Most obviously, the ceremony of exorcism is concerned with a struggle between Good represented by the Deity, mediated by a minister (in its broadest sense), and Evil represented by the Devil or his minion, through the medium of a (possessed) person. Although this is not a superficial reaction to the drama, it is not the whole story. Healing and restoring to “normality” is indeed the most immediate aim but it is not the most fundamental. For all those involved, officiant, victim (or sufferer), the team offering back-up and spiritual support, the family or relatives involved, and, indeed, those informed later by word of mouth or by newsprint: the public, fellow clergy, the sanctioning Bishop – the rite has a significance which may differ according to particular or individual perspectives.

          For some people this perception is bound up with the power of the Devil and malignant spirits, or with the meaning of demonology in general; or reflects in some way Man’s eternal fight against elemental, deleterious forces, which have been ordained as his lot since the expulsion from the Garden of Eden. This itself raises the question perennial: who or what is the Devil and his demons? What do we (whoever we are) mean by these terms? And even more fundamentally, what do we BELIEVE by them?


          Where possession is assumed or seemingly perceived, there is at the back of the mind, as the saying is, the thought that the situation before us is not genuine, might even be spuriously adopted for reasons of the “victim’s” own. At least, I always had this initial suspicion, until “convinced” – insofar as anyone can be in this disconcerting field. Allied to this perception, is the phenomenon often encountered (more so in the past) of voluntary and involuntary possession, a complex syndrome about which there needs must be much discussion. This is only one of the factors which make “diagnosis” of a case difficult: there are also the characteristics of obsession, as distinct from possession, which a person may exhibit – and the one may grow into the other!

          One of the most important features of exorcism which today’s minister must take cognisance of is the comparatively recent “discovery” of MPD syndrome, Multiple Personality Disorder, one among many mental or psychological ills that we now know of. It is difficult to over-emphasise how vital it is to correctly diagnose this – and maybe to discount it. Adding to this problem is the thought – (fact?) – that a priest may not be the best person to discern the truth of the matter.

          These are some of the issues we shall be discussing in this chapter two.


          Modern attitudes, we have to say, are on balance sceptical of the need for, and the efficacy of, exorcism. In part this attitude arises as a symptom of the indifference on the part of many people towards religion – or more precisely, organised, dogmatic, religion. Belief in the Devil or Satan is still very prevalent, however, as a power of evil – even among those agnostics who are not convinced of the existence of a God. Churchmen themselves, perceiving apathy, struggle to achieve relevance in the present age, and in so doing seize on the subject of possession by evil spirits as a legitimate target for disparagement. To them, stories of Jesus’ driving out demons is merely an out-moded attempt to impress by people who had an axe to grind. Thus in addition is denied the historicity of Scripture written (as we understand) by divinely inspired scribes. This indeed is a true “accommodation” – to progressive thought! I would just like to add the notion that the apparent success of early Christian exorcism lay largely in the fact that Christians enjoyed absolute certainty of victory founded as Oesterreich (an eminent writer on the subject of possession) says on their faith in God.

          To think the accommodation theory above is to deny the intrinsic importance of the exorcism ritual, as well as to deny some of the best attested incidents in the Bible. Selectivity will not do; it has been the resort of misleaders in many spheres down the centuries. The true significance of exorcism (note I do not use the word “deliverance” here) lies in the belief that people can be possessed by an evil entity whose aims are multi-dimensional, but are certainly to demoralise, victim and witnesses alike. In a sense, credence in the ceremony of exorcism is exhibiting belief in a deity who can ordain matters – good or ill for his ends. Belief in a case of genuine possession is to acknowledge that evil in the form, or simulacrum, of a diabolical essence is possible – and is probably far more frequent than the picture of conventionally demonised victims, ranting and raving. It is just that the latter instances are more obvious. The significance of exorcism is that it is a deeply religious experience; religious in a non-sectarian sense. What is not the essence of the ritual is a mechanistic freeing from control, in situations where the exercise of free will appears (on the part of the sufferer) not to be an option.


          Brian McConnell in his book THE POSSESSED, succinctly expresses prevailing thought: exorcism is viewed by some as an authority given to the Church/es as one of the ways in which Christ’s ministry is continued in the world; as a ceremonial psychological reassurance to those who believe themselves to be possessed; as demonic beliefs that are explicable sociologically and psychologically. (See his final chapter.)

          The first of these viewpoints is confirmed by the action in 1986, with papal authority, of the Catholic archbishop of Turin, in creating six new exorcists to fulfill a need – a need which the present pope, John Paul 11 recognised in 1985 when he himself conducted an exorcism. It is reasonable therefore to suppose that Pope John Paul believes in demon possession. Not all do though, who believe in exorcism. For such people the meaning of the biblical “unclean spirits” is not that of demons but of spirits of people who once lived on earth who may have demonic characteristics. From this follows the belief that disembodied spirits are in a sort of darkness but without direction; they remain here (on earth) since they know no better place; they are commonly attached to places. Other spirits attach themselves to human bodies and in attempting to remain there employ every wile to control their host. Eugene Maurey in his unusual book EXORCISM: HOW TO CLEAR AT A DISTANCE, writes: “An exorcist has a profound influence in directing an entity in the spirit world” (p. 48)


          We can here touch on the two acknowledged types of possession: voluntary and involuntary. By the first is meant the often subconscious inviting “in” of a spirit, maybe from emotional motives, similar to older stories (which may be true) of Faustian impulses, or simply from someone’s desire to be the focus of attention. Historical records appear to hold in equal measure accounts of possession, voluntary or involuntary; it is usually hard to tell. Involuntary is of course where a spirit enters without invitation: these appear, or are judged, to be the majority of incidents. Also, it is not always clear if the possessed person is aware of being invaded, controlled by another being, entity, spirit…This is one of the greatest problems confronting the exorcist. Often it is possible to believe that the possessing entity is that of the spirit of a dead person who was very close in life. But sometimes it is not! Complicating an already very difficult area, is the present day acknowledgement that MPD, hysteria, schizophrenia or simply acute depression may be the root cause of apparent puzzling presentations. Irrationality and antisocial behaviour are always distinguishing marks. There are others, such as mood change, desire to inflict harm on him/herself or on people near, negativity and depression. Tourette’s syndrome also must be included in any list of disorders that may give rise to false diagnosis; the sufferer displays limb uncoordination, utters incoherent words or speaks uncouth language, screams and shouts


          The question of invitation in the present context, is a very vexed one. Looked at in some ways, possession is always invitational in nature insofar as people can put themselves at risk, exhibit a chink in their armoury, have a (secret) weakness, through which the evil entity can enter. Perhaps like the religious of old (mostly) they are good subjects to invade because they attract greater notoriety. There is also “knowing” and “unknowing” invitation, as Richards points out, where in the first example a person joins a Satanic group of some kind, and in the second where the person typically engages in “magic” sessions or seances.

          The RC Church believes implicitly that there IS only one set method for performing an exorcism, but many people active in this area (of exorcism) do not subscribe to this view. Maurey for example believes it is too dangerous for a “face to face” encounter with a possessing entity; hence the sub-title of his book. Better, he believes, to exorcise at a distance. I must admit, I have sometimes sympathised with this view!


          What is especially devastating to an exorcist is the spectacle that a human’s free will (God’s supreme gift) is being perverted, even destroyed. The invading entity is imposing its will on that of the victim, and controlling him. Possibly this is the most tragic aspect of the situation: that no-one has the right to direct the activities of another.

          Whether the sufferer always is aware of being possessed or is not aware is another perplexing situation. It does seem from all accounts that the boy in the centre of the most famous case of demon possession in recent times, usually known by the pseudonym of Robbie Mannheim, (transposed into a girl in Blatty’s book and Friedkin’s film), was not indeed aware of being demonically possessed – as distinct from the different awareness of the ministering priests. Thomas Allen’s comment on the Mannheim case is worthy of mention at this point: “He was I believe, a victim of a strange, incomprehensible event, an unearthly event whose cultural and psychological roots are deeper than Christianity’s”. (POSSESSED, p. 203) On the other hand there is the “scapegoat” syndrome where a disturbed group, or a family, projects its own sins onto someone who is then persuaded or in modern parlance, brain-washed into believing himself possessed. This is the name, says Richards, “given to the process by which impulses, wishes, attitudes…are unconsciously denied as belonging to the self and are attributed to someone or something else”. (p. 107)

          Richards further develops this theme when he writes that it is through this “process of projection” that people can become controlled by others. When this happens we may be faced with a case of possession, because the perceptions and beliefs of others are directing the victim (or scapegoat). On occasion when confronted with a “case”, I did judge this to be so. Falsely diagnosed states of possession are all too easily made. Hence the absolutely vital need for thorough research into the background of a case before rushing to judgement. This is where the back-up team comes in. Some words have already been said about this team, but it will do no harm to reiterate in part, at least, that this team must contain a medical person (preferably the victim’s GP), a psychiatrist, and hopefully a social worker, known, for preference, to the afflicted person.


          Some causes of supposed (or false) possession have been listed above. Schizophrenia is one of the most prevalent since it gives rise to delusion and hallucination. Many objectional symptoms arise from, are created by, the victim himself, who is “experiencing his own internal thoughts and feelings as if they were outside himself and the work of external entities” (Richards, DELIVERANCE, p. 110) Severe depression, and/or depressive illness, as we have said, may give rise to bizarre symptoms that can be misinterpreted as evil possession. In addition to emotional stress or illness, there are organic or physical conditions which can present misleading conclusions: epilepsy, drug addiction are some conditions. Neuroses, among which may be counted some types of hysteria, im particular those which are particularly disturbing and distressing, can be wrongly interpreted as due to evil spirits, but the truth could be that an inner psychological conflict is at work, as the sufferer tries to deal with his own deep anxiety. Some apparent victims at bottom crave attention – perhaps to impart some sort of meaning to otherwise mediocre or unfulfilling lives. Many of the notable cases down the centuries are attributable to this aspect. Acting as demonically possessed has been a deception, and still is, especially where it is presumed, or later proved, that the person not only seeks to mislead onlookers but even, it is clear, believes his own fantasies.


          Repressed emotions, often deriving from childhood trauma, can also create misleading diagnoses. We have all been aware of this danger especially since Freud who made repressed sexual memories a central theme of much of his writing. Why, apart from self-publicity, these memories should well up in adulthood (as they mostly seem to do) is still not explained, when they give rise to emotions deleterious to the personality and offensive to other people.

          With these indications of false possession, and the list is not exhaustive as this is not a medical textbook, it certainly behoves a potential exorcist to tread most carefully, in case more harm is occasioned if an exorcism is not appropriate. Spiritual counselling, in addition to medical treatment, is often the first step to take – but as we shall see, this is not always successful.


          Sometimes it can be discerned that an undue interest in matters of the occult, such as ouija boards, tarot cards, mediumship, and so on, can lead to a form of mental imbalance which may present itself in emotional or psychotic behaviour that could also be interpreted as (demon) possession. It was believed for example that Robbie Mannheim’s disturbances arose out of his (and his aunt’s) ouija activities. An important conclusion is derivable from the Mannheim case – and many others – that bizarre behaviour tending to suggest demon possession has its origin, often, in activities indulged in with others (who may apparently be totally free from strange symptoms) as in the case of people deluded by so-called charismatic sects or cults, headed by a status seeking, but otherwise unremarkable, individual. Much of these persons’ problems lie in relationships of a kind which they cannot handle or they find in some way oppressive or threatening.

          The preceding paragraphs are an attempt to describe some (the most important I would like to claim) of the presentations that the potential exorcist may face. But not all by any means can be so accounted; there are indeed cases for which no explanation can be found – try as we may. In such cases, the possibility of possession can be entertained.


          A state of obsession often precedes possession. People are frequently described as obsessed with something, meaning that they think of almost nothing else. Used in our context, obsession prevents normal life from taking place and gives rise to very restricted responses to the demands of everyday living. It is as if the person is on a type of monorail where his direction and reaction is controlled and limited. It may be experienced as a mainly external thing. This may show itself in a preoccupation with evil or a form of guilt. Oppression is a further stage of this, whereby the person generally feels he is attacked from within. It may manifest itself in dreams. The final stage is possession – where it is genuine, it must be said. (The definitions of the distinguished French writer on our present subject, M.J. Ribet, dating back to the 1880s, are worthy of quotation: “Possession is the invasion by the demon of the body of the living whose organs he exercises in his own name and at will as if the body had become his. In possession the spirit acts from within and seems to be substituted in the body for the soul which animates and moves it. Obsession is an extrinsic compulsion which while leaving to the mind the consciousness of its vital and motor action upon the organs nevertheless imposes itself with such violence that a person feels within him/herself two beings and two principles in mutual conflict: the one external and despotic which seeks to invade and dominate, the other internal …the soul itself which suffers and struggles against foreign domination”). Of course things have moved on since this was written and modern comment is that it is false to call possession “external” while obsession is called “internal” where the first is considered to be domination of the body, the second a domination of the mind. “Possession does not denote a lesser but rather a deeper disturbance of the mind than does obsession,” as T.K. Oesterreich cogently points out. (An important figure in possession studies whose work we shall be soon considering.

          Where it is genuine! (See the sentence before the parenthesis.) As Hamlet said, there’s the rub. Fundamentally, it must be admitted, much “diagnosis” turns on the subjective “feel” of the exorcist for the situation before him. Much has been written on the so-called gift of “discernment” whereby one is able, almost clairvoyant-like, to tell instinctively if one is dealing with the real thing or not. My opinion is that it does exist to a limited extent, but like genius, the perception is reached after ninety per cent perspiration and ten per cent inspiration. Background causes of suspected possession can be listed, and these, taken with the time honoured “signs” can lead to the conclusion that a genuine case of possession lies before us. These will be discussed in the next chapter.


          By a case of possession, let us be clear, (from a Catholic Church viewpoint), we mean demon or devil control of the personality. Why is it so difficult to expel an entity when the power of God is invoked? A question not open to easy answers. The first thing to be said is that Satan, or his agent demon, is immensely powerful himself, certainly much more so than any human being. He will do anything to obstruct, harass and confuse any would-be exorcist and of course, he does not want any exorcism to take place ab initio. He will remain concealed as long as possible – giving a reason for the ancient ritual of attempting to make the evil entity speak and answer questions. Further confusing the issue is the fact that converse is sometimes with the sufferer and sometimes with the possessing being (or so it seems). Disconcerting silences can ensue when neither the victim nor apparently the possessor wishes to speak and only the voice of the exorcist can be heard, commanding or asseverating.

          Extreme bodily movements, contortions and even violence can and usually do take place just before the completion of a successful exorcism.

          Certainly, spiritual treatment of demented persons, namely the rite of exorcism, is rare in comparison with the occasions when places or sites need attention. Not all cases demand prolonged or very intense ministration. In some cases, (the majority), prayer, the administration of sacraments, anointing, blessing with holy water, laying-on of hands, seem to work. I could not agree more with the advice often given that solemn exorcism should be resorted to ONLY when, as Richards indicates, non-human, malevolent influence is suspected. This leads us back to the concept, already mentioned, that possession can be due to spirits of dead people, that is, spirits of once incarnate humans, who should not be adjured to return to hell where they never were, but on the contrary need the solicitude and concern only the living and religious person can give


          Calls for the exorcism of places appear to be greater than those for persons because places are more visible, to larger numbers of people, and affect more than an immediate circle which is usually the case with a call to exorcise a person. Consequently, although the exorcism of a place may need to be repeated (as with persons) the fact is that the situation is likely not to have changed much since the previous attempt and the exorcist may discharge anew his partly unsuccessful ceremony, concentrating on those aspects which were not responsive the first time round. The greatest problem involving the task of rectifying a disturbed place is the difficulty of deciding on the best course of action or direction to take to resolve the problem. What IS the most appropriate action?

          A blessing is certainly the primary action. Prayer and the sprinkling of holy water is needed ab initio. This alone may banish the evil (if it be so) haunting the place. Place exorcism is not as fraught with danger and threat so much as that concerned with the person. Houses are frequent sites. People who inhabit them are generally scared and bewildered. They themselves need comfort. It is often the atmosphere of fear that leads to the exorcist being called in. Non-Christian members of a household make an already difficult situation even more difficult as the Christian exorcist’s approach is always prayerful, sectarian and some would say, dogmatic (in the original sense). Above all, however, it is essential to reassure the household members that something effective is being done. A blessing given with due dignity and solemnity that can be construed as a hopeful sign for the future usually has a calming effect. The solemn exorcism is but rarely required in these situations. Naturally, investigation, questioning and counselling must precede the ritual in situ.

          Desecration of a sacred site, for whatever reason, is another problem altogether. Attacks on such as churches may have their origin in Satanic ritual; consequently the site/church will have been defiled and the immediate aim is to do something to restore its sanctity. Once again, blessing, sprinkling with holy water, prayers combined with the sacrament of the Eucharist should be effective. It is clear in these latter cases that the site is not “possessed” in the usual sense, neither is it “haunted”: living human beings are the cause of the mischief – but they may be demonically motivated themselves. And they will have left their infection behind! Usually only a comparatively small number of people may be involved in a desecration; it is, though, otherwise with well-known places. Suitable procedure is directed by the exorcist’s perception of the situation. It may be that a major exorcism is required where it is clear that prolonged misuse of a site is evident. In these cases support is very necessary: the lone exorcist is (usually) inviting trouble.

          Places requiring solemn rituals often in my experience exude an alien atmosphere. In some, often undefined sense, they seem to be unnatural, weird almost, in their transmuted qualities. Persons closely associated with the place may be terrified or at least, disturbed in overt ways. This psychological damage may result in the poltergeist phenomenon, largely now attributed to emotional or mental disturbed states. Be this as it may, there is no doubt that this psychokinetic activity (if so it be) is both spiritually taxing and physically dangerous to exorcists. It cannot be emphasised too strongly that over confidence, misplaced confidence or simply underestimation of the opposing forces can lead to dismal failure, even exacerbation of the situation. Of course it helps greatly, if the exorcist believes implicitly in the possibility of demonic activity. (Some do not.) In any case, as has been said, it is not the exorcist who drives out the demon but Christ himself.


Exorcism of places has a form of words which differs from those used in the exorcism of people. Procedures differ fundamentally in outward show.

Indoor sites must have all animals and children removed and all doors and cupboards are to be left open.

The exorcism rite must be applied at once, using words of command according to the accepted formulae. (See appendix)

The team offering moral support must all the while be of prayerful mien – and watchful of developments.

The place, room or rooms, must be blessed and holy water sprinkled.

Persons associated with the place must make a renunciation or disavowal of all things satanically connected.

Persons who have been baptised but have renounced their baptism, or those who never have been baptised, must be received into the Christian Church by sacramental means.

After the ritual, involved people must never be left, metaphorically, on their own but must have a commitment made to them for future guidance and succour.


          It is essential for the Christian exorcist to see his work as an intrinsic part of his ministry – a ministry which has the authority and tradition of his Church behind him. It is as well if he sees what he is doing as contributing to his Church’s fight against strong and growing occult and satanic practices. Exorcistic practice is not, as Baker suggests in BINDING THE DEVIL, a form of spiritual surgery: surgery aims to restore a patient to his former state; exorcism (or deliverance) in the case of adherents to sects or cults or simply those who have rejected Christianity, does not have this as its aim but has something rather different: return to or acceptance into the Christian fold.


          The Anglican Church has in comparison with the Catholic what may be described as a laissez-faire attitude to exorcist practice. It is not by any means as dogmatic, tending to regard exorcism as a procedure whose form may be, within limits, left to the individual exorcist on the spot, as it were, adopting his method as he sees fit in the circumstances. The RC priest, however, has (or had) the office of exorcist conferred on him automatically (as we have indicated earlier) as one of the four minor orders, which among other things gave the authority to baptise (a form of exorcism). One of the other things is the authority and power to administer a solemn or major exorcism to combat possession. The exercise of this authority is however restricted to clergy who have been specially selected (usually by the diocesan Bishop) and whose procedures must be in accordance with the regulations set down in the Roman Ritual, as we have said.

          The main difference in attitude of the major Christian Churches lies in the fact that the Catholic Church believes in the reality of demon possession whereas the Anglican Churches regard the latter as dubious, to say the least. Hence the Church of England’s emphasis on “deliverance” rather than “exorcism”.

          The use of exorcism is not however confined to people and places, in the eyes of Catholic clergy, but is required for cleansing materials used in exorcist rites themselves. Thus, oil, water, salt (an old remedy against the Devil) must be exorcised by the celebrant before using them in the rite. (See appendix). All this is of course indicative of the gravity in which an exorcism (major or minor) is held. It is equally important to the minister that the patient/victim/sufferer is as far as possible aware of the importance, significance of the ceremony to the Church. Unfortunately, this state is not always attained.


          One aspect above all that an exorcist detests is the attribution to him of a type of magical power. This is completely contrary to all the teachings of the Church or Churches. Successful exorcism is not by the priest but by the power of God, and no exorcist would want it to be regarded as anything different. Exorcists are aware that public perception of successful rituals is that they are in some way spiritually worlds apart from themselves (the public) and from other “ordinary” clergy. Exorcising clergy may be different in some human traits, but are different in other ways solely because they have chosen (or been chosen) to take up “this dangerous ministry” as Baker describes it in BINDING THE DEVIL. It helps to keep one’s feet firmly on the ground to realise that the exorcist is often the last person to be called into a particularly puzzling case!

          This bringing up the rear, if the expression is not too jocular in the context, is it must be confessed on occasion somewhat dispiriting insofar as it is realised that medical opinion, psychological and psychiatric, has first been canvassed – usually. There are occasions though on which the priest has been the first person to be called in to some especially disturbing situation: generally domestic ones where it is difficult not to think of oneself as a more acceptable alternative to a marriage counsellor. But these are the exception not the rule.


          The question is: why have the consolations of religion been called upon? Ostensibly, it is because all the investigations of modern science into the particular case have been fruitless. Much, if not indeed most, incidents of very disordered behaviour are nowadays explained in terms of comparatively new psychic, psychosomatic, emotional disfunction. Underwood in his book EXORCISM! has a relevant comment to make. He writes from a non Roman Catholic point of view. A literal and anthropomorphic belief, he says, in the Devil may no longer be possible; exorcism succeeds (where it does) in the puzzling way in which forms of psychoanalysis and psychotherapy succeed: that for certain individuals religious exorcism seems to be the right way of approaching and curing mental disturbance.

          But there are some incidents which are not open to explanation by modern science. The historical literature, extensive as it is, on exorcism, usually attests to most BUT NOT ALL cases are explainable in modern medical terms. Puzzling cases can be found now as then. The “Mannheim” case, the most famous of modern times, has never been satisfactorily explained. There are many more. These unexplained cases are I admit in the minority – maybe no more than ten or five per cent. But what of these few? It may be thought they are explainable only in terms of true possession. The horrific Manson “family” murders of the late 1960s for example, incomprehensible in their savagery, are as close as one can get to true diabolic motivation.


          Occasions of pseudo-possession are always initially suspected by a potential exorcist. There are many attested cases of people who have either been talked into a condition of pseudo-possession or have “talked” themselves into it. These cases are among the ninety percent mentioned in the previous paragraph. Some words of Lewis Maclachlan, quoted by Richards in DELIVER US FROM EVIL (p. 114) are very apt: “Several cases of obsession recently …in which Christian ministers have used an act of exorcism to give relief to patients who believed themselves to be possessed by evil spirits when …other treatments had proved unavailing. This kind of prayer was used …not because the ministers believed in demonic possession, but because the patients did..and which seemed to be justified by the results.”

          It is here that the importance of “case history” is so marked. If it is suspected that a patient is suffering more from self-delusion than from anything else, a “history” of the individual is invaluable: medical, religious, social, personal. It should help to decide whether the trouble is subjective or objective; stemming from something interior or being caused by exterior factors. I always thought that this was not a crucial issue as far as the success of the exorcism ceremony was concerned, but it is certainly helps if one can determine the issue in the first place. Every little helps…


          It has been said that sickness and possession represent two possible aspects of the same event. The inter-relation of mind, body and spirit is a realisation that is imperative to the work of the exorcist. It is a comparatively recent acknowledgement: certainly not given the prominence it deserves in possession cases in the past. Although the advice and help of medical personnel are tremendously valued, and the diagnoses they can make, a SPIRITUAL diagnosis made by an exorcising minister is always to be regarded as of equal validity – in the instances we are discussing. Spiritual diagnoses may, among other things, discriminate between voluntary or invited states of possession and between involuntary or accidental states – a concept which we have already encountered – but the importance of this discrimination should not be minimised. It is “perhaps only against the theological understanding of the ‘powers’ that the realities confronting the individual can be understood”. (Richards: BUT DELIVER US, p. 133)

          Demon reaction, according to Richards, is likely to be aroused only by being approached at a SPIRITUAL level, which is why “demonic” manifestations occur … [on Christian occasions]…such as in the presence of someone in whom the devils are aware of Christ. With this sentiment I wholly agree.

          Although the powers, the knowledge, the artifice, the stratagems, call them what you like, of the possessing entity are very great, the overriding thought of the exorcist must always be that these powers are only what God allows – and are less than his. Trust in this by the minister is what makes exorcism a reality.


          Mention has been made of possession by the spirits of departed people, as distinct from possession by spirits that never were carnate. Mediums and spiritualists appear to become possessed for a time when experiencing a trance. Occasionally such people become as it were overwhelmed by their “spirits” and display virtually permanent symptoms of acute psychosis. They are then in need of some form of treatment – which could be exorcism. The abilities of such people are often doubted; being in touch with, receiving messages from, spirits of the dead are generally derided. But speak to any one who has had a “session” with such a person and the revelations imparted seem as if they could come only from communication with departed souls. The Catholic Church has always regarded spiritualism as devil’s game, as a danger to the soul; it is undoubtedly because a spirit world does exist in its eyes.


          It would be advantageous at this point to spell out the Roman Catholic Church’s theory of diabolic possession. The very close union between the nervous system which pertains to the body and the sensibility which is a faculty of the soul permits the transmission of the commands of the will to the body and its movements. It is this union which is dissolved by death. It is this union which is weakened by mental disorders. It is precisely at this point of intersection and liaison between soul and body that theologians locate the action of the Devil. He cannot act directly on the intelligence or the will which is a domain strictly reserved to the human person himself and to his Creator God. The Devil can only influence the higher faculties indirectly. However, the Devil can profit from a disorder of a person introduced by a mental malady. Then he gets “control of the mechanism of command, manipulates it at his pleasure and so indirectly reduces to impotence both the intelligence and, above all, the will.” (SATAN; article by Mgr. F.M. Catherinet)

          The above doctrine or theory is developed by St. Thomas Aquinas in his SUMMA THEOLOGIAE, (see Book 11 [two], particularly Section 8, pp. 261-263 of the Timothy McDermott edition, Eyre and Spottiswoode, 1989) and valuable conclusions are drawn from it by Catherinet. (p, 176, in SATAN) We shall have to infer, he maintains, that all true diabolic possession is accompanied by mental and nervous troubles produced by the demon, and yet having symptoms which are medically identical with those produced by neuroses. The psychiatrist can study these symptoms, but if he excludes any transcendent cause of the anomalies then he goes beyond the bounds of his professional competence. One danger, rather a weakness, in the priest as exorcist is that he is conditioned by upbringing, training and the daily discharge of his ministry, to be judgemental; that is to say, making sometimes (hasty) moral judgements about the reality of demonic possession when faced with outrageous behaviour in a victim.

          Of course the exorcist always calls on divine assistance – this he must believe. It may alternatively be called divine intervention. Exorcism is not the working of a miracle: happenings which are against nature, such as giving life to the dead, enabling the blind to see (without surgery!); sudden cures of disease, and the like. Exorcism is essentially a natural happening brought about by supernatural (divine) agency.


          One can, I hope, be forgiven for suspecting manifestations of the preternatural when faced with the “main” signs of true possession (taught down the centuries). Although we shall deal with these in detail later, I believe it is important to make a statement about these signs now, in the present context. This is that one, an exorcist, can easily (but uncomfortably) feel he is truly in the presence of one who is genuinely possessed by a supernatural (demonic) power. If the facts in the case before us, are naturally imexplicable, we tend to turn to a non-natural causation of the phenomena. In the words of F.X. Maquart in his article “Exorcism and Diabolical Manifestation” (in the “Satan” compendium), “the metaphysician knows…that there exists a being, namely God, whose power surpasses all the powers of created nature. The theologian knows that above man but below God, there exist purely spiritual creatures, the angels and devils. They have power over bodies…” (p. 198)

          This is among other things a power to transform: to penetrate as it were the personality of the victim and to superimpose a new personality on the person’s real personality. Violent presentations of this feature are similar, if not actually, to those of epilepsy and of hysteria which we have mentioned, but perceptions by the exorcist and his team, of a new or fundamentally changed personality give us pause. These cases appear to be basically different from the mass of historical records about presumed possessed people, many of whom sought, in Shakespeare’s words, a “bubble reputation”, a recognition and attention that they craved and which would not be given them any other way. The great majority it must be acknowledged, are therefore cases of false or pseudo possession.

          The concluding paragraph to Jean Lhermitte’s article (SATAN compendium) is worthy of quotation. He writes, “There exist genuine psychopathic states whose chief symptom is… that the moral or physical personality …is possessed by the devil. [The first state] is marked by the catastrophic occurrence of possession…when the consciousnesss is in a state of dissolution; the second is more complex and consists of a predetermined psychosis whose development can be foreseen and of which a very grave prognosis can be made”.


          Are we confronted (in many cases), asks T.K. Oesterreich, with two “egos”? Neither of the two “personalities” seems to possess an immediate knowledge of the other nor does the subject observe anything of the processes of division, is his comment. (p.36: POSSESSION). (This significant work on possession was, and still is, a watershed in the subject when it was first published in 1921; it has deservedly gone through several reprints and translations from the original German subsequently.) Oesterreich does not believe there are two “side-by-side” entities in a possessed person – one being the true or original individual and the other the invading spirit. According to his line of thought, the only adequate explanation of possession is that postulating a simple alteration in the functions of the ordinary subject: “The subject presents no division…”

          In his detailing of some old, but famous cases of possession (those of Dona Teresa, circa 1630; Jeanne Fery, circa 1584; Pere Jean-Joseph Surin at the time of the Loudon epidemic in the mid seventeenth century, about which we shall say more subsequently), Oesterreich concludes that the conception that there are really two different subjects and not merely two different states of one and the same subject “presents insurmountable difficulties of interpretation”. (p. 54) He acknowledges (something in my experience I would certainly endorse) that a possessed person filled with the idea that a strange spirit has entered him, behaves towards his abnormal state in a manner consistent with this belief. One of the strangest phenomena attendant on these sorts of cases is the perception that a sort of conversation is being conducted between, one presumes, the victim “the possessed” and the invading spirit, entity, call it what you like. This is of course essentially different from the dialogue to elicit information, the exorcist can or should try to engage in (if one can call it so) between him and the demon, the evil entity.

          The vital question is posed: is the obsessing personality in reality entirely autonomous, and if it is existing side by side with the normal one does it UNDERSTAND WHAT THE EXORCIST SAYS? Also if it is the case where the possessed person as it were reprimands the spirit within him, does the latter (the spirit) hear and accept the rebuke? Vital questions to ask and answer for the validity of the process of exorcism, you would agree. Casual observance (of a kind not characteristic of an exorcist) gives the impression of two wills in the same individual, but this is not really so. The possessed do not speak with a dual will, as Oesterreich observes.


          The origination of possession in certain people is a great mystery though many causes are adduced as to why this should be. (We have mentioned some of them.) An existing, domineering emotional or psychological state accounts for many cases – but these are instances of pseudo-possession. Usually it is the conviction on the part of the sufferer of being possessed which brings about a consciousness of a second personality. However it cannot be true that the religious in history affected by obsessions all had dual personalities, as Oesterreich points out. The latter also makes the important point that the sight and company of possessed persons is itself a frequent cause of possession. There are many stories of exorcists themselves being infected by the evil they are trying to drive away. Whether this is a genuine case of spirit invasion or simply the result of continual battle with demonic forces resulting in unbearable stress is hard to determine. Certainly, in my experience, I would concur that “infection” is possible.

          Some people are given to hallucination and this can be a cause of possession. It is closely associated with auto-suggestion which is another type of false possession. Even where this form is suspected, the exorcist (if he believes the major rite is necessary) will always speak to the possessing spirit rather than to the victim and this holds good for the medical doctor who also addresses the demon but on occasion tries to speak to the possessed – to learn more and to reassure. Naturally, it must be said, the decline in religious belief going along with scepticism about all things diabolic does not help the exorcist in his demanding work. A firm belief in the doctrines of the Church (Catholic in my case) is an absolute necessity – a sine qua non (to use Latin!) Concomitant with this is belief in the Devil (which has been confirmed by Pope John Paul as an article of faith.)

          To try to sum up the evidence such as we have, it may be crudely said that false or pseudo-possession is mainly associated with physiological disturbance while true possession (as far as we can tell) is associated with psychological disturbance, though we must take into account all the caveats given, in trying to reach a fundamental understanding of the phenomenon. The idea that an extraneous power guides and motivates them (the supposed possessed) is the essence of a type of demented state in which they seem to lose all consciousness of their activity yet often see themselves act. In the case of fits produced by epilepsy or hysteria where the patient loses consciousness, it is still possible, but not now as widespread, to construe these as demonic attacks. Oesterreich’s conclusion is that the “great difference between modern hysterical attacks and the old states of possession is psychic”; (but one has to remember that he was writing in the early 1920s – and many strange incidents have arisen since then).


          In the Middle Ages it was always believed that a demon spoke through the mouth of a possessed person. Now there is a greater belief in dead spirits speaking. This is only to be expected where there has been a lessening of belief in all things spiritual. However it is by no means certain that present day attitudes (to demonology and the like) are correct. Modern materialism accounts for much of this attitude. Freely admitted, and no apology proffered, is the fact that demonological theory as defined in the earliest times, is perpetuated by the Catholic Church, although it is true to say that categorical statements about demon possession and allied matters, are not as firmly stated as before – see the CATHOLIC CATECHISM for example (on which more anon). Cautious approaches to possible exorcistic situations is strongly urged, for instance.

          A Handbook first published in 1900, intended for Catholic exorcists, succinctly and cogently presents the stuation then – and is just as valid now. An important paragraph reads:

“The possibility of maladies caused by demoniacal influences must be accepted by every Catholic believer as a fact beyond doubt. At the time of Christ it was a revealed truth: later the greatest doctors of the Church…declared that this conception must be considered as an article of faith. There are demoniacal maladies radically different …from the pathological manifestations due to natural influences and these human maladies are due, under God’s will, to supernatural forces and the might of evil spirits. As for the solution of many enigmas which the subject still presents, those curious for knowledge will have to seek it in the vast field of conjecture. Are demoniacal maladies frequent in our own time? In the first centuries when the etiological [science of the causes of disease] knowledge of doctors was even slighter than their therapeutic knowledge, whole categories of obscure maladies of a strange character were attributed to the influence of a supersensual power”.


          One comment on issues raised by the foregoing is that it is not a certain indicator of an unsound mind if someone is attacked by a spiritual malady. It could be that a “normal” person can succumb to psychic infection – if the circumstances are conducive. These abnormal conditions produce the suggestibility to entry into possessed states.


          The concluding section to this chapter is concerned with the phenomenon of MPD (Multiple Personality Disorder) mentioned earlier. This is a compararatively recent diagnostic element in the study of possession (and exorcism). People suffering from this exhibit not one personality but several which they believe live within them and control on certain occasions their actions. The condition is thought to be rare, but I believe it is not so rare as supposed. The definition of Felicitas Goodman in her book HOW ABOUT DEMONS is a good one: “Patients suffering from this condition experience themselves as having several discrete personalities called alternates that do not share consciousness or memories with their host”. (p. 79) These personalities, or entities, appearing in a person may be benevolent or malevolent, however. Occasionally it seemed to me that a person was using the MPD syndrome as some sort of an excuse for bad or even criminal behaviour. In these cases of course the conclusion reached is that the syndrome was a sham, but I hasten to add, this was not the generality of my experience. Why does it occur at all? A difficult question to answer. Research seems to indicate childhood trauma of some kind or great stress in later life (adulthood). Some psychiatrists maintain that even under ordinary circumstances alternate personalities can arise and serve a definite purpose, thus the development of the “alter” personality, as it is called, is a means of coping with an emotion that the patient cannot handle. A simple form of exorcistic ritual can help such people gain control over the disturbing entities, I believe.

          An insight into the state known as MPD is given by the comment of an American psychiatrist quoted by Maurey in his book EXORCISM (p. 38) The comment is generally as follows: In a typical patient [of MPD] there are from eight to thirteen personalities though there can be more. The five most common are: 1) the “host” personality, who comes in for treatment; 2) a fearful, childlike personality; 3) a competent protector; 4) an “inner prosecutor” who tries to harm the other personalities; 5) an personality impervious to pain that arises to endure abuse


          Maurey himself states that the symptoms exhibited by a MPD sufferer are identical with spirit possession. For him, (Maurey) exorcism removes the additional personalities and returns the subject to his basic single personality. The problem is of course distinguishing a demonic MPD personality from a situation of true possession. The learned Catholic priest, Father J. Mahoney has posted several notable articles on the Internet concerned with exorcism and MPD. He believes that MPD patients will improve over time with appropriate therapy (as distict from a “sudden” release as in exorcism). An absence of unusual phenomena will also indicate MPD (as opposed to genuine possession); emotions will be revealed as human in origin (such as rage). Mahoney points out that several phenomena are characteristic of both MPD sufferers and the believed geuinely possessed. Physical characteristics, such as rashes, cuts etc., telepathy, hyperacute senses, physical strength, acts of self-harm, seemingly requiring little or no sleep or food, creation of an atmosphere of cold or evil: these are some of them. His summing-up is: “I am not discounting the possibility that therefore a specific MPD patient may in fact also be possessed”.

          However it must be said that exorcism as the answer to even severe cases of MPD is not universally endorsed by Catholic clergy. Mahoney himself is against it. One of his main objections is put in the form of a question: How could, he asks, someone with MPD have a sense that possession has occurred? (Article: “Cast out What”; 19-6-99) He details some experiments (in Canada) which showed that indeed alternate personalities can be banished (but temporarily); that on balance the application of the exorcism rite on these MPD sufferers was not appropriate. Crucially, though, the most important question is: how much does the potential exorcist himself know about MPD? Others are: What indications are there that this personality is from “outside” rather than formed from within? Why is there a sense (presuming there is) that this personality is so different from other personalities?

          We discussed the significance of the ceremony of exorcism early in the chapter and attempted to give the essence of the rite as the driving out of malignant spirits. This involved concepts of demonology. Possession, its various forms, and obsession are meaningful subjects in any consideration of exorcism, especially the “voluntary” and “involuntary” forms. Allied to these are our investigations into genuine and spurious posssessions which is a vital preliminary research before embarking on the ritual. Finally we spoke about Multiple Personality Disorder, an important syndrome to be considered by any exorcist.

          What is demonic power and what are its purposes and limits? The problem of evil has haunted theologians down the centuries. The Deliverance Ministry as opposed to and (as different from) the Ministry of Exorcism: what are the ramifications and implications of the different expressions? Activities cognate to deliverance; belief in, and the growth of satanism, witchcraft, the occult, spiritualism, – all subjects inherently associated with possession and thereby exorcism. These are some of the topics we shall consider in the next chapter.

© A.B. Finlay Ph.D