The true story of exorcisms

A Colombian girl screams in pain and fear as she is allegedly possessed by demons during an exorcism ritual performed at a house church in Bogotá, Colombia (Jan Sochor/Reuters)

Although cinema and popular culture made the exorcisms Often related to Catholic iconography, an exorcism can actually be any battle against evil, which can present itself in the form of a demon, spiritual impurity or simple temptation.

In fact, exorcisms have a history long before the Christianityas explained in a note from National Geographic about this theme.

The first recorded exorcisms occurred in Mesopotamia, during the first millennium BC. At that time priest-magicians called asipu they drove away and expelled the demons considered responsible for bringing disease and chaos. The asipu they were spiritual protectors and healers who used amulets, performed elaborate rituals and, when necessary, involved demonic helper figures in their efforts.

Bronze plaque with apotropaic reliefs against Lamashtu, Neo-Assyrian period (934-609 BC). The head at the top represents the demon Pazuzu, his consort and his enemy (Louvre Museum in Paris)

In the Greek-Roman era there are also records of exorcisms. The historian Josephusfrom the first century AD, told the story of Eleazara man who freed others from a demon by blowing it out of their nostrils and repeatedly calling on the name of King Solomon.

The Greek word itself daimon -from which the modern “demon” derives- referred to divine spirits and supernatural forces that could be good or malevolent forces that had to be expelled or exorcised.

The arrival of Christianity

With the growth of Christianity during the first three centuries after Christ, exorcisms became a means of uniting the Christian faithful and vindicate their beliefs in the face of religious persecution.

“As a result, the renunciation of paganism as evil became a requirement for baptism into the Christian faith. Falling back under the influence of a pagan belief was therefore akin to possession. In this context, exorcism was a voluntary mechanism used to strengthen both the Christian faith and the Christian community,” writes National Geographic.

A fresco depicting the life of Saint Paul: The Exorcism of the Slave Girl, Basilica of Saint Paul Outside the Walls, Rome (Grosby)

Likewise, in the fourth century AD, converts and would-be Christians underwent morning exorcisms diaries before baptism. On the day of baptism, a bishop expelled evil influences from them through a process called exsufflation.

Outside of baptism, priests practiced exorcism by laying hands on the possessed and commanding evil spirits to leave their bodies.

In late antiquity and early Middle Agesthe Christians They could also exorcise themselves, invoking a saint as an intercessor, going to a sanctuary and asking a sacred entity for help to get closer to God and away from evil, the magazine explains.

Exorcisms in the Middle Ages

In the Middle Ages, around the 13th century, the exorcism changed nature.

At this time, given the advance of numerous heretical sects, exorcism became a mechanism by which Christians could free themselves from “false” beliefs and demonstrate their dedication to the faith.

The purpose of exorcism also began to be formalized, thanks to the work of theologians such as Saint Thomas of Aquino (1225-1274 AD) and the publication of the first book on exorcism around the year 1400.

A Christian follower, a member of a local religious cult, shouts during a religious exorcism in a house church on March 25, 2018 in San Salvador (Jan Sochor/Getty Images)

A few decades later, during the crisis in the Catholic Church that followed the protestant reformationthe Catholic Church sanctioned the first official rite of exorcism.

In 1614 the Roman Ritual, which remained practically unchanged during the first half of the 20th century. Included Of Exorcismis et Supplicationibus Quibusdameither Of exorcisms and certain pleas and, after the reforms undertaken by the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965), was the last part of the Roman Ritual to be reviewed. The updated version was published in 1999.

The structure and formulas of the 1614 and 1999 versions of De Exorcismis et Supplicationibus Quibusdam they are very similar, although the latter reinforces the connection between baptism and exorcism.

As a result, underline National Geographiccontemporary exorcisms not only continue to mirror their ancient predecessors, but have, in many ways, come full circle.

Keep reading:

The vindication of the witches beyond the night of Halloween

A child with nightmares, exorcists and a demon-possessed murderer: “The devil forced me to kill”

The Church organizes an exorcism course to fight against the shadow of Satan, which grows with the nets