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We’re all used to seeing those Hammer Horror films where there’s a demonic possession of the main character and, ultimately, an exorcism takes place.demonic possession

Now as a practising Jew I’ve never given this much thought, until a post appeared in an FB group which I found hilarious.

Apparently practising yoga or vegetarianism (amongst a long list of many other ‘undesirables’ is a “doorway to demonic possession!”).

Pondering on this, I have to say that I’ve always thought that an exorcism would only work for someone who was of the Christian faith.

My reason for thinking this is that an exorcism is typically associated with the afflicted person – presumably of the Christian faith – being visited by a Catholic (sometimes a Jesuit) priest who, having received permission by the church to do so, carries out the Rite of Exorcism.

It would appear that the modern world has spawned a whole new way of
looking at cleansing a person, or place, of demons and evil spirits. For the church this is in the form of the deliverance ministry. There are, however, other practices some, but not all, are related to religious belief. Apparently this is NOT the same as exorcism and that the person afflicted must work with the person trying to help them, to “remove any influences that allow the demon to take control over the individual”. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Deliverance_ministry.

It’s interesting to see evidence of people using a sage smudging stick, which is set alight and the smoke is wafted around the home or other affected premises to ‘cleanse’ it of negative energy.  This form of purification is often attributed to indigenous American tradition but during my research, found that the burning of natural substances has been used for cleansing, healing and spiritual purposes throughout history.  I was unaware of this but smudging tradition dates back millennia and connects all traditional cultures, from the Native Americans to the Druids; from the Zulus to the Maoris; from Aboriginals to the Mayans; from the Chinese to the Balinese, which have age-old forms of cleansing and blessing rituals. Smudge is widely used in Oriental religions (Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, and Taoism) and in the ceremonies of the Anglican, Roman Catholic, and Orthodox churches.

Edit 28th June 2016 I came across the following article about “deprogramming” yourself which asserts that “smudging eliminates dangerous bacteria in the air.”

Surely, as a form of relaxation – if that is what is intimated by the term deprogramming – burning a Yankee candle, joss sticks (that’s the term I know them by) etc., would work just as well?  What came to mind in this regard is the Catholic tradition of burning incense during worship for purification and sanctification.  The majority of religions light candles for ceremonial reasons as I mentioned in the previous paragraph..   

In carrying out this research, I realised that this is a huge topic and I have no doubt that what I’m going to include within this blog will only brush the surface.  However, I have some questions in this regard, which have never really been answered satisfactorily (to my mind).

So here’s my questions:-

  • Does a Catholic exorcism work on someone who isn’t Christian?
  • Does it work on someone who wasn’t baptised but otherwise has a Christian leaning?
  • Do atheists (also people who say they don’t follow any religion) ever become demonically possessed?

The first website I found http://www.newworldencyclopedia.org/entry/Exorcism gave some very interesting facts:-

Exorcism (from Late Latin exorcismus—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. It would appear that, in spite of the Catholic church being most strongly associated with the rite of exorcism, that the practice is quite ancient and still part of the belief system of many religions.

The person performing the exorcism, known as an exorcist, is often a priest, shaman, or an individual thought to be graced with special powers or skills. In general, possessed persons are not regarded as evil in themselves, nor wholly responsible for their actions.

“The concept of possession by evil spirits and the practice of exorcism originated in prehistoric shamanistic beliefs. In Hinduism, the Vedas (holy books of the Hindus) include sacred spells needed to cast out demons and evil spirits.  Several examples are found in the Hebrew Bible(?), and the New Testament includes numerous exorcisms among the miracles performed by Jesus. Today,Catholicism, Eastern Orthodoxy, and some Protestant sects recognize the practice.”

I did a search for ‘bible passages about demonic possession’. Whilst there are a good many references to the New Testament, all they could dredge up for the Old Testament were:-

“There has been speculation that the Hebrew Scriptures originally contained descriptions of interactions between people and demons, but that that material has been deleted from the text. For example:

  • The account in Genesis 32 of Jacob wrestling with an unknown assailant by the side of a river might have once referred to Jacob battling a river demon.
  • The account in Exodus 4 where God attempts to kill Moses might have originally described Moses’ battle with a demon.
  • The description of the smearing of lamb’s blood on the door frame in Exodus 12 might have been derived from an ancient ritual which protected the household from demonic attack.

But these, and similar, suggestions must remain pure conjecture. In no case do they imply either indwelling of a human by a demonic spirit, or discuss an exorcism ritual.”

This highlights that the practice of exorcism, as I mentioned previously, whilst not unique to the Christian faith is obviously the one that has become most closely associated to it, primarily because of the wealth of good cinema that can be created from it!  

In America there are churches where congregants achieve a trance-like state.

They have charismatic pastors holding services where the congregation goes into trance; and members of the congregation are “healed”.  

In a well-written site http://new.exchristian.net/2012/05/church-and-hypnotic-manipulation.html you can read how churches use a combination of music, meditation and prayer to manipulate the congregation – a form of mind control.

Somehow, American Indian rituals or voodoo practices just don’t have as much “horror factor”, possibly because we ourselves don’t come into contact with these religious practices, and Christian practices are a lot closer to home – and therefore more recognisable – consequently the demons (as portrayed in films and on TV) seem much more terrifying.

So what did I find to answer my questions?

1.  Does an exorcism work on someone who isn’t Christian?

Since the casting out of evil spirits is carried out by ceremonies of differing religions, the exorcism would depend on the belief system of the person possessed.  The link I quoted earlier gives some important information regarding a number of religions and how they deal with exorcism which I don’t feel warrants duplicating here.

2.  Does it work on someone who wasn’t baptised but otherwise has a Christian leaning?

What about someone who believed in the Christian God but was not of the Catholic faith, would they be denied the opportunity of the rite of exorcism since it would appear that the official ceremony is specifically a Catholic doctrine?

From my research I have been informed that the rite of baptism includes a minor exorcism for the child being baptised This doesn’t answer my question in relation to someone displaying symptoms of “demonic possession” who was unbaptised but doesn’t profess to have no religion.  

3.  Do atheists (or people who say they don’t follow any religion) ever become demonically possessed?

I love the quote I found from Ariel Williams (Dreamer, Writer, Artist and Atheist) on Quora, who says

“Atheists have a magic ward against evil spirits to protect us, it is called by three mystic names; logic, reason and rationale. If used wisely, with those three things in your possession you need never fear spirits, evil or elsewise.”  You can read more at https://www.quora.com/Why-dont-atheists-get-possessed-by-evil-spirits

In my view, given the above statement, atheism = scepticism.  Yet both sceptics and atheists may well have been brought up with some form of religious background upon which they formed the basis for their denial. I have written a blog about religions and the part they play in perpetuating the tales of oral traditions so am not going to touch on that here.

Having digressed, let’s go back to quote by Ariel Williams.  Using Ariel’s “magic ward of logic, reason and rationale”, here’s another thought about possession.

Let’s take into account something I’ve not mentioned before – that the person actually is suffering from a mental health problem!  

History is full of people who received “treatment” for a supposed condition.  Often these poor people were treated by quacks whose treatment consisted of blood-letting, cold baths and a ghastly range of “cures” more akin to torture than treatment!  

Women’s “troubles” were down to hysteria and doctors (male, of course!) found this a suitable “catch all” term for any unidentifiable ailment.

Wikipedia tells us:

“Women considered to have it exhibited a wide array of symptoms, including faintness, nervousness, sexual desire, insomnia, fluid retention, heaviness in the abdomen, muscle spasm, shortness of breath, irritability, loss of appetite for food or sex, and a “tendency to cause trouble.”  In extreme cases, the woman might be forced to enter an insane asylum or to undergo surgical hysterectomy.”

One particular “professional”  Isaac Baker-Brown, a one-time president of the Medical Society of London, who had been obsessed with surgical solutions to gynecological problems since his early training (he once performed an ovariotomy on his own sister). In 1858 Baker-Brown began performing clitoridectomies in his London Surgical Home for Women.

It’s horrifying to know that, although this practice was discredited the Victorian era, in its’ modern form of Female Genital Mutilation, this practice only became illegal in the UK in 2003! It is still widely practised in 27 African countries, Yemen and Iraqi Kurdistan, and found elsewhere in Asia, the Middle East, and among diaspora communities around the world.

However, the only positive thing to come out of treatment for hysteria was, believe it or not, the vibrator!

Dr. Joseph Mortimer Granville was the physician who patented the first vibrator as a means of more speedily inducing orgasms in female patients being treated for hysteria. The vibrator was designed to save doctors like Granville from the hand-cramps that came with manually stimulating their patients’ clitorises. Further, the original vibrators were designed only to be used in a doctor’s office, and to provide not only a more rapid but more intense “paroxysm” than a woman could achieve on her own.

Ok, somewhat digressed here but I do consider that doctors felt women could have their “personal demons exorcised” by virtue of their innovative but unnecessary (indeed sometimes extremely distasteful) treatment of womens’ symptoms.

So, going back to the general “lunacy” theory behind erratic behaviours.  The first picture that I included in this blog was a modern-day list of activities deemed undesirable, which quotes passages from Deuteronomy and Ephesians.  This would, to my mind, indicate that the list was generated by someone for whom both the old and ne
w testaments are considered important reference material AKA aTrans Allegheny asylum bible basher!  

Whether intentionally or not, that list is just an updated version of a catalogue of symptoms which were given as a reason for people to be admitted (incarcerated – often against their will!) to an asylum for the insane.  

I came across the ‘reasons for admission’ to West Virginia’s Hospital for the Insane (Weston) aka Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum back in the late-1800s.  

In all honesty I know a good proportion of people who would technically be eligible to be admitted!  

It’s horrifying to think that the Victorian people considered so many innocent ‘states of being’ to be a reason for medical attention and possible incarceration.   

The following site provides a history of the asylum.


People in Victorian times were shut away in lunatic asylums for the most spurious of reasons and women particularly were locked up by citing that they were suffering from stress, post natal depression and anxiety.

In this current day and age, when a person is assessed as having a mental health condition, a system is in place for the provision of treatment and support, to enable them, wherever possible, to stay within the community.

Where a person recognises that they are experiencing problems and willingly asks to be admitted into a psychiatric unit, they are referred to as voluntary or informal patients.

It’s only when a person is deemed to be suffering from severe symptoms of psychosis but is unwilling to recognise their illness, and for whom their illness is more a cause of concern for their family and friends, they can only be admitted to hospital against their wishes if it’s in the interests of their health and safety, or to protect other people. Then it becomes necessary for them to be compulsorily admitted to a hospital or psychiatric ward (sometimes against their will!) under the Mental  Health Act.   

The term “sectioned” which is no longer used in this regard, came about where people were admitted and treated under different sections of the Act, depending upon the circumstances, which is why the term ‘sectioned’ was used to describe a compulsory admission to hospital.

In former times all it took was to persuade two doctors to sign certificates of insanity to put away inconvenient or embarrassing relatives in a madhouse. Women – with lower social status, and usually less power and money – were more vulnerable as highlighted in this newspaper article .http://www.dailymail.co.uk/home/you/article-2141741/Sent-asylum-The-Victorian-women-locked-suffering-stress-post-natal-depression-anxiety.html.

Returning to the present, there’s still a social stigma with regard to mental illness – the person suffering from it may find it difficult or embarrassing to talk about the problem to anyone, and people who don’t understand mental health issues would often prefer to steer clear of discussing it, rather than try to understand, help or deal with the issue.

Ignoring the symptoms is bad enough.  Recognising the symptoms but failing to seek the correct medical care it quite another thing.  Even worse is the ‘professional’ consulted by an individual with concerns relating to their experiences, – a lack of referral by said professional to seek medical attention and, further, to attempt to aid the enquirer without medical intervention instead by means of a religious ceremony.  I could understand this were it to happen in a tribal setting where a shaman or witchdoctor was the common source of assistance but to find this happening in a first world country is rather disturbing.

An interesting wiki on the subject mentions:

A 2008 study by Baylor University researchers found that clergy in the US often deny or dismiss the existence of a mental illness. Of 293 Christian church members, more than 32 percent were told by their church pastor that they or their loved one did not really have a mental illness, and that the cause of their problem was solely spiritual in nature, such as a personal sin, lack of faith or demonic involvement. The researchers also found that women were more likely than men to get this response. All participants in both studies were previously diagnosed by a licensed mental health provider as having a serious mental illness.

However, there is also research suggesting that people are often helped by extended families and supportive religious leaders who listen with kindness and respect, which can often contrast with usual practice in psychiatric diagnosis and medication, as mentioned in https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mental_disorder.

Historically, mental health issues have been sadly misunderstood and sufferers poorly treated. The strong taboo attached to this means that people still don’t want to talk about it, whether it’s the person who is suffering with a condition or their family and friends.

“Am I going mad?”  When you’re stressed and things start to fall apart for you, you may begin to doubt yourself and, let’s face it, who doesn’t experience stress at points throughout their lives?  The definition of insanity is a tricky one, what defines a person of normality and how do you test that a person is suffering from abnormal mentality?  

How can we be sure that the assessor is capable of assessing accurately?  An old episode of Star Trek (Whom Gods Destroy) featured the Enterprise visiting a “facility” for mental health patients and Captain Kirk beams down to meet the Director of the facility.  However, a mentally unstable alien female warns Kirk that their host, Dr. Cory, is not who they think he is. Unbeknown to Kirk, the patients have escaped the confines of their cells and turned the tables on their doctors and nurses by locking them up in their place. With ‘patients’ in cells and seemingly rational people caring for them, the word of an inmate about the doctor seems all too unbelievable. Who do you believe?

You’ll find numerous youtube videos, ostensibly showing people ‘demonically-possessed’ but, without a bit of background about the person captured on film, how can you be sure that the episode they are suffering wasn’t the result of a medical problem/failure to take medication or (and I fear this is the more common type of video to be found) a student video of someone acting in an irrational manner.  

Given the proximity of the camera in some of the videos, the person being filmed would have been very aware that their actions were being caught on camera and, given their sensibilities, would possibly respond to this fact.  On the other hand, if someone was acting for camera then they’d be more likely to pretend they didn’t know the camera was there hence my assertion that the majority are student films or amateur attempts at horror film making.

A priest speaks about demonic possession and exorcism in this link:



I leave you with this fun question:  Should  YOU be institutionalised? See if you answer the following correctly:

During a visit to a mental asylum, a visitor asked the Director what the criteria is that defines if a patient should be institutionalised.

“Well,” said the Director, “we fill up a bathtub. Then we offer a teaspoon, a teacup, and a bucket to the patient and ask the patient to empty the bathtub.”

So, the question is:-
1. Would you use the spoon?
2. Would you use the teacup?
3. Would you use the bucket?

“Oh, I understand,” said the visitor. “A normal person would choose the bucket, as it is larger than the spoon.”

“No,” answered the Director. “A normal person would pull the plug.  Are you ready to be admitted now?”

Maybe, just maybe, the solution is a lot easier?


If you enhoyed this blog post, please also have a look at my blog Bible Inconsistencies