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Observations placeholder

Dr William Sargant – The priest put out his tongue and drove a large iron spike through it



Type of Spiritual Experience


Dr William Sargant was born in Highgate, London, in 1907 and educated at Leys School and St John's College, Cambridge.  Up to 1972 he was Physician in Charge of the Department of Psychological Medicine at St Thomas's Hospital, London. He was Associate Secretary of the World Psychiatric Association and on the staff of the Maudsley Hospital, London for many years, He was also Registrar of the Royal Medico-Psychological Association, Rockefeller Fellow at Harvard University and Visiting Professor at Duke University. He was also the author of Battle for the Mind, and The Unquiet Mind.


As Dr Sargant says all these can also be the tricks of a magician if the knife has a collapsing handle, but we have left the observation as it stands as being of interest anyway.

A description of the experience

The Mind Possessed  - Dr William Sargant

Verger took me to the home of a local Nigerian king.  Next to his palace was a courtyard given over to the worship of the great god Shango, god of thunder. Shango is a very powerful god in this part of Africa and is worshipped by very many thousands of people. We were allowed to look into some of his sacred temples and to see a ceremony which was meant to convey his power to his followers and worshippers.

 A Shango priest in the courtyard danced himself into trance to the sound of numerous drums and while in a trance he made certain gestures to show that Shango was protecting him from harm. Shango did not speak through the priest (as happened later at a shrine dedicated to the god Ogoun) but the priest put out his tongue and drove a large iron spike through it. The spike was held there for some time and was then withdrawn, without any blood being visible.

The spike was then placed against the priest's eye and appeared to be hammered into it. Again when the spike was withdrawn there was no visible damage to the eye. Next the long iron spike was apparently driven into the throat of the priest and when it was withdrawn after a while there was no damage or loss of blood.

A fourth feat, which seemed to me to be an old trick, was to hold a stone ball suspended in space on four cords. When the priest loosened the cords the stone tended to fall, and when the cords tightened it stayed in the air. But this was a trick I had learned as a child, and it made me wonder how much of the spiking of the tongue, the eye and the throat was mere trickery. The spike obviously penetrated the tongue, but there might well have been a hole in it. The apparent penetration of the eye and the throat might have been an optical illusion.

But the priest was in trance and possessed by the great Shango and the onlookers were duly impressed by the power of the god.

The source of the experience

African tribal

Concepts, symbols and science items



Science Items

Activities and commonsteps



Frenetic exercise


Listening to beating sounds