A condtion in which a person, place, or object is inhabited and influenced, or even controlled by, an evil spirit or demon.

Ancient civilizations, such as the Egyptians and the Babylonians, believed that disease was caused by possessing spirits and used magical means to drive them out and heal the victim.

The New Testament is full of stories of demonic posession; casting out demons was one of the principal activities of Jesus and his followers. There is likewise evidence of a Jewish belief in the phenomenon and a tradition of magical exorcism via the use of angelic names, though the driving out of evil spirits by anyone other than angels is not mentioned in canonical Jewish literature.

There have been many tragedies enacted throughout history in which a case of mental illness (or even simply holding an unpopular set of ideas) has been attributed to possession. Since the 1500s the Church has been increasingly cautious about its diagnoses in such matters, preferring to assume that a phenomenon is natural unless no other explanation but the supernatural can be found.

A novel by A.S. Byatt, for which she won the Booker Prize in 1990. This is the book that made Byatt's reputation in America, and solidified her name in Britain.

Like all of Byatt's work, this novel is intensely literary. It's a kind of mystery story which tells of two twentieth-century academics unravelling the story of a romance between two Victorian poets. Its narrative thread weaves a beautiful tapestry which incorporates the lives of two sets of protagonists and the people that surround them, including partners, biographers, professors, colleagues, and friends. It's also a meditation on biography and possession, America and Britain, men and women, feminismism and lesbianism, sex and friendship, and so much more. The novel's structure is non-linear, and incorporates passages from the poems and letters of the Victorian pair and the biographies of them by the modern characters. The book is also often very amusing, and has a surprising, and surprisingly satisfying, ending. I really loved this book; it's a great read.

This novel was made into a movie in 2002, but it passed through theatres before I could see it. A gander at the DVD explained why. Gwyneth Paltrow does a passable job at the main modern-day character - and she is one of the only American actors who can do a convincing British accent - but her romantic interest (Aaron Eckhardt) is wooden, and his chin is so extravagantly cleft that it screams "implant"! Jeremy Northam and Jennifer Ehle are fine as the now-dead lovers, but the rest of the characters are rendered so telegraphically as to make the story almost meaningless to a viewer who hasn't read the book. Granted, it's not easy to write a screenplay based on a complex book, but it is possible; read and then see The English Patient for an example. Possession fails, though. Too bad.

If you don't mind spoilers, have a look at fuzzy and blue's The Ideal Relationship in A.S. Byatt's "Possession".

First released in 1993 on her third album, Fumbling Towards Ecstasy (Nettwerk), "Possession" is a song written by Canadian artist Sarah McLachlan. It was written partially in response to a series of letters sent to her by an obsessive fan, Uwe Vandrei, who then sought legal action against her for allegedly using excerpts from his letters in this song, but apparently committed suicide before his appearance in court. McLachlan has mentioned in interviews how, in writing this song, she tried to put herself into the mind frame of someone who is so fixated on a stranger that he or she insists that they were meant to be as a couple--or even contemplates murder when that union is unwanted or otherwise impossible. She also states that the song was a reaction to her being told that she would require a bodyguard for her own safety.

"Possession" and remixes of it have appeared on various albums other than Fumbling Towards Ecstasy, including:

  • Possession (single): "Possession (Album Version)" (1994)
  • Rarities, B-Sides and Other Stuff: "Possession (Rabbit In The Moon Mix)" (1996)
  • Mirrorball: "Possession" (Live from 1998's Lilith Fair performances)
  • Possession/Fear single: "Possession 1" and "Possession 2" (remixed by John Fryer) (1998)
  • Sarah McLachlan Remixed: "Possession (Rabbit In The Moon Mix)" (2003)

In countries with the British legal tradition for criminal law (including the United States), possession is one of the principles of actus reus, the element of a crime that is considered wrong. There is nothing inherently illicit about a sledgehammer, but if it can be demonstrated to have been in the luggage of somebody who had other actus reus to commit a crime (say, had conspired to beat somebody's brains in), then possession could prove guilt or otherwise.

There are degrees of possession. Actual possession is where an item is physically on one's person. Constructive possession is where somebody does not have actual possession, but has knowledge of the presence and nature of an object or substance and has the power and intent to exercise control over the object or substance, either directly or through another person. If the object is in a location that the person has exclusive access to (such as a school locker), then constructive possession can be automatically inferred. If the location is more freely accessible (such as in a public toilet's cistern), then constructive possession could be proven by considering the totality of other circumstances, like other incriminating statements, how visible the location is etc.

Knowing possession means that one is aware that (s)he is in actual or constructive possession of an item, but just to protect people who have drugs planted on them, or little old ladies who board an aircraft forgetting to declare their nail files to security, unwitting possession means one is unaware of being its possessor. Possession can be sole or joint.

Of course, ownership does not imply possession. Neither does a legitimate right to own or use an object imply possession. In the context of criminal law, the owner of a stolen car is not legally responsible for what the thief with actual possession does with it. And being without a driving licence will not excuse the thief.

To prove the principle of possession in a crime, the defendant must be proven to have had actual or constructive possession of an item, and for him/her to be knowledgeable about this fact.

What on Earth is wrong with my country? There's an endless supply of idiots here. While I can take a curious interest in the vague ravings of cryptozoologists, I'm completely outraged about some of the madness that continues apace due to the belief in evil spirits.

Now, I only hear about the stories that are so stupid they end up in the news. The sobering truth is that there's probably a lot more of this going on. A medium was on television a few months back, and it was fairly clear that his clients were ordinary people who just wanted to talk to grandma one more time. I'm not talking about that sort of thing, frustrating though its existence might be. What I'm talking about is a strange insistence in the existence of evil spirits. The kind of malevolent entities that leave their victims thinking, "But I didn't eat the pea soup!"; and have only got bad things to say about people's mothers.

Possessed Highways
A few years ago a group of traditional Maori priests (which I am dubious about - since there seems to be a lot of crossover between traditional and colonial belief systems, how traditional is "traditional"?) blessed an entire truck full of water, which then set out to spray this holy water along a huge stretch of highway. The reasoning was that this would put any troubled spirits to rest and make the roads safe again. You see, there's always a few deaths on the road, and accidents cause restless spirits, and restless spirits might... um... vaguely be bad and cause more accidents. That's really all that was implied. As stories go, it was a bit poor.

Of course, this cost an insane amount of money for what could have been accomplished by muttering a few blessings in the direction of the clouds the next time it rained - and was, as you might imagine, completely stupid. The reality is, it was just an excuse to fleece money from the transport authority, and they fell for it. There aren't even any stories about ghosts wandering along the side of the roads. There are no ghost cars. Ghost cars do not exist even as folklore in the most stupid corners of this country. It was just a huge stretch of haunted asphalt.

Personally, if I die in a car accident and find to my amazement and then frustration that I've come back as a ghost, I'll go and find someone's house to haunt instead.

Possessed Houses
Every so often there will be a multiple murder, and after the bodies have been removed the house will be torched. The reasoning behind this seems to be that the evil emanations from the house are affecting people who live nearby. The way people talk (oh, the bountiful and endless opinions of people living down the road! What would the New Zealand media do without them?) implies that the house is now possessed and will be roaming the streets at night, looking for blood.

The house is inevitably burnt down before the police have time to finish scouring all the surfaces with a forensics expert. The recent instance of this involved one half of a double unit being set on fire because two bodies were found stuffed beneath the floorboards. The occupants of the other unit had fled earlier, and admitted they had done so because of their quite reasonable concerns about being burned alive while they slept.

The mayor of Christchurch proposed building some sort of memorial park on the site of the two dwellings, since no-one would ever want to live there again - obviously he does not read the newspaper, as people were writing letters to point out that they'd be happy to have the chance to buy a dwelling of their own, murder house or not, except someone thoughtlessly burned it down.

Possession is Nine Tenths of the Law
I knew someone who told me she was exorcised when she was a child. I wasn't sure if that was an entirely accurate memory, but I'm inclined to think that it's true. This was undoubtedly low-key, though. Thankfully she wasn't injured or killed.

In 2000 a woman was strangled by a lunatic pastor who had his cult of half a dozen people stand around and pray over the poor woman's corpse. Apparently the twenty demons would leave her only when she died - but it was quite all right, she would come back to life when they were gone. Only she didn't. After five days, someone thought they saw her finger move. What they were seeing was the corpse going through stages of decomposition. They ran to get an impartial witness - who immediately called the police. During the trial the exorcist fired his lawyer, and kept saying his victim would return to life.

By any standards of fanciful mythology regarding resurrection, she really wasn't coming back - apparently she had been cremated and the ashes scattered, by this point almost a year previously. The lunatic was sentenced to six years in prison, which he managed to appeal after five on the grounds that the woman he killed consented to the exorcism. He then fled the country before a retrial could be arranged, which was foolish - he probably would have gotten off Scot-free.

I say this because of the next example: In 2007, a woman was killed during a traditional curse-lifting ceremony. From all accounts it was actually a hybrid curse-lifting/exorcism/witch trial, and the procedures were probably made up on the spot. Possibly up to thirty people stood by while water was poured into the victim's eyes and down her throat, and they sang. She drowned. A girl of fourteen was also subjected to this ritual, and was lucky enough to survive and eventually recover the use of one of her eyes in time for the trial.

Only five people were convicted - and they were sentenced to community service.

Section 15 of the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990 says the following:

Manifestation of religion and belief
Every person has the right to manifest that person's religion or belief in worship, observance, practice, or teaching, either individually or in community with others, and either in public or in private.

Apparently this is broad enough to include murdering people - Except that in this country, if someone is killed during an exorcism, it's likely to be ruled an accidental death.

Pos*ses"sion (?), n. [F. possession, L. possessio.]


The act or state of possessing, or holding as one's own.

2. Law

The having, holding, or detention of property in one's power or command; actual seizin or occupancy; ownership, whether rightful or wrongful.

Possession may be either actual or constructive; actual, when a party has the immediate occupancy; constructive, when he has only the right to such occupancy.


The thing possessed; that which any one occupies, owns, or controls; in the plural, property in the aggregate; wealth; dominion; as, foreign possessions.

When the young man heard that saying, he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions. Matt. xix. 22.

Ananias, with Sapphira his wife, sold a possession. Acts v. 1.

The house of Jacob shall possess their possessions. Ob. 17.


The state of being possessed or controlled, as by an evil spirit, or violent passions; madness; frenzy; as, demoniacal possession.

How long hath this possession held the man? Shak.

To give possession, to put in another's power or occupancy. -- To put in possession. (a) To invest with ownership or occupancy; to provide or furnish with; as, to put one in possession of facts or information. (b) Law To place one in charge of property recovered in ejectment or writ of entry. -- To take possession, to enter upon, or to bring within one's power or occupancy. -- Writ of possession Law, a precept directing a sheriff to put a person in peaceable possession of property recovered in ejectment or writ of entry.


© Webster 1913.

Pos*ses"sion, v. t.

To invest with property.



© Webster 1913.

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