The Possession Syndrome: A Comparison of Hong Kong and French Findings

P. M. Yap

Summary

An analysis is made of 66 Hong Kong Chinese in-patients showing symptoms of possession in varying degree. Characteristics significantly predisposing to possession were: female sex (at all ages), the fact of being divorced, widowed or concubines, illiteracy, and low occupational and social status. Nearly half the cases were hysterical and nearly a quarter schizophrenic. The complete or pure syndrome was infrequently seen and such cases were all female. An attempt was made to identify features of prognostic import on the basis of a follow-up study 2–5 years after discharge.

Many of the patients were (apart from being illiterate and of female sex) suffering from pseudo-psychotic hysteria with understandable thematic content in the symptomatology, or were cases of depression with hysterical features brought on by real environmental difficulties. This appears to be in contrast with data from French cases who not infrequently suffer from more highly structured psychoneuroses based, apparently, on sexual (or homosexual) conflicts. It is tentatively suggested that the difference may be due to the contrasting cultural backgrounds, specifically the belief or absence of belief in possession by a primal satanic figure who is the source of all evil.

A survey is made of contemporary approaches to the psychopathology of possession. A general hypothesis regarding its genesis is offered, illustrated with brief case histories, and a formal definition of the condition is given.