Monday, March 3, 2014

Understand the Spirit and Demonic Possession of Folklore

Article by Ty Hulse

A few centuries after the fall of the Roman empire a woodsman in Southern France was in a glade of trees when he was surrounded by a swarm of flies (a symbolic term for being surrounded by fairies). Possessed, he ran off into the woods and lived like an animal for years, then emerged not as a wild man, but as an eloquent speaker who gathered an army of followers. He had been given a task by these spirits, to end poverty. Using what he claimed was magic he began robbing the rich to give to the poor in order to meet this goal.

In Japan around around the same time a woman was possessed by a fox spirit, and she too led a revolt against the nobility and established order. Though the records don't say if she ran into the woods and acted wild immediately after being possessed we can presume she did, because nearly everyone did.

In both these cases the possessed people were ultimately killed by the rulers of their society, who didn't appreciate someone trying to overthrow them.

In Japan people were most often possessed
by animal spirits. Art by Oceancradled
Yet a few hundred years before both these societies had turned to Princesses who were possessed to save them in a time of disaster. Princesses it was said who were married to the god which had possessed them.

A few hundred years later, both Japan and Europe would employ exorcists to help rid them of the spirits which possessed people. So in both countries the meaning of such possessions changed over time.

Possession is a complicated thing to understand because people's beliefs about it changed over time. More than this, however, the spirits would possess people for different reasons. 

Reasons for Possession

To Punish and Torture

In Japan one girl was possessed by a fox spirit which had been enslaved by a sorcerer, who had been hired to kill the girl by a jealous wife with whose husband she was having an affair.

In Ancient Greece a man damaged a sacred grove of trees so the nymphs sent the Ravenous Hunger after him. This spirit hag caused the man to become so hungry that he eventually ate himself.

In addition to these punishments, however, there are many spirits and witches that act like serial killers, murdering and torturing those they possess simply because they think it's fun.

To Give Power

Other times the spirits would possess someone in order to give them power. Viking Berserkers were said to be possessed of animal or other spirits in order to give them the ability to fight with strength and ferocity greater than that of any human. In Ancient Greece those possessed by nymphs were said to become more eloquent than a normal person, and to gain a number of supernatural abilities.

In lore, some people gained power
from spirit possession.
Art by Sirend

To Gain a Body

In Japan the impurities of the world would cause kami to lose their power, thus they needed to possess pure people or objects such as trees in order remain safe from the world.

In Europe, fairies and other spirits were also in danger from salt, iron, the power of the evil eye, and other things which drained them of their power, so they would likely possess people in order to stay safe from these things (though this is less clearly stated).

The spirits often did this when they wanted to deliver a message, to travel about and see the world. At times they would marry a person whom they would deliver their messages through. Other times they would possess someone once and never again, or would simply act as a friend or master to the person they possessed.


Witches are essentially those who become possessed by and work with the spirits. This is true in Asia, Europe, and even the America's. Yet it's important to keep in mind that witches almost never wanted to become witches. When the spirits first possessed someone they would contort and go "Exorcist" crazy, then they would never again fit into society. The spirits would also make demands of them, such as forcing them to start a rebellion, making them give to the poor, or cause them to commit mass murder (depending on whether the spirit was good or evil.)

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