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Observations placeholder

Mircea Eliade - Possession in the Polynesians



Type of Spiritual Experience


There are two possible forms of experience here.  One may be genuine ecstasy in which a person's Higher spirit takes over and acts on the person's behalf.  This is what happens during healing for example.  But the problem with any form of trance making activity is that the person also lays themselves open to possession and this possession could be by anything - a spirit being or another living person or the soul of a newly dead person. 

In effect, whatever takes over the person determines the reliability of the information so delivered, and there are some pretty vicious spirit beings, not least the spirit beings of viruses and bacteria, and 'substances' things ingested to get one in this state .......


A description of the experience

Mircea Eliade – Shamanism Archaic techniques of ecstasy

Possession by gods or spirits is a marked characteristic of the Polynesian ecstatic religion.  As long as they are possessed, prophets, priests or mere mediums are considered to be divine incarnations and are treated accordingly.  The inspired are like ‘vessels’ into which the gods and spirits enter.  The Maori term waka clearly indicates that the inspired man carries the god in him as a canoe carries its owner.

The manifestations of the incarnation of the god or spirit resemble those observed everywhere else.  After a preliminary stage of calm concentration comes a frantic state during which the medium speaks in a falsetto voice interrupted by spasms; his words are oracular and determine the action to be taken.  For mediums are consulted not only to learn what kind of sacrifice such and such a god desires but also before beginning a war, setting out on a long journey and other critical undertakings.  The same method is employed to discover the cause and cure of an illness or the perpetrator of a theft.

The source of the experience


Concepts, symbols and science items


Science Items

Activities and commonsteps