If you have been reading anything I’ve written so far in regards to possessions (of the spiritual kind, not of the monetary sort), it would seem as if we Asians view possession as something that is, in and of itself, just an interesting and time-tested method to communicate with folks existing in an alternate dimension. This seems to be neither negative or positive—merely relative.
You may think that we Asians feel it is just a normal part of our world and nothing all that crazy. In fact, it may look as if some people are actively and happily offering up their bodies for possession.
That may be true on many occasions, but what if, during a run-of-the-mill ceremonial possession ritual, a possession happens—but it’s NOT the intended possessee who gets possessed, but rather, random bystanders who just happen to be in the vicinity of the event? What if it is forced upon a person through no fault of their own?
What if…they are unknowing victims of particularly EVIL demons?
Shown below is a video of curious innocent bystanders who just happen to be at the vicinity of a cầu hồn ritual where people were waiting for the spirits to inhabit a specific person for the purpose of obtaining information or luck or blessings.
What happened after that was complete pandemonium.
This video shows three people who had become affected. The two girls look to have been observing from the sidelines. The afflicted man who was taken outside seems to have been part of the group from within the temple, but obviously, dressed as he is, he would not have been the designated medium at that ceremony. He was probably just another bystander.
Listen to the girl scream. She’s actually saying something.
HUNGRY! I’M SO HUNGRY!
It is quite possible that she had been temporarily possessed by a hungry ghost. I have gone into some detail about what hungry ghosts are and how monks deal with them. Please refer to those pages if you need more information about them.
Although we don’t hear much about demonic possessions in the western world, I am not surprised that we hear so much about all the supernatural events happening in and around the area of East and Southeast Asia. This is not uncommon in a region that is so steeped in what westerners call folk religion. Let me quickly run through folk religion for the East Asian region.
Folk religion is not constrained to just East Asians. All over the world, folk religions exist and even flourish to this very day. Within the East Asian region, folk religion has been around for thousands and thousands of years. The Japanese call it Shinto. The Koreans call it Shin. To the Chinese, it is Shen, and we Viets call it Thần. Different pronunciation for the same word. Same meaning.
Thần is a strange word. It doesn’t mean demon and it doesn’t mean angel. It’s actually a neutral word that describes a being who is superhuman. In some ways, western countries have superheroes and super villains who are endowed with all the superhuman trappings and also subsequent detriments that come with being superhuman.
This same endowment also applies to a thần. Some are evil, some are quite good, and some are simply mischievous, and Taoist monks have been dealing with them for a very long time. In fact, Taoist exorcisms are the stuff of legends.
Heck, even Buddhist monks do exorcisms on a regular basis, with the Tibetan monks leading the pack, in terms of having a process in place to exorcise with fail-safe guidelines.
But let me tell you something quite interesting.
If you think demonic possession is something that only Asians experience, let me assure you that this happens everywhere and all around the world. I don’t care what color your skin is or what language you speak or where on Earth you happen to live. They are Equal Opportunity Possessors.
Simply put: Demonic possessions occur on an equal distribution at the same percentage rate, in all areas where humans occupy. This makes complete sense because people are the same all over the world, and thần—well, you know…they aren’t racists or misogynists. Nor are they that particular in regards to age, health, or even wealth for that matter.
Heck, who are we kidding here. In a pinch, they will even possess plants and animals, not to mention dolls and houses. I’ve even heard of entire mountains (Mount Kailash) and large areas (Bermuda Triangle). These thần are EVERYWHERE.
Possessions in the Western World
In the western world, church leaders say there are more Catholic exorcists in the U.S. today than at any time in recent memory. As of 2018, the official Catholic Exorcist assigned to the Indianapolis area has received over 1,700 requests. and the Catholic Church has added over a hundred new Exorcists in the US within the last twenty years.
In fact, the Catholic Church cannot keep up with the overwhelming requests for exorcism. From people, to houses, to objects and toys, these possessions run the gamut, and the Exorcists respond to them all.
The Catholic Church considers exorcisms to be a very real part of their religion. After all, Jesus spent an inordinate amount of time driving demons out of possessed people. In one case, he actually drove a band of demons into a herd of animals and those animals were driven off a cliff to destroy the demons.
If, as a Christian, you believe Jesus is real, why then, would you not believe that he was a supreme exorcist, and in that vein of thought, why would you not believe that possessions are real?
And yet, the average westerner does not believe there is such a thing as demonic possession.
More specifically, the medical community does not believe there is such a thing as supernatural beings who possess people. They chalk just about every possession event as a medically induced episode, and these medical conditions range anywhere from schizophrenia to epilepsy.
There is, however, growing support for the idea that there might be something more to demonic possession than simply biological and/or chemical imbalances within the brain.
The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, known as the DSM-5 lists ‘possession-form as a subtype of dissociative identity disorder. They also state that the majority of demonic types of possessions around the world are an accepted part of specific spiritual practices such as trances, shamanic rituals, speaking in tongues, or like the Vietnamese lên đồng that I wrote about in previous postings.
According to an article in The Atlantic:
The DSM-5 is not saying that possession is a scientifically verifiable phenomenon, but rather is acknowledging that many people around the world understand their abnormal mental experiences and behaviors through a spiritual framework. Lewis-Fernández, who was on the committee that made this change, explained that Western psychiatry had long failed to accommodate widespread spiritual traditions.
There are “societies where the supernatural is a daily occurrence,” he said. “It’s really modern Western societies that draw a sharp line between experiences attributed to the spiritual or the supernatural, and the material, daily world.” ~ The Atlantic
That’s right. Those societies where ‘the supernatural is a daily occurrence’ are places like Vietnam, where Taoist philosophy of the balance of yin and yang are entrenched in every day life. We may live in the yang realm, but the yin realm is also everywhere around us. It does not mean that Vietnamese people do not believe that western medicine does not work.
On the contrary, we Viets try the western doctors and clinics first if we have mental disorders that are so severe that it interferes with daily living. If western medicine and doctors and hospitals don’t work, we revert to ancient Asian medicines. When even that fails, we visit the local monks to see if they can help us to get rid of whatever supernatural affliction has cursed us.
Those are our three levels of health care at this point. All are valued. None are disparaged or ridiculed because all three methods have been proven to work, at the various levels that they have been utilized.
This post is getting too long. In my next post, I will lay out the methodology of how exorcisms work and the various steps that various Exorcists (Catholic priests, Buddhist monks, and Taoist monks) use to expel demons from people, dwellings, plants or objects.
(Continue to Lên Đồng 6: Methodology of Exorcism)