It has been requested that I write a post about exorcism. I will do one better. I will write a post about the three worst degrees/levels of demonic activity, and then I will write about exorcism. Note that this is not to be considered definitive. Though I have done a good amount of research on this topic, I am by no means anywhere near an expert. One must also keep in mind that no case of demonic activity or exorcism is identical. Each case has its own unique manifestations, happenings, etc.
The normal demonic activity that absolutely no one escapes is temptation. Not all temptation to sin comes from demons, but there are a lot of temptations that do have demonic origins. As I said, no one avoids temptation. Even Our Lord was tempted by Satan.
The lowest degree of what you might consider abnormal, severe demonic activity is demonic obsession. Demonic obsession can have many causes. Some things that can cause one to suffer from demonic obsession are obvious things like witchcraft, occultism, satanism, sexual immorality, etc. Other, less obvious, sources of demonic obsession are things like playing the Ouija board, listening to certain types of music, watching immoral television programs and movies, immoral video games, etc. One can even unknowingly have a curse placed over them by a witch. One can eat food cursed by a witch. Apostasy, schism, and heresy can also lead to demonic obsession.
The symptoms of demonic obsession can vary, but they are typically outside of the person. For example, one might place his car keys in their usual spot. No one else is around, but moments later the keys are missing. After some searching they may be located in an odd place. One suffering from demonic obsession may experience phenomena like doors opening and closing on their own; lights turning on and off on their own; disembodied, often hostile voices; cabinet doors opening; dishes being broken; etc.
The second level/degree of demonic activity is demonic oppression (also called infestation). If obsession is scary, oppression is downright terrifying. At this point, the victim not only continues to experience the symptoms of obsession, but new symptoms begin to manifest. The victim starts to experience attacks in and on his person. With oppression, one may experience physical attacks from an unseen assailant; unexplained bouts of depression, rage, confusion, etc. which do not respond to psychiatric and psychological treatment; and many other very serious symptoms. The causes of demonic oppression are the same as obsession. The same goes for possession.
The third and most severe type of demonic activity is possession. In possession a demon (usually it is multiple demons) possess the body of the victim. Only the body of the victim can be possessed, not the soul. Further, the word victim in possession is not really the best term to use. No one can be possessed without their free consent. Admittedly, this consent is generally given after the will is broken through the other two levels of demonic activity, or through the individual being tricked or careless.
There are many signs of possession. Really, this is the easiest activity to recognize. Still, many who are possessed are labeled by doctors as insane. It should be obvious that a possessed individual is not insane, because they do not respond to treatment. This is one sign of possession. Other signs can be unnatural knowledge (knowledge of hidden things); speaking in languages the individual could not have known otherwise; levitation; unnatural strength; speaking in unnatural voices; aversion to blessed objects, people, places, and names.
Many people think exorcisms are only performed on those who are possessed. This is not true. First, even when you are being tempted to sin, you should do something to hinder the work of the demons. This is where prayer comes in. Specifically, prayers of exorcism are particularly effective. Of course, the Mass and Rosary usually works, but there are others. Two of my favorites are the Prayer to St. Michael the Archangel and the Anima Christi.
For the three degrees of demonic activity discussed above, exorcism is usually required. Exorcism is not always as dramatic as in the movies. Many times, the demons try to stay mute and not manifest themselves. Yet, often, they are violent.
There are different types/rites of exorcism. The Minor Rite of exorcism can be done by a priest with permission from the Ordinary (bishop). The Major Rite of exorcism can only be performed with permission from the Vatican. Priests who are going to perform an exorcism are recommended to first go to Confession (or, at least, make a sincere act of contrition), and, if possible, celebrate the Mass. The one upon whom an exorcism is to be performed should also receive the sacraments.
Most of my readers have no doubt heard about the movie “The Exorcist”. This movie is loosely based on a true story. In the real case, the possessed was a young teenage boy from Maryland. His family was Lutheran, and the boy was unbaptized. Most cases of demonic activity take multiple exorcisms. This case was no different, and the exorcisms were most effective only after the boy began studying to receive Baptism. The effectiveness increased after the boy entered the Catholic Church. He had become possessed by playing the Ouija board, and he was not freed until St. Michael the Archangel aided the boy.
During the course of the exorcisms, the demon possessing the boy had lied about when and how he would leave. Finally, the demon revealed that he would leave only when the boy spoke a specific word. Unfortunately, the demon prevented the boy from speaking. So, one day, St. Michael himself spoke the word, Dominus, through the boy.
Many have no doubt heard of the movie “Exorcism of Emily Rose”. This case was very loosely based on a true case from Germany. Just as in the movie, the young girl died under possession. Not everyone who dies under possession, however, is damned. It is based on the situation. Only God knows. Exorcism is not always successful.
During exorcism the exorcist asks how many demons possess the individual, and what their names are. This is important, because to know a demon’s name is to have power over it. Other than this, the exorcist should avoid conversing with the demon, except to find out the demon’s or demons’ weakness. Some have a particular aversion to holy water. Others really hate the Blessed Sacrament. Others really hate the name of Mary, or St. Joseph, or St. Michael the Archangel. There are almost infinite possibilities.
If you wish to learn more about exorcism and demonic activity, there are a few suggestions I have. You can go to http://www.catholic.com, or even Catholic Online at http://www.catholic.org. “The Exorcist” was not condemned by the Church, but the movie is not accurate enough to the real case for my taste. In my opinion, the best movie on exorcism is “The Rite”. There are many books one could read. My favorites are “An Exorcist: Stories” and “An Exorcist: More Stories”, by Fr. Gabriele Amorth. Fr. Amorth is the former exorcist for the diocese of Rome.
Peace in Christ,
David J. Pollard
Worldwide Catholic Solidarity