Exorcism stems from the Greek word exorkimós meaning binding by oath. It is a procedure aiming to banish evil forces or the Devil from people, animals or things. It is a fairly old idea which remained a part of many religions to the present.
Exorcism in Antiquity
The idea of "being possessed" by evil forces or dark spirit is very old in the history of mankind. The idea that a man can find himself/herself under the spell of Evil can be traced to the ancient Hellenistic culture or Judaism. In Hinduism, possession is considered a holy state when Kali the Goddess enters the body of the possessed person. Believers therefore worship the possessed and demand blessings from them. However, if the possession doesn't cease within a certain time, the local exorcist is summoned.
Exorcism in Christianity
In the New Testament, Jesus Christ is described as the one who heals and makes better. In this case, exorcism is considered healing. Even the act of resurrecting the dead is also considered as a sort of exorcism. Believing in evil spirits and liberation of man from under their influence is a part of Christian teaching.
The power to cast away evil spirits is passed from Jesus to his disciples who were supposed to do so in the name of God.
The New Testament distinguishes a demon from the Devil. While the Devil is regarded as a tempter and a concrete entity, demons are various creatures with impure powers who are able to enter people and animals and cause them various mental and physical troubles.
The Church considers other effective means to fight against Evil to be holy water, the name of Jesus and blessed objects. Exorcism is a part of the liturgy to this day. Minor exorcism is a ceremony during which a catechumen (one awaiting baptism) renounces the Devil and all evil. A special priest, also called an exorcist, is performing so called major exorcism. The course of a major exorcism is determined by the newly revised part of the Roman ritual De exorcismis et supplicationibus quibusdam. Catholic Church katechism says that exorcism "focuses on casting away evil spirits or getting from under the Devil's influence by means of a spiritual power vested by Jesus to his Church". In present practice, attention is paid to prevent "confusing possession with mental disease".
An exorcist is a priest whom a bishop delegates to perform exorcisms within the diocese territory for a certain time. During major exorcisms, precisely determined Church regulations are to be observed and it is necessary to perform them with caution. Such exorcism is focused on driving away evil spirits or getting from under their influence by means of spiritual power vested in the Church by Jesus. Before the exorcist proceeds to perform the exorcism, they need to find out whether the problem is a presence of an evil spirit or an illness. Treating mental diseases is classified as a job for medical sciences.
Each exorcist has their own ritual procedure. The exorcism may take several minutes, hours or even days. The actual ritual usually takes place in a church or in another consecrated place. The priest should be dressed in a special gown, usually with a purple stole. The entire process begins with long prayers. The position of the possessed may vary and it is determined by the priest. After the ritual is finished, the exorcised place is sprinkled with holy water and the final prayer is uttered. The session is repeated until the evil spirits leave the possessed person.
Islam and Exorcism
Exorcism has always been a part of Islam and some passages in Quran state possession by evil creatures. According the Islamic teaching, a person may be possessed by the Devil, a demon or also by a gin. A gin is an intelligent fire creature. Muhammad the Prophet and his devotees used to drive these evil creatures away by means of Quran verses and pleas to Allah.
Buddhism and Exorcism
Since early times, Buddhism included some procedures and rituals that were supposed to protect man from dangers of evil and drive away evil forces. In Sri Lanka and other countries of Southeast Asia, there are songs of Theravada which are related to exorcising rituals called parittas. Buddha himself is credited with many of them. They are public ceremonies that are supposed to avert evil endangering the community. The texts are also used for personal protection against diseases and misfortune. Besides that, there are other ceremonies called Devil Dances to cast away illnesses or misfortune. Mantras and other formulae believed to be powerful are used for protection against Evil.
Taoisms and Exorcism
In Taoism, exorcism-related ceremonies are performed by priests; each of the priests has power over demons according to their respective orders. Such ceremonies include healing of a diseased person, cleansing cursed houses and exorcising the possessed. Trance is induced in the possessed medium; in it, he/she becomes a speaker of divine advice or words of a deceased relative, and the priest interprets such words.
Exorcism in the Psychiatric Perspective
According to common psychiatry, there is no such thing as "possession". What exorcism calls a possession has a natural cause in some mental disease. In this point of view, exorcists are criticised for treating mentally ill people and people with religious hysteria and they make their conditions even worse by their practices. A less common view that is not directly contrary to the religious view and tradition states that possession and mental illness can be distinguished by means of differential diagnostics. At present it is acknowledged that many conditions considered as cases of possessions were thus "diagnosed" wrongly.
In some therapeutic methods, mainly in group therapies, clients get experiences of maximum intensity which are supposed to shake their rigid pathological structures of their personalities.
Psychedelic therapy consists of the stage of preparation, an actual psychedelic session and a subsequent detailed discussion.
The amount of time dedicated to achieve the goal depends on the client, the character of problems and type of substance used in the therapy. The goal of the preparation stage is to find out as much information as possible of the client's problems and his medical history. An important part of the therapy is also building a trustful relationship between the therapist and the client. The client gets detailed information about the drug applied in the session and about its effects. There is a discussion about possible advantages and disadvantages and types of experience that the drug may induce. The therapist should explain the philosophy of the treatment to the client as well as general strategy and rules that must be observed during the session. At the end of this part, the client should confirm by means of their signature that they have been informed about everything and they agree with the conditions.
The actual psychedelic session should be held in a protected environment where the client is not disturbed by any external influences and has complete freedom of expression.
The environment of the session should be comfortable and tastefully furnished, like home. If possible, it should be a natural environment. Return to nature is an important part of the psychedelic therapy. Both bathroom and toilet should be easily accessible. Music plays a significant role in the therapy.
Before the session, the therapist should invoke peaceful, relaxed and meditative atmosphere.
After administration of the psychedelic drug, the clients should remain in a horizontal position. Eyes closed and earphones on. In small doses, it is possible to perform externalized sessions where the client's eyes are open; psychedelics MDA or MDMA are used in these. During such sessions, sensory perception can be improved and refined, interpersonal relationships deepen and spiritual elements introduced into everyday life.
The basic and essential safety rule in psychedelic sessions is that all the material released from the unconsciousness must be experienced, accepted and integrated immediately. Verbal contact should be minimized during an intensive psychedelic experience. The client's eyes are closed most of the time, apart from toilet breaks. Therapists should be present at all times; they select music and everything related to external reality. At the moment when pharmacological effects of the psychedelic drug start to wear off, the therapist should have a short talk with the client and examine the nature of their experience. In most cases, the problem occurred is solved spontaneously.
At the end of the session or on the following day, a detailed discussion of the experience should take place in order to get the material integrated more easily. In this regard, it is suitable and useful for the client to write a report about the session, to draw or paint pictures or meditate after the session. In the third stage, after the session, there are several interviews in which the client discusses their experience with the therapist and strives
to find the best possible way to integrate it into their everyday life. Another option is to share one's experience in a group or to express it artistically. In case psychedelics are used in clinical practice, it should always be within teamwork.
A religious equivalent of such therapy can be seen in exorcism. During the exorcism, intensive and effective methods are used that should allow the person to make a radical change.
Atheists find the existence of spiritual creatures and the principle of possessing unacceptable. What is considered and described as possession in religion is viewed by atheists and medical specialists as a consequence of a mental illness or damage to brain functions.
From this point of view, exorcism has no realistic justification and non-existent practical effects.
The criticism of these ceremonies also rises due to cases where clients were damaged or even killed during the exorcism. Critics consider people killed in such rituals victims of nonsense religious fantasies. According to advocates of exorcism, death in these cases was not caused by the exorcism itself but by mistakes made in the course of the ritual, similarly as there are deaths in medical procedures and operations.
Interesting Facts about Exorcism
- In Poland, there is a magazine dedicated exclusively to exorcism running since 2012. It is a unique magazine. It follows upon the exorcism fad blown to large proportions during recent years in Poland. Increase in the number of alleged cases of possession by the Devil in this strongly Catholic country was recorded immediately after the fall of the Communist regime.
- At present, the movie "The Exorcist" has become legendary not only among horror fans. It is a film made in 1973, and thanks to the abilities of the creative team it includes scenes that make viewers wince and lose their breath in terror. The kitsch element is suppressed and the story and its representation are the movie's strong sides. This move can get the chill run down your back even today. During the first screening of "The Exorcist" on the big screen, the film raised a wave of surprise, enthusiasm and outrage.
- Exorcising means also available to non-exorcists include holy water, oil and salt. Sprinkling with holy water provides God's protection against Evil and. Oil helps avert the power of demons and other dark forces. Salt helps drive the demons away and protects against their presence. It is sprinkled on the doorstep and into four corners of the affected room. Sometimes, fumigating the affected room with consecrated incense is used as well.