Belief in the need for the solemn (or major) exorcistic ritual, entails an intrinsic belief in the real existence of demons (or the Devil) – NOT some principle of evil (notice the small letters) which is always adduced when sitting on the fence is thought to be called for: usually by clergymen or committed Christians! Accordingly, demonology, the study of the power and influence of demons, is central to our theme. Demonology of course has had many facets through the centuries and the history and development of the concept (of demons) cannot be part of the present study; it is as readers of my book, DEMONS: THE DEVIL, POSSESSION AND EXORCISM, know, a vast subject in its own right. The fact remains however that major exorcisms owe their very existence to the perceived need for the expulsion of evil spirits – from people, from places. Demonology is not some arcane study but is an on-going investigation into the very nature of diabolic power and influence and encompasses the fundamental question of the problem of evil, its past and present existence and manifestations. (The historical perspective is considered in greater detail in chapter 4.)
These concepts lead into the consideration why the term deliverance (which we have briefly touched on) is often employed as distinct from exorcism; what certain people mean by it, and above all is the term comprehensive. Whatever it is called, the need for the ritual is as imperative as ever especially in view of the admittedly growing interest in occult practices, including spiritualism, satanism and “witchcraft”, black or white. There is no doubt that cults and sects of a quasi-religious, usually perverted nature, proliferate, many of which are anti accepted religion. This chapter will among other things discuss these topics: they are intrinsically linked to our main subject: exorcism.
PROCESSES OF EXORCISM
The first thing that must be said is that the Catholic belief in the individual SOUL is a vital doctrine in any consideration of the processes of exorcism. The soul is inviolable, and can be corrupted by sin; but cannot be itself be entered or controlled by diabolic powers. Otherwise, exorcism could not work at all. Viewing a sufferer, it is clear to the minister that virtually all the manifestations are of a physical kind – that bodily functions, contortions and so on, are indeed being caused by someone or something alien to the person in his or her normal state. I said “virtually” all – we shall return to this caveat later. It is noticeable too that in many cases touching by the exorcist, the “laying-on” of hands often seems to have a calming effect, sometimes occurring at a critical point when a cathartic or permanent turn for the better is observed. This can give rise to a comment such as that of Goodman, when she says that exorcism is a special kind of faith healing. (p. 24) I have, I confess, no doubt that this aspect is indeed an element in the process.
REALITY OF SPIRIT WORLD
This itself leads onto the philosophic question: what is reality? I cannot try to answer this where many great thinkers have for centuries, from Plato to Sartre, deliberated. But the issue must intrude. How real are these invading spirits – a question which has belief in demonic spirits as a given for the (Catholic) priest/exorcist but not maybe for the uncommitted (or unconvinced) onlooker. In any case, reality depends on perspective: individual of course, but also according to the mores of the time; reality is “culturally relative” as Goodman says. The danger in all this is that religion (main stream) could be also held to be culturally relative, changing its data in accordance with the passage of time, and “accommodating” itself to the transient beliefs of the time. All we have to go on is experience, but it is a very powerful persuader – the experience of displays of demonic power, such as physical changes. However, as Goodman observes, “no-one can either PROVE OR DISPROVE [my emphasis] that the obvious changes of the brain in possession or in a patient with MPD are produced by psychological processes or by an invading alien being”. (p. 126: HOW ABOUT DEMONS?)
ATTITUDES TO EXORCISM
It is clear that attitudes to expelling evil spirits have changed over the two millenia since Christ: from an almost total belief in possession as the reason for very aberrant behaviour to the discoveries of modern science and parapsychology which strive to explain all anti-social phenomena in medical (or psychological) terms. But about the middle of the twentieth century a renewed interest in exorcism became apparent. So much so that as we have seen, the Bishop of Exeter’s Commission was set up, and various Christian writers began to voice their concern over what they judged to be undesirable and widespread interest in the subject. (One of them we have met: John Richards.) Hence the initial striving to rid the process of any “magic” connotations and then secondly to try to get people to see exorcism as mainly a healing ceremony.
Although agreeing with the first statement I can only partly agree with the second. It is without doubt a healing process but it is much more. Possession itself (some say) can only come about if in the first place there is a receptive state of disorder or tension in an individual; secondly there must be an accumulation of particular circumstances which as it were come to a head and become unbearable in the person. But some, including myself, do not say this, as adherence to the above denies the possiblity of an outside entity entering in.
The receptive state is often one where an individual is suffering from paranoia in which he feels that the world is against him; often also it is a state of repression where the individual in his efforts to control his emotions breaks down. In many cases it is repressed sexuality which is at the base of the malady. People who are neurotic and emotionally dependent are in my experience quite frequent victims. Females, for some reason, tend to form the bulk of the latter category. There is also no doubt that a sexual element features in many “cases”. However, it would be a mistake to imagine it is only (or mainly) those who are, or believe themselves to be marginalised, socially and culturally, or those who are under-educated who are the chief victims of “possession”. This is far from the reality.
HOW DOES EXORCISM WORK
The fundamental question in all this is: how does exorcism work? We have tried to answer this by stating that the exorcist does create a special kind of “mind set” in the sufferer in which emotions are as it were by a process of catharsis expunged leaving him “clear”, but only by the power of the Deity – in which therefore the exorcist is the mediator or conduit (to use a mundane expression) for divine supernatural power. Thus deliverance is possible only in Christ’s name. One conclusion is that both the exorcist and the possessed “must share the conviction that the problem is of a spiritual nature and that it can only be relieved by spiritual means”. (Baker; BINDING THE DEVIL, p. 174)
“One conclusion”: it is not therefore the whole story!
It does happen that victims (note the word) do not, or are not able seemingly to, comprehend the significance and/or meaning of what the exorcist is trying to do. This is because they are so disruptive or in contradistinction, in a such a somnabulistic state during the ceremony, that it is beyond them to comprehend or understand. We shall mention somnambulistic states, a phenomenon of some importance, in a later chapter.
A notable instance of the first category, that is, one of disruption, is the case of Michael Taylor. This notorious episode was, many believed at the time, the result of an inadequate administration of an exorcism ritual by inexperienced and “unqualified” clerics. My adjectives are moderate! The fact was that the situation was made worse by the farcical exorcism procedures, so much so that it appears these triggered off Taylor’s appalling actions. Taylor, who lived in West Yorkshire, was originally a decent young man who came under certain influences, mainly it must be said, of a religious nature, and was persuaded of his baseness – unwarranted of course. His subsequent irrational behaviour led to the conclusion that he needed to be exorcised (or the possessing demon, to be more accurate, did). The consequence was that convinced he was possessed by diabolical forces he murdered his wife with great savagery. This happened in 1974. Taylor was locked up in Broadmoor.
One of the psychiatrists (at the trial of Taylor) said that Taylor had been in a sort of trance, maybe a hypnotic state as a result of his pseudo-religious “brain-washing” and which was connected with the failed exorcism. The then Archbishop of Canterbury (Dr Coggan) remarked that the Michael Taylor case had been grievously mishandled, but that there was no doubt that there were many cases of men and women so within the grip of the power of evil that they needed the aid of the Christian Church working in collaboration with the forces of medicine to deliver the person so oppressed.
The word “deliver” is significant. As we noted, “exorcism” has in many contexts been replaced by “deliverance”. The Exeter Report, already mentioned, was published originally (1972) under the title of “Exorcism” and its Study Group called itself the Christian Exorcism Group, but after about 1987 it had changed its name to Deliverance Group. Indeed, Michael Perry, writing in 1987, called his book “Deliverance” rather than “Exorcism”. He states that deliverance is a much wider subject and is about “freeing people from the bondage of Satan. It may involve exorcism but generally [he says] it does not”. (p.2; DELIVERANCE) He points out that Christian clerics can overreact to a situation which appears to demand exorcism, but it can be just as bad, if not worse, to deny the reality of the powers of evil. Exorcism, for him, is defined as a specific act of binding and releasing performed on a person believed to be possessed by a non-human malevolent spirit. This type of action is by no means always necessary; deliverance may be much more appropriate.
John Cornwell in his book POWERS OF DARKNESS: POWERS OF LIGHT tells of his interview with an Italian priest (p. 347/348) on the subject of exorcism. The latter first diffentiated between deliverance and exorcism and defined exorcism as addressing the devil in person so as to force him to leave. I give most of what the priest said to Cornwell, as I completely endorse his views: his experience has been mine. “Exorcism”, he said, “often involves a direct address of Satan or an evil spirit…and may involve trying to get the devil to reveal his identity. In deliverance on the other hand we call upon God to order the Devil to depart. Deliverance is comparatively common, but [true] exorcism is rare. Two exorcists working together is desirable.” On the subject of possession, he says that a person’s will is involved; the possessed person has invited the evil spirit in. Obsession and oppression can be overcome by the sufferer’s own efforts/prayers; possession however is brought about by “deliberate courting of the powers of darkness” – and so is very different. Symptoms of oppression or possession generally include a hatred of sacred things, paranoia, lying, obscene actions and language, frightening grimaces, raving, unnatural voices, the use of unknown languages, great strength, poltergeist activity in the vicinity, strange visions – these are some of them. I quote the priest’s last remark because it mirrors my experience: “When all these things come together in a unique circumstance and when medical help has repeatedly failed, we would be advised to consider deliverance, and then exorcism”.
In any scenario, however, evil, (adduced by Peter Underwood in relating a comment of Christopher Neil-Smith, who has conducted many exorcisms), is always to be treated as an actual force, rather than an abstract idea. (EXORCISM! p. 184)
The concept of healing probably has more emphasis in the term deliverance which seems more apt in the context of treating such as schizophrenia, epilepsy and common addictions, including mental illnesses. I have no doubt that the deliverance ministry does have in many cases a beneficial effect on such disorders mentioned above. It is, as Underwood points out, probable that this is a method of treatment which is so valuable because it is within a religious framework. (See paragraph in chapter 4 for more on this theme : “A Deliverance Ministry?” )
A STATE OF MIND?
Some Christian clerics believe however that cases of possession (they would enclose the word in inverted commas) are nothing to do with spirits but are due to the individual’s state of mind at the time. On the other hand, there are many, like John Richards, who do believe that exorcism is an essential element in the Christian ministry of healing and that spirits of evil do exist and can dominate the human personality. He does however prefer to use the words liberation or dispossession rather than exorcism. For him, deliverance [from evil] is a part of the Gospel: “a part of the estabishment of God’s rule in individuals and in society” (BUT DELIVER US FROM EVIL, p. 2) and the healing ministry is therefore part of the “total Gospel” and should not be divorced from deliverance and exorcism. The deliverance ministry encompasses exorcism which is the ceremony believed to be appropriate in cases of demonic affliction.
I always believed I was healing at the same time as I was driving out the evil in a person. What the Churches do not want is the popular conception of spiritual healing as a sort of miraculous means by which charismatic individuals assuage or even banish mental or physical infirmities. We do not need at this stage to stress that it is only by God’s power we as exorcists do succeed – where we do! There are plenty of “stages” shall we call them, in the exorcist rite. Continual prayer is one of them; the granting of forgiveness, or absolution on renunciation of sins (where possible) is another; performing an act of Holy Communion with the sufferer, sprinkling with Holy Water, anointing with Oil, are some more. The laying-on of hands is part of the process and is derived from the practice of Jesus (although he did not always do it) but could be misinterpreted as faith healing! Consequently I did not always do it. The relation of a personal experience will (later) throw some light on this subject. The laying-on of hands is of course a prominent feature of certain Catholic ceremonies.
HISTORICAL BELIEF IN EXORCISM
Basically the Catholic Church believes in the need for, and the efficacy of, exorcism because Jesus was so clearly committed to the practice. The teaching of Catholic scholars down the ages has confirmed the belief. In the earliest centuries AD, great figures such as Tertullian, Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, Origen, Cyprian believed implicitly in demon possession and testified to its frequency. Exorcists were plentiful it seems, but – and this is worthy of note – they did not call themselves doctors but thought of themselves (and so did others) as exorcists. In these early days of the Christian Church there were naturally many (most) who were not converts to the new faith and who were also, where circumstances warranted, subjected to exorcism. Much debate ensued, and the subject is not dead now, as to the appropriateness of exorcism rituals on non-Christians with its explicit Christian referents and the hope (on the part of the cleric) that some sort of religious faith will manifest itself in the victim. I mention the subject only; it is a big topic. Let me say that it makes no difference to an “outcome” but that it is more encouraging to a potential exorcist if the “victim” has a Christian background.
A feature that has not changed since earliest times is the belief also in the modern day (in successful exorcism) that, as Coulange says in THE LIFE OF THE DEVIL, (p.221), “Every exorcism was a new triumph by Him who was crucified on Calvary over the pagan deities, a new proof of the divinity of Christianity”. For the first centuries AD this aspect was very necessary; the struggling faith was much aided in its progress after the conversion to Christianity of the Emperor Constantine in the fourth century AD. The Emperor persecuted pagans in his new found zeal for Christianity which co-incidentally or not marked a drastic diminution in cases of demonization.
John Richards,, Secretary of the Bishop of Exeter’s Study group on exorcism, in another of his books, EXORCISM, DELIVERANCE AND HEALING, makes some interesting points about demonization. He acknowledges that many of the New Testament “possession” cases were indeed a first century way of looking at such as epilepsy, hysteria, schizophrenia, but adduces proof that science has not disproved evil spirits. There is much that nowadays certainly does not merit solemn exorcism but equally there is much that Christ can deliver us from which would not be called an evil spirit. There is, he says, a vast range of affliction from evil. His final paragraph (on p. 23) is a concise summary: “Exorcism is not a religious form of psychiatry; it is not using religious actions and terminology to heal the mind; it is spiritual healing of spiritual illness at a spiritual level. It exists, therefore, in its own right complementing where necessary healing at these other levels”.
Another way of expressing the above sentiment is nicely encapsulated by Sybil Leek in DRIVING OUT THE DEVILS (p. 134), where she says that the exorcist “is concerned with actually expelling external forces while the psychiatrist is concerned with the state of mind and interaction on the emotions”. At the same time she makes a plea for more co-operation between medical personnel and clerics. I have to say that I have (nearly!) always found such co-operation in my ministry. I am sure things have moved on somewhat since Leek wrote her book in 1976. The Roman Catholic Church’s attitude to exorcism is that if it is established satisfactorily that there is a job to be done, then indeed medical help is needed, but this must needs be on a mundane level (I am not at all being derogatory here) whereas assurance that the battle will be won is the trust and faith the Catholic priest places in his ministry. It could without hyberbole be described as an attitude of optimism – often dented, but never destroyed – otherwise you would not be called on to act! Confidence at least is necessary to face the sometimes threatening situations.
I feel I must say something here about the Liberal Catholic Church movement – and the so-called Charismatic arm of the Church, as readers may have heard something of them. Their attitude to such as exorcism differs from that of “main-stream” Catholicism. It is not possible here to go into detail, but suffice it to say that strict procedures as laid down in the Roman Ritual and subsequent amendments are not adhered to but approaches to the rite are more freely and individually interpreted. Once again, Leek has an apt sentence. “Evil,” she writes, “is not regarded [by the above branches] as a manifestation through materialism, but as misdirected energy”. Needless to say, their practices do not have the full approval of the Holy See. In this book I do not speak for them.
One problem (among several) encountered is that occasionally one does come across the attitude among psychiatrists and/or psychologists that the demonic has no place in their world – or should not have in any other’s either. Even trained Christian counsellors can be influenced by this, a form of conditioning. Of course the counselling is meant to be religious not secular: others such as doctors can give this but it does not always leave the sufferer better off. Naturally it is not the best approach (to a “victim”) to say openly that he or she is in need of the sort of deliverance that only full-blown exorcism can bring. But on the other hand, I do not believe in being mealy mouthed about the term “exorcism”. As we have indicated earlier, many clergy do not like or use the term. preferring other euphemisms in an attempt to avoid the opprobrium that ritualistic attempts to remove demons might connote. Fred Dickason in his 1987 book, DEMON POSSESSION AND THE CHRISTIAN, confesses he does not like the expression “exorcism”. “However,” he says, ” we must face reality with the sense of devotion to obeying God and serving others despite the cost” [of being misunderstood].
Another problem is that of striking the right balance between the overzealous approach and that in which one wishes to play down the element of manic exhibitionism (in the sufferer). One danger is ministering to the spiritual needs of the person at the expense of his psychological and physical needs. This can have the effect of lessening or even removing the person’s sense of guilt, so that he does not feel any responsibility for his wrongdoing. A third problem is trying to avoid a concentration (by the cleric) on possession and thereby neglecting the fight, which is at bottom the essence of the rite, against evil.
TYRANNY OF MAN
If the fight is basically against evil the question arises, and has always arisen, why does God permit the Devil to tyrannise Man, especially since man is made in his image and possesses an immortal soul. This question and an attempted answer is to be seen in the MANUAL OF EXORCISM originally written in Spanish in 1720 and translated by J.D. Brady and Eunice Beyersdorf; the edition of 1977 is recommended. This is a seminal book in the history of exorcism and exorcists and much of it forms the framework for modern treatises on the subject. It gives an extensive coverage in the appendices of prayers and rituals recommended for use at the rite.
Among the answers given in the MANUAL is the observation that the devil is always trying to speak and act through idols, and images, and one of the best ways of doing this is by taking revenge on His image, Man. In this I believe he (the devil) does sometimes succeed. Why? The MANUAL’s reply is that in our time God wants to show the power he has communicated to his ministers to convince those who deny exorcism. A further reply is that seeing a body possessed with the devil is a description of what happens in the other life (of Hell). Of course, other reasons can be (and are) given for the ostensibly puzzling incidences, but this what the MANUAL adduces.
Since 1720 some things have changed, evolved might be the better word to describe the Catholic Church’s stance on the subject of exorcism. It is interesting to see the changes in the 1967 edition of the CATHOLIC ENCYCLOPEDIA compared with the 1907 version, for example: the former is now called the NEW ENCYCLOPEDIA. Although it is true to say that the fundamentals remain unchanged from one book to the other, some wording of the newer version indicates a growing awareness of psychiatry and its importance in (diagnosing) diabolic possession: “The need to reorient theology along more positive lines has been recognized [and therefore] demonology has not been the object of much serious study in the twentieth century”. In a way, exorcism has lost its premier status, it is possible to say. Other articles germane to the subject have been dropped altogether. “Adjuration” and “malediction” have been consigned to limbo (no pun intended) while the article on “anathema” is drastically curtailed. These alterations are all significant in denoting a lessening of emphasis (I would not say belief) in matter of demonology. Fred Olsen in his book (really a compendium) DISGUISES OF THE DEMONIC, raises a pertinent question. If the human personality consists of body, soul and spirit, can one or the other of these be equated with the Devil (he uses a capital D). Not the body and not the spirit, he asserts. This leaves only the soul. A somewhat esoteric argument is developed to justify this conclusion (pp. 133 and 134) which I have no desire to unravel here.
The dimension of service to the Lord, as experienced by exorcising ministers, “only begins when one is willing to endure the impact of demonic enormities” – Olsen, p. 133. A truer word could not be said. Demons and the devil are truly adversorial, beings that seek to work a moral destruction on humanity. On this theme, the influence of such thinkers and writers as Jung, and Freud upon twentieth century modes of thought on demonology and allied is immense. A consideration of their influence is not appropriate here, but see my book DEMONS (pp. 206-208). Ann Ulanov’s article in the Olsen compendium contains a sentence that expresses an idea hard to disagree with: “We know from theological tradition that evil finally is a mystery, a darkness we cannot penetrate, a nonexistence that nevertheless makes its pressure felt; one might say evil is the presence of absence”. (p. 139)
For her, the demonic is not just a private inner experience. It can show itself to be an autonomous other that is able to confront us in our own depths, and also in our politics, our society, in history, in collective life. We can try to avoid seeing the demonic in two ways, she writes. “We either become possessed by it or try to repress it.” [Jung and Freud theory]. “Either has serious negative implications for us.”
A FORM OF EVANGELISM
All exorcistic rites are a form of evangelism, even for those who have been baptised into the Christian faith and for those who have lapsed from, or actually turned against, their original religious faith. In the case of non-believers or atheists, some of whom will have had a background of interest in the occult and all it connotes, the sense on the part of the exorcist of performing an act which may (“should” rather) orientate the person to the Christian life is very strong – at least so it was always with me. This is certainly where the confidence I mentioned earlier comes in. As Timothy Pain says in DELIVERANCE, “Boldness, not the charismatic mix of discernment and diagnostic questions, is our chief requirement”. (p. 71) Pain, like other writers on exorcism, sounds a cautionary note about performing the ritual. I like his aphoristic sentence not only for its sound but also for the truth which it embodies! “If,” he writes, “there is any doubt whether exorcism is necessary, it is best to presume that it is not”. (p. 72)
Exorcism connotes diabolic invasion; we agree I hope on this (from a Catholic clerical point of view); the thesis is that sin or being in a state of sin, is closely connected to demons, or evil spirits. We might assert that if mankind had never sinned we would not be vulnerable to demons – a concept developed by Derek Prince in THEY SHALL EXPEL DEMONS in his chapter, “What are demons?” Demons, as Prince says and as we have said, habitually gain access to human personalities through moments or places of weakness. Becoming a Christian does not automatically mean that a person is no longer subject to demonic activity. We as Christian clergy may like to think so; but unless the demons LITERAL AS WELL AS METAPOHORICAL are banished the sufferer is as likely as not to continue to suffer. It is deducible from my highlighting of the words above that I do subscribe to the belief that some cases of supposed possession are due to demons in the mind (of the victim), but that others admit of no such interpretation…I trust it has been made clear that conversion to Christianity is no bar to subsequent invasion. Prince, he of the Derek Prince Ministries, based in the UK in Harpenden, but having establishments around the world, is by no means mealy mouthed about his conviction that the Devil (and his demons) are very much alive and kicking. For him, “demons are behind almost every form of spiritual deception” and “any doctrine that detracts from the holiness of God…is demonic”.(p.191) I personally would not go so far. I believe it is hyperbolic; I hesitate to use the word untrue; let us say it can not be proven like so many things in religion (and theology) and so remains in the realm of the speculative.
Prince speaks about “negative emotional spirits” which can produce an attitude of mind opening the door to physical sickness. I quote his examples because I endorse them. Examples of negative spirits are such as rejection, fear, grief, discouragement, disappointment and despair. How often these are encountered! Among the “factors” listed, that might prevent a person from receiving deliverance, are accepted ones such as lack of true repentance, wrong motives, and one which is mentioned as part of a larger battle. A very good point is made when he (Prince) says that a person (possessed or demonized) who appears relatively unimportant on the earthly plane could be a strategic element in the global conflict (between good and evil). A single individual, “may be the key to the salvation of a whole family or even some larger community”. (p, 260) Many similar words of wisdom in subsequent chapters of his book are given by Prince based on his long experience. I do not always agree with everything he says, but the sincere conviction has to be admired. A typical utterance is that given in his chapter “Helping others be set free” where he writes that “Demons are not frightened by denominational labels, [reminiscent of another earlier quote from another writer] ecclesiastical titles or theological arguments. But against the sharp sword thrust of God’s Word, spoken in faith, demons have no defence”. (p. 267)
NEVIUS ON POSSESSION
DEMON POSSESSION AND ALLIED THEMES by the Revd Dr John Nevius first published in 1897, (with an illuminating introduction by the Revd F. Ellingwood) is without doubt the seminal work on our subject in modern times. It is equivalent in importance to the Spanish MANUAL of 1720 we have mentioned. It is no exaggeration to say that upon the data and theories laid down in this book that most other, later books on exorcism and/or possession have been based. One of the most important sections in the book is concerned with visible states or conditions of possession.
He delineates the abnormal physical and mental phenomena that accompany cases of supposed genuine possession in a section that at the time was illuminating (to put it mildly). These phenomena are described in his pages 143, 144, 145 which we shall look at subsequently. Transitional periods, intervals, paroxysms, aversions are some of the phases experienced by a victim subject to attack and were to a large extent then new insights. The undoubted weird manifestations of possession may be attributed by some as the result of occult forces, the natural results of diseased states of the nervous system or simply imposture, his “explanations” state. A more philosophical approach to the mystery is given in the sentence where Nevius rightly says that some religious beliefs, including that of (or in) possession, are “the natural outcome of inherent principles or tendencies in man’s spiritual nature, always producing…the same outward manifestations and the same theories…”
According to this statement, ” ‘possession’ theory has always been dominant, and furthermore is rational and philosophical in its place in man’s history”. (p. 161) The possessed person “pained and wrenched” rationally finds a personal spiritual cause for his sufferings ” and appears to think he has become the mere instrument of a spirit…a possessing demon in whose personality the patient believes so implicitly that he often imagines a personal name for it”…(p.163) The supposition that there exists a soul in Man (a subject we have glanced at earlier), a distinct entity which survives despite diabolic invasion, is paralled by the supposition that during the abnormal state “the body is possessed by another soul, which also has a distinct entity, a new personality”. (p.165). The introduction of the theory of somnambulism as characteristic of possession states (taken up enthusiastically by Oesterreich about thirty years later) is introduced (p. 177), the essence of which is that victims often do not remember what they have been doing or saying during the “seizure”.
One major aspect of Nevius’ approach is a consideration of the arguments of opponents of his stance towards possession, and his illuminating debate on, and dissolution of, these arguments which are anti-demon possession. Symptoms which particularly characterize demon possession are threefold: the consistent acting out of a new personality; display of intellectual power not possessed by the subject; a complete change of moral character. Here the curious phenomenon of “conversation” between the priest and the new (demon?) personality must come into focus. Usually, the new personality speaks of HIMSELF i.e. in the first person, while referring to the subject (the victim) in the third person, i.e. as he, him. In Nevius’ day he could safely claim that medical science fails to account for the facts. No doubt the gap has narrowed; but as we have remarked, some instances cannot be accounted for still. The idea of “alternating selves” by which is meant that sometimes one personality appears to speak (maybe the true or original person) while at others the “new” personalty seems to speak (or react). Evidence is apparent to some that the “control” is really the departed spirit whom it pretends to be: (idea discussed p. 220 et seq.)
An extremely insightful paragraph develops the idea that the stream of consciousness in which we habitually live is not the only consciousness which exists in connection with our organism. “Our habitual or empirical consciousness may consist of a mere selection of a multitude of thoughts and sensations, of which some are equally conscious with those we empirically know.” (p.226) No primacy therefore can be accorded to our ordinary waking self. The self can manifest itself through the organism, but there is always some part of the self unmanifested. Nevius quotes the great psychologist William James apropos this point: “We must admit that organized systems of paths [in the brain] can be thrown out of gear, so that the processes in one system give rise to one consciousness, and those of another system to another simultaneously existing consciousness”.
It was possible in the last few years of the nineteenth century to state that “recent” psychical research strengthened the presumption of the existence of spiritual intelligences capable of producing effects on material objects. The same however could be said today. Of course there have been tremendous developments in knowledge in the spheres of psychology, psychiatry, medical conditions generally, since Nevius wrote, including research into such as hypnotism, clairvoyance and the like. The notion is advanced that demon possession is another form of hypnotism if we suppose that spirits exist who have access to human beings and are therefore familiar with the nervous system and furthermore are capable of acting upon mankind in accordance with physical and psychological laws. In a sense therefore, spirits can hypnotize men. It may be that there is a form of telepathy at work within the “victim” whereby diabolically inspired thoughts are transferred to the consciousness/nervous system of the person, giving rise to the abominations often witnessed.
Nevius next proceeds to attack the claims of some biblical scholars that the actions and words of Jesus were only an “accommodation” to the prevaling belief of the time; that all mental disease was regarded by the Jews as a form of demon possession and so on (a theory we have already met); this point of view, he demonstrates, is utterly inconsistent with the detail of the Gospel narratives. His sections on the “Teachings of the Sacred Scriptures” should be read by anyone interested in the biblical evidence (about possession and deliverance). “We believe then that the language of the Bible with reference to demon possession is to be interpreted in its ordinary literal sense” – nothing could be less ambiguous. Literal interpretation of biblical passages however has of recent come under much scrutiny. What we do need to avoid in modern time is giving the impression of sitting on the fence; of accepting on face value certain things because they suit us to do so while rejecting others we are not so comfortable with. Much therefore is to be said for being “up front” with our view (as present day parlance has it), even if we are aware of criticism by our peers. There are however many contemporary clerics or religious laity who temporize on this issue. I believe I am not one of them. I emphasise a statement made some few pages ago: that there is an unfathomable ten per cent of “cases” – unfathomable that is to say, by medical science.
It is possible to deduce that in these inexplicable cases we have demon control of the kind which has authority in the Scriptures. I say, it is possible; but proving it is another matter UNLESS the rite of exorcism brings a lasting amelioration, for instance, cure of the physical manifestations and a permanent banishment of the “new” personality. Possession phenomena can be very puzzling indeed; in this regard Nevius endorses a view ( on p. 345; in his chapter on the Facts of the Occult) that that theory is most scientific which best explains the whole series of phenomena [of possession] and therefore it is claimed that the spirit [invading] hypothesis is the most scientific since it does explain all the facts which cannot be said of any other hypothesis.
DIABOLISM AND THE OCCULT
Diabolism, the devotion to the devil and all his works and pomps, can be said to be more prevalent today than it has ever been. This, as has frequently been said, is due in no small measure to the general decline in religious observance and agnosticism towards all things smacking of dogmatic religion. It seems as if the human soul (call it psyche if you wish) does need some suprahuman intelligence or entity to guide it and to give it some form of aid, even comfort, in its daily struggle. Hence, it may, without exaggeration, be said that much of the current interest in such as the occult, spiritualism (and mediumship), satanism, witchcraft (black and white), has arisen from this need in Man to feel in touch with larger powers than he can muster unaided. Pari passu with this interest has been the growth of sects, religious and underground, and cults usually of a mysterious and often deleterious nature whose nature seems to be to control by various means its members. Generally, these cults and sects have a strong basis in the accumulation of money and/or other financial assets. They are often characterized by their “brain-washing” methods (of recruitment). Nothing is as simple as it looks (to potential recruits). Their “leaders” are usually self-appointed who rule by a deceptive form of tyranny. They claim charismatic virtues but these are more in the eye of deluded followers.
It can be seen that these “movements” do not get my approval! Why? because fundamentally I believe that many of the protagonists are diabolically inspired (if that is the correct word). Catholic dogma teaches that any involvement with a false religion and any collusion with departed spirits (good or bad) is a perversion. Many of the practitioners of the above black arts are misled by their own propaganda; so much so that they are in need of a form of deliverance themselves. Apart from this, they are leading people astray, encouraging the belief that things are attainable in this world without the effort or discipline that normative life entails. It a type of short cut “religion” – or redemption/ happiness/salvation made easy.
Active interest in the occult can itself lead to delusion culminating in the phenomena of possession. As we have seen, a background of occultism is often diagnosed in disturbed “patients”. Practice of the occult was forbidden by Christ; knowing, or manipulation of, the future which is what in essence many of the practices seek, is therefore a breach of the trust and belief in the truth revealed by the life and death of Christ about the relationship between God and Man. John Richards in BUT DELIVER US FROM EVIL expresses the situation well. Individuals are, he says, increasingly acting in groups because it is in a group that they find identity. “The need for identity and purpose, the need to matter as an individual is driving more and more to occult practices in the hope of having an experience which will distinguish them from their fellow workers …and give them entry to an esoteric group in which they will have status and power. Not only does occultism meet a social need but a psychological one as well”. (p.30)
So-called psychic powers are said to be developed by persons who want to know the future and to apprehend matters not normally given by the five senses. Often this facility is used as a money making opportunity. However, it has to be admitted that opinion is divided over the development and use of these powers as they can be used for good (ostensibly) as well as for bad. On balance, though, in my experience the deployment of psychic powers is generally deleterious (to recipient and to practitioner).
Spiritualism (or spiritism), as has been said, is a sort of underground church in which reassurance is given, rather promised. The medium acts as the link between the living who come to her and the dead, “departed” or “earth-bound”. The Catholic Church regards the practice as charlatan at the mildest and evil and deceptive at the worst. Montague Summers in his HISTORY OF WITCHCRAFT AND DEMONOLOGY, describes modern spiritism as “witchcraft revived” and continues, saying that some of the manifestations “must necessarily be ascribed to Satanic intervention since in no other manner can they be understood or explained”. Dennis Wheatley, a notable writer on matters diabolic, said that he did not approve of mediums trying to contact the dead…mediums lay themselves open to serious danger. The powers that mediums contact are not the dead but evil entities who are very dangerous indeed. This is prcisely the view of the Catholic Church. Spiritualism can be regarded as an alternative viable religion with millions of adherents. It does not have the body of beliefs or the doctrine of the main stream (Christian) religions. In a way, spiritualism does not differ basically in its fundamental beliefs from those of the Christian Churches. The latters’ tenet is that the human being consists of body and soul; the spiritualist concept is that in addition to body and soul, a person has a “spirit” immaterial and immanent, whose values and experiences can be “tapped” into. In the eyes of the Catholic Church this form of contact is making use of the after life entities for demeaning purposes, for in most cases the delectation of the living (who should know better).
John Nevius’ objection to the phenomena of spiritism deserves attention. “If”, he writes, ” spirits have anything to do with these phenomena they have some purpose in what they do and are seeking to accomplish some end. They will naturally do most where the conditions are most favourable to this end.” (p. 317) In these circumstances, is it fanciful to imagine the medium is possessed at the time by a familiar spirit and that both are striving to demonstrate their powers? The strange disturbances often occurring during a medium’s “trance” such as weird communication, movement of objects, puzzling noises, nervous or muscular behaviour of the medium, and so on, are attributed in the Scriptures to agency of the devil. To return to a concept mentioned earlier, involuntary possessed is the demoniac; voluntary possessed is the medium. I feel I should here quote Nevius once again in indication of the tenor of his book: “I affirm my belief…that the phenomena of spiritualism are plainly referable to demons…and are declared to be such by the authoritative teachings of Scripture”.
Witchcraft is often a means resorted to by certain individuals to “get their own back” on other people or institutions they deludedly believe have harmed them in some way. There is also very often a strong sexual element in the witchcraft rites or practices, so that the leaders can indulge their lusts among deluded but usually willing followers. The beliefs adhered to by these self-styled leaders of the covens and their pathetic members are laughable if they were not so malicious in intent. They promise the earth but it is not theirs to bestow. The fundamental Christian objection is that these witchcraft groups demean and eventually destroy the good in Man and have to have as their raison d’etre, an overwhelming anti-religious bias. One of the major attractions of witchcraft as Richards points out, is the (deceptive) power it seems to bestow – power to heal in “white witchcraft” , power to destroy in “black”. (p. 78)
Black witchcraft has its parallel in satanism where it is known as black magic. Clearly the intent of the latter is malicious; intended to cause harm to someone or something. Satanism as far as can be judged is a life style that attracts because, like many of the cults mentioned above, it appears to promise a form of instant gratification, material in nature, which contrasts with the comparatively long and arduous way indicated by conformity to Christian life. It has other attractions of course, but I think the above is one of the major factors. The essence of satanism for its adherents is a conscious act of allegiance to the Devil and with it a rejection of Christ as Deity alongside a rejection of the Christian Church/es. Satanists’ lives are dominated by an anti-Christian motivation so much so that many of them desecrate sacred places, such as churches and graves.
Peter Underwood in EXORCISM! pertinently, it seems to me, sums up the position regarding exorcism and witchcraft when he says that exorcism succeeds when sufferers discover a deeper meaning to life than the mundane existence we know which in turn enables them to see witchcraft [when they are “delivered”] as a “squalid pretension” (p. 123).
One need not be surprised therefore that exorcistic practices have been on the increase in recent years, rather than, as one might expect in the context of declining religious faith, a diminution. There are lots of disillusioned followers of these proliferating “movements” who desire to be free (or freed) when they have finally discovered the truth about their megalomaniac “leaders”. Naturally I welcome this deliverance activity. Of course for the occultist, exorcism is itself a form of communication with spirits; to the Christian, on the other hand, exorcism is in this context, a way to fight the occult influences, restoring balance to the person. Thus, says Baker in BINDING THE DEVIL, “exorcism is only a start to what amounts to a course of therapy involving prayer, communion and rehablitation”. (p. 101)
To the Christian minister, all the above practices are “counterfeit” to use Timothy Pain’s apt word. They are expressly forbidden in Scripture; it is clear for example that God placed boundaries on the knowledge man should know (Genesis, 3) and the message of the Eden story is that some areas of knowledge are forbidden. Also the motive of control over people through arcane or esoteric revelation is anathema to the Church and its clergy. Communication with spirits is itself anti-religious as these spirits are thought of as being in opposition to God. Occultism is a search for hidden knowledge and in the search obesiance to powers or spirits is a intended to bring about a personal gain, whereas Christianity can be said to be a movement in which the personal will is subservient to that of God. Black magic and some types of psychic activity are forms of people manipulation and for this reason are wrong. Spiritualism is a selective approach to human problems and per se spiritualists are limited, as Michael Perry points out in DELIVERANCE, in their apprehension of spiritual truth. Mediums can also be fraudulent in various ways; one danger in this is that a wrong message is imparted to the living from supposedly discarnate spirits which can have an immediate or long term harmful effect.
Other practices which are closely related to occultism are, as we have said, satanism and witchcraft, primarily because they all basically have the same motive; that of homage to, or manipulation of, natural forces. Satanic groups especially, seem to have “con” men and paedophiles aplenty among their members. This alone gives us pause. That the ends of these groups are for the most part evil, does not seem in doubt. That they make use of Repressed Memory Syndrome (so-called) to implant in recruits a desire for revenge upon individuals or sectors of society – which is wholly manipulative and destructive, is not in dispute either. Ironically many of the leaders of these groups themselves indulge in, and actively encourage their followers in, say, child sexual abuse.
Cults and sects seem to attract the lonely, emotionally weak and the vulnerable in society. The great wickedness in all this is that such people are deluded and misled, and left much worse off than they were in a group where individuality counts for nothing. There is little doubt that these people as well as being deluded, are misused, they, and often their families if they have one. They are abused and in their turn become abusers. Ritual abuse and satanic abuse are forms which this can take. “The core feature,” writes Perry, “is the embedment within the victim of a highly systematised deviant belief and a distortion of reality so gross that the personality is prevented from growing towards the light and truth of God.” Exactly!
Many of the adherents of occult movements become like those believed to be possessed, psychiatric patients, insofar as they are in need of help – either medical or, maybe later, spiritual. The multiplicity of creeds offered to humanity down the ages does not help, I confess, when the chips are down as the saying is; when the Catholic cleric is called upon to effect some miracle (what people think) as he stands in the front line of the conflict between good and evil. What is so disturbing (among others) is the thought that Man can so readily be induced, as William Sargant puts it, to adopt beliefs diametrically opposed to those he previously held, (due to the creation of paradoxical phases of brain activity). ( In THE MIND POSSESSED; his final chapter). Religious belief itself may be lost during am attack of depression; it is easy to come to this conclusion when a victim exhibits virulent anti-religious behaviour, but on the other hand, this belief may later be regained when “normality” is restored. Acute stress, anxiety and fear can produce hysterical behaviour, and the potential exorcist has to be cautious in his diagnosis. Once having made his decision (to act) he must proceed with the utmost confidence. Wavering will be seen as a chink in the armour!
A method which induces states of excitement, as Sargant maintains, leading to a degree of exhaustion and consequent alteration in brain function can work “miracles”; such I believe is the exorcism ritual properly conducted. However, as Sargant says, “Man will continue to be possessed by many gods and devils and beliefs” (p. 199); and very rarely by purely intellectual and rational argument.
The problem of the existence of evil in a world created by God, a beneficent deity, has been one of the themes discussed above. An answer that can convince or satisfy everybody is not possible; it is a philosophical question that has been debated for many centuries. All we have been able to do is to give some “answers”, and some guidelines along the path of theological discourse. Clearly, the viewpoint of a Catholic priest may differ from that of a non-Christian. Fundamentally it does not really matter, this difference. The important thing is that one is aware of the problem and that thought is given to it. Closely connected with this question, as far as our study is concerned, is the subject of demonology: the power and influence of evil spirits. Deliverance (or exorcism) follows on from this latter consideration; and we have indicated how the ritual of exorcism (as well as its name!) has changed over the years. In the concluding sections there has been a mention of some of the associated offshoots of belief in satanic power, witchcraft, spiritualism, the occult generally and the growth of anti-religious cults and sects.
Next, among other things, we shall be discussing exorcism from its historical, Judeo-Christian, perspective, and influences upon the subject and the perspective through time; the attitude of different nations. Theological thinking on the subject of exorcism (or deliverance) especially that of the two main Christian Churches, the Roman Catholic and the Anglican. On a more mundane level we shall look at the “signs” of genuine possession, indications regarded as an (infallible) guide for the would-be exorcist. Some personal reflections are given.
© A.B. Finlay Ph.D