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To exorcize, according to the received definitions, states Edward Smedley in The Occult Sciences (1855), is "to bind upon oath, to charge upon oath, and thus, by the use of certain words, and performance of certain ceremonies, to subject the devil and other evil spirits to command and exact obedience. Minshew calls an exorcist a conjuror; and it is so used by Shakespeare; and exorcism conjuration. It is in the general sense of casting out evil spirits, however, that the word is now under-stood."

The History of Exorcism

The trade of exorcism has probably existed from very early times. In Greece, Epicurus and Aeschines were sons of women who lived by this art, and each was bitterly reproached, the one by the Stoics, the other by Demosthenes, for having assisted his parent in her "dishonorable" practices. A reference in the biblical Acts of the Apostles (19:13) concerns the failure and dis-grace of "certain of the vagabond Jews, exorcists," who, like the apostles, "took upon them to call over them that had evil spirits the Name of the Lord Jesus."

The ancient Jewish historian Josephus observed:

"God enabled Solomon to learn that skill which expels demons, which is a science useful and sanative to men. He composed such incantations also, by which distempers are alleviated, and he left behind him the manner of using exorcisms, by which they drive away demons, so that they never return. And this method of cure is of great force unto this day; for I have seen a certain man of my own country, whose name was Eleazar, releasing people that were demoniacal, in the presence of Vespasian and his sons, and his captains, and the whole multitude of his soldiers. The manner of the cure was this. He put a ring that had a root of one of those sorts mentioned by Solomon to the nostrils of the demoniac, after which he drew out the demon through his nostrils; and when the man fell down immediately, he adjured him to return unto him no more, making still mention of Solomon, and reciting the incantation which he composed. And when Eleazar would persuade and demonstrate to the spectators that he had such a power, he set, a little way off, a cup or basin full of water, and commanded the demon as he went out the man to overturn it, and thereby to let the spectators know that he had left the man."

Some alleged fragments of these incantations of Solomon appear in the Codex Pseudepigraphus of Fabricus, and Josephus himself has described one of the antidemoniacal roots, in a measure reminiscent of the perils attendant on gathering the mandrake. Another fragment of antiquity bearing on this subject is the exorcism practiced by Tobit, the father of the Jewish hero Tobias, upon which it is by no means easy to pronounce judgment. The seventeenth-century Dutch scholar Grotius, in a note on that history, states that the Hebrews attributed all diseases arising from natural causes to the influence of demons. (These facts are derived in great measure from the Dutch theologian Balthasar Bekker's ingenious, though forgotten, four volumes Le Monde Enchanté (1694), which discuss the necessity of exorcism.)

Belthasar Bekker related an instance of exorcism practiced by Jews to avert the evil influence of the demon Lilis (or Lilith ), whom some rabbis claimed was the wife of Satan. During the 130 years (states Elias, in the Thisbi ) that elapsed before Adam was married to Eve, he was visited by certain she-devils, of whom the four principal were Lilis, Naome, Ogére, and Machalas; these encounters produced a fruitful progeny of spirits. Lilis visited the bedroom of women recently delivered and endeavored to kill their babies, boys on the eighth day after their birth, girls on the twenty-first. To chase her away, the attendants drew circles on the walls of the room with charcoal and within each they wrote, "Adam, Eve, Lilis, avaunt!" On the door of the room they also wrote the names of the three angels who preside over medicine (Senoi, Sansenoi, and Sanmangelof), a secret that was apparently taught them, somewhat unwittingly, by Lilis herself.

A particular ecclesiastical order of exorcists does not appear to have existed in the Christian church until the close of the third century, and the eighteenth-century German theologian Johann Mosheim attributed its introduction to the prevalent fancies of the Gnostics. In the tenth canon of the Council of Antioch, held in 341 C.E., exorcists were expressly mentioned in conjunction with subdeacons and readers, and their ordination described by the fourteenth Council of Carthage. It involved delivery by the bishop of a book containing forms of exorcism and directions that the exorcists should exercise the office upon energumens, (demoniacs), whether baptized or only catechumens. The fire of exorcism, as St. Augustine termed it, always preceded baptism. Catechumens were exorcised for 20 days previous to the administration of this sacrament. In the case of catechumens who were not also energumens, these exorcisms were not directed against any supposed demoniacal possession. They were, as Cyril described them, no more than prayers collected and composed from Holy Writ to beseech God to break the dominion and power of Satan in new converts and to deliver them from his slavery by expelling the spirit of wickedness and error.

In the Greek Church, before baptism the priest blew three times on the child to displace the devil from his seat, and this may be understood as symbolic of the power of sin over the unbaptized, not as an assertion of their real or absolute possession.

The exorcists formed one of the minor orders of the Roman Catholic Church. At their ordination the bishop addressed them as to their duties, and concluded with these words: "Take now the power of laying hands upon the energumens, and by the imposition of your hands, by the grace of the Holy Spirit, and the words of exorcism, the unclean spirits are driven from obsessed bodies."

One of the most complete manuals for Roman Catholic exorcists ever compiled was a volume of nearly 1,300 pages entitled Thesaurus Exorcismorum et Conjurationum (1608). It contained the following tracts: "Practica Exorcistarum" (two parts), "Flagellum Daemonum," "Fustis Daemonium," "Complementum Artis Exorcistiae," and "Fuga Satanae."

From the first of these treatises, it appears that the energumens were subjected to a very severe corporal as well as spiritual discipline. They first underwent "pre-exorcisms" consisting of confessions, postulations, protestations, concitations, and interrogations. The exorcisms themselves were eight in number.

All these were accompanied with appropriate psalms, lessons, litanies, prayers, and adjurations. Then followed eight "postexorcisms." The first three were to be used according to how determined the demon was to retain possession. If the demon was very obstinate, an effigy of it, vile and horrible, was to be drawn, with its name inscribed under it, and be thrown into the flames, after having been signed with the cross, sprinkled with holy water, and fumigated. The fourth and fifth were forms of thanksgiving and benediction after liberation. The sixth referred to incubi and succubi. The seventh was for exorcising a haunted house, in which the service varied during every day of the week. The eighth was to drive away demoniacal storms or tempests and called for throwing into a huge fire large quantities of various herbs.

The "Flagellum Daemonum" treatise contained in the Thesaurus Exorcismorum gave numerous cautions to the exorcist himself not to be deceived by the arts of the demon, particular-ly when dealing with possessed women. If the devil refused to tell his name, the demoniac was to be fumigated. If it was necessary to break off the exorcism before the evil spirits were wholly expelled, they were to be adjured to quit the head, heart, and stomach of the energumen and to abscond themselves from the lower parts of the body.

In the "Fustis Daemonum" the exorcist was directed to verbally abuse the evil spirit if it persisted in staying. After this railing latinity, redoubled precaution was necessary, and if the demon still refused to tell its name, the knowledge of which facilitates an exorcism, it was to be called the worst names imaginable and the demoniac fumigated. The seventh exorcism in this treatise called for, among other things, anointing the demoniac with holy oil, and if all adjurations failed, the possessed was to be strenuously exhorted to patience. In the last form, dumbness was attacked; a very effectual remedy against this infirmity was declared to be a draught of holy water with three drops of holy wax, swallowed on an empty stomach.

Father Zacharias Vicecomes, in his Complementum Artis Exorcistiae (1608), explains the signs of possession or bewitchment. He also discusses how to discern the evil spirit's departure; sometimes it puts out the light, now and then it issues like a flame, or a very cold blast, through the mouth, nose, or ears. Vicecomes then enumerates various prescriptions for emetics, perfumes, and fumigations calculated to promote these results. He concludes with a catalog of the names of some of the devils of commonest occurrence: Astaroth, Baal, Cozbi, Dagon, Ase-roth, Baalimm, Chamo, Beelphegor, Astarte, Bethage, Phogor, Moloch, Asmodaeus, Bele, Nergel, Melchon, Asima, Bel, Nex-roth, Tartach, Acharon, Belial, Neabaz, Merodach, Adonides, Beaemot, Jerobaal, Socothbenoth, Beelzebub, Leviathan, Lucifer, Satan, and Mahomet.

Petrus Stampa's "Fuga Satanae" treatise in the The Sauvus Exorcismorum is very brief and does not contain any significant additional information.

According to a treatise on practical exorcism entitled Histoire admirable de la possession et conversion d'une Penitente. (1613), Sr. Madeleine de Demandolx de la Palud was exorcised over a four-month period. She was under the power of five princes of the devilsBeelzebub, Leviathan, Baalberith, Asmo-deus, and Astarothas well as many lesser demons. Beelzebub lived in her forehead, Leviathan in the middle of her head, Astaroth in the back of it. Her head made unnatural, perpetual movements and pulsations. After the exorcism her head barely moved.

A second sister of the same convent, Louise Capeau, was also possessed by three devils of the highest degree: Vérin, Grésil, and Soneillon. Vérin, through the proceedings of the exorcists, appears to have turned state's evidence, for, in spite of the remonstrances and rage of Beelzebub, he gave important information and instruction to his enemies and appeared to sincerely repent that he was a devil. The daily Acts and Examinations, from November 27 to the following of April 23, were specially recorded by the exorcist himself, and all the conversations of the devils were recorded verbatim. The whole business ended in tragedy, and Louis Gaufridi, a priest from Marseilles who was accused of witchcraft on the occasion, was burned alive at Aix-en-Provence.

An exorcism case of almost unparalleled atrocity occurred at Loudun in 1634 when Urbain Grandier, cure and canon of that town, was mercilessly brought to the stake partly by the jealousy of some monks, partly to gratify the personal vengeance of Cardinal Richelieu, who had been persuaded that this ecclesiastic had lampooned him, an offense he never forgave. Some Ursuline nuns were tortured and confessed themselves possessed, and Grandier was the person accused of effecting their possession. A certain Tranquille, one of the exorcists, died within four years of the execution of his victim, in a state of reputed possession, perhaps distracted by self-accusations of remorse.

The last acknowledgment of exorcism in the Anglican Church during the progress of the Reformation occurs in the first liturgy of Edward VI, which gives the following form of baptism:

"Then let the priest, looking upon the children, say, 'I command thee, unclean spirit, in the name of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, that thou come out and depart from these infants, whom our Lord Jesus Christ has vouchsafed to call to His holy baptism, to be made members of His Body and of His Holy congregation. Therefore, thou cursed spirit, remember thy sentence, remember thy judgment, remember the day to be at hand wherein thou shalt burn in fire everlasting prepared for thee and thy angels. And presume not hereafter to exercise any tyranny towards these infants whom Christ hath brought with His precious blood, and by this His holy baptism calleth to be of His flock."'

On the remonstrance of Martin Bucer (1491-1551), arguing that exorcism was not originally used for any but demoniacs, and that it was uncharitable to imagine that all who came to baptism were demoniacs, it was thought prudent by reformers to omit it altogether in subsequent liturgies.

The seventy-second canon issued the following restriction on exorcism: "No minister shall, without the license of the bishop of the diocese, first obtained and had under his hand and seal attempt upon any pretence whatever, either of obsession or possession, by fasting or prayer, to cast out any devil or devils: under pain of the imputation of imposture or cosenage, and deposition from the ministry."

Exorcism in the Modern World

Exorcism became news in modern times with the publication of William Peter Blatty's novel The Exorcist in 1971 and the subsequent Warner Brothers movie, scripted by Blatty and released in 1974. Much of the powerful background of Blatty's book and the film stem from authentic research, using as a source the classic study Possession: Demoniacal and Other, by T. K. Oesterreich (1930). Blatty's book was a best-seller, clearing 200,000 hardcover copies in the summer of 1971 and several million in paperback in the two following years.

The runaway success of the movie revived the interest in the role of the devil in Christian theology and created a industry of paperbacks on Satanism, black magic, and related topics. Devil possession became almost fashionable, and priests revived long-forgotten rites of exorcism. Many churchmen and psychologists were divided over whether treating devils as real entities aided the recovery of psychoneurotic individuals or actually encouraged the spread of hysterical possession.

In Britain, a 17-year-old boy claimed that he was possessed by evil after seeing the movie The Exorcist and afterward killed a girl, age 9. In 1975, 31-year-old Michael Taylor was exorcized at St. Thames Church, Barnsley, England, but went home "possessed with the devil" and brutally murdered his wife. He was found guilty but insane. Similar cases have been reported in other countries.

Christopher Neil-Smith, a London vicar, has performed more than three thousand exorcisms in Britain since 1949. In his book The Exorcist and the Possessed (1974), he claims that evil should be treated as an actual force rather than an abstract idea.

In 1963 the bishop of Exeter, England, convened a commission to consider the theology, techniques, and the place of exorcism in the life of the Christian Church. The commission's findings were published in 1972 and included suitable forms of prayer and exorcism. It was suggested that every diocesan bishop should appoint a priest as diocesan exorcist, and suitable training should be established. No exorcism should take place without the explicit permission of the diocesan bishop, nor should exorcism be performed until possible mental or physical illness had been excluded. A program of training and safeguards was drawn up by which the theological and liturgical questions could be properly evaluated without sensationalism.

Through the 1980s the subject of exorcism was kept alive within evangelical Christianity, especially Pentecostalism. Quite the contrary to the official oversight given exorcism within the Roman Catholic, Anglican, and mainline Protestant traditions, any minister (and on occasion layperson) could emerge as an exorcist, and exorcism services, such as those conducted by Bible teacher Derek Prince, became attractions at Pentecostal events. Exorcism services also became a part of missionary activity in places where either Spiritualism (Philippines) or polytheistic faiths (Africa) were widespread. Exorcism has become somewhat institutionalized in charismatic churches, where it is referred to as "spiritual warfare."


Basham, Don. A Manual for Spiritual Warfare. Greensburg, Pa.: Manna Books, 1974.

Blatty, William Peter. The Exorcist. New York: Harper & Row, 1971.

Brooks, Pat. Out! In the Name of Jesus. Carol Stream, Ill.: Creation House, 1972.

Deutch, Richard. Exorcism: Possession or Obsession? London: Bachman & Turner, 1975.

Ebon, Martin, ed. Exorcism: Fact Not Fiction. New York: New American Library, 1974.

Huxley, Aldous. The Devils of Loudon. London: Chatto & Windus, 1952. Reprint, New York: Harper & Row, 1971.

Nauman, St. Elmo, Jr. Exorcism Through the Ages. New York: Philosophical Library, 1974.

Neil-Smith, Christopher. The Exorcist and the Possessed. Corn-wall, England: James Pike, 1974.

Oesterreich, T. K. Possession: Demoniacal and Other. London: Kegan Paul; New York: R. R. Smith, 1930. Reprint, New Hyde Park, N.Y.: University Books, 1966. Reprint, New York: Cause-way Books, 1974.

Petitpierre, Dom Robert. Exorcism: The Findings of a Commission Convened by the Bishop of Exeter. London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 1972.

Shepard, Leslie. How to Protect Yourself Against Black Magic and Witchcraft. New York: Citadel, 1978.

Strachan, Françoise. Casting Out the Devils. London: Aquarian Press, 1972.

White, Elijah. Exorcism as a Christian Ministry. New York: Morehouse-Barlow, 1975.

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On September 11, 2000, newspapers around the world carried the story about how Satan had invaded the Vatican in Rome and screamed insults at Pope John Paul II (1920 ) through the agency of a teenage girl, reported to have been a "splendid girl in terms of purity and goodness" before being possessed by the devil at the age of 12. The 19-year-old began shouting in a "cavernous voice" during a general papal audience in St. Peter's Square. Despite the efforts of the pope to quiet the attack, the Prince of Darkness laughed at the Holy Father's efforts to drive him away. When Vatican guards attempted to constrain the girl, she violently pushed them back in a display of superhuman strength.

Vatican exorcist Father Gabriele Amorth said that he and another exorcist, Father Giancarlo Gramolazzo, had previously worked with the girl and that the pope had spent half an hour with her the day before the incident and had also exorcised the teenager. However, it soon became apparent when the girl began insulting the pope and speaking in unknown tongues during the papal audience that neither of the exorcisms had managed to banish Satan. Vatican sources were quick to remind the media of Pope John Paul II's successful exorcism of an Italian woman named Francesca Fabrizzi in 1982.

Later in September 2000, Reverend James Le Bar, an exorcist for the Archdiocese of New York, commented that there had been a "large explosion" of exorcisms in recent years. In New York alone, he said, the number had accelerated from none in 1990 to a total of 300 in the last 10 years. Reverend Le Bar said that as men and women have diminished self-respect for themselves and decreased reverence for spirituality, for other human beings, and for life in general, one of Satan's demons can move in and "attack them by possessing them and rendering them helpless."

On November 26, 2000, an Associated Press story datelined Mexico City, Mexico, stated that a steady procession of men and women believing themselves to be possessed pass through the doors of the city's Roman Catholic parishes seeking exorcism from the eight priests appointed by the archbishop to battle Satan and his demons. Reverend Alberto Juarez told of seeing a young woman who began to speak in a man's voice and then growl like a dog. Father Enrique Maldonado spoke of houses where he witnessed locked doors open and objects move about the rooms. Reverend Daniel Gagnon stated that he had once considered himself scientific, pragmatic, but he had changed his mind. "Psychology is where you begin, but there is an area that science cannot explain," he said.

The casting out of demons and the healing of the sick and the lame were two of the great facets of the apostolic commission that Jesus (c. 6 b.c.e.c. 30 c.e.) gave to his followers, but the practice of performing an exorcism on candidates for baptism was first recorded by the church father Hippolytus (c. 170c. 235) in third-century Rome. The priest or layman instructing those who would join the church was instructed to lay his hands upon the heads of the catechumens and pray. It was then supposed that it would be impossible for a demonic entity to remain quiet and unnoticed at this time, thereby betraying its presence and presenting the unfortunate human host for the process of exorcism.

According to the September 1, 2000, issue of the National Catholic Reporter, the first mention of "exorcist" as an office in the Roman Catholic Church exists in a letter of Pope Cornelius in 253. Historian Jeffrey Burton Russell states that in the early medieval liturgies, there were three kinds of common exorcismsthe exorcism or blessing of houses or objects, of those about to receive baptism, and of people believed to be possessed by demons. In various parts of Europe, the priest conducting the exorcism might also use the rites to banish such pre-Christian deities as Thor and Odin.

Accounts of demonic possession were commonplace in ancient Egypt, Babylonia, and Persia from the earliest times. Although there are no accounts of demonic possession or of exorcism in the Old Testament, the casting out of demons is an integral part of Jesus' ministry and it is an important aspect of the earthly assignments that he gives to his followers. ("Then he called together his twelve apostles and sent them out two by two with power over evil spirits" [Mark 6:7]. "Finally, Paulturned and said to the spirit, 'In the name of Jesus Christ, I order you to leave this girl alone!'" [Acts 16:18]. The New Testament also refers to Jewish exorcists who begin to cast out demons in Jesus' name (Mark 9:3840): "'Teacher, we saw a man using your name to force demons out of people. But he wasn't one of us, and we told him to stop.' Jesus said to his disciples: 'Don't stop him! No one who works miracles in my name will soon turn and say something bad about me. Anyone who isn't against us is for us.'"

Neither Jesus nor those who cast out demons in his name is called an "exorcist" in the New Testament, and the word "exorcise" is never used anywhere in the Bible in the context of banishing demons. By contrast to shamanic exorcisms of evil spirits in tribal cultures, which can last for hours or days; the rituals of demonic banishment in ancient Egypt or pagan Europe, which were dramatic ordeals of lengthy duration; or the rites of exorcism of the Roman Catholic Church, which can go on for many days, months, even years, Jesus' exorcisms consisted of his/her simple and direct command to the demon to leave its unwilling host body.

When Jesus triumphs easily and immediately over the evil beings that have infested a human body and soul in the many encounters described in the gospels, the possessing entities are always demons, never Satan himself. Although these are victories that diminish Satan's earthly powers, it may be that the great showdown between Jesus, the Son of God, and Satan, the Lord of the Earth, is building for the great final battle between good and evil at Armageddon at the time of the Apocalypse.

Although accounts of exorcism are not to be found in the Old Testament, later Jewish tradition employs a ritual that involves the sounding of the shofar, the reciting of prayers, and the anointing of the afflicted person with oil and water over which passages from Psalms have been read. As in Christian exorcism, it is important that the true identity of the demon be learned so that it can be addressed by name and ordered out of the body of its victim. In the Kabbalist tradition, the exorcist also demands to know the nature of the sin that led the demon to attach itself to a human body so that after expulsion the soul can be rectified and placed at rest.

John L. Allen, Jr., a staff writer for the National Catholic Reporter, acknowledged (September 1, 2000) that in a few well-publicized cases "failure to make a careful assessment of possible brain dysfunction before performing exorcism has resulted in disaster." Allen then mentions a 1976 case in which two Bavarian priests were convicted of negligent homicide when medical treatment for a 23-year-old epileptic was discontinued in favor of exorcism and the young woman died. He also refers to a 1996 case in which a Korean Protestant exorcist in California was convicted of involuntary manslaughter and sentenced to four years in prison for inadvertently trampling a woman to death during a four-hour exorcism.

Vatican exorcist Gabriele Amorth said that he always asks for a person's medical history and consults a psychiatrist if he feels such information will be useful before beginning an exorcism. He argues, however, that only performing an exorcism can provide certainty, because it is in the response to the rites that one can detect the presence of a demon.

While many priests appear to have the attitude that a little exorcism could never hurt anyone, Father Joseph Mahoney, a Catholic chaplain in Detroit who works with individuals suffering from multiple personality disorder, sees it quite differently. He believes that an exorcism can be "extremely destructive" when applied to patients with undiagnosed multiple personality disorders, and he refers to research carried out by the Royal Ottawa Hospital in Canada, which concluded that the process of exorcism could create new personalities in such subjects.

In January 1999, the Vatican issued a revised Catholic rite of exorcism for the first time since 1614, reaffirming the existence of Satan and revamping his image for the millennium. Officials stressed that the church was not revising scriptural references to the Devil or suggesting that people should cease believing in the Evil One. But priests who conduct exorcisms should now deal with evil as a force lurking within all individuals, rather than one that threatens people from without.

Father Malachi Martin, a Jesuit who served as an advisor to three popes, has authored a number of books dealing with demon possession and exorcism, including Hostage to the Devil. When he was asked why there has been such a spectacular rise in the number of people possessed by demons and in need of exorcism, he replied that it was as St. Paul (d. 6268 c.e.) had declared: "There is a spiritual war on, a war with the spiritsa war with the invisible forces that want men's souls."

Describing the process of exorcism, Martin explained that an exorcism was a confrontation, not a mere exercise in prayer. The exorcist was at war with the demon. Once begun, the process must be finished. If the exorcist should stop the rites for any reason, the demon will pursue him.

The exorcism continues with a kind of conversation between the demon and the exorcist, who is attempting to learn as quickly as possible the demon's name. Often the entity's name is a reflection or a symbol of that demon's function, and it must be forced to admit it.

The demon systematically ridicules human love and faith and constantly probes the exorcist for any signs of weakness, any area of his past that might be open to reproach. Objects in the room may move, windows shatter, doors open and close. "At a certain moment," Martin told journalist Wen Smith, "everybody in the room knows there's something in the room that wants you dead. It's a horrible feeling knowing that unless something happens, you are going to dienow."

Martin freely admitted that not all exorcisms end in triumph for the exorcist. Sometimes the demon remains in control and the victim remains possessed. Even when the demon is expelled from its unwilling human host, it may still wander about seeking other vulnerable men and women to inhabit. And the exorcist himself may continue to pay a price for interfering in the demon's possession of its host body. Martin said that he had been flung out of bed, knocked off stools, and had his shoulder brokenreminders that the demon was still around and very angry with him.

On September 22, 2000, the 1973 horror film The Exorcist was rereleased with added footage that had been excised from the original, and priests across the nation braced themselves for a tidal wave of cases of alleged demonic possession. Arguably the most frightening movie ever made, the film was based on the best-selling novel by William Peter Blatty and was directed by William Friedkin. As many motion picture reviewers and commentators have discussed, the film presentation of demonic possession touched a kind of collective primal fear in its audiences that was made all the more horrible by the fact that the victim was a smiling, cherubic, innocent young girl. Demons became all the more real when people realized that possession could occur to their child, to their spouse, even to them. Father Merrin, the exorcist in the film, uses the actual Roman Ritual of exorcism that was created by the Roman Catholic Church in 1614, and the repetitious chanting of the actors performing the rites gave the presentation an added aura of reality and of participation in a supernatural event.

Reverend Bob Larson, an evangelical preacher and author who runs an exorcism ministry in Denver, told the New York Times (November 28, 2000) that he had 40 exorcism teams across the country and that his goal was that "no one should ever be more than a day's drive from a city where you can find an exorcist." Larson could not see why anyone would be "freaked out" over the idea of an exorcism: "It's in the Bible. Christ taught it."

Michael W. Cuneo, a Fordham University sociologist, has been studying the subject of exorcisms for many years. His research indicates that as recently as the 1960s, exorcism in the United States was nearly completely abandoned as a church rite. Then, in 1973, the motion picture The Exorcist changed that. By the mid-1980s, there was a "proliferation of exorcisms being performed by evangelical Protestants." In the 1990s, Cuneo says that there is an "underground network" of exorcists numbering in the hundreds, and a "bewildering variety of exorcisms being performed."

Reverend Martin Marty, a Lutheran minister and an analyst of religious trends and customs in the United States, commented that exorcisms were "all over the place" and the driving out of evil spirits has a long and varied history. Marty noted that the godparents at the baptismal service in many Christian faiths are asked, on behalf of the child they sponsor, if they renounce the devil and all his works and ways. That, he explained, is a mild version of exorcism. And exorcism is a smaller part of modern Western religions than it was in ancient Babylon, Egypt, and Greece. There are witchdoctors in African societies who perform exorcisms, medicine people among Native American tribes who are exorcists, and shamans throughout Asia who banish evil spirits.

As long as there are human beings who believe in supernatural powers, there will be exorcists who will be summoned to rid the innocent of the demons who have possessed them. A survey of its readers conducted by Self magazine in 1997 revealed that 65 percent of those surveyed believed in the Devil; and the results of a Gallup poll released in June 2001 indicated that 41 percent of adult Americans believe that the Devil or his demons can possess humans.

Delving Deeper

Bamberger, Bernard J. Fallen Angels. New York: Jewish Publication Society, Barnes & Noble, 1995.

Blatty, William Peter. The Exorcist. New York: Bantam Books, 1972.

Dickason, C. Fred. Demon Possession & The Christian. Westchester, Ill.: Crossway Books, 1989.

McGinn, Bernard. Antichrist: Two Thousand Years of the Human Fascination with Evil. San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1994.

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.

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exorcism (ĕk´sôrsĬz´əm), ritual act of driving out evil demons or spirits from places, persons, or things in which they are thought to dwell. It occurs both in primitive societies and in the religions of sophisticated cultures. The term is applied to all those acts that seek to dispel or frighten away demons or spirits, as distinguished from those rites that aim at propitiating or evoking their assistance (see magic and shaman). Exorcism may be applied to a particular person or thing or may be used in a more general way. In central Europe during Walburga's night (or Walpurgishnacht, May 1), the traditional witches' sabbath, witches and demons are exorcised from the town by use of holy water, incense, and loud noises of all kinds. The scriptural justification for exorcism is found throughout the New Testament, and many instances of Jesus' ability to cast out devils are recorded.

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"exorcism." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . 10 Dec. 2017 <>.

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"exorcism." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Retrieved December 10, 2017 from


exorcism expulsion of an evil spirit by adjuration, etc. XIV. — ecclL. exorcismus — ecclGr. exorkismós, f. exorkizein, f. EX-2 + hórkos oath; see -ISM.
So exorcist XIV. exorcize XV. — F. or ecclL.

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"exorcism." The Concise Oxford Dictionary of English Etymology. . 10 Dec. 2017 <>.

"exorcism." The Concise Oxford Dictionary of English Etymology. . (December 10, 2017).

"exorcism." The Concise Oxford Dictionary of English Etymology. . Retrieved December 10, 2017 from


Exorcism (Gk., exorkosis, ‘out-oath’). The removing of that which has taken possession of a person or object or building. This is usually taken to be an evil spirit or demon.

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"Exorcism." The Concise Oxford Dictionary of World Religions. . 10 Dec. 2017 <>.

"Exorcism." The Concise Oxford Dictionary of World Religions. . (December 10, 2017).

"Exorcism." The Concise Oxford Dictionary of World Religions. . Retrieved December 10, 2017 from