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Possession And Exorcism

The Devil made me do it. We’re looking at the long story of possession and exorcism.

In this film publicity image released by Warner Bros. Entertainment, Max Von Sydow portrays Father Merrin in a scene from "The Exorcist." (AP/Warner Bros.)

In this film publicity image released by Warner Bros. Entertainment, Max Von Sydow portrays Father Merrin in a scene from “The Exorcist.” (AP/Warner Bros.)

Demonic possession and exorcism can sound awfully medieval.  But their heyday, says my guest today, was in the same age as Sir Isaac Newton and the dawn of the Age of Reason.  On the one hand, science.  On the other, frothing seizures and shouting out the devil.

The second heyday of possession and exorcism, says scholar Brian Levack?  Well, our time.  Maybe or maybe not on your block.  But it’s back.  It’s out there.  It’s ritual reenactment, says Levack.  But of what?  And why?

This hour, On Point:  chasing the devil.  Exorcism.

-Tom Ashbrook


Brian Levack, professor of history at the University of Texas at Austin. Author of “The Devil Within: Possession and Exorcism in the Christian West.”

Brian Levack on the Current Heyday of Exorcism

We spoke today with historian Brian Levack of the University of Texas at Austin about possession and exorcism, from past centuries right up to the present day. He’s the author of the new book, “The Devil Within: Possession and Exorcism in the Christian West.”

There have been two great peaks of belief in possession and exorcism in the Christian West, Levack said: the first at the dawn of the Age of Reason, and the second we’re in the midst of right now.

Here’s Levack on the current surge in belief in demonic possession:

“It’s in communities, especially in highly religious communities, especially evangelical and charismatic religious communities, who believe in a direct relationship between demonic spirits and human beings […] and whenever you have that belief, and that is a belief that has been cultivated greatly in the late twentieth century, you’re going to get cases of demonic possession. And then you have the demand for exorcists to relieve people of these symptoms of demonic possession. You also have a number of exorcists, especially in Italy and in Latin America, and in Poland, far fewer in America – and that might help to explain why we’re not familiar with this, I don’t meet demoniacs every day! – but you have these exorcists who actually go out and drum up business. They’re celebrity exorcists. There’s one in Italy who claims to have exorcised 70,000 people!”

So what’s behind all this (if not actual demons)? Levack sees possession as a behavior based on belief that can be dispelled through the ritual and performative aspects of an exorcism.

“All possessions were sacred dramas. They were performances. The demoniacs and the exorcists, who were trying to drive out the devils, were following scripts that were encoded in their religious cultures. And these scripts were widely known, you have some of them in the Bible, but you also have all these accounts of other possessions that people read at this time. And once it was suggested that someone might be demonically possessed, you know they had fits or something like that, they would follow that script. […] Certainly the anxiety was real, and they are responding to it.”

Excerpt: ‘The Devil Within’ by Brian P. Levack

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  • Ed75

    William Peter Blatty wrote ‘The Exorcist’ to make known a real case of possession where the family went to a Lutheran pastor and the pastor, recognizing a real possession (the source of entry was a ouiji board) sent the family to a Catholic priest, who performed an exorcism over a period of months. (Not as cinematic as the movie version.) Only Catholic priests can do this, other people don’t have the power and will get hurt badly. One hair of one priest involved in that exorcism case turned white after that event. Each diocese has a priest who is assigned to do exorcisms.

    I remember an exorcist who told me that often he speaks with the evil spirit in the person. He said they weren’t so much scary as boring. In his experience they reacted strongly to the name of John Paul II. He asked one spirit why and the spirit responded that ‘he took many young people out of my hands’.

    One of the major aspects of the priesthood of Christ, which he shares with his priests, is the exorcism of evil (a salient aspect in the Gospel of Mark).

    • 1Brett1

      I was wondering what your take would be on this, Ed…I suppose if one believes in all that is Christian, one has to believe in the whole ball of wax.

    • anon

      Actually, I am very familiar with that story, since it happened in my mother’s neighborhood, and the first Catholic priest who was called was a good friend of the family. (And he did get hurt – the boy cut his forearm with the bedsprings, I think. He had a scar and always wore long sleeves after that.) 

      From what I remember hearing, the boy displayed extraordinary strength; he could lift huge, heavy pieces of furniture, etc. He also spoke fluently (including cursing) in Latin, although he apparently had never been exposed to Latin. The Catholic priest recognized what was going on and contacted more skilled priests (Jesuits from St. Louis, I think). As Ed said, they worked with the boy over a long period and were successful. I was always told that afterwards, he had forgotten everything that happened and lived a normal life. I don’t know if he ever knew that his story inspired Blatty’s book.

      • Ed75

        I listened to an interview with Mr. Blatty, he said he was a freshman at Georgetown and heard of this case, and decided later it had to be made known, as a document that supported the faith. He fictionalized enough so the child was not recognizable (but people who knew the story knew who it was). He just released a new edition/printing, about a year ago.

        • anon

          Yes, my uncle attended Georgetown in the late 1940s and arranged for the priest to speak there. But Blatty made the story quite a bit different.

    • anon

      But Ed, there are Muslims who also exorcise demons.

      • Ed75

        They no doubt say exorcism prayers and they have some effect. But they don’t have the power to exorcise the greater demons, that takes the power of ordination. And even then it’s not automatic (‘These can only be expelled by prayer and fasting ….)

        • anon

          They would disagree. And they would say that the power comes from God, not from them – or from ordination.

  • Yar

    Madalin Ciculescu, needs a new wax seal on his toilet.  Did I just exorcise his “flatulent demons?”  Come on Tom, there are real issues to cover.  Demonic possession? I define it as the love of things, when we ignore community, and put our faith in stuff, it messes with the mind.  I want to hear an hour about selling the TVA (Tennessee Valley Authority.)  Now that is demonic possession in my book.  The demon is the love of money, it is the root of all evil doers. This show looks like it will miss the point.  If the Feds want to sell the TVA then the social security administration should buy it.  They have the ‘money’, lets talk about trading work over time!  Fools, let those that have ears, hear.

  • Ed75

    But why would people act possessed if it could get them killed? Still, real possession or oppression is not a common occurrence at any time, and is more common in primitive societies.

    • 1Brett1

      Isn’t one explanation mental illness, Ed? If someone is so deluded, then…

      Often, people with schizophrenia will believe someone other than themselves or something else is controlling them. It is very common. Add to the situation those people around them who are not ill who believe in demonic possession, and you have a very volatile situation where hysteria meets mental illness. 

      • Ed75

        I agree, many times mental illness was no doubt intrepreted as possession, possession or obsession isn’t that common. But sometimes it’s the real thing.

        ‘Do not be glad that the demons obey you, but be glad that your names are written in the book of life.’ Jesus, to the Apostles (paraphrase).

  • gemli

    The real story is not about exorcism, but about the credulousness and cruelty that served as an excuse to torture the mentally ill for centuries, under the auspices of the Catholic Church.  If there is a devil to be exorcised, it’s in the mind of the superstitious and the gullible.  This is just more proof that human beings are half a chromosome away from a chimp.

  • DrewInGeorgia

    Maybe exorcists should focus on casting out ignorance.

    • http://www.facebook.com/leonard.bast.90 Leonard Bast

      They certainly would never lack work.

      • Gary Trees

        AW SNAP!

  • Wahoo_wa

    Exorcisms are performed by numerous religions.  I hope this doesn’t become an exercise singling out and demonizing (pun intended) the Catholic Church.

    • Wahoo_wa

      …and ritualistic exorcism did not begin with the Catholic church either.

  • jefe68

    There has been a spate of witch burnings and beheadings in Papua New Guinea. These incidents are very disturbing as are the images that accompany the articles.



  • Gary Trees

    Would love to hear this tie in with the Amazonian people of Peru and the use of ayahuasca by their shamans… An interesting aspect of the ayasqueros procedure is an actual physical byproduct of the exorcism/cleansing.  Although this byproduct may simply be vomit; most participants in the ceremony describe this event as being the critical moment of the ritual. 

  • Jeffrey Rich

    It’s far more common than you may think. There are hundreds, if not a few thousand shamanic practitioners in America who are trained to deal with people who are possessed/obsessed, I among them. Since we are energetic beings, it’s not that difficult for other beings to get snarled in our energy fields and not be able to get away. My teacher brings her perspective from working with the lamas in Nepal, one of many traditional cultures that works with depossession all the time. Google ‘compassionate depossession’ and you’ll find more. Mostly, possessing beings don’t ‘control’, but they do influence thoughts, behaviors, moods. I’m one of the people out there doing them, and I’m not a Catholic priest, and I’ve not gotten hurt. One other commenter is correct: the beings are often boring – they’re just stuck here and want to be elsewhere where they belong. 

    • J__o__h__n


    • 1Brett1

      If a person has schizophrenia, severe bipolar, or is severely deluded in some way, no manner of “compassionate ‘depossession’” exorcism such as you suggest will help. 

      As far as the “…want to be elsewhere where they belong part,” where do these beings naturally belong? Is there a nether-region in which these entities dwell?…perhaps I’m asking this rhetorically as, by virtue of your statement, you do ostensibly believe that demons of some sort “dwell” in some world.

      • Jeffrey Rich

        The Tibetan Book of the Dead talks about these regions and these beings, and about the mechanics of death and transition. 

        I don’t believe in ‘demons’. I DO believe in power-hungry beings who have figured out the game and manage to acquire power, overshadowing the person they are obsessing. They’ve lost their way, forgotten who they are. Deposession helps remind them who they are and moves them along to whatever the next stop is for them.

        • 1Brett1

          Yes, I’m familiar with the Tibetan Book of the Dead. 

          If these beings exist, how is it that you (or anyone) know they have forgotten who they are or have lost their way? Maybe they were inherently undesirable to begin with? What makes these beings develop a kind of amnesia regarding their so-called natural state of goodness and causes them to have “lost their way” or to have “forgotten”? 

    • SuzanneConnollyNYC

      I agree with Jeffrey. I work daily in my full time practice in Manhattan, NY, with people who have suffered with possession. It IS more common that you’d think. In my experience, it accounts for about half of all the ‘energy blocks’ in my clients. For those who have no experience of it, it might seem remote and unreal, but for many of those who have had these beings removed from their energy system/bodies, the relief is instant and life-changing. Releasing beings from the body means releasing the emotions and energy that that being is carrying, which includes, but isn’t limited to, depression, low self worth, insecurity, anxiety, etc.  Clients often find that behavior they would describe as “not me” or episodes where they are “not feeling myself” ends after depossession. One client who experienced an unlike-her passion for shopping in high-end shops (costing her thousands of dollars each week) had her compulsion end after removing a being who relished that behavior.

      It should be noted that ‘demonic’ possession is extremely rare and, while not all possessing beings are human, the majority of possessing beings who are human are either people known to the client or people who have had similar experiences to them.  Usually they are benign, comfortable and passive residing where they are and, often, don’t know that they are dead.  In the cases where I have come across more negative spirits in clients, in talking with these beings it’s apparent that their intention is to subvert the will of the client, keep their self-worth low using negative mental mantras and so forth, for the purpose of domination or because they have been told to do this. Again, using compassionate depossession, releases these beings to where they belong and frees them from the body of the client.

      Finally, there seems to be a debate in these threads about the confusion between mental illness and possession or over-shadowing by foreign beings in the energy system. There are tried and true methods for trained shamanic practitioners to see the difference between the two.  It is my experience that shamanic practitioners I have worked with refer mentally ill clients who approach them to psychological professionals for different treatment that will best serve them.

      • 1Brett1

        Maybe (in some cases, anyway) someone with, say, an eating disorder or a obsession/compulsion of some kind fails to recognize his/her ability to exert his/her own inner strengths, and at some point he/she finally accepts that he/she has the power within himself/herself, and he/she is being given a kind of permission (by you) to rely in himself/herself. Maybe this explains phenomena such as the drug abuser who relapses several times then finally ends his/her addiction with little effort compared to earlier efforts, or the compulsive shopper? 

        I’ve seen people with severe OCD, for example, who at some point give up medication and develop strategies of empowerment (through counseling and practice) and realign themselves absent of the debilitating effects of the condition. 

        I am curious what happens if a “patient” says to you, “this isn’t working”? In western psychology or psychiatry, the clinician will try different approaches or different medication if one isn’t consistently working. Are there different approaches that can be used by practitioners of your discipline that can be tried if one thing doesn’t work?

  • MarkVII88

    Could this idea of demonic possession have anything to do with the fact that the “temporary insanity” defense is much harder to pull-off successfully?  Or perhaps the resurgent focus on mental illness following the recent spate of highly publicized shootings?

  • jkwalker111

    I know there’s a theory that an outbreak of hallucinogenic grain fungus brought on the behavior interpreted as possession in the Salem Witch Trials.  

    I’m skeptical about real “possessions” but am more concerned that people with mental illness are either i)kept from useful evidence based therapy or worse ii) otherwise injured/traumatized by well intentioned people performing “exorcism” on them.

  • Jim

    seriously… when i was driving to work today, i was hoping onpoint would do a programme on paranormal acitivities…


    i can’t believe they are doing it today…

    i had some experience with paranormal activities, but that was in a resort in indonesia… i was really happy to leave that place.

    • J__o__h__n

      Don’t you mean you had a vision?

    • 1Brett1

      Maybe the show is a result of your channeling powers!  ;-)

  • Ray in VT

    If the heyday was the age of Newton, depending upon what exact date or range he is talking about, then that could somewhat correspond with the tail end of the witch craze.  I wonder if exorcism, to some extent, rose to prominence as an alternative to torture and execution during that time.  Also, there was a woman tried for witchcraft, among other things, in Britain during World War II.  Just FYI on that last one.

  • Ellen Dibble

    Perhaps someone could exorcise the “animal spirits” from Wall Street…

    • 1Brett1

      Well…I was going to proclaim your comment to be off-topic, however… ;-)

      • Ellen Dibble

        The degree of enthusiasm and greed, combined, sometimes seems just exactly a kind of possession.  Maybe a heart attack will bring it into control.  Maybe not.  Again, extreme enthusiasm can be seen as religious.  Religious ecstasy.  I think I can tell the difference.

  • d clark

    I’m listening to this program with ‘Tubular Bells’ in the background. But seriously maybe the Shakesperean line is in order- “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,
    Than are dreamt of in your philosophy”.

  • Wahoo_wa

    “I don’t encounter it in my daily life…”  So therefore a surge does not exist?  What a narrow-minded point of view.

  • Ellen Dibble

    It seems to me if you believe someone can curse or be cursed, then you also believe that curse can be exorcised, or released.  The typo in the excerpt above about “exercising” the demons is very interesting.  Sort of like the cure for a phobia.  Exercise it.  But generally, if you can’t control the tantruming child, you can try to control the witch who made the child so upset.  It seems to me a psychological issue, what is impulsiveness, which sometimes we honor and seek — think certain religious trances, or sleep itself, or the “high” that certain drugs are said to enable.

  • 1Brett1

    I don’t know about exorcism, however I do know a few people who are EXERCISING their demons.

    I am reminded of one of the old SNL skits about the Medieval barber…Steve Martin said something to the effect at the end of one particular skit, “we scientists used to believe that an insane person was the result of demonic possession; we now know that it is the result of trolls living in the person’s stomach!”

    • Ellen Dibble

      A three-hour walk will exorcise an awful lot of ill feeling.  Instead, you have blisters and charley-horse.

  • Ellen Dibble

    I typed a master’s thesis for a social work student which was all about an exorcist in Boston, exactly how she worked, how she gained the skill, and so forth.  The student offered to bring me to her, but I declined.  I certainly had problems, but they were toxins in my bones, though I hadn’t gotten any specific diagnoses at that time; I had reason to suspect it.  Cancer was only the least of my issues.  Anyway, it was interesting to see a psychological assessment of it, open-minded.  Jesus too was said to do similar miracles, right?

    • vito33

      Do you remember “The Mad Russian” in the Back Bay who was supposed to be able to cure you of smoking? No difference here.

      • Ellen Dibble

        The exorcist in the case in question is/was exorcising illness, mostly cancer, and was stricken with the ability after her house had burned down, transforming her sense of self.  She herself would have convulsions, fits, vomiting, coughing, worse depending on how sick the ill person is/was.  I don’t know if she defined mental illness as something she could cure, but I suspect so.

        • vito33

          If the ‘exorcist’ in the case in question was/is telling people that she could exorcise cancer, she should be prosecuted and locked up.

          • Ellen Dibble

            The reason the social worker was studying her was that she was in face effective.  She wasn’t saying don’t go the traditional route; she was offering the spiritual counterpart, something like that; the interpersonal part, in some sense.

    • brettearle


      Do you know Simonton’s work?

      • Ellen Dibble


  • heatherqamar

    The exercise of ridding oneself of demons – be they of illness, stress, or other issues – can be seen as a method of stress reduction and a freeing of the spirit. In many ancient – and some modern –  cultures exorcism is a way of restoring spiritual health. The experience of the zar in the Middle East is a group activity – not discussed publicly – but is a means of helping a person “exorcise” their demons with group support. Regardless of your religion, these is a sort of release that can be found in ritual. It is easy to scoff at it, and making a profit on it is appalling, but to give spiritual relief and ease to a person is not something to scorn.

  • Ellen Dibble

    What do I think “possession” is about, and exorcism?  I think it is about the amount of mental wisdom that is just out of reach of the conscious mind.  Science should be able to help access this in coming decades.  I think we know about it from experiences now and then, perhaps when we are otherwise foiled, or facing a crisis, and the brain offers amazing things, and sometimes the physiology follows with an unusual track as well.  It’s another kind of “knowledge,” and one knows it’s not “ordinary” knowledge or “common sense.”  But it would be a mistake to say it’s not “true.”

    • brettearle

       Millions of books have been written about the supernatural and about psychic phenomenon.

      Hundreds of thousands of people tune into a syndicated program, across America, every night–known as “Coast to Coast.”

      The subjects often examine these phenomena.

      I do not believe that all people who listen to these programs are simply curious.

      • Ellen Dibble

        You mean basically almost everyone knows there’s validity to all this, and reach out to share something about it?  Watching shows about it?  Or that they are NOT familiar first-hand…  

        • brettearle

          I think that a number of people, not all, who listen to these programs have direct experiences with either the supernatural or the paranormal.

  • Autumn Douglass

    All this talk about mental health – no talk about Hyperthyroidism which can manifest as schizophrenia.  If your loved ones have schizophrenia, please get them tested for thyroid disease – most hospitals will check automatically now.  Know your neck. http://www.empoweryourhealth.org/THYROID

  • brettearle

    The thing that I find fascinating–in a negative and in a positive way–is that so many people believe that God exists, here in America; and yet many of those same people can’t, or won’t, believe in God’s opposite.

    And my comment is not necessarily germane, only to Fundamental Christianity or Christianity in general.

  • soundfriend

    What an effective ploy to indoctrinate young minds into believing in the existence of demons: expose them to an “exorcism”.

  • Ellen Dibble

    There seems a script for iconoclasm and heresy, of blasphemy, and dislocation from the social expectations in as many ways as possible.  It seems to be a spectacle and a personality type that is sometimes cultivated, not exactly scripted, but a certain “role” that people can choose, if they are welcomed for playing that role.   I haven’t figured out the role; maybe people like to see that they can’t be hurt by it.  Watch the crucifix be spat upon, and know that nothing actually changes.

  • brettearle

    You can’t have a fair discussion, about this subject, unless you have a guest specialist who isn’t a skeptic.

    • http://www.facebook.com/leonard.bast.90 Leonard Bast

      Yes, let’s hear from the morons who believe in demons, goblins, leprechauns, witches, devils, trolls, and werewolves. That will make the discussion much fairer, or at least more interesting!

      • brettearle

        The point is not to be a skeptic or a cynic, about this topic.

        The point is to BE a skeptic or cynic–but YET let the other side AT LEAST speak for its validity.

        If you don’t understand that, then you don’t have respect for the 1st Amendment–either de facto or officially.

        • http://www.facebook.com/leonard.bast.90 Leonard Bast

          Good try, but this is not a First Amendment issue, since it has nothing to do with the government restricting anyone’s speech.

          As for your fallacious false equivalency argument, people who believe in demons are not accorded the same credibility as people who do not believe in demons, and should not be given equal time. According to your childish thinking, people who believe in Santa Claus should be given equal time to that of people who don’t. 

          Alas, we have become a nation of fools.

          • brettearle

            Good try, back at ya….

            If the subject makes it to a syndicated radio program on NPR–a venue that takes pride in examining both sides of an issue–then it behooves management, and on-air talent, to preserve that commitment. 

            Alas, we have become a nation of subjective blow-hards…..

          • J__o__h__n

            No one was promoting the virtues of female circumcision and raping of women last hour.  The lack of balance was inexcusable. 

          • brettearle

            Not analogous.

            Those who cure and heal–such as ordained priests, shamans, etc–are not out to cause harm.

            And if there is a suspicion that they ARE out to be harmed, then they should be ON the show to address those concerns.

            Wrong again.

          • J__o__h__n

            The women who do that to their daughters genuinely think they are doing what is best for their daughters.  It obviously doesn’t make them right.  Priests and other people who peddle nonsense do cause harm. 

          • brettearle

             It’s simply your opinion.

            And it is decidedly subjective.

          • J__o__h__n

            Obviously opinions are subjective, but there is no evidence for any claims of the supernatural being real.

        • J__o__h__n

          I’m glad they didn’t.  I found the detached analysis of the issue interesting, but had no interest when people called in claiming personal experience.  They didn’t have someone on the show dedicated to stomping out supernatural nonsense on so proponents weren’t needed for balance.  Why didn’t any actual demons call in? 

          • brettearle

             Your point is to simply be sarcastic and to express ridicule.

            I don’t mind.

            But you’re missing the point.

          • J__o__h__n

            No, it was that not every topic requires a debate.  An hour on the history of demonic possession is interesting to me.  An hour about whether or not there are demons doesn’t interest me.  Sarcasm and ridicule are the best ways to combat silly things. 

          • brettearle

            If there is one topic that requires specialists who believe in this stuff, it is experts who recognize the question of Evil as a living entity.

            A long-term practitioner from a major Catholic Center would have been especially appropriate.

            You wish to ascribe silly things to men who have studied scripture and who have practiced sacred customs and who may be scholars from their own religious customs, for years.

            You are welcome to denigrate these people.

            But let the record show that you are a victim of your own narrow-mindedness, for not recognizing the possible parameters and dimensions, in life.

            I am not Christian nor of any faith.

            But I believe God exists.    

            So might other things exist–of which we do not know nor understand.

    • J__o__h__n

      They always have devils on this show from the Heritage Foundation, the National Review, the Weekly Standard, the American Enterprise Institute . . .

      • brettearle

        Ha!  Ha!

        But don’t you think Beck and Limbaugh are the ones who are really in need of a formal ceremony?

  • ToyYoda

    He’s basically saying the exorcism session is role-playing that goes out of control.  What reasons that get them to this session is debatable.

    Is this something foreign to us?  Not really.  Recall the Standford Prison Experiment that ended prematurely, because the people role-playing started to take their roles too seriously. Or think of mob mentalities where people do things they would not normally do.

  • Steve_the_Repoman

    Materialist or Magician?

    “There are two equal and opposite errors into which our race can fall about the devils. One is to disbelieve in their existence. The other is to believe, and to feel an excessive and unhealthy interest in them. They themselves are equally pleased by both errors and hail a materialist or a magician with the same delight.”- C.S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters

    • J__o__h__n

      What supports his claim that not believing in nonsense is an error?

      • Steve_the_Repoman

        John, my response is conversational and is not meant to be argumentative…

        …by definition would you not then be self-identifying as a materialist?

        • J__o__h__n

          My comment was directed at CS Lewis.  He has an annoying habit of setting up a false premise and then claiming that his conclusion is based on logic. 

  • J__o__h__n

    Why bother with exorcisms when we really need to resume the search for witches? 

    • vito33

      “….Therefore, if she weighs the same as a duck……….?

  • J__o__h__n

    Has Discus been logging people out today?  This has happened three times to me.  maybe it is possessed. 

    • 1Brett1

      …probably just a bored entity suspended away from his nether-world lair.

  • BHA_in_Vermont


    Isn’t indoctrination wonderful?

  • lindaonthenorthshore

    Just as we view people in earlier ages as having been limited by their belief systems, so too we too in our secular culture are limited by the idea that everything can be explained scientifically.  From earliest times, people believed that we are not just mind and body, but also spirit, and not alone as spiritual beings.  To insist that “possession” has to have a logical or scientific explanation shows how limited we are by our own worldview.

    • brettearle

       That which cannot be explained illicits Fear. 

  • JBK007

    I’ve lived and traveled to Haiti many times.   Most often the planes down are packed with missionaries who are there to “rid the island if the devil.” An acquaintance of mine, an evangelical pastor, conducts regular exorcisms where he swears he sees sparks fly out of the mouth of the possessed as the devil leaves. I would typically be very skeptical of this (and still am), however I have personally witnessed (and have videos of) individuals possessed by loa (ancestral spirits) who then take chili-infused moonshine and rub it all over their eyes and genitalia without negative effect.  Who’s to know what lies out there…… the devil certainly found a home in Dick Cheney! ;)

    • jwkinstl

      If the missionaries want to rid the island of the devil, they should just leave.

  • vito33

    Ahh, the Father brings up Satan worship again. Lots of people were hurt over the totally false  and ultimately disproven claims about the prevalence of Satan worship back in the 80′s

    The kids in the West Memphis, Arkansas debacle, for instance. 

  • hdesignr

    Ephesians 6:12
    For we wrestle not against
    flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the
    rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in
    high places.

  • Fixitall

    If your guest, a historian, is trying to base possession on fact, then let him explain the greatest history book ever, the Bible, where countless cases of possession are chronicled.  If we cannot believe these stories and that the devil and evil are just as real and present as God and his angels, then we are truly doomed as a race of beings.  

    • J__o__h__n

      The bible is not history.  I agree that the devil is just as real and present as god but that doesn’t mean either exist. 

    • vito33


      The Bible may be a great work of fiction, but it is in no way representative of actual history.

    • jwkinstl

      People who did earnestly believe these things have done a great job of dooming the better part of many generations. Dooming them in very real physical, psychological and social ways. And the collection of writings that we know as “the Bible” have nothing whatsoever to do with serious, objective history. It is not a history book, let alone the greatest history book ever.

  • http://www.facebook.com/cathy.burgess2 Cathy Burgess

    I would like to offer that many persons suffering from “possession” have actually been suffering from an auto-immune disease such as anti-NMDA receptor encephalitis.  It afflicts younger women for the most part and has been attributed to those considered “possessed” over the centuries.  A educational read on this is “Brain On Fire” by a journalist who suffered from it herself …Susannah Cahalan.  There is a good article on this book and author in the NY Times as well.

    • 1Brett1

      I read that…it was interesting; however, she wasn’t cured by a “laying on of hands,” secret scripture in Latin, or some other such superstitious rituals, as those “possessed” claim.


    This is Janet from Auburn Alabama. (I was just on the phone). I am a protestant, Methodist by denomination. Follower of Jesus with all my heart.

    • jwkinstl

      And, of course, anyone who isn’t inclined to follow Jesus with all their heart–especially when exposed to the overwhelming force of God’s love emanating from someone like you–must surely be possessed/oppressed by the devil. Perhaps the aggression you displayed when you stomped on the bug scared her into thinking she’d better be more compliant.

      • OMA_OPINES

        i am truly sorry that my comments were offensive to you. And the young girl in question was sound asleep in her cabin and physically unaware of the praying on her behalf in several locations at the time. Compliance with my beliefs was not the issue. Thanks. Please do not judge Jesus by the failings of us, His struggling followers.

  • http://www.facebook.com/funkenation Chris Hughes

    Are there many/any cases of possession and exorcism outside of Christian or Abrahamic culture?

    • Coastghost

      For some answers consult MAGIC, WITCHCRAFT, AND GHOSTS IN THE GREEK AND ROMAN WORLDS, 2nd ed., a useful sourcebook trans. and ed. by Daniel Ogden, OUP, 2009. Some pagan exorcisms are mentioned, many of which are ascribed to Apollonius of Tyana.

  • J__o__h__n

    Bobby Jindal is even nuttier than I thought he was. 

    • vito33

      Probably even nuttier than you CAN imagine.

  • Wahoo_wa

    She smelled like sulfur?  Sounds like she was just a little gassy.

  • 65noname

    In typical fashion, the show m.c. treats a priest with incredible deference, allowing him to make statements of opinion as if they are facts.  For instance when the dude claimed that he saw his imaginary friend “pass over” the person being subjected to supernatural rituals, why didn’t the m.c. ask whether he actually saw a person as opposed to imagined it, or “believed” that it occurred?  Similarly, the dude was allowed use religiously based dogma to claim imaginary devils were causing behavior.  When he was asked, he simply said that he KNEW what was causing the behavior.  O.K., I beleive that the guy believes in his imaginary friends and enemies.  But that is no substitute for rigorous questioning of whether there is any science based, factual basis for his supernatural beliefs.

    If someone on the show stated that he or she was POSITIVE that LSD caused him or her to be able rise up into the sky and observe the world; or to time travel, you would be a loot more critical.  But let an establishment religion make claims utterly without any factual or sceintific support, the show caters to it without any critical thought.

    • brettearle

      It is quite possible that Science cannot explain, nor detect, all Experience.

      • 65noname

        It is quite possible that superstition and imaginary friends do not explain even less.

        • brettearle

          What you say may be true–but that doesn’t mean that a fraction, of all Experience, isn’t possibly from the paranormal.

          • 65noname

            “possible”?  As in anything is possible?  Most people woulod prefer to see some evidence before believing in superstion.  Of course, its “possible” that the moon is really made of blue cheese.

          • brettearle

            A difference of opinion has no place with someone needs to evaluate by what sees with his eyes.

            Billions of men and women believe in God–but don’t see Him.

          • 65noname

            wanting factual evidence is not the same as only believing what you actually see

          • brettearle

            You’re mixing words and ideas to obscure the point–while sounding like you are making a point.

            You believe that Faith is only secure in the Imagination. 

            It isn’t.

            Otherwise there wouldn’t be Billions of people who believe in God, without concrete evidence.

          • jwkinstl

            “Most people would prefer to see some evidence…” I wish it was most people. Sadly, I fear it’s not.

  • J Hogan

    It is no surprise that exorcism coincides with the devaluation of science and the rise of religious fundamentalism in the US (not to mention the rise of ridiculous reality shows concerned with the paranormal).  I’m Catholic, but I’m also a scientist and this discussion is terribly distressing.  Treating physical or mental distress by appealing to the supernatural is simply medieval.

  • Adena Harford

    What about the case of this being a super natural phenomenon, still the case of possession by spirits, but with nothing to do with the church/devil?

  • Adena Harford

     many people believe in a soul, or are ‘spiritual’ without being religious.

  • J__o__h__n

    My apartment has been haunted by smurfs lately.  Any advice? 

    • vito33

      Get a Smurxorcist, and do it now!

    • jefe68

      I would get a few GI Joe’s and let them deal with the little furry things.

    • Wahoo_wa

      There’s a Gargamel for that.

  • debhulbh

    Rye bread… responsible for the hysteria during the Salem Witch Trials? knowledge of science can explain a lot, ignorance of science leads to… if she drowns she is not a witch, if she survives she is?!?!…the mentally ill are whom? those doing the drowing or those being drowned?
    Caller said “Girl was very resistant to the love of God”…Resistant? or would not conform?..(who wanted her to conform?)… caller said the girl was ” belligerent strong-willed ‘is that not teenage angst and natural…
    in another age she may have been burned at the stake, or drowned!

    • http://www.facebook.com/runningbeard Josh Duke

      Thank you for mentioned this! Alarm bells went off as soon she say’s “very resistant to the love of god”… and yet Tom didn’t call her on it. He’s extremely hesitant to call callers on their nonsense. 

  • Bibliodrone

    The Catholic Priest who just called in reminds us that the notion of “demon-worshippers” (those who practice or just study non-Judeo Christian/non-conventional ways, such as paganism or Eastern thought), is not something consigned to a dark, superstitious past, but is part of a dark, superstitious present as well. And he’s far from the only caller who seems to continue to take these things literally. Yikes.

    It’s also interesting to hear how demonic influences are used to explain
    the rebellious behavior of non-believers. A self-contained,
    self-serving notion, more often identified with “cults” than
    “legitimate” religions.

    As for the notion that people experiencing psychological crises are possessed by invisible spirits. I thought the modern Catholic Church was opposed to “superstitions” like that. Perhaps, given the prevailing stigma against mental illness and emotional distress, demonic possession is a more acceptable explanation for such things. Also, many people are not well acquainted with the details of modern neuroscience, and psychological research of altered states of mind, and this no doubt muddles things as well.

    And what if, against all evidence, there is something to the notion of extra-sensory perceptions (such as a caller’s second-hand anecdote about the girl remembering a past-life)? There always has been a great deal of fear and misunderstanding of those who see the world differently, and superstitions about possession play into that.

  • EMGgirl

    This topic is beneath NPR.  There is no such thing as demonic possession.  This is just another example of making simple mental illness into an exotic curiosity (see “Hoarders” etc.) – and making money from it.  Shame on you.

    • vito33

      You’re right, but have you ever thought about what it must be like to produce a two hour live radio show, every day, and come up with non-repeating stories to talk about?

      I’d give ‘em a little break.

      • EMGgirl

        They are just pushing a book.  How about a show on somatization disorders and pseudoseizures.  Fact is stranger than fiction.

      • http://www.facebook.com/runningbeard Josh Duke

        “Coast to Coast” called… it want’s its callers back.

    • Bibliodrone

       Beyond the question of whether demonic possession is “real” (sad that we still need to have that conversation), it’s worth understanding the pheonomenon of belief in possession and the role it plays in individual psychology and in the communities of the believers.

      It’s worth studying and understanding folk-beliefs about how the mind works. Also interesting is the role that possession beliefs and cleansing rituals play in resolving conflict. They sometimes seem to create acceptable outlets and explanations for embarrassing afflictions and unacceptable behaviors, that might otherwise threaten the stability of the family or community.

      As with all magical practices, they provide explanations for, and the possibility of control over, some of the otherwise frightening and uncontrollable visscissitudes of life.

      • http://www.facebook.com/runningbeard Josh Duke

        Yeah, sure… it’s worth understanding…
        Yet listening to: “My father from Brazil saw a little girl in an isolated mountain town in Italy, and she spoke Portuguese which proves there are demons!”
        didn’t exactly help. One wonders if it ever occurred to her that dear papa lied to make his trip to Italy sound a wee more interesting…

        I’d love to have listened to a show that delves into the psychology of possession throughout history… but Tom (gotta love him), turned his show over to snake-handlers.

        • brettearle

          Me thinks the Skeptic doth protest too much….

          • http://www.facebook.com/runningbeard Josh Duke

            No, I’d say not nearly enough. 

        • Bibliodrone

          I agree with you. I think the interviewee would have preferred a conversation focused on history and cultural psychology as well, since that is the perspective he was exploring in his book.

          RE: the father’s story, he might not even have been consciously lying. Episodic memory is very unreliable, especially for events that happened long ago. It’s not uncommon for people to inadvertently incorporate a story they heard into their own memory, thinking they were actually there. Also, memories of events can actually change over time, as they are subjected to re-interpretation and revision while being recalled and discussed with others. People don’t like to believe that memory is so unreliable, but it’s been put to the test and confirmed many times over the years.

          Not as sexy an explanation as demonic possession or past lives, but just as interesting, and actually supported by evidence.

    • http://www.facebook.com/runningbeard Josh Duke

      Thank you, thank you, thank you.

      • EMGgirl

        Thank you!

    • Coastghost

      On another hand: mental illness itself is a myth, according to the late Dr. Thomas Szasz, whose book THE MYTH OF MENTAL ILLNESS illustrates the fanciful thinking behind much of modern psychiatry and treatment. (More exactly, Szasz contended that “mental illness” is a poorly deployed metaphor and NOT a “disease”.)

      • 1Brett1

        Severe bipolar disorder and schizophrenia are not the products of “fanciful thinking” in my experiences, and those experiences are extensive. Perhaps some disorders are over-diagnosed, and some are treated with meds and cognitive-behavioral therapies when they should be treated instead by the patient with a complete lifestyle change, however…

        • Coastghost

          Says Szasz: “As psychiatric doctrine has it, the typical schizophrenic patient begins to manifest symptoms of his illness during late adolescence; nevertheless, he often lives to a ripe old age in robust health, without evidence of neurological or psychological deterioration, even in the the seventh or eighth decade of his life. If schizophrenia is a brain disease, that is, plainly, a remarkable course for it to follow . . . the belief that schizophrenia is a brain disease conceals moral and social problems not susceptible to solution by medical research and treatment” (Szasz, THE UNTAMED TONGUE, 221f.).
          Unless brain physiologists and neurologists have suddenly begun discovering organic bases for diagnoses of schizophrenia, much of contemporary psychiatry remains ritualized pseudo-scientific claptrap and fraudulent hucksterism, not wildly different from medieval alchemy and astrology, heresiology and witch-hunting.

          • 1Brett1

            Well, I’ll not defend modern psychiatry (there’s no love relationship here); but, if left untreated, schizophrenia (and severe cases of bipolar) will indeed become more pronounced, there’s no doubt about that. Very few people with severe mental illnesses such as I’ve mentioned live to a “ripe old age.” That said, many have shortened lives due to factors other than a deteriorating brain; however, “brain disease” is a poor phrase for such illnesses, anyway, in that they seem to behave a little differently than other physical diseases.  

            Sorry, I’m not buying Szasz’s view. I have seen people treated for severe bipolar and schizophrenia do fairly well on medication in conjunction with other forms of therapy. I’ve seen people with such illnesses left untreated who spiraled into severe madness. 

            Considering you are being careful to say what this doctor believes and not your own opinion, can he produce documentable numbers of people with severe bipolar and schizophrenia who have not been treated and who have lived into their 70s, 80s and beyond with no deterioration of their brains? I know of no longitudinal study of untreated schizophrenics’ brain scans in comparison to scans when they were young that yielded such results as you, er, he suggests.    

          • Coastghost

            In my post to EMGgirl above, I refer to him as “the late Dr. Thomas Szasz”: he died last September. He was a trained psychiatrist, and while I’ve not read the bulk of his work, I trust that lurking somewhere in his body of work are the data you seek. (The work I quoted from was publ. in 1990, some 30 yrs. after THE MYTH OF MENTAL ILLNESS, and he found no reason in the intervening period to markedly change his views. I don’t know that Szasz much altered his opinions between 1990 and Sep 2012, either, but I think he would’ve acknowledged any evidence coming from brain physiology or neurology had he learned of any evidence challenging his views.)
            Clinical diagnoses of “schizophrenia”, Szasz seemed to hold to the end, are manifestations of clinical laziness that abandon those so diagnosed to drug-stupefied social disaffection and/or involuntary incarceration. But let me not speak for Szasz, his work speaks ably for him.  

          • 1Brett1

            Thirty years prior to 1990 would have been 1960. The doctor could very well have held to his beliefs, but if these were developed and published in 1960, there wouldn’t have been brain scans in 1960. It would have been impossible for him to scientifically support his ideas. 

          • Coastghost

            As I say: you would need to consult Szasz’s work over the years. (On the basis of his later work, he was familiar with CAT scans and the diagnostic utility ascribed to them [e.g., in the trial of John Hinckley, Jr.].) I cannot speak to the extent of Szasz’s own clinical research into brain physiology or neurology.

  • newt

    Tom does it again.  The priest who called who believes in actual posession was describing something that happened during the excorcsim he witnessed that seemed to contradict the guest’s belief that possession are more-or less self-induced, when Tom cut him off with a rather trivial question. It seemed like the priest was trying to say something about the the woman reacting when the host was passed over a part of her body, but out of her site or knowledge, thus indicating that something outside of her was at work.  But we shall never know because Tom never let the priest resume his narrative, but, as happens oh so often on the show, put a generalized summation of what he thought the priest believed, and went on to something else.  I have no beliefs about this issue, but I really would have liked to hear what the Father was trying to describe.
    I would not bring this up, but I have heard Tom do this about half a dozen times or more…cut off a caller when they were making an interesting point.  I noticed this especially when Tom was away, and guest hosts were much better about letting callers finish their points, when germane and interesting.
    I know it must be really hard to manage these discussions, but Tom could be a lot better at it, and it detracts from my enjoyment of “On Point”.

    • brettearle

      Tom’s one of the best–but he sometimes falls victim to the pressure of ratings.

      Your point is a fair one.

      But he doesn’t do it constantly. 

      • newt

         No, he doesn’t.  And “On Point” is just about my favorite program, anywhere.  But Tom falls short of his, and the show’s, overall excellence with this habit. 

    • http://www.facebook.com/runningbeard Josh Duke

      …interesting to who? What possible insights (and evidence) was “Father” going to supply the audience? He’s just yet another magical thinker, primed to believe, because his whole vocation depends on it… next!

      • newt

         OK, I am  basically inclined to doubt that the devil or spirits have anything to do with this stuff. But I an also suspicious of taking the line that the priest was necessarily wrong about what he saw without having more information about the situation.  I don’t take anything on faith, including the non-presence of some outside presence. I wanted more information  and Tom prevented these from being presented.  Doing this, among other things, allows believers to say, “See, the media won’t allow us to give our side.” And continue to go on believing crap, assuming that is the case here (which it probably is).

  • L armond

    Just read a Huffington post article about a dust up between Megan McCain and Ann Coulter, a holier-than-thou versus snarker-in-chief.  Made me laugh while hearing this.  Coulter’s snarkiness can drive anyone to distraction, but they are both paid for their opinions in attention to their ‘entertainment value.’
    But in domestic situations, this extreme judgemental action, does isolate one party to the point that some type of ritual has to take place.  We see it in politics all the time, the demonizing, until some ‘compromise is made’ and both parties walk down the steps of Congress to the waiting press.  And all is sweetness and light until the next contretemps.  

  • 1Brett1

    I was going to joke about this show not being fair and balanced by excluding an expert from the believing side…looks as though a commenter beat me to it (although he wasn’t joking).

    When I was young I worked in an institution that housed people who had spent their whole lives with severe mental illness. They had been institutionalized since the ’30s and ’40s and since they were children. 

    One woman, who was from Appalachia and who had been kept in a shed in the woods until she was 15 on her parents’ farm, would scream and growl in very non-articulated and unusual ways if someone came within five feet of her. Other counselors told me that she would sometimes, on rare occasions, speak in a normal yet sombre voice that was deeply pitched but quite normal in cadence and articulation. After I got to know her, she revealed this other voice to me. It was a bit shuddering, to say the least, but considering her childhood and illness combined…and I’m sure a superstitious person would have seen the “evidence” differently.

  • mountainbikerz

    The placebo effect is highly effective even when known to be a placebo.  But in no way have we explained what happens.  We have given it a name. 

    Follow up studies hypothesized care offered to the person receiving the placebo produced the healing.  Have we explained it yet?  Maybe we’ve only explained that Jesus was able to do miracles because he cared deeply about persons.  Have we explained away the miracles? 

    We are bringing the subjective and objective worlds together.  We can touch and manipulate objects. But are imagined things “real?”  When does a computer become conscious?  (Turing’s answer: when you believe it is conscious). So we must imagine the consciousness of computers, and the complex computing machines called people, maybe even God. A physicist.

  • SuzanneConnollyNYC

    I work daily in my full time practice in Manhattan, NY, with people who have suffered with possession. It IS more common that you’d think. In my experience, it accounts for about half of all the ‘energy blocks’ in my clients. For those who have no experience of it, it might seem remote and unreal, but for many of those who have had these beings removed from their energy system/bodies, the relief is instant and life-changing. Releasing beings from the body means releasing the emotions and energy that that being is carrying, which includes, but isn’t limited to, depression, low self worth, insecurity, anxiety, etc.  Clients often find that behavior they would describe as “not me” or episodes where they are “not feeling myself” ends after depossession. One client who experienced an unlike-her passion for shopping in high-end shops (costing her thousands of dollars each week) had her compulsion end after removing a being who relished that behavior.
    It should be noted that ‘demonic’ possession is extremely rare and, while not all possessing beings are human, the majority of possessing beings who are human are either people known to the client or people who have had similar experiences to them.  Usually they are benign, comfortable and passive residing where they are and, often, don’t know that they are dead.  In the cases where I have come across more negative spirits in clients, in talking with these beings it’s apparent that their intention is to subvert the will of the client, keep their self-worth low using negative mental mantras and so forth, for the purpose of domination or because they have been told to do this. Again, using compassionate depossession, releases these beings to where they belong and frees them from the body of the client.
    Finally, there seems to be a debate in these threads about the confusion between mental illness and possession or over-shadowing by foreign beings in the energy system. There are tried and true methods for trained shamanic practitioners to see the difference between the two.  It is my experience that shamanic practitioners I have worked with refer mentally ill clients who approach them to psychological professionals for different treatment that will best serve them.

    • http://www.facebook.com/runningbeard Josh Duke

      So you actually believe “demons” exist… wow. 

    • 1Brett1

      Your belief (if I may call it a belief, as you treat people within the utilization of a framework carrying certain assumptions and beliefs) presumes that humans–or other entities–retain at least some of those qualities which they possessed, while they were alive, after they’ve died, that there is some connective relationship between, say, a person and his/her aunt, as it was in their living relationship. At least in the way you describe some of these beings, the view is that entities exist that were once people who were alive, and they have power of some kind, and they still exist in very concrete and deliberate ways beyond when they were alive. 

      Most of us have some unresolved issues on some level with at least some people whom we have encountered in our lives, and this isn’t an energy anyone would consider supernatural or part of a spirit world where beings that/who have some form of consciousness dwell (other than perhaps in our memories, which is a very abstract grab at something that sounds much more tangible in your description)…I find it interesting that a practitioner of some form of wellness/who treats problems in a professional manner would start with such an assumption. 

      And, if practitioners such as yourself are trained to perform certain procedures–not the least of which somehow knowing how to spot the difference between a possession and being able to detect classic mental illness–how does one train to gain such skills? Particularly without having a background in diagnosing mental illness? 

      I’m a believer in people seeking help that they believe helps them, and help should be driven by the person in need, but how can someone who has no knowledge (such as, say, a shaman from some culture that doesn’t recognize a phenomenon such as schizophrenia) of how to treat mental illness say to a person seeking help that indeed he/she does NOT have a mental illness?

      And (returning to the idea of training/qualifications to treat people suffering from possession), for the sake of discussion, I’ll assume there can be agreement that western medicine/science can’t fully explain all phenomena. Considering this, how can one be trained in a discipline that can’t be explained or understood? Do you consider it a gift? Is it some intuitive knack that just exists and was refined through spending time with a shaman or master of such knowledge…if so, in a general sense, how was that knowledge imparted to you, simply through following certain steps/protocol/rituals under the watchful eye of a practitioner?

      As in many eastern disciplines (as opposed to western disciplines) often there are differences in semantics or interpretation of how the human body works. In acupuncture, for example, the procedure works to shift and release energy in positive and healing ways. Western medicine might characterize that as releasing endorphins or increasing blood flow so that the body’s natural healing properties can be facilitated or the person can feel better. Is it possible that some of the phenomena you describe is in this realm?

      If you read this, thank you. I am genuinely interested in what a practitioner of your realm thinks; it would seem more of value than someone who simply believes in the possibility of possession. You are, after all, practicing these beliefs everyday.

      • SuzanneConnollyNYC

        I’ll take your points in turn and answer them best as I’m able.
        It’s not a ‘belief’, per se, in the classical religious/spiritual sense that I ‘believe’ that beings with consciousness exist after death and inhabit the bodies of the living. I work with this nearly every day and see it as one of 7 main reasons for energy blocks in the system. It accounts for almost half of all of my client’s problems and I see depossession as a safe, non-traumatic, clinical process (albeit a compassionate one) that removes energies not belonging to the client in a way that benefits both the client and the being.

        Do I believe that the spirit of a person transitions (as opposed to expires) after death? Yes. 
        Possession happens when, for many of the beings transitioning, they weren’t able to get where they needed to go and got stuck here and simply were drawn to finding someone with ‘familiar’ energy (a family member or someone with similar experiences) and attach to, or enter, that person. It is true also that many people who have passed feel they have ‘unfinished business’ here and consciously choose to stay here to try to ‘finish’ the business, or cling to something or someone that they felt they couldn’t be parted from – a family member, an object, etc.  

        In some cases, the deceased simply wasn’t ready to die and wants to continue living by ‘piggy-backing’ on someone who feels similar to them.  This experience is never satisfactory as the ‘living’ is done vicariously.  

        In shamanism, a successful death is where the dying person is released from all such ties and feels ‘ready’ to go. Western culture doesn’t support this as much and addressing that would go a long way to preventing problems that arise. 

        Sometimes, when the death was sudden, as in the case of an accident, or under some subdued state, as with drugs for example, the deceased may not know what happened and are ‘clinging’ to whatever feels familiar and they get ‘stuck’, often not knowing they are dead.

        It’s not an ‘assumption’ that the being in the client is a relative with whom the client had unresolved issues. Often the client has never mentioned the relative to me prior to the session and the client is surprised to find such-and-such a relative is there. Often the relative is an ancestor whom the client didn’t know. In one case, a client who had had a miscarriage at the start of her marriage 30 years ago found that the spirit of the child was still with her, in her chest area causing respiratory problems.  My client was in her ’60′s and removing the spirit of the child immediately (and permanently) removed the respiratory problem she was having.  Incidentally, this case implies that I also believe in life-before-life, which I do.

        You’re absolutely right, I don’t have a psychological/medical background (my background is law), but many of my shamanic colleagues are counselors and doctors.  In any case, there are criteria for checking if the client is mentally unstable or suffering from possession and sometimes the case is both.  One key point is if the client ‘knows’ that they are suffering from something that feels like it is ‘not me’. Some of those diagnosed as mentally ill, I am told, often do not know that they are mentally ill and continuously believe that their reality is objective. Alternatively, with heavily possessed clients there are key moments when they will have ‘breaks’ from their experience, and lucidly ask for help to have whatever it is that is in them removed. 
        The vast majority of my clients do not suffer with symptoms that might be confused with being a heavy possession or a mental illness.  These cases are very rare.  There are a few cases where I have refused clients and recommended that they seek psychiatric/psychological help, not because I thought depossession would not help them, but because their psychological needs appeared, to me as a lay person, to be more pressing.  In any case, I welcome a ‘community’ approach to this work and some clients need both psychological help and depossession, and a broad support network of many kinds (peers, family, professionals) is appropriate in many cases.

        I can’t comment on the perspective of a shaman from an indigenous culture meeting someone with ‘schizophrenia’, as the indigenous culture will see conditions differently from us in the west and schizophrenia itself is a vague umbrella term, difficult to ascribe to one thing. 

        No, it’s not a ‘gift’ in the sense that I need extra-sensory abilities to do this work. Possession is as old as humanity itself and shamanism is the oldest discipline on the planet for working with spirit and energy. Shamanic methods for depossessing people extend much farther back than the efforts of the Christian churches. I was trained by a wonderful shamanic teacher, Betsy Bergstrom, who devised compassionate depossession methods after years of shamanic study and practice.  

        Yes, you are right, the west has a very different cognizance to that of the shamanic perspective.  Yes, the eastern examples you cite, of acupuncture remedying the energy body by diffusing and releasing energy blocks, is very similar in concept to how energy work is done in shamanic work, although the blocks addressed are often different and addressed in different ways.  Alberto Villoldo, in his book ‘Shaman, Healer, Sage’, addresses this issue when he says (as an anthropologist and shamanic teacher) that the shamans of Latin America that he worked with for over 25 years were able to paint the energy system onto the torso and body of a person to depict where all the composite parts were geographically. The energy system that the tribal shamans of those regions knew about for thousands of years was almost identical to that of Chinese medicine that has been around for 5 thousand years.  These methods have survived because they work.  The life-force (or chi, or prana, or qi, or energy) of the client will revert the client to health organically if the blocks in the energy body, impeding health, are removed.

        No, the west has no comparative model for the energy body. Western science traditionally believed that the body is material only and can be fixed physically, like fixing an inanimate object.  Thankfully this is changing.  

        • 1Brett1

          Thanks so much for your response, Suzanne. Your reply is much more than what I had expected, and it reveals a trust toward reasonable and interesting conversation that is appreciated.

          I have a different perspective (as you might have discerned) on what is happening to people who seem “blocked” in some way, yet I’ll admit that the mysteries of our bodies (particularly, holistically, in how so many of our body’s systems work in concert and achieve a “whole is greater than the sum of its parts” gestalt) are not fully explained by western medicine/science. My perceptions seem to carry more abstraction than what you describe, however; I claim more agnosticism–in the most generic form of that word–in my views, and rely heavily in my own life on a kind of least intrusive approach, so to speak, in that it is important to look first at the most obvious answers first (not to say that should be an end as much as a beginning.

          (One part of your reply that I wish to respond directly to is the notion of a “gift.” When I was referring to a “gift” I meant something that seems you are naturally inclined toward, as I do not believe in the supernatural, as it were, just that there are phenomena we can’t full explain within our current knowledge; I feel strongly that anything that happens to living beings, or that human beings are endowed with, is perfectly natural. Our gifts are those things unique to us as individuals, as inelegantly as I state that.)

          I have a friend (Liz Eitt in Virginia) who does “body work” or “energy work,” and I find her to be wise, careful in her approach, and willing to refer people to other resources if she feels their issues are best served by either western medicine or some other discipline.

          To me, if a person practicing “alternative” ways of helping people is doing so non-invasively/without harm, and is willing to refer people elsewhere after careful analysis indicates a person’s problem might be, say, of a classic mental health nature, then I’m fine with such approaches…the notion of the Hippocratic idea of “first, do no harm” is an important concept to me. 

          Thanks, again, for taking the time to respond.

  • http://www.facebook.com/amos.doyle.3 Amos Doyle

    This topic of spirit possession is much broader than presented by the author Brian Levack.  Too much of this article concerned “demonic possession” or “Satanic possession” “Witchcraft” etc.  much of which are presented to us through movies and TV shows in the same genre as Zombies and Vampires.  Granted this is a book about exorcism so perhaps that narrow focus was what was needed to make this book.  But, this is not the reality of spirit possession.  Some documented cases of spirit possession concern benevolent spirits, or just confused spirits. I suggest for those who are interested research the Case of Lurancy Vennum “The Watseka Wonder”, or the mediumship of Leonora Piper or the automatic writing of Patience Worth and Pearl Curran.  These are well documented cases of various forms of spirit possession.

  • http://www.facebook.com/amos.doyle.3 Amos Doyle

    A diagnosis of mental illness depends on the culture in which the person lives.  The attachment of a label of mental illness to a person does not make that person mentally ill.

    • Glenn Wyrick

      There is no cultural relativism (where everyone is correct in their own way) in the determination of mental illness. Instead, the only dependence on culture is in their varying degrees of ignorance regarding the underlying neurobiological causes of mental illness. 

    • brettearle

      I agree.

      However, there are common examples of behavioral pathology, are there not–ones that might reoccur throughout a broad range of cultural environments?

  • Trond33

    I was “possessed” as recently as last week.  While the “possessor” is gorgeous and I really do want to call her, great consideration is necessary.  The threats to my peaceful and easy going lifestyle are many, this could even end up with little devils waking me up way too early in the morning and occupying all my free time.  Careful steps must be taken, I would hate for this to end up needing an “exorcism”.  Still, the “possessed” often have little control over situations such as these. 

  • 1Brett1

    Nearly 20 years ago, I worked with an agency that also had a day-treatment program for people with intellectual disabilities. Most of the people there were very low-functioning with severe communication deficits (many couldn’t speak, none could read or write beyond their first names with maybe only a handful of words they could recognize, mostly in the form of recognizing logos, e.g., McDonald’s, etc.). 

    There was a new technique being touted called “facilitated communication.” The “facilitator” would sit at a computer and hold the hand of the participant, ask questions and “steady” the participant’s hand for a response (supposedly, though, without doing any guiding).

    Suddenly, miraculously, the program participants were writing very well-expressed communication in syntactically-correct sentences, using proper spelling, often even with correct punctuation. Interestingly, the participants were communicating in very similar “voices” as the “facilitators.” The icing on the cake was how often the participants would extol the virtues of the “facilitators”! 

    In some facilitators, it seemed pretty obvious that they saw an opportunity for some political wrangling; in others, they seemed to actually believe something miraculous was happening. I reminded people who tried to force such nonsense on my skepticism to consider what it took for them to learn reading and writing and that for a person with severe intellectual disabilities–who had never had any academic training–to spontaneously write so eloquently would be nothing short of genius.  

    …Anyway, these phenomena discussed today remind me of that experience.

    • brettearle

      Are you finally saying that, at this day-treatment center, what you actually witnessed was a Hoax?

      • 1Brett1

        Well, in some cases, the facilitators were getting results from profoundly mentally-disabled people that were on par with a writer who had a degree in English literature. What was particularly telling was that the person with the disability had a writing style and cadence exactly like the facilitator. In those cases, I’d call that a hoax of sorts (I believe the facilitators in those cases were using the situation to further their personal agendas). 

        In other situations, I believe the facilitators so wanted the procedure to work and be a breakthrough; they were unwitting participants, so to speak, in a false result…kind of like using a Ouija board. The process of this technique required a “fading” approach over time (i.e., moving from holding the person’s hand, to his/her forearm, to his/her upper arm, to touching his/her shoulder), and even after a year with this technique, not a single facilitator in either group could get any results beyond the disabled person’s very limited skill level without any help (which I believe reflected the person’s true ability). The “believers” explained this away because they theorized that the disabled person wasn’t comfortable enough without having his/her hand held to reveal his/her true abilities. But, come on, not a single person was comfortable enough to reveal his/her true abilities to read and write?

        “Facilitated Communication” took the field by storm when it was introduced…after a couple of years, clinicians who had touted its virtues completely backed away from their enthusiasm (presumably for fear of professional ruin). After another year, the funding, practice, and belief were all abandoned completely (although, I’ll bet some might still believe). FC also didn’t hold up at all to any controlled trials, nor did it ultimately reveal any skills beyond the person’s traditional testing/level of education revealed.

        The test, to get back to possession, would be a double-blind study or a controlled series of trials. If practitioners of exorcism would not be willing to submit to such scrutiny, in my view I would find that suspect.

        • brettearle

          Thanks for going into such detail and explanation.

          And yet I am left with some confusion.

          And if I asked you for clarification, it is possible that I might become more confused…..

          You may have heard of “automatic writing”–which, in part, sounds like the experience that you are describing.

          I come away from your two graphic comments with a still yet-to-be-explained phenomenon:

          Unless, there was a kind of sleight-of-hand going on–and I’m not sure what that would be–it is hard to explain away sudden skill development…..

          ……EVEN IF that ability mimicked the Coordinators’ abilities.

          You do not think that ESP is plausible, in some situations, in Life?

          • 1Brett1

            ESP? Automatic writing? Think about what I’m saying: a profoundly retarded person (sorry to be so anachronistic in my term) who has never had a full academic education (attempts were stopped early on due to no demonstrable development in that area) in reading or writing, who tests at the level of a not-very-well-developed three or four year old, sits down at a keyboard. A college-educated person sits down next to the person and holds his/her hand (supposedly to steady the person’s hand) at the keyboard while asking the person questions. Suddenly, the disabled person writes in syntactically correct, correctly spelled and correctly punctuated sentences, in paragraphs…what does that sound like to you? ESP? Automatic writing? Or a hoax (or wishful, willful control) perpetrated by the college-educated person? 

          • brettearle

            If there had been no doubt, but that it was a hoax, I presume that you would never have entered it here, as an entry?

            Or else I guess you are trying  to demonstrate to the gullible, among us, about how not to be taken in?

            You are saying that the gullible, back then, bought the FC program?

            Why weren’t the Coordinators exposed as charlatans?

            Or were they?

            And, if they were, why not say so, here?

            How much of a lesson are we naive folks supposed to be learning here–enough to have our malleable minds be stretched to the point where we draw our own unimaginative conclusions, without your gracious prodding?

          • 1Brett1

            Aside form your tone turning snide and passive-aggressive, I am talking in grayer terms than “hoax? no hoax?” for one thing. Second, when someone in that realm presents a new technique that is behavioral (and relatively harmless, even positive in that there is one-on-one attention, etc.), the lack of efficacy determined over time won’t make someone in a cape stand on a desk and with his cain point and yell, “charlatan!”   

          • brettearle

            What do I owe you for your drive-by analysis–driven by your own defensive reaction to my take of your  set-up piece of what is intended to be yet subtle orchestration and manipulation?



             “ESP?  Automatic Writing?

            Think of what I am saying….”

            Instead, it is not subtle; it is yet flagrant sandbagging:

            A very close encounter of  obtrusion, actually.

            Hint, the second:

            Call the Satire Police and ask for the Overkill Department, in order to file a complaint.

            [You'll have to wait in cue.]

          • 1Brett1

            …I might add that the “valid” cases were ones where the person demonstrated the necessary skills before using FC. Is my point clear enough? Or are you going to go off on some tangent about  automatic writing?

          • 1Brett1
  • lexpublius

    Dr. Levack’s findings about the traits of demonic possession coincide with the late friar Malachi Martin’s books (eg., Rich Church Poor Church). His conclusions also fit the exhaustive data from the book, A Still Small Voice: The Vatican, the USA, and Israel in Bible Prophecy by Fritz and Slaughter (a scientist and attorney) proving in volume one that the Roman Catholic Church is the (in two words) Devil’s church. Just before his death, Monsignor Malachi Martin told interviewer, Art Bell, that the Vatican is full of demons; and, since then, other monsignors have confirmed that. Levack’s findings can be confidently added to those of M. Martin and Fritz & Slaughter. I really enjoyed this interview on an interesting topic.

    • http://www.facebook.com/runningbeard Josh Duke

      Art Bell… Art Bell? You mean Art “crop circle and shadow people” BELL?? Wow… hello Tom? Your show has been taken over by conspiracy theorists now… just great.

      • lexpublius

        Snowden proved 2 months ago that the USA NSA / CIA / FBI are spying unconstitutionally on American citizens; confirming what James Risner wrote in the NY Times 5 years ago; confirming what Art Bell’s audiences knew since at least 1996 or earlier. We are not “conspiracy theorists” — rather, YOU ARE PART OF THE BRAINWASHED DUMBED-DOWN CROWD with your head in the sand.

  • http://www.facebook.com/runningbeard Josh Duke

    Wow… you cannot be serious Tom!

    I am disheartened and dismayed to see On Point giving a platform to this kind of sad, utter magical thinking nonsense…

    Wow. Wow. 

    • SomeGuyNamedMark

      Doesn’t matter if you agree with the subject or not.  If it is a newsworthy from a social perspective and interesting to the audience then it is a good topic.

    • Julie Duncan

      The article isn’t giving any credence to the idea that exorcism is real; it’s just reporting on a book about people who DO believe in exorcism.  This shouldn’t make you sad.  As SomeGuyNamedMark said, it’s newsworthy from a social perspective.

    • Rousseau

      You’re the troll.

  • Julie Duncan

    Oh, sorry–I didn’t listen to the audio (just read the article), but I gather that they interview someone who does believe in exorcism.  Still, I think it’s as interesting and newsworthy as writing about other religious beliefs that are widely held (even if they sound absurd to non-believers).

    • brettearle

       The guest did not believe in Possession.

  • ben prisk

    Listen to this woman’s personal story with a brain virus that produced old-time symptoms of possession:


  • Oden Knight

    I like the author’s take on it.  It would be interesting to see if Brian also looked at other cultures/religions to see their “demons & exorcism” techniques and note the likes/dislikes.
    Also, what about the reverse in Christianity; where it is seen as favorable to be possessed by the “Holy Spirit”.  Why do we have something within our psyche that forces us to want to fit in with a group, or conjure up an explanation about something we don’t know about?

  • Payhole Everdouche

    Leona Helmsley was also possessed. The Devil made her do it.

  • David Peterson

    This is only the tip of the iceberg. Possession is a social phenomenon, and the question is why it appears with greater frequency at certain points in history–now, and at the dawn of enlightenment for two. But this issue is not limited to ‘demonic’ possession in a Christian sense. We may also be witnessing a resurgence in ‘divine’ possession (people channelling Mary these days in Croatia as one instance). Cross-culturally, in many religious practices (like voodoo), spiritual possession is a central activity. Voodoo is increasingly popular in the US, and possibly part of this increasing trend, but the rate may be more constant in Haiti. I imagine there are social-psychological aspects as well as possible spiritual aspects to this, but let’s focus on those we are best equipped to address, the social-psychological ones. An interesting parallel is the increase in zombies in post-colonial South Africa. Here it is not zombies in the pop-culture sense, but in the anthropological sense of people actually being controlled (by mind control and drugs) by zombie masters, or imagining that they are. Social anthropologists  see this as part of the post-colonial condition in the places where it occurs–a way people are dealing with colonialism and its legacy. We may be seeing the same thing with possession here–phenomena and press about them are creating a sense of helplessness against the onslaught of changes out of the control of the average person, or any single individual–war, bank crises, climate change, social challenges (which many of us view as good, but challenge tenets of long-held belief systems) like gay marriage, shooting down gay marriage laws that many of us would like to see through Prop 8 and other means–these leave people feeling incredibly out of control, and may provide fertile ground for the development of symptoms of demonic or divine possession, etc.

  • David Peterson

    The debate has gone back and forth about whether this is real in a spiritual sense, or just nonsense. The point the speaker was making was that it has resurgences at particular moments in history, now, and at the dawn of the Enlightenment are two. A parallel is the increase in zombies in post-colonial South Africa, not the pop culture kind, but people who are or imagine that they are under the control of zombie masters as their undead slaves. It is known that this occurs through mind control and drugging, but there are many people showing symptoms of it without them. Social anthropologists see this as part of the post-colonial condition, a seemingly irrational behavioral manifestation that has arisen as a response to the legacy of colonialism. The resurgence of demonic (and divine) possession in the West may be a parallel development. Terrorism, wars, revolutions, climate change, social changes that challenge tenets of belief systems (gay marriage laws), attacks on gay marriage laws by Prop 8 and other means, which, to those who want social equality, experience it as the destruction of hard won positive changes just at the moment they have been gained–all these things, and the overload of information about them in the media and the internet, leave people with a sense of being profoundly out of control. We are in intense social upheaval, and possession may be a behavioral response to it.

  • saltgrain

    Interesting how this topic has generated so much buzz and commentary. Especially since so much of this commentary is aimed at discrediting demonic possession as possessive of any objective reality. Is it really so important not to “believe”. Why can an intelligent self-respecting individual not stomach accepting demons as real (or God for that matter).

    If someone relates a story that includes elements unexplainable in modern scientific language such as the woman who relayed the story about the girl in Brazil. This woman and her entire family apparently were steeped in science and were not “believers” in the supernatural but they were unable to provide an explanation for strange behaviors that were encountered in the girl especially the speaking in a language that was unknown in the village. Perhaps there are details that can “explain away” the mystery, but why the need to ridicule the experience of a fellow human being with a heart and mind. 

    What if you sceptics were to encounter something “unexplainable” would you continue in your comfortable empirical worldview? If your experience were sufficiently uncomfortable and  frightening (Please know that I do not wish such a thing) I submit that you also might consider “believing” in things many of your sophisticated colleagues would consider ridiculous and primitive  out of hand. 

    Happy travels!

  • anon

    Muslims also believe in possession and do exorcisms. A skilled person will first rule out any kind of physical or psychological causes, though. (Just a story I remembered… a friend of mine once had a layover in Rome, and her baby cried a lot during the night. A priest in the next room knocked on her door and – in all seriousness – wanted to perform an exorcism on the baby! He was carrying a kit with the equipment he would need…) 

    In the Islamic view, there is an unseen world of jinn. I find it interesting that so many people can believe in alien encounters, for example, but not in possession by jinn. If you read a famous essay on jinn written 700 years ago, you find many comparisons to what people like Whitley Streiber describe about their encounters with aliens (including a description of them that matches the description of ‘greys’).

    I think it’s been pretty common, throughout history and in various cultures, to believe in something like this.

  • http://www.facebook.com/runningbeard Josh Duke

    Wonderful trolling.

  • http://www.facebook.com/geovanny.rodriguez.77 Geovanny Rodriguez

    One thing that has always baffled me is when people have an experience and then from that experience conclude that science couldn’t possibly explain what had occurred. That statement may or may not be true but, that is not the point. The point is how would they know? What makes them so sure that science couldn’t explain it? Did they had experts come in and take a stab at the problem or did they just came to that conclusion on their own out of thin air?

  • Regular_Listener

    I chuckled a little when Tom said at the end of the program that it was a departure for OP to be covering something like this.  Yes, it was – and it was a good one too.  I love the range of subjects on the show.

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