Spinello Aretino Exorcism of St Benedict

Demonic possession and the ancient practice of exorcism

Last year, the Roman Catholic Church announced that they were training up a new army of exorcists to meet the growing demand for experts to rid people of evil spirits.  The Church claims that the “unprecedented rise” in requests for exorcism comes from more people dabbling in the ‘dark arts’ with the help of information found on the internet.

“Diabolical possessions are on the increase as a result of people subscribing to occultism,” said Fr Francesco Bamonte, the president of the Italy-based International Association for Exorcists. “The few exorcists that we have in the dioceses are often not able to handle the enormous number of requests for help,” he told La Repubblica.

“Demonic” possession is said to manifest itself in people babbling in languages foreign to them, shaking uncontrollably and vomiting nails, pieces of metal and shards of glass, according to those who believe in the phenomenon. They must undergo the official Catholic rite of exorcism, which involves a consecrated priest invoking the name of God, as well as various saints and the Archangel Michael, to cast out their demons.

However, the Catholic Church is not the only religious organisation to conduct rites to rid a person of demonic possession. Virtually every religious and cultural tradition worldwide has espoused the idea of spirit possession and the need for some form of exorcism, and this custom dates back thousands of years.

Panel painting by unknown artist (1512), on an altar in the shrine at Zell in the Duchy of Styria. Image source .

In ancient Mesopotamia, it was believed that all forms of sickness came from powerful spirits entering a person’s body and attaching to a person.  Assyrian tablets make reference to the use of incantations and prayers to the gods, as well as direct challenges to demons, which were believed to inflict every type of disease, both physical and psychological. Ancient Babylonian priests performed rituals by destroying a clay or wax image of a demon. 

In the Hindu religion, the ancient texts known as the Vedas, which were composed around 1000 BC, refer to evil beings that interfere in the work of Hindu gods and harm the living.

Accounts from ancient Persia, dating back to around 600 BC, offer evidence of exorcism using prayer, ritual, and holy water by the religious leader Zoroaster, who was considered the first magician, and who founded the religion Zoroastrianism.

In Christianity, there are many references to Jesus performing exorcisms, and the ability to cast our evil spirits was a sign of a true disciple. In one well known story, Jesus encountered a madman and commanded that the foul spirits leave him; the spirits then entered into a herd of pigs, which ran over a cliff and drowned in the waters below.

The Middle Ages (500-1500AD) saw a revival of ancient superstition and demonology and mental illness was seen to be the result of evil possession.  The barbaric treatment of mental illnesses was primarily left to the clergy who exorcised patients through a variety of techniques which caused physical pain, such as scourging. 

Mental illness was seen to be the result of demonic possession and patients suffered brutal treatments in the Middle Ages. 

Over the centuries, the rites of exorcism have included the use of prayers, commands, fumigations, holy water, hellebore, rue, salt, and roses.  However, exorcisms have also attracted their fair share of scepticism.  Many scientists believe that so-called demonic possession is simply a form of mental illness, such as hysteria, mania, psychosis, Tourette’s syndrome, schizophrenia or personality disorder.  Sceptics claim that the illusion that exorcism works on people experiencing symptoms of possession is attributed to the power of suggestion, or the placebo effect, which has also been used to explain phenomena such as faith healing.

Beliefs in spirit possession have remained virtually unchanged since the beginning of civilization and still exist to this day. But whether possession by demonic forces is real or simply the result of a medical or psychological imbalance is still hotly debated.

By April Holloway


angieblackmon's picture

there has recently been a case of something strange going on in Indiana....the report included swarms of bugs and a child walking backwards up a wall...not sure if i believe it word for word, but there has to be some reason rites and practices like these are around...

love, light and blessings


Tigressa's picture
Yes, I do believe that exorcism can work. Shamans and the like have always guarded the health of their land and community by dealing with these entities, energies, tulpas and thought forms. Many illnesses are symptoms of emotional issues and subconscious decision making that may be solved through shamanic style intervention. Such entities are made more 'solid' by fear. Sadly the Christian way extends the suffering of all parties involved in the exorcism as the process is usually based upon rejection and fear. Bringing the electromagnetic frequency of love powered by the heart into play isn't something all priests (or shamans) can do successfully, but it is a powerful tool in this kind of interaction.

Tigressa, I agree with you completely. 

dysan's picture

i agree..there is a show on discovery channel about real life hauntings of various people..”a haunting” is fascinating :)

I believe there is a combination of truths! I have seen possesion and exorcism and it was very much real!!
I can't even describe the fear it caused. I also believe that there is a type of harasmant commited be beings that only some see, because they have messsed with things they ought not and have invited it in unaware. This may be confused with schyzophrenia? I'm not saying schyzophrenia isn't real, i believe it is in many casis but, not all! I have known more than one schyzophrenic and there is something to what they experience. Some of them hear and see very evil beings. I also believe in life forms we do not understand and these life forms are only visible when you come to a consciouse awakening that we are not alone in the universe! I have personaly experienced 2 different beings 1 very physical being and 1 being of light...they do exist!! And i have learned that when they say 'being OF the light that is what it means.They are not light itself but, travel THROUGH the light. If you watch star trek you can liken it to a transporter. Beautiful bright light apears,suspended in space, and they move into and out of it. You could also compare it to the stargate seriese only theirs no solid ring around it or fluid, just suspended mid air light! Not all beings of light are evil though-just as not all of humankind is evil. You atract that which you think and obsess over.If you obsess over dark things they will find you. if you obsess over loving things,loving things will find you!!


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