However, according to the Catholic Church, demonic or evil spirit possession and activity are on the rise.
Unlike the exorcisms depicted in movies, some exorcisms of those possessed can take a long time to conclude.
There are degrees of possession and some people who seek exorcism are on the path of possession but haven’t completely given over their free will.
Several real life cases of possession have been documented and turned into movies.
The Possessions of Anneliese Michel
The most recent exorcist movie based on real life events is “The Exorcism of Emily Rose”. The story was loosely based on the true story of a German woman named Anneliese Michel (1).
Anneliese was 16 when she was first diagnosed with “temporal lobe epilepsy” and by age 20 her condition had worsened. Medication no longer helped.
She and her family began to believe she was possessed and requested an exorcism intervention. She died as a result of malnutrition and dehydration. Her parents and the priests involved in her exorcism were charged with “negligent homicide” (2).
The Exorcist, Inspired by the Possession of Robbie Doe
Perhaps the most well-known documented case of possession was that of a young boy in 1949. A 1973 movie “The Exorcist” was based on the 1971 novel by the same title that used real life events to inspire a fictional tale (3).
The case of “Roland Doe” or “Robbie Mannheim” from Maryland (pseudos used to protect the child) revolved around a series of documented exorcisms by Jesuit priests.
Robbie’s case was just one of three at the time in the US that the Catholic Church has sanctioned. There were 48 witnesses of the exorcisms, 9 of them Jesuit priests (4).
Signs of Possession
Not just any priest can undertake an exorcism. The Roman Catholic Church must first authorize it (5).
The Church lists the following as “indicators of possible demonic possession”:
–> Aversion to anything holy.
–> Knowledge of hidden or remote things without prior knowledge.
–> Profuse blasphemy and/or sacrilege.
–> Speaking foreign or ancient languages with no prior knowledge.
–> Supernatural abilities and strength.
In 1999, the Vatican guidelines stated, “the person who claims to be possessed must be evaluated by doctors to rule out a mental or physical illness.”
Until recently, real demonic possession was viewed by the Catholic officials as rare and recognized that mental illness and/or drugs were most often the cause. So what changed over the past few years?
Requests for Exorcisms on Rise
According to Catholic Culture and an online publication created by Catholic World News (CWN) “an independent Catholic news service staffed by lay Catholic journalists,” the demand for exorcists is on the rise. The International Association of Exorcists (IAE) attributes the increased activity to a growing interest in the “occult” worldwide (6).
In November 2014, the CWN reported on the October 2014, 12th annual conference of the
International Association of Exorcists (IAE) meeting held in Rome. Dr. Valter Cascioli, spokesman for IAE, explained, “…disturbances of extraordinary demonic activity is on the rise.” He called the change a “pastoral emergency”.
The IAE has 250 exorcists worldwide and has reported an increase in demonic activity without any significant association to specific cultures or geographic areas.
Dr. Cascioli reported this year’s conference had an increase in the number of cardinals and bishops asking to participate. He stated that the reason was due to the increasing amount of demonic activity being reported.
Speculation Why the Requests for Exorcisms
The Catholic News Agency (CNA) reported the reason for the increase in demonic activity was two-fold. On one side of the coin there is a decrease in faith while, on the other side, there is an increase in the interest in the occult.
Cascioli pointed to Ouija board use and séances as being some of the most common areas being explored by people. He believes these are gateways for Satan, demons and evil spirits to enter into this world and the lives of those practicing these occult arts (7).
Many people, the CNA explains, are drawn to these activities out of “seemingly innocent curiosity.” Cascioli advised that any type of participation, even passive can have catastrophic results. He further advised that believers should never participate in such activities.
Cascioli explained that the countries without exorcists experience demonic activity that has then spread worldwide. He emphasizes that it’s “not a socio-cultural phenomenon, it is present all over the world, and that tells us a lot.”
References & Image Credits:
(1) The Exorcism of Emily Rose
(2) Anneliese Michel
(3) The Exorcist
(4) Exorcism of Roland Doe
(5) Exorcism in the Catholic Church
(6) Catholic Culture
(7) Catholic News Agency
(8) Jon Grado via Compfight cc
(9) Exorcist 2010 via photopin (license)
(10) Somebody call an exorcist! via photopin (license)