Friday, November 26, 2010

Possessed by an Evil Spirit

Friday, November 26, 2010

“What can be asserted without evidence can also be dismissed without evidence.”

Incredulity must have shown on my face when I first heard about the brother of a colleague whose family believes that he is being possessed by an evil spirit. Perpetually guided—or perhaps, misguided—by reason, I was astonished to learn that people still believe in “that kind of thing”, although it defies all rules of logic. In this age of breathtaking advances in science and medicine, surely, they couldn’t, nagged my prejudiced mind. But they do. What I immediately dismissed as superstitious nonsense they accorded fearful reverence.

Her brother, as told by my colleague, had suddenly gone wild – with eyes rolled back, arms jerking back and forth, uttering inaudible words and lashing out violently at everyone. Because the incident happened at midnight, it was instantaneously ascribed to the workings of an enraged supernatural being whom the brother might have slighted. He got possessed by an evil spirit.

Does he have a history of mental illness? Of seizure attacks? Of epilepsy? Was he under the influence of alcohol or drugs when it happened? Did you bring him to a hospital after it happened? Those questions I asked, and the answer to all four is no. They took him to an albularyo, an herb doctor, instead. The witch doctor, after doing all he could to propitiate the spirit inhabiting the brother’s body, asked the family to prepare ten thousand pesos, an amount equivalent to almost a month’s salary to an average Filipino, as sacrifice. Such amount would be used to buy chickens or pigs or whatever the evil inhabitant demands in exchange for letting go of the brother’s body. The family agreed to produce the amount, any amount, just to placate the wrath of that supernatural being and get their brother back.

As explained by Anne Fadiman in The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down, 1997), a book I recently read, which explored the uneasy coexistence and disparity between Hmong culture Western medicine, culture and traditions are not Cartesian. It is not my place to judge other people’s actions, and I should stop seeking rational explanations for nonrational customs and beliefs.


Anonymous said...

Number of pirates is inversely proportional to global warming!

Had it occur to them that rolling eyes backwards is good way to exercise the eye muscles? :)

Angeli said...

i roll my eyes ALL THE TIME.


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