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Exorcism is the Christian ritual of expelling demons who are possessing a human being. When portrayed in the movie The Exorcist, it terrified audiences and quickly set a box office record in ticket sales.

Exorcism in the Bible

Jesus expelled demons, as recorded in the Gospels. In perhaps the most famous instance, he expelled a "legion" of demons from a man and permitted the demons to go into a herd of pigs (see Gaderene Swine). Jesus also cautioned some sufferers of demonic possession that if one demon was exorcised, seven more might want to "enter" the "clean house".

Opponents of Jesus accused him of casting out demons "by the power of Beelzebub",[1] a charge generally dismissed by Christians.

Practice in the Christian Church

Eastern Orthodoxy

In the Eastern Orthodox Church, demonic activity is inextricably associated with disease and blight.[2] As a result, exorcisms are quite common, even finding their way in rituals involving the blessing of fields.[2] The exorcism ritual, found in the Euchologion, is that of St. Basil the Great.[2] The baptism liturgy in Eastern Orthodoxy also contains an exorcism ritual.[3][4]

Receive the exorcisms with devotion...Divine exorcisms, borrowed from the Scripture, purify the soul. —St. Cyril of Jerusalem[5]


The countless number of successful exorcisms documented over the centuries since the time of the apostles has been cited as a mark of the authentic Christian faith of the Catholic Church.

And these signs shall follow them that believe; In my name shall they cast out devils...
—Mark 16:17b KJV
Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that believeth on me, the works that I do shall he do also; and greater works than these shall he do; because I go unto my father. And whatsoever ye shall ask in my name, that will I do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If ye shall ask any thing in my name, I will do it.
—John 14:12-14 KJV[6]
Catholic exorcists perform authorized exorcisms in the "Name of Jesus Christ the Lord" with permission of the local bishop after careful investigation of discernment has been conducted to make an informed determination of the case.
In determining whether a person is possessed by the devil or his demons, the Church would first make sure he underwent thorough physical and psychiatric examinations. Eliminating these natural causes, Church officials would seek other signs: unexplainable physical phenomena, such as levitation or the uncaused movement of objects; displaying strength that surpasses one's condition; the knowledge and usage of archaic languages that the person would have no way of previously knowing, such as speaking Aramaic; and the secret knowledge of a person's life, particularly the exorcist, which no other person would know. Another sign is the vehement aversion to God, the Blessed Mother, the saints, the crucifix and sacred images, demonstrated by blasphemous remarks or sacrilegious actions. The devil also reveals his presence by acts of anger and violence, and through blasphemous, sacrilegious, profane and obscene remarks. The bishop would authorize an exorcism only after serious examination and a careful weighing of all of the evidence, and thereupon appoint a priest to perform the exorcism.[7]
The prayers and ritual of exorcism have recently been updated, and the ancient form as set forth in the older Rituale Romanum is still used by permission.[8] Prayer is addressed to God the Father, in the Name of Jesus Christ the Lord.[9] Invocation of the name of Mary has been found to be very effective, along with recitation of the Rosary, and calling on the help of St. Michael the Archangel.[10] See


The enemies of Christ charged that Jesus was most certainly in league with the Devil, Satan, Beelzebub, saying that was the only reason he was able to cast them out. They reasoned that his purported exorcisms and miracles were done only with the approving cooperation and sponsorship of Satan, implying that his cures were fraudulently misleading acts with sinister purpose, that even if the exorcisms themselves were genuine, their motivation was solely evil and deceptive, as actions cleverly designed and arranged to lead astray from the truth into Satan's lies:

"23 And all the people were amazed, and said, Is not this the son of David?
"24 But when the Pharisees heard it, they said, This fellow doth not cast out devils, but by Beelzebub the prince of the devils.
"25 And Jesus knew their thoughts, and said unto them, Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation; and every city or house divided against itself shall not stand:
"26 And if Satan cast out Satan, he is divided against himself; how shall then his kingdom stand?
"27 And if I by Beelzebub cast out devils, by whom do your children cast them out? therefore they shall be your judges.[11]
"28 But if I cast out devils by the Spirit of God, then the kingdom of God is come unto you.
"29 Or else how can one enter into a strong man's house, and spoil his goods, except he first bind the strong man? and then he will spoil his houwe.
"30 He that is not with me is against me; and he that gathereth not wutg ne scatteretg abroad.
"31 ¶ Wherefore I say unto you, All manner of sin and blasphemy shall be forgiven unto men: but the blasphemy against the Holy Ghost shall not be forgiven unto men.
"32 And whosoever speaketh a word against the Son of man, it shall be forgiven him: but whosoever speaketh against the Holy Ghost, it shall not be forgiven him, neither in this world, neither in the world to come.
"33 Either make the tree good, and his fruit good: or else make the tree corrupt, and his fruit corrupt: for the tree is known by his fruit.
"34 O generation of vipers, how can y, being evil, speak good things? for out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh.
"35 A good man out of the good treasure of the heart bringeth forth good things: and an evil man out of the evil treasure bringeth forth evil things.
"36 But I say unto you, that every idle word that men shall speak, they shall give account thereof in the day of judgment.
"37 For by thy words thou shalt be justified, and by thy words thou shalt be condemned."
—Matthew 12:23-37 King James Version.

According to Martin Luther, "The Devil's Fraud, Lies, and Deception",[12] all of the purported exorcisms and miracles of the Catholic Church are fraudulent illusions and lying deceptions of the Devil, and only by the prince of demons do Catholic exorcists seem to cast out demons.[13]

At times the devil also takes possession of a person and then lets himself be cast out by adjuration, blessing, etc. All this he does for the purpose of confirming his lies and deceptions and of impressing the people, so that because of these apparently great miracles they are seduced into idolatry. This he has accomplished to date with pilgrimages and the idolatrous adoration of saints, at one place with the Sacred Blood, at another with this or that Mary. He has filled the entire country with shameful delusions and has prompted people to throng to such places and everybody to make vows there and transfer their trust from God to his lies. For in the end it was nothing but devilish deception with which he made fools of the people and persuaded them to believe that they had really been helped.

The Lutheran Church traces the practice of exorcism to the Scriptural claim that Jesus Christ expelled demons with a simple command (Mark 1:23–26; 9:14–29; Luke 11:14–26).[14] The apostles continued the practice with the power and in the name of Jesus (Matthew 10:1; Acts 19:11–16).[14] Contrary to some denominations of Christianity, Lutheranism affirms that the individual, both the believer and the non-believer, can be plagued by demons, based on several arguments, including the one that "just as a believer, whom Jesus Christ has delivered from sin (Romans 6:18), can still be bound by sin in his life, so he can still be bound by a demon in his life."[15]

After the Protestant Reformation, Martin Luther abbreviated the Roman ritual used for exorcism.[16] In 1526, the ritual was further abbreviated and the exsufflation was omitted. This form of the Lutheran Ritual for Exorcism was incorporated into the majority of the Lutheran service-books and implemented.[16][17] According to a Pastoral Handbook of the Lutheran Church,

In general, satanic possession is nothing other than an action of the devil by which, from God's permission, men are urged to sin, and he occupies their bodies, in order that they might lose eternal salvation. Thus bodily possession is an action by which the devil, from divine permission, possesses both pious and impious men in such a way that he inhabits their bodies not only according to activity, but also according to essence, and torments them, either for the punishment or for the discipline and testing of men, and for the glory of divine justice, mercy, power, and wisdom.[16][18]
These pastoral manuals warn that oftentimes, symptoms such as ecstasy, epileptic seizures, lethargy, insanity, and a frantic state of mind, are the results of natural causes and should not be mistaken for demon possession.[18] According to the Lutheran Church, primary symptoms that may indicate demon possession and the need of an exorcism include:
  1. The knowledge of secret things, for example, being able to predict the future (Acts 16:16), find lost people or things, or know complex things that one has never learned (e.g., medicine). It is said that fortune-tellers often ask a spirit for help and that this spirit gives them certain powers. In that case, the evil spirit is assisting, not necessarily possessing the person bodily.[18]
  2. The knowledge of languages one has never learned. Just as the devil can bind one's tongue (Luke 11:14), it is reported from the early church as well as the time of the Reformation that certain demon-possessed people could speak languages they had never learned.[18]
  3. Supernatural strength (Mark 5:2-3), far beyond what they previously had or should have considering their sex and size. Much caution in judging demon possession is required. All of the circumstances and symptoms must be taken into consideration. Insanity should not be confused with possession. On the other hand, possession may be taking place even where these symptoms are absent.[18]

The Church lists the secondary symptoms of horrible shouting (Mark 5:5), blasphemy of God and jeering at one's neighbor, deformation of movements (e.g. ferocious movements, facial contortion, immodest laughing, gnashing of teeth, spitting, removing clothes, lacerating self, Mk. 9:20; Lk. 8:26f.), inhuman revelry (e.g. when they take food beyond the capability of nature), torment of bodies, unusual injuries of the body and of those nearby, extraordinary motion of bodies (e.g., an elderly man who, being demon-possessed, was able to run as fast as a horse), and forgetfulness of things done.[18] Other symptoms include the corruption of reason in man, which make him like an animal, melancholy, the acceleration of death (Mark 9:18 [suicide attempts]), and the presence of other supernatural occurrences.[18]

After these determinations have been made, the Church recommends experienced physicians to determine whether there is a medical explanation for the behaviour of the individual.[18] When a true possession is recognized, the poor one is to be committed to the care of a minister of the Church who teaches sound doctrine, is of a blameless life, who does nothing for the sake of filthy lucre, but does everything from the soul.[18] The pastor is then to diligently inquire what kind of life the possessed one led up to this point and lead him or her through the law to the recognition of his sins.[18] After this admonition or consolation has taken place, the works of a natural physician are to be used, who will cleanse the possessed one from malicious fluids with the appropriate medicines.[18] The Pastoral Handbook then states:

  • Let ardent prayers be poured forth to God, not only by the ministers of the Church, but also by the whole Church. Let these prayers be conditioned, if the liberation should happen for God's glory and the salvation of the possessed person, for this is an evil of the body.
  • With the prayers let fasting be joined, see Matthew 17:21.
  • Alms by friends of the possessed person, Tobit 12:8-9.
  • Let the confession of the Christian faith be once required of Him, let him be taught concerning the works of the devil destroyed by Christ, let him be sent back faithfully to this Destroyer of Satan, Jesus Christ, let an exhortation be set up to faith in Christ, to prayers, to penitence.[18]


The United Methodist Church holds that the ritual of exorcism involves "the casting out of an objective power of evil which has gained possession of a person."[19] Moreover, the Methodist Church teaches that "the authority to exorcise has been given to the Church as one of the ways in which Christ's Ministry is continued in the world."[20] Ordained clergy must first consult the district superintendent in order to perform an exorcism.[21] The Methodist Church holds that it is of great importance to ensure that the presence and love of Christ is assured to the individual(s) seeking help.[22] In addition, the ministry of the "bible, prayer and sacraments" should be extended to these individuals as well.[23] A combination of these things has been proven to be effective.[24] For example, in one particular situation, a Roman Catholic woman believed that her house was haunted, and therefore consulted her priest for assistance. Since he was not available to drive the demons from the woman's home, she contacted a Methodist pastor, who exorcised the evil spirits from a room, which was believed to be the source of distress in the house, and celebrated Holy Communion in the same place;[24] following these actions, there was no longer any problem in the house.[24]

Mark 9:38-40 and Luke 9:50 "He does not follow us"

Jesus Himself counselled acceptance of the performance of genuine exorcisms done by those who do not belong to one's own group of believers, countering potential denominational jealousies, competitions and oppositions to others' ministries as not being truly authentic or licit.

And John answered him, saying, Master, we saw one casting out devils in thy name, and he followeth not us: and we forbad him, because he followeth not us. But Jesus said, Forbid him not: for there is no man which shall do a miracle in my name, that can lightly speak evil of me. For he that is not against us is on our part.
Mark 9:38-40 (KJV)

And Jesus said unto him, Forbid him not: for he that is not against us is for us.
Luke 9:50 (KJV)

See multiple commentaries on Mark 9:39 (biblehub.com) and multiple commentaries on Luke 9:50 (biblehub.com)

  • Jesus also said
Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves. Ye shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles? Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit. A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit. Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire. Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them.
Matthew 7:15-20 (KJV)
  • The Apostle Paul said in his letter to the Philippians
Some indeed preach Christ even of envy and strife; and some also of good will: The one preach Christ of contention, not sincerely, supposing to add affliction to my bonds: But the other of love, knowing that I am set for the defence of the gospel. What then? nothwithstanding, every way, whether in pretence, or in truth, Christ is preached; and I therein do rejoice, yea, and will rejoice.
Philippians 1:15-18 (KJV)

Notable exorcists

Notable cases

See also

Harmony of the Gospel (Conservative Version) Chapter Ten, marginal notes on Mark 1:23 "...in the synagogue there was a man who had a spirit of an unclean demon...according to what is written...to those who are defiled and unbelieving, nothing is pure"


  1. And the teachers of the law who came down from Jerusalem said, "He is possessed by Beelzebub! By the prince of demons he is driving out demons." Mark 3:22 (NIV)
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 The Westminster handbook to patristic theology. Westminster John Knox Press. Retrieved on 2007-12-31. “In the Orthodox service books the prayers of exorcism attributed to Basil the Great are still in use, for common as well as particular cases of need. In the Latin church the rite of exorcism is now very rarely used, and then only with episcopal permission. The exorcism prayers continue the ancient association of sickness and blight with demonic activity, and the blessings of beasts and fields in the Orthodox service books to this day make a regular pairing of the ideas.” 
  3. Pocket Dictionary of New Religious Movements. InterVarsity Press. Retrieved on 2007-12-31. “In the Orthodox Church exorcism is practiced prior to baptism.” 
  4. Orthodox Spirituality: An Outline of the Orthodox Ascetical and Mystical Tradition. St Vladimir's Seminary Press. Retrieved on 2007-12-31. “In the Orthodox rites of Baptism, this liberating action of Christ is expressed in the denial of Satan by the catechumens and in the exorcisms of the priest.” 
  5. Orthodox Spirituality: An Outline of the Orthodox Ascetical and Mystical Tradition. St Vladimir's Seminary Press. Retrieved on 2007-12-31. “St. Cyril of Jerusalem writes: "Receive the exorcisms with devotion...Divine exorcisms, borrowed from the Scripture, purify the soul."” 
  6. See also John 20:21-23; 1 John 4:14-15; 2:18-19; Matthew 10:40-42; 16:18-19; 18:5-6, 15-20; 25:45=46; Mark 9:37; Luke 10:16-20; John 15:1-6
  7. Demonic Possession Involves Body, Not Soul, article by Fr. William Saunders - CERC Catholic education Resource Center (catholiceducation.org)
  8. Sancta Missa - Rituale Romanum, Table of Contents: XIII. Exorcism (sanctamissa.org)
  9. Rite of Exorcism - Catholic online (catholic.org)
  10. Exorcism Prayer against Satan and the Apostate Angels - Catholic Apologetics (catholicapologetics.info)
  11. See multiple commentaries on Matthew 12:27
  12. The Devil's Fraud, Lies, and Deception, Martin Luther (angelfire.com), from "Sermons on the Gospel of St. John", Luther's Works, Vol. 24
  13. Compare Matthew 12:24-37 (KJV)
  14. 14.0 14.1 Exorcism. Lutheran Church Missouri Synod. Retrieved on 2009–05–27.
  15. Can a Christian Have a Demon?. Kaohsiung Lutheran Mission. Retrieved on 2009–05–27.
  16. 16.0 16.1 16.2 Exorcism. Christian Classics Ethereal Library. Retrieved on 2009–05–27.
  17. Ferber, Sarah (2004). Demonic possession and exorcism in early modern France. Routledge. ISBN 0415212650. Retrieved on 2009-05-25. 
  18. 18.00 18.01 18.02 18.03 18.04 18.05 18.06 18.07 18.08 18.09 18.10 18.11 Quotes and Paraphrases from Lutheran Pastoral Handbooks of the 16th and 17th Centuries on the Topic of Demon Possession. David Jay Webber. Retrieved on 2009–05–27.
  19. The Methodist Conference - Friday 25th June, 1976 (Preston). The Methodist Church of Great Britain. Retrieved on 2008–05–23. “...the casting out of an objective power of evil which has gained possession of a person.” 
  20. The Methodist Conference - Friday 25th June, 1976 (Preston). The Methodist Church of Great Britain. Retrieved on 2008–05–23. “...the authority to exorcise has been given to the Church as one of the ways in which Christ's Ministry is continued in the world.” 
  21. The Methodist Conference - Friday 25th June, 1976 (Preston). The Methodist Church of Great Britain. Retrieved on 2008–05–23. “The form of any service of healing for those believed to be possessed should be considered in consultation with the ministerial staff of the circuit (or in one-minister circuits with those whom the Chairman of the District suggests).” 
  22. The Methodist Conference - Friday 25th June, 1976 (Preston). The Methodist Church of Great Britain. Retrieved on 2008–05–23. “Since pastoral guidance is first and foremost concerned to assure the presence and love of Christ, it is important to follow this practice in these cases also.” 
  23. The Methodist Conference - Friday 25th June, 1976 (Preston). The Methodist Church of Great Britain. Retrieved on 2008–05–23. “The ministry of bible, prayer and sacraments should be extended to those seeking help.” 
  24. 24.0 24.1 24.2 Exorcism in 2006. Westminster Methodist Central Hall (Rev. Martin Turner). Retrieved on 2009–05–25.