“Demonic possession” is often termed as the paranormal phenomenon involving entrance of demon(s) inside a body (more commonly used for living person) to possess control over it. If we describe it as portrayed in the movie “The Exorcist”, it is characterized by erased personalities, fainting, convulsions, knowledge of foreign languages, hidden secrets & future, drastic changes in vocal intonation and facial structure, superhuman strength, etc. which persists until the demon leaves or is forced to leave the body.
After my research of few days on this topic, I found that:
This term is often described from two viewpoints:
a) Religious Concept:
Different religions have different concepts on demonic possesions. They suggest “Exorcism” as the way to get rid of the possesion though they are performed differently in different religion (Performed by Priest in Christanity and Shamans in Hinduism). Prayers, sprinkling of holy water, beating, etc. are some forms I’ve seen and read about exorcisms.
In the Middle Ages, people or animals were believed to be possessed if they had any one of the following symptoms:
- ability to curse or speak in unknown languages
- ability to make abnormal physical efforts
- ability to read minds or predict future happenings
- fear of holy objects like the sign of cross
- lacked the ability to say the word Christ
- spitted or vomitted excessively
b) Medical Concept:
It is considered to be one of the many forms of insanity in medicine (more precisely psychiatry). There are many psychological ailments commonly misunderstood as demonic possession. Some of them are:
Hysteria: Hysteria is when someone has a very strong emotion that is unmanageable. Often, this means a very strong sense of fear. The term hysteria has been replaced by “psychosomatic”, “functional”, “nonorganic” or”psychogenic”.
Mania: Mania is a severe medical condition characterized by an extremely strong mood. Maniacs are very energetic, they have unusual thought patterns.
Psychosis: People with psychosis may have hallucinations, that is they experience things that are not really there. They may also have delusions, that is they have fixed beliefs and ideas that are usually false. Sometimes their personality changes, and they cannot think straight, that is the way they are thinking may be hard to follow. Some of these thoughts may be paranoid. All of these symptoms may occur alone or in combination, that is not every psychotic has all of them. As a result of these symptoms, psychotics often act in strange ways, which also makes it difficult for them to work in society. They often have trouble with social interactions, or with finding new friends, as most people do not understand them.
Schizophrenia: People with Schizophrenia have a different idea of what is real and what is not. This can cause problems with behaviour, thinking, emotions and motivation. People with schizophrenia are often thought to have ‘lost touch with reality’.
Dissociative identity disorder: People with dissociative identity disorder function as two or more Dissociative Identity States (DIS), called Neutral Identity States (NIS) and Traumatic Identity States (TIS). NIS keep out of the mind traumatic memories. so it’s easier to master daily life. TIS are aware of these memories and that’s why the behaviour is influenced.
Of these, most commonly people misunderstand “Dissociative Identity Disorder” as demonic possession. In cases of dissociative identity disorder (commonly called split personality), about 29% are reported to identify themselves as demons. However in medical science this is regarded as the mental disease called demonomania or demonopathy, a monomania in which the patient believes that he or she is possessed by one or more demons.
It becomes equally important to discuss about those who accuse others of being possessed. In that case we may be facing “collective hysteria (also called mass hysteria)”. Collective or mass hysteria is the sociopsychological phenomenon of the manifestation of the same or similar hysterical symptoms by more than one person. A common manifestation of mass hysteria occurs when a group of people believe they are suffering from a similar disease or ailment. Also I came to know that, between 1533 and 1697, many people lost their lives during exorcisms or similar stuffs due to accusations made by children and teenagers. Many of them apologised later due to remorse. This is a case of simulation. In Medicine, simulation is defined as the conscious process of feigning illness in order to gain some particular end. A person easy to influence can be convinced by others of being demon-possessed. The number of “demon-possessed” people and accusers was higher in women than in men because hysteria which is more common in women compared to men is the first step to all other diseases mentioned above.
Accusations Made In Nepal About Witchcraft (Occurs Mostly in Villages):
The accusations generally rise with the reason for the illness of local people. Illiteracy is obviously the root cause for this but I’ve come across many news about such accusations due to superstitions, enemity against the victimized, and political interference. There are no clear legal provisions and null professional commitment of the educated sections of the society which makes the problem more severe.