Demonic possession

Demonic possession

Demonic possession is held by many belief systems to be the control of an individual by a malevolent supernatural being. Descriptions of demonic possessions often include erased memories or personalities, convulsions, “fits” and fainting as if one were dying.[1] Other descriptions include access to hidden knowledge (gnosis) and foreign languages (glossolalia), drastic changes in vocal intonation and facial structure, the sudden appearance of injuries (scratches, bite marks) or lesions, and superhuman strength. Unlike in channeling or other 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 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.[2] The priests who practiced exorcisms in these nations were called ashipu (sorcerer) as opposed to an asu (physician) who applied bandages and salves.[3] 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.

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.

Christianity holds that possession derives from The Devil, i.e. Satan, or one of his lessor demons. In many Christian belief systems, Satan and his demons are actually fallen angels. [4]


Bible accounts

According to the Catholic Encyclopedia:[5]

"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."

The New Testament mentions several episodes in which Jesus drove out demons from persons, believing these to be the entities responsible for those mental and physical illnesses.

Acts of the Apostles contains also 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 in contrast to demonic influence, see also Spirit possession#Christianity.

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.[6]


Catholic exorcists differentiate between "ordinary" Satanic activity or influence (which includes mundane everyday temptations) and "extraordinary" Satanic activity, which can take six different forms:[7]

  1. External physical pain caused by Satan;
  2. Demonic Possession, in which Satan takes full possession of a person's body without their knowledge or consent: the victim is therefore morally blameless;
  3. Diabolical 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;
  4. Diabolic Obsession, which includes sudden attacks of irrationally obsessive thoughts, usually culminating in suicidal ideation and intrusive dreams;
  5. Diabolic infestation, which affects houses, things, or animals; and
  6. Diabolic subjugation, in which a person voluntarily submits to Satan.

In Hostage to the Devil, Malachi Martin also mentions a type of demonic attack called "familiarization". He writes,

" 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". [8]

True diabolical or satanic possession has been characterized since the Middles Ages, in the Rituale Romanum, by the following four typical characteristics:[9][10][11]
1. manifestation of superhuman strength;
2. speaking in tongues or languages that the person cannot know;
3. the revelation of knowledge, distant or hidden, that the victim cannot know; and
4. blasphemic 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.

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. “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 8:27-32 NIV)

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). 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. [12] 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 originally 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, 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 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[citation needed], demonic assault can be involuntary[13] 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 " 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."[14]

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.[15]

Medicine and psychology

Demonic possession is not recognized as a psychiatric or medical diagnosis by either the DSM-IV or the ICD-10. There are many psychological ailments commonly misunderstood as demonic possession, particularly dissociative identity disorder. 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,[16] but 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.[17]

Notable cases

In fiction

The 1973 film The Exorcist, based on the book of the same name, portrays a fictional case of demonic possession loosely inspired by the case of Robbie Mannheim.


A documentary of the Robbie Mannheim/Roland Doe story was created, titled In The Grip of Evil.

See also


  1. ^ Ferber, Sarah, Demonic Possession and Exorcism in Early Modern France. (London, Routledge, 2004, 25, 116).
  2. ^ Sumerian "gidim"
  4. ^ "An Exorcist Tells his Story" by Fr. Gabriele Amorth translated by Nicoletta V. MacKenzie, Ignatius Press, San Francisco, 1999.
  5. ^  "Demonical possession". Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company. 1913. 
  6. ^ Alexander, William Menzies (2003). "Demonic Possession in the New Testament". Kessinger Publishing. 
  7. ^ p. 33, An Exorcist Tells his Story, by Fr. Gabriele Amorth translated by Nicoletta V. MacKenzie; Ignatius Press, San Francisco, 1999.
  8. ^ Martin, Malachi, Hostage to the Devil, HarperSanFrancisco, 1992, p. 260.
  9. ^ p.25 The Vatican's Exorcists by Tracy Wilkinson; Warner Books, New York, 2007
  10. ^ The rite: the making of a modern exorcist by Matt Baglio; Doubleday, New York, 2009.
  11. ^ THE ROMAN RITUAL Translated by PHILIP T. WELLER, S.T.D.; Copyright 1964
  12. ^
  13. ^ Amorth, Gabriele, An Exorcist Tells His Story (San Francisco, Ignatius Press, 1999, p.33)
  14. ^ Martin, Malachi, Hostage to the Devil (San Francisco, Harper, 1992, preface p.xx.)
  15. ^ Broedel, Hans Peter, The Malleus Maleficarum and the Construction of Witchcraft (Great Britain, Manchester University Press, 2003, 32-33), Barajo, Caro, World of the Witches, (Great Britain, University of Chicago Press, 1964, 73)
  16. ^ Microsoft Word - Haraldur Erlendsson 1.6.03 Multiple Personality
  17. ^ Demonomania

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