Steven B. Herrmann, PhD, MFT
Author of "Walt Whitman: Shamanism, Spiritual Democracy, and the World Soul."
Craig E. Stephenson has written a marvelous book on the concept of possession that will be sure to open the reader's mind to many new insights into what C. G. Jung called the "comparative anatomy of the psyche," a challenge to any psychotherapist, teacher, or serious student of Jung who attempts to encompass a wide breadth of knowledge about a particular subject. The main subject of the book is the notion of possession by an "ancestral soul," or daemonomania = possession by a demon. In an effort to introduce this concept in chapter 1, the author constructs many interesting correspondences in one of the most celebrated cases of a psychic epidemic in Europe, the demonic possession of the Ursulines of Loudun from 1632 to 1638 in France. This was a collective psychosis that led to the witch hunt of Urbain Grandier. Following this opening chapter we are guided in chapter 2 through a survey of the anthropology of possession, where the anthropological reporting about possession in non-Western settings does not go deep enough, I feel, to explain the phenomena theoretically, because it overlooks the importance of the literature on shamanism. Nevertheless, Stephenson provides examples for how the notion of possession might be taken further for the field of depth-psychotherapy in his examination of recent developments in psychiatry, most notably his discussion of Dissociative Trance Disorder in the DSM IV. As a Zurich trained analyst he provides the reader with a window into Jung's view of the concept of possession, citing many of Jung's clearest formulations and he applies these insights perceptively to the practice of psychotherapy in chapters 4 and 5. Chapter 5 contains some very interesting reflections on "scapegoating" and the way that rivals in a fellowship will project their hostility and violence against a common victim, or how a dysfunctional group will attempt to create cohesion by choosing and expelling an isolate. Stephenson brings to light for the field of psychotherapy a unique focus on psychodrama and group therapy following a discussion of the works of Jacob L. Moreno, who showed how the suffering of the individual self locates itself in problems of one's role in interpersonal relations within collectivities. Stephenson argues that while Jung tended to look at the problematic of possession from an introverted perspective (from the point of view of personal and collective "complexes" located intrapsychically and the inflation that ensues from identification with archetypes), Moreno privileged an interpersonal, extroverted perspective that is complementary to this view. In his closing chapter Stephenson returns to the case of the famous possessions of Loudun and states that after four centuries of scrutiny, the religious, psychological, and political complexity of this witch hunting epidemic has not been sufficiently explained. The main point throughout the book is that we cannot privilege the intrapsychic over the interpersonal reality of the image any longer, as he says Jung did, and the psychosocial concept of the self as it manifests itself interpersonally offers as a complementary view to the way we might begin to work towards a more comprehensive theory. While the ideas in the book are invaluable to any student of depth-psychology, to students of history, and anthropology alike, what is missing is a theory that can explain the phenomenon of possession in a wider context by taking Jung's call for a comparative anatomy of the psyche further, as could be done, for instance through a discussion of the literature on shamanism.