Spirit-Possession in Jhuda-ism, I-III


I.1 – pp. 41-72 Yoram Bilu : "An Analysis of Dybbuk Possession".

pp. 47-51 sexual intercourse between women and male spirits; public nudity of a woman

p. 47

A 17-year-old woman in BaGdad experienced "something like a big cat [that] fell on my hips ..., stretching me in order to force its way into me."

p. 48

"In a case report from nineteenth-century Stolovitsch, Poland, ... the spirit explicitly states that "as long as she ... is a virgin, we are forbidden to approach her, but when she is married, then we shall have our share too.""

p. 49

A text from BaGdad "gives instructions for identifying male –in-female possession with reference to ... : "If she sees in her dream a man ... inflaming her heart with the passion of intercourse; or rubbing her genitalia ..."."

p. 50

In another BaGdad case, "a person was possessed by Shabbatai Zvi [S.bi^] ... . He admitted that he had sinned with Gentile and menstruous women as well as with prostitutes, that he had committed adultery, that he encouraged a young disciple of his to have sex with his wife".

"in ceremonial possession "ecstatic possession seizures were sometimes explicitly interpreted as acts of sexual intercourse between the subject and his ... possessing spirits," [ER, p. 58] ... in dybbuk reports ... the sexual connotations ... are implied in the texts."

"A spirit in a woman from Safed in the sixteenth century"

p. 51

caused that in public "her gown fell from her feet and thighs so that she was contemptibly exposed."

ER = I. M. Lewis : Ecstatic Religion. 1971.

pp. 61-62 spirits’ knowledge of heaven

"the spirits’ description of the "other world." The garments of its inhabitants, the structure of the Heavenly Court (including exact measurements of the rooms in which it is located), ... were portrayed in detail."


I.2 – pp. 73-95 Jonathan Seidel : "Possession in the Magical Texts of the Qahira Geniza".

pp. 78, 80 summoning of benevolent spirits

p. 78

" "Willful" possession for the sake of ecstatic prophecy or healing is ... attested ... [in the] Karaites [Qara>i^m] such as Kirkisani (10th c.) claim that Rabbanites are practicing such things."

p. 80

"the Geniza texts include ... "encounters" with demons who can be asked about the future (similar to adjuration of communicating angels, such as the request to see an Ov [>ob] oracle in the book Sefer ha-Razim); and the use of demons who serve as mechanisms of divination, such as the "Princes of the Thumb" {"the Princes of the Thumb and Cup is rather like a dozing state in which one is not certain whether one sleep and dreams, or whether on is already half awake." ("HAAD", p. 155)} or "Princes of Oil." The latter refer to demons who reveal information after being invoked with mixtures of oil and water."

"HAAD" = Annelies Kuyt : "Hasidut Ashkenaz on the Angel of Dreams". In :- Elior & Scha:fer (ed.s) : Creation and Re-Creation in Jewish Thought. Mohr Siebeck, Tu:bingen, 2005. pp. 147-164. http://books.google.com/books?id=7Fg2TiVGRQ0C&pg=PA155&lpg=PA155&dq=

p. 83 list (on the amulet of a bride) of spirits

spirit __

of the fox (?)

of the gang (?)

"of the noisy movement" {poltergeist}

"he who causes damage"

"that flies"

"that dwells"

"of the chill"

"of the gates of the heart"

of the stomach

of the breastbone


II.1 – pp. 101-123 Lawrence Fine : "Benevolent Spirit Possession in Sixteenth-Century Safed".

p. 102 the 4 Safed practices "to achieve a benevolent and desired state of possession."


of __

practice / technique


Mos^eh Cordovero & S^lomoh >al-Kabes.

" "journeys" ... to the gravesites of ancient prophets and sages buried in the environs of Safed. Such mystical "peregrinations" or gerushin (literally, "exiles") resulted in a form of involuntary speech".


Josep Karo

"to recite mishnayot (paragraphs of Mishna) by heart, as a result of which his maggid or mentor-angel would speak through [his] own voice."


Yis.h.aq Luria

"to prostrate oneself upon the grave of a departed sage so as to commune with the latter’s soul, a practice known as yihudim."


H.ayyi^m Vital

"to recite mishnayot so as to commune with the soul of the ancient sage who authored the particular Mishna teaching."

pp. 109, 111-113 technique of yihudi^m

p. 109

(quoted from SRH 75 :) "by stretching yourself out on the tzaddik [s.addiq]’s actual grave, you should contemplatively intend that ... you also cause the tzaddik [s.addiq] to stretch out his lower soul [nefesh], which will then spread out in his bones that are in the grave : [whereupon] he comes "alive" and his bones become like a body to the soul ... . This [particular soul] is the one that remains over the grave ... . {cf. the Chinese p>o-soul’s retaining a connection with the grave} ... By doing so you can raise up his soul through the mystery of the "female waters.""

p. 111

(quoted from S^a<ar ha Yihudi^m 5 :) "feels at the moment of yih[.]ud that his hair stands up, his body and limbs shake, his lips tremble".

p. 112

(quoted from S^a<ar ha Yihudi^m 3 :) "On account of these yih[.]udim, they [the s.addiqi^m] reveal to them ... matters having to do with the future."

p. 113

(quoted from S^ibhe^ ha->ari^ 5 :) "He would concentrate upon a yih[.]ud, and elevate the lower soul, spirit, and super-soul of this tzaddik [s.addiq] through the mystery of the "female waters." ... He would bind his [own] lower soul, spirit, and super-soul to those of the tzaddik [s.addiq], and bring about supernal unification. ... In this way the dry bones that lie in the grave revived. The soul, spirit, and super-soul of that tzaddik [s.addiq] descended to his bones, bringing him to actual life, [and] speaking with him".

p. 116 invocation of the soul of the author of a mis^nah

(quoted from the 4th chapter of H.ayyi^m Vital’s S^a<are^ Qdus^ah, deliberately omitted by the original printer of this book :) "The soul becomes a throne so that in it there may be invested the soul of this tanna, the author of this Mishna, so that his soul will be invested in your own. ... And then ... he will speak with your mouth and offer you a salutation of peace. Everything that you think of asking him he will answer you. He will speak with your mouth and your ears will hear his words."


II.3 – 159-185 Menahem Kallus : "Pneumatic Mystical Possession in the Eschatology of the Soul in Lurianic Qabbalah".

pp. 160, 162 <ibbur & rs^imu^

p. 160

"Gilgul refers to the entrance of a soul into a human body at birth for the sake of the soul’s self-rectification, while [<]ibbur refers to ... influence between related souls – that is, souls whose spiritual sparks share a given root or root pathway. ... The term "soul roots" refers to the 613 spiritual limbs of the original Great Adam {cf. the Gnostic "limbs of the Ineffable"}, who contained all future souls within himself. ... There are thus 613 original soul roots. ... Each individual soul spark is given three or four lifetimes ..., and the other souls from the same root, whether alive or dead, are responsible for helping that soul achieve ... rectification.

p. 162

"principle of Reshimu (trace impression), referring to the impact of the imprint of previous manifestations of holiness, the effect of which is everlasting."

p. 162 worlds of the soul-levels


soul’s function

its World


"animates the physical body"

<as`iyah (‘Action’)


"animator of the emotional world"

Yts.irah (‘Formation’)



Bri>ah (‘Creation’)



>as.ilut (‘Emanation’)



Keter (‘Crown’) of as.ilut

p. 164 "new" soul-spark; soul-tree

soul : "One of its spark is entirely "new," having been only recently purified from the kelippot [qlippo^t] (‘... husks’) and taking its first residence inside a human body. ... According to Luria, an unredeemed soul spark can only become incarnated anew if it becomes an activated part of the Tzelem (form) – the spiritual mechanism of the of the interface of consciousness between the human and Divine – of three souls originating from the same root. ... Each of the souls mentioned also manifests the fivefold soul structure ... . ... This web of connections forms a soul tree, as it were."

pp. 165-166 madness of H.ayyi^m Vital

H.ayyi^m Vital "began practicing the yih[.]ud but felt that he was becoming mad; he lost control of his facial muscles."

p. 168 information about past lives from dreams

"Naphtali Bacharach’s neo-Lurianic work Emek ha-Melekh ... passages mention oaths administered to angels in order to obtain such information in dreams ... . ... Indeed, the author of the Emek ha-Melekh writes explicitly that ... to discover information about one’s past lives ... one may ask a dream question".

pp. 168-170 soul-root from Qayin or from Hebel

p. 168

"The recently published Me<orot Natan contains the glosses of the seventeenth-century ... R. Nathan Shapira and R. Moshe Zacuto ... . There we find a ... method for determining whether one is from the soul root of Cain [Qayin] or Abel [Hebel]. They say ... that those deriving from the root of Cain [Qayin] are agora-

p. 169

phobic, since their souls are rooted in the element of fire Furthermore, they are overly afraid of demons, which represent the unrectified aspect of Cain [Qayin]’s soul sparks, and they prefer handicrafts to the craft of oratory, which is in Abel [Hebel]’s domain." [p. 184, n. 114 : "this ... originated in Sha<ar ha-Gilgulim, sec. 38".]

p. 170

"First they are divided into two general souls – Cain [Qayin] ad Habel [Hebel] (plus the souls that fell into the kelippot [qlippo^t], which are under the general rubric of Seth [S^et]);

and then further differentiated into the souls of the Patriarchs;

and then into the Souls of the Seventy who descended into Egypt;

and then to 613 "limbs" ...;

to six hundred thousand souls present in each generation in the "fallen world.""

pp. 172-173 pars.ufi^m in S.ims.um

p. 172

"the partzufim may be seen as primordial prefigurations that work in both directions -–in the preemanative and on the postemanative realms. Thus the Iggulim (Circular Light) and the Yosher (Straight Light) of the reentry of the Divine Light after the Tzimtzum constitute the Cosmic nefesh and ru>ach (that is, the two lower worlds) of Adam Kadmon [Qadmo^n]".

p. 173

"in the Ta<ame ha-Mitzvot of Likkute Torah (90a-b ...) regarding the Seven Kings, that is the "broken vessels," which are called there the two lower partzufim. (This is similar to the Iggulim and Yosher after the Tzimtzum, the prefigurations of the nefesh and ru>ach ..., where these levels recome reconnected to the "agency of repair" – Hokhmah [H.akmah].)


II.4 -- pp. 186-196 Morris M. Faierstein : "Maggidim, Spirits, and Women in Rabbi H.ayyim Vital’s Book of Visions".

pp. 188-190 benevolent spirit-possessions of women

p. 188

"The spirit that "possessed" Raphael Anav [<anab]’s daughter was ... the soul of a pious scholar, R. Jacob Piso, who was sent from heaven to bring a message to Vital. A month after the initial possession, R. Joshua al-Boom contacted an angel, one of the servants of the angel Tzadkiel [S.adqi^>el] ... .

p. 189

This angel told Vital the following regarding the spirit of R. Jacob Piso ... :


[quoted from SH. 1.23 :] ... The spirit was very pious and in his place in Paradise. ... he was sent to ... a river where he was embodied in a fish which Raphael bought. When his daughter ate the head, he entered her ... and he ascended of his own free will ... . ... He had wanted to reveal divine secrets to you."


"Vital reports that she [Rapa<>el <anab’s daughter] had further visitations from the spirit of R. Jacob Piso. In addition, she had visions of angels and even visits from Elijah, who had a message for Vital."


Vital designated Francisa Sarah [S`arah] [quoted from SH. 1.18 :] "a pious woman, who saw

p. 190

visions in a waking dream and heard a voice speaking to her, and most of her words were true." "Joseph Sambari, in his chronicle Divre Joseph [364], says about her : "In those days in Safed, in the upper Galilee, ther was a woman ... Francisa. She had a maggid who told her what would happen in the world. ... everything she said never failed to occur."

SH. = H.ayyi^m Vital : Seper ha-H.ezyo^no^t (‘Book of Visions’). In :- M. M. Faierstein (transl.) : Jewish Mystical Autobiographies : "Book of Visions" and "Book of Secrets". NY : Paulist Pr, 1999.

pp. 190-191 visions of pillar of fire over head; vision of fire from face

p. 190

"I was preaching publicly in Jerusalem ... . Rachel [Rah.el], the sister of R. Judah Mashan was there and she told me that the whole time I was preaching she saw a pillar of fire over my head and Elijah ... to my right supporting me. ... She also saw a pillar of fire over my head in Damascus [Dimas`q] ... . The ... woman was used to seeing visions, demons, spirits and angels, and most of what she said was correct". (quoted from SH. 1.12)


"Sa<adat, the wife of Jacob Nasar, saw a heavenly pillar of light over Vital’s head". (SH. 1.26)


"Simhah, the wife of Cuencas, saw a pillar of light brighter than the sun over Vital". (SH. 1.27)

p. 191

"the spirit turned his face away from Vital when the latter entered the room, whereupon Vital slapped his face. The spirit ... told Vital that ... Vital’s face burned like a great flame as a result of his tremendous holiness, and he feared that his soul would be burned if he looked at Vital."

p. 196, n. 32 "There is a tradition that R. Moses Cordovero said before he died that whoever would see the pillar of fire that would precede his coffin would be his successor. The only one who saw it was R. Isaac [Yis.h.aq] Luria."

pp. 190-192 dreams of heaven; dream about soul of the dead; dreams about the living

p. 190

"While she was in a coma {near-death experience}, Vital’s wife, H[.]annah, had a vision of Heaven and described at length the glories of the place that had been prepared for Vital." (SH. 1.17)


"Vital describes having a similar experience when he too was extremely ill and in a coma." (SH. 1.19)

p. 191

"a wealthy man who had died a year before in Damascus, came to Vital in a dream and begged him to repair his soul because nobody else could do it."

p. 192

Vital reported a dream by Rapa<>el <anab’s daughter : "In a dream, she saw my teacher ... in a cave and he said to her : ... Remind him of the evil spirit that I expelled from him. ... [comment by Vital :] He revived me on our journey to Kfar Akhbara because the spirit who was in the grave of gentile ... related to what twisted my mouth". (quoted from SH. 1.24)


II.5 – pp. 197-212 Harris Lenowitz : "A Spirit Possession Tale as an Account of Rabbi H.ayyim Vital".

p. 200 various Yhudi^ putative saviors

"in the lineage of Persian messiahs – Abu-[<]Isa, Yudeghan, and Mushka – in the ninth century;

with David Reubeni and Shlomo Molkho in the early sixteenth century

and Isaac Luria and H[.]ayyim Vital in the middle of that same century;

in the long series of messiahs who inherit the role of Shabbatai Zvi [S.bi^] (Ya<akov [Ya<qob] Querido, Barukhia Russo, Heshel Tzoref, H[.]ayyim Malakh, and Ya<akov [Ya<qob] Frank ...) after 1666; in Frank and his daughter Ewa, who follows him in the role after his death in 1791;

in the Yemenite messiahs of the nineteenth century, Shukr Kuhayl and Shukr Kuhayl II."

pp. 200-201 pillar of fire or of cloud

p. 200

"A central story in the sacred biography of luria tells of the deathbed prophecy of Cordovero, that at his funeral the one who saw the pillar of cloud going before is coffin would be the one chosen to replace him and carrying his reaching forward ... . Luria alone saw that pillar."

p. 201

"In the version known as The Book of the History of the ARI, it is a pillar of cloud; as the tale appears in the memoirs of one of the contemporary residents of Safed, David Comforte’, it is a pillar of fire."


"one must consider as well the column in the center of the Garden of [<]Eden, the one that moves and sings and "links the lower Paradise to the other levels of reality."" [p. 211, n. 15 : "the moving, singing column appears in Zohar 2:271a-b".] {cf. also the Manichaean "pillar of glory" : "the purified particles of Light would

ascend via the Pillar of Glory to the moon during the first fifteen days of

each month." ("M", "Sh&MT") – "This 'Pillar' is either the way up to the Moon, as the Fihrist seems to imply, or that in which redeemed souls wait till all is fulfilled, as is stated in the Acta Archelai." (EPR—"IE"}

"M" = http://www.cais-soas.com/CAIS/Religions/iranian/Manichaeism/mani.htm

"SH&MT" = http://www2.ida.net/graphics/shirtail/religion.htm

EPR—"IE" = http://www.ccel.org/ccel/pearse/morefathers/files/ephraim2_8_intro3.htm


III.1 – pp. 217-236 Matt Goldish : "Natan of <aza’s Earliest Prophecies".

pp. 219-220 appearance of vision of the divine

p. 219

"he would sometimes see an image like a pillar of fire standing before him with which he would speak; other times he would see the image of a man’s face. ...

p. 220

... he saw all things [of the Creation] in order, the merkabah ... and the face of AMIRA’’H [S^abbatay S.bi^] ... by the light God made on the first day, which permits a man to see from one end of the world to the other, each thing in its appropriate place in heaven; then above [heaven] in the ascending order of levels." (ISZ, pp. 95-6, with modifications)

ISZ = A. Freimann : Injane Sabbatai Zewi. 1912.

pp. 221, 223, 229 vocal spirit-possession, without its being remembered by the spirit-medium

p. 221

"he [Natan] leaped and danced in the room ... . He then took a great leap and fell flat on the ground. ... a voice emitted from his mouth, but his lips did not move. ... In this way it became known to those sages that the source of that wonderful odor they had smelled was in the holy spiritual spark which came into Rabbi Nathan and spoke all these things. Afterwards ... colleagues asked him how it had happened and what he had spoken; he replied that he didn’t know anything. The sages told him everything that had happened, at which he was very amazed." (ISZ, p. 47)

p. 223

"we heard a voice speaking out of the mouth of the saint [Karo] ... . ... It was an exceeding pleasant voice, becoming increasingly strong." (quoted from SchBJMT, pp. 124-5)

p. 229

"A deep sleep fell upon them, and they fell to the ground ... . After about half and hour a spirit would sound from their mouth, though their lips did not move ... . Thereafter they would arise without remembering what they had seen or done." (ISZ, p. 49)

SchBJMT = Louis Jacobs : The Schocken Book of Jewish Mystical Testimonies. Oxford U Pr, 1998.


III.3 – pp. 257-301 Zvi Mark : "Dybbuk and Debekut in the S^ibhe^ ha-Bes^t".

pp. 259, 262 putatively mad women disclosing hidden personal facts about others

p. 259

"when people revived after lying in a coma, called "hiner bet," close to death {near-death experience}, they used to tell about the awesome things they had seen in the upper world. ... there were also the insane ... who used to reveal people’s sins to them and to tell them which of their sins would cause their soul to wander restlessly." (S^B 29-31, in IPBSh, pp. 3-4)

p. 262

The Bes^t "came to a town where there was a madwoman who revealed to everyone his virtues and vices. ... Then the Besht said to the spirit : "... all of us will study on your behalf."" (S^B 64-65, in IPBSh, pp. 34-35)

S^B = S^ibhe^ ha-Bes^t

IPBSh = Ben-Amos & Mintz : In Praise of the Baal Shem Tov. Bloomington : U of IN Pr, 1970.

p. 268 madness of Abulafia

(quoted from MEAA, pp. 144-5 :) "I saw many awesome sights and wonders ... . ... And I was crazy from the vision of my eyes which I saw".

MEAA = N. Idel : The Mystical Experience in Abraham Abulafia. Albany : State U of NY Pr, 1988.

pp. 272-273 influence by the planet Saturn

p. 272

The planet Saturn "emits the controlling power of evil spirits which paralyze people’s limbs as in the case of ... the mentally handicapped. The issue of the mentally handicapped is understood to refer to this world; but they have an added prophetic power". (MJ, p. 151)

p. 273

"From Saturn comes power of those angels [s`ari^m] which paralyze people’s limbs as in the case of ... the mentally handicapped. ... They are mentally handicapped from matters of this world like him [S^abbatay S.bi^], but they have an added prophetic power, and are wise in understanding the knowledge which is not of this world." (Seper ha-Peli<ah 57a-b)

MJ = Myth in Judaism. 1996.

pp. 276, 279, 287 cases of spirit-possession

p. 276

"Meanwhile R. Moses [Mos^eh] would begin to dance like a young man. {The elderly’s dancing as vigorous as the young is a characteristic of Siberian shamanship.} In the middle of the dance he would fall to the ground like one who is stricken ... with epilepsy. He would twitch for a moment and then begin to speak. ... And all the prophecies of this R. Moses [Mos^eh] Saravel were proved true. And just as he was able to predict the future, so too did he know what had occurred in the past. ... great men of the world [rabbi-s] ... testified concerning this prophet R. Moses, that he had told them of their youthful transgressions of which they were indeed guilty, and gave them a tikkun [tiqqun ‘reparation’] as well."

p. 279

"At the moment that the holy spirit comes upon him he faints ... . Following its indwelling, the spirit will speak from within him of past and future events in a prophetic manner. ...

Another matter which is called "appearance" [h.apa>ah ‘secret doing’ (Strong’s 2644); erleichtig] occurs when a person closes his eyes and sees the soul within someone through his heart, by the light of God. He sees everything done in secret, all which occurred in the past along with all that will occur in the future ... . ...

There is another matter here, which is called "miracle working" ... . It is ... of a person who knows the servants of the upper world". (M<ore>o^t S.bi^, pp. 13-4)

p. 287

"great tzaddikim [s.addiqi^m] when ... the Shekhinah came upon them and spoke through their throats, their mouths would speak prophecies of the future. Those very same tzaddikim [s.addiqi^m] knew not afterwards what they had said because they were attached to the upper worlds and it was the Shekhinah which spoke through their throats." (Ma<or wa-S^emes^)

pp. 268, 281 paroxysms of the Bes^t

p. 281

The Bes^t "began to make terrible gestures, and he bent backwards until his head came lose to his knees ... . ... His eyes bulged and he sounded like a slaughtered bull. He kept this up for about two hours." (S^B 92, in IPBSh, p. 55)


"The Besht trembled greatly as he always did while praying. Everyone who looked at the Besht while he was praying noticed this trembling. ... his face ... was burning like a torch. The eyes of the Besht were bulging and fixed straight ahead like those of someone dying ... . ... He trembled for a long time".( S^B 85-6, in IPBSh, p. 50)

p. 268

A certain rabbi of Polonnoye "used to think him [the Bes^t] a madman, never paying attention to the movements he made in the manner of madmen." (Rubenstein : S^B, app. 28)

p. 301, n. 108 sparks of the Mas^iyah.

"H[.]ayyim Vital ... claims that the soul of Bar Kokhba contained a spark from the soul of the messiah son of David (Vital, Sefer ha-Likkutim ...). These matters were apparently at the root of Nathan of Gaza [<aza]’s claim that Shabbatai Zvi [S.bi^] was a reincarnation of Bar Kokhba and that Shabbatai would perform a tikkun [tiqqun] for the soul of Jesus (this is in Treatise on the Dragons; see Scholem, Shabbatai Zvi, 231). ... It is on this background that we can understand the story in the Shivhe ha-Besht concerning ... the soul of Shabbatai Zvi [S.bi^] ... indeed had a messianic spark ..., and this had to be raised up."


Matt Goldish (ed.) : Spirit Possession in Judaism. Wayne State U Pr, Detroit, 2003.