If you have seen the Exorcist then you will have at least a vague idea of what an Exorcism is all about. (If you haven’t you need to get on that, it’s one of the best horror movies of all time!)
Of course, that is sensationalised, despite being based on a true story it’s grounding, in reality, is obviously questionable. But exorcisms are real and they do happen. So what does a real one look like? Well, I’m glad you asked!
What is an exorcism?
Let’s start by asking what an exorcism is. Well, it’s basically the act of driving a spirit or the devil from a person or a place. There are several types. A Baptism is actually a form of exorcism. The type of exorcism that we are focusing on is called a real exorcism.
These will only be performed if a priest has been suitably convinced a person is possessed. Tell-tale signs of a possession are:
Speaking or understanding a language that the person hasn’t learned.
Knowing information they would have no way of knowing.
Physical strength that defies their own stature.
A violent aversion to religious symbols, such as a crucifix.
The priest will check that one or more of these symptoms are there but will also call on medical professionals to make sure there isn’t an underlying physical or psychological cause.
Once this has been sanctioned an exorcism may be granted by the church. If this decision is made an exorcist is assigned to the case, sometimes this will be the priest that investigated the case.
How man exorcists does it take to change a light bulb?
According to unverified reports, there are 11 exorcists in the United States currently and about 300 across the globe. There is little in the way of training for these people and most of the information is gleaned from the Roman Catholic rite of exorcism a document that details how an exorcist should be performed. Though it is a pretty exclusive club they do have a newsletter that sent to them and has the odd event where they are able to gather and share stories and techniques etc.
So that’s how the decision is made, but what of the actual exorcism itself? Well, the priest must dress in a surplice and purple stole. And then perform certain prayers as well as certain actions. Such as anointing the affected person and themselves with holy water and making the sign of the cross. Broadly speaking it is broken down into two sections the first is a set of prayers imploring God to intervene and free the victim from the devil. The second involves commanding the devil to leave the possessed person.
A former exorcist (although not an official one) Malachi Martin wrote a novel on his experiences entitled “Hostage to the Devil” he claims that the ritual really consists of four actions:
1. Pretence – The demon is hiding its true identity.
2. Breakpoint – The demon reveals itself.
3. Clash – The exorcist and the demon fight for the soul of the possessed.
4. Expulsion – If the exorcist wins the battle, the demon leaves the body of the possessed.
His views are controversial and some people believe it sensationalises the ritual (And should we really sensationalise Satan?)
Of course, exorcisms themselves carry a lot of controversies. One mans “possessed by the devil” is another mans “mental illness”. Then there are reports of barbaric actions in exorcisms that are carried out by people from outside the Catholic Church. Plus if a person isn’t actually possessed and is suffering from delusions is feeding into that psychosis really advisable? Probably not.
Whatever your beliefs on exorcism you have to concede it’s a fascinating practice.