Lucifer. Satan. Beelzebub. Baal Davar. Leviathan. Antichrist. Beherit. Iblis. Leonard. (Leonard?) Prince of Darkness. The Devil. Axl Rose. (Oh wait—maybe not that last one.)
Whatever you want to call him, this moody, pitchfork-wielding, horn-sporting, fire-breathing, guy is the star of the show (him and his pals) when it comes to exorcisms and other rites involving the removal of devils/demons from bodies/souls/buildings/rooms.
The word exorcism comes from the Greek exorkosis, which means “out-oath,” and an exorcism is basically a spiritual battle fought against demons that are oppressing, attacking, or living (a relative term) in someone or something.
When the devil decides to act like a squatter and take up illegal residence in some poor slob’s body or house, who’re you gonna call? Ghostbusters? Probably not.
So who can fight this battle against evil? Superman? Spiderman? The Hulk? Mystique? Elastic Girl? Captain James T. Kirk? No, no, no, no, no and NO. Their powers of flight, super stamina, extra strength, shape shifting, body elasticity and swordplay don’t stand a chance in hell (literally) against the powers of the devil himself (though the good captain’s teleporter might come in handy if he had to beat a hasty retreat).
There’s only one man—and yes, it’s almost always a man—whose job it is to take on the devil inside through any means necessary, be it fisticuffs or fountains of holy water: That’s right - your local Exorcist. This guy is an expert at what he does. During the day he may be a mild-mannered parish priest dutifully performing weddings, hearing confessions, teaching catechism, and living up to his vows of poverty, chastity and obedience, but when the phone rings its particularly ominous ring (the priest sets up a special ring tone for calls of this nature) his job changes. A soul is in danger and our hero has just the tools to tackle this enemy: permission from his bishop, notes from a two-day conference in Baltimore and a certificate showing that he’s a card-carrying member of Athenaeum Pontificium Regina Apostolorum, the Vatican-backed college in Rome.
A priest who has expertise at performing exorcisms first must be able to ascertain whether or not the afflicted person (or structure) really is possessed by demons or if this person’s self- or layperson-observed signs of possession can also be attributed to non-possession reasons. (Like doctors, exorcists must subscribe to a “first do no harm” oath, and don’t want to invite a devil in who isn’t even there to begin with. Calling his name too much might do just that.)
Some behaviors in people that may be mimicking possession:
Character shifts and mood swings (typical in teenagers, menopausal women, men whose glory days were 40 years ago) Inner voices (history of an over-protective mother, severe education involving nuns)
Sudden onset of physical ailments (middle age, hypochondriasis)
Poor concentration (too much television, not enough book reading)
Low energy levels (late night partying, and again, middle age)
So you see, our hero has got to be able to discern what the “host” might be sure is demon possession from everyday modern ailments.
Once he’s sure that the devil is throwing a kegger inside his host (be it human or structural), it’s time to bring out the big guns (though truth be told—for obvious reasons—there aren’t really any guns used):
Holy water - This can’t actually cast the demon out but it can prevent him from moving around to other rooms in the house. The priest blesses the water (turning regular H20 into some sort of magic protection), and then wets his fingers with it and dabs it across the top part of all the doorways and windows of the room where the possessed person is. The water creates a barrier that won’t let the evil spirits move freely about the rest of the house. Note that this also works with salt (Kosher is best).
Banishing ritual - The priest writes down the problem (bad-tempered demons, devils making the possessed play Metal rock in thin-walled apartment buildings) on a piece of parchment (paper may work), concentrates on it while in the room with the afflicted and then burns it.
Counting Remedy - This is a remedy that’s easy to do using just about any type of grain—yes, grain—that the host has in his pantry. Devils, demons, ghosts, etc. apparently do not like to count for counting’s sake. So the priest grabs a handful of rice—maybe quinoa, maybe couscous—and spills it on the ground in front of the body that the devil’s taken over. When the demon is forced to count these tiny particles and not be able to pick them up as he goes, this causes him great anguish and frustration—so much so that he may get all annoyed and give up and leave his host’s body altogether, perhaps skulking off to find someone who won’t force him to count meaningless foodstuffs.
Talk - Satan (and his ilk) are often really good talkers. They like to communicate their every dreadful deed and nasty thought they have. They enjoy conjuring up the voices of dead mothers who rail at their sons for letting them rot away in an old folks’ home without so much as a visit. They get a real kick out of shocking the loved ones of the person whose body they’ve taken over with foul language (not to mention lascivious acts). When attempting to have a heart-to-heart with the offending devil, the priest knows that trickery and skullduggery are in the air and he knows not listen to a word the chatterbox says.
Instead, the exorcist must read certain passages from the Bible (which really irks the demons), hold up a big Crucifix often and try to get the demon to tell him what his name is and then, you know, use his powers of persuasion (which are too many to mention here).
Some folks believe that that since the word “exorcism” doesn’t occur in the bible it must be a word not of the Lord but of… the Devil. (And some people reading this may think that the Devil came up with that idea in order to avoid as many exorcisms as possible.)
One thing to consider: Why does God allow a believer in Him to have to deal with these pesky monsters? Apparently to draw the oppressed people closer to him, to enable them to turn to Him in prayer and renew their trust in Him. (Seems a bit passive aggressive, but whatever.)