Demonic possession

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Because Heaven sounds lame anyways
Icon Satanism.png
God's own scapegoat
A devilish plan
[possessed voice] Your mother sucks cocks in hell!
The Exorcist[1]

Demonic possession is a phrase used by religionists to explain the "unacceptable" actions, ideas, or statements of others. Often, especially in pre-scientific societies, those who were possessed included the mentally or physically ill, and those under the influence of a narcotic. It was also a convenient way to deal with people who did/do not buy into the authority's bullshit.

This belief is found in many religious systems from Christianity to Vodun. Those who believe in demonic possession often believe that demons, ghosts, or spirits exist and can possess human bodies. Different religious systems have different dogmas, but in Christianity, some or all of these spirits are considered evil. Christians who believe in possession will often claim that a person opens themselves up to possession by committing particular "sins", especially participation in spiritism, black magic, or attempted communication with spirits through Ouija boards or seances or the like.

The belief in possession often serves as a dangerous substitute for seeking genuine medical explanations and real treatment for many conditions, particularly mental illness (but also addiction to drugs or gambling).[2][3]

Symptoms and remedy[edit]

Psychiatrist: I'm speaking to the person inside of Regan now. If you are there, you too are hypnotized and must answer all my questions. Come forward and answer me now.
[Regan growls and contorts on the bed]
Psychiatrist: Are you the person inside of Regan? Who are you?
[Regan slams her fist into the Psychiatrist's groin]
—Demonic forces winning a battle for the anti-psychiatry movement, The Exorcist[1]

As stated earlier, demonic possession is often attributed to those who are "different", especially anyone who has mental problems, problems fitting into society's prescriptions for behavior, and those not fitting into society's roles, specifically including gay people.[4][5] The remedy for demonic possession is, of course, an exorcism, usually conducted by a preacher or priest, and often without any medical assistance of any kind.[note 1]

At the most extreme, a few in the professional exorcism industry, mostly from the "word of faith" branch of Pentecostal Christianity, will claim that all manner of everyday things are caused by demonic possession, from nicotine addiction to being overweight. Their prescription for their true-believing victims is multiple "exorcisms" to cast out the "demon of nicotine", the "demon of fat" and so on, along with frequent invocations of the name of Jesus to "bind Satan".

In modern societies where exorcism still occurs, this prevents the "possessed" from getting actual help from qualified physical or mental care. Symptoms that have been speculated to have been mistaken for "demonic possession" include auto-immune brain disorders such as anti-NMDA receptor encephalitis,Wikipedia neurodevelopmental disorders such as tourette syndrome,Wikipedia and neurological disorders such as epilepsy.Wikipedia[6] In one well-known case in Germany during the year of 1976, an extremely religious family of a woman named Anneliese MichelWikipedia (who had been previously diagnosed with epilepsy) chose to discontinue medical treatment and seek multiple exorcisms from the Catholic church when her condition worsened. Of course, the exorcisms did no good, and Anneliese succumbed to her mental illnesses at age 23.[7][8]

Elective possession[edit]

[to the demon] Take me. Come into me. God-damn you. Take me. Take me. [becomes possessed, tries to strangle Regan] No! [throws himself out the window]
The Exorcist[1]

At the other end of the spectrum are those who purposely set out to become "possessed" by a "spirit", such as for the purpose of channelling or in pursuit of lycanthropy or some other such irrational belief (aside claims from some Fundies about occult practices as harmless as Tarot readings being gateways for possession, that is).

Another version of this is practiced in the religion of Vodou. In Vodou, religious leaders and practitioners seek to be possessed (or "ridden") by the loa in order to bond more closely with them. Moreover, it is felt within Vodou that a loa can better affect the world, and thus be more helpful, by having a body to temporarily reside in. For those from more rationalistic, less passionate religions, the possessions of Vodou can be quite frightening, but to practitioners, it is a great gift to be possessed. (While labelled as demonic by most Christians, in practice it is not much different from the possession by the Holy Ghost that occurs at Pentecostal churches. In fact, the two practices share the same African roots.)


Karras: Why her? Why this girl?
Merrin: I think the point is to make us despair. To see ourselves as... animal and ugly. To make us reject the possibility that God could love us.
The Devil's secret weapon exposed at last, The Exorcist[1]

The belief in possession possibly began as an explanation for physical and mental illnesses. The pre-science people who wrote the New Testament seem to have thought so, as various parts of the Gospels claim someone was supposedly "cured" of a disease after getting exorcised, which unfortunately lends itself to religion-based mental illness denial (e.g. "Autism isn't real! It's just being possessed!") among extremists. Examples include:

  • Luke 8:26-39: In the miracle of the Gadarene swine, Jesus drives out a demon named Legion. Perhaps this is a reference to hearing voices?
  • Luke 9:14-29, Matthew 17:14-21, Mark 9:14-29: Jesus performs an exorcism on a boy who is said to foam at the mouth, gnash his teeth, and sometimes involuntarily fall into water and fire. Afterwards, the boy is apparently immediately cured.
  • Matthew 9:32-34: Jesus abjures the demon out of a "dumb" (the old-fashioned word for "mute") man, who regains the ability to speak.
  • Matthew 12:22, Luke 11:14: Yet another example of Jesus exorcising a mute man who then is able to speak again afterwards.

It certainly wasn't original to him, but Martin Luther notably held this belief, characterizing those who believed in naturalistic explanations for disease as "ignorant blockheads."

See also[edit]

External links[edit]


  1. The Roman Catholic Church, in its tendency to be mostly cool with science, actually demands that someone who believes themselves or a loved one to be possessed and requests an exorcism must seek out a proper psychiatrist or psychologist first and rule out any possible naturalistic explanation for their maladies before going through with the exorcism in question.


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 WikiQuote: The Exorcist (film)
  2. Navajo healers, for example, have often turned to singing to help "cure" addictive behaviors.
  3. Or perhaps you like your people a little crazier. Demonic possession occurs not only in bars, clubs, and casinos, but also bingo night at old people's homes.
  4. Pat Robertson says it's demons
  5. Excorcism on a gay man
  6. "The Power of Neuroscience Compels You" by Elena Blanco-Suarez, Psychology Today, 2018 August 15
  7. "Cries of a Woman Possessed" by Michael Getler, Washington Post, 1978 August 21
  8. "Seized By the Spirit: Temporal Lobe Epilepsy and the Exorcism of Anneliese Michel" by JD Sword, Skeptical Inquirer, 2021 July 30