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Possession: A Poetic Response

Updated: May 13, 2021

The poem below was written by a patient following a treatment for a state of the body/mind/spirit that in 5 Element acupuncture is somewhat dramatically called ‘possession’. What I’m referring to here is not possession by some entity external to the self, but a split within the psyche, that is understood in a very particular way in the 5 Element tradition.

In Daoist thought the aspects of the psyche are understood as the Five Spirits: The Shen, the Hun, the P’o, the Yi and the Zhi (a good introduction to these can be found here ). In the 5 Element tradition possession actually describes two separate conditions; the first called Internal Dragons is a split between the Hun and the Yi, while the second, External Dragons is a split between the P’o and Zhi and such a split is often the result of some event that the patient experienced as traumatic. The resulting disconnection between aspects of the self may well be an unconscious but entirely appropriate response to that trauma. The problem comes when the traumatising event has passed but the patient remains stuck in this disconnected state; PTSD might be textbook example of such stuckness.

In fact what first fascinated me about ‘possession’ when I first read about it was that many of the signs that someone was ‘possessed’ seemed remarkably similar to those that Western psychology would recognise as signs of disassociation. These might include a feeling of disconnection from the world around you or from your own body, the loss of a sense of who one is, an inability to maintain eye contact or maintaining eye contact in an inappropriate way etc. These signs are something I’d previously seen in working with individuals recovering from addiction and making that connection led to an interesting conversation with an acupuncturist who was also a clinical psychiatrist and who gave me a large file of papers on the subject.

The patient who wrote this poem spoke of the diagnosis of and treatment for cancer as traumatic, as well as speaking of being disconnected from themselves. I think their poem speaks powerfully of the effect of this treatment in reconnecting a person to a sense of themselves that they’d lost.

I am!

Echoed the voice into the

Darkness, where the baby was


And the sound echoed around

The chamber.





I am!

Uttered the voice

Hidden inside the seed



Beginning its dance

Held softly inside

I am!

Cried the voice

And the mountains lit up in glory

And shined their fiery light back

To the sky

I am!

Shouted the voice,

And the universe stopped

For an unidentifiable moment in


To listen

For the smallest of the smallest

Is the beginning of the biggest of

The biggest.

And so

Needs to be heard.

And because all had stopped.

The voice was able to whisper.


It said,

Almost to itself.

I am


Bruce Bell is a fully trained 5 Element Acupuncturist working in the Midsomer Norton / Radstock area, and also from a clinic on the edge of Bath.

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