Spiritual Emergency: Possession States | Stanislav Grof MD. PhD.

Possession States

People experiencing this type of transpersonal crisis have a distinct feeling that their psyche and body have been invaded and that they are being controlled by an evil entity or energy with personal characteristics. They perceive it as coming from the outside of their own personality and as being hostile and disturbing. It can appear to be a confused discarnate
entity, a demonic being, or the consciousness of a wicked person invading them by means of black magic and hexing procedures. There are many different types and degrees of such conditions. In some instances, the true nature of this disorder remains hidden. The problem manifests as serious psychopathology, such as antisocial or even criminal behavior, suicidal depression, murderous aggression or selfdestructive behavior, promiscuous and deviant sexual impulses and actingout, or excessive use of alcohol and drugs. It is often not until such a person starts experiential psychotherapy that “possession” is identified as a condition underlying these problems.

In the middle of an experiential session, the face of a possessed person can become cramped and take the form of a “mask of evil,” and the eyes can assume a wild expression. The hands and body might develop strange contortions, and the voice may become altered and take on an otherworldly quality. When this situation is allowed to develop, the session can bear a striking resemblance to exorcisms in the Catholic Church, or exorcist rituals in various aboriginal cultures.

The resolution often comes after dramatic episodes of choking, projectile vomiting, screaming, and frantic physical activity, or even temporary loss of control. Sequences of this kind can be unusually healing and transformative and often result in a deep spiritual conversion of the person involved. A detailed description of the most dramatic episode of this kind I have observed during my entire professional career can be found in my account of the case of Flora (Grof 2006 a).

Other times, the possessed person is aware of the presence of the “evil entity” in his or her body and spends much effort trying to fight it and control its influence. In the extreme version of the possession state, the problematic energy can spontaneously manifest and take over in the middle of everyday life. This situation resembles the one described earlier for experiential sessions, but the individual here lacks the support and protection provided by the therapeutic context. Under such circumstances, he or she can feel extremely frightened and desperately alone. Relatives, friends, and often even therapists tend to withdraw from the “possessed” individual and respond with a strange mixture of metaphysical fear and moral rejection. They often label the person as evil and refuse further contact.

This condition clearly belongs in the category of psychospiritual crises, in spite of the fact that it involves negative energies and is associated with many objectionable forms of behavior. The demonic archetype is by its very nature transpersonal, since it represents the negative mirror image of the divine. It also often appears to be a “gateway phenomenon,” comparable to the terrifying guardians flanking the doors of Buddhist temples leading to radiant images of the Buddha. Encounter with an entity of this kind often immediately precedes a profound spiritual experience. With the help of somebody who is not afraid of its uncanny nature and is able to encourage its full conscious manifestation, this energy can be dissipated, and remarkable healing occurs.



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