William James
Demonic Possession

William James covered the subject of "Demoniacal Possession" in his 1896 Lowell
Lectures.  He described three types of mutations in the sense of self: insane, hysteric, and
somnambulistic. He called the fourth spirit control, or mediumship, which in the past had
been equated with devil worship and pathology. He wrote,

"History shows that mediumship is identical with demon possession. But the obsolescence
of public belief in the possession by demons is a very strange thing in Christian lands, when
one considers that it is the one most articulately expressed doctrine of both Testaments, and
...reigned for seventeen hundred years, hardly challenged, in all the churches. Every land
and every age has exhibited the facts on which this belief was founded. India, China, Egypt,
Africa, Polynesia, Greece, Rome, and all medieval Europe believed that certain nervous
disorders were of supernatural origin, inspired by gods and sacred; or by demons -- and
therefore diabolical. When the pagan gods became demons, all possession became diabolic,
and we have the medieval condition." (Taylor, 1984, p. 93-94)

In James' time, there was "... much alarmist writing in psychopathy about degeneration,"
and he suggested that "... if there are devils, if there are supernormal powers, it is through
the cracked and fragmented self that they enter." (Taylor, 1984, p. 110). Referring to the
spiritualistic activities of Boston and New York in 1896, James states that the diabolic
nature of demon possession now "...has with us assumed a benign and optimistic form, [in
which] changed personality is considered the spirit of a departed being coming to bring
messages of comfort from the 'sunny land"' (Taylor, 1984, p. 94). James (1966) also stated
that:

"The refusal of modern 'enlightenment' to treat 'possession' as a hypothesis to be spoken of
as even possible, in spite of the massive human tradition based on concrete experience in its
favor, has always seemed to me a curious example of the power of fashion in things
scientific. That the demon-theory will have its innings again is to my mind absolutely
certain. One has to be 'scientific' indeed to be blind and ignorant enough to suspect no such
possibility."








James, W. (1950). The Principles of Psychology Vol 1. New York: Dover. (Original work
published in 1890).
James, W. (1966). In N. Fodor, Encyclopedia of Psychic Science. (pp. 265-266). Secaucus,
NJ: The Citadel Press.

Taylor, E. (1984). William James on Exceptional Mental States: The 1896 Lowell lectures