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The Exorcist, a movie that gives people nightmares.
It's fun to pretend
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Fails from the crypt
Chris: How do you go about getting an exorcism?
Karras: I beg your pardon? Well, the first thing — I'd have to get into a time machine and get back to the 16th century…
The Exorcist[1]

Exorcism is the practice of purging demons, ghosts, dark influences, malevolent spirits, lost souls, and/or Satan out of a possessed person's body and/or soul, a haunted house, a cursed object, etc.

Exorcism usually involves invoking God, Jesus, angels, saints, doing funny dances, pouring holy water or dangerous substances on the subject, praying, sacrifices, amulets, and fasting either by the clergy or by the subject, among other things. It is generally performed by a member of the clergy or other holy dudes, or just ambitious religious extremists. It may include enhanced interrogation; see examples of deaths below.

The idea of demonic possession and exorcisms is present in many religions, including Islam and Hinduism and Christianity. It is officially recognized by the Catholic Church,[2] in which the practice is increasing in popularity.[3] The Jewish dybbuk is very similar, but is usually perpetrated by a malicious dead person.

Notwithstanding the beliefs of the Catholic and Protestant churches, there is no reliable and testable evidence of demonic possession occurring or even, for that matter, of demons existing.

In 2008, the Texas supreme court ruled that a 17-year-old girl who was imprisoned and abused while hallucinating could not sue the church over damages done during the exorcism.[4] In 2017, charges were brought against church members in the case of a North Carolina gay man who was beaten and choked for 2 hours in an exorcism attempt.[5]

A 2018 article reports that in the UK, suspicion of witchcraft and demonic activity has resulted in nearly 1,500 child abuse cases.[6]

In Christianity[edit]

A 6th century CE mosaic depicting the Exorcism of the Gerasene demoniac by Jesus (Mark 5:1-20; Matthew 8:28-34; Luke 8:26-39)

According to the New Testament, Jesus cast out demons (Matthew 8:16), an act which became the foundation for Christian exorcism, and it appears in Christian theology as early as in the writings of Origen in the 3rd century CE.[7]

Demonic or other possession was at one time used to explain everything from basic illness to odd behavior of an individual, loss of memory (for example, after an accident), social problems like alcoholism and drug abuse, prostitution, and generally any opinion which was an embarrassment to an individual, his family, or the Church. As science began to provide explanations for illness, and as society became more accepting of different points of view, "possession" became more infrequent.

Small numbers of Christians accept exorcism in the 21st century. People being exorcised appear seriously distressed; believers say the demons rather than the people exorcised are distressed.[8]

Michael Cuneo, a sociologist at Fordham University, says that there are 10 official Catholic exorcists in the United States, and he estimates that there are 500-600 evangelical exorcism ministries.[9][10]

Roman Catholic exorcism[edit]

Father José Antonio Fortea: blabby

The Vatican website has this to say on Exorcism:[11]

When the Church asks publicly and authoritatively in the name of Jesus Christ that a person or object be protected against the power of the Evil One and withdrawn from his dominion, it is called exorcism. Jesus performed exorcisms and from him the Church has received the power and office of exorcising. In a simple form, exorcism is performed at the celebration of Baptism. The solemn exorcism, called "a major exorcism," can be performed only by a priest and with the permission of the bishop. The priest must proceed with prudence, strictly observing the rules established by the Church. Exorcism is directed at the expulsion of demons or to the liberation from demonic possession through the spiritual authority which Jesus entrusted to his Church. Illness, especially psychological illness, is a very different matter; treating this is the concern of medical science. Therefore, before an exorcism is performed, it is important to ascertain that one is dealing with the presence of the Evil One, and not an illness.

Pope Francis was filmed carrying out a possible exorcism in St Peter's Square. Francis has previously carried out exorcisms as did John Paul II.[12][13]

The Roman Catholic Church has a body of exorcists that follow tightly regulated rules, most of which are kept secret from all but a very few church members.[14] At least one official exorcist, José Antonio Fortea, was happy to blab at least some of the rules.[15]

The Roman Catholic hierarchy is reviving interest in exorcism in hopes of reminding people that secular institutions are incapable of dealing with demons while the church, of course, can.[16] They will probably not be trying to revive interest in the 1976 killing of Anneliese Michel by two priests (Ernst Alt and Arnold Renz) via exorcism in Germany.[17]

A victim named "Susan" apparently survived an assault unofficial exorcism conducted by future Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal.[18]

One famous case was "Roland Doe", a fourteen-year-old boy in St Louis, USA, who was exorcised several times by multiple priests in the late 1940s. The boy, who was also known as Robbie Manheim, was reportedly brought to St. Louis, Missouri from Maryland for treatment. One of the priests, Raymond J. Bishop (not a bishop) wrote a book, The Exorcist Diaries about the case. It also inspired William Peter Blatty's 1971 novel The Exorcist, which in turn inspired William Friedkin's film of the same name. The exact circumstances have been debated, with various journalists and writers (including Mark Opsasnick and Thomas B. Allen) claiming to unravel the hidden truth: most people believe the teenage boy Doe had emotional problems or a psychiatric condition rather than a demon. It is not clear exactly how many exorcisms were performed, or what their nature was, or even if they took place at all, but it appears likely that Bishop and William S. Bowdern, both priests who also taught at the Catholic St. Louis University, performed some kind of ritual. And the boy seemed to survive OK, with Opsasnick claiming to have contacted him in 2013.[19]

Orthodox exorcism[edit]

The Eastern Orthodox Church also believes in Satan as a created being and a fallen angel with free will who always chooses to do evil.[note 1] The Devil can possess people and objects. As with Roman Catholics, priests do exorcisms and renunciation of the Devil is part of baptism. Lay Orthodox believers are also encouraged to "pray and exorcise evil". There are specific prayers for exorcism.[20] Orthodox exorcism can involve physical restraints on the victim patient subject.[21]

Protestant exorcism[edit]

Many Protestant fundamentalist churches are less regulated in their use of exorcism, leading to violent and occasionally deadly attempts to exorcise unwilling and/or uncomprehending victims.[22][23][24] In Texas, forcible exorcism is legal or was legal in 2008.[25]

Exorcisms are needed because society is often skeptical about the teachings of the more hard-line Christian groups has lost its moral compass. According to J. F. Cogan, demonic possession is behind a wide range of happenings, including gay ordination, women's ordination, and even spontaneous human combustion.[26] People can get themselves possessed by a range of activities that Christian fundamentalists dislike, such as viewing porn, illicit sex, homosexuality, drug abuse, and even rock music. Astrologers and other psychics are vulnerable to demonic possession, as are those who do Hindu or Buddhist meditation. Demons may time share; they torment one person, then rush off at a speed slightly below the speed of light to torment someone else. Therefore, possessed people may be worked up one moment and calm the next when the demon has gone off to a fresh victim.[27]

In evangelical Protestantism, exorcism is often practiced as part of a broader spiritual warfare agenda. In an even more ludicrous variety, exorcisms are performed at long distance over the telephone by Bob Larson or over the television by name it and claim it preachers ("laaay your hands on the television set").

Protestant exorcism (deliverance ministry) is frequently a way televangelists make money; even teenagers do tele-exorcism.[28] Other people also make money through exorcism by selling scary books, etc.

United Kingdom[edit]

In the UK, exorcisms are increasing; they happen mainly in charismatic and Pentecostal churches, also among communities of West African origin. Frequently, the people exorcised are psychiatrically disturbed. Psychiatrically ill people are sometimes told to stop their medication, as the church believes prayer and/or exorcism is sufficient. If psychiatric patients do not get better after exorcism, they may believe they have failed to overcome the demon and get worse.[29]

Baptismal exorcism[edit]

Some form of exorcism prior to baptism is common to many forms of Christianity going back to the 4th century: typically with some evil spirit being banished from the baby to let god in.[30] Baptism includes aspects of exorcism to address the horror of the infant coming into contact with its mother's icky sexual vagina: traditional misogynistic belief held that such contact caused (or allowed) an evil spirit to enter the child.[31][note 2]

Martin Luther revised the baptismal rite to include the hocus-pocus: "I adjure thee, thou unclean spirit, by the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost that thou come out of and depart from this servant of Jesus Christ". However, some Protestants, including Huldrych Zwingli and John Calvin, rejected this as papal nonsense, and it was dropped from much of Lutheranism in the 18th and 19th century.[30] Many varieties of Christianity have chosen to welcome young children in a more friendly way; the Catholic rite of baptism still includes a "prayer of exorcism", but it no longer invokes horror movie imagery.[32]

Other religions[edit]

A Sinhalese mask used in exorcism, from Sri Lanka

Exorcism is also practiced in other religions. In 2013, three family members in Malaysia were jailed for crushing to death a girl in an attempted Buddhist exorcism.[33] In 2014, a Belgian court charged 6 people with the death by torture of a woman in an Islamic exorcism that lasted one month.[34]

Exorcism is also found in Voodoo[35] and other folk and syncretic religions.[note 3]

In Judaism, JosephusWikipedia reported witnessing an exorcism,[36] though being a decentralized religion that has changed much in the intervening millennia, exorcism has been described throughout Jewish history.[37] In contemporary Judaism, spirit possession and exorcism appears to be restricted to non-Western (particularly non-Ashkenazi) Jews.[38]

Scientific explanations[edit]

Medicine and psychology do not identify any such thing as "possession"; but rather regard the apparent symptoms as misdiagnosis of different psychological conditions or social conditioning. In at least one exorcism that mentalist Jan Hellesøe witnessed Bob Larson perform, the subject had previously been diagnosed with a personality disorder, and the results of the exorcism were later replicable purely with hypnosis on someone else with no diagnosed psychiatric disorder.[39]

Although validity of exorcism would be a tough argument for theism, it surprisingly isn't brought up in debates very much. It could be that even the theists realize that exorcism is bollocks, or it's a taboo theme among them. Or perhaps it's one of the few areas where they understand that what seems obvious to them isn't obvious to other people. Given that they often do appear to elicit some sort of response from the person undergoing the exorcism, and given that not everyone undergoing an exorcism wants to be undergoing an exorcism (such as those who are homosexual), one theoretical argument from a scientific perspective could be that the effect of people yelling and screaming at you is enough to elicit an emotional response.


The job of exorcist would seem to be perfect for a psychopathic sadist. They are usually able to get away with anything short of murder: kidnapping, torture, and general mayhem. Here are some cases where the psychopaths were caught:

  • In 1976, one of the most famous exorcism killings occurred: Anneliese MichelWikipedia was starved and dehydrated to death by parents and priests.[17] Three films were based on true stories this case, The Exorcism of Emily Rose, Requiem, and Anneliese: The Exorcist Tapes.
  • In 1993, Joan Vollmer died of a heart attack induced by her husband and 2 friends.[40]
  • In 1995, Kyong-A Ha was beaten to death by 5 women.[41]
  • In 1995, Mary Odegbami was killed by her fiancé, Nicholas Sagunro.[42]
  • In 1997, Kyung Jae Chung was stomped to death by Jin Hyun Choi under the guise of "anchal prayer".[43]
  • In 1997, Breeann Spickard was beaten to death by Julia Ann Olivas and Esther Rebecca Griggs.[44]
  • In 1997, Amy Burney was poisoned to death; her mother Angelee Burney and grandmother Rosa Downing were charged.[45]
  • In 1997, Chua Wan Zuen was crushed to death by 8 people, including family members.[33]
  • In 1998, Charity Miranda-Martin was asphyxiated; her mother and daughter were charged with murder.[46]
  • In 2001, Signifagance Oliver was drowned by her mother, Sabrina Wright.[47]
  • In 2003, Terrance Cottrell Jr. was suffocated by Ray Hemphill.[48][49]
  • In 2005, Maricica Irina Cornici, a nun, was crucified. The monk who led the murder ceremony exorcism only received 7 years' imprisonment.[50][23]
  • In 2005, Kousar Bashir was beaten to death by Mohammed Bashir (no relation) and Nourani Sayeed.[51]
  • In 2005, Faranah Essop was beaten to death.[52]
  • In 2006, Malissa Mayfield was murdered by David Maxwell Shepherd.[53]
  • In 2007, Janet Moses was drowned; 5 people were found guilty.[54]
  • In 2007, an unnamed granddaughter was strangled to death by Ronald Marquez.[55]
  • In 2008, Jan David Clark was arrested for killing his wife, Susan Kay Clark, who was asphyxiated.[56]
  • In 2008, Shashi Devi was beaten to death by relatives.[57]
  • In 2008, Evelyn Vasquez was fatally slashed by her mother, Nelly Vasquez-Salazar.[58]
  • In 2010, Amora Bain Carson was killed by Blaine Keith Milam and mother Jessica Carson.[59][60]
  • In 2012, Latifa Hachmi was tortured to death over a period of one month.[34]
  • In 2014, Norell Harris and Zyana Harris were stabbed to death by their mother, Zakieya L. Avery.[22][24][61]
  • In 2015, Jaqueline Sanchez died from cardiac arrest during an exorcism in San Ignacio, Bolivia. The victim also had bruising and lacerations.[62]
  • In 2015, German police arrested 5 unidentified South Korean family members in connection with exorcisms. Two other unidentified South Korean women were found, one dead and the other injured. The victims were bound, gagged, and beaten for hours; the survivor was also suffering from hypothermia.[63]
  • In 2016, Jack Gian Banday, a 5-year old boy, was beaten and strangled to death in the Philippines during an exorcism ritual inside a church by 3 relatives who were later arrested.[64]
  • In 2017, Vilma Trujillo Garcia was burned to death after being thrown naked into flames during an exorcism ritual in Nicaragua.[65]
  • In 2018, Juanita Gomez was found guilty of murdering her 33-year old daughter in an exorcism attempt by shoving a crucifix down her throat.[66]
  • In 2018, Vietnamese singer Nguyen Viet Cuong (a.k.a., Chau Viet Cuong) was accused of killing a woman in an exorcism while under the influence of drugs. The woman died from asphyxiation after being force-fed garlic cloves.[67]

External links[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. If Satan truly is free, why is he incapable of choosing good?
  2. Wait, "evil of the vagina"? That sounds more like Shinto. See the Wikipedia article on Kegare.
  3. See for example the Wikipedia article on the Malay dukun,Wikipedia which includes their role as exorcist.


  1. The Exorcist (film) Wikiquote
  2. Catechism of the Catholic Church, §1673 Saint Charles Borromeo Catholic Church.
  3. Exorcism: Increasingly frequent, including after US protests] by David Crary (Oct 31, 2020) AP via Crux.
  4. Court: Exorcism is protected by law. Texas justices throw out jury award after teenager alleged church ordeal (updated 6/28/2008 5:21:28 AM ET) NBC News.
  5. Gay man says church members beat, choked him for hours to expel 'homosexual demons' by Samantha Schmidt (June 2 at 6:08 AM) The Washington Post.
  6. Exorcists are back – and people are getting hurt by Deborah Hyde (6 Mar 2018 08.00 EST) The Guardian.
  7. Old Coptic Magical Texts IV: The Bilingual Exorcism of PGM IV (20th September 2019) Coptic Magical Papyri: Vernacular Religion in the Late Roman and Early Islamic Egypt, Julius Maximilian University Würzburg.
  8. Paranormal Phenomena Exorcism in Russia
  9. Exorcism Thriving in U.S., Say Experts ABC News
  10. American Exorcism: Expelling Demons in the Land of Plenty by Michael W. Cuneo (2001). Doubleday. ISBN 0385501765.
  11. Part Two: The Celebration of the Christian Mystery Vatican Archives (archived from April 27, 2021).
  12. Video emerges of Pope Francis reportedly performing an exorcism
  13. Did Pope Francis Perform An Exorcism? by Michael Day (22 May 2013 10:24) The Independent.
  14. Who can perform exorcism? Queen of the Rosary Foundation.
  15. In the book, Summa Daemoniaca: Tratado de Demonología y Manual de Exorcistas by José Antonio Fortea (2020) Almuzara. ISBN 8416921768. Also translated into Italian.
  16. 'For Catholics, Interest in Exorcism Is Revived by Laurie Goodstein (12 November 2010) The New York Times.
  17. 17.0 17.1 Lessons Learned: The Anneliese Michel Exorcism by John M. Duffey (2011) Wipf & Stock. 1608996646.
  18. Beating a Demon: Physical Dimensions of Spiritual Warfare by Bobby Jindal (December 1994) New Oxford Review (archived from April 9, 2016).
  19. Did the Exorcism of Roland Doe — aka "The Real" 'Exorcist' Story — Actually Happen? by Amber Garrett (May. 19 2020, Updated 3:02 p.m. ET) Distractify.
  20. Exorcism in the Orthodox Church by George C. Papademetriou (1996) Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America (archived from April 6, 2016).
  21. Exorcism in Russia: Deliverances in Russia by Stephen Wagner, (archived from April 6, 2006).
  22. 22.0 22.1 Maryland mom kills 2 of her children during attempted exorcism by Faith Karimi & Joe Sutton (Updated 0405 GMT; January 20, 2014) CNN.
  23. 23.0 23.1 Exorcism Death Priest Released from Prison by Benjamin Radford (Jul 22, 2014 06:00 PM ET) Discovery News (archived from July 26, 2014).
  24. 24.0 24.1 Self-described 'demon assassin' pleads guilty to killing her two youngest children by Dan Morse (September 12, 2016) The Washington Post.
  25. Texas court approves traumatic exorcisms by Pharyngula (Paul Z. Meyers) (June 28, 2008) Science Blogs.
  26. Demon Possession Handbook: For Human Service Workers by J. F. "Jeff" Cogan (2004) DiskBooks Electronic Publishing (archived from March 11, 2015).
  27. Demonic Possession, Oppression & Exorcism: Conservative Protestant Beliefs & Practices by B.A. Robinson (Latest update: 2006-Nov-30) Religious Tolerance.
  28. Teen exorcists: The girls who expel demons on stage by Lucy Wallis (10 September 2013) BBC News.
  29. 'Spiritual abuse': Christian thinktank warns of sharp rise in UK exorcisms by Harriet Sherwood (5 Jul 2017 04.47 EDT) The Guardian.
  30. 30.0 30.1 "I command you, you unclean spirit, depart": The Role of Exorcism in Lutheran Initiation Rites by Kent Burreson (July 3, 2016) Metropolitan Chicago Synod: Let's Talk.
  31. Demonic Possession & Oppression; Exorcism: Roman Catholic beliefs & practices by B. A. Robinson (Latest update: 2010-Mar-13) Religious Tolerance.
  32. Prayers: Rite of baptism for one child iBreviary.
  33. 33.0 33.1 Malaysia: Family Jailed Over 'Exorcism' Death: The parents and an uncle of a two-year-old girl are jailed after crushing her to death while trying to "drive away evil spirits". (12:11pm UK, 29 November 2013) Sky News (archived from December 2, 2013).
  34. 34.0 34.1 Belgium court charges six people in deadly exorcism of Muslim woman (14 May 2012) Alarabiya News.
  35. Haiti: Possessed by Voodoo by Sharon Guynup (July 7, 2004) National Geographic (archived from Aug.ust 22, 2019).
  36. Flavius Josephus (translated by William Whiston), Antiquities of the Jews Book 8 Ch. 2 §5. Bible Study Tools.
  37. Exorcism by Kaufmann Kohler & Ludwig Blau (1906) Jewish Encyclopedia.
  38. Spirit possession: Jews don’t do that, do they? by Kate Miriam Loewenthal (2012) Royal College of Psychiatrists (UK).
  39. Fuckr med dn hjerne: Eksorcisten Season 3 Episode 8, Danmarks Radio (in a mix of Danish and English)
  40. Exorcism of God-fearing Joan Vollmer led to her bizarre and violent death in country Victoria by Keith Moor (January 30, 2013 12:00AM) Herald Sun (archived from 3 Nov 2014 22:28:09 UTC).
  41. 5 Women Accused of Murder In East Bay Exorcism Death by Photo of Henry K. Lee (March 17, 1995; Updated: Feb. 4, 2012 7:42 p.m.) SFGate.
  42. 'Exorcist' killed his fiancee (23 October 2011 03:59) The Independent.
  43. Deacon Pleads Guilty in Exorcism; Agrees to Testify in Woman's Death by Ann W. O'Neill (Feb. 22, 1997 12 AM PT) Los Angeles Times.
  44. Women Convicted of Killing Girl in Exorcism by Matea Gold (October 15, 1997) Los Angeles Times.
  45. A Family Divided by a Child's Death by Rachel L. Swarns (May 20, 1997) The New York Times.
  46. Sister of Dead Long Island Teen-Ager Offers Account of Killing in Exorcism by John T. McQuiston (Jan. 21, 1998) The New York Times.
  47. 'Exorcist' Mom Admits Drowning Girl by Laura Italiano (June 26, 2003) New York Post.
  48. Minister Charged In Exorcism Death
  49. Hemphill Sentenced Over Boy's "Exorcism" Death by Dave Reynolds (August 20, 2004) Inclusion Daily Express.
  50. Ex-Monk Gets 7 Years For Botched Exorcism by Dave Reynolds (August 20, 2004) Inclusion Daily Express.
  51. Human torch dad devastated by daughter’s death: A Father haunted by the torture and murder of his daughter during an "exorcism" died after setting himself on fire — just days after the sudden death of his wife. (09:28, 14 Aug 2007; Updated 02:19, 18 Jan 2013) Manchester Evening News.
  52. Woman dies after brutal exorcism by Doreen Premdev (Oct 2, 2005) Independent Online.
  53. Occult murder: Man said sex would exorcise demons (Last updated 00:00 01/01/2009) AAP via Stuff (archived from March 10, 2009).
  54. Five people found guilty in Janet Moses exorcism death (June 13, 2009) Religion News Blog.
  55. Exorcism Ends In Deadly Stun-Gun Struggle (July 30, 2007 / 7:17 AM) CBS News.
  56. Autopsy shows suffocation in exorcism death (February 5, 2008) Religion News Blog.
  57. 3 young men beat mother to death in exorcism ritual by Lalit Kumar (Apr 28, 2008, 06:08 IST).
  58. Mom Fatally Slashes 'Demon' Daughter by David Schoetz (April 13, 2009, 10:05 PM) ABC News.
  59. Conroe jury hears horrific details of injuries to slain baby by Renée Lee (May 6, 2010; Updated: Aug. 2, 2011 4:01 p.m.) Houston Chronicle.
  60. Blaine Milam receives death penalty for child's murder by Morgan Chesky (Published: May. 27, 2010 at 3:57 PM UTC | Updated: May. 28, 2010 at 7:40 PM UTC) KLTV.
  61. Woman Charged With Stabbing Children in 'Exorcism' Enters Guilty Plea (Published January 16, 2015 • Updated on January 16, 2015 at 10:24 pm) 4 NBC Washington.
  62. San Ignacio: Muere una mujer de un paro cardíaco, sus familiares indican que estaba poseída (25/11/2015-17:23) Eju TV.
  63. Five South Koreans held over 'exorcism' death in Germany: Relatives allegedly tied woman to bed, gagged and severely beat her for two hours with the goal of 'driving out the devil' Agence France-Presse in Berlin (Wednesday 9 December 2015 13.30 EST) The Guardian.
  64. 3 in deadly exorcism rites that killed 5-year-old boy nabbed (11:00 PM February 19th, 2016) Philippine Daily Inquirer.
  65. 'She was demonized': Nicaraguan woman dies after being thrown into fire in exorcism ritual by Samantha Schmidt (March 1 at 6:16 AM) The Washington Post.
  66. She forced a crucifix down her 'possessed' daughter’s throat. Now, she's convicted of murder. by Marwa Eltagouri (January 12 at 7:14 AM) The Washington Post.
  67. Vietnamese singer arrested over woman's death during 'exorcism' ritual: Report 06 Mar 2018 10:43PM (Updated: 06 Mar 2018 10:50PM) Channel NewsAsia.