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Thread: Is it offensive to present demonic possession as rape?

  1. #1
    New Fish; Learning About Thick Skin
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    Is it offensive to present demonic possession as rape?

    Being possessed by a foreign entity seems very tame in the stories where I have seen it. The event doesn't have the gravity that I feel it should, and the person usually goes back to living a normal life if they are freed. I always felt that being possessed should be taken more seriously as a traumatic experience that people dont just come away with unscathed. I came up with an idea that i believed accomplished that.

    Demonic possession is done through a magical ritual which can bind a demon to a human being, allowing it to cross over from their reality into ours. In the process, the demon forcefully bypasses the barrier that separates the soul from the individual, completely taking them over. The victim is left fully aware of their situation, and is in constant pain while being possessed. The demon has access to its abilities in the host body (stength, speed, etc) but remains under the control of the caster. In a country where magic is commonplace, this is seen as a spiritual form of rape, the ultimate violation of a human soul. It is treated as one of the most evil acts an individual can commit on another person.

    The victim was captured and subjected to this against their will, so people understand that. But while most will regard hIm as a victim, many would see him as corrupted and dangerous even after they are freed. They are forced to deal with the trauma of possession as well as being distrusted by others, even worse than murder.

    I think this lends gravity to the situation and plays up the full horror aspect. But Since it is obviously a sensitive subject, I wondered if this might be viewed as offensive or disrespectful. Does this premise take it too far, or should I just one with it? How can I present it in a way that it is taken seriously?

  2. #2
    figuring it all out Sue77's Avatar
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    Personally, I think you've presented a valid argument concerning how demonic possession is a rape of the possessed individual's soul, so I'd say go with it. If the story's POV is that of the character who is possessed, exploring the psychological aftermath should bear fruit. My suggestion regarding presenting this in a way that can be taken seriously is, perhaps, to use psychology - post traumatic stress could play an important role here, especially if your character was a man who is accustomed to being in control. Your character has to deal with the mental issues which arise from the demonic possession which could result in such inner turmoil they mentally fall apart.

    You haven't said where you're intending to set your story at the start. From what you've written, I'd interpret that part of your story will be the tale of how the possession occurred and what happens during the time your character is possessed. You may have already considered this, but perhaps the story would work well if told from a retrospective manner. i.e. your character has had a breakdown, is in an asylum and under a psychologist who draws the tale from his/her patient. But I'm sure you're brimming with ideas, so ignore this one if it doesn't suit what you wish to do with your story.

    Good luck!

  3. #3
    practical experience, FTW
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    For those of us who've survived rape, it isn't a metaphor. I get where you're coming from on the intensity and depth of spiritual violation and the need to find analogies for that. Rape, though, is a specific and stand-alone kind of violation and horror, the kind of reality that for rape survivors doesn't work well in comparisons.

  4. #4
    reading all the things Anna Iguana's Avatar
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    Hi, Sharad. Write what you want/need to write. I support that 100%. Whether stories find audiences, and how audiences react to them, are separable questions. Within that context, here's feedback about how some potential readers, like M Louise or me, might say "no, not okay, not for me."

    We read demonic possession and other fantastical phenomena as metaphors for familiar experiences. Demonic possession could be like illness, addiction, rape, or perhaps slavery. Sometimes metaphors are too painful, or fail to capture/respect cultural context. Slavery is slavery. Nothing else is like it. Rape is rape, nothing else is like it.

    On the other hand, we all speak in metaphors, all the time. For example, food is fuel. Food is sun and water to grow us. What is food, not defined in terms of something else? I have no answer, because words/concepts are defined only by comparisons to other words/concepts. (You probably didn't expect linguistic philosophy so early in the morning. My apologies!)

    The more empathy artists bring to their subjects, the less likely that audiences will perceive stories as trivializing pain in service to entertainment. Do art. Create what you need to create, and empathize as much as you can. It seems like that's what you're doing, so--thank you.
    Last edited by Anna Iguana; 04-12-2017 at 08:24 PM. Reason: cross-posted with M Louise

  5. #5
    I aim to misbehave Myrealana's Avatar
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    Maybe it wouldn't work for SOME survivors, but to me, it seems like it could be a very valid metaphor for the experience. It's physical and mental violation that's very personal, and I can see the parallels.

    I would suggest you try writing it out that way and see what comes of it. If the comparison holds up and grips the readers, then you've done well. Some people are going to be offended no matter what, so write what works and see where it takes you.
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  6. #6
    New Fish; Learning About Thick Skin phyrebrat's Avatar
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    We see and present everything through our own lens. No matter how sensitive a treatment you give it, some will be offended, and some won't. But as the designer, that's your call to make.

    The only thing is, many readers might be/are uneducated about rape and will automatically conflate the possession with a sexual act instead of a crime of hate and power.

    Today in my writing, I compared a barrister to a pied wagtail. I shall deal with any offended barristers (or wagtails!) as they come up.

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  7. #7
    New Fish; Learning About Thick Skin HPhatecraft's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by M Louise View Post
    For those of us who've survived rape, it isn't a metaphor. I get where you're coming from on the intensity and depth of spiritual violation and the need to find analogies for that. Rape, though, is a specific and stand-alone kind of violation and horror, the kind of reality that for rape survivors doesn't work well in comparisons.
    With all due respect to victims of rape, this whole "don't go there" thing really doesn't work for me. If one does not want to read a work like that, I understand, but one does not have to. There are SO MANY books out there and so many genres and styles that if someone is offended by something, they can read something else.

    Also, war creates countless victims, but no one has an issue with military fiction.

    I've written, read, and, once, published INTENSE horror that I could never submit to "share your work here" because I would be labelled a troll and banned (or someone might call the FBI) I won't say exactly what I write, but let's just say the OP is very mild compared to the indie stuff I read and write. And guess what? No one is forced to read it. Those of us in the indie-horror scene have sensibilities that can appreciate that kind of thing and most of us make sure readers know what to expect so they don't purchased and read it if they don't know what they're getting into.

    If one is a rape survivor, one should just stay clear of those stories, just as a soldier with PTSD maybe shouldn't read military fiction. But just as a non-PTSD and/or non-veteran can still enjoy military fiction, a non-rape survivor can enjoy extreme horror.

  8. #8
    New Fish; Learning About Thick Skin HPhatecraft's Avatar
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    It sounds good. "Alien" is basically a story about rape, remember.

    And yes, it will be offensive. But guess what? Harry Potter is offensive to many fundamentalist Christians. Did that stop JK Rowling?

    Just write what you want and there will be an audience for it...it may not be huge, but it will be there. If you're worried about offending people, then maybe horror isn't the genre for you.

    I've slowly realized I'm best at writing extreme horror, and started reading it more, writing more, and had one story published in an indie zine. Is it for everyone? No. But honestly, why care? I'm good at it and there is a fanbase for it, so why not?

    When I realized I'd never be the literary equivalent of David Bowie, I realized the consolation price of having a real possibility of being the literary equivalent of Cannibal Corpse ( a death metal band for those who don't know)

    And just as there are some people who can appreciate extreme metal, there are some who can appreciate extreme horror. Just write it and go all the way and you'll find a fan base, especially in the age of ebooks which are quickly becoming the new pulps.
    Last edited by HPhatecraft; 04-17-2017 at 11:03 AM.

  9. #9
    Have pen, will travel Cindyt's Avatar
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  10. #10
    Watch the Evil Dead remake (the 2013 version) and see how it handles this exact same idea, sort of. I have mixed feelings about how it was done, in that it's unnecessarily squicky and awful verging on exploitative (or straight-up exploitative depending on your point of view) but yeah, it is this exact same idea in a very clear visual metaphor that's also clearly how the demonic possession happens. AND it's a female protagonist.

    I lean towards thinking this is a powerful metaphor, and will either work great or crash horribly depending on how you pull it off. Won't make any assumptions on whether you're a rape survivor yourself, but definitely run this by some beta readers who are (with warnings that this is what you're doing, obviously) and see what they say.
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  11. #11
    practical experience, FTW Jan74's Avatar
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    I think what your saying makes perfect sense. Not all rape survivors have the same view point on these issues, but it doesn't matter, or it shouldn't matter your creating a world where you get to dictate what matters. So until a publisher or agent or somebody says "change it" just write it. Now if I could only follow my own advice

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  12. #12
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    I think that's a great idea to portray the lasting ramifications of a possession, but I am confused with the rape aspect. Even your explanation in your OP didn't really go into that. It was by subsequent posts by the others that I understood that it was supposed to be a parallel. Personally, I'd refrain from comparing it to rape, just on confusion alone. You've got enough material anyways on how possessions can affect someone long term.

  13. #13
    Herder of Hamsters AW Admin's Avatar
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    I would probably advise against it today—but it was in fact referred to as raptus (rape) in medieval literature and legal documents, in terms of not only demonic possession and what we would call statutory rape today, as well as to refer to mortals who were kidnapped/taken/abducted by fairies.

  14. #14
    Even the sphinx has eyes O_O Spooky's Avatar
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    I watch and read the exorcist countless times a year and I am always appalled and worn out by how it explores the possession of young Regan, the demon is an offensive entity and only has one thing in mind, revenge and it will use whatever it can to obtain this goal. To have something seriously rotten fouling and scowling throughout as viciously as you can possibly get away with, for me. it depends how well embedded the sour entity is within the layers of wallpaper that lines the back of the narrative and threads through the characters, how effectively and appropriately it pervades the story and has a legitimate ''right'' to that behaviour (even though it is an alien, it is humanly manufactured at the end of the day behind the camouflage). For the exorcist, the desecration of such a sweet and vulnerable daughter was woven together so damn beautifully in a gnarled, black framework... the acts each had purpose within the tale's structure, torment was constant but the really vile things had reasons behind the brutality. The head twisting comes immediately after the hideous crucifix mutilation, it's not there for a solitary cheap blasphemy, the demon has been extremely well presented up to that point and hashed out in a pea soup torrent of overcooked gimmicky gore-outs contrary to those who never watch the whole thing. That whole sequence is not just a scatter of random bursts of highlight reel hooplah, it's to punctuate the death of a man that is very close to the mother and comes at a fantastic moment in the film, it hammers home the point that this is not some mental condition or mysterious set of symptoms, it's supernaturally spewing and there is no alternative but to get the damn exorcist (which the demon has been pining for). The next sequence of the film is almost serenely lilting, it's a very effective counterweight. One of the most wretched qualities of the whole tale for me is the demon using the deceased mother of Karras to force him to probe the depth of his faith, it's a terrible thing and he is effectively being abused in a mental manner.
    Last edited by Spooky; 04-19-2017 at 08:42 AM.

  15. #15
    JoeBrat JoeBrat's Avatar
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    I personally see nothing wrong with it. I think if you want to write about something/anything, you should write it. The main thing is that you are comfortable writing about it. There are readers for everything. It’s hard to tell how readers will react until it’s in the reader’s hands. I think if something starts to feel like you went too far in your writing then you should decide how to handle that situation.

  16. #16
    Beastly Fido Roxxsmom's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by chompers View Post
    I think that's a great idea to portray the lasting ramifications of a possession, but I am confused with the rape aspect. Even your explanation in your OP didn't really go into that. It was by subsequent posts by the others that I understood that it was supposed to be a parallel. Personally, I'd refrain from comparing it to rape, just on confusion alone. You've got enough material anyways on how possessions can affect someone long term.
    I don't find the metaphor offensive, personally. In fact, I think one reason rape is so horrifying is that it steals a person's agency and forces them to submit to someone else's use of their body for malevolent or selfish purposes. Their personhood doesn't exist for the assailant. However, chompers has a point too. If you show the way it feels to be possessed and show the way victims feel about it and are treated, you won't need to tell the reader that it's akin to being raped. The similarity will be plain to those who wish to frame things in that way for themselves as they read.
    Last edited by Roxxsmom; 04-20-2017 at 01:10 AM.
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  17. #17
    reading all the things Anna Iguana's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by HPhatecraft View Post
    With all due respect to victims of rape, this whole "don't go there" thing really doesn't work for me. If one does not want to read a work like that, I understand, but one does not have to. There are SO MANY books out there and so many genres and styles that if someone is offended by something, they can read something else.

    Also, war creates countless victims, but no one has an issue with military fiction.

    I've written, read, and, once, published INTENSE horror that I could never submit to "share your work here" because I would be labelled a troll and banned (or someone might call the FBI) I won't say exactly what I write, but let's just say the OP is very mild compared to the indie stuff I read and write.
    You're pushing a lot of my buttons, HPhatecraft. If you know you'd be called a troll here, consider why readers might react that way. There is a big difference between military fiction and fictional accounts of rape: cultural context. Soldiers are given purple hearts and lifetime medical care for surviving violence. Too often, women who survive violence are called sluts and liars, and they suffer without adequate social or medical support.

  18. #18
    New Fish; Learning About Thick Skin JKDay's Avatar
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    I think it's entirely possible to write this concept in a way that is both horrific and respectful of the subject matter, as long of you're cognisant of the need for the latter (which it seems like you are). That said, as others have mentioned, you might actually be better served not mentioning rape specifically - the parallels are plenty clear in what you've described, and people who won't catch them from that may well not be any more edified by you being more overt.

  19. #19
    New Fish; Learning About Thick Skin HPhatecraft's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Anna Iguana View Post
    You're pushing a lot of my buttons, HPhatecraft. If you know you'd be called a troll here, consider why readers might react that way. There is a big difference between military fiction and fictional accounts of rape: cultural context. Soldiers are given purple hearts and lifetime medical care for surviving violence. Too often, women who survive violence are called sluts and liars, and they suffer without adequate social or medical support.
    First, I do not see how anything I wrote was "trolling." I'm telling it like it is: if the story requires a rape for the story to work, than a story requires a rape for the story to work. I believe in art for the sake of art, and if there are things in said art that may offend some, that is the price to pay.

    And I said "I don't want to be called a troll" in regards to why I am not putting any of my indie-horror in "share your work." It's just the kind of thing I can only show to fans of that sort of thing, which is a limited audience.

    However, I do support making readers aware of what is going on so they can decide what they do and do not wish to read. I actually support "trigger warnings" in that sense.

    And third, I think it's awful to call a rape victim those names. That's some traumatic, awful stuff and treating them like anything other than victims re-victimizes them. And there is plenty of "cultural context" against soldiers too. Don't believe me, just go back and read about how returning veterans of Vietnam were treated.

    It is simply awful the way we look at war as a society as opposed to everything else. The same politicians who INSIST that bare knuckle boxing be banned because "it's too violent" are the same people who cheer drone attacks that kill x amount of civilians. And likewise, someone writes a novel about war and glorifies it and they get cheered on...someone writes a graphic depiction of a fictional monster tearing apart and eating someone, and it's called "gratuitous".
    Last edited by HPhatecraft; 04-22-2017 at 12:29 PM.
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  20. #20
    Vickichuuuuuuuuu Ehlionney's Avatar
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    Rape is always going to be a delicate subject, no matter if you're just comparing or making a metaphor or whatever.

    That being said, I completely agree that possession should be considered rape. I have been through some pretty rough situations in my life - child abuse, date rape as a teen, survival sex-work (which can be pretty much the same as rape in some contexts)... When I was a teen, my way of dealing with what I had been through was escaping into the world of reading.

    When I encountered Anne McCaffrey's Catteni series (Freedom series), which includes a more sci-fi version of possession, it resonated with me in a way that many actual stories about rape and abuse hadn't. The Catteni race in the series has powerful leaders which are basically like demons, and are able to take over others' bodies which results in the complete destruction of the soul. She graphically describes the process of the host feeling the possession occurring, feeling invaded, terrified, knowing that it will destroy them, no way to escape...

    That was the same way I felt. And since reading that series, I've never been able to look at possession the same, no matter what genre, no matter how lighthearted the story. I honestly can't see how anyone can see it any other way. And yet, here in this thread we have some of those very people. Like I said, it's a delicate subject.

    I can't say with certainty whether it's a good idea to make a direct comparison; I can definitely say that if you just write about possession in the same way that you would write about rape, even if you left out the mention of rape itself, it will definitely resonate with people. And, honestly, it's not the words that count, it's the feelings inspired by them. Whichever route you go, good luck!
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  21. #21
    @PeteMC666 PeteMC's Avatar
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    I must admit I kind of used this idea in Drake, but the other way up - my main character is a diabolist who summons demons and controls them, using them to kill his enemies. I've got a scene in the first book where one of the more intelligent summoned demons complains that Drake is raping it, in that fashion, by entering its mind and forcing it to do something that it doesn't want to do. No one has complained yet.
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  22. #22
    practical experience, FTW
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    I don't find it offensive. But I think rape is too specific to describe the horror of demonic possession. Rape is one of the worst possibilities in life, but I don't even know if we have words to describe the agony of losing complete control of your body for an indefinite period of time, knowing something evil has control over you, or worse, being forced to watch yourself do or say hideous things, kill people, etc.

    I wonder if people's worldview affects their opinion on this. I believe in the supernatural, so to me, demonic activity is something I take seriously. Obviously we're writing fiction, but there's a difference in how we process things based on how much the story relates to whatever we think of as the "real world". Either way I don't think I would find it offensive. I'm not offended by the use of a word. Context is everything.

    I'm a big believer in writing whatever you want and not worrying about offending people. I said a lot of things I later worried would offend people in my first book, and nobody seemed to care. LOL The fact that you're putting thought into this and caring about wording it delicately says a lot, and it will show in the writing. Along with not blocking your creative freedom in the name of avoiding offense, it's always good to examine how you can say things in the most effective way.

  23. #23
    New Fish; Learning About Thick Skin
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    The timing of this post is very fortuitous - I'm on with my second novel and it has something similar. It is heavily implied that the main character was abused by someone who was possessed. I don't dwell on details, and its played fairly subtly, but I was also in two minds about its inclusion as well. I think, like most things, how a subject is handled will determine if it is offensive (to most people).

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