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Saint Francis exorcised demons in Arezzo, in a depiction on a fresco by Giotto.


Exorcism (from Late Latin exorcismus, from Greek exorkizein - to abjure) is the practice of evicting demons or other 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 cultures.

Asian cultures


Beliefs and/or practices pertaining to the practice of exorcism are prominently connected with the ancient Dravidians in the south. Of the four Vedas (holy books of the Hindus), the Atharva Veda is said to contain the secrets related to magic and medicine.[1][2] Many of the rituals described in this book are for casting out demons and evil spirits. These beliefs are particularly strong and practiced in West Bengal, Orissa and southern states like Kerala.

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 Bhagavata Purana) aloud. According to Gita Mahatmya of Padma Purana, reading the 3rd, 7th and 8th 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 e.t.c) (esp. 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.

Main Puranic resource on ghost- and death-related information is Garuda Purana.


In Buddhism, exorcism exists depending on the Buddhist sect. Each differs from the other, some view it as metaphoric, or esoteric and even literal. Some Tibetan Buddhists view exorcism as being nothing more but a metaphoric symbolism to expel the negative thoughts and transform it into an enlightened mind.

Certain Buddhists believe in blessings, rather than exorcisms to rid themselves or property of negative thoughts and/or negative spirits.


In Christian 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 and/or several different angels and archangels to intervene with the exorcism. Exorcism is primarily associated with the Catholic Church, although non-Catholic Christians also claim to perform exorcisms.

In general, possessed persons are not regarded as evil in themselves, nor wholly responsible for their actions. 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.[3]


In Christianity, exorcisms are performed using the power of Christ or in the Name of Jesus. This is founded in the belief that Jesus commanded His followers to expel evil spirits in His name (Matthew 10:1,Matthew 10:8; Mark 6:7; Luke 9:110:17, (Mark 16:17). According to the Catholic Encyclopedia article on Exorcism: Jesus points to this ability as a sign of his Messiahship, and he empowered his disciples to do the same.[4]

The Jewish Encyclopedia article on Jesus states that Jesus "was devoted especially to casting out demons" and also believed that he passed this on to his followers; however, "his superiority to his followers was shown by his casting out demons which they had failed to expel."[5]

In the time of Jesus, non-New Testament Jewish sources report of exorcisms done by administering drugs with poisonous root extracts or others by making sacrifices.[6] They mention that exorcisms were done by the Essene branch of Judaism (Dead Sea Scrolls at Qumran).

Roman Catholicism

Painting by Francisco Goya of Saint Francis Borgia performing an exorcism.

In Roman Catholic dogma exorcism is a ritual but not a sacrament, unlike baptism or confession. Unlike a sacrament, exorcism's "integrity and efficacy do not depend ... on the rigid use of an unchanging formula or on the ordered sequence of prescribed actions. Its efficacy depends on two elements: authorization from valid and licit Church authorities, and the faith of the exorcist."[7] That being said, Catholic exorcism is still one of the most rigid and organized of all existing exorcism rituals. Solemn exorcisms, according to the Canon law of the church, can be exercised only by an ordained priest (or higher prelate), with the express permission of the local bishop, and only after a careful medical examination to exclude the possibility of mental illness. The Catholic Encyclopedia (1908) enjoined: "Superstition ought not to be confounded with religion, however much their history may be interwoven, nor magic, however white it may be, with a legitimate religious rite." Things listed in the Roman Ritual as being indicators of possible demonic possession include: speaking foreign or ancient languages of which the possessed has no prior knowledge; supernatural abilities and strength; knowledge of hidden or remote things which the possessed has no way of knowing, an aversion to anything holy, profuse blasphemy, and/or sacrilege.

The Catholic Church revised the Rite of Exorcism in January 1999, though 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, Catholic bishops rarely authorize exorcisms, approaching would-be cases with the presumption that mental or physical illness is more likely. In mild cases the Chaplet of Saint Michael could be used..



In 1974, the Church of England set up the "Deliverance Ministry". As part of its creation, every diocese in the country was equipped with 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; although, blessings are sometimes given to people for psychological reasons.[8]

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".[9] 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.


The Lutheran Church traces the practice of exorcism to the Scriptural claim that Jesus Christ expelled demons with a simple command (Mark 1:23–26; 9:14–29; Luke 11:14–26).[10] The apostles continued the practice with the power and in the name of Jesus (Matthew 10:1; Acts 19:11–16).[10] Contrary to some denominations of Christianity, Lutheranism affirms that the individual, both the believer and the non-believer, can be plagued by demons, based on several arguments, including the one that "just as a believer, whom Jesus Christ has delivered from sin (Romans 6:18), can still be bound by sin in his life, so he can still be bound by a demon in his life."[11]

After the Protestant Reformation, Martin Luther abbreviated the Roman ritual used for exorcism.[12] In 1526, the ritual was further abbreviated. This form of the Lutheran Ritual for Exorcism was incorporated into the majority of the Lutheran service-books and implemented.[12][13] According to a Pastoral Handbook of the Lutheran Church,

In general, satanic possession is nothing other than an action of the devil by which, from God's permission, men are urged to sin, and he occupies their bodies, in order that they might lose eternal salvation. Thus bodily possession is an action by which the devil, from divine permission, possesses both pious and impious men in such a way that he inhabits their bodies not only according to activity, but also according to essence, and torments them, either for the punishment or for the discipline and testing of men, and for the glory of divine justice, mercy, power, and wisdom.[12][14]

These pastoral manuals warn that oftentimes, symptoms such as ecstasy, epileptic seizures, lethargy, insanity, and a frantic state of mind, are the results of natural causes and should not be mistaken for demon possession.[14] According to the Lutheran Church, primary symptoms that may indicate demon possession and the need of an exorcism include:

  1. The knowledge of secret things, for example, being able to predict the future (Acts 16:16), find lost people or things, or know complex things that one has never learned (e.g., medicine). It is said that fortune-tellers often ask a spirit for help and that this spirit gives them certain powers. In that case, the evil spirit is assisting, not necessarily possessing the person bodily.[14]
  2. The knowledge of languages one has never learned. Just as the devil can bind one's tongue (Luke 11:14), it is reported from the early church as well as the time of the Reformation that certain demon-possessed people could speak languages they had never learned.[14]
  3. Supernatural strength (Mark 5:2-3), far beyond what they previously had or should have considering their sex and size. Much caution in judging demon possession is required. All of the circumstances and symptoms must be taken into consideration. Insanity should not be confused with possession. On the other hand, possession may be taking place even where these symptoms are absent.[14]

The Church lists the secondary symptoms of horrible shouting (Mark 5:5), blasphemy of God and jeering at one's neighbor, deformation of movements (e.g. ferocious movements, facial contortion, immodest laughing, gnashing of teeth, spitting, removing clothes, lacerating self, Mk. 9:20; Lk. 8:26f.), inhuman revelry (e.g. when they take food beyond the capability of nature), torment of bodies, unusual injuries of the body and of those nearby, extraordinary motion of bodies (e.g., an elderly man who, being demon-possessed, was able to run as fast as a horse), and forgetfulness of things done.[14] Other symptoms include the corruption of reason in man, which make him like an animal, melancholy, the acceleration of death (Mark 9:18 [suicide attempts]), and the presence of other supernatural occurrences.[14]

After these determinations have been made, the Church recommends experienced physicians to determine whether there is a medical explanation for the behaviour of the individual.[14] When a true possession is recognized, the poor one is to be committed to the care of a minister of the Church who teaches sound doctrine, is of a blameless life, who does nothing for the sake of filthy lucre, but does everything from the soul.[14] The pastor is then to diligently inquire what kind of life the possessed one led up to this point and lead him or her through the law to the recognition of his sins.[14] After this admonition or consolation has taken place, the works of a natural physician are to be used, who will cleanse the possessed one from malicious fluids with the appropriate medicines.[14] The Pastoral Handbook then states:

  • Let the confession of the Christian faith be once required of Him, let him be taught concerning the works of the devil destroyed by Christ, let him be sent back faithfully to this Destroyer of Satan, Jesus Christ, let an exhortation be set up to faith in Christ, to prayers, to penitence.
  • Let ardent prayers be poured forth to God, not only by the ministers of the Church, but also by the whole Church. Let these prayers be conditioned, if the liberation should happen for God's glory and the salvation of the possessed person, for this is an evil of the body.
  • With the prayers let fasting be joined, see Matthew 17:21.
  • Alms by friends of the possessed person, Tobit 12:8-9.
  • Let the confession of the Christian faith be once required of Him, let him be taught concerning the works of the devil destroyed by Christ, let him be sent back faithfully to this Destroyer of Satan, Jesus Christ, let an exhortation be set up to faith in Christ, to prayers, to penitence.[14]


The Methodist Church holds that the ritual of exorcism involves "the casting out of an objective power of evil which has gained possession of a person."[15] Moreover, the Methodist Church teaches that "the authority to exorcise has been given to the Church as one of the ways in which Christ's Ministry is continued in the world."[16] Ordained clergy must first consult the district superintendent in order to perform an exorcism.[17] The Methodist Church holds that it is of great importance to ensure that the presence and love of Christ is assured to the individual(s) seeking help.[18] In addition, the ministry of the "bible, prayer and sacraments" should be extended to these individuals as well.[19] A combination of these things has been proven to be effective.[20] For example, in one particular situation, a Roman Catholic woman believed that her house was haunted, and therefore consulted her priest for assistance. Since he was not available to drive the demons from the woman's home, she contacted a Methodist pastor, who exorcised the evil spirits from a room, which was believed to be the source of distress in the house, and celebrated Holy Communion in the same place;[20] following these actions, there was no longer any problem in the house.[20]


In the Pentecostal Church, Charismatic Movement, and other the less formalized sections of Christianity, the exorcism ritual can take many forms and belief structures. The most common of these is the deliverance ceremony. Deliverance differs from the exorcism ceremony in that the Devil may have gotten a foothold into a person's life rather than gaining complete control . If complete control has been gained, a full-fledged exorcism is necessary. However, a "spirit-filled Christian" cannot 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).[21][22]

The traditional method for determining if a person needs a deliverance is done by having someone present who has the gift of discerning of spirits. This is a gift of the Holy Spirit from 1 Corinthians 12 that allows a person to "sense" in some way an evil presence.[23] 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.[24]

Fr. Gabriele Amorth references people with this gift calling them "seers and Sensitives," and uses them on many occasions; they have the ability to detect an evil presence. However, he notes 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."[25]


The Christian practice of exorcism approaches the subject with a procedure of presuming mental or physical illness and employing mental health and medical professionals to rule out physical or mental causes before authorization of the exorcism ritual. When all possible benign causes are ruled out, the case is treated as a malignant demonic possession and an exorcism may be performed.

Notable examples

  • 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.[26]
  • 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. There is also a documentary movie Exorcism of Anneliese Michel [27] (in Polish, but the English subtitles are also available) featuring the original audio tapes from the proceedings of exorcism.
  • A boy identified by the pseudonym "Robbie" a.k.a. "Robbie Doe" 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. 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[28] by Father William S. Bowdern, S.J., Father Raymond Bishop S.J. and a then Jesuit scholastic Fr. Walter Halloran, S.J.[29]
  • 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."[30]
  • An October 2007 exorcism in the Wellington, New Zealand suburb of Wainuiomata led to the death of a woman and the hospitalization of a teen. After a long trial, five family members were convicted and sentenced to non-custodial sentences.[31]
  • 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.[32][33]

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.[34][35][36] 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.[37] 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 fact that exorcism works on people experiencing symptoms of possession is by some attributed to placebo effect and the power of suggestion.[38] 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.[34]

Nevertheless, 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 yet failed to get the psychiatric community to add the definition of "Evil" to the DSMIV.[39]

Cultural references

Template: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 film), and its sequels and prequels, were inspired by Catholic exorcism ritual and folklore based on the novels by William Peter Blatty).
  • Repossessed (1990 comic movie starring Linda Blair and Leslie Nielsen)
  • Kya Dark Lineage (2003 video game)
  • Supernatural (2005 television series)
  • 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 reportedly 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)
  • 1920 (2008 Bollywood movie)
  • True Blood (2008 HBO television series)
  • Apparitions (2008 TV series)
  • Soul Obsession, a 2007 novel by Amy Wolff Sorter, which has an account of a Jewish exorcism
  • Boys Do Cry (2007 Family Guy episode about the town of Quahog trying to exorcise Stewie, forcing the family to leave Rhode Island)
  • Michou d'Auber (2007 French movie)
  • Paranormal State (2008 A&E TV series)
  • John Safran versus God, an Australian documentary containing a supposed exorcism of its host, John Safran.
  • Days of Our Lives (1995 saw the first ever excorcism performed on a daytime soap opera)
  • Penn & Teller: Bullshit! (Showtime TV series) Season 5, Episode 5 - "Exorcism", air date: April 19, 2007. Provides some skeptical commentary on the usefulness and scientific validity of exorcisms.

See also


  1. Werner 1994, p. 166
  2. Monier-Williams 1974, pp. 25–41
  3. 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
  4.  "Exorcism". Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company. 1913. 
  6. Josephus, "B. J." vii. 6, § 3; Sanh. 65b.
  7. Martin M. (1976) Hostage to the Devil: The Possession and Exorcism of Five Contemporary Americans. Harper San Francisco. Appendix one "The Roman Ritual of Exorcism" p.459 ISBN 006065337x
  8. Batty, David (2001-05-02). "Exorcism: abuse or cure?". Guardian Unlimited. Retrieved 2007-12-29. 
  9. "Concerning Exorcism", Book of Occasional Services, Church Publishing.
  10. 10.0 10.1 "Exorcism". Lutheran Church Missouri Synod. Retrieved 2009–05–27. 
  11. "Can a Christian Have a Demon?". Kaohsiung Lutheran Mission. Retrieved 2009–05–27. 
  12. 12.0 12.1 12.2 "Exorcism". Christian Classics Ethereal Library. Retrieved 2009–05–27. 
  13. Ferber, Sarah (2004). Demonic possession and exorcism in early modern France. Routledge. p. 38. ISBN 0415212650.,M1. Retrieved 2009-05-25. 
  14. 14.00 14.01 14.02 14.03 14.04 14.05 14.06 14.07 14.08 14.09 14.10 14.11 "Quotes and Paraphrases from Lutheran Pastoral Handbooks of the 16th and 17th Centuries on the Topic of Demon Possession". David Jay Webber. Retrieved 2009–05–27. 
  15. The Methodist Conference - Friday 25th June, 1976 (Preston). The Methodist Church of Great Britain. "...the casting out of an objective power of evil which has gained possession of a person." 
  16. The Methodist Conference - Friday 25th June, 1976 (Preston). The Methodist Church of Great Britain. "...the authority to exorcise has been given to the Church as one of the ways in which Christ's Ministry is continued in the world." 
  17. The Methodist Conference - Friday 25th June, 1976 (Preston). The Methodist Church of Great Britain. "The form of any service of healing for those believed to be possessed should be considered in consultation with the ministerial staff of the circuit (or in one-minister circuits with those whom the Chairman of the District suggests)." 
  18. The Methodist Conference - Friday 25th June, 1976 (Preston). The Methodist Church of Great Britain. "Since pastoral guidance is first and foremost concerned to assure the presence and love of Christ, it is important to follow this practice in these cases also." 
  19. The Methodist Conference - Friday 25th June, 1976 (Preston). The Methodist Church of Great Britain. "The ministry of bible, prayer and sacraments should be extended to those seeking help." 
  20. 20.0 20.1 20.2 "Exorcism in 2006". Westminster Methodist Central Hall (Rev. Martin Turner). Retrieved 2009–05–25. 
  21. Poloma M. (1982) The Charismatic Movement: is there a new Pentecost? p97 Isbn. 0805797211
  22. Cuneo M. (2001) American Exorcism: Expelling Demons in the Land of Plenty. Doubleday: New York. pp.111-128 isbn. 0385501765
  23. Poloma M. (1982) The Charismatic Movement: is there a new Pentecost? p60 isbn:0805797211
  24. Cuneo M. (2001) American Exorcism: Expelling Demons in the Land of Plenty. Doubleday: New York. pp.118-119 Isbn: 0385501765
  25. Amorth G. (1990) An Exorcist Tells His Story. tns. MacKenzie N. Ignatius Press: San Francisco. pp157-160 isbn. 0898707102
  26. Dali's gift to exorcist uncovered Catholic News 14 October 2005
  28. St. Louis - News - Hell of a House
  29. Part I - The Haunted Boy: the Inspiration for the Exorcist
  30. Archbishop: Mother Teresa underwent exorcism CNN 04 September 2001
  32. "Blumhardt’s Battle: A Conflict With Satan". Thomas E. Lowe, LTD. Retrieved 2009–09–23. 
  33. Friedrich Zuendel. "The Awakening: One Man's Battle With Darkness". The Plough. Retrieved 2009–09–23. 
  34. 34.0 34.1 How Exorcism Works
  35. J. Goodwin, S. Hill, R. Attias "Historical and folk techniques of exorcism: applications to the treatment of dissociative disorders"
  36. Journal of Personality Assessment (abstract)
  37. Microsoft Word - Haraldur Erlendsson 1.6.03 Multiple Personality
  38. Voice of Reason: Exorcisms, Fictional and Fatal
  39. Peck M. MD (1983). People of the Lie: the Hope for Healing Human Evil. New York: Touchstone. 

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 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)
  • 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
  • Frederick M Smith, The Self Possessed: Deity and Spirit Possession in South Asian Literature and Civilization. New York: Columbia University Press, 2006. ISBN 0231137486
  • 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.

External links