstacy in which a man feels taken over by a force or being greater than himself. The dancer dressed as an animal, imitating the animal’s characteristic movements and sounds, bringing all his mental and emotional resources to bear with intense concentration on pretending to be the animal, can come to feel that he actually is it. He may also feel that he is a supernatural being, a god or spirit, since he is after all in a ‘supernormal’ state of mind, markedly different from his ordinary, everyday condition. The most famous of the animal dancers of prehistoric art, the ‘great sorcerer’ of the Trois Freres cave, wears the hide and antlers of a stag, the mask of an owl, bear-like paws and the tail of a horse. It seems likely that he was both a god and the priest who represented the god, not merely in the sense of impersonating him but in the sense of feeling himself to be the living god walking on the earth.

The Australian aborigines who, when first investigated by anthropologists in the nineteenth century, lived in a Stone Age culture, perform long and complex traditional rituals in which they identify themselves with their ancestors and penetrate the dimension of time in which the ancestors live, called the Dream-time or Dreaming. They do this by acting out the story of the ancestors’ adventures, by dressing up as the ancestors, by dancing and chanting. Through intense concentration and elaborate mimicry carried on over many hours they feel that they have become their ancestors: ‘the chanting goes on and on; the decorated actors appear; but they are no longer the men of a few hours previously. They are now the heroes of the Dreaming.’2

In the ancient world kings and priests acted the parts of deities in dramatic rituals and no doubt at solemn moments felt that they literally embodied the gods whom they represented. At the Sed-festival in Egypt, for example, the pharaoh, who even in his ordinary everyday frame of mind, was regarded as a god, was given a fresh access of divine energy by being assimilated to the god Osiris, who had been killed and revived again. After long and exhausting ceremonies, attended by statues of the gods brought from all over the country, the pharaoh was dressed as Osiris, was formally identified with him, and was told: ‘Thou beginnest thy renewal, beginnest to flourish again like the infant god of the Moon, thou art young again year by year, like Nun at the beginning of the ages, thou art reborn by renewing thy festival of Sed.’3

It was not only through acting or dancing that people might be possessed. In ancient Mesopotamia all forms of sickness, including psychological illnesses, were put down to possessing spirits and so numerous were the demons and evil ghosts that might fasten on a man that fear of them has been described as ‘one of the most important factors in the daily life of a Babylonian’.4 Specialist priests exorcized the sufferers. Their principal technique was to transfer the disease-demon to an animal or object by means of impressive and repeated incantations which, with a disturbed patient in a state of heightened suggestibility, may well have had the desired effect.

In Israel, where diseases and psychological disorders were again put down to invading demons, there was also a long tradition of inspired prophecy, in which the prophet in an ecstatic state believed himself to be the mouthpiece of God, the temporary vessel of the divine, which spoke through him.5 In the Greek world at certain celebrated oracles the gods possessed priestesses whom we should now call ‘mediums’ or ‘sensitives’ and spoke through their utterances in trance. The pronouncements of Apollo at Delphi, delivered through a priestess in trance and interpreted by priests, were regarded with the utmost respect and affected all sorts of important political and personal decisions, even though they were famous for being double-edged and deceptive. In the Aeneid Virgil gives a graphic description of the sibyl of Cumae, possessed by Apollo. Cumae was the oldest Greek colony in Italy and behind the temple of Apollo on the hill there, among the caves still to be seen in the rock, the sibyl had her lair. ‘There is a cleft in the flank of the Euboean Rock forming a vast cavern. A hundred mouthways and a hundred broad tunnels lead into it, and through them the Sibyl’s answer comes forth in a hundred rushing streams of sound.’ While Aeneas prayed to the god, ‘the prophetess who had not yet submitted to Apollo ran furious riot in the cave, as if in hope of casting the god’s power from her brain. Yet all the more did he torment her frantic countenance, overmastering her wild thoughts, and crushed her and shaped her to his will.’ She spoke his answer and ‘the cavern made her voice a roar as she uttered truth wrapped in obscurity. Such was Apollo’s control as he shook his rein till she raved and twisted the goad which he held to her brain.’6

In Tibet, until the Communist conquest, the Dalai Lama and his advisers consulted the state oracle on all important matters, the oracle being a young monk through whose mouth the god spoke. This oracle decided whether the last Dalai Lama was to leave the country when Chinese troops invaded. ‘In order to function as an oracle,' Heinrich Harrer explained, ‘the monk has to be able to dislodge his spirit from his body, to enable the god of the temple to take possession of it and to speak thorough his mouth. At that moment the god is manifested in him,' Harrer described the actual possession as follows: ‘He began to concentrate . . . He looked as if the life were fading out of him. Now he was perfectly motionless, his face a staring mask. Then suddenly, as if he had been struck by lightning, his body curved upward like a bow. The onlookers gasped. The god was in possession. The medium began to tremble; his whole body shook and beads of sweat stood out on his forehead . . . The trembling became more violent. The medium’s heavily laden head wavered from side to side, and his eyes started from their sockets. His face was swollen and covered with patches of hectic red. Hissing sounds pierced through his closed teeth. Suddenly he sprang up. Servants rushed to help him, but he slipped by them and to the moaning of the oboes began to rotate in a strange exotic dance . . . The medium became calmer. Servants held him fast and a Cabinet Minister stepped before him and threw a scarf over his head. Then he began to ask questions carefully prepared by the Cabinet about the appointment of a governor, the discovery of a new Incarnation, matters involving war and peace. The Oracle was asked to decide on all these things.’7

One of the major techniques of theurgy, developed as part of the pagan resistance to the rising tide of Christianity in the early centuries after Christ, was to induce the presence of a god in a human being, and the philosopher Proclus defined theurgy as ‘in a word all the operations of divine possession'. The god’s words, spoken through the human medium, were recorded: ‘Seraphis, being summoned and housed in a human body, spoke as follows.’ A distinction was made where consciousness was completely in abeyance and superseded by the god, and cases where the medium’s normal consciousness persisted. E. R. Dodds has pointed to the similarities between theurgy and modern Spiritualism, though the theurgists were concerned with communications from gods, not from the human dead.8

The pagans lost the battle against Christianity and theurgy was banned in the sixth century, but the Christians themselves in fact had specialized in another phenomenon associated with spirit possession, ‘speaking in tongues’. Oh the day of Pentecost, not long after the Ascension, Jesus’s followers were gathered together. ‘And suddenly a sound came from heaven like the rush of a mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting. And there appeared to them tongues as of fire, distributed and resting on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance.’9

This phenomenon of possession by the Holy Spirit continued and evidently played an important role in impressing pagans, making converts, and cementing the faith of the converted. ‘From Paul’s first letter to the Church in Corinth we have as nearly a detailed picture of the assemblies of a church of the first generation of Christians as has come down to us . . . Paul implies that the assemblies were open to non-Christians as well as Christians, and that they were often noisy and confusing. Several might simultaneously “speak with tongues”. At the same time two or more might be “prophesying”, that is, voicing a message which they believed had been given them by the Spirit, perhaps in the form of a “revelation”. There were some who were gifted with the ability to “interpret tongues”, or to put into the common speech the meaning of what had been spoken in an unknown tongue. There were those who broke out in spontaneous prayer in a “tongue” or in the vernacular. Apparently it was the custom for the hearers to say “Amen” -- “so be it” -- a sign of emphatic agreement, at the end of a prayer, especially if it were one of thanksgiving. There was singing, perhaps at times in a “tongue”, at other times with a psalm.’10

The picture could scarcely be closer to that of the revivalist and fundamentalist type of worship, of which I give some examples in later chapters, in which possession by the Spirit of God creates and reinforces convinced faith among people in a highly emotional and highly suggestible state of mind. When Christ was baptized in the Jordan, the Spirit of God descended upon him, or ‘into him’, according to one early manuscript of St Mark’s gospel, and it was held in the early Church that it was through this possession that Christ became imbued with the divine. St Paul, in his turn, experienced the possession by the divine which enabled him to say, ‘It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.’11 The religion of the early Church and its appeal to the spiritually unsatisfied was rooted in this direct experience of the presence of the divine. ‘The distinctive quality of the mysticism which is the essence of Pauline and Johannine Christianity is indicated in the term “Christ-mysticism”. The experience in which it centres is union with Christ . . . Since Christ is Spirit, he can live in men — can possess them, and speak through them, and become the inner principle of their being . . . and they can live in him.’12

Early on, however, St Paul found that possession by the Spirit and the gift of tongues caused serious difficulties, precisely because they created a state of fervent belief which, though edifying, was uncritical and confused. On the day of Pentecost itself, St Peter found it necessary to tell the astonished onlookers that the possessed Christians were not drunk, and St Paul, who was worried by the irrationality of the phenomenon, lectured the Corinthian Christians on the need for greater order and good sense, and the importance of interpreting the ‘tongues’. ‘For one who speaks in a tongue speaks not to men but to God; for no one understands him, but he utters mysteries in the Spirit . . . Therefore, he who speaks in a tongue should pray for the power to interpret. For if I pray in a tongue my spirit prays but my mind is unfruitful ... If, therefore, the whole church assembles and all speak in tongues, and outsiders or unbelievers enter, will they not say that you are mad? ... do not forbid speaking in tongues, but all things should be done decently and in order.’13

St Paul himself, however, had experienced a severe attack of dissociative mental collapse on the road to Damascus, in which he had been converted to Christianity and had suddenly and uncritically embraced beliefs which he had previously been busy attacking. And he made it clear to the Corinthians that he himself had the gift of tongues and spoke in them more often than anybody; in other words, he still had recurrent bouts of ecstatic hysterical trance.  

The gift of tongues is still present and observable in various religious movements; All cases, when carefully examined, seem to be typical hysterical and dissociative phenomena, and there is really nothing to suggest that the early Christian speaking in tongues was anything different.

It is now time to return to some of the earlier observations which aroused my own interest in this whole topic. These are Wesley’s recorded experiences of the power of the Holy Spirit and the Devil’s nefarious activities. There is no doubt about the effectiveness of Wesley’s preaching methods. He made converts in droves and the church he founded is still one of the largest in the Christian world. People coming to hear him, especially in the early days of his preaching, were presented with a dire alternative; either they must accept God’s forgiveness, obtain ‘saving faith’ and adopt a new way of life, or they would suffer an eternity of torment in hell. The results were experiences of the type with which we are now familiar.

In Volume II of his Journal 14 we read:

1739, Monday, Jan. 1st. Mr. Hall, Kinchin, Ingham, Whitefield, Hutchins, and my brother Charles were present at our lovefeast in Fetter Lane, with about sixty of our brethren. About three in the morning, as we were continuing instant in prayer, the power of God came mightily upon us, insomuch that many cried out for exceeding joy, and many fell to the ground. As soon as we were recovered a little from that awe and amazement at the presence of His Majesty we broke out with one voice, ‘We praise Thee, O God; we acknowledge Thee to be the Lord’.

And again:

While I was speaking one before me dropped down as dead, and presently a second and a third. Five others sank down in half an hour, most of whom were in violent agonies. The ‘pains’ as 'of hell came about them, the snares of death overtook them.’ In their trouble we called upon the Lord, and He gave us an answer of peace. One indeed continued an hour in strong pain, and one or two more for three days; but the rest were greatly comforted in that hour, and went away rejoicing and praising God.

And again:

About ten in the morning, J. C., as she was sitting at work, was suddenly seized with grievious terrors of mind, attended with strong trembling. Thus she continued all the afternoon; but at the society in the evening God turned her heaviness into joy. Five or six others were also cut to the heart this day, and soon after found Him whose hand makes whole; as did one likewise who had been mourning many months, without any to comfort her.

Wesley was, however, much more critical of the same sort of phenomena when they resulted from rival preaching.

Jan. 28, 1739. I went ... to a house where was one of those commonly called French prophets. After a time she came in. She seemed about four or five and twenty, of an agreeable speech and behaviour. She asked why we came, I said, ‘To try the spirits, whether they be of God.’ Presently after she leaned back in her chair, and seemed to have strong workings in her breast, with deep sighings intermixed. Her head and hands, and, by turns, every part of her body, seemed also to be in a kind of convulsive motion. This continued about ten minutes, till, at six, she began to speak (though the workings, sighings, and contortions, of her body were so intermixed with her words, that she seldom spoke half a sentence together) with a clear, strong voice, ‘Father, Thy will. Thy will be done ’ . . . She spoke much (all as in the person of God, and mostly in Scripture words) of the fillfilling of the prophecies, the coming of Christ how at hand, and the spreading gospel all over the earth . . . Two or three of our company were much affected, and believed she spoke by the Spirit of God. But this was in no wise clear to me. The motion might be either hysterical or artificial . . . But I left the matter alone; knowing this, that ‘if it be not of God, it will come to nought.’

Wesley’s own preaching continued to produce similar effects, especially in those who had become very excited or angry with him.

March 2nd, 1739. One of the most surprising instances of His power which I ever remember to have seen was on the Tuesday following, when I visited one who was above measure enraged at this new way, and zealous in opposing it ... I broke off the dispute, and desired we might join in prayer, which she so far consented to as to kneel down. In a few minutes she fell in an extreme agony, both of body and soul, and soon after cried out with the utmost earnestness, ‘Now I know I am forgiven for Christ’s sake’ . . . And from that hour God hath set her face as a flint to declare the faith which before she persecuted.

March 8th, 1739. In the midst of the dispute one who sat at a small distance felt, as it were, the piercing of a sword, and before she could be brought to another house, whither I was going, could not avoid crying out aloud, even in the street. But no sooner had we made our request known to God than He sent help from His holy place.

Southey, in his biography, of Wesley, was impressed by the fact that the most striking psychological manifestations were caused, not by the ‘emotional and overwhelmingly eloquent preaching of Whitefield’, but by the ‘logical, expository, and eminently theological discourses of John Wesley’. He could not explain it; he also reported the interesting ‘conditioning’ effect that not only the spoken but even the printed word of Wesley was liable to produce the same results. But Wesley’s quiet but eloquent insistence on the crucial choice confronting his listeners could be terrifying,

When preaching on the alternatives of hell or salvation by faith to condemned felons in Newgate Prison, who were due to be hanged very soon anyway, his message was peculiarly effective.

April 26th and 27th, 1739. While I was preaching at Newgate on these words, ‘He that believeth hath everlasting life!’ ... Immediately one, and another, and another sunk to the earth; they dropped on every side as thunderstruck. One of them cried aloud. We besought God in her behalf, and He turned her heaviness into joy. A second being in the same agony, we called upon God for her also; and He spoke peace unto her soul . . . One was so wounded by the sword of the Spirit that you would have imagined she could not live a moment . . . All Newgate rang with the cries of those whom the word of God cut to the heart.

Later on, Wesley was forced to wonder whether some of these manifestations were the work of the Devil rather than the Holy Ghost, as in a case like the following:

23rd October, 1739. Returning in the evening, I was extremely pressed to go back to a young woman, (Sally Jones) in Kingswood. The fact I nakedly relate, and leave every man to his own judgment on it. I went. She was nineteen or twenty years old; but, it seems, could not write or read. I found her on the bed, two or three persons holding her. It was a terrible sight. Anguish, horror and despair, above all description, appeared in her pale face. The thousand distortions of her whole body showed how the dogs of hell were gnawing her heart. The shrieks intermixed were scarce to be endured. But her stony eyes could not weep. She screamed out, as soon as words could find their way, ‘I am damned, damned; lost for ever. Six days ago you might have helped me ... I have (now) given myself to him. His I am. Him I must serve. With him I must go to hell. I will be his. I will serve him. I will go with him to hell. I cannot be saved. I will not be saved. I must, I will, I will be damned.’ She then began praying to the devil . . . We continued in prayer till past eleven; when God in a moment spoke peace into her soul, first of the first tormented, and then of the other. And they both joined in singing praise to Him who had ‘stilled the enemy and the avenger'.

Wesley’s converts were often thought of as mad because of their behaviour. Wesley’s mother wrote to him on 13 December 1740:

I am somewhat troubled at the case of poor Mr McGune, I think his wife was ill-advised to send for that wretched fellow Monroe [sic], for by what I hear, the man is not lunatic, but rather under strong conviction of sin, and hath much more need of a spiritual than a bodily physician.

Wesley and Dr Monro, head physician of Bethlem Hospital, then sited at Moorfields, were on bad terms. But Wesley highly praised the treatment given to the mentally ill at the new St Luke’s Hospital in Old Street, also near to Wesley’s Chapel in City Road. Religious possession was often being mistaken for madness, and vice versa. And madness at that time was generally treated by combating the body’s supposed ‘abnormal’ humours and vapours, which had now taken the place of evil spirits as a supposed medical causative factor. But unfortunately, patients still received the same sort of treatments which had been regarded for many centuries as essential to drive ‘spirits’ of all sorts out of madmen.

Wesley's abreactive shock techniques could have interesting effects in some states of depression accompanied by religious preoccupations, as seen in the following:

January 21st, 1739. We were surprised in the evening, while I was expounding in the Minories. A well-dressed, middle-aged woman suddenly cried out as in the agonies of death. She continued to do so for some time, with all the signs of sharpest anguish of the spirit. When she was a little recovered, I desired her to call upon me the next day. She then told me that about three years before she was under strong convictions of sin, and in such terror of mind that she had no comfort in anything, nor any rest day or night ... A physician was sent for accordingly, who ordered her to be blooded, blistered and so on. But this did not heal her wounded spirit. So that she continued much as she was before; till the last night.

He had even developed some interesting physiological theories as to what might be happening: 'How easy it is to suppose that strong, lively and sudden apprehension of the hideousness of sin and the wrath of God, and the bitter pains of eternal death, should affect the body as well as the soul, suspending the present laws of vital union and interrupting or disturbing the ordinary circulation and putting nature out of its course.’

William James in his Varieties of Religious Experience15 concluded that:

In the end we fall back on the hackneyed symbolism of a mechanical equilibrium. A mind is a system of ideas, each with the excitement it arouses, and with tendencies impulsive and inhibitive, which mutually check or reinforce one another ... a new perception, a sudden emotional shock, or an occasion which lays bare the organic alteration, will make the whole fabric fall together; and then the centre of gravity sinks into an attitude more stable, for the new ideas that reach the centre in the rearrangement seem now to be locked there, and the new structure remains permanent.

He went on to quote Professor Leuba’s conclusion that:

The ground of the specific assurance in religious dogmas is then an affective (emotional) experience. The objects of faith may even be preposterous; the affective stream will float them along, and invest them with unshakeable certitude. The more startling the affective experience, the less explicable it seems, the easier it is to make it the carrier of unsubstantiated motions.16

This is what Breuer also noted in dealing with the occurrence of a ‘hypnoid’ state of brain activity in situations of stress, leading to uncritical acceptance of certain ideas. It is worth remembering that Wesley wanted to convert his hearers to a set of beliefs which may well seem to be, on the face of it, unlikely: that God had a son who was born of a virgin and lived on the earth for a time long ago in Palestine, and died and rose from the dead and was taken up into heaven: that they had achieved faith in the presence and power of God’s Spirit; that their past sins were now forgiven them, and that they were sure to go to heaven rather than burn for eternity in hell-fire. Wesley found to his surprise that conversion to these beliefs was, on his methods, always something which happened suddenly. The explanation is surely that they could only be accepted in a hypnoid and suggestible state of brain activity. It seems very unlikely, in fact, that so strange a set of beliefs could ever be accepted as a result of purely intellectual processes.

Many other religious sects have relied on states of possession and trance to inculcate faith. In the early days of the Quakers, so called because they shook and trembled before the Lord, men and women and small children foamed at the mouth and roared aloud. Their leader, George Fox, described what happened to one of their critics, Captain Drury:

This Captain Drury, though he sometimes carried fairly, was an enemy to me and to Truth, and opposed it; and when professors came to me (while I was under his custody) and he was by, he would scoff at trembling, and call us Quakers, as the Independents and Presbyterians had nicknamed us before. But afterwards he once came to me and told me that, as he was lying on his bed to rest, in the day time, he fell atrembling, that his joints knocked together, and his body shook so that he could not get off the bed; he was, so shaken that he had not strength left, and cried to the Lord. And he felt His power was upon him . . . and said he never would speak against the Quakers more, and such as trembled at the word of God.17

George Salmon, who was Provost of Trinity College, Dublin, published in 1859 a factual account of supposed possession by the Holy Ghost, in the great Belfast revival of that year; the after-effects of which have profoundly influenced the religious life of the town right up to the present day.18

Strong men burst into tears; women fainted, and went off in hysterics: The piercing shrieks of those who called aloud for mercy, and the mental agony from which they suffered, were, perhaps, the most affecting that you could imagine. The penitents flung themselves on the floor, tore their hair, entreated all around to pray for them, and seemed to have the most intense conviction of their lost state in the sight of God.

He went on to say that:

The physical affections are of two kinds, (1) The patient either becomes deeply affected by the appeals which he or she may have heard, and bursts into the loudest and wildest exclamations of sorrow, and continues praying and pleading with God for mercy, sometimes for hours; or (2) falls down completely insensible, and continues in this state for different periods varying from about one or two days . . . During continuance of the state (2) the person affected remains perfectly tranquil, apparently unconscious of everything going on around; the hands occasionally clasped as in prayer, the lips moving, and sometimes the eyes streaming with tears; the pulse generally regular, and without any indications of fever . . . and the persons who have recovered from it represent it as the time of their ‘conversion’. There is a most remarkable expression in their countenances, a perfect radiance of joy, which I have never seen on any other occasion. I would be able to single out the persons who have gone through this state by the expression of their features.

In Russia, well into this century, the Holy Ghost has manifested itself in a variety of strange ways, as among the sect of Khlysty:

They claimed to be inspired with the Word and to incarnate Christ. They attained this heavenly communion by the most bestial practices, a monstrous combination of the Christian religion with pagan rites and primitive superstitions. The faithful used to assemble by night in a hut or in a forest clearing, lit by hundreds of tapers. The purpose of these radenyi, or ceremonies, was to create a religious ecstasy, an erotic frenzy. After invocations and hymns, the faithful formed a ring and began to sway in rhythm, and then to whirl round and round, spinning faster and faster. As a state of dizziness was essential for the ‘divine flux’, the master of ceremonies flogged any dancer whose vigour abated. The radenyi ended in a horrible orgy, everyone rolling on the ground in ecstacy, or in convulsions. They preached that he who is possessed by the ‘Spirit’ belongs not to himself but to the ‘Spirit’ who controls him and is responsible for all his actions and for any sins he may commit.19

Finally, the extraordinary effectiveness of methods of this sort in altering a person’s beliefs, interrupting the normal ‘flow of consciousness’ and allowing uncritical acceptance of new and strange beliefs, which are afterwards held with absolute conviction, is reported once again by Thomas Butts, who examined the effects of the supposed work of the Holy Ghost or the Devil among Wesley’s followers: ‘As to persons crying out or being in fits, I shall not pretend to account exactly for that, but only make this observation: it is well known that most of them who have been so exercised were before of no religion at all, but they have since received a sense of pardon, have peace and joy in believing, and are now more holy and happy than ever they were before. And if this be so, no matter what remarks are made on their fits.’20



1 Johannes Maringer, The Gods of Prehistoric Man, Weidenfeld & Nicolson, London 1960, pp. 102-3

2 A. P. Elkin, ‘Australia’, in Man, Myth & Magic, Purnell, London 1970-72, vol. 1, p. 180

3 E. O. James, The Beginnings of Religion, Hutchinson, London, p. 65

4 S. H. Hooke, Babylonian and Assyrian Religion, Hutchinson, London 1953, p. 77

5 See J. Lindblom, Prophecy in Ancient Israel, Basil Blackwell, Oxford 1962

6 Virgil, Aeneid, translated by W. F. Jackson Knight, Penguin Books, Harmondsworth 1956, pp. 148-50

7 Heinrich Harrer, Seven Tears in Tibet, translated by Richard Graves, Reprint Society, London 1955, pp. 206-8

8 See E. R. Dodds, The Greeks and the Irrational, University of California Press, 1951, appendix 1; ‘Theurgy’, in Man, Myth & Magic, vol. 7, pp. 2821-4

9 Acts 2 : 2-4

10 Kenneth Scott Latourette, A History of Christianity, Harper, New York 1953, p. 196

11 Galatians 2: 20

12 Sidney Spencer, Mysticism in World Religion, Penguin Books, Harmondsworth 1963, pp. 216-17

13 I Corinthians 14

14 C. Kelly, Journal of John Wesley, Standard Edition, London 1909-16

15 W. James, The Varieties of Religious Experience, Longmans Green, London 1914

16 H. Leuba, Amer. Journ. Psychology, 1895, 7, p. 345

17 The Journal of George Fox, Everyman Edition, Dent, London

18 G. Salmon, The Evidence of the Work of the Holy Spirit, Hodges, Smith, Dublin 1859

19 F. Youssoupoff, Lost Splendour, Cape, London 1953

20 W. L. Doughty, John Wesley, Epworth Press, London 1955
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Re: The Mind Possessed: A Physiology of Possession, Mysticis

Postby admin » Sun May 26, 2019 1:47 am

6. Mystical possession

When the great British physiologist, Sherrington, was taken round Pavlov’s laboratory at Leningrad, he was shown an experiment in which one small focal area of a dog’s brain had been so strongly excited that it had produced a reciprocal state of inhibition in many other functions of the higher nervous system. Sherrington, after watching the experiment, said he still did not accept all of Pavlov’s theories. But this particular experiment did show how it was possible physiologically for the Christian martyrs to die happily, even when being eaten by the lions in the Roman Colosseum or being burnt at the stake, and sometimes without any apparent suffering. With their minds so strongly focally excited, and fixed firmly on the glory of God and the rewards to come in Heaven, normal pain sensations and fear of death might be inhibited reflexly, just as had happened in this experiment with Pavlov’s dogs.

Strong focal excitation of one part of the brain, with reflex generalized inhibition of other parts, is seen constantly in hypnosis and hysteria. For instance, an actor, who had what he himself described as a ‘histrionic’ temperament, told me after the last war how, as a prisoner of the Japanese, he had to go each day to receive orders from the local Japanese camp commandant. He never knew whether he was going to be beaten up or praised or just ignored. When he was beaten up, which happened frequently, he found that if he could succeed in fixing his thoughts on a certain mountain in Wales, and keep his mind completely concentrated on it, he could often inhibit much of the physical pain of the beating. Pain and other strong sensory impressions can sometimes be completely inhibited in a moment of great crisis, with its heightened state of nervous excitement, and also in states of hypnosis. With the mind entirely focused on some present danger, it is possible to remain unaware that you have been seriously hurt at the time; you only realize it afterwards. Not everybody reacts to stress with severe reciprocal inhibition. Some do so more easily than others. Under very great stresses, however, severe inhibitory effects can occur quite involuntarily, even in those of previously stable temperament. This was seen very commonly during the war, when many cases of acute hysteria occurred in people of normally stable personality. A soldier might be admitted to hospital complaining mainly of, say, a bad pain in the ear, and apparently entirely unaware of other major nervous dysfunctions he was showing at the same time, such as a patchy amnesia or loss of memory or even an injured, shaking or paralysed limb. His brain had developed a state of focal excitation about the pain in the ear, which had resulted in generalized reflex inhibition and a lack of appreciation of many other disabilities present. People of obsessional temperament were the least affected in this way. Their brains showed generalized inhibition reflexly only under very extreme stresses. Like elephants, their fault generally lies in their never inhibiting enough to forget past traumas, rather than quickly repressing them as is so often seen in hysteria.

So far, we have seen how the brain and nervous system of man can be furiously excited, by music, dancing, hell-fire preaching and the stirring up of great fear or anger. And it has been emphasized that this can induce various abnormal states of brain activity. There is another quite different method of achieving the same results, by using an exactly opposite technique. Here most of the nervous system is progressively relaxed, instead of being continuously excited. And as the mind becomes more and more quiescent, a state of generalized inhibition also finally results. Only a small focal part of the higher nervous system remains active and excited.

Pavlov showed that the small remaining focal areas of brain excitation, surrounded by generalized inhibition, such as are also seen in hypnosis, could exhibit the same types of ‘equivalent’, ‘paradoxical’ and ‘ultraparadoxical’ inhibitory behaviour as the larger areas. This occurs in the focally isolated and excited area only, and causes a drastic disorganization of higher nervous activity in the individual concerned, especially in regard to his personal judgements of the strange sensory impressions he starts to receive while in this state. A woman dominated by fear of being sexually assaulted, and dwelling constantly on this fear to the exclusion of all else, may suddenly switch to a state of paradoxical activity of the already focally excited area of the brain She suddenly ‘internalizes’ the fear and feels that she is actually being sexually assaulted, and feels the penis inside her. It is almost certainly the paradoxical and ultraparadoxical phases of brain activity that make her feel that the assault is now happening within herself and not, as before, remaining only as an outside threat. A person who fears that other people are talking about him may suddenly start to hear the actual conversations about him going on in his head. The connections with states of ‘possession’ is clear. The person who fears that the Devil is near him, suddenly starts to feel with absolute certainty that the devil is actually in him, and possessing him. Exactly the same mechanism is behind sudden feelings of possession by God, of God dwelling within one or of becoming part of God.

Every great religion has its ‘mystical’ and ‘solitary’ as well as its ‘revivalistic’ and ‘orgiastic’ means whereby the individual can be ‘saved’. In solitary prayers and meditations, the mystic can bring himself into direct touch with the particular god or spirit of his particular religion. He can, by using certain techniques, come to feel the actual presence of a god, spirit or devil within him, to feel that he is part of the good or bad possessing spirit, or that the spirit has suddenly become part of himself. When such paradoxical or ultraparadoxical phases of brain activity occur, the individual finds it extremely difficult, and sometimes quite impossible, to explain in ordinary language what he has been experiencing. His description may become just as ‘paradoxical’ as his brain activity. He uses paradoxical phrases, such as ‘a brilliant darkness’ or a ‘white darkness’, or talks about feelings of ‘painless pain’ and ‘fearless states of fear'. Descriptions of mystical experience of this sort suggest that the brain is, in fact, functioning highly abnormally, and that the person concerned is trying to describe abnormal states of paradoxical brain activity. These sensations are very difficult to describe simply because they do not approximate to the normal reality generally experienced at other times.

It must also be emphasized that when one small focal area of the brain is strongly excited, and this small area switches over into paradoxical or ultraparadoxical inhibitory behaviour, the individual can also become more suggestible. For the sensory impressions received at the time may easily be isolated and shut off from the rest of the ordinary brain activity, so that they are not subjected to the usual criticism of sensory impressions which are judged in the light of past experiences. In fact, critical judgement about this particular set of abnormal impressions may be entirely absent.

The literature of mysticism contains many sets of instructions and detailed recorded experiences which confirm what we have said about the mechanisms involved. Here is a classical example of how a monk was advised to proceed, if he wished to be filled with certainty of the presence of God within him:

Seated in a quiet cell, off in a corner . . . lift your intelligence beyond every vain and temporal object. Then, resting your beard upon your chest and turning your bodily eyes with all attentiveness upon the centre of your stomach (which is to say, upon your navel), limit the air that passes through your nose so that you are breathing with difficulty and search with your mind the interior of your belly and there find the habitation of your heart . . . In the beginning you will find darkness and a stubborn density. But if you persevere and engage in this occupation day and night you will find — O wonder! -- felicity unlimited . . .1

This could as well have been a Yogi talking as a Christian priest; another method, which has also been used in Christianity and Eastern religions alike, is to repeat a phrase over and over again, not usually aloud but silently in the mind, concentrating on it and emptying one’s consciousness of everything else. The auto-hypnotic effect of this procedure has frequently been observed. An example of such a phrase is ‘Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’ Other religions use other words and phrases, such as the mantras of Hinduism. In different religions the same methods are used to attain quite different truths, and mystics employing the same techniques feel themselves possessed by different deities.

Among the Sufis the term dhikr refers to the glorification of God in certain set phrases, which are repeated over and over again. They may be recited aloud by a group or by a solitary worshipper but are perhaps most effective when repeated silently in the mind and accompanied by special breathing techniques and physical movements. The Sufi al-Hallaj regarded the mystical union with God as the actual inhabitation of the human soul by the divine, and spoke of the ‘incarnation’ of the divine in the human body and the ‘identity’ of the mystic and God. He was crucified at Baghdad in 922, partly because he had announced that he was God. Other Sufis hesitated to go so far but it is clear from what the mystic and poet al-Ghazali says that while in the state which he calls being ‘drunk with a drunkenness in which their reason collapsed’ they felt utterly possessed by God:

One of them said, ‘I am God (the Truth).’ Another said, ‘Glory be to me! How great is my glory’, while another said, ‘Within my robe is naught but God.’ But the words of lovers when in a state of drunkenness must be hidden away and not broadcast. However, when their drunkenness abates and the sovereignty of their reason is restored -- and reason is God’s scale of earth -- they know that this was not actual identity, but that it resembled identity as when lovers say at the height of their passion:

‘I am he whom I desire and he whom I desire is I;
We are two souls inhabiting one body.’2

The reference to the union of lovers is significant, and we shall return to it later on, but for the moment the point is the stress which al-Ghazali places on a ‘collapse’ of reason as a condition of attaining the sense of mystical union, just as St Paul observed the uncritical irrationality of ecstatic forms of worship in the early Church. This suggests that it is the brain of man and not his soul which is affected by mystical techniques, though the possessing deity or spirit will be identified differently against varying religious backgrounds. The Christian mystic does not become obsessed by the bloodthirsty Hindu goddess Kali, and vice versa.

St Edmund Rich, who died in 1240, said the following about the technique of attaining possession by the Christian God. Relaxation and emptying of the mind is specially emphasized, as in most mystical techniques:

The first step in contemplation is for the soul to retreat within itself and there completely to recollect itself. The second step in contemplation is for the soul to see what it is when it is so collected. The third step is for the soul to raise itself beyond itself and to strive to see two things; its Creator, and His own nature. But the soul can never attain to this until it has learned to subdue every image, corporeal, earthly and celestial, to reject whatever may come to it through sight or hearing or touch or taste or any other bodily sensation, and to tread it down, so that the soul may see what in itself is outside of its body . . . After this, when you have in this way looked at your Creator and His creatures, put every corporeal image outside your heart, and let your naked intention fly up above all human reasoning and there you shall find such great sweetness and such great secrets that without special grace there is no one who can think of it except only him who has experienced it.’3

Another good example of the need to empty the mind before the paradoxical and ultraparadoxical phase of brain activity supervenes and allows feelings of possession to occur is contained in an account of a group of people who were called ‘The Friends of God’: ‘When it comes into Nothing all natural marks disappear and the soul becomes unoccupied and rests in pure peace. It is then that the spirit arrives at the source from which it flowed. In this way natural knowledge is negated, and in this way it is necessary that one should become empty of his natural knowledge if he desires true spiritual poverty.’4

Tauler also says in the fourteenth century: ‘That is wherein you should penetrate, using your entire strength to leave far behind every thought of your worldliness, which is as remote and alien to the inner self as only an animal can be, living, as it does, without knowledge, perception or awareness or anything, except its senses.’5 He goes on to give a very good example of the paradoxical and ultraparadoxical phases of brain activity which can then result, and he has to describe them in highly paradoxical phraseology: ‘Then you will contemplate the divine darkness, which by its blinding clearness appears dark to human and even to the angels’ understanding, just as the resplendent orb of the sun appears dark to the weak eye; for it is in the nature of all created understanding that, compared with the divine clarity, it is as small as a swallow’s eye when compared with the size of the sun, and as far as this understanding is merely of the natural order it must be beaten back into consciousness so that it can do no more harm.’6

Another very good account of the method of obtaining Christian mystical union is given by Jan Van Ruysbroeck:

The first is that he must be well ordered in all virtues from without, and that within he be unhindered, and that he be empty of all outward works, just as though he performed nothing. For if within he is preoccupied with any work of virtue, so he is distracted by images. As long as this lasts in him, he is unable to contemplate. Secondly, he must within depend upon God with compelling intention and love, just as a kindled and glowing fire that never again can be put out. And when he feels himself to be thus, then he is able to contemplate. Thirdly, he must have lost himself in a lack of manner, and in a darkness in which all contemplative men fare in delectation, and can never again find themselves in any way natural to the creature. In the depths of this darkness, in which the loving spirit has died to itself, begins the revelation of God and the eternal life. For in this darkness there shines and there is born an incomprehensible light, which is the Son of God, in Whom we contemplate eternal life. And in this light we see.’7

Finally, Walter Hilton, also in the fourteenth century, sums up the points already made, as follows:

The third degree of contemplation is the highest that is attainable in this life. Both knowing and loving go to make it up. It consists in knowing God perfectly and in loving God perfectly, and that is when a man’s soul is first cleansed of all sins and is formed anew, through the fulness of virtue, into the image of Jesus and then, at the visitation of grace, is withdrawn from all earthly and fleshly affections and from vain thoughts and musings and bodily matters and is, as it were, rapt out of his bodily senses; and then, by the grace of the Holy Spirit, he is enlightened so that he can see by his understanding the truth which is God and see spiritual things with a soft sweet burning love in him, which is so perfect that by the ravishing of this love he is united for a time to God and is conformed to the likeness of the Trinity.8

This ecstatic state, in which there is absolute certainty of possession by God, is regarded as the supreme gift of God in several different religions. The same basic technique to attain it is reported, and with similar results. It is generally explained that in this final stage God actually enters and becomes conjoined with man, and that this is the act of God himself. It is not considered to have anything to do with the brain acting abnormally, along the lines suggested here. But one of the main purposes of this book is to consider the part played by the brain itself in the phenomenon. Sometimes the ‘mystical union’ can occur suddenly, with the individual being quite unprepared for it. St Teresa of Avila says:

For often when a person is quite unprepared for such a thing, and is not even thinking of God, he is awakened by His Majesty, as though by a rushing comet or a thunderclap. Although no sound is heard, the soul is very well aware that it has been called by God, so much so that sometimes, especially at first, it begins to tremble and complain, though it feels nothing that causes it affliction. It is conscious of having been most delectably wounded, but cannot say how or by whom.9

We can also see, in St Teresa’s account, how an increased state of suggestibility present when one has attained to a mystical state causes ready acceptance of the doctrines and beliefs of the particular religious viewpoint with which one is in contact. Here is a good example of the way in which ‘proof’ of the Holy Trinity is acquired:

First of all the spirit becomes enkindled and is illumined, as it were, by a cloud of the greatest brightness. It sees these three persons, individually, and yet, by a wonderful kind of knowledge which is given to it, the soul realizes that most certainly and truly all these three Persons are one Substance and one Power and one Knowledge and one God alone; so that what we hold by faith the soul may be said here to grasp by sight, although nothing is seen by the eyes, either of the body or of the soul, for it is no imaginary vision. Here all three Persons communicate Themselves to the soul and speak to the soul.10

Marie of the Incarnation described the attainment of these states of possession, which create such total faith, very well indeed: ‘The state which I now experience, compared with what I have previously described, is a completely extraordinary clearness about the ways of the adorable Spirit of the Word Incarnate. I know, experientially in great pureness and certainty, that here is Love Himself intimately joined to me and joining my spirit to His and that “all that He has said has spirit and life” in me. Particularly does my soul experience being in this intimate union with Him.' She also insists: ‘It is a reality so lofty, so ravishing, so simple, and so beyond the scope of what falls within the meaning of human discourse that I am unable to express it otherwise than to say that I am in God, possessed by God, and that God would soon overwhelm me by His loving gentleness and strength were I not sustained by another impression which follows it and does not pass but tempers His greatness as something not to be sustained in this life.’11

In Quietism there is again the emptying of the mind, which Madame Guyon described in answering the question, what must the soul do to be faithful to God?

Nothing and less than nothing. It must simply suffer itself to be possessed, acted upon, and moved without resistance . . . letting itself be led at all times and to any place, regardless of sight or reason, and without thinking of either; letting itself go naturally into all things, without considering what would be best or most plausible.12

Ronald Knox, who used this quotation in his book Enthusiasm, said that it shows the resemblance of Quietism to the later Quaker methods of achieving what is called the ‘Inner Light'. Fenelon described Madame Guyon’s ‘perfect souls' as those who ‘are without action, without desire, without incarnation, without choice, without impatience, in a state of complete death, seeing things only as God sees them, and judging them only with God’s judgment'.13

Mystical contemplation has very real dangers. Sometimes quite unexpectedly, when the nervous system is being progressively relaxed, almost total inhibition of much of the higher nervous system may occur, and this does not lift again at will. Some people experience severe mental depression. Knox points out the complications:

There is, however, an extreme case in which the counsel of abandonment seems to reach further. It is the general testimony of souls which have attained a high degree of mystical experience that they did so only by means of, and at the cost of, acute spiritual trials. The chief of these takes the form of an overpowering conviction that the soul has been deserted by God’s love and is marked down for reprobation. During these periods of dereliction, ought such a soul to meet the temptation face to face, in an effort to fight it down by returning to deliberate acts.14

 It is in fact a commonplace that the road to union with the divine often leads through a ‘valley of the shadow’, a stage of hopeless despair and deep sense of unworthiness which has all the symptoms that we now recognize in psychiatry as indicative of depressive illness. It is only after this depressive inhibitory phase of brain activity that the person achieves the ecstatic experience of divine possession, a certainty of salvation and forgiveness, of sins, or a conviction of having found the truth. This final stage brings with it a sense of certainty which may not be at all related to the previous beliefs and experiences of the person concerned, and which need not harmonize with his other existing beliefs. An isolated focus of experience creating convinced belief can now remain quite uninfluenced by the rest of the person's outlook.

William James summarizes the position of the emptying of the mind and the relaxing of worry as a means of preparing for the mystical entry of the desired God, or the sudden attainment of faith:

From Catholicism to Lutheranism, and then to Calvinism; from that to Wesleyanism; and from this, outside of technical Christianity altogether, to pure ‘liberalism’ or transcendental idealism, whether or not of the mind-cure type, taking in the mediaeval mystics, the quiestists, the pietists, and quakers by the way, we can trace the stages of progress towards the idea of an immediate spiritual help, experienced by the individual in his forlornness. . . There are only two ways in which it is possible to get rid of anger, worry, fear, despair, or other undesirable affections. One is that an opposite affection should overpoweringly break over us, and the other is by getting so exhausted with the struggle that we have to stop -- so we drop down, give up, and don’t care any longer. Our emotional brain-centres strike work, and we lapse into a temporary apathy. Now there is documentary proof that this state of temporary exhaustion not infrequently forms part of the conversion crisis. So long as the egoistic worry of the sick soul guards the door, the expansive confidence of the soul of faith gains no presence.16

James even described, long before Pavlov had demonstrated the physiology in his dogs, the existence of the paradoxical phases of brain activity:

You know how it is when you try to recollect a forgotten name. Usually you help the recall by working for it, by mentally running over the places, persons, and things with which the word was connected. But sometimes this effort fails; you feel then as if the harder you tried the less hope there would be, as though the name were jammed, and pressure in its direction only kept it all the more from rising. And then the opposite expedient often succeeds. Give up the effort entirely; think of something altogether different, and in half an hour the lost name comes sauntering into your mind, as Emerson says, as carelessly as if it had never been invited.16

John Nelson, one of Wesley’s converts, in despair just before his conversion, cried out, ‘Lord, Thy will be done; damn or save!’ And at that moment his soul was filled with peace.

Dr Starbuck, in discussing conversion, quotes other examples, such as the person who said:

'“Lord, I have done all I can: I leave the whole matter with Thee,” and immediately there came to me a great peace.’

Or another:

‘All at once it occurred to me that I might be saved, too, if I would stop trying to do it all myself, and follow Jesus: somehow, I lost my load.’

Yet another:

‘I finally ceased to resist, and gave myself up, though it was a hard struggle. Gradually the feeling came over me that I had done my part, and God was willing to do his.’17

In this phase of relaxation or depression an increased state of suggestibility may develop, evidence of the hypnoid state of brain activity. And with the paradoxical and ultra-paradoxical phases also supervening, outside events seem to sear themselves into the brain, uninfluenced by any criticism from past experience. Take for instance, Henry Alline’s account of his own conversion, also quoted by William James. This occurred in 1775, and it seems that throughout the ages the same fundamental alterations in brain behaviour have occurred in similar circumstances. Alline writes:

You have been seeking, praying, reforming, laboring, reading, hearing, and meditating, and what have you done by it towards your salvation? Are you any nearer to conversion now than when you first began? ... These discoveries continued until I went into the house and sat down. After I sat down, being all in confusion, like a drowning man that was just giving up to sink, and almost in an agony, I turned very suddenly round in my chair, and seeing part of an old Bible lying in one of the chairs, I caught hold of it in great haste, and opening it without any premeditation, cast my eyes on the 38th Psalm, which was the first time I ever saw the word of God: it took hold of me with such power that it seemed to go through my whole soul, so that it seemed as if God was praying in, with, and for me . . . the burden of guilt and condemnation was gone, darkness was expelled, my heart humbled and filled with gratitude, and my whole soul, that was a few minutes ago groaning under mountains of death, and crying to an unknown God for help, was now filled with immortal love, soaring on the wings of faith, freed from the chains of death and darkness.18

Jonathan Edwards, the great American revivalist, whose work preceded Wesley’s by a few years, used to insist that despair -- total religious despair, equivalent to the ‘dark night of the soul’ of medieval mystics -- was an important precursor of effective and convincing feelings of salvation and possession by God. Wesley also thought that as a preliminary to conversion it was necessary to realize one’s own sinfulness and the certainty of punishment in hell unless God intervened. He found that the change to a conviction of being ‘saved’ was generally instantaneous, a point repeatedly confirmed in accounts of mystical experiences:

In London alone I found 652 members of our Society who were exceeding clear in their experience, and whose testimony I could see no reason to doubt. And every one of these (without a single exception) has declared that his deliverance from sin was instantaneous; that the change was wrought in a moment. Had half of these, or one third, or one in twenty, declared it was gradually wrought in them, I should have believed this with regard to them, and thought that some were gradually sanctified and some instantaneously. But as I have not found, in so long a space of time, a single person speaking thus, I cannot but believe that sanctification is commonly, if not always, an instantaneous work.19

William James distinguished mystical conversions from other, more intellectual conversions. I should say that what in fact happens is that a variety of methods reach the same common endpoint, in which hypnoid, paradoxical and ultraparadoxical states of brain activity make conversion possible, whether the conversion is to religious belief, a political philosophy or any other system of ideas. James suggested that one important distinguishing mark of a mystical state of mind is that it defies expression and cannot adequately be described in words. It is impossibly difficult to impart or transfer the experience to others, even though it may occur in clear consciousness without accompanying trance or loss of memory. The experience carries with it a sense of insight into depths of fundamental truth which cannot be plumbed by what James called ‘the discursive intellect’.

In other words, the mystic is carried ‘beyond’ reason precisely because he is in an abnormal and non-rational state of mind. But this characteristic of mystical experience is also characteristic of conversion in general. It is a matter of common observation that faith — in religious or other doctrines -- is essentially non-rational. Prodigies of intellectual effort may be devoted to supporting a belief rationally once it has been accepted, but this comes after the event. And once the edifice of rational argument has been constructed, it does not by itself succeed in making fresh converts. A potential convert may study theology and find it more or less persuasive intellectually but it is not the theology which converts him to faith. There is a great gulf fixed between intellectual adherence to a theological or other position and a state of faith in that position: and if the gulf is crossed at all, it is generally crossed suddenly and dramatically. Faith is a profound and non-rational conviction of the truth of propositions to which the unaided intellect can at best accord only a temperate allegiance. The recognition of this fact explains the Christian emphasis on divine grace, the contribution which God makes to the conversion process, the gift of faith which seems to come from a source outside the believer because it does not come from his normal, conscious, reasoning and critical self. And the converted find that the difficulty of explaining their acquisition of faith in plain language is insuperable.

This is not to say that reasoned argument or theological study play no part in the process which leads to conversion. They can play a part, because if long continued they may put a strain on the nervous system which contributes to the supervening of hypnoid, paradoxical and ultraparadoxical phases of brain activity, in the same way that the person who struggles on and on against attempts to hypnotize him will eventually suddenly succumb. One of the most famous and deeply appealing statements of faith ever made, after all, was Tertullian’s Cerium estquia impossible est: 'It is certain because it is impossible.’



1 E. O’Brien, Varieties of Mystic Experiences, Holt, Rinehart, New York 1964, pp. 98-9

2 Quoted in R. C. Zaehner, Mysticism Sacred and Profane, Oxford University Press 1961 (paperback), pp. 157-8

3 O’Brien, op. cit., pp. 137-9

4 ibid., p. 166

5 ibid., p. 172

6 ibid., pp. 172-3

7 ibid., p. 189

8 ibid., p. 217

9 ibid., p. 271

10 ibid., p. 273

11 ibid., pp. 297-9

12 R. A. Knox, Enthusiasm, Clarendon Press, Oxford, p. 263

13 Knox, op. cit., p. 272

14 ibid., pp. 255-6

15 W. James, The Varieties of Religious Experience, Longmans Green, London 1914, pp. 211-12

16 James, op. cit., p. 205

17 ibid., 206-10

18 ibid., p. 227

19 ibid., pp. 217-18. Italics in original.
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Re: The Mind Possessed: A Physiology of Possession, Mysticis

Postby admin » Sun May 26, 2019 2:12 am

7. Sex and possession

If man is thought to rise to the level of the divine in mystical experience, it has been believed by millions of people that he can attain the same level in the ecstasy of sex. The experience of being swept away in an overwhelming tide of desire, which carries the lovers irresistibly along with it, which smashes down all barriers of convention, which the lovers themselves may realize will hurt others close to them, but which they feel powerless to control, long ago suggested to humanity that to be passionately in love is to be seized by a force from outside oneself, a force which is superhuman and in some religions divine. A lover traditionally behaves like a madman, another sufferer frequently regarded as possessed by a god or a demon, and lovers in orgasm behave as if they were possessed, trembling, writhing, groaning, crying out, as blind and deaf to everything around them as if they were no longer on any earthly plane. Complete orgasm also often ends in a collapse phase, as in abreaction, ecstatic dancing and convulsion therapy.

It is significant that ‘having', ‘knowing' and ‘possessing' are among our commonest expressions for sexual intercourse, for they suggest that the real goal and summit of sexual activity is not the procreation of children, or even erotic pleasure, but the sense of mingled identity which lovers briefly achieve, the acquisition of another human being who, if only momentarily, seems to become part of oneself. This ideal of mingled identity in sex has caused mystics to speak of the soul’s union with and possession by God in sexual terms. In the previous chapter I quoted al-Ghazali’s analogy between union with the divine and the union of lovers. Numerous Christian mystics have described the human soul as the female, surrendering to and possessed by God as the male. St John of the Cross, in one of his poems, a song of the soul, in rapture at having arrived at the height of perfection, wrote:

Oh night that was my guide!
Oh darkness dearer than the morning’s pride.
Oh night that joined the lover
To the beloved bride
Transfiguring them each into the other.1

The soul is in darkness, says the Cloud of Unknowing, but God pierces the darkness with a ray of love, the soul is ‘inflamed with the fire of love’, and so is ‘one with God in spirit and in love’ and ‘made a God in grace’. According to Walter Hilton, ‘God and the soul are no longer two but one ... In this union a true marriage is made between God and the soul, which shall never be broken.’ Heinrich Suso, a German mystic of the fourteenth century who refers to himself throughout his autobiography as ‘she’, again stresses the total mingling of identities. ‘Earthly lovers, however greatly they may love, must needs bear to be distinct and separate from one another; but Thou, O unfathomable fullness of all love . . . pourest Thyself so utterly into the soul’s essence that no part of Thee remains outside.’2

Earthly lovers, however, similarly sense a divine element in sexual union. Lovers in poetry and popular songs, and very often in everyday speech, ‘worship’ or ‘adore’ or ‘idolize’ each other. In the marriage service, the bridegroom may say to the bride, ‘with my body I thee worship’.

Previous chapters have thrown light on the probable physiological mechanism responsible for this connection between sex and concepts of the divine and possession. During the sexual act, especially if it ends in mutual orgasm, both partners achieve an intense, often uncontrolled and uncontrollable, state of temporary brain excitement, which leads on to a state of sudden temporary nervous collapse and transient brain inhibition. We have already seen what effects this physiological process can have in creating greatly increased suggestibility and in producing paradoxical and ultraparadoxical phases of brain activity. Feelings of possession from outside, or of mutual possession each partner by the other, can become extremely strong, and powerful and quite uncritical transference can build up. Relief from the accumulated tensions of everyday living also occurs frequently in the phase of final sexual collapse, when the brain-slate is wiped clean and left blank for new impressions and influences to write on. New loves can readily spring up, or old hates be dissolved, in states of aroused sexual tension and the final orgasm.

It is this physiological process which lies behind the use of normal and deviant sexual practices to induce possession by gods and spirits, which has an important role in certain oriental cults though Christianity, with its powerful strain of distrust of sex, woman, and the body, has generally been fiercely hostile to it and has played down and allegorized away the role of sex in mysticism. Even so, sexual means of inducing the presence of God in the worshipper were employed, usually in disguised and unrecognized forms, in medieval nunneries and monasteries, and there are accounts of sincerely 'pious' nuns feeling themselves physically seduced, loved and possessed by Christ during mystical meditation, to the point of orgasm.

Several religious sects have practised the use of prolonged sexual intercourse without orgasm, called carezza, to increase states of suggestibility and fortify religious faith. Dr Alice Stockham in the 1880s describes its effects as follows: ‘Manifestations of tenderness are indulged in without physical or mental fatigue . . . once the necessary control has been acquired, the two beings are fused and reach sublime spiritual joy ... After an hour the bodies relax, spiritual delight is increased and new horizons are revealed with the renewal of strength.’3 Later on, Dr Marie Stopes was also to recommend its use.

In crude American revivalism, making worshippers ‘come through' sexually to Jesus was often deliberately encouraged, and the occurrence of such orgasm might be taken as the sign of the Holy Ghost entering a person’s life and the sign that things would be ‘new and different' for him from then on. Erskine Caldwell’s novel The Journeyman describes this revivalist technique in the American South very well.

The act of sex and orgasm not only greatly increases suggestibility and so facilitates the implantation of belief, but the increased suggestibility then fires off further sexual excitement. Repeatedly induced orgasmic collapse has therefore been used to produce states of deep hysterical trance. Further, the implantation, of confirmation of religious faith by techniques of this sort is often more effectively achieved in groups than by people in pairs or alone, hence the sexual orgy as a religious rite. Wesley’s early followers were accused of doing this at their ‘love feasts’, as the early Christians had been long before.

Until comparatively recently, little was known in the West of the tantric cults of India, which are viewed with severe disapproval by many Hindus and Buddhists. Tantrism is of considerable antiquity, so much so that some authorities believe it to be the oldest of all Indian cults, the religion of the pre-Aryan inhabitants of India and the prototype of yoga.4

It uses sexual intercourse to strengthen religious group feelings and to bring about states of possession by divine and demonic powers. To bank up energy, sexual indulgence is reduced to a minimum for some days before a ceremony. If actual sexual intercourse is employed in the ceremony, it is in the 'left-hand tradition’; while the ‘right-hand tradition’ substitutes symbols for actual sex practices. Left-hand tantrism involves actual sexual intercourse with a woman, and it is accepted that the tantric’s wife and any other woman, from any caste, are equally eligible.

Agehananda Bharati’s book on The Tantric Tradition5 explains that the person who is to be initiated should be beaten up by the guru, and if he trembles and is frightened this is a sign of his readiness for initiation into left-hand practices. In other words, the candidate is first reduced by strong physical and nervous pressures to a suitably pliable and suggestible state (and this is a feature of initiation into many other cults and groups in other parts of the world). Benjamin Walker, also stresses the importance of fear in tantrism:

An important feature in tantrism is the element of the direful and the awe-inspiring, to which the term bhairav, ‘terror’, is applied. Its source is Siva in his aspect of Bhairava and his consort Sakti in her aspect of Bhairavi (Kali, Durga, Chandi, etc.) who body forth the elements of universal dread. In the eight 'terror’ shapes of Siva he is described as black-limbed, destructive, wrathful, red-crested and so on . . . His companions are ghouls, demons and ogresses, and his vahana or vehicle is a misshapen dog with evil fangs and slavering jaws, who is as terrible to behold as the god himself. The bhairav or terror aspects of the deity are invoked in ceremonial maledictions, and form the subject of meditation of tantric devotees at graveyards during necrophilic rites.6

We saw earlier what effects the arousal of intense fear can have on the brain, and the tantrics also make much use of mantras, magic words and phrases which are repeated over and over again and which have a hypnotic effect. All sorts of other long and complicated rituals have also to be gone through prior to the actual intercourse. Hemp (hashish) is very often taken, if possible an hour and a half before, so that the person is under its full effects at the time of ritual intercourse. In some rituals there is a circle of men and women sitting in pairs, with the leader and his own girl in the centre. Ritualistic intercourse is finally performed by the group and special mantras are repeated while this is going on. Hindu tantric worshippers are allowed to eject sperm but the Buddhist must not do so, he must conserve it. Bharati reports that these ritual sex practices engender the intensive, euphoric, oftentime hallucinatory and perhaps psycho-pathological feelings which go with religious experience -- or which are religious experience . . . the method of tantrism is more radical than that of any other system, and the immediate aim of the tantric is to achieve enstacy (ecstasy).’

We are told that:

‘Breath control is relatively easy to achieve . . . using the mantra as a time unit . . . This brings about a certain euphoric effect accompanied by mild hallucinations ... Next he learns to practise breath control . . . with his consecrated female partner. With her he enters into sexual union, the procedure . . . taught orally by the guru (varies) according to the different somatic and psychological constitutions of the individual disciple and the (girl). Most frequently the female adept sits astride on the male yogi’s lap, who himself takes one of the traditional yogic postures which are slightly modified to adapt him to the situation.’7

The purpose of these rituals, which one Hindu critic described as ‘the most revolting and horrible that human depravity could think of’, is to enable the worshipper to unite himself with demons and deities. Similarly, Indian temple prostitutes have been trained for centuries to help worshippers achieve trance and states of possession. And Indian temple sculpture demonstrates the Hindu view of the power of sex as a means of achieving religious ecstasy and mingling with the divine.

Allan Ross has described many examples of temple prostitution and the varied sex rites in and around Bombay used for the attainment of religious ecstasy. He attended, among other ceremonies, the Zatra festival in the Matheran hills near by. ‘I saw some of the tortured penitents, every inch of one man’s body was pierced with small hooks . . . A few naked women had arrows penetrating their breasts, stomach and buttocks, so they could neither sit nor lie down.’ Near by on a peculiar wooden structure ‘A woman was hanging from hooks attached to her breasts and vagina, the two centres of desire.’

For three days these penitents cannot eat, drink or bathe. Then ensued the religious ritual of firewalking. Going over the fire pits unharmed were among others 'the self torturing penitents with their Kavadis, their hooks, nails, arrows and pins skewering their bodies . . . Outside all around the temple, men were rolling on the ground in exaltation . . . women rolled along with the men in equal transports of sexual compulsion.’

Meanwhile a girl came up to the priest and Allan Ross, and started sexually provoking them. “What should I do?” I asked the priest as the girl tugged at me insistently. She was quite young, with satiny gold skin. Her sari had become undone . . . “There is room for such things inside,” said the priest coolly. “In such cases it is better to release one’s emotions as God meant it, for a union with flesh is also a union with fire.” He took the girl and me to a special room inside the temple ... later, released, she looked at me as though I was a total stranger . . . completely oblivious to all that had taken place ... I (too) left the temple still possessed.’8

In Western cultures, however, sexual methods have been driven underground by Christian ethics and automatically associated with heresy. The whole witch mania, if based on any reality at all, may have risen from group sex practices in which the devotees believed themselves to be possessed by the Devil and his minions. It is possible that group religious sex practices may have survived underground when the Christian Church took control of religious life in Europe. But so many false confessions to witchcraft were forced from innocent people by torture and so much abnormal sexual psychopathology was based on the judges’ own sexual imaginings that it is impossible to know what was the truth behind it all. However, every generation has bred its own sex adepts, using intercourse, as in India, to obtain feelings of possession by gods and devils, and so there may have been a small fire behind the clouds of enforced confession smoke.

In this century tantric theory and practice have spread to some groups of occultists in the West. I was fortunately able to examine the then unpublished diaries of Aleister Crowley, through the good offices of Gerald Yorke.9 These throw a flood of detailed technical light on sexual means of attaining states of possession. They deserve discussion in a book of this nature since magic, witchcraft and demonology have absorbed the minds of many men for centuries, with too little understanding of the physiological and psychological effects of magical and sexual practices, and their faith-creating powers.

Aleister Crowley, a highly intelligent and persistent seeker after the means by which man could make contact with the inhabitants of the spirit world, and command gods and devils to do his bidding, made a detailed study of Indian mysticism and tantric practices. He was a member of a number of secret societies, including the Golden Dawn, among whose distinguished members was W. B. Yeats. Later, like others before him and since, he started to experiment with drugs to enable him to contact spirits more easily. From various psychedelic drugs he went on to ‘hard’ drugs like cocaine, and finally his writings became verbose and meaningless, as he mentally drifted further and further away from reality. His day-to-day diaries are a mine of information on a subject which it is difficult to obtain correct information about because the use of abnormal and normal sexual practices for religious and spiritual ends conflicts with conventional attitudes. These methods are therefore still invariably practised in secret.

In the early 1900s Crowley was already showing interest in mysticism and esoteric Eastern practices, and he travelled and studied in the Orient from 1902 to 1906. He also claimed to have worked with Dr Henry Maudsley for some months and says in his diary for 1903: ‘Dr Maudsley, the greatest of living authorities on the brain, explained to me the physiological aspects of Dhyana (unity of subject and object in meditation) as extreme activity of one part of the brain, extreme lassitude of the rest. He refused to localize the part. Indulgence in this practice (mystical trance) he regarded as dangerous, but declined to call the single experience pathological.’

Crowley proceeded to join the Order of the Golden Dawn and later the Ordo Templi Orientis, a German occult society primarily concerned with sexual magic.
He writes:

The art was communicated to me in June 1912 by the O.H.O. (the Outer Head of the Order, Theodor Reuss). It was practised in a desultory manner until Jan. 1st, 1914, when I made the experiment described elsewhere (a homosexual working in Paris with Victor Neuburg). The knowledge thus gained enabled me to make further research and produce certain results . . . my bronchitis was cured in a day. I obtained money when needed. I obtained sex force and sex attraction . . . much of the great work done by me all this summer may be considered due entirely to this Act.

Earlier, in 1911, Crowley had started to use a sexual trance technique which he later called ‘Eroto-comatose Lucidity’. It helped him, he thought, to get into more direct contact with the spirit and demon world. Later, on the evening of 11 October 1911, for instance, he met a Mrs Mary d’Este Sturges at the Savoy Hotel in London, and their attraction was mutual. He met her again in London on 13 and 14 October and joined her in Paris a month later; then they went on to Zurich. On 21 November in Zurich, he records:

At about midnight she was in a state of excitement, exhaustion and hysteria . . . one little removed from an amorously infuriated lioness . . . suddenly and without warning [this] gave place to a profound calm hardly distinguishable from prophetic trance, and she began to describe what she was seeing . . . The lady . . . had seen in a dream the head of 5 White Brothers . . . The person now appeared again to her. He was an old man with a long white beard . . . His first counsel to the seer was ‘to make himself perfectly passive’ in order that he might communicate freely.

Crowley then went on to ask Mrs Sturges, now in deep trance, questions as to the identity of the possessing spirit. The woman was put into trance by repeated sexual orgasm, and questions about the spirits possessing her, to test their knowledge. His diary records the following questions and answers:

Q. Do you claim to be a Brother of A.A.? (Crowley’s own occult order).

A. He has A.A. in black letters on his breast.

Q. What does A.A. mean?

A. It means ALL.

Q. I want an intelligible significant word.

A. I.T.O. but that isn’t what he said. He sticks to his H.T.E. or something.

In trance Mrs Sturges was also asked whether the possessing spirit would say where certain books were hidden and give other information, again designed to test the spirit’s knowledge about happenings past, present and future.

Crowley persisted with sexually induced mysticism and magic which, to his believing mind, often produced concrete results. He went so far as to believe that: ‘By the right use of this secret man may impose his will on Nature-Herself . . . though all recorded knowledge is destroyed, it would be possible for an adept of this secret to restore it.’

Crowley describes how, after preliminary meditation, a full meal is taken three hours before the start of the ceremony; an assistant, either male or female, is required, ‘. . . formed by Nature signally for physical tasks, robust, vigorous, eager and sensible, fat and healthy; flesh, nerve and blood being tense, quick and lively, easily inflamed and nigh inextinguishable ' . . . 'The phallus is the physiological basis of the Oversoul . . .’ After ritual intercourse — ‘The semen is then collected and must be perfectly dissolved in a full portion of gluten or menstrual blood if possible. This is taken as a sacrament. It is said by the O.H.O. that of this perfect medicine a single dewdrop sufficeth, and this may be true. Yet it is our opinion that every drop generated (so far as may be possible) may be consumed ... If indeed it be the contained Prana that operateth the miracle, then the quantity is as important as the quality.'

The details of producing sexual trance states are fully detailed in Crowley’s writings. Both men and women may be used:

The candidate is made ready for the ordeal by general athletic training and by fasting. On the appointed day he is attended by one or more experienced attendants whose duty it is to exhaust him sexually by every known means. The candidate will sink into a sleep of utter exhaustion but he must be again sexually stimulated and then allowed to fall asleep. This alternation is to continue indefinitely until the candidate is in a state which is neither sleep nor waking, and in which his spirit is set free by perfect exhaustion of the body . . . communes with the most Highest and the Most Holy Lord God of its Being, Maker of Heaven and Earth.

The ‘Ordeal’ terminates by its failure to work any longer, or by the achievement of a trance state in which the god or devil talks though the subject and various manifestations may occur. Ultimate waking is followed by another and final performance of the sexual act if possible.

He also writes that: ‘Ordinary acts of love attract or create discarnate human spirits. Other (abnormal) sexual acts involving emission of semen therefore attract or excite other spirits, incomplete and therefore evil ... Nocturnal pollutions bring succubi . . . Voluntary sterile acts create demons, and (if done with concentration and magical intention) such demons may subserve that intention.’

In view of the physiological effects of operations of this sort, it is not unduly surprising that by means of them Crowley obtained apparent visions and communications from gods and spirits. In 1914, in Paris, he carried out a series of important experiments or ‘working’ with the poet Victor Neuburg, using homosexual acts, and putting Neuburg repeatedly into states of trance and possession. Thus of the Seventh Working he writes:

‘The temple open at 10: the Rite being done anally. We beheld the Universe of the most brilliant purple and Jupiter seated on his throne surrounded by the Four Beasts . . . Subsequently there appeared a great Peacock . . . The peacock is now crowned, and regards himself in a mirror.’

The Sixteenth Working: 'The temple opened at about 10.20 (p.m.) After the semen had been ejaculated the god demanded blood. [Neuburg cut a 4 on Crowley’s breast] . . . Next week the god demands ... a sparrow (or if not a pigeon) shall be slain. The directions were obtained with difficulty and his [Neuburg’s] whole consciousness was wrapped up in God, the only expression being these (repeated) words Sanguis and Semen.’

When the First World War broke out Crowley was in America, where he stayed and continued his work, mostly now using women rather than men as his magical assistants. By this time he was also employing various drugs, including ether, anhalonium lewinii, hashish and cocaine, to improve the trance and mystical phenomena obtained.

We read in his Diary:

July 23rd, 1916, midnight (circa) Boston, Mass. Marie Roussel, French Canadian prostitute; great similarity to Maud Allen in face, form and manner. Object Glory to Hermes. Operation very good considering long abstinence. Elixir (semen and gluten) good. Nov. 12th 2.35 a.m. IX Degree (ceremony of O.T.O.) with Doris. Operation and Elixir wonderful. Object Wealth. Result. Immediate receipt of largest sum I have ever handled in 12 months . . . Dec. 10th 8.50 p.m. Irene Stanfield, extremely voluptuous and of greatest possible skill and good-will. Operation perfect. Elixir good. Dedication of myself to Tahuti at the beginning of this Great Magical Retirement.

Ether and other drugs were used in these ceremonies, by both participants where helpful. Hashish was also extensively tested, and Crowley wrote an interesting early account of its mystical use. By 1922 he had become severely addicted to heroin, and made repeated attempts to master it, but without success. His diary now deteriorated, and he started to write more and more meaningless nonsense. His sexual workings became more bizarre. He set up a ‘monastery’ in Cephalu in Sicily. He is now ‘the Beast 666 and Alostrael (Leah Hirsig) the Scarlet Woman, Leah my concubine, in whom all power is given, sworn unto Aiwaz, prostituted in every part of her body to Pan and the Beast, Mother of bastards, aborter, whore to herself, to man, woman, child and brute, partaker of the Eucharist of the Excrements in the Mass of the Devil, Sorceress of the Rite of Esau and Jacob’.

He also has a young American: ‘A master magician of O.T.O. and a passed postulant to the secret chamber of the knights of the Temple, High Priest to the Beast before the Altar of Purple and Gold.’

The formula of this magic included making the American a ‘God by ether’ and then his having relations with the Beast 666 (Crowley) ‘who thus becomes God’. The Scarlet Woman was also expected to have perverse sex with the Beast, using the right mantras. ‘Ether is to be taken at leisure . . . Consume the elements of semen and gluten and perform any scrying or letter any prophesies as may be given, and at leisure and pleasure resume vestments and insignia and close Temple.’ One of the initiates, Raoul Loveday, suddenly died and there was a public scandal. The Abbey of Thelema was hurriedly closed. Crowley himself died in 1947, almost forgotten; and a registered and confirmed addict to heroin.

One of the principal purposes of the IX degree ceremony of the Ordo Templi Orientis, a rite of sexual magic to which Crowley refers in his diaries and which is practised by some Crowley-orientated magicians, is to induce possession by and union with a god. Francis-King explains in his book Sexuality, Magic and Perversion that

The initiates of the IX degree claimed that success in almost any magical operation, from the invocation of a god to procuring a great treasure could be achieved by the application of the appropriate sexual technique. Thus to invoke the powers of a god into themselves they mentally concentrated on the god throughout their sexual intercourse, building up the form of the deity in their imaginations and attempting to imbue it with life. At the moment of orgasm they identified themselves with the imagined form, mentally seeing their own bodies and that of the god blending into one.10

These details have been given because so little is known generally of the operations of small secret groups whose aim is sexual ‘possession’. The witches of old are said to have practised these rites in their covens, and recently covens of self-styled witches have been formed in England and the United States in which sexual intercourse sometimes occurs within the magic circle during certain ceremonies, the participants acting the parts of, and evidently feeling themselves temporarily to be, the god and goddess of the witch religion.

It should be realized that the physiological states of brain excitement induced by sexual practices can be as conducive to the production of trance, heightened suggestibility and feelings of possession as the other methods we have already discussed. It is foolish to ignore the existence of these practices and their sway over the minds of those who use them, even though they are discredited by our present ethical codes.



1 St John of the Cross, Poems, translated by Roy Campbell, Penguin Books, Harmondsworth 1960

2 See Sidney Spencer, Mysticism in World Religion, Penguin Books, Harmondsworth 1963, pp. 237, 249-50

3 Forum Magazine, vol. 5, no. 9, p. 12, 1972

4 See Benjamin Walker, Hindu World, George Allen & Unwin, London 1968, vol. 2, pp. 482 ff.

5 A. Bharati, The Tantric Tradition, George Allen & Unwin, London 1968

6 Walker, Hindu World, loc. cit.

7 Bharati, op. cit., p. 295

8 A. Ross, Bombay after Dark (Vice in Bombay), Macfadden Bortell, London 1968, pp. 149-55

9 Duckworth has published some of these edited by Symonds and Grant in the Magical Record of the Beast 666, 1972

10 Francis King, Sexuality, Magic and Perversion, Neville Spearman, London 1971, p. 98
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