A demoniac is a person who becomes possessed by a Demon. A demoniac undergoes a marked change in physical, mental, and emotional symptoms and behaviour. Depending on the type of Possession, there may be a pattern to the changes.
In ancient times, Demons were blamed for entering a person and taking control of him or her to cause problems. The ancient Jewish historian Josephus said that it was not a Demon but the soul of a tormented person that entered a victim. Illnesses and diseases were blamed on Demons, especially if a person fell into fits, trances, or bizarre behaviour. Natural medical conditions, such as epilepsy, may have been the real causes, but in earlier times, there was little understanding of many illnesses.
The attempted remedy was to undertake an Exorcism, which would eradicate the problem. Certain empowered individuals had the knowledge, and especially the supernatural power, to help Demoniacs.
During the medieval and Renaissance times in Europe, demoniacs said they were cursed by witches and sorcerers (see Curse) or were overcome by the Devil. The Catholic Church used possession to pursue its political agendas. Some cases of demoniacs were false; they faked their symptoms or were swept up in hysterias. (See Spirit of Orléans.)
More recently, demoniacs are said to be in “religious altered states of consciousness,” or RASC. They exhibit many of the same physical, mental, and emotional symptoms as persons who are swept up in religious or spiritual ecstasies and raptures; however, for them the experience is hellish rather than heavenly: they are under the siege of Demons rather than God.
Demoniacs exhibit certain symptoms, among them swellings and contortions of the body, trances, cataleptic states, transfigurations of their faces and voices, unusual behaviour, self-battering and mutilation, personality and mood changes, and statements from the possessing Demon, often in foreign languages—especially Latin—unknown to the demoniac. The victim shouts obscenities and blasphemies and taunts exorcists and others. In more severe cases, there are uncontrollable hysterics; episodes of supernormal strength; Levitation; the vomiting of unusual substances, bile and copious quantities of mucus; clairvoyance; and prophecy. The eyes may roll back into the head. Sexual assault by the Demons, poltergeist phenomena, apparitions, and nightmares may happen to the victims.
Demoniacs usually are not steadily possessed but act normally and then are overcome for periods of time. They may be possessed by multiple Demons and have to undergo repeated exorcisms over long periods. Possession is considered life-threatening to a Demoniac, though few have actually died under its influence. In 1590, Ann Frank, a nurse in the employ of John Dee, an English occultist, became possessed and attempted suicide. Dee’s remedy was to anoint her breast with holy oil and put her under heavy guard. After a month, she succeeded in killing herself by cutting her throat. Frank is one of the few Demoniacs on record who actually committed suicide.
In 1976, a young German Demoniac, Anneliese Michel, died while undergoing exorcisms. She was severely emaciated and dehydrated.
- Baroja, Julio Caro. The World of the Witches. 1961. Reprint, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1975.
- Goodman, Felicitas D. The Exorcism of Anneliese Michel. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1981.
- Lea, Henry Charles. Materials toward a History of Witchcraft. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1939.