Philosophy of Technology

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Belief: The Possession of Janet Moses

For the past two weeks, our readings and lectures have discussed the interconnection between science, magic, and religion. For this blog post, I wanted to find some topic that would have the possibility of reflecting the same interconnection between these three subjects, and more specifically Josephson-Storm’s claim that these three can not exist without each other. I believe that the documentary¬†Belief: The Possession of Janet Moses is able to shows that in modern society humans have a tendency when faced with a situation that defies rational thought we are prone to resorting to magical explanations, and specifically in this case, religious solutions.

Janet Moses was a New Zealand woman who in 2007 died due to drowning during an exorcism that was being performed by her family after they believed she had become possessed. While most would believe that whenever an exorcism is being performed, the reasoning behind performing this ritual would be a religious one. However, in this situation Moses’ family reasoning into thinking Moses had become possessed is more of a magical, or rather superstitious, reasoning. According to the documentary, some of Moses’ family members had stolen a lion statuette from a local bar in Wainuiomata. It was soon after this that Janet began displaying symptoms that the family saw as her being possessed by a wakutu which is a Maori world translating to witchcraft or sorcery, however there is no direct religious connection to what has possessed Moses’ but the way in which Moses’ family decided to solve this issue was an extremely mysterious, religious ritual: exorcism. The exorcism that was performed to Janet Moses by her family was a fusion of both Maori tradition and Catholic influences. According to her family, when an individual becomes possessed by a wakutu, first they will try to place a blame on a recent even that could have caused this. Her family believed that their was a spirit of some sort that was inside the lion statuette and after disturbing it was starting to harm Janet. They brought in a local man who could be seen as a Maori priest of some sort who verified their beliefs and urged them to return the lion statuette. However, Janet still continued to exhibit behaviors after they had returned the lion. After this, they then turned to a full exorcism. This entire ritual was performed inside a family member’s home with no actual priest present. However, this form of exorcism was a deeply held belief in Maori culture and during it they would often speak aloud Christian mantras. However, the most harrowing aspect of this ritual was that Moses was being constantly being made to take showers, bowls of water poured over her face, and forced ingested water which ultimately led to her death. After several days of being forced through this ritual, Janet Moses died of drowning without ever being completely submerged in water. The entirety of the house’s floor had been soaked with water and when police arrived the family was in a complete state of disarray and had not truly realized what had taken place during those days and were completely swept up in the power of ritual. Concerning science, or more simply rational thought, Janet Moses could have suffered some form of a mental break and the perpetual bombardment of water may have caused her to act in a way that her family would have perceived this as possessed activity. The other rational thought behind this is that a woman was murdered by her family through strongly held religious and mystical beliefs.

In Storm’s essay, he also brought up a notion that the world will never truly become disenchanted and I believe that this film depicts this idea as well as the interconnection between these three subjects. I also feel that an aspect that might not have been touched upon in the readings or this film is that in certain areas of the world that do not have such a connection to high level technology or are isolated, in a sense, from major metropolitan areas will always retain a level of an enchanted world. Coming from an area like I just described, people have more faith in religious beliefs or supernatural reasonings rather than trying to explain this in a scientific, rational way. So in conclusion, I do agree that the world will always have a bit of enchantment to it and in comparison to to other parts they will continue to be “more enchanted”.

Stubbs, David, director. Belief: The Possession of Janet Moses. 2015.

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Philosophy of Technology at NYU Shanghai, a course by Anna Greenspan and Brad Weslake.