In my book, A Witch in the Family, I pursue a number of possible explanations for what led to the witch hysteria that consumed the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1692. Looking back at what happened, many in the seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries believed spirit possession caused the terrible symptoms displayed by those who accused others in the colony of witchcraft.
For the past couple of centuries, however, scientists typically have thought spirit possession to be impossible. Presumably this is based on the pronouncement by the English philosopher Thomas Hobbes (1588-1679) that nothing exists except the physical world. During the Age of Enlightenment this was accepted as a basic scientific tenet, and many continue to accept it as such today in spite of a great deal of evidence to the contrary produced by research into paranormal phenomena in recent years.
Now, in the twenty-first century, more than one psychologist actually thinks spirit possession can and does happen. An example among others I give in my book is Dr. Wilson Van Dusen, a university professor who has served as chief psychologist at Mendocino State Hospital in California.
Based upon decades of research and time he spent treating patients in mental hospitals, Dr. Van Dusen believes many patients are possessed by malicious spirits and that those who hallucinate are often under the control of demonic entities. Dr. Van Dusen claims he has been able to speak directly to demons through some of his patients, and he has published more than 150 scientific papers and written several books based on what he has observed and learned.
In one of his papers, Dr. Van Dusen wrote that he sought out individuals from among the hundreds of chronic schizophrenics, alcoholics, and brain-damaged persons he treated who were able to distinguish between their own thoughts and those of what other mental health professionals would have regarded as the patient’s “hallucinations.” Through these patients, Dr. Van Dusen would question the hallucinations and instruct his patients to give a word-for-word account of what the voices answered. In this way, he was able to hold long dialogues with a patient’s hallucinations and to record both his questions and an entity’s answers.
Dr. Van Dusen found that the so-called hallucinations would sometimes take over a patient’s eyes, ears, and voice, just as in traditional accounts of demonic possession. The entities also had totally different personalities those of his patients, which clearly indicated to him they were not the products of his patients’ minds. Often an entity would threaten a patient and even cause physical pain.
Dr. Van Dusen dealt with several thousand patients during his 20 years as a clinical psychologist and made detailed studies of 15 cases of demonic possession. Although not all the patients were in his opinion “possessed,” he wrote that the entities were present “in every single one of the thousands of patients.” He also said some of the entities he communicated with were far more knowledgeable about certain subjects than he was, and that he was able to test them by looking up information in obscure academic references.