Culture, Medicine, and Psychiatry

, Volume 40, Issue 3, pp 422–449 | Cite as

Transformation in Dang-ki Healing: The Embodied Self and Perceived Legitimacy

  • Boon-Ooi LeeEmail author
Original Paper


Since spirit possession in mediumship and shamanism resembles psychotic symptoms, early researchers perceived spirit mediums and shamans as psychiatric patients whose psychopathology was culturally sanctioned. However, other researchers have not only challenged this assumption, but also proposed that spirit possession has transformative benefits. The idiom of spirit possession provides cultural meanings for spirit mediums and shamans to express and transform their personal experiences. The present case study focuses on dang-ki healing, a form of Chinese mediumship practiced in Singapore, in which a deity possesses a human (i.e., dang-ki) to offer aid to supplicants. This study seeks to explore whether involvement in dang-ki healing is transformative; and if so, how the dang-ki’s transformation is related to his self and the perceived legitimacy of his mediumship. At a shrine, I interviewed 20 participants, including a male dang-ki, 10 temple assistants, and nine clients. The results obtained were supportive of the therapeutic nature of spirit possession. First, there is a relationship between his self-transformation and the perceived legitimacy of his mediumship. As his clients and community have recognized his spirit possession as genuine, and the healing power of his possessing god, he is able to make use of mediumship as a means for spiritual development. Second, he has developed his spirituality by internalizing his god’s positive traits (e.g., compassion). Deities worshipped in dang-ki healing can be conceptualized as ideal selves who represent a wide range of positive traits and moral values of Chinese culture. Thus, the possession of a deity is the embodiment of an ideal self. Finally, the dang-ki’s transformation may run parallel to his god’s transformation. In Chinese religions, gods have to constantly develop their spirituality even though they are already gods. An understanding of the god’s spiritual development further sheds light on the dang-ki’s self-transformation.


Transformation Spirit possession Dang-ki Shamanism Spirit mediumship Embodiment Embodied self 


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.National Institute of EducationNanyang Technological UniversitySingaporeSingapore

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