A Response to
How about demons?:
possession and exorcism in the modern world
I honestly found Goodman’s book both profoundly interesting and, at the same time, a bit unsettling. Because I am a 3rd generation Pentecostal – I found what she wrote about speaking in tongues interesting in a very intimate way. I read with great interest what she wrote about in terms of what she described as a ‘Neurobiology of Ecstasy’ and found it to be very intriguing; especially the studies of what she defined as the ‘suprasegmental elements in linguistics’ of glossolalia, which she described as having carefully studied in a phonetics laboratory (6-7). I admit that the clinical laboratory scientist in me has thought about doing some form of scientific analysis on recordings of glossolalia – though my own training in no way extends into the realm of linguistics and phonetics. Even when I was a child, I quickly learned that you could tell when someone was ‘really talking in tongues’ vs. when they were faking it. It is referred to as ‘being in the flesh:’ when somebody stands up and merely acts like they are speaking in tongues. When I was a teenager, my brothers and I would play around with each other and sometimes smack each other and say “yaye-son-ah-mah-hoe” – a lighthearted reference to a characteristic phrase that a gentleman in our church often repeated when he was speaking in tongues. We would laugh and make fun of it – but always outside of church. When Vernon McClain would stand up and actually say it – the atmosphere changed and there was a profound power behind his words.
I admit to a degree of disappointment that in her discussion of the history of Azusa Street (55), Goodman left out the issue of Racism. Parham was a strict segregationalist and would not teach Seymour – at least directly. History records that Seymour often actually sat outside the sanctuary and listened to Parham’s teaching from there. Parham was actually instrumental in the founding of the KKK. The services that were later held by Seymour were criticized in the papers for the “scandalous intermixing of races” because when glossolalia broke out – people seemed to forget they were worshiping along with people of another color. This inclusion would have helped to underscore how profoundly the experience shaped both emotions and attitudes of those involved.
Goodman also seems to speak ambiguously on page 88 where she seems to allude that Pentecostals invite ‘spirits’ into their bodies. Orthodox Pentecostal doctrine expressly teaches that only the Holy Spirit (of the Trinitarian understanding of God) is both worshiped and invited.
Coleman’s “soul hypothesis” (2) provides an interesting introspective into the folk studies project that her book purports to cover and her further stories and doctrines from a variety of other cultures related to spirit possession provide a fascinating backdrop to the exploration. Again, as a practicing Pentecostal, I felt that there was a lot more that could have been told that would have made significant contributions – such as the doctrine of being given a supernatural spiritual gift after experiencing glossolalia for the first time. Goodman recalls the pain and the anguish of being possessed by self-described demons (96) and my own experience with the Pentecostal gift of prophecy has in fact caused me at times to have only what I could describe as anguished and tormented experiences – the full scope of which I cannot relate here given space constraints. Possession by another can be both a beautiful (9) and seemingly horrific occurrence (113). At least I can personally speak to the truth of this.