from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Peter Paul Rubens : "The miracle of St. Ignatius of Loyola ", 1617/1618. The Jesuit Ignatius casts out demons. On the left, an obsessed woman has a seizure and has to be supported by a spectator. The crowd looks spellbound at the possessed or at the saint. In the left background, the demons shown in gray fly away through the nave.

Possession describes the "taking possession" of a living being through the actions of the person concerned, beings that are "ingrained" into humans or supernatural forces that show themselves in a pronounced state of excitement . In some religious communities and beliefs, the change in behavior and awareness is attributed to the intrusion of a demon , a ghost or a deity . The Duden describes obsessively as rooted in popular belief "ruled by evil spirits, insane" or more generally as "completely ruled by something, filled."

The term possession is also used in a figurative sense medically and psychologically, but also historically in the criminological-police context.


According to the religious psychologist Michael Utsch from the Evangelical Central Office for Weltanschauung questions , “extreme religious states” that occur in many cultures and religions are interpreted as obsession. In terms of religious studies , "this describes unusual behavior in a changed state of consciousness , whereby the person concerned experiences himself as possessed and controlled by a spirit or a deity." According to this extended term, it also includes positively desired forms. Obsession phenomena can be observed "quite often" in the spiritualism of the African, Asian and Latin American cultures (Passie 2011) as well as in the worldwide Pentecostal churches (Währisch-Oblau 2011) and in Europe "in the milieu of alternative life support" (Pöhlmann 2011). Moshe Sluhovsky (2011) divides between “holy and demonic possession”. Outside of so-called tribal cultures, the term plays a stronger role in Christianity in parts of the Catholic Church and the Pentecostal movement ; also the so-called " esoteric scene " in Europe (see channeling ). The Islamic cultural area known to traditionally defined good and evil spirits ( " jinn "), which would act on humans.

Judaism and Christianity

Julius Schnorr von Carolsfeld : The loving Jesus chases demons into innocent pigs , 1860. According to healing miracles in Bible passages: The healing of the possessed of Gadara ( Mt 8.28-34  EU ), The healing of a moonstruck boy ( Mt 17.14-20  EU ) and the effect of the first appearance ( Mt 4,23-24  EU )

There are cases of alleged possession in the New Testament . The Gospels tell of the healings of those affected by Jesus , who himself was called demonically possessed by his opponents , in the sense of an “expulsion” in the spiritual tradition of Judaism . On the part of modern biblical criticism , the existence of demons and thus the related New Testament testimony is rejected with the explanation that at that time there was no current knowledge of mental illnesses and that such were therefore erroneously described as demonic possessions (e.g. Rudolf Bultmann : "One cannot use electric light and radio, use modern medical and clinical means in the event of illness and at the same time believe in the world of spirits and wonders of the New Testament").

According to popular Jewish belief, a state of possession can arise when a dibbuk , or spirit of the dead, enters a person.

The different evaluations of the possessed (also called energumens ) or obsession can be seen in various historical encyclopedia entries, for example Meyer's Großes Konversations-Lexikon wrote in 1905 with the addition of a historical outline:

"Obsessi, Daemoniaci, also Lunatici," possessed by an evil spirit or demon "), at the time of Jesus the name of a class of sick people who were particularly common in Galilee and who suffered from a kind of epilepsy or falling addiction . Many illnesses, which we would call madness or madness according to the current state of science, explained the post-exilic Judaism, influenced by Parsism , from the presence of evil spirits. Same cause were also attributed to having a haze of spiritual life related illnesses and ailments such as epilepsy, lunacy , muteness, paralysis u. We know from Josephus how widespread this conception, which was contrary to the teachings of Moses and the prophets, was not only prevalent in Jewish circles, but was also used by Alexandrian theology and through them in Neoplatonism . The contradiction which our modern science raises against the whole conception must not blind us to the fact that the New Testament writers consistently share the belief in possession. Likewise, Jesus himself responds quite freely to the views of the sick and the Pharisees; only he does not attack like this to magical incantations, but exercises by the force of his personality from a purely spiritual effect on the sick. [...] Even in the times of medieval superstition was considered a big part of lunatics for example, for which the Witch trials of the 13th-15th centuries Provide countless examples. As late as 1573, an English parliamentary resolution allowed to hunt down those who pretended to be werewolves [...] and wandered about in the woods. Incidentally, until recently there has been no lack of theologians who, depending on the letter of the Bible, believe they have to claim that people are possessed by demons and want to prove it through empirical cases and their mystical or speculative-psychological interpretation (I. Kerner et al.) . Cf. Delitzsch, Biblische Psychologie (2nd edition, Leipz. 1861) and Pieper, The relationship of obsession with insanity (in the "Theological works from the Rhenish scientific preacher's association", Vol. 10 and 11, Bonn 1891). "

- Meyers Großes Konversations-Lexikon, Volume 2. Leipzig 1905, p. 754.

In 1857 Pierer's Universal-Lexikon concentrated mainly on the clinical pictures of the so-called possessed :

“Obsessed (demonic, Daemoniaci), people who, according to the ideas of the Jews, had one or more evil spirits (demon) in them, which plagued them with a physical or mental illness, with melancholy, epilepsy, rage , madness. There were conjurers who cast out these spirits, and Jesus also knew such sick people through the power of his word, etc. To heal spirit. Farmer (experiment on the demonic people, from the English 1776) u. Semler (De daemoniacis, 1779) first derived these diseases from natural causes. The Bnb are patients who suffer from epilepsy, St. Vitus's dance , mental illness , moon addiction (hence Lunatici). Quite recently, attempts have been made again in the Bn, especially the mentally ill and the like. Moonstruck to see the action of evil spirits. J. Kerner , History of the Modern Age, Karlsr. 1834; Count Ranzau, letters on the history of Br by J. Kerner, Heidelb. 1836. The opposite of obsession is enthusiasm or enthusiasm [...]. "

- Pierer's Universal-Lexikon, Volume 2. Altenburg 1857, p. 672.

The Damen Conversations Lexikon warned against " superstition " as early as 1834 :

“Obsessed, the Jews called all those who suffered from serious illnesses such as melancholy , madness , leprosy and the like in Jesus' time . the like, suffered because, in their opinion, the devil should have sent his demons into such people. This belief has long survived under changed forms, but has almost completely disappeared in modern times, when we have become more familiar with the forces of nature and their effects. Mysticism , magnetism and galvanism , and the latter especially because of their not yet sufficiently well-known effects on humans, have recently offered gullible or deceiters a hand to refresh old superstitions . "

- Damen Conversations Lexikon, Volume 2. Leipzig 1834, p. 39.

The Brockhaus Bilder-Conversations-Lexikon added in 1837 with regard to Christian practices:

"[...] Although the spirit of Christianity does not favor the belief in the power of evil spirits over people, it nevertheless passed on to the first Christians and later became so general that the evocation of evil spirits made up a part of the church liturgy and that the [...] Exorcism or the expulsion of the devil from possessed and the banishment of evil spirits in general by means of holy water , crucifix , relics and prayer was an important and lucrative business of the clergy in the Middle Ages , and even recent examples of this superstition have not remained alien. "

- Brockhaus Bilder-Conversations-Lexikon, Volume 1. Leipzig 1837., pp. 237-238. : Brockhaus Bilder-Conversations-Lexikon, Volume 1. Leipzig 1837., pp. 237-238.


To this day, assumed phenomena of possession polarize strongly. They are understood by parts of the Roman Catholic Church as evidence of the existence of demonic beings. On the other hand, they are seen by natural scientists for symptoms of mental illness or organic disorders (e.g. epilepsy ). The Catholic journalist Joseph Görres addressed the religiously interpreted diseases in his work The Christian Mysticism in the first half of the 19th century.

At the beginning of July 2014, the Roman Catholic Church officially recognized the International Association of Exorcists (AIE), which is represented in around 30 countries, as a private company with legal capacity. Axel Seegers , theologian at the advice center for sect and ideology issues of the Archdiocese of Munich , said in an interview: “In principle, this is not a controversial topic in the Catholic Church worldwide. Whether in Italy or Spain, in South America or Asia: Everywhere there are naturally priests who carry out exorcism. ”The Catholic Church has“ more than a billion members in very different cultural areas. What is excluded for us is considered perfectly normal in other countries. ”Since the Anneliese Michel case , there has been no official case of exorcism in Germany, but numerous unofficial“ exorcisms ”are carried out, some by priests. In addition, since the revision of the so-called Roman Rituals in 1999, it has been stipulated that priests should also consult medical professionals and psychiatrists in the assessment. The Catholic theologian and psychotherapist Jörg Müller also reports of a need of many patients to be “cured of demonic possession and evil curses”. The majority are " traumatized from childhood due to abuse of a sexual, physical or emotional nature. This is mostly suppressed and can later produce symptoms that can be attributed to some kind of obsession." Today we would know, "that this is a form of splitting off from Sensations and feelings are there to protect yourself. ”A split “ would later lead to the familiar symptoms such as hearing voices, seeing grimaces or feeling touched by something strange. ” Christa Roth-Sackenheim , Chairwoman of the Professional Association of German Psychiatrists, considers exorcistic rituals to be pure Suggestion , because it creates the idea of ​​obsession and the suffering of those affected may be intensified. “Manifest mental illnesses cannot be resolved or cured by exorcism. But it can worsen if medical help is not provided.

African religions

In African cultures there are obsession cults both within traditional religions and in the Christian environment ( Mashawe and Vimbuza in Zambia, Pepo in Tanzania), as well as within folk Islam ( Bori in Nigeria, Tsar in Sudan, Aisha Qandisha and Derdeba in Morocco, Stambali in Tunisia). In the syncretistic religions derived from the African tradition ( Voodoo , Santería , Candomblé ) there is a state of trance or artificially induced temporary possession, which is even desired, in which gods or spirits of deceased, usually so-called "ancestors", are found by people Should take possession, as it z. B. played the director Jean Rouch in the film Les Maitres Fous . In the Tsar and Pepo cults , foreign spirits (spirits from other ethnic groups) are worshiped, as is the Tchamba cult in southern Togo . The strange spirits here come from earlier slaves.


In Indian folklore generally originate Bhuta called ghost that can cause obsession of the souls of men down, come the unnaturally (accident, homicide or suicide) to death or have not been buried with the necessary rituals. In Rajasthan , such a spirit is called Vir when it has taken possession of a person who has suddenly become sick or shows unusual behavior. Such sufferers mostly come from the lower classes of the population. One explanation refers to the attempt by those with behavioral problems to break out of the rigid social constraints of the family or village community temporarily and socially acceptable. A healing priest ( Bhopa ) treats the cases of illness after he has allowed himself to be attacked in a ritual by the special spirit of the dead Bavaji , who was reborn in the serpent Vasuki .

In originally popular religious ritual dramas, which were later merged with Hinduism , at the height of the event the ritual dancers are possessed by a deity and are able to give oracles to the assembled believers during this time. In addition to the simple form of Bhuta kola in Karnataka and Kerala on the south-west coast of India, these rituals, which go back to ancient Indian traditions, include the Teyyam festival, which is organized at great expense , the similar ritual theater Mutiyettu and the Ayyappan, which is only organized for believers on a smaller scale tiyatta in the same region and the two mask dances Gambhira and Midnapur chhau in West Bengal . The environment of Bhuta kola includes the Siri jatre ritual, which takes place annually in several villages in the same region , in which not one or a few male participants, as is usually the case in India, but a large number of women are simultaneously possessed by the lower female deity Siri. Ritual obsession with a higher god ( Deva ) is usually a privilege of members of the top Brahmin caste .

For the Gaddis, a tribal society on the southern edge of the Himalayas in the states of Himachal Pradesh and Jammu and Kashmir , obsession as a publicly staged behavior is one of the Hindu rituals that are practiced by lower castes and brahmins at the same time.

Medicine or psychopathology

In the International Statistical Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems, states of trance and possession ( ICD-10 code F44.3) refer to mental disorders in which a "temporary loss of personal identity and complete awareness of the environment occurs". These sub-forms of a dissociative disorder may only be diagnosed if they do not occur in culturally or religiously accepted situations or are not sought voluntarily or intentionally. Schizophrenia , persistent paranoid disorder and delusions in the context of severe depression must also be excluded . Conditions on an organic basis are also excluded ( e.g. intoxication by psychotropic substances , previous traumatic brain injury , organic personality disorder ).

A distinction is made between trance as a temporary change in consciousness with two of the following characteristics: loss of the feeling of personal identity, narrowing of consciousness in relation to the immediate environment or an unusually narrow and selective focus on stimuli from the environment as well as the restriction of movements, postures and what is spoken the repetition of a small repertoire. As a state of possession , however, the conviction of the person concerned is called that he is being ruled by a spirit, a power, a deity or another person. Both features are found particularly in patients from the so-called Third World .


  • Augustin Calmet : Scholarly negotiation of the matter of the apparitions of spirits, and of vampires in Hungary and Moravia . First published in German in Augsburg 1751, digitized version of the 2nd edition Augsburg 1752: Vol. 1 , Vol. 2 , Edition Roter Drache, Remda-Teichel 2007, ISBN 978-3-939459-03-3 .
  • Gerhard W. Dammann : Obsession and trance states. In: A. Eckhardt-Henn, SO Hoffmann (Ed.): Dissociative disorders of consciousness. Schattauer, Stuttgart / New York 2004, ISBN 3-7945-2203-6 , pp. 161-174.
  • Peter Dinzelbacher : Obsession. In: Werner E. Gerabek , Bernhard D. Haage, Gundolf Keil , Wolfgang Wegner (eds.): Enzyklopädie Medizingeschichte. De Gruyter, Berlin / New York 2005, ISBN 3-11-015714-4 , p. 171 f.
  • Hermes A. Kick, Dietrich von Engelhardt and Horst-Jürgen Gerigk (eds.): Obsession, trance, exorcism. Affects and emotions as the basis of ethical value formation and endangerment in science and the arts. Lit Verlag 2004. ISBN 978-38258-7697-5
  • Richard Kriese: Occultism on the Attack. Hänssler Verlag, Stuttgart 1976, ISBN 3-7751-0222-1
  • Karl-Heinz Leven : The "unholy" disease - epilepsia, moon addiction and obsession in Byzantium. In: Würzburger medical history reports 13, 1995, pp. 17–57
  • Ernst Modersohn : Under the spell of the devil. Wuppertal 1955
  • Rainer Neu: Ecstasy / Obsession . In: S. Alkier u. a. (Ed.): The scientific Bible dictionary on the Internet (WiBiLex) , May 2006 (online) .
  • Holger Karsten Schmid: From sorcerer's apprentice to magician. Diemar Klotz Verlag, Frankfurt am Main 2008, ISBN 3880745404
  • Christian Strecker : Obsession . In: S. Alkier u. a. (Ed.): The scientific Bible lexicon on the Internet (WiBiLex) , January 2010 (online) .
  • A. Ulrich (Ed.): Reformation, Pietism, Spirituality ; With the collaboration of Heigl, Bernhard / Sindilariu, Thomas Wien; Böhlau Cologne 2011, p. 176, online in Google books .

Web links

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Vincent Crapanzano : Introduction . In: Vincent Crapanzano, Vivian Garrison (eds.): Case Studies in Spirit Possession. (= Contemporary Religious Movements: A Wiley-Interscience Series ) John Wiley & Sons. New York 1977, p. 2
  2. possessed in duden.de, accessed on October 7, 2014
  3. See Michel Foucault : Wahnsinn und Gesellschaft. A story of madness in the age of reason. Frankfurt 1969 and Surveiller et punir. La naissance de la prison. Gallimard 1975, German stw 1976
  4. Obsession in the lexicon of the Evangelical Central Office for Weltanschauungsfragen , accessed on October 8, 2014
  5. ^ Ferdinand Hahn: Theology of the New Testament: Vol. I: The diversity of the New Testament, Vol. II: The Unity of the New Testament , UTB 2011, p. 499; online in google books
  6. ^ Rudolf Bultmann: New Testament and Mythology (1941), quoted from Werner RauppBULTMANN, Rudolf (Karl). In: Biographisch-Bibliographisches Kirchenlexikon (BBKL). Volume 21, Bautz, Nordhausen 2003, ISBN 3-88309-110-3 , Sp. 174-233.
  7. Theodor Kirchhoff (ed.): Deutsche Irrenärzte. Individual images of their life and work. 2 volumes. Edited with the support of the German Research Institute for Psychiatry in Munich and numerous employees. Springer, Berlin 1921–1924, p. 23.
  8. online at zeno.org , accessed on October 8, 2014
  9. online at zeno.org, accessed on October 8, 2014
  10. online at zeno.org, accessed on October 8, 2014
  11. online at zeno.org, accessed on October 8, 2014
  12. On the issue of the edition motifs of the then failed edition Ball and Ball's confrontation with Schmitt, there is much to be found in the collection of essays "The artist and the sickness of time" edited and commented by Hans Burkhard Schlichting. Clockkamp 1984 and above all in the new three-volume edition of the letters. ISBN 3892447012
  13. Günther Birkenstock: Catholic Church: Exorcism further asked , dw.de of July 10, 2014, accessed on September 11, 2014
  14. Jyotindra Jain: Bavaji and Devi. Possession Cult and Crime in India. Europaverlag, Vienna 1973, pp. 23-27.
  15. ^ Daniel Côté: Narrative reconstruction of spirit possession experience: the double hermeneutic of Gaddis religious specialists in Western Himalaya (India). European Association of Social Anthropologists (EASA) Ljubljana, August 26, 2008, pp. 1–20.
  16. Dissociative disorders - conversion disorders in ICD code , accessed on October 8, 2014.
  17. Wolfgang Hausotter: Neurological Assessment - Introduction and Practical Guide , Schattauer Verlag 2005, p. 149, online in Google books
  18. Harald J. Freyberger, Wolfgang Schneider, Rolf-Dieter Stieglitz , Theodor Spoerri: Compendium Psychiatry, Psychotherapy, Psychosomatic Medicine . 11th completely renewed and expanded edition, based on ICD-10, Karger Publishers 2002, p. 148 (online) .