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by David C. Downing


The Mystery of Spirit Possession(Part 1)

Books discussed in this essay

--Thomas B. Allen, Possessed: The True Story of an Exorcism (1993, o.p.).

--Richard Godbeer, The Devil's Dominion: Magic and Religion in Early New England (Cambridge University Press, 272 pp.; $33.95, hardcover; $14.95, paper, 1992).

--Ian Hacking, Rewriting the Soul: Multiple Personality and the Sciences of Memory (Princeton University Press, 336 pp.; $24.95, 1995).

--Chadwick Hansen, Witchcraft at Salem (Braziller, 256 pp.; $17.95, hardcover; $8.95, paper, 1985 [first published 1969]).

--Frances Hill, A Delusion of Satan: The Full Story of the Salem Witch Trials (John Hopkins University Press, 279 pp.; $29.95, 1996).

--Carol F. Karlsen, The Devil in the Shape of a Woman: Witchcraft in Colonial New England (Vintage, 360 pp.; $13, paper, 1989 [first published 1987]).

--Mark S. Micale, Approaching Hysteria: Disease and Its Interpretation (Princeton University Press, 327 pp.; $29.95, 1995).

--Richard Ofshe and Ethan Watters, Making Monsters: False Memories, Psychotherapy, and Sexual Hysteria (University of California Press, 352 pp.; $14.95, paper, 1996 [first published 1994]).

Suddenly, she falls into a trance, her eyes rolling back and then her eyelids snapping tightly shut. Her body is alternately rigid, then convulsed with seizures that would seem to pull her bones out of joint. She speaks in a voice not her own, sometimes barking like a dog or howling like a wolf. She looks at people, or creatures, that no one else in the room can see, often conversing with them at length.

She cries out that she is being choked, clawed, or burned, even as welts or red marks appear on her body. If not guarded, she may try to cut herself or cast herself into a well or a fire. She has difficulty talking, sometimes becoming entirely mute, sometimes speaking in what would seem to be a foreign tongue. Some witnesses claim that in her trance state, she can see things hidden from her physical senses, that she can read their thoughts, that she has a nimbleness of mind or ...

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