Exorcism is bound to conjure up scary images of a teenage
girl's head spinning around on her shoulders at 360 degrees, her convulsing
body, contorted face, a guttural demonic voice mouthing curses and
obscenities at a battered priest —The Exorcist, who struggles against
the devil to redeem the girl's body and soul.
Exorcism or the ritualistic act of driving out evil spirits
is a special type of faith healing. The word exorcism is derived from the Latin
word exorcismus. The Catholic Encyclopedia defines exorcism as "the act of driving
out, or warding off, demons, or evil spirits, from persons, places, or things,
which are believed to be possessed or infested by them, or are liable to become
victims or instruments of their malice." Signs
of possession are believed to include speaking or understanding languages
unknown to the victim, intense hatred of 'holy things', display of incredible
physical strengh, levitation and inexplicable wounds or lesions on the body.
Irrespective of where in the world this ritual is done, the scene
involves the exorcist, the victim and a supporting community.
Religion and Exorcism
possession and exorcism, along with a strong belief that dead spirits are
capable of harming the living, have a long history in various cultures around
the world. In ancient Egyptian, Babylonian and Hindu cultures, shamans or
priest healers entered into a trance
to identify the "mischief-making
and to elicit from it the way to end the victim's torment.
Jewish folklore and Kabbalah
teachings mention a malevolent spirit dybbuk—
of a dead person that re-enters a living person to carry out its unfinished
agenda and is usually exorcised to leave the body through the toe. Muslims
believe in a Jinn—
an evil spirit that invades a human at the
behest of Satan to cause illness, pain, and evil thoughts. Particular passages
from the Quran are read out to expel the Jinn.
Vedic religions speak of an evil spirit that can harm human beings and even
obstruct God's will. In a traditional Hindu exorcism the exorcist chants
mantras, holds a bunch of neem leaves, blows sacred ash on the possessed person
and the spirit is either appeased with choicest food items or whip lashed out
of the victim.
Exorcism of Emily Rose
The movie Exorcism of Emily Rose
examines a 1976 real life exorcism conducted
in Germany. It generated great interest because the priest who performed the
ritual and the parents of the victim were convicted by the Court for decreeing
the teenager possessed, and denying medical treatment for what may have been a
The Roman Catholic
Church currently uses the New rite for exorcism
— the official
document detailing the prayers and steps of an exorcism, only as a last resort,
with a psychiatrist or a medical practitioner in attendance during the ritual.
While introducing the New Rites for Exorcisms to the press in 1999, Cardinal Jorge
Arturo Medina Estevez said, "Exorcism is one thing, and psychoanalysis is
another. If the exorcist has any doubt about the mental health of the
possessed, he should consult an expert ... It often happens that simple people
confuse somatic problems with diabolical influence, but not everything can be
attributed to the devil."
Where Spirituality and Psychiatry Overlap
conducted by the Division of Adult Psychiatry, University Hospital of
Geneva, Switzerland have shown that Religion, described as "spirituality and
religiousness" was central in the lives of many people suffering from
Medical experts realize that Religion, involving a subjective
dimension and a collective dimension is a multifaceted construct and insist on
the need to address spirituality in patient care in order to help reduce pathology, enhance coping and to facilitate recovery.
In many patients' life stories, religion plays a central role in the processes
of reconstructing a sense of self and recovery. Psychiatrists are agreed on the
fact that just as religion has become part of the problem, it can also become
part of the cure.
The controversy surrounding exorcism arises from two
contexts. One relates to the advance in medical science and the advent of
psychiatry in 1800s that questioned the rationale of attributing a patient's
disturbed condition to an unseen evil. The second is the moneymaking "exorcism
" like the Bob Larson ministries that televise their show of mass
exorcisms. Mercy Ministries charging carers' payment in Sydney, Australia, came
under fire recently when young women in their care who had bipolar disorder,
anxiety disorders and anorexia
were told they were possessed by Satan and
rendered broken and suicidal.
The Internet and Media advertisements project
Exorcists with 30 years experience and over 35,000 successfully performed
exorcisms. It is quite natural for
people to suspect an ulterior motive when profit is mixed with the paranormal.
Exorcism vs Psychiatry
Medical experts criticize the manner in which people still
attribute a host of neuro-psychiatric disorders such as dissociative states, psychoses, schizophrenia and epilepsy
demonic possession. Several studies
conducted all over the world revealed that psychotic illness was given a
metaphysical orientation among the ignorant and the less educated. The
patient's delusional thinking was seen to be influenced by the family's
magico-religious beliefs and attitudes. In a sample of 80 mothers of psychotic
patients from southwestern Greece, 85% attributed their children's illness to
supernatural causes, and entertained strong metaphysical beliefs about the
cause of psychotic illness.
The immediate family of the patient usually resorts to
exorcism or combines exorcism with formal psychiatric help, to bring the
patient back to normal. Modern psychiatric practice believes that awareness
of lay beliefs about psychosis and the proper handling of such beliefs by
the treating psychiatrist may facilitate cooperation with the patient and his
or her family, increasing the prospect of a more favorable outcome.
Answers to Demonic Possession Symptoms: Epilepsy
from the Greek word epilambanein
meaning to be seized or overwhelmed by surprise, epilepsy is a common, but
serious brain disorder that affects at least 50 million people worldwide across
geographical, racial or social boundaries
. Epilepsy has a long history
of being misunderstood as an invasion and possession of the body by super
natural force, usually evil in nature, requiring exorcism, incantations or
similar religious rituals. Faulty procedures in curing and controlling the
condition and myths about epilepsy ostracizing the sufferers often result in
Lanka has adopted an innovative approach to remove the superstition and stigma
attached to epilepsy by correcting inadequate diagnostic and treatment
facilities, especially in rural areas. The Epilepsy
Task Force in Sri Lanka
(ETF), a large multidisciplinary team consisting of
neurologists, pediatricians, neurosurgeons, neuroradiologists, psychiatrists,
medical officers, occupational therapists and social workers, was initiated to
remove the superstition associated with the disease and address the real
problems of people affected by the condition.
tests such as electroencephalograph (EEG) and brain scans were performed on
people with epileptic symptoms and the supporting community made aware of the
scientific truths of the condition. Even patients in remote villages were
exposed to imaging methods such as CT
(computerized topography) or MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) scans that were
used to search for any growths, scars, or other physical conditions in the
brain that may be causing the seizures.
A follow up study has shown that modern antiepileptic medications to
control seizures are slowly replacing rituals of exorcism in many remote places
in Sri Lanka.
Medical experts who have reviewed information
on voice hearing from multiple disciplines and perspectives observe that voice hearing could be the result of drug
side effects, brain lesions and other down-to-earth causes
have offered a wide range of assessment, intervention, strategies for
self-management and treatment options for clinicians that can help patients
control the distressing condition of hearing voices, and reduce stigma and
discrimination in society.
from an obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), a chronic disorder that distresses
patients with repeated obsessive thoughts, impulses or images - sometimes
aggressive, criminal, sexually deviant or blasphemous in nature, were
considered motivated by Satan and in need of exorcism to banish the "evil."
Scientists studying obsessive-compulsive disorder have differing opinions over
the cause of the illness. One group believes that OCD is a psychological
disorder and the other thinks it has neurological origins. Majority of
researchers are agreed that there is "some abnormality with the neurotransmitter serontin
," besides other psychological or biological
Tourette's Syndrome -
Tourette's syndrome explains an inherited neuropsychiatric
disorder that was once considered a rare and
bizarre condition. When the patient
probably manifested symptoms of coprolalia
, or the exclamation of obscene or socially
indecent and derogatory remarks,
the surrounding community thought it was a
haunting prompted by the Devil.
Schizophrenia and Narcissism -
Schizophrenia is a mental illness that leads to auditory
and visual hallucinations, delusions, paranoia and even violent behavior at times
and is mistaken for diabolic possession in cultures where education and
awareness are minimal. People with
low self-esteem and narcissistic tendencies are known to act out the role of
"possessed person" in order to gain attention.
researchers studying rituals of exorcism in rural and suburban parts of India
have observed that it is most often
women who are possessed and make huge demands on the community that fearfully
appeases the deity or demon, fearing serious repercussions for the community.
Recording real-life exorcisms in his book American
Exorcism: Expelling Demons in the Land of Plenty
, Michael Cuneo,
Professor at Fordham University mentions an official church-sanctioned exorcism
that he watched. It involved a man (the possessed) who was a heavy drinker, had
sex with whoever, whenever, was generally depressed and had recently begun to
hear voices, see things and feel an "unbearable pressure" on his body
at night. With the sanction of a psychiatrist an exorcism was arranged. Without much of the drama that is seen in
movies, the priest prayed over the man in the basement of a building, sprinkled
holy water made the sign of the cross and exhorted the devil to leave the man
in peace. Professor Cuneo writes, "Warren said, he felt peaceful, but was also a bit confused. He thought he
felt something leaving him during the exorcism, but he wasn't sure."
There may be those who believe in exorcism and those who don't. But the
professor wonders that if the patient felt better after the exorcism and no one
was hurt in the process why object to it.
Explaining Exorcism in
the Modern Context
winter 2004 issue of the Psychiatric Rehabilitation Journal has reviewed a book
How about demons? Possession and
Exorcism in the Modern world
Felicitas D. Goodman. Goodman sketches similarities between multiple
personality disorder and spirit possession. Drawing on her own experience and
other researchers in countries such as Japan, Mexico and Brazil, she records
that trance and spirit possessions
thrive in religious congregations in traditional societies in developing as
well as in industrialized nations.
book explains exorcism at two levels—the psychological level that sees the body
as a shell and a soul within that sees an "intrusive alien entity" overpowering
the body on occasions. The nature, the identity of this entity and the mode of
entry into the body are culturally and religiously structured. On the
psychological level, the author explains the phenomenon as an altered state of conscious
the emergence of a rearrangement or substitution of the brain map. The ritual of exorcism is seen by some as a
bridge that connects the events happening at the psychological and
physiological level that lead to an experience that is probably therapeutic in
some cases, especially in the case of injurious possession.
researchers observe that the failure of modern western psychiatric and
biomedical treatment of Multiple Personality Disorder is that it only tries to
make the patient accept the condition and cope with it. The treatment does not
deal with the upsetting conflicts caused by the affected person's powerful
inner experiences, whereas cultures with rituals of exorcism provide patients
with a means of controlling these powerful inner experiences. Brazilian
spiritists operating on the lines of the Kardecian movements have successfully
treated MPD phenomena as a form of involuntary possession or as the intrusion
of a past-life personality.
Exorcism -Still an Enigma
Although Science continues
to provide credible explanations for bizarre human behavior, the preference for
exorcism has not diminished. One person may see possession and pull out his
rite of exorcism while another may suspect mental illness and pull out an encyclopedia
such as the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental
Disorders, Fourth Edition (DSM IV) to come to a conclusive diagnosis . It is of
course, important to raise the level of education and awareness among people to
remove all superstitious associations from their minds. Concurrently it is
important to note the fact that medical experts, demonologists and religious
scholars are yet to arrive at a consensus where exorcism is concerned. \
greatest mystery that is life still has huge gaps like the "possession" of
spirits that cannot be unraveled by simple inference and deductive reasoning. Science cannot claim to have all the
answers to the intricate workings of the human spirit, soul, mind and body.....
invites you to share your experience
on the controversial subject of Exorcism by writing to us.