Webster defines "obsession" as "the state of a person vexed or besieged by an evil spirit, antecedent to possession." The latter term he defines as "the state of being possessed, as by an evil spirit," etc. Allan Kardec employs obsession as a generic term, to include simple obsession, which accords with Webster's definition of the term; fasci-nation, which is "an illusion produced by direct action on the medium's thought," paralyzing his judgment; and subjugation, which completely paralyzes the will, and causes the medium to act in spite of himself. For our purpose these fine distinctions are immaterial, as they merely represent different stages or degrees of intensity of the same phenomenon. The theory of obsession is a modernizing of the old idea of being possessed of a devil, or devils, as the case might be. It consists in being dominated, to a greater or less extent, by the idea that the person is besieged or controlled by a foreign spirit, good or bad, angel or devil. It seems superfluous to remark that the same principles prevail in these cases as in all others where the idea of spirits has been suggested to the subjective mind. It matters not how the suggestion originated, the result is the same.
In ancient times the idea prevailed that any one was liable at any time to be taken possession of by a devil. When that idea was in vogue it frequently happened that persons who easily entered the subjective condition found themselves possessed of one or more devils. In those times the profession of exorcist was very profitable. The priesthood generally monopolized the business, for the obvious reason that they were supposed to entertain a spirit of more or less antagonism to devils generally. Besides, devils were supposed to have a mortal fear of anything holy; they had an especial dread of the sight of a copy of the Scriptures, and of hearing the name of God pronounced. Accordingly it came to pass that, upon the command of the exorcist, the devil would often incontinently fly, leaving the patient in his normal condition. Sometimes, however, he would be more stubborn, and the patient would go into convulsions upon hearing the magic words pronounced; and then more severe measures would have to be adopted, such as employing more exorcists.
But persistence was generally rewarded with success.
In later years devils have generally gone out of fashion, and their place is taken by bad spirits of dead men. And so it has come to pass that many spirit mediums are sorely afflicted with spirits, who pester them most outrageously. The exorcist is now replaced by the family doctor, who is generally scientific to the last degree, and accordingly endeavors to get rid of the spirit by means of physic or clysters. Recently, however, such cases have been treated successfully by means of hypnotism, which is the obvious remedy, in case the hypnotist realizes the power of suggestion.
It is obvious to those who have followed our argument thus far that the subjective mind of the person obsessed is dominated by the suggestion that it is a bad spirit or a devil, as the case may be; and that, acting upon that suggestion, it will personate the spirit or devil with the same extraordinary acumen that it would personate any other character suggested. And it will assume to be one, two, or seven devils or spirits, in accordance with the suggestion, and will exhibit as many different kinds and degrees of deviltry as there are devils embraced in the suggestion.
Such cases are frequently characterized by the development of wonderful telepathic power; and this of course adds to the mystery and confirms his friends in the idea that the patient is controlled by an extramundane agency. But, while it adds to the mystery, it does not militate against the soundness of the explanation afforded by the laws of duality and suggestion. The ceremony of exorcism by the priests in ancient times constituted a most powerful suggestive command, which could not, and did not, fail in having the desired effect. There was an interval, however, between the days of priestly exorcism and the days of modern hypnotism, during which scepticism prevailed regarding the power of any one to exorcise an offending spirit, or to cure the patient by other than material remedies. Patients were then sent to insane asylums, only to increase their maladies. But in later years the power of hypnotic suggestion has become a recognized principle in therapeutics, and little trouble is experienced in curing obsessed patients where the brain has not become diseased.
The fact that the trouble is susceptible of cure by hypnotic suggestion points clearly to its mental origin, and precludes the possibility of its being attributable to supermundane causes.