Exorcism (εξορκισμός, exorkismós “binding by oath”) is the religious or spiritual practice of evicting demons or other spiritual entities from a person, or an area, that are believed to be possessed. 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 exorcism began to decline in the United States by the 18th century and occurred rarely until the latter half of the 20th century when 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”.
See also: Ghosts in Tibetan culture
The ritual of the Exorcising-Ghost day is part of Tibetan tradition. The Tibetan religious ceremony ‘Gutor’ ༼དགུ་གཏོར་༽, literally offering of the 29th, is held on the 29th of the 12th Tibetan month, with its focus on driving out all negativity, including evil spirits and misfortunes of the past year, and starting the new year in a peaceful and auspicious way.
The temples and monasteries throughout Tibet hold grand religious dance ceremonies, with the largest at Potala Palace in Lhasa. Families clean their houses on this day, decorate the rooms and eat a special noodle soup called ‘Guthuk’. ༼དགུ་ཐུག་༽ In the evening, the people carry torches, calling out the words of exorcism.
In Christianity, exorcism is the practice of casting out demons. In Christian practice the person performing the exorcism, known as an exorcist, is often a member of the Christian 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 and/or several different angelsand archangels to intervene with the exorcism. Protestant Christian exorcists most commonly believe the authority given to them by the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit (the Trinity) is the source of their ability to cast out demons.
In general, people considered to be possessed are not regarded as evil in themselves, nor wholly responsible for their actions, because possession is considered to be unwilling manipulation by a demon resulting in harm to self or others. 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 there is potential for violence.
Main article: Exorcism in the Catholic Church
In Catholic Christianity, exorcisms are performed in the name of Jesus Christ. 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.
In Catholic practice the person performing the exorcism, known as an exorcist, is an ordained priest. The exorcist recites prayers according to the rubrics of the rite, and may make use of religious materials such as icons and sacramentals. The exorcist invokes God—specifically the Name of Jesus—as well as members of the Church Triumphant and the Archangel Michael to intervene with the exorcism. According to Catholic understanding, several weekly exorcisms over many years are sometimes required to expel a deeply entrenched demon.
From the 16th century onward, Lutheran pastoral handbooks describe the primary symptoms of demonic possession to be knowledge of secret things, knowledge of languages one has never learned, and supernatural strength. Before conducting a major exorcism, Lutheran liturgical texts state that a physician be consulted in order to rule out any medical or psychiatric illness. The rite of exorcism centers chiefly around driving out demons “with prayers and contempt” and includes the Apostle’s Creed and Our Father.
Baptismal liturgies in Lutheran Churches include a minor exorcism.
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 exorcism, magic and alchemy. 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, Hanuman, 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. It is also believed that praying to Lord Hanuman gives the best result. It is also mentioned in the Hanuman Chalisa. It is believed that just uttering the name of Lord Hanuman makes the evil forces and devils tremble, in fear.
The main puranic resource on ghost and death-related information is Garuda Purana.
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
Islamic exorcisms consist of the treated person lying down, while a sheikh places a hand on a patient’s head while reciting verses from the Quran, but this is not mandatory. The drinking or sprinkling of holy water (water from the Zamzam Well) may also take place along with applying of clean non-alcohol-based perfumes, called as ittar.
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 (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 an-Nas (Mankind).
A hadith recorded in Sahih al-Bukhari, 8:76:479 states: “Seventy thousand people of my followers will enter Paradise without accounts, and they are those who do not practice Ar-Ruqya and do not see an evil omen in things, and put their trust in their Lord.” Ibn Qayyim al-Jawziyya, a scholar, commented on this hadith, stating: That is because these people will enter Paradise without being called to account because of the perfection of their Tawheed, therefore he described them as people who did not ask others to perform ruqyah for them. Hence he said “and they put their trust in their Lord.” Because of their complete trust in their Lord, their contentment with Him, their faith in Him, their being pleased with Him and their seeking their needs from Him, they do not ask people for anything, be it ruqyah or anything else, and they are not influenced by omens and superstitions that could prevent them from doing what they want to do, because superstition detracts from and weakens Tawheed”.
Josephus reports exorcisms performed by administering poisonous root extracts and others by making sacrifices.
In more recent times, Rabbi Yehuda Fetaya (1859-1942) 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.
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).
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.[
See also: History of Taoism
In Taoism, exorcisms are performed because an individual has been possessed by an evil spirit for one of two reasons. The individual has disturbed a ghost, regardless of intent, and the ghost now seeks revenge. An alive person could also be jealous and uses black magic as revenge thereby conjuring a ghost to possess someone. Members of the fashi, both Chinese ritual officers and priests ordained by a celestial master, perform Chinese rituals, in particular, exorcisms.
Historically, Taoist exorcisms include chanting, physical movements, and praying as a way to drive away the spirit. Rituals such as these occur during festivals. Rituals such as these are considered of low order during these festivals. They are more for entertainment than a necessity during festivals.
The leaders of the exorcisms create a dramatic performance to call out the demons so the village can once again have peace. The leaders strike themselves with a sharp weapon so they bleed. Blood is considered to be a protector, so after the rituals, the blood is blotted with a tissue and put on the door of houses as an act of protection against evil spirits.
Demonic possession is not a psychiatric or medical diagnosis recognized by either the DSM-5 or the ICD-10. Those who profess a belief in demonic possession have sometimes ascribed to possession the symptoms associated with physical or mental illnesses, such as hysteria, mania, psychosis, Tourette’s syndrome, epilepsy, schizophrenia or dissociative identity disorder.
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. Some cases suggest that supposedly possessed persons are actually narcissists or are suffering from low self-esteem and act demonically possessed in order to gain attention.
Within the scientific community, the work of psychiatrist M. Scott Peck, a believer in exorcism, 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 a manipulator. 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.
Exorcism and mental illness
One scholar has described psychosurgery as “Neurosurgical Exorcisms”, with trepanation having been widely used to release demons from the brain. Meanwhile, another scholar has equated psychotherapy with exorcism.
In the UK, exorcisms are increasing. They happen mainly in charismatic and Pentecostal churches, and also among communities of West African origin. Frequently, the people exorcised are mentally disturbed. Mentally ill people are sometimes told to stop their medication as the church believes prayer and/or exorcism is enough. If psychiatric patients do not get better after exorcism, they may believe they have failed to overcome the demon and get worse.
Notable exorcisms and exorcists
- (1578) Martha Broissier was a young woman who was made famous around the year of 1578 for her feigned demonic possession discovered through exorcism proceedings.
- (1619) Mademoiselle Elizabeth de Ranfaing, who having become a widow in 1617 was later sought in marriage by a physician (afterwards burned under judicial sentence for being a practicing magician). After being rejected, he gave her potions to make her love him which occasioned strange developments in her health and proceeded to continuously give her some other forms of medicament. The maladies which she suffered were incurable by the various physicians that attended her and eventually led to a recourse of exorcisms as prescribed by several physicians that examined her case. They began to exorcise her in September, 1619. During the exorcisms, the demon that possessed her made detailed and fluid responses in varying languages including French, Greek, Latin, Hebrew and Italian and was reportedly able to know and recite the thoughts and sins of various individuals who examined her. She was further also able to describe in detail with the use of various languages the rites and secrets of the church to experts in the languages she spoke. There was even a mention of how the demon interrupted an exorcist, who after making a mistake in his recital of an exorcism rite in Latin, corrected his speech and mocked him.
- (1778) George Lukins
- (1842-1844) 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.
- (1906) Clara Germana Cele was a South African school girl who claimed to be possessed.
- (1947) Salvador Dalí is reputed to have received an exorcism from Italian friar Gabriele Maria Berardi while he was in France. Dalí created a sculpture of Christ on the cross that he gave the friar in thanks.
- (1949) A boy identified as Robbie Mannheim, 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. The subsequent exorcism was partially performed in both Cottage City, Maryland and Bel-Nor, Missouri by Father William S. Bowdern, S.J., Father Raymond Bishop S.J. and a then Jesuit scholastic Fr. Walter Halloran, S.J.
- (1974) Michael Taylor
- (1975) 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. Two motion pictures, The Exorcism of Emily Rose and Requiem, are loosely based on Anneliese’s story. The documentary movie Exorcism of Anneliese Michel (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 as she died weighing only 68 pounds. The case has been labelled a misidentification of mental illness, negligence, abuse, and religious hysteria.
- Bobby Jindal, former 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.
- 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.”
- (2005) Tanacu exorcism is a case in which a mentally ill Romanian nun was killed during an exorcism by priest Daniel Petre Corogeanu.
- The October 2007 mākutu lifting (ceremonial lifting of a sorcery or witchcraft curse) in the Wellington, New Zealand suburb of Wainuiomata led to a 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.
Adapted from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia