Science of Spirit Possession
Exorcism has a new name—spirit release therapy—and a place in psychologists’ offices
In Beyond Science, Epoch Times explores research and accounts related to phenomena and theories that challenge our current knowledge. We delve into ideas that stimulate the imagination and open up new possibilities. Share your thoughts with us on these sometimes controversial topics in the comments section below.
Modern science questions much of the knowledge gained through the collective memory of humanity over the course of millennia.
“Every culture and religious belief system throughout human history has its traditional beliefs of spirit possession in some form or another with corresponding rituals for the release or exorcism of spirit entities,” wrote Dr. Terence Palmer, a psychologist and the first person in the U.K. to earn a Ph.D. in spirit release therapy.
Some psychologists are returning to the methods developed by our ancestors to help patients with symptoms of possession.
Dr. William Baldwin (1939–2004) founded the practice of spirit release therapy and he also used past-life regression treatments. Baldwin was cautious about saying whether he believed in reincarnation or not, but he did say his treatments helped patients, and that’s what matters.
Spirit release practitioner Dr. Alan Sanderson wrote in a paper titled “Spirit Release Therapy: What Is It and What Can It Achieve?”: “I want to stress that the concept of spirit attachment and the practice of spirit release are not based on faith, as are religious and mystical beliefs. They are based on the observation of clinical cases and their response to standard therapeutic techniques. This is a scientific approach, albeit one that takes account of subjective experience and is not confined by contemporary scientific theory.”
Dr. Palmer commented in the introduction to a lecture titled “The Science of Spirit Possession”: “SRT [spirit release therapy] sits uncomfortably between the disbelief of a materialist secular society and the subjective experience of spirit possession: whether that experience is a symptom of psychosis, symbolic representation, socio-cultural expectation or a veridical manifestation.”
Parapsychology has been called a “pseudoscience,” as have other scientific approaches to phenomena that cannot be entirely explained by conventional science. However one views the method, it appears a revival of ancient wisdom has been effective in many cases.
Here’s a look at some of the thinkers, including those already mentioned, who have approached possession scientifically.
Frederick W.H. Myers
Frederick W.H. Myers (1843–1901) wrote in his book “Human Personality and Its Survival of Bodily Death,” which was published posthumously in 1906: “The controlling spirit proves his identity mainly by reproducing, in speech or writing, facts which belong to his memory and not to the automatist’s memory.”
He noted that the brain is little-understood; scientists don’t have a solid understanding of many of its ordinary functions let alone extraordinary functions (and this still holds true today). He theorized about a sort of radiation or energy that could be behind the telepathic influence of one person on another. He tried to consider how the memory centers might be related to the gaps in memory experienced by people said to be possessed.
Myers has not been shown to have any formal education in the field of psychology and much of his work relied on two mediums he worked with. It was his belief in a science that takes fuller account of human consciousness that has continued to inspire scientists. Myers also noted that the origin of the idea is not as important as its effectiveness or veracity.
“Instead of asking in what age a doctrine originated—with the implied assumption that the more recent it is, the better—we can now ask how far it is in accord or in discord with a great mass of actual recent evidence which comes into contact, in one way or another, with nearly every belief as to an unseen world which has been held at least by Western men.
“Submitted to this test, the theory of possession gives a remarkable result. It cannot be said to be inconsistent with any of our proved facts. We know absolutely nothing which negatives its possibility.
“Nay, more than this. The theory of possession actually supplies us with a powerful method of co-ordinating and explaining many earlier groups of phenomena, if only we will consent to explain them in a way which at first sight seemed extreme in its assumptions.”
Dr. Terence Palmer
Dr. Palmer’s Ph.D. thesis revived Myers’s work. He said that Myers and others have tried to bring the mental, emotional, and spiritual elements of human experience into natural science.
“To permit the accommodation of all human experience into a broader scientific framework is a scary prospect for several reasons. But fear is the cause of all human suffering, and only when medical science puts aside its own fears of being proven wrong can it treat sickness effectively by showing how fear is to be remedied,” Dr. Palmer wrote.
In a recorded lecture on his thesis, he looked at ways in which we come to know things. Some of the ways include learning from others, using logic and deduction, and through personal experience. He noted that in these ways, a good deal of evidence exists for the possibility of real spirit possession.
Funding, he said, has been one of the obstacles to conducting more rigorous scientific research of spirit possession. He said further studies must be done with remote telepathic intervention. This would bypass any placebo effect or any psychological impact a patient’s belief system may have.
Dr. Alan Sanderson
Dr. Sanderson asked in his paper “So where is the research to back these heretical claims [about spirit possession]?”
He gave three reasons for minimal research in this field of study. First, spirit release is a new study, which has only been systematically taught and practiced for about a decade. Second, much mistrust and many misconceptions still present obstacles. Third, research funds are hard to come by.
He is hopeful the field will progress and funds with come forth. In the meantime, he said, “individual cases have much to say.” Dr. Sanderson uses the method developed by Dr. Baldwin to treat spirit possession. Following is an outline of Dr. Baldwin’s work and an example of how Dr. Sanderson used it to help a woman allegedly possessed by the ghost of her father.
Dr. William Baldwin
Dr. Baldwin developed a method of helping people exorcise their demons so to speak. It is thought that traumatic experiences can especially cause a person’s consciousness to withdraw and give the body over to other forms of consciousness.
In spirit release therapy, the patient is hypnotized so it is easier to access the other consciousnesses in the person’s mind. The therapist asks the possessing entity to look inside. Dr. Baldwin has said that about half of his hypnotized patients could see silver threads, like those described in Ecclesiastes in the Bible as connecting the human spirit to the body, according to author Kerry Pobanz.
The therapist is said to help the spirits resolve issues so they will no longer have a negative impact on the patient and the therapist may even ask for divine intervention.
Dr. Sanderson’s Case Study of a Woman With Multiple Personalities
Pru, 46, had long-term psychological problems found to stem from sexual abuse by her father when she was a child. Under hypnosis in a session with Dr. Sanderson, she identified herself as her father, Jason. Jason would become angry and threaten Dr. Sanderson.
“In deep trance, Jason agreed to look within himself, where he saw blackness,” Dr. Sanderson wrote. “I called for angelic help. With the use of Baldwin’s protocol for dealing with demonic spirits, the blackness left. Thereafter, Jason was amenable. He agreed to leave. Other destructive entities responded similarly.”
Not all spirits found inside a person are malevolent, say spirit release practitioners.
Pru wrote a paragraph to describe her experience: “‘The spiritual approach left me freer from the remaining daily distress than anything tried before. Whilst under hypnosis I found myself talking about some experiences that I had definitely not had and places I certainly had not been to. So, was this spirits, split off parts of my personality, ancestral memory or even false memory/imagination? I very much doubt the latter. There was reluctance, yet at the same time relief, to be spoken to, accepted and contacted. The release from the darkness, into the light and to the beyond had to be experienced to be believed. It was amazing and I still marvel at the sight of these ‘entities’ disappearing and freeing me.”
*Image of woman being hypnotized via Shutterstock