“Go to hell.” – John Constantine
The Rites of Exorcism have a longstanding tradition within the Christian Church, and may indeed be more common than most would think. One of the most dramatic and eerie accounts of exorcism is found in the Gospel of Saint Mark, chapter 5, verses 1-20:
“And they came over the strait of the sea into the country of the Gerasens. And as he went out of the ship, immediately there met him out of the monuments a man with an unclean spirit, who had his dwelling in the tombs, and no man now could bind him, not even with chains. For having been often bound with fetters and chains, he had burst the chains, and broken the fetters in pieces, and no one could tame him. And he was always day and night in the monuments and in the mountains, crying and cutting himself with stones.
“And seeing Jesus afar off, he ran and adored him. And crying with a loud voice, he said, ‘What have I to do with you, Jesus the Son of the most high God? I adjure you by God that you torment me not.’ For he said unto him, ‘Go out of the man, you unclean spirit.’ And he asked him, ‘What is your name?’ And he said to him, ‘My name is Legion, for we are many.’ And he besought him much, that he would not drive him away out of the country.
“And there was there near the mountain a great herd of swine, feeding. And the spirits besought him, saying, ‘Send us into the swine, that we may enter into them.’ And Jesus immediately gave them leave. And the unclean spirits going out, entered into the swine; and the herd with great violence was carried headlong into the sea, being about two thousand, and were stifled in the sea. And they that fed them fled, and told it in the city and in the fields. And they went out to see what was done: And they came to Jesus, and they see him that was troubled with the devil, sitting, clothed, and well in his wits, and they were afraid.
“And they that had seen it, told them, in what manner he had been dealt with who had the devil; and concerning the swine. And they began to pray him that he would depart from their coasts. And when he went up into the ship, he that had been troubled with the devil, began to beseech him that he might be with him. And he admitted him not, but said to him, ‘Go into your house to your friends, and tell them how great things the Lord has done for you, and has had mercy on you.’ And he went his way, and began to publish in Decapolis how great things Jesus had done for him: and all men wondered.”
In addition to the Roman Catholic Rite of Exorcism (fairly well known from its appearance in the popular Hollywood films The Exorcist and The Exorcism of Emily Rose), there are the Exorcism Prayers of Saint Basil the Great (Fourth Century AD), the introductory text of which is follows here:
“O God of gods and Lord of lords, Creator of the fiery spirits and Artificer of the invisible powers, of all things heavenly and earthly: Thou Whom no man hast seen — nor is able to see; Thou Whom all creation fears and before Whom it trembles; Thou Who didst cast into the darkness of the abyss of Tartarus the angels who didst fall away with him who once was commander of the angelic host, who disobeyed Thee and haughtily refused to serve Thee, do Thou expel by the terror of Thy name the evil one and his legions loose upon the earth, Lucifer and those with him who fell from above. Set him to flight and command him and his demons to depart completely. Let no harm come to them who are sealed in Thine image and let those who are sealed receive dominion, ‘to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy.’ (Saint Luke 10:19) For Thee do we hymn and magnify and with every breath do we glorify Thine all-holy name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit now and forever and unto the ages of ages. Amen.”
“Exorcist” is also one of the minor orders conferred upon all entering the Priesthood of the Orthodox and Old Catholic Churches, and what is often not realized are the simpler forms of exorcism commonly used in Baptismal rites, at the reception of a catechumen, the blessing of holy water, and even in the most commonly-heard Christian prayer, the “Our Father” or “Lord’s Prayer,” with its concluding “deliver us from evil,” or literally translated from the New Testament Greek, “deliver us from the evil one.”
Exorcism is of course, by no means confined to the Judeo-Christian tradition. It has been found in all ancient cultures, including the Sumerian/Babylonian (the spells against the seven demonic spirits who bring plague and desolation), Egyptian (the symbol of the ankh-cross having been used as a charm against evil for millennia before Christianity began), and Native American (the use of the sweat-lodge to remove “spirits of poison”), among many others.
An interesting example of folk exorcism are the various remedies found in Greece and Sicily against the Vaskania or “Evil Eye.” In one exceedingly arcane magical rite, the exorcist (usually an elderly woman) begins by anointing the forehead of the suffering person with olive oil, then adding some of the oil to a glass of water. If a demonic influence is present, it is believed that the oil within the water will form into the shape of an eye. If so, the exorcist then recites the appropriate prayers for the individual’s deliverance.
In any event, exorcism and dealing with the forces of the demonic realm is not something to be trifled with, especially by the inexperienced. Indeed, even experienced, pious, and educated Priests are warned against the many dangers of exorcism, not the least of which is the distinct possibility of actually falling into adoration of the powers of darkness. It is an odd thing, but in its own way quite fitting, that the words of Friedrich Nietzsche seem so appropriate here:
“He who would fight monsters must take care lest he become a monster. When you gaze into the abyss, the abyss gazes back into you.”
May the Holy Trinity and our most pure and blessed Lady Theotokos protect all of you!
Books for further study:
The Demonologist: The Extraordinary Career of Ed and Lorraine Warren by Gerald Brittle (Backinprint.com)
Hostage To The Devil: The Possession and Exorcism of Five Contemporary Americans by Father Malachi Martin (HarperOne)
An Exorcist Tells His Story by Father Gabriele Amorth (Ignatius Press)
An Exorcist: More Stories by Father Gabriele Amorth (Ignatius Press)
Interview With an Exorcist: An Insider’s Look at the Devil, Demonic Possession, and the Path to Deliverance by Father Jose Antonio Fortea (Ascension Press)
Begone Satan! by Father Carl Vogl (TAN Books)
The Amityville Horror by Jay Anson (Pocket Star)
The Encyclopedia of Witchcraft and Demonology by Rossell Hope Robbins (Crown Publishers)
The Book of Enoch the Prophet by R.H. Charles (Weiser Books)