Psychologist to the dead

In Havana, even spirits of the dead can have troubled minds.

Although the concept of ‘troubled spirits’ is quite common throughout the world, the Cuban group Sociedad de Estudios Psicológicos Amor y Caridad Universal goes one step further and provides psychologists to treat the conflicted emotions of both the apparition and its possessed human host.

The latest edition of Anthropology and Medicine has a wonderful article that discusses the spiritualist group and their unique take on psychology.

In Havana, the idea that all beings – living and dead – can have psychic and emotional conflicts is common among followers of spiritism (espiritismo), a practice of spirit mediation whose origins are associated with the nineteenth-century mystical teachings of Frenchman Allan Kardec. Spirits too, have lived lives and acquired memories, and often, it seems, accumulated unproductive patterns of thought and behaviour that they are keen to vent on their living counterparts. In the worst of circumstances, believers are expected to seek potent ritual experts to dispatch such beings from the earthly planes of existence they disrupt.

It’s an absolutely fascinating read, as it looks inside the organisation which is at once church, spirit channelling group and clinic. This an amazing part that recounts a session of therapy with a ‘spirit’:

D began suddenly sobbing like a little girl and curling up in his seat like a child. Antonio asked a developed medium next to him to attend to the spirit: ‘investigator, ask her why she is crying, investigate!’ The woman began to talk to the spirit, and attempted to comfort her, but the spirit wouldn’t open up – she only cried incessantly. Antonio asked her directly: ‘what did they do to you? Take this opportunity to get it out of your chest’. ‘They abused me’, the spirit replied immediately.

Antonio turned to the group and explained, in teaching-mode, that this spirit was traumatised, and was reflecting her trauma on the girl (Y). The spirit shook, all shriveled up in her seat. ‘A man abused me’ she managed to say. Antonio kept up his questions, asking increasingly specific ones, and punctuating his investigation with forthright commands of ‘talk, speak!’ He also told the spirit: ‘but all that is over now’, urging it to move on. ‘This is why you took your own life, isn’t it?’ Again out loud to all of us, he remarked: ‘those were the days when virginity was sacred …’

According to the article, the group was founded in the 1950s by Claudio Agramonte who had a complex psychological theory of spirit psychology dictated to him by the spirit of a dead doctor called José de Luz.

Rather appropriately, the article is by a Portuguese academic called, Diana Espirito Santo, which literally translate to Holy Spirit Diana. An interesting case of nominative determinism of which I’m sure the spirits would approve.

The article goes on to discuss how the concepts of the group operate with the social world of Cuba, but is unfortunately locked behind a pay wall, because you’re not old enough to be trusted with anthropology and, anyway, it would probably spoil your dinner.
 

Link to summary on PubMed.
Link to DOI entry.

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