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“Before the advent of modern medicine it was believed that certain mental illnesses were caused by demonic spirits taking control of the afflicted person’s body. In Jewish folklore these spirits were called dybbuks. They came from the domain of evil. The person could not be cured until they were exorcised, sent back to where they had come from.
The domain of evil is called in kabbalistic terminology the Sitra Ahra, the “Other Side”. An inversion of the divine world, it is the abode of dark forces. Angels oversee the world we live in, demons dwell on the Other Side. Satan doesn’t play a big part in kabbalistic mythology although he does appear occasionally, as himself, or in the guise of the bad angel Sama’el. It is not Satan who should worry us most. The things we should most fear are demons.
The greatest danger is when a demon clings to our soul. A clinging demon is called a dybbuk. The Hebrew verb from which the word dybbuk is derived is also used to describe the cleaving of a pious soul to God. The two states are mirror images of each other.
Kabbalistic folklore is full of stories about demonic beings. Demons themselves frequently took the shape of cats or black dogs. Sometimes they attached themselves to lost, dead souls who, for one reason or another, had not been able to transmigrate successfully. The demon would then guide the renegade soul into the body of a living person. This gave the soul a refuge, and the demon an opportunity to take control of the possessed person’s body.
Most frequently, the unfortunate person whom the dybbuk possessed was a woman. The image of a dybbuk , usually male, penetrating her body is both sexual and an illustration of the doctrine of opposites. Male and female, living and dead, pure and impure, all fused together in one human body. Exorcising a dybbuk, removing the destructive forces from a pure soul, is not just an imperative to save a person who has been possessed. It is a battle in a cosmic war.
Of course, today we talk about mental health, not possession by dybbuks. But in times gone by, possession by spirits was a common way of explaining behaviours that could not otherwise be understood. So common that even those who were not mentally ill but who simply deviated from social norms were frequently considered to be possessed. “
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