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Demonic possession is held by many belief systems to be the spirit possession of an individual by a malevolent preternatural being, commonly known as a demon. Descriptions of demonic possessions often include erased memories or personalities, convulsions (i.e. epileptic seizures or “fits”) and fainting as if one were dying. Other descriptions include access to hidden knowledge (gnosis) and foreign languages (xenoglossy), drastic changes in vocal intonation and facial structure, the sudden appearance of injuries (scratches, bite marks) or lesions, and superhuman strength. Unlike in channeling, the subject has no control over the possessing entity and so it will persist until forced to leave the victim, usually through a form of exorcism.
Many cultures and religions contain some concept of demonic possession, but the details vary considerably. The oldest references to demonic possession are from the Sumerians, who believed that all diseases of the body and mind were caused by "sickness demons" called gidim or gid-dim. The priests who practised exorcisms in these nations were called ashipu (sorcerer) as opposed to an asu (physician) who applied bandages and salves. Many cuneiform clay tablets contain prayers to certain gods asking for protection from demons, while others ask the gods to expel the demons that have invaded their bodies.
Shamanic cultures also believe in demon possession and shamans perform exorcisms. In these cultures, diseases are often attributed to the presence of a vengeful spirit (or loosely termed demon) in the body of the patient. These spirits are more often the spectres of animals or people wronged by the bearer, the exorcism rites usually consisting of respectful offerings or sacrificial offerings.
According to the Catholic Encyclopedia:
- "In the Old Testament, we have only one instance, and even that is not very certain. We are told that "an evil spirit from the Lord troubled" Saul (1 Samuel 16:14). The Hebrew rûah need not imply a personal influence, though, if we may judge from Josephus (Ant. Jud., VI, viii, 2; ii, 2), the Jews were inclined to give the word that meaning in this very case. In New Testament times, however, the phenomenon had become very common." However, the Old Testament does contain numerous references to evil spirits, often interacting in malevolent ways with people.
The New Testament mentions several episodes in which Jesus drove out demons from persons:
- Matthew 4:23-25: Demon-possessed persons are healed by Jesus (also Luke 6:17-19).
- Matthew 7:21-23: Many will drive out demons in Jesus' name (also Mark 16:17; Luke 10:17; Acts 5:16; 8:7).
- Matthew 8:14-17: Jesus healed many demon-possessed (also Mark 1:29-39; Luke 4:33-41).
- Matthew 8:28-34: Jesus sent a herd of demons from two men into a herd of pigs ("about two thousand" pigs, according to the account at Mark 5:1-20; both Mark's account and Luke 8:26-39, mention only the one man).
- Matthew 9:32-34: Jesus made a demon-possessed mute man speak, the Pharisees said it was by the power of Beelzebub (also Mark 3:20-22).
- Matthew 10:1-8: The Twelve Apostles given the authority to drive out evil spirits (also Mark 3:15; 6:7; 6:13; Luke 9:1; 10:17).
- Matthew 11:16-19: "this generation" said that John the Baptist was possessed by a demon (also Luke 7:31-35).
- Matthew 12:22-32: Jesus healed a demon-possessed blind and dumb man (also Luke 11:14-23; Mark 3:20-30).
- Matthew 12:43-45: Jesus told an allegory of nasty spirits coming back home, that is, to the human body where they have lived before (also Luke 11:24-26).
- Matthew 15:21-28: Jesus expelled a demon from the body of the daughter of a Canaanite woman (also Mark 7:24-30).
- Matthew 17:14-21: Jesus healed a boy by driving out a demon from him (also Mark 9:14-29; Luke 9:37-49).
- Mark 1:21-28: Jesus expelled an unclean spirit from a man (also Luke 4:31-37).
- Mark 9:38-40: A non-Christian is seen driving out demons in Jesus' name (also Luke 9:49-50).
- Mark 16:9: Jesus had driven seven demons out of Mary Magdalene (also Luke 8:2).
- Luke 7:21: Many people are cleansed from evil spirits by Jesus.
- Luke 13:10-17: Jesus expelled a spirit of disease from the body of a woman on the Sabbath.
- Luke 13:31-32: Jesus continued to cast out demons even though Herod Antipas wanted to kill him.
- Luke 22:3: Satan entered into Judas Iscariot (also John 13:27).
- John 7:20: A "crowd of Jews" that wanted to kill Jesus said he was demon-possessed.
- John 8:48-52: "The Jews" said Jesus was a Samaritan and demon-possessed.
- John 10:20-21: Many Jews said Jesus was raving mad and demon-possessed, others said he was not.
- Acts 5:3: Satan filled the heart of Ananias.
- Acts 5:16: The Apostles healed those tormented by evil spirits.
- Acts 8:6-8: At the teaching of Philip the Evangelist in Samaria, evil spirits came out of many.
- Acts 8:18-19: Simon Magus offered to buy the power of Laying on of hands.
- Acts 10:38: St. Peter said Jesus healed all who were under the power of the Devil.
- Acts 16:16-24: Paul and Silas were imprisoned for driving a future-telling spirit out of a slave girl.
- Acts 19:11-12: Handkerchiefs and aprons touched by Paul cured illness and drove out evil spirits.
- Acts 19:13-20: Seven sons of Sceva attempted to drive out evil spirits by saying: "In the name of Jesus, whom Paul preaches, I command you to come out." But because they did not have faith in Jesus, they were unsuccessful and were actually driven from that house by the possessed.
- Revelation 18:2: The Whore of Babylon is a home for demons, evil spirits and unclean birds.
Acts of the Apostles also contains a number of references to people coming under the influence of the Holy Spirit (1:8, 2:4, 2:17-18, 2:38, 4:8, 4:31, 6:3-5, 7:55, 8:15-19, 8:39, 9:17, 10:19, 11:12-16, 11:28, 13:9, 16:6-7, 19:2-6, 20:23, 21:11, 23:8-9) which is believed to be a good thing (see Baptism with the Holy Spirit) in contrast to demonic influence.
The 1902 work Demonic possession in the New Testament by Rev. William Menzies Alexander attempted to explain accounts of possession in the Synoptic Gospels, outlining their historical, medical and theological aspects.
Catholic exorcists differentiate between "ordinary" Satanic/demonic activity or influence (mundane everyday temptations) and "extraordinary" Satanic/demonic activity, which can take six different forms, ranging from complete control by Satan or some demon(s) to voluntary submission:
- Possession, in which Satan or some demon(s) takes full possession of a person's body without their knowledge or consent, so the victim is therefore morally blameless.
- Obsession, which includes sudden attacks of irrationally obsessive thoughts, usually culminating in suicidal ideation, and typically influences dreams.
- Oppression, in which there is no loss of consciousness or involuntary action, such as in the biblical Book of Job in which Job was tormented by a series of misfortunes in business, family, and health.
- External physical pain caused by Satan or some demon(s).
- Infestation, which affects houses, things, or animals; and
- Subjugation, in which a person voluntarily submits to Satan or some demon(s).
|“||The possessing spirit in "familiarization" is seeking to "come and live with" the subject. If accepted, the spirit becomes the constant and continuously present companion of the possessed. The two "persons", the "familiar" and the "possessed", remain separate and distinct. The "possessed" is aware of his "familiar".||”|
- Manifestation of superhuman strength.
- Speaking in tongues or languages that the victim cannot know.
- Revelation of knowledge, distant or hidden, that the victim cannot know.
- Blasphemous rage and an aversion to holy symbols or relics.
The Bible indicates that people can be possessed by demons but that the demons respond to Jesus's authority:
|“||In the synagogue, there was a man possessed by a demon, an evil spirit. He cried out at the top of his voice, 34 “Ha! What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God!” 35 “Be quiet!” Jesus said sternly. “Come out of him!” Then the demon threw the man down before them all and came out without injuring him. 36 All the people were amazed and said to each other, “What is this teaching? With authority and power he gives orders to evil spirits and they come out!” 37 And the news about him spread throughout the surrounding area. (Luke 4:33-35 NIV)||”|
It also indicates that demons can possess animals as in the exorcism of the Gerasene demoniac:
|“||When Jesus stepped ashore, he was met by a demon-possessed man from the town. For a long time this man had not worn clothes or lived in a house, but had lived in the tombs. 28 When he saw Jesus, he cried out and fell at his feet, shouting at the top of his voice, “What do you want with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beg you, don’t torture me!” 29 For Jesus had commanded the impure spirit to come out of the man. Many times it had seized him, and though he was chained hand and foot and kept under guard, he had broken his chains and had been driven by the demon into solitary places. 30 Jesus asked him, "What is your name?" “Legion,” he replied, because many demons had gone into him. 31 And they begged Jesus repeatedly not to order them to go into the Abyss. 32 A large herd of pigs was feeding there on the hillside. The demons begged Jesus to let them go into the pigs, and he gave them permission. 33 When the demons came out of the man, they went into the pigs, and the herd rushed down the steep bank into the lake and was drowned. (Luke 8:27-33 NIV)||”|
The literal view of demonization is held by a number of Christian denominations. Official Catholic doctrine affirms that demonic possession can occur as distinguished from mental illness, but stresses that cases of mental illness should not be misdiagnosed as demonic influence. Catholic exorcisms can occur only under the authority of a bishop and in accordance with strict rules; a simple exorcism also occurs during Baptism (CCC 1673). In charismatic Christianity, deliverance ministries are activities carried out by individuals or groups aimed at solving problems related to demons and spirits, especially possession of the body and soul, but not the spirit as ministries like Ellel Ministries International, Don Dickerman Ministries and Neil T. Anderson explicitly teach that a Christian can not have demons in their spirit because the Holy Spirit lives there, though they can have demons in their body or soul due to inner emotional wounds, sexual abuse, satanic ritual abuse. This is usually known as partial possession or demonic infestation, as opposed to outside demonic oppression which does not reside in any of the 3 parts of a person: body, soul, spirit.
A great deal of controversy surrounds the book War on the Saints by Jessie Penn-Lewis published in 1912 as a resource to the Christian faced with combating demon influences.
In the New Testament Jesus is reported to have encountered people who were demonized and to have driven the "evil spirits" out of these demoniacs. In the 4th century, Saint Hilary of Poitiers asserted that demons entered the bodies of humans to use them as if they were theirs, and also proposed that the same could happen with animals.
The New Testament's description of people who had evil spirits includes a capacity for hidden knowledge (e.g., future events, innermost thoughts of the people around them) (Acts 16:16) and great strength (Act 19:16), among others, and shows those with evil spirits can speak of Christ (Acts 19:16, Mark 3:11). According to Catholic theologians, demonic assault can be involuntary and allowed by God to test a person (for more details about God's tests on persons see Job). Involuntary demonic assault, according to these theologians, cannot be denied because this would imply the negation of the cases mentioned in the New Testament (12, some of them repeated in more than one Gospel). However, in the overwhelming majority of cases of alleged demonic possession in modern times, the victim can suffer due to any of a number of personal initiatives: occult practices, mortal sin, loss of faith, or psychological trauma, among others. Furthermore, Malachi Martin goes as far as to say "...no person can be Possessed without some degree of cooperation on his or her part," and "The effective cause of Possession is the voluntary collaboration of an individual, through his faculties of mind and will, with one or more of those bodiless, genderless creatures called demons."
In previous centuries, the Christian church offered suggestions on safeguarding one’s home. Suggestions ranged from dousing a household with Holy water, placing wax and herbs on thresholds to “ward off witches occult,” and avoiding certain areas of townships known to be frequented by witches and Devil worshippers after dark.
T. B. Joshua, a Nigerian pastor, has one of the most prominent 'deliverance' ministries, releasing hundreds of videos on YouTube and his Christian television station, Emmanuel TV, purporting to show individuals being 'delivered' from apparent 'demonic possession'.
Practitioner will go to the local Buddhist healer for treatment. The healer will commonly take their pulse and urine while offering counsel - the aim being to divine the origins of the patient's suffering. In the case possession they may use medications, like sleeping pills, to take care of the symptoms. They will also prescribe actions to appease the demon, like giving away food and clothing in its name. Afterward, it is believed that the demon will depart to a different realm.
Medicine and psychology
Demonic possession is not a valid psychiatric or medical diagnosis recognized by either the DSM-5 or the ICD-10. Those who profess a belief in demonic possession have sometimes ascribed to possession the symptoms associated with physical or mental illnesses, such as hysteria, mania, psychosis, Tourette's syndrome, epilepsy, schizophrenia, conversion disorder or dissociative identity disorder.
In chronological order:
- Aix-en-Provence possessions
- Loudun possessions
- Dorothy Talbye trial
- Louviers possessions
- The Possession of Elizabeth Knapp
- George Lukins
- Antoine Gay
- Johann Blumhardt
- Clara Germana Cele
- Exorcism of Roland Doe ("Robbie Mannheim")
- Michael Taylor (Ossett)
- Anneliese Michel
Demonic possession is a common theme in the American TV series Supernatural, which was first broadcast in 2005. In one episode, protagonist Sam Winchester is possessed by the demon known as Meg Masters in an attempt to get revenge for Sam exorcising her. She is eventually forced from his body but is shown to retain an understanding of Sam from the possession. The show also features angels possessing humans similar to demons, but unlike demons, angels need the people they are possessing's permission. As shown in season 9's Road Trip, the possessed person can kick the angel out if they no longer wish to be possessed. Occasionally powerful ghosts are able to possess people similar to demons as well.
In the 2006 film 5ive Girls, several characters are possessed by the demonic spirit named Legion.
In the 2007 Spanish horror film series REC, people (and animals) become infected with a contagious demonic virus. The outbreak started with the possession of a Portuguese young girl, Tristana Medeiros.
Several characters are possessed by a demonic spirit named Toby in the Paranormal Activity series. Katie is possessed and kills her boyfriend Micah in Paranormal Activity. Kristi (Katie's sister) is briefly possessed and is successfully exorcised by her husband Daniel, but both are killed by a possessed Katie who then kidnaps their son Hunter in Paranormal Activity 2. Toby takes over Katie (as a child) at the end of Paranormal Activity 3. Katie reappears and the demon still is in her in Paranormal Activity 4.
- Body hopping
- Culture-bound syndrome
- Death of Elisa Lam
- List of exorcists
- The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner
- Ferber, Sarah (2004). "Demonic Possession and Exorcism in Early Modern France". London: Routledge: 25, 116. ISBN 0415212642.
- Sumerian "gidim"
- Indiana Univ: MEDICINE IN ANCIENT MESOPOTAMIA
- "An Exorcist Tells his Story" by Fr. Gabriele Amorth translated by Nicoletta V. MacKenzie, Ignatius Press, San Francisco, 1999.
- Herbermann, Charles, ed. (1913). "Demoniacal Possession". Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company.
- Ángel Manuel Rodríguez, "Old Testament demonology." Ministry: International Journal for Pastors 1998 (7:6), pp. 5-7. https://www.ministrymagazine.org/archive/1998/06/old-testament-demonology
- Alexander, William Menzies (2003). Demonic Possession in the New Testament. Kessinger Publishing.
- p. 33, An Exorcist Tells his Story, by Fr. Gabriele Amorth, translated by Nicoletta V. MacKenzie; Ignatius Press, San Francisco, 1999.
- Malachi Martin, Hostage to the Devil, Harper, San Francisco, 1992, p. 260.
- p.25, The Vatican's Exorcists by Tracy Wilkinson; Warner Books, New York, 2007
- The rite: the making of a modern exorcist by Matt Baglio; Doubleday, New York, 2009.
- The Roman Ritual Translated by Philip T. Weller, S.T.D.; Copyright 1964
- "Luke 4:33-37 (New International Version)". By Biblestudytools.com. Retrieved July 5, 2013.
- "Luke 8 - The Healing of a Demon-possessed Man". By www.tobechristian.org. Retrieved July 5, 2013.
- Martin, Malachi, Hostage to the Devil (San Francisco, Harper, 1992, preface p.xx.)
- Broedel, Hans Peter (2003). The Malleus Maleficarum and the Construction of Witchcraft. Great Britain: Manchester University Press. pp. 32–33.
- Barajo, Caro (1964). "World of the Witches". Great Britain: University of Chicago Press. p. 73.
- Hinich Sutherland, Gail. "Demons and the Demonic in Buddhism". Oxford Biliographies. doi:10.1093/OBO/9780195393521-0171. Retrieved 30 April 2015.
- "Tibetan Buddhist Psychology and Psychotherapy". Tibetan Medicine Education center. Retrieved 30 April 2015.
- Plakun (2008). "Psychiatry in Tibetan Buddhism: Madness and Its Cure Seen Through the Lens of Religious and National History". Journal Of The American Academy Of Psychoanalysis & Dynamic Psychiatry. 36 (3): 415-430. ISSN 1546-0371.
- Hinich Sutherland, Gail. "Demons and the Demonic in Buddhism". Oxford Biliographies. doi:10.1093/OBO/9780195393521-0171. Retrieved 30 April 2015.
- Henderson, J. (1981). Exorcism and Possession in Psychotherapy Practice. Canadian Journal of Psychiatry 27: 129-134.
- Maniam, T. (1987). Exorcism and Psychiatric Illness: Two Case Reports. Medical Journal of Malaysia. 42: 317-319.
- Pfeifer, S. (1994). Belief in demons and exorcism in psychiatric patients in Switzerland. British Journal of Medical Psychology 4 247-258.
- Beyerstein, Barry L. (1995). Dissociative States: Possession and Exorcism. In Gordon Stein (ed.). The Encyclopedia of the Paranormal. Prometheus Books. pp. 544-552. ISBN 1-57392-021-5
- Tajima-Pozo, K., Zambrano-Enriquez, D., de Anta, L., Moron, M., Carrasco, J., Lopez-Ibor, J., & Diaz-Marsa, M. (2011). "Practicing exorcism in schizophrenia". Case Reports.
- Ross, C. A., Schroeder, B. A. & Ness, L. (2013). Dissociation and symptoms of culture-bound syndromes in North America: A preliminary study. Journal of Trauma & Dissociation 14: 224-235.
- Noll, Richard. (2006). The Encyclopedia of Schizophrenia and Other Psychotic Disorders. Facts On File Inc. p. 129. ISBN 0-8160-6405-9
- Demonic possession of Elizabeth Knapp: Cotton Mather's widely cited report on the demonic possession of Elizabeth Knapp of Massachusetts (1701)
- Forcén, Carlos Espí; Forcén, Fernando Espí. (2014). Demonic Possessions and Mental Illness: Discussion of Selected Cases in Late Medieval Hagiographical Literature. Early Science and Medicine 19: 258-79.
- McNamara, Patrick, (2011). Spirit Possession and Exorcism: History, Psychology, and Neurobiology. 2 volumes, Praeger. Santa Barbara, California.
- Westerink, Herman. (2014). Demonic Possession and the Historical Construction of Melancholy and Hysteria. History of Psychiatry 25: 335-349.