Exorcism: The Facts

Exorcism: The Facts

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Image Courtesy of hauntedamericatours.com

You’ve seen it done by Hollywood, from the levitation and projectile green pea vomit in classic films like “The Exorcist” to multiple possessions and supernatural strength in new documentary style films like “The Devil Inside.” The main theme of these films is exorcism, but is what all we see in the movies really true of exorcism?Or is it all smoke and mirrors in an attempt to appeal to audiences and add that extra scare factor? To find out the truth, I scoured resources searching for the truth and here’s what I found out. Exorcism is the act of casting out/dispelling demons from a host whom is believed to be possessed. The word “exorcism” derives from the Greek word for oath, “exousia,” to exorcise thus means something along the lines of placing the possessing spirit under oath-invoking a higher authority to compel the spirit-rather than an actual casting out. The demonic presence is always commanded to leave the host in the name of the father, and the Son, and of the Holy Spirit rather than the authority of the priest.

According to Isaiah 14:12, demons are former angels that are fallen and have been cast out of heaven to earth and whose judgment is eternal torment, 2 Peter 2:4. Although demons have been sentenced, their punishment won’t be fulfilled until the end of times according to Matt. 25:41. Demons strongly oppose God and react violently to religious paraphernalia during an exorcism. Exorcism is often a heated debate among Catholics, Protestants, and Orthodox believers on whether Exorcism should be practiced regularly as part of the Christian Ministry. There are some that believe that a possession can be mistaken for a physical or psychological abnormality. There are many believers that hold onto to a view between these two views, believing that demons posses people to get back at God through his believers, not be responsible for life’s hardships.

When determining whether the victim is indeed possessed, the priest follows a set of guidelines issued by The Vatican listing signs of possession. The Vatican first issued official guidelines on exorcism in 1614, and revised them in 1999. According to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, signs of demonic possession include superhuman strength, aversion to holy water, and the ability to speak in unknown languages. Other potential signs of demonic possession include spitting, cursing, and “excessive masturbation.” Before an exorcism can be performed, an ordained priest must seek permission from the local bishop as well as have the possessed thoroughly examined by a medical doctor to rule out the possibility of a mental illness.  An exorcism is done as a last resort nowadays with the Vatican rewriting their guidelines in 1999 and requiring a medical examination of the victim to rule out mental illness, the possessed must meet most, it not all of the following signs listed below to determine whether an exorcism is indeed needed (List provided by Wikipedia):

  1. Cutting, scratching, and biting of skin
  2. Loss of Appetite
  3. A cold feeling in the room
  4. Unnatural bodily postures and change in the person’s face and body
  5. The possessed losing control of their normal personality and entering into a frenzy or rage, and/or attacking others
  6. Change in the person’s voice
  7. Supernatural physical strength not subject to the person’s build or age
  8. Speaking or understanding another language which they had never learned before
  9. Knowledge of things that are distant or hidden
  10. Prediction of future events (sometimes through dreams)
  11. Levitation and moving of objects / things
  12. Expelling of objects / things
  13. Intense hatred and violent reaction toward all religious objects or items
  14. Antipathy towards entering a church, speaking Jesus’ name or hearing scripture.

The ritual itself is performed by an ordained priest, sometimes with the aid of a Catholic Doctor, and psychiatrist; the ritual involves prayers, blessings, and invocations with the use of the document Of Exorcisms and Certain Supplications and the possession victim is restrained so that they do not harm themselves or others present. An exorcism can take anytime between one to several sessions before the ritual is successful, some can take years, after the ritual is complete, the possessed is freed of guilt, feeling reborn and freed of sin.

In spite of what we’ve seen done by Hollywood, a lot of what we’ve seen in the films is actually possible and are signs of possession according to the Vatican guidelines, however, much of these films are over dramatized particularly when it comes to the stance of the Vatican in performing an exorcism, the Vatican views exorcism as an absolute last resort unlike in the films. The only film I’ve seen dealing with exorcism that stays true to the belief of the Vatican, is “The Devil Inside.” In “The Devil Inside” priests actually attend classes at the Vatican dealing with cases of possible possession and explore the victims symptoms, discussing whether the victim’s experiencing possession or a psychological abnormality. It’s also stated in the film that the Vatican had turned down the main character’s request of an exorcism on her mother because there wasn’t enough proof and that she seemed stable with medication.

I recommend watching this film if you would like to be better informed about the stance of the Vatican on exorcism and at the same time get the scare factor you crave. Despite what you see in Hollywood, the stance of the Vatican on exorcism is a lot more strict than what we’ve been shown.

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