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Anthropologist Fabian Graham recently asked an interesting question on the Paranthropology Facebook group: Is it possible to draw lines between religious, paranormal and psychological/physiological experiences – and if so, where?

“For example”, says Fabian, “trance possession may be religious in one context but paranormal or psychological/physiological in another, the key difference being socially sanctioned norms”. As an illustration, he pointed out the Hindu festival of Thaipusam, during which devotees undertake a 5km long pilgrimage carrying various types of kavadi (burdens), ranging from a pot of milk to mortification of the flesh through piercing (not to mention walking on barefoot the entire distance on burning-hot tarmac):

Taking Thaipusam in Penang last week as a case in point, if the folk in the photos are possessed by the God of War Murugan and hence feel no pain, most might argue that this is a religious phenomena. However, for this to occur, a deity would have to acquire spiritual energy and manifest this from deity realms into the realms of human reality – which, quite frankly, sounds as much a religious as a paranormal phenomena. If on the other hand the folk in the photos are not possessed by Murugan and feel no pain, in layman’s terms, they would have to un-link their consciousness from the pain receptors in their nervous system – also an event existing outside the so-called ‘normal’ realms of experience. So religious, paranormal or psychological/physiological experiences/ phenomena?

Hooks in a pilgrim's back - copyright Fabian Graham

For those interested in learning more about Fabian Graham’s work, note that he contributed an article to the mediumship anthology released by Daily Grail Publishing last year, Talking With the Spirits (Amazon US and UK), titled “Vessels for the Gods: Tang-ki Spirit Mediumship in Singapore and Taiwan”. Not to mention that the amazing image on the book’s cover is one of his photos as well!

Images in the post by Fabian Graham.

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