Sunday, 31 July 2016


Belief in possession by evil spirits is a very ancient one. The earliest documents were found in a palace belonging to an Assyrian ruler of Assurbanipal in Nineveh. Written on a clay tablet dating from 650BC is an inscription of a desperate appeal of a man who is possessed by a tyrannical ghost. The ancient Hindu scriptures, 'Atharva Veda', details demonic possession. Some ancient Buddhist sects also describe deliverance of evil spirits. We are familiar with the cases described in the New Testament where Jesus meets a possessed man on the shores of the Sea of Galilee and directly addresses the spirit by asking “What is your name?” and is told, “My name is Legion” (that is an entire Roman army). The Roman army was in occupation in Israel at that time. The man pleads with Jesus not to command the spirits to depart but Jesus saw a large herd of cows nearby and directed the demons out of the man and into the swine herd (who charged to the cliff edge, threw themselves into the sea and were drowned).  

On the rare occasions that modern day cases are reported, they are always controversial. In 1949, a boy referred to as Robbie Doe was exorcised by Father William S Bowden and became the subject of the later sensationalised film, the Exorcist.

Modern exorcism is not without casualties. In 1972, when furniture was thrown around the house by unseen hands and fires broke out in a house in Daly City, San Francisco, the Catholic family contacted their local priest, Rev Karl Patzelt of Our lady of Fatima Church. He assessed the seriousness of the attack which involved all the family members. He defined it as a ‘disturbance caused by the Evil One’, a diagnosis of the situation just a little less serious than full possession which describes actual control of a human being by the devil. Between 19th August and 8th September, 1973, Father Patzelt performed fourteen rites of exorcism using a ritual that dates back to 1614 when Pope Paul V decreed the method in which evil spirits were to be banished by the Roman Catholic Church. Starting with the words “I cast thee out, Most Unclean Spirit”, the exorcist pays particular attention to anything that disturbs or distresses the possessing spirit, repeating particular phrases of the exorcism which receive a response from the spirit.

Another case highlights the seriousness of spirit-based attack. On 1 July 1975, Anneliese Michel, a West German student, only 23 years of age, died of starvation after numerous exorcisms were conducted by priests over a period of ten months. The girl’s parents and two priests were found guilty of homicide due to their negligence in caring for her prior to her death. They received only suspended sentences.

In 1999, the Catholic Church revised the rite and now use a lesser ritual entitled, 'The Chaplet of St Michael'. Mental illness must be excluded prior to deliverance and a team of specialists, including psychiatrists is consulted by the Bishop before any priest can become involved in a case. The Church considers particular symptoms to be evidence of demonic possession. There are many that could be psychic in origin, such as speaking in other languages not known by the sufferer, superhuman strength, knowledge of future events or ability to find lost objects, blasphemy and sacrilege, spitting, swearing, offensive insults, etc. The author and psychiatrist M Scott Peck made an in-depth study of possessive states and is a believer in the usefulness of properly conducted exorcisms. It is known that Salvador Dali was exorcised of an evil spirit by an Italian priest and it is also said that Mother Teresa was delivered of an offending spirit. See this link for further information:

Wendy Stokes is a feature writer and has provided articles for many New Age, Spiritualist and local publications. She is a qualified counsellor and adult education teacher and trance medium. Visit:

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