Today the A to Z Challenge continues! I’ll be posting about one letter/word on every weekday in April. Don’t want the barrage of posts? Sign up for my newsletter and I’ll let you know when I start doing new stuff next month!
P is for Possession.
I’m pretty excited about this word. As a fan of horror, fantasy and history, I’m utterly fascinated by the concept of possession and how it’s been treated both in stories and in different time periods. To me it doesn’t much matter whether or not possession is real. Both ideas are fascinating and horrifying in very different ways.
Real possession is terrifying in the most obvious way: you lose control of yourself and your body is forced to do terrible things by some kind of demon. In my opinion this is a fate worse than death, especially if you’re still aware of what’s going on in some distant corner of your mind. Being able to see all the horrible things the demon/spirit is making your body do would make anyone go mad within a short period of time.
Fear of this fate drove people to do some pretty strange and often awful things. Every culture had its own rituals to prevent possession and cleanse evil spirits from the body, not to mention different signs of possession. Whether or not possession is real is still hotly debated, but there’s no denying that many so-called victims of possession were likely epileptics with the unfortunate luck of living before the condition was understood. People with noticeable mental illnesses were also considered to be possessed throughout much of history(and in some cultures they still are).
Exorcism rites are quite similar across many cultures, relying on a combination of prayer, holy water and salt. In some cultures exorcists have also challenged the demons directly. Babylonians destroyed clay models of the demons as part of their exorcism rituals.
Unfortunately if you had a mental illness or epilepsy, the exorcism would inevitably be deemed a failure and your family would give you up as a demon. These poor souls ended up in the hands of the church, who performed many barbaric methods of treatment that today wouldn’t be called anything but torture.
There are a thousand ways these ideas can be used in a story. Characters can actually be possessed. People can be falsely accused of possession and sent away. Your character could be one of the falsely accused, desperately trying to escape. They could be an exorcist themselves, or a member of the church who works closely with exorcists. The possibilities are endless and I’m hoping to play around with some of them once I’m finished the book I’m working on now.
Do you believe possession is/has ever been possible? What do think about the history of exorcism rituals? Have you written a story about possession? Let me know in the comments below!