Orthodoxies, Madness, and Method



Academic & Brahmanical Orthodoxies



Ethnography, Modernity, and Languages



Methodologies for the Study of [Spirit-]Possession



[Spirit-]Possession, Trance-Channeling, & Modernity



Regional Languages & Models of [Spirit-]Possession



Classical Literature



Veda-s &



[Spirit-]Possession in the Samskr.ta Iti-hasa-s



Classical Culture of [Spirit-]Possession



Vampires, Prostitutes, and Poe:ts



[Religious] Devotion as [Spirit-]Possession



Otherworldly Ruptures



[Spirit-]Possession in Tantra



Tantra & Diaspora of Childhood [Spirit-]Possession



[Spirit-]Possession in Ayus-veda and Tantra



Identity among the [Spirit-]Possessed





Academic & Brahmanical Orthodoxies


1.1 pp. 3-13 Culture of [Spirit-]Possession

p. 8 spirit-possession rites amongst Brahman.a-s & Bauddha-s

brahmans, perhaps as much as others, participate in rituals of possession (and enter into states of possession), as is evident in

the bhuta cults of South Kanara District,

the pilgrimage to Nandadevi …,

bhakti derived possession by {a deity, of} smarta women in Madras …, and

rites of exorcism in Maharashtra, Rajasthan, Varanasi, and … elsewhere.

This is analogous to the participation by Buddhists … in an array of possession rituals in Tibet, Nepal, S[`]ri Lanka, and Thailand”.

p. 9 bodily membres of the macrocosm (according to Atharvan Veda 11:3:1-2)

_ in the cosmos

is aequivalent to the __ in the body





heaven & earth


sun & moon


the 7 r.s.i-s

the in- & out-breaths

p. 9 bodily membres of the macrocosm (according to Atharvan Veda 11:3:7-8)

__ as a substance

is aequivalent to the __ in the body

dark metal


red metal







1.2 pp. 13-15 Samskr.tic Vocabulation of [Spirit-]Possession

p. 14 terminology of spirit-possession

aves`a (entrance into), the word perhaps most widely used for [spirit-]possession.”

Other words for [spirit-]possession occur as well, most frequently derivatives from the root \gr.h\ (to grasp, seize), e.g., graha, grahan.a, parigraha, though

other derivatives are attested from adhi\stha\ (to inhabit) .. . Usually these convey [that]… the possession occurs independent of or even contrary to the intention of the one possessed.”

the word bhava (mood, attitude, experiential state), which is often closely associated semantically with aves`a.”


1.3 pp. 15-23 Problematics of Interpretation

pp. 21-2 purus.a, atman, & pudgala

p. 21

Purus.a literally means … “person,” while purus.ottama is translated as “highest person””.

atman refers to … a “thumb-sized person” (angus.t.ha[-]matra[-]purus.ah.) residing in the heart, according to the” (Kat.ha 4:12-13; 6:17; S`veta-as`vatara 5:8), which … is separate from substance and from substantiality. It is … an inseparable microcosmic component of the absolute macrocosmic brahman.”

p. 22

although all purus.a are engulfed within the Purus.ottama,

they can never become that Purus.ottama. Nor can they ever fully identify themselves as that Purus.ottama, as atman can with brahman.

{Because mental telepathy must involving the blending of thoughts and of minds; therefore this would imply that Purus.a-uttama's devotees (who are Vais.n.ava-s) cannot achieve telepathy; and therefore must have neither any contact with, nor any knowledge of, their own professed divinity.}

Buddhist texts, as Steven Collins clarifies in his providentially titled book Selfless Persons [Cambridge U Pr, 1982], distinguish between “individuality” (attabhava) and … character type (puggala). … early Buddhist texts … speak of

an attabhava, a uniquely composed and constantly mutating edifice of khandas (Pali < Skt. skandha) or constituents of personality, and

puggala, character types defined by temperament, ethical disposition, spiritual aptitude, and so on.”



Methodologies for the Study of [Spirit-]Possession


2.4 pp. 43-56 Interpretations

pp. 45, 48-54 Freudism & its demise

p. 45

certain psychoanalytic categories have been completely expunged from the DSM, most recently neurosis and hysteria.”

p. 48

the DSM-IV has dropped the category of hysteria, which served as the bedrock of Freud's view of possession”.

p. 49

Although mainline psychiatry would regard mental dissociation “as necessarily as aberration”, Littlewood [quoted from Littlewood 1998, pp. 14-15] wrote that

the mental faculty of dissociation “allows detachment of awareness from the immediate passage of events, … allowing self-recognition, anticipation, introspection, creative imagination, recognition of another's motivations and possible identication with them, disbelief, and acting : all requirements for our complex programmes of intersubjective action.

{Above all else, these elements would allow for social class-struggle : “self-recognition” would recognize one's own (working-class) interests as opposed to those of the ruling class; “recognition of another motivations” would recognize a working-class labor-union organizer as someone whose motivation can be identified with; “disbelief” could be applied in disbelieving the falsehoods spread by the ruling class. Conventional psychiatry's violently hostility to any working-class movement for resistance to the ruling class, is motivation for its treating all manner of mental “dissociation” as “aberration”.}

p. 50

Such dissociation, he says [Littlewood 1998, pp. 12 sq], … may influence the individual to bring about … a shared sense of community”.

{Such a “shared sense of community” could be a community of material interests with membres of a labor-union, a pacifists' or war-tax-resisters' league, or the like.}

[Spirit-]Possession as an intrapersonal phenomenon required (at least) two minds in one body, but as an interpersonal phenomenon requires two minds in one body and

one mind in two bodies.”

{This latter would be a matter that agreement among persons may be (loosely) described as their being “of a single mind”.}

Littlewood 1998 = Roland Littlewood : Reason and Necessity in the Specfication of the Multiple Self. ROYAL ANTHROPOLOGICAL SOC OF GREAT BRITAIN AND IRELAND, OCCASIONAL PAPER no. 43.

p. 52 bewildrement of anthropolgists at the uncanniness of spirit-possession

In 1919, while attempting top understand … the “uncanny” (Unheimlich), Freud cited F. W. Schelling (1775-1854), who stated that “'Unheimlich' is the name for everything … secret and hidden but … come to light.” … The bewilderment other people's [spirit-]possession induced in Western fieldworkers has often reminded them of … Unheimlich … “... interchanging of the self””.

pp. 55, 87 varieties of oracular spirit-possession

p. 55

possession-mediumship … characterizes the ritual healing among the Jalaris of coastal Andhra. [Nuckolls 1991a, 1991b, 1997] … Jalari [spirit-]possession falls within the realm of … “oracular possession” : It is largely concerned with healing and other sorts of problem solving. In this way, it is … possession that occurs in festivals”.

p. 87, n. 2:102

Sax (1991a) reports instances of oracular possession in festivals in Garhwal, where people randomly rush up to a possessed individual to ask for help in solving their problems.”

Nuckolls 1991a = Charles W. Nuckolls : “Possession-Mediumship in Jalari Divination”. MEDICAL ANTHROPOLOGY 13:57-82.

Nuckolls 1991b = Charles W. Nuckolls : “Becoming a Possession-Medium in South India”. MEDICAL ANTHROPOLOGY QUARTERLY 5.1:62-77.

Nuckolls 1997 = Charles W. Nuckolls : “Dynamics of Desire in Jalari Myth”. HISTORY OF RELIGIONS 36.4:357-88.


2.5 pp. 56-60 [Spirit-]Possession as a Form of [Praeternatural] Control

p. 57 spiritually empowering

most cases of possession as aves`a or samaves`a attested in Sanskrit and other [e.g., Tamil] classical literature are manifestly empowering in a religious sense”.


2.6 pp. 60-6 [Spirit-]Possession & Shamanism

pp. 61-2 spirit-possession undergone by problem-solving specialists

p. 61

[quoted from Gombrich 1988, pp. 36-7] “in [spirit-]possession one's body is temporarily inhabited by another spirit, while

what happens to one's own spirit at the time is left undetermined. …

{In ordinary cases, one's self (“one's own spirit”) is perhaps located in the realm of dreamless sleep while one's body is occupied by a deity.}

This … is just like hysteria as clinically defined … .

{So, is dreamless sleep to be “clinically” accounted as a variety of “hysteria”?!}

In India possession is mainly valued when it is practiced (… “undergone”) by specialists; they become

p. 62

possessed by non-human {generally divine} spirits, interact with an audience, and solve problems for clients.”

Gombrich 1988 = Richard Gombrich : Theravada Buddhism. London : Routledge & Kegan Paul.

pp. 64-5 spirit-mediumship in Maharas.t.ra

p. 64

[quoted from Sontheimer 1989b, p. 142] “The god 'comes' in order to take possession of the medium's body and to speak to the Dhangars [shepherds]”.

p. 65

[quoted from Sontheimer 1989b, p. 145] “By entering into the body of the dev[-]r.s.i, he [“the god S`idoba”] makes him into a 'temple'

{“What? know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own? ” (1st Epistle to the Korinthioi 6:19)}

and enables him to diagnose others' diseases, adversities, and so on, in the form of bhuta, and to recommend methods for remedying them.”

{The Holy Ghost is a prophetic possessing-spirit which needs must speak oracularly through the spirit-medium being possessed.}

Sontheimer 1989b = Gu:nther-Dietz Sontheimer (transl. by Anne Feldhaus) : Pastoral Deities in Western India. Oxford U Pr.

1st Epistle to the Korinthioi 6:19


2.7 pp. 66-8 [Spirit-]Possession as Ontological Reality

p. 67 deities & humans

According to “Manuel Moreno's [1985] study of possession in Tamilnadu, … gods and humans “are related by complementary, mutually rewarding bodily exchanges,” which … is … the … transfer of essence that characterizes [spirit-]possession in India as early as the”

Moreno 1985 = Manuel Moreno :”Possession as a Divine Strategy”. In :- Joanne PunzoWaghorne & Norman Cutler (edd.) : Gods of Flesh / Gods of Stone : the embodiment of divinity in India. Chambersville (PA) : Anima. pp. 103-23.


2.8 pp. pp. 68-75 S`akti, Localization of Divinity

p. 71 spirit-possessed women ride a spirit-lion

village women in Panjab become S`eranvali, “she who rides the lion,” by becoming possessed, by being “ridden” by the goddess.” (Erndl 1996)

Erndl 1996 = Kathleen Erndl : “S`eranvali, the Mother Who Possesses”. In :- Hawley & Wulff (edd.) : Devi : goddesses of India. pp. 173-94.

p. 75 attracting deities

in … the Pattini cult, … transfer of the goddess's essence (Simhala dis.t.i; Skt. dr.s.t.i; glance) is a state called, translated by Obeyesekere [1984, p. 14] as “magnetism,” distinguished … from possession, aves`a or arud.ha (mounted).”

Obeyesekere 1984 = Gananath Obeyesekere : The Cult of the Goddess Pattini. U of Chicago Pr.


2.9 pp. 75-8 Performative & Biographical Context

p. 76 playing by goddess; deities' dancing

Erndl shows in her book [1993] that the goddess “plays” with her devotees in the form of pavan (wind), while Wadley and Sax show that the possessing spirits or deities enjoy “dancing” in the bodies of their temporary hosts.”

Erndl 1993 = Kathleen Erndl : Victory to the Mother. Oxford U Pr.

p. 76 costumes for routine spirit-possession caerimonies

[quoted from Driver 1991, pp. 177-8] “costumes and props are made ready ahead of time, prepared for a panoply of spirits that is just as recognizable as the dramatis personae of any familiar script”.

Driver 1991 = Tom F. Driver : The Magic of Ritual. San Francisco : Harper.

p. 77 features of oracular spirit-possession in the Himalaya region

[quoted from Sax 1991a, p. 41 n. 6] Oracular spirit-possession “(1) ...often … runs in families, usually from male to male; …

(2) … the oracle has no choice in the matter, and also cannot remember any details of his (or, very rarely, her) trances; and

(3) … the oracle experiences an intrusion from without of another consciousness or being {deity}”.

Sax 1991a = William Sax : Mountain Goddess : … a Himalayan pilgrimage. Oxford U Pr.

pp. 77, 93 jhankri

p. 77

In describing why he delicately translates the Nepali word jha~kri (var. jhamkri), a magicoreligious specialist ... as “interpreter of the world,” Macdonald … says …,

[quoted from Macdonald 1976, p. 310 :] … The jha~kri … ia a person who falls into a trance, during which time voices speak through his person {mouth}, thereby enabling him to diagnose illnesses and sometimes cure them, give advice for the future and clarify present events in terms of their relationship to the past. He is therefore both a privileged intermediary between spirits (who cause and cure illness) and men; … between life and death … ””.

p. 93, n. 2:194

most of the jha~kri are dyah-ma, women.”

p. 78 Aghoric terminology of spirit-possession

the Aghori disregards … the common Indic terminology …, and speaks instead of … (Skt. avis.kara; manifestation, sudden appearance), which he equates with the Hindi … (bait.hak; seat) and the Urdu hazri (hajiri; presence). He employs these terms to denote a state in which a deity is invited into the body of the tantric tractitioner, to his or her benefit.”

[quoted from Svoboda 1986, p. 212 :] “By long worship your subtle body will actually take the form of the deity you are worshipping. ...The deity can enter into someone's body, and you can worship Him or Her in that way.”

Svoboda 1986 = Robert E. Svoboda : Aghora : at the Left Hand of God. Albuquerque (NM) : Brotherhood of Life.



[Spirit-]Possession, Trance-Channeling, & Modernity


pp. 95-6 trance-channeling in the United States

p. 95

Michael F. Brown has written The Channeling Zone : American Spirituality …[Harvard U Pr, 1997], a book that addresses ... Western … trance channeling, an unambiguous … cognate of spirit and deity possession. Like spirit possession elsewhere in the world, … observed characteristics of trance channeling in America are sharp changes in expressive behavior accompanied by identity shifts.” {shifts in identity whenever spirits/deities temporarily occupy the host's body} …

New Age trance channeling is almost entirely oracular”.

p. 96

the Yelm, Washington, alternative community led by J. Z. Knight … channels an ancient … named Ramtha”.

pp. 98-9 organized spirit-mediumship in eastern Asia

p. 98

Taiwan … now has a “Republic of China Mediums' Association.” This association opened its own school for mediums in 1992”. [p. 107, n. 3:13 : “in Chuzhou [Z^e-jian], there were thirty-seven hundred spirit-medium households in the prefecture of the late eleventh century”.]

Similarly, spirit mediumship has increased in Thailand … in recent decades. In northern Thailand a

p. 99

highly developed “Praise Ceremony” is increasingly performed to initiate, and therefore … legitimize, mediums across boundaries of local spirit lineages. This ceremony, steeped in … local spirit culture …, has … institutionalized local spirit mediums.” [p. 107, n. 3:15 : “for an extended description of and commentary on the Praise Ceremony, see [Morris 2000,] pp. 107 ff.”]

Morris 2000 = Rosalind C. Morris : In the Place of Origins : … mediums in northern Thailand. Durham (NC) : Duke U Pr.

p. 100 contacting one's spirit-guide

In America and elsewhere in the West, workshops on contacting spirit guides and guardian angels are commonly held … . [Melton et al 1990, p. xiii] … such New Age workshops may … be compared to spirit initiations and apprenticeships in Oceania and South Asia.”

Melton et al 1990 = J. Gordon Melton, Jerome Clark, & Aidan A. Kelly : New Age Encyclopedia. Detroit : Gale Research.

p. 101 “emotional trajectory”

In South Asian [spirit-]possession,

the emotional constitution of the deity or spirit is often vividly reflected;

{The reason why deities often reflect particular emotional constitutions is that they often praeside over specific emotional constitutions in mortals.}

indeed, this is often the point of the possession.”


Frederick M. Smith : The Self-Possessed : Deity and Spirit Possession in South Asian Literature and Civilization. Columbia U Pr, NY, 2006.