SPIRIT POSSESSION IN RAJASTHAN - Jeffrey G. Snodgrass 04
Type of Spiritual Experience
A description of the experience
SPIRIT POSSESSION IN RAJASTHAN - Jeffrey G. Snodgrass [Professor, Department of Anthropology. Colorado State University]
Possessions by divinities, even angry ones, are boons. Having malicious spirits alight in one’s person, however, is a curse, and Rajasthanis do everything possible to get rid of them. Spirits disrupt one’s life—fouling up weddings, business ventures, and love lives—and generate a multitude of debilitating symptoms.
Possessions begin with the afﬂicted swaying rhythmically, referred to as jhumna, literally, “to move as if one were intoxicated, as a drunkard” (as quoted in Dwyer 1999, 113). Some possessions never progress further than this, with mediums demonstrating a calm demeanor and no visible trance. In other cases, however, gentle swaying quickly turns violent, with victims entering altered states of consciousness. Such states may involve voices other than the victims’ own speaking through them; trembling and convulsions; moaning (spirits are said to howl in pain from the punishment, dand, they receive from exorcising shamans or justice bringing gods); fevers; tearing at one’s hair and body, interpreted as ghosts trying to kill their human hosts; rapid breathing; wailing for mercy, since when brought to hallowed ground, spirits are forced to appear and account for their sins, which can bring cries for leniency; cursing, threats, uncontrolled shouting, and other expressions of anger (gussa) directed at divine images (murtis), as spirits become enraged when forced to appear before divine judges (Dwyer 1999, 119).
These states may also include gurgling, choking, and difficulty in breathing, which is “interpreted as a death rattle because a ghost is trying to take the victim’s soul through its throat and mouth” (Freed and Freed 1990, 405); rolling on the ground in the muck (signifying degradation); complaints of numbness and coldness followed by uncontrolled shivering (perhaps showing mounts’ nearness to death); feelings of being bound up (bandha, signaling the imprisonment of human souls by destructive spirits); and moans and movements reminiscent of sexual orgasm, in possessions by Bhairuji, for example, which are interpreted as sexual penetration, and thus especially undignified for men and high-caste women (Harlan 1992, 66; Gold 1988, 257–258), followed in most cases by weakness, lethargy, and amnesia, with the possessed claiming to remember nothing about their experiences.