The Psychology of the Prophet

Irving King
1911 The Biblical World  
It would not be ia propos, in this paper, to discuss all the influences which have little by little broken the bonds of custom and given the individual man a standing of his own within the group or tribe. I wish, however, to suggest that one of these influences has been these selfsame strange experiences to which I have referred, and which are taken to mean that the individual is possessed by some peculiar external and perhaps superhuman power. When a man in a primitive tribe has a vision,
more » ... has a vision, falls into a trance, or speaks in a seemingly strange tongue, he at once attracts attention; his various doings and experiences, even when they chance to be quite commonplace, acquire a significance in the eyes of his fellows that they could not possibly have if he were always in a normal condition. Furthermore, if, as a result of his experiences, he is consulted on important matters, or if he becomes more or less of a leader of his fellows, he is, in so far, raised above custom and started to thinking for himself. His own private personal states have now a recognized significance in his social group, and if he cultivates that aspect of himself, even though it be relatively a pathological aspect, he is cultivating an individuality that can transcend custom. Whenever he speaks his words will have weight, even though they contradict tradition; when he enjoins new modes of conduct, or condemns old usages as bad, he will be listened to and followed because he is thought to be under the control of something other than himself, or because it is the voice of God speaking through him. Now, if a person when "possessed" attains a degree of prominence unusual for normal persons, he will retain some of his pre-eminence when he is in his normal frame of mind. He will, even then, continue to be regarded by his fellows with a certain awe. The periods of normal conscious-
doi:10.1086/474465 fatcat:krh2u7uwvzg2tdtmb4xpdmhkjq