Exorcism in ghost lore

Exorcism is the expulsion of Ghosts, spirits, Demons or other entities possessing or disturbing a human being or a place that humans frequent. Depending on the severity of the Possession and how evil the spirit seems, exorcisms can range from persuasive conversations to elaborate rituals commanding the entity to leave in the name of God or a god. The word “exorcism” comes from the Greek exousia, meaning “oath,” and translates as adjuro, or “adjure,” in Latin and English. To “exorcise” does not mean to cast out so much as it means “putting the spirit or Demon on oath,” or invoking a higher authority to compel the entity to act in a way contrary to its wishes. Such compulsion also implies binding. The Anglican pamphlet “Exorcism” (1972) states that exorcism binds evil powers by the triumph of Christ and through the application of His power in and by His Church. Christian exorcism rituals, especially in the Roman Catholic Church, begin with the following words, in Latin:

“Adjure te, spiritus nequissime, per Deum omnipotentem,”

which translate as

“I adjure thee, most evil spirit, by almighty God.”

The Gospels tell that Jesus Christ cast out many devils, but he did not exorcise, because he had no need to call on any higher authority than Himself. Overview Rites of exorcism have existed universally since ancient times. In many cultures, where spirits are believed to interfere frequently in the affairs of man, exorcism plays a role in daily life; one consults an exorcist for spiritcaused maladies as one would consult a medical doctor for physical ailments. Exorcisms of spirits, Demons, ghosts, Poltergeists, and unwanted or negative spirits, energies or ThoughtformS are commonplace around the world. Who the exorcist is depends upon context and culture, but includes such persons as priests, rabbis, lamas, shamans, witch doctors, medicine men, witches, Mediums, and psychics. It may be said that forms of exorcism occur in the psychiatric or psychological treatment of personality disorders in which patients feel taken over by alien personalities. In Christianity exorcism is associated with Demonic possession, which is regarded as evil and the work of Satan. As evidence of Demonic possession, the victims may levitate, exhibit superhuman strength, forswear all religious words or articles, and speak in tongues. This last trait offers the strongest proof to the Catholic Church, allowing the attending bishop to permit an exorcism. In Catholicism, specially trained priests perform most Demonic exorcisms, assisted by a junior cleric, a physician, and perhaps a family member and a lay Demonologist. Both physical and spiritual violence dominate a Demonic exorcism. The victim may suffer pain, cuts, and marks on the body, unbelievable physical contortions and spasms, disgusting body noises, diarrhea, spitting, vomiting, and swearing. Waves of cold and heat may roll over the room. Objects that can be moved, such as furniture, clothing, rugs, lamps, and toys, are taken out to keep them from flying about the room and breaking. John Zaffis, a leading Demonologist, has witnessed a wide range of phenomena at exorcisms. In addition to the above-mentioned occurrences, there may be Rapping and tapping on walls, the sensation of a frightening presence, and the smell of ozone when the rite is concluded. Zaffis has seen odd changes in the eyes of possessed people, including changes to nearly all black and also a milky white occluded look that signifies the rare presence of a high-ranking Demon, a prince of hell. Sometimes during the course of exorcism, the Demonic entity will try to hide behind the personality of the possessed person and will create diversions to interrupt the rite. Spiritually, the Christian exorcism is a duel between Demons and the exorcist for the victim’s soul, and no holds are barred. The exorcist and his assistants must be relatively guiltless at the time of the exorcism, for the Demons may hurl their sins in their faces and criticize them cruelly. For every invective snarled by Demons, the exorcist must be prepared to counter with firm demands to depart in the name of Christ, promising everlasting pain and damnation if the Demon does not go. Above all else, the exorcist must stand firm in his conviction that the power of Jesus Christ supercedes everything.

Catholic Exorcism

Among Christians, only the Roman Catholics offer a formal rite of exorcism: the Rituale Romanum, dating back to 1614. Less formal exorcisms are performed by both Catholic priests and Protestant ministers. Without established procedures, exorcists rely on prayer, stern language, electric shock, beating and starvation, fumigations with strong odors, and foul-tasting substances given to victims. Hellebore, attar of roses and rue are said to perform quite well. Salt, a precious commodity in medieval Europe and believed to represent spiritual purity, has always figured prominently in exorcism rituals and still does today. Wine works well also, as it represents the blood of Christ. Catholics have received the most publicity for exorcisms— some priests have even performed mass exorcisms in public squares, calling for the Demons Lucifer, Nambroth, Bechet, Ashtaroth and Nabam to depart. In modern times, the Church downplayed possession and exorcism. However, in 1991, officials allowed the American Broadcasting Company television network to broadcast a real exorcism of a young girl. The girl had received psychiatric treatment, but was still afflicted by what family and church officials believed to be a Demon. The exorcism, which aired on television, was a first in the history of the church. Although the victim vomited, exhibited fits and used foul language in an altered voice, the exorcism was far less dramatic than television audiences were conditioned to expect due to sensational treatments in films such as The Exorcist (see St. Louis Exorcism Case). Skeptics remained unconvinced. The exorcism failed to effect permanent relief, and the girl soon returned to psychiatric treatment. Nonetheless, church officials expressed their belief in the devil’s continuing torment of human beings. Since the latter part of the 20th century, the church has seen a dramatic rise in interest in exorcism and in reported cases of possession. Its ranks of trained exorcists around the world have rapidly expanded. (See Gabriel Amorth and International Association of Exorcists.)

Deliverance Ministries

The idea that Demons can invade innocent human beings is an important tenet for the Pentecostal Christians in the United States. The Pentecostals, and other so-called Charismatics, practice what is known as “deliverance ministry,” where those who claim to possess the gift cast out devils and heal through the laying on of hands. The minister or healer and his assistants, often the entire congregation, confront the devil with prayer and exhort the Demons to depart. If the victim is truly possessed, the Demons eventually are forced to reveal themselves, usually calling themselves by the vice they exhibit, such as Lust, Envy or Greed. Prayers of thanksgiving and cries of joy envelop the congregation as the victim returns to Christ.

Jewish Exorcism

Exorcism has played a smaller and different role in Judaism. The Old Testament mentions possession and exorcism by evil spirits; in Samuel I, a spirit possesses Saul and is exorcised when David plays his harp. In Tobit, Tobit learns about exorcisms from the Angel Raphael. As early as the first century, rabbinical literature mentions exorcism rituals. Perhaps the best-known ancient exorcisms concern the Dybbuk. Nonwestern Views In Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam, and animism, a wide variety of spirits and ghosts may be deemed responsible for various maladies or situations, and may be ritually exorcised (see ZAR). In some shamanic traditions, the shaman enters an ecstatic trance to search for and recover the soul of the patient, which has been possessed by a Demon, and then drives the Demon out (see Shamanism).

Medical Views

Carl Wickland, an American physician and psychologist, and his wife, Anna, believed that spirits were rarely evil, but were confused and trapped in the aura of a living person. They caused apparent multiple and dissociated personalities, and insanity ranging from “simple mental aberration to . . . all types of dementia, hysteria, epilepsy, melancholia, shell shock, kleptomania, idiocy, religious and suicidal mania . . . amnesia, psychic invalidism, dipsomania, immorality, functional bestiality, atrocities, and other forms of criminalities,” as Wickland described in his book, Thirty Years Among the Dead (1924). The Wicklands used coaxing and mild electric shock to send the spirits on their way. Psychiatrist Dr. Ralph Allison writes in his book Minds in Many Pieces (1980) that various of his patients over the years, especially sufferers of multiple personality, exhibited signs of Demonic possession and required exorcism as well as conventional treatment. One multiple personality patient, named Carrie, suffered from drug addiction and from fears of choking to death and of dying on the next New Year’s Eve. A psychic described Carrie as being possessed by the spirit of a young woman named Bonnie who had died in 1968 of a drug overdose. Allison at first dismissed the story, but as Carrie’s condition worsened, he decided to try an exorcism. First Allison hypnotized Carrie and then talked to her, trying to determine if Bonnie was just another of her personalities. Carrie claimed she was not, and under deeper hypnosis she begged to be rid of Bonnie. Then Allison suspended a crystal ball over Carrie and exhorted Bonnie to leave the victim in peace, saying that when the ball stopped swinging, he would know Bonnie had gone. Bonnie left, and Carrie never feared New Year’s Eve or choking to death again.

Exorcism of Ghosts

In Christianity, there are no formal exorcism rituals for exorcising ghosts from places. Such a rite might consist of a priest sprinkling holy water and burning incense and exhorting the ghost to depart. Or, a medium or minister makes contact with the dead and helps them leave their earthbound state. Various magical rites address vanquishing troublesome ghosts from cemeteries, especially those of a murderer or SUICIDE. One must ritually cast a magic circle over the grave, which protects the person against the ghost. At midnight, the exorcist stands in the circle and summons the ghost, who materializes with a great crash. The exorcist then demands an explanation for the ghost’s hauntings. According to lore, the ghost will answer all questions in hollow tones. Usually the reason has to do with unfinished business, and if the exorcist promises to carry out the ghost’s final wishes, then the ghost vanishes, never to haunt again. If the troublesome ghost haunts a house, then a magical ritual is different. The exorcist enters the house at midnight carrying a candle, compass, crucifix, and Bible. He draws a magic circle, and inside the circle draws a cross. Upon the cross he places a chair and table. He sits in the chair and places the Bible, lighted candle, and crucifix on the table. The ghost enters noisily, and submits to all questions before meekly departing. If the exorcist is a priest, he will sprinkle holy water on the ghost or wave the crucifix at it. In reality, exorcism rituals seldom are performed that way, or follow such a neat plan. Ghosts often do not respond to questions, and sometimes exorcisms performed by the most holy of clergy fail. In China, the traditional means of exorcising ghosts from houses is done by a Taoist priest. First, an altar is erected at the spot frequented by the ghost, and lit tapers and sticks of incense are placed upon it. The priest enters the house dressed in a red robe, blue stockings and a black cap. He carries a sword, which in Chinese lore is held to be an effective weapon against the supernatural, and is hung over beds and elsewhere in rooms to repel unwanted influences. The exorcism sword must be made of peach or date tree wood, and the hilt must be covered by a red cloth. An exorcism charm is written on the blade. The priest places the sword on the altar. He then prepares a mystic scroll, burns it and collects the ashes into a cup of spring water. He holds the cup in his left hand and the sword in his right, takes seven steps to the left and eight to the right, and intones:

“God of heaven and earth, invest me with the heavy seal, in order that I may eject from this dwelling-house all kinds of evil spirits. Should any disobey me, give me the power to deliver them for safe custody to the rulers of such Demons.”

Addressing the ghost, the priest adds, “As quick as lightning depart from this house.” He lays down the sword, picks up a bunch of willow, dips the willow in the cup and sprinkles the ash-water in the corners of the house according to the cardinal points. He picks up the sword again, and, with the cup, goes to the eastern corner and says,

“I have the authority, Tai-Shaong-Loo- Kivan.”

He drinks from the cup and spits on the wall, saying,

“Kill the green evil spirits which come from unlucky stars, or let them be driven away.”

This ritual is repeated at the other three corners, with the colors red, white and yellow substituted in place of green. The priest’s attendants beat gongs and drums. The priest says,

“Evil spirits from the east [west, south, north], I send back to the east [west, etc.].”

The priest goes to the entrance of the house, makes mystical signs in the air with his hands and sword, and proclaims the house free of ghosts.



  • Crabtree, Adam. Multiple Man, Explorations in Possession and Multiple Personality. New York: Praeger, 1985.
  • Ebon, Martin. The Devil’s Bride, Exorcism: Past and Present. New York: Harper & Row, 1974.
  • Eliade, Mircea. Shamanism. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1964.
  • Kapferer, Bruce. A Celebration of Demons. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1983.
  • Martin, Malachi. Hostage to the Devil. New York: Harper & Row, 1987.
  • Oesterreich, T. K. Possession: Demonical & Other Among Primitive Races, in Antiquity, the Middle Ages and Modern Times. New Hyde Park, N.Y.: University Books, 1966.
  • Zaffis, John, and Brian McIntyre. Shadows of the Dark. New York: iUniverse, Inc., 2004.


The Encyclopedia of Ghosts and Spirits – Written by Rosemary Ellen Guiley  – September 1, 2007

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