Paranormal Phenomenon Omnibus


Article by Joe McBrayer

Origins and the process / Other religions / Other interpretations

When we think of exorcisms our visual minds conjure up images of Linda Blair's head spinning around and green vomit splattering all over the place. These are the images stuck in most people's mind. The X-Files episode, "The Calusari," dealt with this subject. Generally, Exorcism is mainly thought of as the rite of driving out the devil and his demons from possessed individuals. Technically, exorcism is not driving out the devil or a demon, but placing it on oath. "Exorcism" is derived from the Greek preposition ek with the verb horkizo which means "I cause [someone] to swear" and this refers to "putting the spirit or demon on oath," or invoking a higher authority to bind the entity in order to control it, to act against, or contrary to its own will. Exorcisms have been around for ages which dates back to the story of Jesus casting out demons as he did in the book of Matthew, Mark, and Luke. Not only did Christ exorcise demons or unclean spirits, he gave his powers to his disciples (Matt.10.1)

Malachi Martin, a former Jesuit professor, observed in his 1976 book, Hostage to the Devil, that much of the success of the exorcism depends upon the exorcist. He has described that the best suited type of priest is someone who is of good physical health, middle-aged, and one that goes about their pastoral duties. The locations for exorcism take place where there is a definite connection between the demon and the victim, like a victim's bedroom. Usually few exorcists work alone; several other people usually assist. One is a junior priest, who is trained in the field. Others can include a medical physician. All of them must be strong, and relatively guiltless, and none must have any secret sins which the demon can use against them. Martin has described the stages as follows:

  • The Presence: The exorcist and their assistants become aware of an alien feeling, or entity. Gaining the entity's name is most important.
  • Breakpoint: The moment when the devil or demons pretense collapses. Usually in the pandemonium, the demon turns on its victim, speaking of the person in the third person.
  • The Voice: A sign of the breakpoint. The demons' voices must be silent for the exorcism to continue.
  • The Clash: As the voices die out, there is a spiritual and physical pressure. The exorcist is now in direct battle with the demon. The entity wants a place to be in, or it must return to hell; an existence out of hell is what the demon is fighting for.
  • Expulsion: In the triumph of God's will, the demon or spirit leaves in the name of Jesus.

Origins and the process / Other religions / Other interpretations

The ritual of exorcism is more cautiously employed by the Catholic church at present than in the past. Exorcism is not just a Catholic ritual; it is also a Jewish custom. According to Jewish history, exorcisms were even practiced among the Essenes, as was determined among the findings of the Dead Sea Scrolls in 1949 in and around the Wadi at Qumran. The dead sea scrolls are dated to have been created between 150 BC to 70 AD. These scrolls are said to contain "four songs for the charming of demons with music." Yet only one seems to have been preserved in its entirety. That is Psalm 91. These four passages are clearly anti-demonic; however, proof that they were used in ceremonial exorcisms has still not been validated.

In the Kabbalah, as well, it is stated that one becomes possessed by an evil spirit called a dybbuk and upon exorcism is said to leave through the big toe. However, a dybbuk, is not necessarily a demon, but often a deceased ancestor. An exorcism in Judaism is most often performed by a Rabbi.

The chief characteristics of these Jewish exorcisms is their naming of names believed to be efficacious, i.e., the names of good angels, which are used either alone or in combination with GOD; indeed reliance on mere names had long before become a superstition with the Jews, and it was considered most important that the appropriate names, which varied for different times and occasions, should be used. It was this superstitious belief, no doubt, that prompted the sons of Sceva, who had witnessed Saint Paul's successful exorcisms in the name of Jesus Christ, to try on their own account the formula, "I conjure you by Jesus whom Paul preacheth," with results disastrous to their credit. It was a popular Jewish belief, accepted even by a learned cosmopolitan like Josepheous, that Solomon had received the power of expelling demons, and that he had composed and transmitted certain formulae that were efficacious for that purpose. The records relate how a certain Eleazar, in the presence of the Emperor Vespasian and his officers, succeeded by means of a magical ring applied to the nose of the person that is possessed, in drawing out the demon through the nostrils—the virtue of the ring being the fact that it enclosed a certain rare root indicated in the formula of Solomon, and which it was exceedingly difficult to obtain.

Such religions as Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam, and Shinto have some form of exorcism ritual. In many Eastern religions, spirits and ghosts are blamed for many ills, and are cast out by people; however, such afflictions are not regarded as all-out battles for the soul. The Hindu scriptures called the Vedas, composed around 1000 BC, tell of evil beings who'd interfere with the work of the Gods. A typical Hindu exorcism can involve physical practices as well as reciting prayers or mantras, or offering gifts to get the spirit to depart from the person. Accounts from Persia, 6th Century BC, offer evidence of exorcism using prayer, ritual, and holy water by the religious leader Zoroaster. Within the practice of Shamanism, the shaman enters a trance during which he attempts to discover the cause of the victim's trouble. Often the cause is thought to be linked with a dead person. Spirit exorcisms as cures of physical illness are common in Africa, Latin America, the Middle East, and the Orient.

The Middle Ages (500-1500 AD) saw a revival of ancient superstition and demonology. The treatment of mental illness in this time was left to the clergy who believed evil spirits to be the cause of a victim's situation. Epidemics of spirit possession have been known to occur. One example being the incident of the Ursuline nuns in the 17th century, in Loudun, France. There have been many exorcisms documented. The movie, The Exorcist was actually based on true events that took place in St.Louis, Missouri. It involved a thirteen-year-old boy named Robbie from Maryland. Robbie was seen playing with a Ouija board and soon after he became ill. This was thought to be a supernatural ailment. The family brought in a Lutheran, Rev. Schulze. He documented the boy levitating, the bed shaking, and strange scratches on his body. It was then that Schulze told the family to contact the catholic church. Soon after, the boy found himself in St.Louis being exorcised by a catholic priest at the Alexian Brothers hospital that is now demolished. It has been reported that a lot of strange occurrences and horrible accidents transpired at the hospital soon after the exorcism.

Origins and the process / Other religions / Other interpretations

Of course, psychologists and psychiatrists have come to their own interpretations about the practice of exorcisms. In the 19th century, in America, at the height of the spiritualism movement, Dr. Carl Wickland, an American physician, psychologist, and avid spiritualist, became the first medically trained person to view mental illness as being caused by spirit possession. In 1896, William James expressed an interest in the psychology of spirit possession. C.G. Jung, (1875-1961) a Swiss psychiatrist and founder of analytical psychology (he broke from his colleague, Sigmund Freud, due to Jung's unwillingness to dismiss the psychological aspects of the spirit), was known as a secular psychologist, and one who viewed possessing spirits as directly related to archetypes.

Jung generally argued that many of the causes of spirit possession might be related to prolonged fatigue, negative emotions, alcoholism, drug use, depression, and stress, which could be the very causes which allow unconscious content to "spill over" into the conscious mind. Due to Jung's respect for 'the reality of the psyche' and its religious, mythic and spiritual needs, dimensions, and instincts, he was able to offer deeper arguments, rather than exiling the experience to the basement of the unconscious and labeling it as a neurosis, such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and dissociative identity disorder (formerly referred to as "multiple personality disorder"). Some contemporary psychologists, such as forensic psychologist, Dr. Stephen Diamond, have argued that we should look at the therapeutic aspects of the exorcism ritual, especially considering that it is the policy of the Vatican for exorcists to consult with psychologists and psychiatrists in an effort to differentiate between mental disorders and bona fide demonic possession. Perhaps psychiatrists should do the same--look into the existential or spiritual questions addressed by the ritual, for example, the riddle of evil.

In conclusion, we all seem to have some type of fascination with exorcisms. It's either Hollywood that builds the hype or a news story that happens to catch our attention about the possibility that possession might be real. It's our curiosity drives us to want to know more, but should we?

I just hope you kept the lights on while you read this article.

Psychology Today
Wikipedia: Exorcism

Additional material: Matt Allair
Page Editor: XScribe

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