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From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Exorcism (from Greek ἐξορκισμός, exorkismos – binding by oath) is the religious practice of evicting demons or other spiritual entities(the satanics) from a person or an area which they are believed to have possessed.[1] Depending on the spiritual beliefs of the exorcist, this may be done by causing the entity to swear an oath, performing an elaborate ritual, or simply by commanding it to depart in the name of a higher power. The practice is ancient and part of the belief system of many cultures and religions.

Requested and performed exorcisms occurred rarely until the latter half of the 20th century where the public saw a sharp rise due to the media attention exorcisms were getting. There was “a 50% increase in the number of exorcisms performed between the early 1960s and the mid-1970s”.[2]



In Catholic Christianity, exorcisms are performed in the name of Jesus Christ.[3] A distinction is made between a formal exorcism, which can only be conducted by a priest during a baptism or with the permission of a Bishop, and “prayers of deliverance” which can be said by anyone.

The Catholic rite for a formal exorcism, called a “Major Exorcism”, is given in Section 13 of the Rituale Romanum.[4] The Ritual lists guidelines for conducting an exorcism, and for determining when a formal exorcism is required.[5] Priests are instructed to carefully determine that the nature of the affliction is not actually a psychological or physical illness before proceeding.[3]

In Catholic practice the person performing the exorcism, known as an exorcist, is often a member of the church, or an individual thought to be graced with special powers or skills. The exorcist may use prayers, and religious material, such as set formulas, gestures, symbols, icons, amulets, etc. The exorcist often invokes God, Jesus, a litany of saints, and/or several different angels and archangels to intervene with the exorcism. It may take several weekly exorcisms over several years to expel a deeply entrenched demon.[5][6]

In general, possessed persons are not regarded as evil in themselves, nor wholly responsible for their actions.[7] Therefore, practitioners regard exorcism as more of a cure than a punishment. The mainstream rituals usually take this into account, making sure that there is no violence to the possessed, only that they be tied down if deemed necessary for their own protection and that of the practitioner.[8]


Beliefs and practices pertaining to the practice of exorcism are prominently connected with Hindus. Of the four Vedas (holy books of the Hindus), the Atharva Veda is said to contain the secrets related to magic and alchemy.[9][10] The basic means of exorcism are the mantra and the yajna used in both Vedic and Tantric traditions. Vaishnava traditions also employ a recitation of names of Narasimha and reading scriptures, notably the Bhagavata Purana aloud.

According to Gita Mahatmya of Padma Purana, reading the 3rd, 7th and 9th chapter of Bhagavad Gita and mentally offering the result to departed persons helps them to get released from their ghostly situation. Kirtan, continuous playing of mantras, keeping scriptures and holy pictures of the deities (Shiva, Vishnu, Brahma, Shakti, etc.) (especially of Narasimha) in the house, burning incense offered during a Puja, sprinkling water from holy rivers, and blowing conches used in puja are other effective practices.[citation needed]

The main puranic resource on ghost and death-related information is Garuda Purana.[citation needed]

A complete description of birth and death and also about the human soul are explained in Katō Upanishad, a part of Yajur Veda. A summary of this is also available as a separate scripture called Kāttakaṃ.


Main article: Exorcism in Islam

In Islam, exorcism is called ruqya. It is used to repair the damage caused by sihr or witchcraft. Exorcisms today are part of a wider body of contemporary Islamic alternative medicine called al-Tibb al-Nabawi (Medicine of the Prophet).[11]

Islamic exorcisms consist of the treated person lying down, while a white-gloved therapist places a hand on a patient’s head while chanting verses from the Quran.[11] The drinking of holy water may also take place.[12]

Specific verses from the Quran are recited, which glorify God (e.g. The Throne Verse (Arabic: آية الكرسي Ayatul Kursi), and invoke God’s help. In some cases, the adhan/”ah-zan” (the call for daily prayers) is also read, as this has the effect of repelling non-angelic unseen beings or the jinn.

The Islamic prophet Muhammad taught his followers to read the last three suras from the Quran, Surat al-Ikhlas (The Fidelity), Surat al-Falaq (The Dawn) and Surat al-Nas (Mankind).


Josephus reports exorcisms performed by administering poisonous root extracts and others by making sacrifices.[13] The Dead Sea Scrolls mention that exorcisms were done by the Essene branch of Judaism.

In more recent times, Rabbi Yehuda Fetaya authored the book Minchat Yahuda, which deals extensively with exorcism, his experience with possessed people, and other subjects of Jewish thought. The book is written in Hebrew and was translated into English.

Rabbi Gershon Winkler of New Mexico explains that the procedure for a Jewish exorcism is intended not only to drive away the possessing force, but to help both the possessor and the possessed in an act of healing. The Jewish exorcism ritual is performed by a rabbi who has mastered practical Kabbalah. Also present is a minyan (a group of ten adult males), who gather in a circle around the possessed person. The group recites Psalm 91 three times, and then the rabbi blows a shofar (a ram’s horn).[14]

The shofar is blown in a certain way, with various notes and tones, in effect to “shatter the body” so that the possessing force will be shaken loose. After it has been shaken loose, the rabbi begins to communicate with it and ask it questions such as why it is possessing the body of the possessed. The minyan may pray for it and perform a ceremony for it in order to enable it to feel safe, and so that it can leave the person’s body.[14]

Eric Sorensen’s Hypothesis

The origins of exorcism can be found in the effects of Zoroastrian and ancient Near Eastern beliefs on early Judaism and Christianity. Zoroastrianism’s dualistic beliefs and apocalypticism is a nurturing ground for ideas of exorcisms and possession. “The spirit of Ahura Mazda is said to be with the one who chooses good [Yasna 33.14], and one can assume the same of the evil spirit for those who chose evil. Mary Boyce underscores the importance of possession in Zoroastrian doctrine: ‘The concepts of divinity and of humanly possessed power seem frequently to blend, through the thought of that power proceeding from the divinity, who has himself actually entered into the person.” [15] (p. 37)

Zoroastrianism also introduces a connection between the spirit world and its human host, albeit not in the same manner that characterizes later Jewish and Christian thought. (p. 38) After person choses between good and evil, a “mutually supportive symbiosis, takes place between the individual and the spirit of choice,” according to Eric Sorensen. (p. 38) Identifying a person with his good or evil benefactor converges with the rhetoric used by Jewish sectarians and early Christians to consecrate their fellow believers and demonize their opponents – Sorensen gathers the evidence for this from E.H. Pagels’ The Origin of Satan. (p. 39)

Evidence for quasi-exorcisms in Zoroastrianism lie in the laws of the Vendidad that provide purification rituals for physical contaminations caused by demons. (p. 39) According to James Darmesteter, the Zoroastrian understanding of “impurity or uncleanness may be described as the state of a person or thing that is possessed of a demon; and the object of purification is to expel the demon.”(p. 39) This however, is not considered an exorcism in the manner in which it is thought of today. “The closest analogy to exorcism in the early Zoroastrian literature is a reference to the followers of the Wise Lord (Ahura Mazda) as the “expellers of fury,” where “fury” is thought to be Aeshma, “the only demon mentioned by name in the Gathas, according to Boyce. (p.40)

However, this is still unlike the Christian accounts of demonic possession in which a demon invades the host’s body and must be cast out to restore the body to its natural and healthy state. (p. 40) The difference lies in the nature of choice that is associated with Zoroastrian dualism. A person who allies himself with evil is not necessarily a victim of it from whom malevolent influence must be driven out; instead, he is seen to voluntarily involve himself with evil. (p. 40) The “expulsion” of demons was more an attempt to destroy those who sided themselves with evil than remove evil influence. Yet, such “expulsions,” don’t directly translate to exorcisms. A possible influence is seen in the use of incantations for physical purifications from demons, seen in the Vendidad. (p. 41)

Despite the likely evidence, “the influence of Zoroastrianism upon Hellenism and Judaism has so far been difficult to prove,” according to Sorensen. (p. 43) It is, however, widely noted that there are, “striking affinities between Zoroastrianism and Judaism…the angelologies, demonologies, and the subjugation of evil evident in late canonical and intertestamental writings such as Tobit, Daniel, and Qumran’s Community Rule offer tantalizing suggestions of Zoroastrianism’s influence upon Jewish thought.” (p. 45) “The most explicit evidence of Zoroastrian views on early Judaism is the demon Asmodeus in Tobit (II BCE). The name Asmodeus derives from the Avestan words aēšma daēuua (“Demon of Wrath”).” (p. 45)

There is an increasing emphasis on possession, not in terms of physical ailments, but with ethical decision-making that is seen in early Jewish Pseudepigrapha; in a Sibylline Oracle, the Sibyl dictates that God will “dwell in the maiden.” (p. 62) Ethical decision-making is reminiscent of the choice one has to make in dualistic Zoroastrianism. Sven Hartman sees an example of Zoroastrian’s influence on Judaism’s apocalyptic thought in the figure of the devil, “whom he considers the Jews to have modeled after Angra Mainyu after their exposure to the Achaemenian and Parthian periods of dominance in the Near East.” (p. 45)

Exorcism finds its closest analogies in the Hebrew Bible in two specific passages: “David’s soothing of Saul in 1 Samuel and God’s rebuke of Satan in the book of Zechariah.” (p. 53) In the former passage, an evil spirit plagues, but does not explicitly possess, Saul’s body; David plays a lyre as, “an exorcistic function,” to restore Saul to a well state of being by making the evil spirit depart. (p. 53) In the latter passage, God’s rebuke of Satan contains language similar to what is found in New Testament exorcisms. (p. 54)

Other evidence is found in Tobit, the only apocryphal book in the Septuagint that supplies to the ideas of exorcism. Eric Sorensen’s linguistic research has concluded that in the stories of Moses, Daniel, and Joseph, “four of the six terms used of magical practitioners have their origins in the Mesopotamian cultures of Assyria and Babylonia. Linguistically, then, the Mesopotamian cultic and occult practices influenced how Hellenistic Judaism interpreted magic and illicit conjurations [precursors to exorcism].” (p. 57)

The practice of exorcism and demonology becomes more prominent in language and content in other Jewish intertestamental literature. Particularly in their testaments and apocalypses, the documents from the scrolls from the Judean desert and the Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, offer near-contemporary views of possession and exorcism as viewed in the New Testament; this is seen an sign that Near Eastern practices and beliefs came into the same setting from which New Testament writings and other the synoptic sources were to emerge. (p. 59)

In the words of Eric Sorensen, “Although the Hebrew Bible does not offer explicit evidence of exorcism, the Hellenistic period does introduce the semantic groundwork for the demonology that would become standard to the later presentations of exorcism in the New Testament. During this time the Hebrew Bible was translated into Greek, and most of the apocryphal documents were composed in Greek. Though Near Eastern demonic personalities do not enter into the early Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible (Old Greek Version), its derivatives are used to translate various Hebrew terms for spiritual entities. These will come to refer often and exclusively to evil spirits in the New Testament.” (p. 55)

Scientific view

Demonic possession is not a valid psychiatric or medical diagnosis recognized by either the DSM-IV or the ICD-10. Those who profess a belief in demonic possession have sometimes ascribed the symptoms associated with mental illnesses, such as hysteria, mania, psychosis, Tourette’s syndrome, epilepsy, schizophrenia or dissociative identity disorder, to possession.[16][17][18] In cases of dissociative identity disorder in which the alter personality is questioned as to its identity, 29% are reported to identify themselves as demons.[19] Additionally, there is a form of monomania called demonomania or demonopathy in which the patient believes that he or she is possessed by one or more demons.

The illusion that exorcism works on people experiencing symptoms of possession is attributed by some to placebo effect and the power of suggestion.[20] Some supposedly possessed persons are actually narcissists or are suffering from low self-esteem and act like a “demon possessed person” in order to gain attention.[16]

Psychiatrist M. Scott Peck researched exorcisms and claimed to have conducted two himself. He concluded that the Christian concept of possession was a genuine phenomenon. He derived diagnostic criteria somewhat different from those used by the Roman Catholic Church. He also claimed to see differences in exorcism procedures and progression. After his experiences, and in an effort to get his research validated, he attempted but failed to get the psychiatric community to add the definition of “Evil” to the DSM-IV.[21]

Although Peck’s earlier work was met with widespread popular acceptance, his work on the topics of evil and possession generated significant debate and derision. Much was made of his association with (and admiration for) the controversial Malachi Martin, a Roman Catholic priest and a former Jesuit, despite the fact that Peck consistently called Martin a liar and manipulator.[22][23] Other criticisms leveled against Peck included claims that he had transgressed the boundaries of professional ethics by attempting to persuade his patients to accept Christianity.[22]

Notable exorcisms

  • An October 2007 mākutu lifting in the Wellington, New Zealand suburb of Wainuiomata led to the death by drowning of a woman and the hospitalization of a teen. After a long trial, five family members were convicted and sentenced to non-custodial sentences.[24]
  • Mother Teresa allegedly underwent an exorcism late in life under the direction of the Archbishop of Calcutta, Henry D’Souza, after he noticed she seemed to be extremely agitated in her sleep and feared she “might be under the attack of the evil one.”[25]
  • Anneliese Michel was a Catholic woman from Germany who was said to be possessed by six or more demons and subsequently underwent a secret ten-month-long voluntary exorcism in 1975. Two motion pictures, The Exorcism of Emily Rose and Requiem are loosely based on Anneliese’s story. The documentary movie Exorcism of Anneliese Michel [26] (in Polish, with English subtitles) features the original audio tapes from the exorcism. The two priests and her parents were convicted of negligent manslaughter for failing to call a medical doctor to address her eating disorder. When she died she weighed 68 pounds. The case has been labelled a misidentification of mental illness, negligence, abuse, and religious hysteria.
  • Bobby Jindal, governor of Louisiana, wrote an essay in 1994 about his personal experience of performing an exorcism on an intimate friend named “Susan” while in college.[27] Jindal’s exorcism took place at Brown University and was a success.
  • Michael Taylor in 1974.
  • A boy identified as Robbie Mannheim,[28][29] was the subject of an exorcism in 1949, which became the chief inspiration for The Exorcist, a horror novel and film written by William Peter Blatty, who heard about the case while he was a student in the class of 1950 at Georgetown University. Robbie was taken into the care of Rev. Luther Miles Schulze, the boy’s Lutheran pastor, after psychiatric and medical doctors were unable to explain the disturbing events associated with the teen; the minister then referred the boy to Rev. Edward Hughes, who performed the first exorcism on the teen.[30] The subsequent exorcism was partially performed in both Cottage City, Maryland and Bel-Nor, Missouri[31] by Father William S. Bowdern, S.J., Father Raymond Bishop S.J. and a then Jesuit scholastic Fr. Walter Halloran, S.J.[32]
  • Salvador Dalí is reputed to have received an exorcism from Italian friar Gabriele Maria Berardi while he was in France in 1947. Dali created a sculpture of Christ on the cross that he gave the friar in thanks.[33]
  • Clara Germana Cele was a South African school girl who claimed to be possessed in 1906.
  • Johann Blumhardt performed the exorcism of Gottliebin Dittus over a two-year period in Möttlingen, Germany from 1842-1844. Pastor Blumhardt’s parish subsequently experienced growth marked by confession and healing, which he attributed to the successful exorcism.[34][35]
  • George Lukins in 1778.

Cultural references

Exorcism has been a popular subject in fiction, especially horror.

See also


  1. ^ Jacobs, Louis (1999). “Exorcism”. Oxford Reference Online (Oxford University Press). Retrieved 24 Jan. 2011.
  2. ^ Martin, M (1992). Hostage to the Devil: The Possession and Exorcism of Five Contemporary Americans. San Francisco: Harper San Francisco. pp. 120.
  3. ^ a b Libreria Editrice Vaticana; Pope John Paul II, eds. (4/28/2000), Article 1: Sacramentals, “Part II: The Celebration of The Christian Mystery, Section II: The Seven Sacraments of The Church, Chapter IV: Other Liturgical Celebrations”, Catechism of the Catholic Church (Citta del Vaticano: United States Conference of Catholic Bishops): pp. 928, ISBN 978-1-57455-110-5, retrieved Feb 15, 2012
  4. ^ THE ROMAN RITUAL Translated by PHILIP T. WELLER, S.T.D.
  5. ^ a b The Rite by Matt Baglio; Doubleday, New York, 2009.
  6. ^ An Exorcist Tells His Story by Fr. Gabriele Amorth; Ignatius Press, San Francisco, 1999. However, recent research by Mohr and Royal (2012) in which they surveyed nearly 200 Christian exorcists revealed stark contrasts to Catholic practices. In fact, the research revealed that Protestant Christian exorcists believed any “mature Christian” has the authority and ability to cast out demons. Further, experienced exorcists claim most exorcisms do not resemble anything on tv or in the movies. Simply invoking the authority of Jesus’ name is sufficient for a Christian, and demons must obey the commands of the Christian exorcist. This is contrary to the Catholic tradition in which exorcisms are performed only be “elect” individuals, prayers are continually repeated, symbols and other artifacts are employed, and angels and other “good” spirits are asked to assist.
  7. ^ p.33, An Exorcist Tells His Story by Fr. Gabriele Amorth; Ignatius Press, San Francisco, 1999.
  8. ^ Malachi M. (1976) Hostage to the Devil: the possession and exorcism of five living Americans. San Francisco, Harpercollins p.462 ISBN 0-06-065337-X
  9. ^ Werner 1994, p. 166
  10. ^ Monier-Williams 1974, pp. 25–41
  11. ^ a b http://www.theblaze.com/stories/some-asian-muslims-giving-up-western-meds-for-islamic-exorcisms-treatments/
  12. ^ http://english.alarabiya.net/articles/2012/05/14/214122.html
  13. ^ Josephus, “B. J.” vii. 6, § 3; Sanh. 65b.
  14. ^ a b An interview with a Rabbi concerning the Jewish view of possession and exorcism.
  15. ^ Sorensen, Eric. In Possession and exorcism in the New Testament and early Christianity. Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2002.
  16. ^ a b How Exorcism Works
  17. ^ J. Goodwin, S. Hill, R. Attias “Historical and folk techniques of exorcism: applications to the treatment of dissociative disorders”
  18. ^ Journal of Personality Assessment (abstract)
  19. ^ Microsoft Word – Haraldur Erlendsson 1.6.03 Multiple Personality
  20. ^ Voice of Reason: Exorcisms, Fictional and Fatal
  21. ^ Peck M. MD (1983). People of the Lie: the Hope for Healing Human Evil. New York: Touchstone.
  22. ^ a b The devil you know, National Catholic Reporter, April 29, 2005, a commentary on Glimpses of the Devil by Richard Woods
  23. ^ The Patient Is the Exorcist, an interview with M. Scott Peck by Laura Sheahen
  24. ^ “Deadly curse verdict: five found guilty”. The Dominion Post. 13 June 2009. Retrieved 30 September 2011.
  25. ^ Archbishop: Mother Teresa underwent exorcism CNN 04 September 2001
  26. ^ Video on YouTube
  27. ^ name=”Bobby Jindal’s Exorcism problem”>{{cite web|url = http://www.motherjones.com/mojo/2012/05/bobby-jindal-exorcised-his-college-girlfriend
  28. ^ Powers of the mind. TV Books. 1999-05. ISBN 978-1-57500-028-2. Retrieved 2007-12-31. “The Reverend Luther Miles Schulze, was called in to help and took Mannheim to his home where he could study the phenomenon at close range;”
  29. ^ Paranormal Experiences. Unicorn Books. 2009-06-08. ISBN 978-81-7806-166-5. Retrieved 2007-12-31. “A thirteen-year-old American boy named, Robert Mannheim, started using an…The Reverend Luther Miles Schulze, who was called to look into the matter,…”
  30. ^ A Faraway Ancient Country. Lulu. 2007. ISBN 978-0-615-15801-3. Retrieved 2010-03-27.
  31. ^ St. Louis – News – Hell of a House
  32. ^ Part I – The Haunted Boy: the Inspiration for the Exorcist
  33. ^ Dali’s gift to exorcist uncovered Catholic News 14 October 2005
  34. ^ “Blumhardt’s Battle: A Conflict With Satan”. Thomas E. Lowe, LTD. Retrieved 2009–09–23.
  35. ^ Friedrich Zuendel. “The Awakening: One Man’s Battle With Darkness”. The Plough. Retrieved 2009–09–23.

Further reading

  • Mohr, M. D., & Royal, K. D. (2012). “Investigating the Practice of Christian Exorcism and the Methods Used to Cast out Demons”, Journal of Christian Ministry, 4, p. 35. Available at: http://journalofchristianministry.org/article/view/10287/7073.
  • William Baldwin, D.D.S., Ph.D., “Spirit Releasement Therapy”. ISBN 1-882658-00-0. Practitioner & Instructor of Spirit Releasement Therapy, containing an extensive bibliography.
  • Shakuntala Modi, M.D., “Remarkable Healings, A Psychiatrist Discovers Unsuspected Roots of Mental and Physical Illness.” ISBN 1-57174-079-1 Gives cases, and statistical summaries of the kinds of maladies remedied by this therapy.
  • Bobby Jindal, BEATING A DEMON: Physical Dimensions of Spiritual Warfare. (New Oxford Review, December 1994)
  • David M. Kiely and Christina McKenna, The Dark Sacrament : True Stories of Modern-Day Demon Possession and Exorcism. San Francisco: HarperOne, 2007. ISBN 0-06-123816-3. Ten detailed accounts from the casebooks of two exorcists, one Roman Catholic, the other Anglican. The cases are very recent.
  • Malachi Martin, Hostage to the Devil: The Possession and Exorcism of Five Living Americans. ISBN 0-06-065337-X.
  • M. Scott Peck, Glimpses of the Devil : A Psychiatrist’s Personal Accounts of Possession, Exorcism, and Redemption. ISBN
  • Max Heindel, The Web of Destiny (Chapter I – Part III: “The Dweller on the Threshold” Earth-Bound Spirits, Part IV: The “Sin Body”—Possession by Self-Made Daemons—Elementals, Part V: Obsession of Man and of Animals), ISBN 0-911274-17-0
  • Frederick M Smith, The Self Possessed: Deity and Spirit Possession in South Asian Literature and Civilization. New York: Columbia University Press, 2006. ISBN 0-231-13748-6
  • Gabriele Amorth, An Exorcist Tells His Story. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1999. Vatican’s chief exorcist tells about Roman Catholic practice of exorcism with numerous anecdotes from his own experience.
  • G. Paxia, The Devil’s Scourge – Exorcism during the Italian Renaissance, Ed. WeiserBooks 2002.
  • J McCarthy The Exorcists Handbook – Approaches the subject of exorcism in a clear non-religious manner. Golem Media Publishers Berkeley CA ISBN 978-1-933993-91-1
  • Piero Cantoni, Demonologia e prassi dell’esorcismo e delle preghiere di liberazione, en Fides Catholica 1 (2006,. [1].
  • Catechism of the Catholic Church, nn. 391-395; 407.409.414.
  • Don Gino Oliosi, Il demonio come essere personale. Una verità di fede, Fede & Cultura, 2008.

External links

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