In the continuation of my Manifestations series, today I will talk about Sacred Embodiment and Possession. What are they? When do they occur? What are the differences between them?
As always, my explanations are taken directly from my own experience.
Let us begin with Sacred Embodiment. This is a term I have seen used (and use myself) to describe the phenomenon of devotees taking on various aspects of their most closely honored Deities. These Divine aspects are integrated into the everyday activities, or personalities of the devotees, over time, after a rapport is formed between t/Them. This rapport, in many cases, especially with Hellenic Deities, involves reciprocity, or kharis.
An example of this could be a devotee of Apollon who was not previously interested or involved in sport, taking up a physical practice of some sort, such as archery, or running. Or perhaps a devotee of Aphrodite becoming intrigued by the beautiful scents in oils and perfumes. These are very simple expressions of Sacred Embodiment, and can happen even when one does not have a very intense relationship with the Deity, or when they are just starting out with Them. When Sacred Embodiment deepens, however, the traits taken on can become even more pronounced within the personality.
Using myself as an example, I have become even more of a perfectionist than I already was, prior to being claimed by Apollon. It is true that some of His preferences had always been a part of me, but after becoming truly dedicated to Him, I began to change even more to reflect His personality.
For instance, whereas before I could easily begin a new project, like sculpting, without knowing if I would actually, not only finish, but perfect my technique within the first attempt, (and without giving myself a panic attack over it) now I have to push past those extreme tendencies so that I might not be hindered by my desire to create perfectly. I am human. I will and do make mistakes, especially when creating art. Apollon is not human, and He does not make mistakes when creating, from what I have witnessed. Having these traits of His so entwined within me now, is a major factor in my struggle with anxiety today.
When we become close to our Gods, neither we nor They may be able to fully anticipate the ways in which our personalities may change. In some ways, we get what we get, and have to learn to live with it. And it may not always be the most grand and coveted traits that we receive.
When Sacred Embodiment goes deeper still, one may experience a sense of the reality of a God living inside you, taking up residence within your physical body as They might take residence within a cult image. This is when the Deity wears your skin and sees through your eyes; when They hear through your ears, and prompt you to give Their responses to the world with your own voice. This is not the same as a full Possession, but is only a few steps away from one.
In this way, the Deity will only superficially receive input concerning the world and your interactions with the world, through your senses. You may carry on prolonged conversations with the Deity within your mind. They may express a desire for you to consume certain food or drink, to satisfy a craving They may have. You could certainly lay out this offering on Their shrine or altar, however, partaking in the offering together, utilizing your body as the means of transference, will often enhance your interconnectedness, as well as boost the reciprocal nature of your relationship.
Another term for this particular depth of Sacred Embodiment, which I have referenced in the past, is Shadowing. Shadowing can be useful in a number of circumstances, but I find it particularly useful while engaged in divination, especially divination for others, wherein they have requested the advice of a Deity. No matter which Deity is sought after during the divination, if one is Shadowed by one’s own close Deity, receiving the sought after information will generally be made easier. Your Deity can be a bridge between you and the Other.
Even while doing spiritual work in this manner, Sacred Embodiment does not usually carry with it the same consequences as those associated with full Possession. The devotee maintains control of the mind and body, while the Deity is carried in a way that is less intense, though no less profound.
Sacred Embodiment happens within the day to day life and activities of a devotee, in contrast to the ritualistic and occasional nature of Possession. These two modalities of Divine presence share many attributes, yet one is inherently more taxing– physically, mentally and emotionally, than the other.
During a true Possession, it is not uncommon for the Deity to assume full control over a devotee’s body, utilizing the physical form to perform tasks that a non-Possessed human might find impossible. To speak in languages unknown to the Possessed individual, or to consume dangerous substances (in some traditions). The voice and speech patterns may also change, as well as the physical mannerisms expressed. A Possessed individual will and should speak and behave as the Deity, for in essence, they have become the Deity, manifest on Earth.
Possession should safely occur within a designated time frame. If a Possession runs over long, it can have lasting negative effects on the Possessed individual. It is also a good idea to have at least one other person available to maintain order around the Possessed person, and to keep the Deity from engaging in activities that could be disastrous to the body They inhabit (and also to provide adequate aftercare to the recovering host, after the Possession has ended). A Deity should not consume substances that Their host is allergic to, for instance. Nor should They engage in sexual activities, unless the Possessed individual has expressly and enthusiastically consented to those specific activities prior to the Possession.
Possession is a potentially dangerous spiritual activity, and is best done with Deities you have a longstanding and amiable relationship with. Although it is possible to be a host to a Deity you do not know well, I would not recommend it.
I have personally hosted Dionysos, Apollon, Columbia, Aphrodite, and the Goddess of the Wicca (drawing down the moon). And while I give the advice of having another person present, that has not usually been the case for myself. I have been fortunate, in that these Deities have been gentle with me– with the exception of Apollon, who is so immense that hosting Him always leaves me in a delicate and agitated state. I do not host Him, or Anyone else for that matter, often, and when I do, it is at Their request, or due to a spiritual obligation.
Reasons for Possession may include, but not be limited to, the dispensing of Oracles, rituals of xenia (hospitality) to welcome a Deity among a group of followers, celebration of a Deity’s festivals, or a magical working. All of these reasons are valid, but a Possession should always be approached with caution, taking into account the physical/emotional health and mental state of the potential host, as well as the expectations of both the Deity and the participants. Realistic goals should be set for the ritual, and n/Nobody should be pushed beyond their willingness or ability to perform.
In closing, Sacred Embodiment and Possession are both very useful spiritual processes, to be utilized in the furtherance of specific goals, or as goals in and of themselves. They both involve an aspect of merger with a Divine Power, and both involve the dispensation of knowledge from Deity to human. How they differ is within scope, and extreme.
Care should be taken to prepare oneself, or group, for Possession, yet engaging in Sacred Embodiment might only involve a period or prayer or meditation beforehand. Or not. In the end, it is up to the devotee to use their best judgement in these matters.