The so-called "Toronto Blessing" is well known for the controversy around the many reports of very strange manifestations. Among them, animal-like behaviors, such as walking or barking like a dog, are certainly part of the strangest ones, as illustrated by this video.

Are there any records of similar animal-like behaviors in Christianity outside the Toronto Blessing, either before or after?

  • 2
    The only case in the Bible is that of Nebuchadnezzar in Dan 4.
    – Dottard
    Commented Nov 1, 2020 at 22:49
  • @Dottard Hard to call that a blessing! :) Commented Nov 3, 2020 at 22:37
  • I did not wish to imply that it was a blessing - just the animal behaviors.
    – Dottard
    Commented Nov 3, 2020 at 22:52

2 Answers 2


There are ample videos on this phenomenon, like this one. Since 65% of Americans identify as Christian, it's reasonable to assume some of the subjects are Christian.

This phenomenon is not unique to Christianity. The oldest written record of such behavior is in the Egyptian Ebers Papyrus, as part of Ancient Egyptian healing techniques, dating to 1550 BCE. Another Egyptian papyrus (Pap. A. Nr. 65) from around the 3rd century C.E. describes the laying of hands on the patient, hand passes, and eye-fixation.

Practically all ancient cultures, including the Sumerian, Persian, Chinese, Indian, Egyptian, Greek, and Roman, used self-suggestion or hypnosis in some form. In Egypt and Greece, the sick often went to healing places known as sleep temples or dream temples to be cured. In ancient India, the Sanskrit book known as The Law of Manu described the techniques used in great detail.

For many centuries, especially during the Middle Ages, kings and princes were believed to have the power of healing through the “Royal Touch.” This was attributed to divine powers. Before hypnosis was well understood, the terms “magnetism” and “mesmerism” were used to describe these phenomena.

The "Toronto Blessing" has been investigated by Andrew Newton, who had this to say about it:

the phenomena so closely resembled mass hysteria that most observers – scientists and laymen alike – deduced that it was indeed a text book case of mass hysteria. Those who took part in it were all emotionally very suggestible and there is no doubt that expectancy and wish fulfillment played a major part in the experience.

He then examines the testimonial of two of the participants. The first is a man called Mick Brown. He went to Toronto and attended a meeting led by John Arnott, pastor of the Toronto Airport Vineyard. Here is Mick Brown’s testimony:

“A body came falling towards me. I rested it on the ground and moved on. I found myself beside John Arnott, who was moving through the crowd, blessing people, who fell like ninepins. I didn’t even see his hand coming as it arched through the air and touched me gently – hardly at all – on the forehead. “And bless this one, Lord….” I could feel a palpable shock running through me, then I was falling backwards, as if my legs had been kicked away from underneath me. I hit the floor – I swear this is the truth – laughing like a drain.”

Newton's analysis:

The interesting thing about that testimony is that Mick Brown is not a Christian. He is an unconverted Daily Telegraph journalist who went to Toronto to write a report on the Toronto Blessing for the Daily Telegraph magazine, from which the above quotation is taken. Yet when Pastor Arnott touched him, Mick Brown experiences exactly the same phenomena as all the professing believers. He becomes “slain in the Spirit” and laughs hysterically. Later he told a Christian newspaper that his experience had made no difference to his unbelief in Christianity. He was and still is a non-believer. So we are left with the same physical and emotional experience, the same Toronto Blessing, the same hysterical reaction but without the religiosity.

This forces us to ask two very important and searching questions:

First, how can this be the Holy Spirit at work? and second, does the Holy Spirit bestow the same emotional and physical experience on believer and non-believer alike – ‘slaying in the Spirit,’ uncontrollable laughter, a state of euphoria?

If these things had no spiritual or religious meaning or significance in the life of atheist Mick Brown, how can precisely the same things have any authentic spiritual meaning or significance in the lives of professing Christians? Clearly we are dealing with an experience that is not truly spiritual in nature, but can be happily shared by believers and non-believers alike. Obviously it must be up to the individual to interpret the associated emotions and find meaning… or not.

Another obvious question is, what is the power that John Arnott has to induce this experience in a non-Christian who has absolutely no belief that the Toronto Blessing is a work of God, since he does not even believe in God? Is it possible that this is nothing more that hypnotism working on a suggestible mind? Mick Brown had not participated in any of the warm-up techniques of the worship, and had no expectation that anything would happen to him. Yet when John Arnott touched him, quite by accident, down he goes, gibbering away and laughing hysterically. This seems to point us in the direction of John Arnott and others like him actually possessing or at least channeling some kind of supernatural power. Or not…

Stage hypnosis employs the same mental sleight of hand, as do the industrial scale antics of American TV evangelists, such as the market leader, Benny Hinn. Once a participant has seen other volunteers collapsing and falling into what appears to be a trance-like state, that participant also becomes suggestible. This happens quite unconsciously and is as reliable as clockwork. One does not have to take part in the warm up tests and exercises to be affected by it – merely watching it work with others is enough to increase suggestibility.

The second testimony is that of Glenda Waddell, a member of staff at Holy Trinity Brompton, the Anglican church in London which acts as the British headquarters of the Toronto Blessing. Here is Ms. Waddell’s testimony of how she first received the Toronto Blessing:

“To my absolute horror I just knew beyond any shadow of doubt my hands were doing strange things and I was going to roar. I said, “Oh Lord, I’d do anything but please, please, don’t make me roar. Only the men roar and the women don’t roar.” But it came and I did roar quite loudly and I made a lot of awful noise and I was crawling around the floor doing terrible things and half of me was thinking, ‘This cannot be me.’ But another part of me knew that it was.”

Newton's analysis:

The disturbing thing about Ms Waddell’s testimony is that it presents us with a picture of the Holy Spirit supposedly at work. And yet her experience makes it painfully obvious it was not the Holy Spirit at work.

By her own account, Ms Waddell was invaded and possessed by a power which reduced her to bestial behavior, crawling around and roaring like a wild animal – all against her conscious will. She was simply taken over, physically and spiritually, by a controlling force. That is not how the Holy Spirit operates in a believer’s life. He does not sanctify individuals by possessing them like a demon and forcing them to do weird, sub-human things. He is supposed to work through the Word of God, bringing truth to bear upon our minds, enlightening our understanding. Anyone with any spiritual discernment must see that this darker force was not the Holy Spirit.

An important thing to understand about mass hysteria is that it can creep up even on those who are on their guard against it. From the accounts of the two people in the extract above, it seems to me this is what happened.

  • Excellent answer. Would you mind if I reference it in a concurrent question I recently asked on Psychology.SE?
    – user50422
    Commented Nov 1, 2020 at 8:50
  • 1
    Go right ahead!
    – Codosaur
    Commented Nov 1, 2020 at 12:26
  • Thanks. Having said that, an improvement I would suggest to the answer is adding sources to back up the claims made in the first 4 paragraphs.
    – user50422
    Commented Nov 1, 2020 at 17:47

Are there any records of animal-like behaviors outside the “Toronto Blessing”?

The short answer is yes, but not always in the way most people would think!

This type of phenomenon is not unique to Christianity nor is it uniquely linked to some kind of Christian blessings.

The Loudun possessions demonstrates that under the influence of the Demon those who are diabolically possessed may occasionally also bark like dogs!

The Loudun possessions was a notorious witchcraft trial in Loudun, France in 1634. A convent of Ursuline nuns said they had been visited and possessed by demons. Following an investigation by the Catholic Church, a local priest named Father Urbain Grandier was accused of summoning the evil spirits. He was eventually convicted of the crimes of sorcery and burned at the stake.

The case contains similar themes to other witchcraft trials that occurred throughout western Europe in the 17th century, such as the Aix-en-Provence possessions (France) in 1611 or the Pendle witches (England) in 1612 before reaching the New World by the 1690s.

The nuns claimed the demon Asmodai was sent to commit evil and impudent acts with them. During questioning about the supposed evil spirit thought to be possessing them, the nuns gave several answers as to who caused its presence: a priest, Peter, and Zabulon. It was only after almost a week, on October 11, that Grandier was named as the magician responsible, though none of them had ever met him. Next, "physicians" and apothecaries were brought in. Canon Mignon informed the local magistrates of what was happening at the convent. Grandier filed a petition stating that his reputation was under attack and that the nuns should be confined. The Archbishop of Bordeaux intervened and ordered the nuns sequestered, upon which the appearances of possession seemed to subside for a time.

The nuns' increasingly extreme behavior: shouting, swearing, barking, s etc. drew a considerable number of spectators. Eventually, Cardinal Richelieu decided to intervene. Grandier had already offended Richelieu by his public opposition to the demolition of the town walls, and his reputation for illicit relations with parishioners did not improve his standing with the cardinal. In addition, Grandier had written a book attacking the discipline of clerical celibacy as well as a scathing satire of the cardinal.

Such phenomena are quite closely resembled to mass hysteria as the above possession seems to indicate.

Scriptures bare witness to the fact that Nebuchadnezzar lost his gift of reason and chewed grass like a cow.

It should be fairly easy to spot a patient suffering from boanthropy. He or she may well be down on all fours chewing grass. Boanthropy is a psychological disorder in which the sufferer believes he or she is a cow or ox.

The most famous sufferer of this condition was King Nebuchadnezzar, who in the Book of Daniel “was driven from men and did eat grass as oxen”. Nebuchadnezzar was the king of the Neo-Babylonian Empire from 605BC to 562BC. According to the Bible, he conquered Judah and Jerusalem and sent the Jews into exile. He was also credited with building the Hanging Gardens of Babylon.

Nebuchadnezzar was humbled by God for boasting about his achievements, lost his sanity and lived like an animal for seven years, according to Daniel, chapter 4. When his sanity was later restored he praised and honoured God. - Nebuchadnezzar and boanthropy

  • An interesting thing is that the Scripture strongly indicates that born-again believers (indwelt by the Holy Spirit) cannot be possessed by demonic spirits, so what does that indicate for the Nuns? Commented Nov 3, 2020 at 22:49
  • @MikeBorden Catholic exorcists would genuinely disagree with that opinion. This is not the place to start an argument, on this subject. Catholic hagiography actually supports it, as happened to even a few canonized saints. The Devil hates the truth!
    – Ken Graham
    Commented Nov 4, 2020 at 7:14

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