SPIRIT POSSESSION IN RAJASTHAN - Jeffrey G. Snodgrass 03
Type of Spiritual Experience
A description of the experience
SPIRIT POSSESSION IN RAJASTHAN - Jeffrey G. Snodgrass [Professor, Department of Anthropology. Colorado State University]
Spiritual beings, good and bad, possess humans for a variety of reasons. Hindu gods, it is said, want fame and feel that appearances in the world—the performance of miracles and communication of important messages— might boost their popularity rating.
Ghosts, too, are said to want things. They “hunger” and feel that they can satisfy their desires—to play (khelna), eat sweet and sour things, devour meat and alcohol, smoke pipes, or engage in sexual activities—in human form. Because of their unclean desires, ghosts are drawn to dirty places such as toilets, cremation grounds, and burial sites, and toward beautiful things like perfumes and brightly colored clothing. This taste for dirt and beauty also draws spirits near women, as females are perceived to be ritually unclean (ashudh)—during menses for three or four days and after birth for twelve days (Dwyer 1998)—yet nonetheless alluring. Women are similarly perceived to have stronger fleshly appetites than men (for rich foods, money, and sex), and to be more vulnerable and fearful than men, thus further increasing their vulnerability to spiritual attack (Dwyer 1998).
Gods, ghosts, and ancestral spirits are also easily offended—from ritual neglect or simple human carelessness—which can draw them into the world in order to express their dissatisfaction and gain redress.
The recently deceased, for example, sometimes feel that their families have not given the priests enough gifts, thus jeopardizing these spirits’ safe passage to the realm of Yama (Seeberg 1995, 51). In other cases, sorcerers or conjurers, referred to as jadugars or tantriks, are contracted to place “dirty” (gandi) spirits in the bodies of their patrons’ enemies. It is hoped that these summoned spirits, some who come voluntarily and others who are little more than slaves, will seize and consume their victims’ souls (Freed and Freed 1990, 404).
Spiritual hit men accomplish ghostly transfers in numerous ways, for example, by giving victims ensorcelled food disguised as a sacred offering termed prasad, that renders their marks more susceptible to supernatural attack (Seeberg 1995, 52). In addition to sorcery (jadu-tona) and poisoned gifts of food, witchcraft can also weaken a person enough to precipitate a spiritual attack. Shamans may even cause the possession of their former patients, if, say, they become angered because their patients turn to other healers.
Finally, ghosts are closely associated with liminal places (crossroads, burial grounds) and times (dusk and dawn, noon and midnight). In traveling over these places or at these times, one may inadvertently bring pestering ghosts into one’s body, although a host of auspiciousness (shubh and ashubh) beliefs concerning, for example, when to leave one’s house and when not to, minimize such dangers (for ghosts’ links to place, as opposed to sorcery’s association with familial conﬂict, see Dwyer 1998).