hilarius, st

Demonic possession

Demonic possession is often the term used to describe the control over a human form by Satan himself or one of his assigned advocates. Descriptions of demonic possessions often include: erased memories or personalities, convulsions, “fits” and fainting as if one were dying. Unlike in channelling or other benign forms of possession, 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 Roma people believe that demons can also possess animals, plants, deceased persons or inanimate objects.

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 practiced exorcisms in these nations were called ashipu (sorcerer) as opposed to an asu (physician) who applied bandages and salves. Many cuneiform 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.

Most illustrations portray these spirits as small, gruesome characters with inhuman distinctiveness. Often referenced as a witch’s “familiars” demons and other evil-spirits employed by witches are also displayed as society’s cast-offs or those beings incapable of caring for themselves thus seeking refuge with a witch. Witches would provide shelter and nourishment via the “witch’s teat” in exchange for the valuable services of the familiars in addition to spells, potions and other attempts by a witch to cause evil or “maleficium” over another.

Shamanic cultures also believe in demon possession and shamans perform exorcisms too; in these cultures often diseases are attributed to the presence of an evil spirit or demon in the body of the patient.

The Malleus Maleficarum speaks about some exorcisms that can be done in different cases.

Demonic possession in the Bible

According to the Catholic Encyclopedia: Demonical Possession:

"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 (). 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."

The New Testament mentions several opportunities in which Jesus drove out demons from diseased persons, believed to be these entities responsible for those illnesses.

  • : Demon-possessed persons are healed by Jesus (also ).
  • : Many will drive out demons in Jesus' name (also ; ; ; ).
  • : Jesus healed many demon-possessed (also ; ).
  • : Jesus sent a herd of demons from two men into a herd of about two thousand pigs (also ; , both referring to only one man).
  • : Jesus made a demon-possessed and mute man speak, the Pharisees said it was by the power of Beelzebub (also ).
  • : The Twelve Apostles given the authority to drive out evil spirits (also ; ; ; ; ).
  • : "this generation" said that John the Baptist was possessed by a demon (also ).
  • : Jesus healed a demon-possessed blind and dumb man (also ; ; ).
  • : Jesus told an allegory of nasty spirits coming back home, that is to the human body where they have lived before (also ).
  • : Jesus expelled a demon from the body of the daughter of a Canaanite woman (also ).
  • : Jesus healed a lunatic by driving out a demon from him (also ; ).
  • : Jesus expelled a nasty spirit from a man (also ).
  • : A non-Christian is seen driving out demons in Jesus' name (also ).
  • : Jesus had driven seven demons out of Mary Magdalene (also ).
  • : Many people are cleansed from evil spirits by Jesus.
  • : Jesus expelled a spirit of disease from the body of a woman on the Sabbath.
  • : Jesus continued to cast out demons even though Herod Antipas wanted to kill him.
  • : Satan entered into Judas Iscariot (also ).
  • : A "crowd of Jews" that wanted to kill Jesus said he was demon-possessed.
  • : "The Jews" said Jesus was a Samaritan and demon-possessed.
  • : Many Jews said Jesus was raving mad and demon-possessed, others said he was not.
  • : Satan filled the heart of Ananias.
  • : The Apostles healed those tormented by evil spirits.
  • : At the teaching of Philip the Evangelist in Samaria, evil spirits came out of many.
  • : Simon Magus offered to buy the power of Laying on of hands.
  • : St. Peter said Jesus healed all who were under the power of the devil.
  • : Paul and Silas were imprisoned for driving a future-telling spirit out of a slave girl.
  • : Handkerchiefs and aprons touched by Paul cured illness and drove out evil spirits.
  • : 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.
  • : The Whore of Babylon is a home for demons, evil spirits and unclean birds.

Acts of the Apostles contains also a number of references to people coming under the influence of the Holy Spirit (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ) which is believed to be a good thing in contrast to demonic influence.

In Christianity

Despite English language translation tradition, the Bible never refers to people as being possessed by demons. The main New Testament expressions referred to demonic influence are:

  1. 'to be demonized' (daimonizomai) - this is the most frequent expression.
  2. 'having a demon' (echon daimonion) - note it is the person who possesses the demon, not the demon who possesses the person.

Certainly the language of "possession", like other mistranslations, has gained a life of its own, as is reflected in the title of this article. Murphy comments on the traditional language of "possession": "Fortunately, the practice of using these terms is now in the process of correction because of renewed historical-contextual studies of Scripture and renewed experience with the demonized. Some allow the term "possession" but restrict its use only for the most extreme cases, which are thought to be extremely rare.

The literal view of demonization is still held by a number of Christian denominations. Official Catholic doctrine affirms that demonic oppression 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).

A great deal of controversy surrounds the book War on the Saints originally published in 1912 as a resource to the Christian faced with combating demon influences.

The concept of demon influence in Christianity was similar to that of Jewish belief. 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, St. Hillary 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 ability of divination (Acts 16:16) and great strength (Act 19:16), among others, but shows those with evil spirits can speak of Christ (Acts 19:16, Mark 3:11). According to Catholic theologians demonization is involuntary and allowed by God to test a person (for more details about God's tests on persons see Job). Involuntary demonization according to these theologians, cannot be negated because this would imply the negation of the cases mentioned in the New Testament (12, some of them repeated in more than one Gospel) and, by extension, the veracity of it.

The Church offered suggestions or a how-to on safe-guarding 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.

New Age view

Demonic possession is mentioned at length in Carlos Castaneda’s The Active Side of Infinity, in which it is claimed that human civilization is demonic in origin.

In medicine

Demonic possession is not a valid psychiatric or medical diagnosis recognized by either the DSM-IV or the ICD-10. This is because one of the tenets of science is that there must be natural causes for natural phenomena and thus does not look outside of the physical or natural realm. Those who profess a belief in demonic possession have sometimes ascribed the symptoms associated with mental illnesses such as hysteria, mania, psychosis, or dissociative identity disorder to possession. In cases of dissociative identity disorder in which the alter personality is questioned as to its identity, 29% are reported to identify themselves as demons. However doctors see this as a mental disease called demonomania or demonopathy, a monomania in which the patient believes that he or she is possessed by one or more demons.

From another point of view, those who accuse others of being demon-possessed have to be mentioned too. In cases like those of the witches of Salem, Massachusetts, or the nuns who accused father Urbain Grandier, a collective hysteria is believed to take place. In particular cases (sometimes a small number of persons, e.g., some members of a family or a small group of friends, but generally one person) the accusation of demon possession is caused because of the diseases above-mentioned or the phenomenon of collective hysteria. Another type of case is fraudulent claims of possession.

Medicine claims to explain some aspects of the "symptoms" shown by those persons allegedly possessed; it is known that "supernatural strength" is common in some cases of insanity (mania or energumens)

In fiction

The theme of demon possession has been by far better exploited by cinema than literature. Maybe the most known work on the subject is the 1973 film The Exorcist, based on the book of the same name, which portrays a typical mediaeval case of demonic possession in which the victim shows all required characteristics to confirm the status of possessed. This was later satirised in 1990 by Repossessed. End of Days (1999) shows another form of demonic possession suggested by Hilarius. Possession (taken seriously) is central to the recent TV series Hex (TV series). The TV series Supernatural has also explored themes of demonic possession, since Demons are a major part of the second and third season's plots and they are incorporeal, they need to possess a body to carry out their actions. The 2007 novel A Good and Happy Child deals largely with the possible subject of demonic possession. In an episode of the X-Files, a substitute teacher kills a teenage girl by possessing her while dissecting a pig fetus after class. The sub also posesses a snake which eats & digests a human being within less than 5 minutes, despite Scully knowing that it would take hours or even days to digest a human being. The substitute was never hired, and (probably by coincidince) the school board is also satan-worshipping.

See also



  • Castaneda, Carlos. 1998. The Active side of Infinity. NYC HarperCollins.

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