Friday, December 11, 2009

Possession, Part I: What Is Gained?

When asked to name itself, the demon inside Emily Rose (from The Exorcism of Emily Rose) declares , in several languages, that it is not one demon but six.

1. I am the one who dwells within Cain.
2. I am one who dwelt within Nero.
3. I dwelt within Judas.
4. I am with Legion.
5. I am Belial.
6. And I am Lucifer, The Devil in the flesh!

WildClaw’s upcoming production of William Peter Blatty’s LEGION has us all thinking about possession. Demonic possession, bodily possession, material possessions, worldly possessions, you name it. If it’s possessed (or possessive), we’ve got it on our minds.

Let’s look at the word. From the American Heritage Dictionary, 4th edition



pos•sessed, pos•sess•ing, pos•sess•es


Middle English possessen, from Old French possesser, from Latin possid re, possess- : pos-, as master; see poti- in Indo-European roots + sed re, to sit; see sed- in Indo-European roots

1. To have as property; own.
2. To have as a quality, characteristic, or other attribute: possessed great tact.
3. To acquire mastery of or have knowledge of: possess valuable data.
4. a. To gain or exert influence or control over; dominate: Fury possessed me.
b. To control or maintain (one's nature) in a particular condition: I possessed my temper despite the insult.
5. To cause to own, hold, or master something, such as property or knowledge: She possessed herself of the unclaimed goods.
6. To cause to be influenced or controlled, as by an idea or emotion: The thought of getting rich possessed him.
7. Obsolete To gain or seize.

To possess supposes ownership or dominion. Words like 'control' are important in these definitions, or 'mastery.' But I like the idea that possession is not limited to Demons and Spirits but also extends to possession by ideas or emotional extremes. These aren’t as fun as supernatural applications (we’ll take a good demon any night of the week), but it is a fascinating psychological conceit. When we’re not possessed of our faculties, we’re possessed by something else. Naturally.

But that 7th definition…that’s the one that sticks with me most. To gain. I’d like to challenge the “obsolescence” of this definition, because not only do I think it’s extremely applicable to horror, but it’s also deliciously vague. When one is possessed, what is truly gained by the possessor? I agree, there must be a gain, but is it a tangible gain we’re talking about, or something else? A “gain,” the way I think of it, is strategic. Gaining ground in a war. Gaining a foothold in an argument. Gaining leverage in a negotiation, or in the workplace. Gaining evidence to support a theory. Gaining the upper hand.

Material gain is boring, as are material possessions. Demons know this, which is why when they possess you, they’re looking to gain something else. The question of what it is PRECISELY they wish to gain has always been pretty fucking scary to me (not why they do what they do, but what it is exactly they GAIN). Your soul? Maybe, but what does that actually do for them? I assume they aren’t just trophies on the walls of their lairs, objectified. “Souls Gained.” So is it part of a greater strategy? Or just a desire to unleash chaos and make us lowly mortals despair? It is as impossible to know what happens to you when you die as it is to know what demons and evil spirits hope/wish/want/need to gain. They are beyond us. Their true intentions are unknowable, as are their ultimate aims.

Are there many demons competing for supremacy in the void? Or is there indeed only one demon, and all of evil simply the strategic gains of his odyssey?

He is a liar. The demon is a liar. He will lie to confuse us. But he will also mix lies with the truth to attack us. The attack is psychological, Damien, and powerful. So don't listen to him. Remember that - do not listen. ~ Father Merrin, The Exorcist

What is the endgame?

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