- The takeover and control of a person’s mind and body by a DEMON, condemned soul, ghost, spirit, or deity. There are different forms of possession; most are not demonic. While possession is a universal and ancient belief, the approaches to it differ widely. In Christianity, possession is associated with malevolent spirits under the direction of the DEVIL that threaten not only a person’s health and life but his or her afterlife as well.Since ancient times, there have been beliefs that gods and other spirits interfere in human affairs on a daily basis. The spirits may possess a person’s mind and/or body and cause him or her to carry out certain acts for the possessing entity’s own purpose. While possession usually is regarded as undesirable, some traditions hold that it shows the favor of the gods. Mediums, channelers, and trance prophets undergo a type of temporary and voluntary possession, in which they become a vehicle for discarnate entities to communicate through them. Another type of voluntary possession is spirit, such as the Holy Spirit or Holy Ghost experienced as a religious altered state of consciousness.Anything might be blamed on or credited to a possessing entity. Most possessions are temporary and end when the goal of the possessing entity is accomplished, but sometimes the entities present an ongoing problem that requires stronger measures. If possession creates problems, remedies of EXORCISM, the expulsion or banishing of the entity, are sought from a trained practitioner, such as a priest, magician, or other expert. Some forms of possession are more psychiatric in nature, causing mental disturbances and personality changes.Demonic PossessionIn demonic possession, a demon takes up residence in a person’s body and influences or controls his or her thoughts, words, and actions. A possessed person can seem normal for periods of time and then exhibit bizarre, uncontrolled behavior attributed to the demon. During the demonic episodes, the victim is entranced, and, when they end, there is a transition period of a return to normalcy.Possessed persons usually are under the influence of more than one demon. Unless they are exorcised, the demons cause extreme deterioration of health to the point of death, sometimes by suicide.According to Catholic theology, demons cannot possess a person’s soul, but they can influence a person to take actions that jeopardize his or her status in the afterlife, so that the soul goes to HELL. Souls of the damned already in hell are capable of possessing a living person in much the same way as demons.Christian History of Demonic PossessionThere are few references to evil spirits in the Old Testament. In each case, the evil spirit was sent by God to punish and torment people. 1 Samuel 16:14–16 describes how an indwelling evil spirit was sent by the Lord tormented Saul, who was relieved when David played his harp: Now the Spirit of the LORD had departed from Saul, and an evil spirit from the LORD tormented him. Saul’s attendants said to him, “See, an evil spirit from God is tormenting you. Let our lord command his servants here to search for someone who can play the harp. He will play when the evil spirit from God comes upon you, and you will feel better.”Demons and possession play a more prominent role in the New Testament. The Gospels and Acts tell how JESUS healed by casting out “unclean spirits,” a customary practice for healers at the time. Demons were believed to cause illness as well as their own torments. One who consulted Jesus was a deranged man who was possessed by demons who identified themselves as LEGION, after the unit of Roman soldiers numbering 6,000. Seeing that their possession of the man was at an end, the demons begged Jesus to send them into a nearby herd of swine, and he did. The pigs went berserk and plunged over a cliff to their deaths, taking the demons with them (Luke 8:30).In no case in Scripture was a possessed person considered responsible for his or her condition on account of sin. As with Legion, most of the cases cited involve problems and illnesses caused by the possessing spirits. Luke 9:38–43 describes a case of apparent epilepsy in a boy who experiences convulsions believed to be caused by a demon. Luke 11:14 describes a person who is rendered mute because of a demon:Jesus was driving out a demon that was mute. When the demon left, the man who had been mute spoke, and the crowd was amazed. But some of them said, “By Beelzebub, the prince of demons, he is driving out demons.” Luke 13:10–13 tells of a woman who was crippled for 18 years by a demon:On a Sabbath Jesus was teaching in one of the synagogues, and a woman was there who had been crippled by a spirit for eighteen years. She was bent over and could not straighten up at all. When Jesus saw her, he called her forward and said to her, “Woman, you are set free from your infirmity.” Then he put his hands on her, and immediately she straightened up and praised God. Faith makes a woman worthy of having her demonpossessed daughter exorcised in Matthew 15:21–28: Leaving that place, Jesus withdrew to the region of Tyre and Sidon. A Canaanite woman from that vicinity came to him, crying out, “Lord, Son of David, have mercy on me! My daughter is suffering terribly from demon-possession.” Jesus did not answer a word. So his disciples came to him and urged him, “Send her away, for she keeps crying out after us.”He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel.”The woman came and knelt before him. “Lord, help me!” she said.He replied, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to their dogs.”“Yes, Lord,” she said, “but even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” Then Jesus answered, “Woman, you have great faith! Your request is granted.” And her daughter was healed from that very hour.By the end of the New Testament period, demons were equated with the wicked FALLEN ANGELS cast out of heaven with LUCIFER. Early Christian theologians considered possession to be orchestrated by the Devil and carried out by the demons who served him. Demons plagued the holy, such as saints, and fooled the innocent. In the Middle Ages, demonic possession became a major concern of the church. Anyone found showing signs of unusual behavior or change in personality was assumed to be possessed by the Devil. During the Inquisition, possession became a heresy—a reason to be arrested, tried, and, if found guilty, executed. Theologians said that the Devil worked through the agency of witches; the practice of WITCHCRAFT also became a heresy. Witches were accused of using black MAGIC or animal FAMILIARs to send demons into people. Demons also preyed upon the weaknesses of people—their lust, greed, anger, and so forth— to find an entry point for possession. Even eating certain foods, such as APPLEs, could result in possession, for demons rode along into the body on the food. The apple was considered a favorite demonic vehicle because it was the fruit involved in the fall of Adam and Eve. In 1585, the townspeople of Annecy, Savoy, France, became alarmed over an apple that gave out a “great and confused noise.” Believing it to be full of demons, they pushed the apple into a river.In 1614, the Catholic Church issued the RITUALE ROMANUM to standardize procedures. Part of the Rituale Romanum was especially intended for demonic possession, an all-out spiritual battle between the forces of good and evil. Revisions have been made to the text since then, and it continues in modern use. Only a priest, preferably one who is trained in exorcism, can perform it. The Protestant Reformation rejected the idea of demonic possession, although in the 16th and 17th centuries, there were famous possession cases, many in France, which served as exorcism power contests between Catholics and Protestants to sway the faithful and win converts.Demonic possession cases continue in present times. Church attention to possession cases dropped in the 20th century. In the 1970s, public attention was renewed by William Peter Blatty’s novel and film The Exorcist, based on a real case in 1949 (see ST. LOUIS EXORCISM CASE). The numbers of reported possession cases began to rise. A sharp increase was seen at the turn of the 21st century, perhaps in response to the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center in New York City, and rising global fears over terrorism and war. The church increased the training of exorcists (see International Association of Exorcists). Catholic clergy dealt with most cases, but some Protestant and evangelical ministers perform varying types of exorcism. Lay demonologists also investigate cases and work with clergy in exorcisms, usually as assistants or witnesses.Causes of Demonic PossessionAccording to the Catholic Church, the chief causes of
Encyclopedia of Demons and Demonology. Rosemary Ellen Guiley. 2009.