Since thebeginning of human consciousness, fear of the unknown and the question of whatmay live amongst us has plagued man and continue to do so to this day.
Suggesting that we do not live alone but that we share life with the un-livingmay be viewed as ignorance by the scientific community. However, belief in thesupernatural is a relatively commonly held conviction even in Western society.One study found that three out of four Americans believed in the existencesupernatural beings. (citation needed). If this is a commonly held belief, whyis it shunned by the western scientific community as ignorance? This researchwill debate the question of whether the phenomena of spirit possession andglossolalia (speaking in tongues) are evidence for the supernatural or if theycan be explained scientifically. This report will first summarize thebackground information and key literature needed to understand the topic. Itwill then move on to the main topics of debate, starting with the argument thatspirit possession is brought on by neurological issues; then that glossolaliais also the consequence of neurological issues. The report will then move ontothe other side of debate, starting with how glossolalia has a paranormal causeand then the last part of the debate with similarly argue that spiritpossession also has a paranormal cause.
It will then end in a conclusion,summing up each argument and restating the key research.BACKGROUNDINFORMATION/ KEY LITERATUREThere will be two focuses of this essay;spirit possession and glossolalia. Both have their roots in religion, withspirit possession sometimes thought to be a manifestation of the devil andglossolalia is most commonly seen in the Pentecostal Christian Church.Christian glossolalia began during Pentecost with St.
Paul, himself being aglossolalist. There are many references in the bible (old and New testament) ofthis gift. “all of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak inother tongues as the Spirit enabled them”. ( (Various, 1973)Acts 2:4)Speaking-in-tongues is seen as a divine gift. Incidences of glossolalia carriedon into the Middle Ages; St.
Hildegarde is said to have been able to speak andwrite in Latin without having learned this language. (May, 1956) However, theAnthropologist G J Jennings in 1968 observed this behaviour amongst aboriginalpeople of Australia, North America and Asia as well as other continents. (citationneeded) showing how Glossolalia spans the extent of the globe and is observed in manycultures throughout the world, some with no religious commitments. The umbrellaterm of Glossolalia can be broken into a subsection called Xenoglossia. This isthe use of a foreign language spoken by an individual who has no previousconscious understanding of the language. (Slotegraaf, 2005) This essay willfocus on Glossolalia as a whole.
The definition of Glossolalia differs fromplace to place as an explanation for it is still unknown, hence the need forthis enquiry. According to the NewEncyclopaedia Britannica it is a “neutrotic or psychotic symptom”, in sharpcontrast the New Catholic Encyclopaedia label is “a charisma that enables therecipient to praise God”. Janice Boddy defines Spirit Possession as “thehold exerted over a human being by external forces or entities more powerfulthan she. These forces may be ancestors or divinities, ghosts of foreignorigin, or entities both ontologically and ethically alien.” (Boddy, SPIRIT POSSESSION REVISITED: Beyond Instrumentality, 1994) Spirit Possession isa belief shared across the globe with a 1969 study concluding that spiritpossession beliefs are found in 74% of 488 societies taken from across theworld.
(Bourguignon & Ucko, 1969). ARGUMENTFOR CULTURE/ NEUROLOGICAL ISSUES (SPIRIT POSSESSION)The concept of possession has been recorded in almost everycountry in the world. (Rajendra., 2009) In the Westernworld, the belief that a supernatural spirit can enter the body of a livinghuman and control it seems like a clear sign of insanity. In Great Britain,only 18% of people believe that it is possible for someone to become possessed’by the devil or some other evil spirit’.
(YouGov, 2013) This is a relativelylow number compared to some Central and West African countries. Here it iscustomary to believe that possessions are just part of life as their ancestors’spirits are constantly around them anyway. In Britain, 18% of people believe inthe possibility of spiritual possession whereas in Ghana, 18% of people believethat they themselves have actually been possessed.( citation needed) This is thought to be down to traditionalsocieties taking symptoms the Western world would associated with mentalillnesses like psychosis, hysteria, mania, Tourette syndrome, epilepsy,schizophrenia as symptoms of a spirit possession. (Dein & Illaiee, 2013)ManyWestern psychologists have been quick to point out that this can be explainedby a clash of cultures. Due to the start of large-scale migration, there is amixing of what western medicine perceives to be symptoms of mental illness andthe traditional approach of what they believe is spirit possession. Aninteresting case that demonstrates this is a case of a 14-year old girl fromThailand that had recently moved to Singapore.
A month after moving there forher studies, she was found screaming, shivering, crying and refusing tocommunicate. After being seen at A, her vital signs and blood pressurewas deemed normal, however she still refused to communicate. She had not beendrinking or taking drugs and had no previous psychiatric issues nor was she onany long term medications. She was kept on the ward, uncommunicative for 2days. When her mother arrived from Thailand, she remained calm and concludedthat she had been ‘visited by a ghost’. She suggested all that was necessarywas to banish the spirit by taking the girl to a Thai temple; she stated thatthis was a frequent occurrence in Thailand and was not unusual. After visitingthe temple, the patient became communicative and returned to her normalactivity. (Rajendra.
, 2009) This demonstrates how other societiesmay interpret different states of consciousness or hysteria as evidence ofspirit possession. Anexplanation for this ‘possession’ can be found in a study which looked atspirit possession among Thai schoolgirls and the results were that “Compared with the controls their family life wascharacterized by more psychosocial stressors and there were significantlyhigher rates of psychiatric disorders, anxious and fearful character traits,histrionic character traits and history of recurrent trance states.” (Trangkasombat, Su-Umpan, Churujiporn, Nukhew, & Haruhanpong, 1998)Many psychologists understand that, especially amongst teenage girls, therewill always be a certain amount of mass hysteria. In this case, the patient hadbeen surrounded the ‘Hungry Ghost’ festival leading up to her admission. Thebelief of this festival is that the gates of hell will open and spirits willvisit the living.
It is very likely that the patient was influenced by this,leading to visual hallucinations.Interestingly, spirit possessions in thedeveloping world are mostly experienced by women. According to this study intothe z?r ritual (a ceremony to call on spirits possessing a host amongst theHofriyat people of Northern Sudan): “More than 40% of Hofriyat women over the age of fifteen and marriedclaim z?r affliction as opposed to 5% of the population of adult males.
” (Hannah, 2014) Psychologists haveattributed this to a strategy adopted by women to overcome their inferiorsocial and political status. C. Stephenson, summing uppsychologist IM. Lewis’ thoughts that “in oppressive, predominantly patriarchalcultures, possession works as an obliquely aggressive strategy within whichdisempowered or marginalized individuals, especially women, seek to redresstheir political subordination.” (Stephenson, 2009) In the z?r ritual of North Sudan it is easy to seewhy women would need to adopt alternative strategies, whether intentional ornot to overcome their inferior place in society. In 2012 Freedom House statedthat Sudan had the lowest possible ranking among repressive regimes in relationto its treatment of women. (Freedom House, 2013) As well as this, itis also one of the only countries that are not a signatory on the “Conventionon the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women.” (United Nations, 1979) With this in mind,it becomes incredible that as part of the z?r ritual, women are able toexperience greater freedom without fear or censure or estrangement from theirsociety.
This part of Sudan is Muslim, Boddy argues that if “women areconstrained by their gender from full participation in Islam, men areconstrained by theirs from full participation in the z?r”. (Boddy, Women and Alien Spirits: Women, men and the zar cult in Northern Sudan, 1989). Boddy describes possessed women within the Hofriyati as “smoking, wanton dancing, flailing about,burping and hiccuping, drinking blood and alcohol , wearing male clothing,publicly threatening men with swords speaking loudly lacking due regard foretiquette”. (Boddy, Women and Alien Spirits: Women, men and the zar cult in Northern Sudan, 1989) Through spiritual possession,a woman may make demands on her husband and family and comment on villageissues.
Women would not usually be given this freedom if the possessions didnot take place. Another suggestion as to why women more commonlyexperience possession than men are is down to physical anthropology.Anthropologists Kehoe and Giletti argue that this is due to deficiencies invitamins including vitamin D, calcium, thiamine and tryptophan-niacin. Thereasons for these deficiencies is down to poverty, worsened by strains ofpregnancy, lactation and menstruation as well as social rules that lowerwomen’s intake of these vitamins compared to men. They conclude that thedeficiencies affect the central nervous system and muscles, which have beenrecognized in these cultures as manifestations of possession. (Kehoe & Giletti, 1981).Thisresearch is evidence against the belief that spirit possessions are paranormaloccurrences. The research indicates that what, on the surface, appears to be aspirit possession is in fact a subconscious social escape method, as seen inthe z?r ritual, or in the case of the young girl, a matter of hysteria andpsychological pressures.
Neurologicalevidence if needed CNS lesion causing trance and possession like symptoms https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2953657/pdf/IJPsy-44-65.
pdf ARGUMENTFOR CULTURE/ NEUROLOGICAL ISSUES (GLOSSOLALIA) As a difficulty or abnormality of speech haslong been linked with mental abnormalities, it is possible that some cases ofglossolalia are simply psychological abnormalities. Even in 1990, The New EncyclopaediaBritannica refers to speaking in tongues as a “neurotic or psychotic symptom”.(citation need). Likewise, it is always possible that this isjust a learned behaviour. Spanos and Cross carried out a study which found thatafter listening to a 60 second sample of glossolalia, “20% of the sampleexhibited fluent glossolalia… 70% of trained sample spoke fluent glossolalia onthe posttest”. (Spanos N.
P., 1986). This suggest thatpeople who participate in glossolalia may subconsciously just be copingbehaviour seen in a church type setting. As, in some circumstances, glossolalia is seen as a way to have a muchdeeper direct connection to God, people may be exhibiting this ‘behaviour’ inan attempt to deepen their faith. People who speak in tongues, say that theyfeel as though the Holy Spirit is talking through them. If it is in a faith outsideChristianity, it is still a similar feeling of euphoria that is said to beexperienced. However, the language of glossolalia seems to be reflective of thelanguage patterns within the language native to the speaker.
ARGUMENTFOR PARANORMAL (SPIRIT POSSESSION)We sawearlier that spiritual possession may be explained by cultural beliefs and maybe part of a subconscious expression to escape social pressure and subordination.However, with 57% of Americans (citation needed) believing it is possible tobecome possessed by spirits, it seems improbable that there is no truth behindit. It is a widely held throughout the world and is common in many religionsincluding Christianity, Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam and Haitian Vodou.
Thecultural and geographical diversity of the sources from societies that havelittle contact with each other would seem to suggest that it is unlikely thatthere is no truth behind this commonly held belief in spirit possession.Importantlyand somewhat surprisingly, health organizations recognise a syndrome whichseems to describe possession. The World Health Organization classify”possession” as a diagnostic entity in their classification reference book “in someinstances the individual acts as if taken over by another personality, spirit,deity, or “force”. (World Health Organization, 2001). Similarly, theAmerican Psychiatric Association have a classification called DissociativeTrance and Possession Disorder (DTPD) “Possession trance involves replacementof customary sense of personal identity by a new identity attributed to theinfluence of a spirit, power deity or other person.” (American Psychiatric Association, 1994).
If leading authorities recognise a stateresembling spirit possession, surely this cannot be ignored?Exorcismsare the attempted expulsion of a spirit from a body. It can be seen inChristianity, Hinduism, Buddhism, Taoism, Islam and Judaism. In Catholicism, exorcismis defined as “the act ofdriving out, or warding off, demons, or evil spirits, from persons, places, orthings, which are believed to be possessed or infested by them, or are liableto become victims or instruments of their malice” (Toner, 1909).His holiness Pope Francis gave exorcism legal recognition in 2014. (Withnall, 2014). The numbers of exorcisms performed by the Catholic churcheach year is difficult to define. One well known exorcist, Revered ChristopherNeil-Smith carried out many thousands of exorcisms over a 30 year period in theUK (Beeson, 1995) and a thousand in a single year. This is not ‘proof’ exactly that of spirit possession but tosimply ignore a belief that is important in another culture would beethnocentric.
To ensure that people do not havemental health issues but are indeed suffering from demonic possession, priestsmay work with psychiatrists toensure “that the person involved istruly possessed or obsessed and not suffering from a psychological or physicalillness”. (Burnell, 2000) There are many reports from history ofdemonic possession and exorcism but I am choosing to look at cases from thelast 30 years.Twopsychiatrists in particular work with priests in the US. Richard Gallagher is aboard certified psychiatrist who works with the clergy to help filter out casesof mental illness from cases of demonic possession. He believes that there are”certain extremely uncommon cases can be explained no otherway.” (Gallagher, 2016)M.
Scott Peck another psychiatrist tells usthat the two patients he observed ”were gravely ill from a psychiatricstandpoint before their exorcisms” (Peck, 1983)but after exorcisms had been performed their mental health was significantlyimproved. After more psychotherapy, the voices died out and both patients madea full recovery. (Peck, 1983)Turning now to Islam. According to the Qur’an and Hadithjinn live alongside us byt cannot be seen, they have a different origin fromhumans but like us they have intellect and know good from bad. Several cases ofJinn possession have been written in articles.
A patient was initially diagnosed with schizophrenia was treatedwith 30 mg of haloperidol per day but did not respond to this medication and noimprovement was seen. He only recovered after six psychotherapy-like sessionswith a social worker and an exorcism ritual involving physical methods (i.e.,hitting the feet with a stick). In this case the diagnosis of schizophrenia wasfound to be incorrect in this case (Al-Krenawi, 1997)A young woman was diagnosed with mood disorder had electroconvulsivetherapy without any improvement. She did recover after traditional Islamictreatment with the aid of dkhir (worshipping Allah through recitations from theQur’an) and ruqyah (healing from an Imam with his hand on the patient’s headwhile reciting verses from the Qur’an; (Khalifa, 2005) She hadno memory and had been unaware of her surrounding during this time, 5 years onand she is still well with no medication.Could it be that psychotherapy in the 20th and 21stcenturies is a form of exorcism? – Counsellors talk about “demons”–mental,emotional or psychological traumas, and memories that need to be addressed.
Exorcism takes their existence of demons completely literally. Several modernpsychotherapist and psychiatrist s suggest that the power ARGUMENTFOR PARANORMAL (GLOSSOLALIA)Glossolalia or as it is most commonly known,speaking in tongues, is associated with altered states of consciousness. At thestart of the 20th century, many psychologists classed it aspsychotic, linking it with schizophrenia and hysteria. However, coming into themodern age, research has shown that there are significant differences betweenindividuals suffering with mental disorders and those participating inglossolalia. (Goodman, 1972) Research centring around which part of thebrain is most active has been done by scientists to understand this phenomena.Neuroscientist, Dr. Andrew Newberg recruited five Pentecostal women whofrequently speak in tongues. He gave the women an injection of a radioactivetracer which allows scientists to measure blood flow in the brain and see whichareas are most active.
He scanned the subjects’ brains when they were simplysinging and then again when they entered the glossolalia state. Newberg foundthat while the women were speaking in tongues there was a decrease in frontallobe function, the area of the brain that enables reason and self-control.There was also increased activity in the parietal region of the brain, whichtakes sensory information and tries to create a sense of self relating to theworld. (Newberg, 2006)This is interestingas it shows that speaking in tongues involves a giving up of self-control.
AsNewberg says this is “consistent with the kind of experience that theyglossolalia speakers have because they say that they’re not in charge, it’sthe voice of God”. A response to these findings could be thatthere are numerous other states where a subject loses their self-control; forexample, meditating. However, Newberg’s study also noted that the glossolaliaresponse by the brain was the opposite of people meditating. In earlier studiesDr. Newberg looked at what happens in the brains of Buddhist monks meditatingand Franciscan nuns praying, it was noticeably different from what happens totongue speakers. This suggests that that while performing Glossolalia, althoughit takes a giving up of self-control, it is not a meditative state. Some sceptics may also point to psychologicalabnormalities as a reason for glossolalia.
This was the thinking at the startof the 20th century. The psychologist George Cutten subjectively stated that people who spoke in tongueswere “schizophrenics at worst or hysteric neurotics at best.” However, as mental issues like schizophrenia became better understood,theories like these were disproved. Hine looked into the psychopathology ofglossolalia and wrote that participants of this were sound of mind and that the”available evidence requires that an explanation of glossolalia as pathologicalbe discarded.” (Hine, 1969). Ten years later,Spanos and Hewitt concluded in a test of 48 people that subjects who spoke intongues did not show a difference in their psychological abilities. (Spanos, 1979).
As these, andnumerous other psychologists, have discredited psychological abnormalities as asource for glossolalia, it demonstrates that although this is a point manysceptics cling to, upon further exploration it does not hold that muchsignificance.