Ugh. Writing this after a bachelor party for my cousin and on absolutely no sleep. So forgive me if it’s a little incoherent this week.
Dustin Dewey wrote in two weeks ago with this letter:
With the upcoming release of the movie The Exorcism Of Emily Rose, it seems ogical that you should do a column based around Anneliese Michel. After talk of all the typical, same ol’ “people get haunted but it’s probably a hoax” stuff, no way can you pass up a story where the Catholic church admits a possession of a girl is legit, but following years of exorcism the girl dies of what the court says it starvation, her parents and the priest and convicted of manslaughter and the church suddenly changes their tune. Not to mention the fact that it’s been believed she was possessed by the demonized soul of Hitler. It’s just too good to pass up and is a great way to tie your column into current affairs via the upcoming release of a movie based on it all. Of course the movie is likely to bend the truth a little and it’s up to you to set the record straight.
To be honest, I know next to nothing about this case. So I’m not going to do you the disservice of churning out second hand info. What I will do this week however, is discuss the concept of possession in general for you all.
If you’re unaware of what possession is, it is simply a common trait in religions where a human being or animal (and sometimes an inanimate object) is taken over by a spirit and is not in control of their body or functions.
First let’s talk three different types of possession: African, Western, and the New Age version that’s come up in the past few decades of Alien Possession.
In African tribal religions, possession is an important part of these faiths. There is a Medium through which the spirits of ancestors and/or a deity speaks through. African possession tends to be a one on one relationship between the god and the Medium, who has been chosen by said God as their foci amongst humanity. This means that the proclamations and decisions made by these witch doctors are taken very serious and given instant credence. It also gives them complete political and religious power for lack of better terms. In a nut shell, in Africa possession is good thing because it involves a benevolent god dealing with evil spirits and shenanigans.
Of course there are some forms of “evil” possession in the culture. And it’s whenever anyone seems to be possessed other than the witch doctor. Fancy that, eh? However, in some cases of “Evil” possession, the person possessed is considered to have committed some great sin or transgression against the tribe, which allowed the evil spirits to enter them. And this requires some sort of sacrifice.
Then we have the Western, of Christian-doctrine based variant of possession. Unlike African based possession, in the Western world, possession is not viewed as something willingly or occurring by the prerogative of the host.
Cases of possession in Western Society are generally found in two distinct variations of Christianity. The first is Roman Catholicism. The second are fringe versions of Christianity like the Pentecostals. As well, Western possession has their “good” and “evil forms too, and these two varieties are divided into the sects I mentioned above.
For the Pentecostals, manifestations of possession often come from being infused by the “Holy Spirit” or “Holy Ghost.” Signs of this religious euphoria include jerky shaky movements that are unusual in appearance, shrieking, moaning, groaning, and speaking in disconnected phrases and sentences or simply making unintelligible noises that resemble a language but are not. This latter is called “Speaking in Tongues.” Sometimes these instances of possession have been debunked because of drug use, but often these possessions are self-induced, or brought on by religious hysteria. This version of Western Possession originates from after Christ’s death when the disciples were overcome by the Holy Spirit. The Book of Acts discusses how wreaths of flame surrounded their heads and how they spoke in tongues.
For the Roman Catholics, possession occurs when a normally calm or pious member of the faith begins to speak or do blasphemous things or show an aversion to objects Catholics consider sacred in nature. In these cases possession is often considered demonic in nature and requires a religious leader to perform an exorcism. This form of possession is the kind that gets the most attention in Western society, and has been used in books, TV shows, and movies. This version stems from the New Testament with jesus Christ exorcizing evil spirits ala the “Legion” incident.
Finally we have the concept of Alien possession that has come into being since the New Age movement took off. It’s similar but not quite the same as abduction. Although this sounds silly, it’s a very logical progression of religion and faith where science replaces mysticism.
With Alien possession, visitors from another world abduct sleeping humans into their spaceship, which must be cloaked or have some way to avoid being seen or heard by locals or radar. The kidnapped human is then subjected to a battery of tests and psychic possessions and then returned to their home where the person in question is then considered a nutjob when they related their experience. The common theory amongst those claiming this experience is that the humans are now sleeper agents for the aliens and can be turned into mindless automatons obeying their otherworldly commands. Of course the reason for this is alien domination of planet Earth.
If we want to talk from an exceptionally rational point of view, scientists and psychologists chalk up possession to being a psychochemical reaction in the body. Possession is often considered to be hysteria, schizophrenia, or somnambulism. However, people of faith tend to disagree with those statements.
The other large psychological interpretation of possession is multiple personality disorder. On the other hand, some religious types believe multiple personality disorder is actual someone being possessed. Even as recent as 1983, Harvard graduate student Dr. M. Scott Peck who was a practicing psychiatrist in Connecticut wrote a book entitled, People of the Lie in which he talked about two patients he felt were possessed by demonic entities, and that was the true root of their Multiple Personality Disorder. Peck then goes on to describe he and his patient’s discovery of these evil spirits inside them, and the exorcisms and then subsequent spiritual healing. Peck’s credibility stretches however when he discuses actual physical transformations that occurred in his patients when the demons were revealed. Both had their faces become those of a snake, with the eyes turning reptilian, and the flesh writhing like coils. This patient also made repeated attempt to bite Peck and his exorcism team. The question is did Peck allow religious Mania to go before actual scientific or psychological fact? We hear this being accused of the current Bush administration consistently, so this wouldn’t be a stretch for such a thing to have occurred in the years of Reaganomics.
Let me close out this discussion with a look at other minor forms of possession that have cropped up around the world.
In Latin and Central America, but primarily the Caribbean, African slaves that were left there brought over their religion as well. Of course over time, these African tribal religions were changed by the local culture along with distance and time. This religion would eventually become many different ones, such as Vodoun or Voodoo, Santeria, Candomble and Umbanda. Like the African religions, these involved the faithful members of the faith becoming possessed by Gods in order to fully commune with humanity. Like the Pentecostal faith, religious hysteria is swept up through dancing, rhythmic drums, and the like.
In these religions, when one is possessed by the God in question, they will take on the God’s personality traits, such as speech habits, preferences for foods, smells, and the like. These possessed people of these religions also seem to withstand extreme heat or cold, an increased stamina which is proven by dancing for hours, and the inability to feel pain. In some instances these possessed people have even torn the head off of a chicken with their bare teeth as their sacrifice. Like the African religions, the Gods use humans to deliver prophecies and the like to their subjects, but these possession are not limited to a single Medium in the tribe. Once the possession is over, the person is treated as they were before and receive no special reception or privileges.
In Islam, there are minor spirits known as Djinn/Genies and Zars. Zars are known to be able to possess the living, which are almost exclusively women, and through these women sow sickness, chaos, and rebellion against Allah. The Zars can not be exorcised, but they can be bribed to leave with gifts like clothes, food, booze, and other fancy presents.
Finally, we’ll take a look at India. There forms of spirit possession are common and part of everyday life in the Hindu faith. Here the lower classes caste women are the subjects of possession. Most likely in reality because being possessed in Hinduism gains one stature, and in some instances, an improvement in their place in the caste system. Here women blame pretty much everything on possession: menstrual cramps, children dying, infidelity, impotency, infertility and barrenness, and so on and so forth.
Exorcism is a part of Hinduism, but it takes a very different version from Western Exorcism. It involves a shaman or priest blowing the smoke from burning cow dung in the face of the possessed along with pressing rock salt between fingers, burning pig feces (lots of animal poop burning here), beating up the victim, pulling the possessed person’s hair, trying to bribe the demon out with coins and finally prayer.
There. That’s a nice little introduction into forms of possession around the world. It’s not what Dustin wanted exactly, but hopefully he’ll be happy with this quick primer on the subject.
Here in Minneapolis, I went to Azia on Thursday, which is a fusion restaurant whose profits for that night went to Hurrican Katrina victims. I had an excellent Duck in green curry. But I also had the first excellent crab cake I’ve been able to find in Minnesota. Now, the true Gourmand knows the bets place to get crab cakes are in MA, or MD. I personally find the crab cakes in Maryland better, better this week I’ve got the recipe from what I consider the best place in Massachusetts to eat them. It’s called J.T. Farnham’s and it’s in the town of Essex. The great thing about these cakes is the balance of crab with breading. Too often there’s just not enough crab.
And trust me, use hot sauce with this. I suggest Frank’s over Tabasco.
2 pounds fresh crab meat
3 eggs, lightly beaten
1 cup breadcrumbs
1 cup crushed Ritz crackers
1 tablespoon Old Bay seasoning
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
1 teaspoon paprika
1 tablespoon chopped parsley
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
2 to 3 tablespoons butter
2 to 3 tablespoons light olive oil
Lemon wedges and hot sauce for flavour post cooking
1. In a large bowl, combine the crabmeat, eggs, breadcrumbs, cracker crumbs, Old Bay, salt, pepper, parsley flakes, and Worcestershire sauce. Use a wooden spoon or clean hands to mix lightly but thoroughly. Scoop out 1/3rd cup of mixture for each cake and shape into 1/2 inch thick patties. These patties can be refrigerated for several hours if needed.
2. In two large skillets, heat 2 tablespoons each of the butter and oil over medium heat. Cook the crab cakes until nicely browned and crusty on the bottom. This will take about 3-4 minutes. Turn and continue to cook until the underside is browned and the crab cakes are thoroughly hot in the center. This will take about another 5 minutes. Use the remaining butter and oil to cook any remaining cakes if needed,
3. Serve hot, with lemon wedges and hot pepper cakes.
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Another week, another Nyogtha. Yay. I’ll seen you next week with some more oogedy boogedy type stuff.