Exorcism (from Late Latin "exorcismus", from Greek "exorkizein" - to adjure) is the practice of evicting demons or other evil spiritual entities from a person or place which they are believed to have possessed. The practice is quite ancient and part of the belief system of many countries.

The person performing the exorcism, known as an exorcist, is often a member of the clergy, 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 angels and archangels to intervene with the exorcism.

In general, possessed persons are not regarded as evil in themselves, nor wholly responsible for their actions. Therefore practitioners regard exorcism more as a cure than as 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. [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]


The concept of possession by evil spirits and the practice of exorcism are very ancient and were widespread, and may have originated in prehistoric Shamanistic beliefs.

The Christian New Testament includes exorcism among the miracles performed by Jesus. Because of this precedent, demonic possession was part of the belief system of Christianity since its beginning, and exorcism is still a recognized practice of Catholicism, Eastern Orthodox and some Protestant sects. The Church of England also has an official exorcist in each diocese.; ). According to the Catholic Encyclopedia article on [http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/05709a.htm Exorcism] : Jesus cast out demons as a sign of his Messiahship and empowered his disciples to do the same. [ [http://www.catholicity.com/encyclopedia/e/exorcism.html Exorcism ] ] .=

The Jewish Encyclopedia article on [http://jewishencyclopedia.com/view.jsp?artid=254&letter=J&search=Jesus Jesus] stated that Jesus "was devoted especially to casting out demons" and also believed that he passed this on to his followers, however he was superior to them in the Exorcisms." [ [http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/view.jsp?artid=254&letter=J&search=jesus%20casting%20out%20demons#998 JewishEncyclopedia.com - JESUS OF NAZARETH ] ]

In the time of Jesus, non-New Testament Jewish sources report of exorcisms done by administering drugs with poisonous root extracts or other by making sacrifices. ( [http://www.earlyjewishwritings.com/text/josephus/war7.html Josephus, "B. J." vii. 6, § 3] ; Sanh. 65b). They do not report of Jesus being an exorcist, but do mention that exorcisms were done by the Essene branch of Judaism (Dead Sea Scrolls at Qumran).

Roman Catholicism


The Catholic Church revised the Rite of Exorcism in January 1999, although the traditional Rite of Exorcism in Latin is allowed as an option. The act of exorcism is considered to be an incredibly dangerous spiritual task; the ritual assumes that possessed persons retain their free-will, though the demon may hold control over their physical body, and involves prayers, blessings, and invocations with the use of the document "Of Exorcisms and Certain Supplications". Other formulas may have been used in the past, such as the Benedictine "Vade retro satana". In the modern era, the Catholic Church authorizes exorcism rarely, approaching would-be cases with the presumption that mental or physical illness is in play. In mild cases the Chaplet of Saint Michael should be usedFact|date=July 2008.


In 1974, the Church of England set up the "Deliverance Ministry". As part of its creation every diocese in the country was equipped a team trained in both exorcism and psychiatry. According to its representatives most cases brought before it have conventional explanations and actual exorcisms are quite rare, though sometimes blessings are given to people for psychological reasons.

In The Episcopal Church the "Book of Occasional Services" discusses provision for exorcism; but it does not indicate any specific rite, nor does it establish an office of "exorcist". ["Concerning Exorcism", "Book of Occasional Services", Church Publishing.] Diocesan exorcists usually continue in their role when they have retired from all other church duties. Anglican priests may not perform an exorcism without permission from the Diocesan bishop. An exorcism is not usually performed unless the bishop and his team of specialists (including a psychiatrist and physician) have approved it.

Protestant denominations

Some Protestant denominations also recognize possession and exorcism, although the practice is generally less formalized than it is in the Catholic Church. The Methodist Church also has appointed people in place for use in such circumstances. [Methodist Conference Statement on Exorcism-1976. ] While some denominations perform exorcism very sparingly and cautiously, some may perform it almost routinely, as part of regular religious services.

Psychiatrist M. Scott Peck researched exorcisms (initially in an effort to disprove demonic possession), and claims 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 attempt to get his research validated, he has attempted to get the psychiatric community to add the definition of "Evil" to the DSMIV. [Peck M. MD(1983)People of the Lie: the Hope for Healing Human Evil. Touchstone: New York]


In the less formalized sections of Protestant denominations the ritual can take many forms and belief structures, especially in Charismatic movement. The most common of these is the Deliverance ceremony. This differs from the exorcism ceremony by the fact that the Devil may have gotten a foothold, into a persons life rather than gaining complete control if complete control has been gained a full fledged exorcism is necessary. However a "spirit filled Christian" can not be possessed based on their beliefs. Within this belief structure the reasons for the devil to get a foothold are usually explained to be some sort of deviation from theological doctrine or because of pre-conversion activities (like dealing with the occult). [Poloma M. (1982) The Charismatic Movement: is there a new Pentecost? p97 Isbn. 0805797211] [Cuneo M. (2001) American Exorcism: Expelling Demons in the Land of Plenty. Doubleday: New York. pp.111-128 isbn. 0385501765]

The method for determining if a person needs a Deliverance is done by having someone present who has the gift of Discernments of Spirits. This is a gift of the Holy Spirit from Cor. 1:12 that allows a person to "sense" in some way an evil presence. [Poloma M. (1982) The Charismatic Movement: is there a new Pentecost? p60 isbn:0805797211] While the initial diagnosis is usually uncontested by the congregation, when many people are endowed with this gift in a single congregation results may vary. [Cuneo M. (2001) American Exorcism: Expelling Demons in the Land of Plenty. Doubleday: New York. pp.118-119 Isbn: 0385501765]

Fr. Gabriele Amorth references these people calling them "seers and Sensitives" and uses them on many occasions; they have the ability to detect an evil presence. He notes however that "They are not always right: their "feelings" must be checked out." In his examples they are able to detect the events that caused the Demon to enter, or are able to discover the evil object that has cursed the individual. He notes that "they are always Humble." [Amorth G. (1990) An Exorcist Tells His Story. tns. MacKenzie N. Ignatius Press: San Francisco. pp157-160 isbn. 0898707102]

Exorcism in Scientology

Scientology believes that foreign beings known as Body Thetans have clustered themselves around a person and cause them confusion. It is the goal of Scientology to remove these beings from a person.

On Scientology advanced level "OT3", "body thetans" are exorcised using a complicated technique. Body thetan exorcism, with a simpler technique, is revisited on advanced level "OT5", also known as "New Era Dianetics for Operating Thetans." [ [http://www.xenu.net/archive/ot/ Operation Clambake Presents: OT Levels ] ] after these levels (which are used to accomplish other goals as well, not just an "exorcism" for Body Thetans) you are supposed to be free from the BT's influence. It should be noted that Scientologiest believe that Body thetans possess every person, except for those who have been exorcised.

Notable exorcisms

Salvador Dali 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 which he gave the friar in thanks. [ [http://www.cathnews.com/news/510/72.php Dali's gift to exorcist uncovered] Catholic News 14 October 2005]

Anneliese Michel was a Catholic woman from Germany who was said to be possessed by six or more demons and subsequently underwent an exorcism in 1975. Two motion pictures, "The Exorcism of Emily Rose" and "Requiem" are loosely based on Anneliese's story.

A boy identified by the pseudonym "Roland Doe" was the subject of an exorcism in 1949, which became the subject of "The Exorcist", a horror novel and later film written by William Peter Blatty. Blatty heard about the case while he was a student in the class of 1950 at Georgetown University. The exorcism was partially performed in both Cottage City, Maryland and Bel-Nor, Missouri [ [http://www.riverfronttimes.com/Issues/2005-10-26/news/feature.html St. Louis - News - Hell of a House ] ] by Father William S. Bowdern, S.J. and a then Jesuit scholastic Fr. Walter Halloran, S.J. [ [http://www.strangemag.com/exorcistpage1.html Part I - The Haunted Boy: the Inspiration for the Exorcist ] ]

Scientific view

The Roman Ritual of exorcism cautions the priest to look for signs of mental and physical possession and the Catholic Church authorizes exorcism rarely, approaching would-be cases with the presumption that mental or physical illness is in play and employs mental health and medical professionals to rule out physical or mental causes before giving authorization. Many mental illnesses have been treated as demon possession, and show signs that are interpreted as such.

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. [ [http://science.howstuffworks.com/exorcism5.htm How Exorcism Works] ] [ [https://scholarsbank.uoregon.edu/dspace/handle/1794/1530 J. Goodwin, S. Hill, R. Attias "Historical and folk techniques of exorcism: applications to the treatment of dissociative disorders"] ] [ [http://www.leaonline.com/doi/abs/10.1207/s15327752jpa6603_4 Journal of Personality Assessment (abstract)] ] 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. [ [http://www.rcpsych.ac.uk/pdf/erlendsson_01_jun_03.pdf Microsoft Word - Haraldur Erlendsson 1.6.03 Multiple Personality ] ] 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.

Medicine can explain some aspects of the "symptoms" shown by those persons allegedly possessed: it is known that "supernatural strength" is common in some cases of insanity (mania, energumens, etc.).Fact|date=March 2008

The fact that exorcism works on people experiencing symptoms of possession is attributed to placebo effect and the power of suggestion. [ [http://www.livescience.com/strangenews/050830_emilyrose.html Voice of Reason: Exorcisms, Fictional and Fatal] ] Some supposedly possessed persons are actually narcissists or are suffering from low self-esteem and act a "demon possessed person" in order to gain attention. [ [http://science.howstuffworks.com/exorcism5.htm How Exorcism Works] ]

Exorcism-related deaths and traumas

Exorcism and other forms of spiritual healing have been related to abusecite journal | author = Cohen, M.H. | year = 2002 | title = Healing at the Borderland of Medicine and Religion: Regulating Potential Abuse of Authority by Spiritual Healers | journal = JL & Religion | volume = 18 | pages = 373 | url = http://www.jstor.org/pss/1602269 | accessdate = 2008-06-23] and have been known to cause considerable physical harm to the exorcee, particularly when it is performed by those who believe that exorcism is necessarily a violent process. Notable cases include:

*Anneliese Michel was a German college student who died after an exorcism. Her parents and the two Bavarian priests who carried out the exorcism were later convicted. The movies "The Exorcism of Emily Rose" and "Requiem" were based on her story.
*Korean woman Joanna Lee died in early December 2001 during a violent and prolonged exorcism performed in Auckland, New Zealand by a Korean church minister. Her decomposing body was prayed over for several days before authorities were notified. During his subsequent trial, Luke Lee claimed that Joanna Lee would rise from the dead in a few days. Lee was imprisoned but has appealed the conviction.
*Kyung-A Ha was beaten to death in 1995 in San Francisco, California by members of the Jesus-Amen Ministries.
*Kyung Jae Chung died in 1996 in Glendale, California from blunt-force trauma inflicted by her husband (a reverend) and members of the Glendale Korean Methodist Church. [http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2004/01/20/national/main594278.shtml Exorcism Suspected In Child Death] ]
*Charity Miranda was suffocated with a plastic bag in 1998 in Sayville, New York by her mother and sister during a Cuban Voodoo exorcism ritual. [http://archive.southcoasttoday.com/daily/01-98/01-25-98/a09wn049.htm]
*Terrance Cottrell Jr., an eight-year-old autistic child, died of asphyxiation in 2003 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin during an exorcism carried out by members of the Faith Temple Church of the Apostolic Faith, in an attempt to expel the boy's demons. The coroner ruled that the boy died "due to external chest compression" as the part-time pastor lay on top of him. On July 10, 2004, the pastor was convicted of child abuse. [http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2003/08/25/national/main569963.shtml]
*In 2007, a 3-year-old girl in Phoenix, Arizona was hospitalized after being choked by her grandfather, Ronald Marquez, during an exorcism. Police are investigating "other possible abuses" and potential criminal charges against the mother, who has not been arrested, but found bloody and naked chanting "something that was religious in nature" while the child crying, screaming, and gasping was held in a headlock, squeezed, and choked by the woman's father. [http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2007/07/29/ap/national/main3108588.shtml?source=search_story] The man was eventually subdued by police officers with a stun gun after a struggle and arrested. He initially appeared normal, but stopped breathing at the scene and could not be revived. He was pronounced dead at the hospital. [>>http://www.cnn.com/2007/US/07/29/exorcism.death.ap/index.html]
*In March 1992, in Oldham, UK, Kauser Bashir, a 20-year-old woman who had a history of mental illness was claimed as being possessed and beaten to death by two Muslim holy men - Mohammed Bashir (no relation) and Nourani Sayeed. With the family's consent, the exorcism performed on her lasted 8 days. She died whilst being starved of food and sleep for eight days. She was made to eat chili powder, suffered 17 broken ribs, a broken breastbone and was cut three times between her breasts. The two men were later convicted and imprisoned with life sentences. On the same date exactly 14 years later the murder victim’s father, Mohammed Bashir dosed in petrol burnt himself to death - at exactly the same location. [ [http://www.theasiannews.co.uk/news/s/210/210955_human_torch_dad_devastated_by_daughters_death.html Human torch dad devastated by daughter’s death - News - The Asian News] ]
*In November 2007, New Zealand woman Janet Moses died after a prolonged exorcism of a matuku (a Maori curse). Moses apparently died from waterlogging in the presence of 40 extended family members. Moses'cousin was later admitted to hospital with severe gouges to her eyes and bruising after another exorcism, when family members attacked her to remove a 'devil' which they saw in her eyes. [ [http://www.stuff.co.nz/4271124a8153.html 14-year-old nearly died in exorcism - New Zealand news on Stuff.co.nz] ]
*In June 2005, a a 23 year old Romanian Orthodox nun named Maricica Irina Cornici died. She had initially been treated for schizophrenia, after she heard a voice telling her she was sinful, but after she relapsed, a monk, Daniel Petre Corogeanu, and four other nuns tried exorcism. She was bound to a cross, gagged, and left this way in a convent basement for three days, where she died of dehydration and suffocation. [http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/8347530/]
*In February 2008, Odessa, Texas resident Jan David Clark was charged with the murder of his wife, Susan Kay Clark. He claimed that the devil caused her death by entering his body while he was holding her face down on a carpeted bathroom floor during an exorcism. Preliminary autopsy results showed the cause of death to be suffocation. Her body was found in their home, wrapped in a sheet with a sword and cross placed on top of it. [http://www.religionnewsblog.com/20533/susan-kay-clark] [http://www.religionnewsblog.com/20522/exorcism-18]

Exorcism in popular culture

Exorcism has been a popular subject in fiction, especially horror.
*"The Dybbuk" (1914 play by S. Ansky)
*"The Exorcist" (1971 novel by William Peter Blatty)
*"The Exorcist" (1973 and 2000 movies), and its sequels and prequels, were inspired by Catholic exorcism ritual and folklore.
*"Repossessed" (1990 comic movie starring Linda Blair and Leslie Nielsen)
*"The Biggest Douche in the Universe" (2002 South Park television episode)
*"Kya Dark Lineage""' (2003 video game)
*"Constantine" (2005 movie) is based on the DC/Vertigo comic book "Hellblazer".
*"The Exorcism of Emily Rose" (2005 movie) was inspired by the Anneliese Michel case.
*"Requiem" (2006 German-language movie by Hans-Christian Schmid) is based on the Anneliese Michel case.
*"An American Haunting""' (2006 movie)
*"D.Gray-man" (2006 Japanese animation series by Hoshino Katsura)
*"A Haunting" Shows true stories many involving demons and exorcisms
*"Stigmata" 1999 film starring Patricia Arquette and Gabriel Bryne)
*"Grudge 2" 2006 English movie based on the Japanese Ju-on series
*"El Orfanato (The Orphanage)" 2008 movie directed by Juan Antonio Bayona and produced by Guillermo Del Toro

See also

* Deliverance ministry
* International Association of Exorcists
* Kecak
* List of exorcists
* Yoruba religion


Further reading

* William Baldwin, D.D.S., Ph.D., "Spirit Releasement Therapy". ISBN 1-88-265800-0. Practitioner & Instructor of Spirit Releasement Therapy, containing an extensive biliography.
* 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.
* Malachi Martin, "Hostage to the Devil". ISBN 0-06-065337-X.
* M. Scott Peck, "Glimpses of the Devil : A Psychiatrist's Personal Accounts of Possession, Exorcism, and Redemption". ISBN 0-7432-5467-8
* 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 Deamons--Elementals, Part V: Obsession of Man and of Animals), ISBN 0-911274-17-0,

External links

* [http://www.fortea.us/ Specialized Catholic web about Possession and Exorcism. Spain Exorcist Father Jose Antonio Fortea]
* [http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/05709a.htm Catholic Encyclopedia: Exorcism]
* [http://jewishencyclopedia.com/view.jsp?artid=553&letter=E&search=Exorcism Jewish Encyclopedia: Exorcism]
* [http://www.quranichealing.com/bp.asp?caid=61 Exorcism tradition in Islam and Interviews with Muslim Exorcists] Islamic View
* [http://encyclopedia.jrank.org/EUD_FAT/EXORCISM_Gr_EEopd_av_to_conjure.html Encyclopedia Britannica: Exorcism]
* [http://www.cofe-worcester.org.uk/work_of_the_diocese/chaplaincy_deliverance.php Diocese of Worcester webpages on Ministry of Deliverance] Anglican View
* [http://www.hknet.org.nz/ghosts.htm On ghosts and exorcism in Vedic traditions]
* [http://www.goarch.org/en/ourfaith/articles/article7079.asp Exorcism in the Orthodox Church]
* [http://www.goarch.org/en/ourfaith/articles/article7078.asp Exorcism] (Greek Orthodox Archdiocese)

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