Is My Ex-Wife Possessed?

satanic possession in different culturesQ: I have an ex-wife who turned into another person. When I first met her, she was fine. But after a while she changed. I did not think much of it until I noticed the bed levitating on its own one night. Then as I was talking to her, her head turned 360 degrees on her neck. Full circle… It was the damnedest thing. She started talking all growly to me in some bizarre voice and I grabbed a cross and left after she puked on me. Was that wrong? Should I have tried counseling? – Damien

Dear Damien,

exorcismCoping through humor, are we? Well. As a self-appointed guardian of tolerance, I will brook no insensitivity toward our Possessed-American brothers and sisters. Put yourself in their shoes. Have you ever tried to order a mocha latte in the voice of Satan? Have you ever suffered the alienation that comes from trying to kill your family in their sleep? Please, Damien, show some sensitivity. Don’t hold others responsible for destructive behavior when there is a perfectly reasonable diagnosis such as demonic possession.

As for the cure, it depends on where you come from. Cultures from around the world have reported spiritual possession, and not all of them perceive it as necessarily destructive.

Zar, a religious term emanating from Africa, refers to a spiritual possession that can heal. Orthodox Judaism gave us the concept ofdybbuk, possession at the hands of a soul who has a task to accomplish.

On the other hand, some cultures view possession as unpleasant or downright dangerous. Japanese culture gave us kitsune-tsuki (fox possession), which leads to symptoms that old-school shrinks might call neurosis. Islam speaks of Jinn, an evil spirit that can invade the body and cause illness. Espiritismo is a Latin-American term for possession. The symptoms can be pretty nasty, including seizures and psychosis.

Sometimes possession works in reverse. Latin-American cultures also gave us susto, a condition in which the soul leaves the body following a traumatic event. You might think of this as spiritual repossession. (Thank you, thank you. I’ll be here all week.)

Some have claimed that, in historic Western societies, those most susceptible to possession and contact with the spirit world have been marginalized, depressed, naïve women. The theory is that, having been alienated from the mainstream, a direct connection to the spirit world offered these women a sense of efficacy, income, and attention (see Gregory, p. 739). I don’t write the theories, I just report them.

None of this answers your question, Damien, so let us discuss a concrete solution: exorcism. The practice is alive and well in some segments of Christianity, and some serious-minded folks endorse it. Dennis Bull (2001) advises: “when applied in a non-coercive fashion with empowerment within the belief structure of the patient, exorcism can be a therapeutic technique to add to the psychotherapy armamentarium.”

I don’t know what to add to that. I’ve done my job. This house is clear. Good luck with the ex.


American Psychiatric Association: Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition, Text Revision. Washington, DC, American Psychiatric Association, 2000.

Bull, Dennis L. (2001). A phenomenological model of therapeutic exorcism for dissociative identity disorder. Journal of Psychology and Theology, 29(2), 131-139.

Gregory, R.L. (Editor; 1998). The Oxford Companion to the Mind. New York: Oxford University Press.

Martinez-Taboas, A. (2005). Psychogenic seizures in an espiritismo context: The role of culturally sensitive psychotherapy. Psychotherapy: Theory, Research, Practice, Training, 42, 6-13.