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Observations placeholder

Mary Lurancy Vennum becomes possessed



Type of Spiritual Experience


Mary Lurancy Vennum, a girl of about fourteen years old, living at Watseka, Illinois apparently became controlled by the disembodied spirit of Mary Roff, a neighbour’s daughter who had died at the age of eighteen years and nine months when Lurancy Vennum was a child of about 15 months old.  The control started in February 1878 and lasted until May of the same year.  The ‘possession’ was preceded by Lurancy having a fit; she was unconscious for 5 hours.  The next day the fit recurred and this time she said she could see ‘heaven and the angels’.  The fits recurred and she was believed to be insane, eventually a psychiatric doctor was called and observation of her condition was started.

As this is an extract, the evidence looks a lot flimsier from this than it actually is, nevertheless, there is room for doubt in this observation, it does not provide ‘proof’ of possession.  But the case is strong.

As the possessed girl was very young when the other girl died and the possession took place several years later, the information that the ‘possessed’ girl had could not have been obtained from the possessor in her lifetime.  Furthermore quite a lot of knowledge was exhibited in the 4 months of her possession which would not  have been the subject of neighbourly chats between the Roffs and the Lurancys – incidents of hay making in which her parents were not involved, for example, but which were recalled by two men who had been there.

As such there is certainly some reason to believe that composer to composer communication is taking place, with the composer of the disembodied soul having access to the perceptions of its life, but acquiring the functions of the body of the other girl.

We can see that the other observations that cases of possession are preceded by fits .  What also seems to be common to all cases is  the complete absence by the person possessed of any memory whatsoever of the period that they were possessed.  Furthermore, the two personalities share very few if no common traits in personality – one is not a spawn from the other it is a very definite and different character a true lost soul with a need to be in a body.  Finally the new character often has abilities, usually learnt abilities,  which are far greater than the person they take over

A description of the experience

Extract from the Religio Philosophical Journal December 20th 1890
[from Human Personality and its Survival of Bodily Death – F W H Myers]

On the 11th day of February 1878, they sent the girl [Lurancy]  to Mr Roff’s, where she met her ‘pa’ and ‘ma’ and each member of the family, with the most gratifying expressions of love and affection, by words and embraces.  On being asked how long she would stay, she said, ‘The angels will let me stay till some time in may’ and she made it her home there till may 21st three months and ten days, a happy contented daughter and sister in a borrowed body.

The girl seemed to know every person and everything that Mary knew when in her original body, twelve to twenty five years ago, recognising and calling by name those who were friends and neighbours of the family from 1852 to 1865, when Mary died, calling attention to scores, yes hundreds of incidents that transpired during her natural life.

Mrs Parker, who lived neighbour to the Roffs in Middleport in 1852, and next door to them in Watseka in 1860, came in with her daughter-in-law, Nellie Parker.  Mary immediately recognised both of the ladies, calling Mrs Parker ‘Auntie Parker’ and the other ‘Nellie’, as in the acquaintance of eighteen years ago.  In conversation with Mrs Parker, Mary asked ‘Do you remember how Nervie and I used to come to your house and sing?’  Mrs Parker says that was the first allusion made to that matter, nothing having been said by any one on that subject and says that Mary and Minerva used to come to their house and sit and sing ‘Mary had a little lamb’

The source of the experience

Ordinary person

Concepts, symbols and science items


Science Items

Activities and commonsteps





Being a child