Biblical Demon Possession and Haitian Loa Possession

  Page:   Introduction  |    Demon possession in the Bible  |    Features of Biblical  demon possession  |    Loa possession in Haitian voodoo   |   Conclusion  |   Bibliography  | Next >> 

by Howard Culbertson


  • Introduction
  • I. Biblical demon possession
    1. Old Testament
    2. New Testament
    3. Features of Biblical demon possession
    4. Normative for all times?
  • II. Loa possession in Haitian Voodoo
    1. Parallels with Biblical Demon Possession
    2. Unique Features of Loa Possession
  • Conclusion
  • Bibliography


James Theodore Holly, a Black American who was the first Episcopal bishop of Haiti, once called that Caribbean island nation: "the Mary Magdalene of the nations, possessed by seven devils."1 Among the devils which Holly went on to enumerate was voodoo, that syncretistic religion practiced by about ninety percent of the Haitians. His negative evaluation of voodoo's contribution to Haiti echoes that of several other writers. Unfortunately, a good deal of what has been written on Haiti voodoo has, says Harmon Johnson who was in Haiti with the West Indies Mission (now WorldTeam), been written "with more imagination than insight."2

Undeniably, in the Western world voodoo has gained quite an exotic reputation. An integral part of this African-New World hybrid religion is the possession of the worshiper by the gods of voodoo, the loa. This particular religious experience -- which is the focus of this paper -- has been interpreted in all kinds of ways. On the one side is William Sargant, a leading physician in psychological medicine. He contends that voodoo and its attendant phenomenon of loa possession is something that enables Haitians "to live lives of comparative happiness because they have found a religion which does bring their gods to them. And their gods live in them and they live in their gods."3 On the opposite end of the spectrum are those like Bishop Holly who point to loa possession as something demonic or satanic in origin. For Holly and others, these are real demonic encounters.

In this paper I want to explore the possibility of a link or at least similarity between loa possession in Haiti today and the demonic possession described in Scripture. The study will be broken into two major parts. First, we'll take a look at demon possession in the Bible. An attempt will be made from the various scriptural accounts to establish some identifying characteristics. Secondly, the identifying characteristics of Haitian voodoo loa possession will be listed along with parallels which may or may not occur in the biblical incidents of demon possession. This paper will concern itself only with demon possession and will not include those cases which might more properly be classified as being the result of demon influence.

In this paper I will not address the issues of the authenticity or accuracy of the biblical accounts. For the purposes of this paper, it will be assumed that:

  1. The gospel accounts were written in the first century by the traditional apostolic authors
  2. These accounts are accurate eyewitness descriptions which contain actual words of Jesus of Nazareth.

It will also be assumed that the demon possession in the New Testament is of supernatural origin and cannot be explained merely on the basis of present-day psychological research. If the parallels seem clear enough between biblical demon possession and Haitian loa possession, it shall be assumed that it too has something of the supernatural in it.

In the writings of various authors used a sources for this study, different spellings appear for the name of the religion (e.g. voodoo and vodun), for the gods or spirits (e.g. loa and loua), and for other features of this Haitian folk religion. To facilitate comprehension, this paper will use the same spelling for the same word throughout this paper, even in quotations where a different spelling might have been used by the original author. . . [ continue reading ]

1J. Carleton Hayden, "James Theodore Holly (1829-1911) First Afro-American Episcopal Bishop: His Legacy to Us Today," Journal of Religious Thought 33 (Spring-Summer, 1976): 53

2Harmon A. Johnson, "The Growing Church in Haiti" (Coral Gables: The West Indies Mission, 1970. Mimeographed), p. vii.

3William Sargant, The Mind Possessed: A Physiology of Possession, Mysticism, and Faith Healing (Philadelphia: J.B. Lippincott, 1974), p. 181.

  Page:   Introduction  |    Demon possession in the Bible  |    Features of Biblical  demon possession  |    Loa possession in Haitian voodoo   |   Conclusion  |   Bibliography  | Next >> 

Next chapterDemon possession is a phrase that comes from scripture. Where in the Bible do we find descriptions of it?. . . [ read more ]

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