A global event today in the face of multiple social, theological, humanitarian and political crises induces the feeling that rapid change is being imposed upon all nation states. These changes are disrupting the traditional ways of living in the most general sense; a threat to our way of life is upon us! That the “Other” , the Stranger, the Foreigner, the Alien are all seemingly threatening the status quo and social order in all countries makes it easy to project blame on people who do not share our ethnic identities, our cultural values or our religions. Global climate change crosses nation states borders and demands mitigation as infrastructure is destroyed by floods, weather events, and failed ecosystems. Whether a country is to have a centralized government in democracies to mitigate these threats is even in question. Advanced Technologies make it possible for Artificial intelligence to take the human factor out of social interactions and biological identities are transforming before our eyes with medication to change sexual identities. Alvin Toffler coined the word “Future Shock” in a 1970 book as a certain psychological state of individuals and entire societies creating the personal perception of ‘too much change in too short short a period of time”. ( Wikipedia, Future Shock). Now, today more than ever, it is important to understand the psychological and social ramifications of such rapid crisis induced changes in societies at large. Dr. Craig Stevenson in his book Possession Jung’s Comparative Anatomy of The Psyche. ( 2009 )identified the kinds of psychosocial manifestations that this era can produce.
The phenomenon of “induced collective psychosis” (Stephenson, p. 39 Possession, 2009) has historical antecedents. Crises that affected nation states and transformed them and its populations were studied in the witch trials of 1632 in Loudoun, France and the rise of Nazi Germany in 1939. If we go back to the time of the Protestant Reformation and the conflict between the Huguenot Protestants and the Catholics in France, we see the genesis of cruel and callous punishments by a patriarchal power group-the Catholics who exorcised ‘witches’ possessed by demons . If we review the Treaty of Versailles after World War I, which gave rise to Hitler’s Nazi Germany and the delusion of Aryan supremacy ; we realize that these oppressive autocratic public scapegoating episodes came out of weaknesses and vulnerabilities in social order, not strengths. How a whole nation was paralyzed into inaction that possessed all of Germany confounds us as it warns us today…6 Million Jewish lives exterminated! We can begin to understand that in these incidents, there were scapegoats. And in this process of making people suffer who are socially marginalized either as an ethnic or a religious group, we find those who hold the entitlements to the majority cultural norms responsible for the mayhem. These groups are unconscious of the fact that they are obsessed and possessed with making the Other into an enemy.
Definitions are relevant to the process of psychic induction of possession on a collective level so we can explain how this process develops psychosocially. An obsession in its entomological origins means “to sit opposite to as when an enemy force sits down before a fortress. An obsessive spirit was thought to assail, haunt and harass a person from the outside.” (Stephenson, p.31, 2009) Obsessions come first and don’t necessarily lead to possessions. Usually obsessions are paranoid thoughts in the person of being oppressed from the outside that causes him/her to suffer. Possession. A possessing spirit takes residence inside the body. It’s a delusional preoccupation with thoughts that are not ones own, but which are inserted into one’s mind. C. G. Jung’s concept of possession is an equivocal language which he hoped would do justice to what he called the dual nature of Psychological experience; the conscious and unconscious experiences that effect behavior. Possessions can be positive. i.e. ,one could be possessed by the memory of a dead relative, in order to feel the protective presence of the deceased, to not feel afraid and alone, to give the deceased life in the here and now was a loyalty pledge, even though the contradiction of the possession crated suffering and extreme longing.(Stephenson, p. 5, 2009)
But to be come “possessed by demonic , devilish intrusions into one’s mind is ‘ a momentary and unconscious alteration of the personality known as identification with a complex. or assimilation of the ego by the complex. It results in a highly charged emotion that is attached to and incompatible with the habitual attitude of the ego. Often attributable to a trauma that splits off a bit of the psyche or to a moral conflict in which the subject finds it impossible to affirm the whole of his or her being, a complex is a splinter psyche that behaves with a remarkable degree of autonomy and coherence, like an animated foreign body in the sphere of consciousness, and it can over-ride the will or volition and block memory” (Stephenson, Craig, Possession, p. 34, 2009)
So, in our historical examples, in 1632, the social-religious threats by authorities of the Catholic Church to the those who practice Protestantism took the form of heresies in which the Catholics defined the practice of Protestant rites to be too liberal and outside the prescribed sacraments of the Catholic Church that were deemed necessary for being Catholic and ‘in a state of grace’. Therefore, the Huguenots were perceived as being taken over by demons. As we see by C. G. Jung’s description below:
“Demonization can also be epidemic. One of the most celebrated epidemics of the Middle Ages was the possession of nuns of Ursulines of Loudoun, in 1632. The epidemic form includes induced collective psychosis of religious or political nature, such as those in the 20th century. (author’s emphasis Hitler’s Germany- Arian supremacy) (( C.G Jung, 1945, paragraph 1473 and 1474.))
But in the end , it was the Catholics who were ‘possessed’ by authoritarian complex leading to ego inflation which made it necessary to create exorcisms using a theatrical collective encounter with the “Other” ( Protestant Huguenots). The ‘possessed’ religious authorities thought they were God and that the Godhead rested in the State (them as representatives) and entitled them to be the persecutors to punish not only females, not only their bodies, but also any Other involved. They reveled in the power to evade and elude. The exorcists and physicians responded with a patriarchal power play: naming and confining the woman and this Other to a discourse circumscribed by theological and medical knowledge known at the time.
In Nazi Germany with the rise of Hitler and the National Socialist German Workers’ Party, there was an empowerment where the Furher Hitler was seen as the ultimate authority- another example of the inflation of the ego; this time by the archetype of Aryan Supremacy. The leader Furher-Warrior was much akin to God. This debacle was brought about in part by the economic conditions in Germany after World War One and the Treaty of Versailles which strapped Germany with reparations to the Allies . The German people succumbed collectively to Hitler’s propaganda. And as a result, 6 million Jews were exterminated. This was due to the vision and possession by the Aryan supremacy archetype seated in complexes of the Collective Unconscious of the German people. The whole idea of Hitler’s regime was carefully choreographed to hypnotize masses by the artistic use of Richard Wagner’s Operas, staged events, and a huge infrastructure of morality plays that disseminated propaganda: all to support the idea of Aryan supremacy among Germans and to label the Jews as inferior scum. The Jews were the target and known as the “Other”. They were seen as vermin and needed to be exterminated. Those persons who were actually possessed were the German leadership and the collective society. The German people were unable to act and were brought to a standstill in their ability to protest this invincible abuse of power of the state over the individual.
The January 6th, 2021 assault on the US Capitol that attempted to overthrow a legitimately elected President and rejected the validity of Joseph Biden as President is an example of the polarization among white, male/female, Republicans who believed in their ultimate authority to determine what is the right governance for the whole of America. They believed that the US government should have very little central authority and government intervention in the lives of its people should be minimal. Their leader Donald J. Trump was a personification of rebellion and tapped the unconscious disposition of grievances which were common to the majority of Republican party members. Trump was a complex ridden individual who at the same time set himself up as President after being defeated in a fair election and through a megaphone of propaganda was loud enough to precipitate a constitutional crises in America. Those who were activists and violent and those Republican party members were silent and co-opted into a narrative, that believed President Biden was an illegitimate President. The crisis continues today by Republicans who have rejected the central authority given through the Executive branch of Government and want to replace it with an authoritarian regime under Donald J. Trump. The Other is the Democratic party which is diverse, inclusive and seen by these fanatics as illegitimate because it is ‘socialistic, corrupt, elitist, and full of sexual perverts engaged in human trafficking”. But actually this Obsession of the far right is bordering on Possession by the complex of inflated superiority, fueled by white supremacy ideologies and racism toward people who are minorities– people of color, homosexual, bisexual people who are stereotyped as “aberrant slime” and deserve to only be submissive to white , Caucasian rule.
In conclusion, the possessed discourse today bears the trace of the past periods of collective psychosis and the WOUND that the Other supposedly causes to the victims of righteousness continues to infect our people in America. Since the 20th Century, Jung’s psychological definition of demonism has thrown a different light on the subject of possession in two ways: 1. by differentiating between the individual and social components of a ‘demonical neurosis’ or induced collective psychosis” which grips many in America today and 2. by acknowledging a potential prospective function inherent in the suffering of ‘being unseated psychologically by the OTHERNESS.” (Possession by Stephenson, Craig. 2009 p. 39)