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Politics a territory subject to a foreign state or to a sovereign prince
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A Protestant priest in Mexico City prays over a man who believed he was possessed by a demon that caused him fits of anger and to spit blood and speak in tongues. AP/WideWorld Photos.


(religion, spiritualism, and occult)

Possession means to hold occupancy with or without rights of ownership. This exactly describes possession in the psychic sense. It is the possession of the physical body with—though frequently without—the permission of the owner. An entranced medium is possessed by a spirit but can curtail that possession when desired. One who is possessed by a negative spirit cannot get rid of it without external pressure in the shape of an exorcism.

Leslie Shepard makes an excellent point,

If no new knowledge is shown in the trance state there is no reason to ascribe the communication to an external intelligence. The character of the communicator alone does not furnish convincing proof. Secondary personalities are often hostile and antagonistic to the primary one, the cleavage might not be intellectual alone but also moral, therefore the difference between the normal self of the medium and the communicator does not necessarily clinch the case for possession. Supernormal knowledge which the medium could not have acquired, is an indispensable condition to prove the presence of an external spirit.

True negative possession is rare. There are, however, many cases that might be termed psychological possession, where the person believes him-or herself to be possessed and acts accordingly. Believing in that condition, the individual naturally believes also in exorcism so the performance of a Rite of Exorcism can then seem effective. The official exorcist for the city of Rome claims that he receives many long distance telephone calls from all over the world, from people believing themselves to be possessed. However, he says that he actually performs exorcisms “as rarely as possible.”


Bletzer, June G.: The Encyclopedia Psychic Dictionary. Lithia Springs: New Leaf, 1998
Fortune, Dion: Psychic Self Defence. London: Aquarian Press, 1988
Lhermitte, J.: True and False Possession. New York: Hawthorne Books, 1986
Shepard, Leslie A: Encyclopedia of Occultism & Parapsychology. New York: Avon Books, 1978
Spence, Lewis: An Encyclopedia of the Occult. London: George Routledge & Sons, 1920



in civil law, the actual control of a thing. A distinction is made between an owner’s possession and a nonowner’s possession. An owner’s possession—in addition to use and disposal—is one of the legal faculties that is part of the content of the right of property, and it is always protected by the law. A nonowner’s possession may be legal or illegal. Legal possession is always based on some legal ground (legal title). This means that possession arose on the basis of a law, contract, or administrative act. In cases of legal possession by a person who is not the owner of the given thing, the thing has been transferred to him voluntarily by the owner himself (for instance, by contracts of bailment, lease, loan, and so forth). An illegal possessor is a person who stole a thing or appropriated a find. In civil law illegal possession is in turn subdivided into possession bona fide and possession mala fide. A possessor bona fide is a person who did not know and, under the circumstances of the case, could not know that his possession was unlawful; a possessor mala fide is a person who knew or should have known that his possession was unlawful. (He knew that he had acquired a thing from a person who had no right to sell it.) The distinction between possession bona fide and mala fide is very important in solving disputes about the recovery of a thing from another’s possession on the owner’s suit.

In Soviet law there is no separate legal institution of possession, which is an element of other legal institutions, including the right of ownership, lien, lease, and consignment. Titled possession is subject to separate protection: the possessor—like the owner—may file a suit for the recovery of the thing or for the removal of any violation of his rights. In specific cases the law provides for the protection of a possession bona fide even against the owner. For example, if a possessor bona fide acquired a thing through a contract of purchase and sale or exchange (that is, with compensation) from a person who had no authority to alienate the thing, but who had received it from its owner on lease, bailment, or other contracts, the owner has no right to demand the thing through the procedure of recovery.

In the civil law of bourgeois states there is a separate institution of possession. Several procedures for protecting possession have been established (in particular, court procedures—suits for the recovery of possession—and out of-court procedures—the right to self-help, which gives the possessor the possibility of protecting the possession by himself). The possession of movables and immovables is regulated and protected differently in the law of Great Britain and the USA. The majority of the bourgeois systems of law consider a lengthy possession grounds for the acquisition of the right to ownership (so-called acquisition by prescription). Soviet law does not provide for the acquisition of the right to ownership through prescription.




a mental state in which the subject feels dominated by a hostile, insurmountable, usually irrational force, as in the practice of witchcraft. Possession can be a symptom of psychosis, for example, when it takes the form of delirium. It can also be a mental reaction of an individual or group of individuals to certain social influences, in which case a high degree of suggestibility and a lack of education are important factors. Possession in the sense of a mental reaction to social influences can take several basic forms.

Demoniac possession was widespread in the Middle Ages, especially among women, particularly those who experienced “sinful temptations.” These women—sometimes of their own free will but usually as a result of torture by the Inquisition— would confess to dealings with Satan. Spells used to be cast by chanting, symbolic gestures, or potions in order that the subject become possessed by such obsessive concerns as an all-consuming love or a wasting illness.

At the end of the 19th century, groups of persons in some areas of Siberia, Yakutia, and the Kolyma region developed a peculiar type of possession that took the form of a need to jump, swear, and mimic bystanders. This possession was compulsive; that is, it occurred against the will of the victims. It is called arctic hysteria (Russian merechen’e, or emirechenie) and has features in common with shamanism. Similar states, referred to as imu, or latah, in the foreign literature, have been described in the 20th century, for example, among South American Indians and among the inhabitants of the Sunda Archipelago. Imu usually affects women and is manifested by screams and indecent bodily movements.

According to modern research, the psychic roots of amok— an unprovoked attack of blind aggressiveness that resembles an epileptic seizure—are similar to those of other forms of possession. These underlying causes include shame, insult, or a dependence on hostile social forces.


Tokarskii, A. A. Meriachenie i bolezn’ sudorozhnykh podergivanii, 2nd ed. Moscow, 1893.
Kannabikh, Iu. Istoriia psikhiatrii. Moscow, 1929. Chapter 5.
Mitskevich, S. I. Menerik i emiriachen ‘e:formy isterii v Kolymskom krae. Leningrad, 1929.
Pfeiffer, W. “Versenkungs und Trancezustände bei indonesischen Volksstämmen.” Nervenarzt, 1966, vol. 37, no. 1.
Westermeyer, J. “A Comparison of Amok and Other Homicide in Laos.” American Journal of Psychiatry, 1972, vol. 129, no. 6.




In ancient times, demonic possession was blamed for everything from bad behavior in young children to nightmares to full-blown multiple personality disorders. When a person manifested certain unpleasant personality traits, many ancient societies associated this with possession by devils, demons, or spirits. The possessed individual is in a nightmarish threshold state. Traditionally, the appropriate “therapy” was some form of exorcism directed at freeing the individual of the intruding entity.

In later times some believed that real creativity depended on a state of possession or “divine insanity,” which gave people access to the subconscious in a liminal state. When a person is able to readily enter a liminal state, he or she potentially has access to the more creative faculties of the brain. Those who can do this at will are usually highly charismatic people with thin barriers between their conscious and unconscious minds.


See also Enchantment.
swine Jesus sends demons from man to pigs. [N.T.: Matthew 8:28–32; Mark 5:1–13; Luke 8:26–33]
man controlled by devils; exorcised by Jesus. [N.T.: Mark 5:9; Luke 8:30]
young girl gruesomely infested with the devil. [Am. Lit.: The Exorcist]


The ownership or control of information, as distinct from confidentiality. For example, if confidential information such as a user ID-password combination is in a sealed container and the container is stolen, the owner justifiably feels that there has been a breach of security even if the container remains closed (this is a breach of possession or control over the information). Possession is one of the six fundamental components of information security (see Parkerian Hexad).
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In Virginia, according to Ford, "to seat the tract meant to build a house, plant one acre, and keep stock for one year; if this were not done within three years, the land lapsed to the state." Under Massachusetts law, a settler's duties "included taking actual possession and within three years, building a house of a certain size, usually eighteen or twenty feet square, and clearing five to eight acres for mowing and tilling."