31. Possession

Chapter contents

What is possession?244

Vulnerability to possession245

The diagnosis of possession247

The treatment of possession250

What is possession?

The nature of possession

Clearing possession is one of the oldest forms of healing known to civilisation. In fact, there are many indications that clearing possession in early China was a more prevalent system of healing than acupuncture. 1 People in the Western world might describe it as being out of date and perhaps even rather over-dramatic, but the term is one that has been used in every culture in the world, including the modern-day Western culture.

In most ancient cultures the concept of possession described someone being fully or partially taken over by an entity of some kind. This caused people to no longer be fully in control of a part of themselves. The entity was usually thought to be the spirit of a dead person who was trying to find another body to inhabit.

In China this spirit was called a gui. Interestingly, the radical for a gui is embedded in the character for both the hun (spirit of the Liver) and the po (spirit of the Lungs), two of the five shen. This indicates the level of belief in the world of spirits that was prevalent amongst the physicians during the Han and preceding dynasties. The idea that part of the human spirit inhabited the same realm as ghosts was enshrined in Chinese thought.

The use of the term ‘possession’ by a Five Element Constitutional Acupuncturist has been broadened. It is used to include many other ways that a person may be out of control of their mind and spirit. Signs and symptoms can manifest along a spectrum from obsessive thoughts or behaviour to the kind of possession by spirits described above.

Historically there have been many powerful methods that have been used to clear possessions. These have included magic and ritual as well as talisman and herbal prescriptions (Unschuld, 1992, pp. 29–50). The method used by Five Element Constitutional Acupuncturists to clear possession is to call on the ‘Seven Dragons to overpower the Seven Demons’. The treatment uses seven acupuncture points that ‘wake’ the Dragons.

Possession in ancient China

The belief in possession as a cause of illness is widely documented as far back as the early Chou period, around −1100. At this time a person was typically described as being ‘assaulted by demons’ or ‘possessed by the hostile’ (Unschuld, 1992, p. 36). The existence of evil spirits was not just a superstition but was a widely held belief amongst all classes of Chinese people for many centuries. Han Fei, who died in −233, stated: ‘When a person falls ill he has been injured by a demon’ (Unschuld, 1992, p. 37).

Later texts, especially many written from the sixteenth century onwards, described treatments in detail. For example, in the eighteenth century a physician called Xu Dachun cited ‘irrefutable evidence’ for the influence of demons on the well-being of man. He compared evil spirits to wind, cold, summer heat and other similar phenomena. Just as an underlying deficiency can allow a climatic pathogen to enter the body, so can an ‘emotional fatigue’ allow demons to gain entrance (Unschuld, 1992, p. 222).

The famous physician Sun Si-miao (581–682) also described various methods of treatment against demons (Unschuld, 1992, p. 42). One method described was the use of 13 gui or ‘ghost’ points. These are still in use today, especially in the treatment of the dian-kuan category of disease, which includes illnesses such as schizophrenia or bipolar disorder.

Since the Communist government came into power in 1949 the treatment of possession was cast out of Chinese medicine. At that time anything connected with popular religious belief was termed ‘superstition’ (mixin). It is still to be found in Chinese communities around the world, however, but a ‘great deal of administrative effort has gone into eradicating belief in spirit possession’ (see Sivin, 1987, pp. 102–106). Bob Flaws (1991) states that:

The expurgation of ghosts as an etiological factor is part and parcel of modern TCM’s attempt to conform to Western materialist science and the Chinese communist regime’s rejection of anything spiritual.

Certainly the use of the ‘Seven Dragons for Seven Demons’ is not mentioned in any currently translated Chinese texts. It was, however, identified as a Tang dynasty prescription for ‘mania’ by a veteran Chinese medicine physician at the Yunnan College of TCM in Kunming in 1982 (verbal communication from members of China Study Trip, 1982). Bob Flaws concurs that there is ‘nothing un-Chinese about the treatment’. Such a treatment is in fact ‘characteristic of the Chinese people’s pluralism and enduring embrace of spiritualism and magic’ (Flaws, 1989).

Vulnerability to possession

Conditions leading to possession

The causes of possession can be external or internal and it can result from a physical, but more usually, a mental or spiritual cause. However, it is extremely rare for something to ‘invade’ from the outside or to disturb the person from the inside if the person is in good physical, mental and spiritual health.

If a person’s essence and spirit are firmly established, no evil outside of the body will venture an assault. But whenever that which protects the essence and spirit fails, the harmful agents will collect in its place.

(Hsu Ling-t’ai I; quoted by Unschuld, 1992, p. 337)

The topics, images, feelings and themes that disturb people are usually the ones that may later possess her or him. A mind preoccupied by certain thoughts can start to become obsessed. If the obsession is not contained and dealt with it may later turn into a ‘possession’ that takes control of the person’s every thought and action.

Minds occupied with fortune and misfortune may be invaded and controlled by devils. Minds occupied with love affairs may be attacked by lustful ghosts. Minds worried about deep waters may be subjected to the ghosts of the drowned. Minds worried by unrestrained activity may be attacked by mad ghosts. Minds occupied with oaths may be attacked by magical ghosts. Minds concentrated on drugs and tempting food may be attacked by the ghosts of material things.

(Quan Yin Tzu, quoted in Needham, 1956, p. 67)

A person’s vulnerability to possession is increased by:

• underlying poor physical or psychological health

• emotional shocks or instability

• physical shocks or accidents

• drug or alcohol abuse

• engaging with the occult

• opening the self up to others, without protection

• exposure to intense climatic factors

Underlying poor physical or psychological health

The underlying health of a person is extremely important when considering who is vulnerable to possession. The pathologies below illustrate this, but a weakness in any Organ may cause a person to become more susceptible.

The Blood of the Heart allows the shen to be housed in the body. When the Heart Blood is deficient, the shen will ‘float’ rather than be settled inside the Heart (see Maciocia, 2005, pp. 109-112). If this becomes severe it can leave a void. In this case the Supreme Controller is no longer fully in control and the person may lose full control of their mind and spirit.

Obstruction to the Heart orifices may leave a person more easily affected by possession. If there is too much Heat and Phlegm affecting the Heart, a person may also have difficulty being settled in their shen. This condition can result in mania followed by a swing into depression. In this situation the person’s health is already chaotic and the vacuum left by the unsettled shen may leave the person even more susceptible to possession. The same is true when Phlegm ‘mists’ the Heart, causing mental confusion or unconsciousness. (For a discussion of Phlegm Fire harassing the Heart, see Maciocia, 2005, pp. 474–477.)

If the Lungs are healthy this can also protect a person from becoming possessed. Just as the Lungs are responsible for the wei qi, which protects us from invasion by climatic forces, the Corporeal Soul or po protects us from invasion affecting the spirit (Maciocia, 1993, pp. 10–18). A person whose Metal Element is thus affected may feel extremely fragile in some circumstances. They may feel unable to protect themselves when, for example, they are grieving after a death or in any situation where sadness or a sense of loss is intense.

Emotional shocks or instability

Emotional shocks can be caused by sudden grief, sadness, disappointment, anger, fear, terror or even sudden and extreme happiness. Often, although not always, an emotional shock involves another person – an intimate relationship breaks up, a friend badly disappoints us, a family member dies or a work colleague suddenly turns on us. An emotional shock of any kind can leave people feeling traumatised and temporarily out of control. The qi is ‘scattered’. In most circumstances people recover their equilibrium following the initial shock. On some occasions, however, they do not recover their former control and the intensity of the emotions overwhelms the mind and spirit.

People have varying degrees of emotional stability. Those with a damaged sense of identity may be anxious, lonely, depressed and in general have a low level of self-esteem. This may lead to obsessive or addictive behaviour directed towards areas such as work, sex, cleanliness, food, gambling or alcohol.

Nov 30, 2016 | Posted by in PHYSICAL MEDICINE & REHABILITATION | Comments Off on Possession

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