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 understood.’’
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 disgrace
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
EVP Encyclopedia of Occultism & Parapsychology • 5th Ed.
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, particularly
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, Aseroth,
Baalimm, Chamo, Beelphegor, Astarte, Bethage, Phogor,
Moloch, Asmodaeus, Bele, Nergel, Melchon, Asima, Bel, Nexroth,
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 devils—Beelzebub, Leviathan, Baalberith, Asmodeus,
and Astaroth—as 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
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
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 selfaccusations
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
‘‘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
Encyclopedia of Occultism & Parapsychology • 5th Ed. Exorcism
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
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. Cornwall,
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: Causeway
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.