The Potential Dangers of Exorcism Rituals

by on February 17th, 2011
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Exorcism is the act of driving out an evil entity (what sort varies, depending on the beliefs of those involved) from a person, place or thing. Typically, a religious practitioner performs a ritual that drives the evil out of the host. In the most well known version of exorcism in mainstream media (Christian), the evil is ordered out in the name of Jesus Christ. Unfortunately, exorcism performed on people is often more damaging than helpful. Whether these evils truly exist within a person is often irrelevant when compared to the damage exorcism often, but not always, inflicts on them mentally, physically and morally.

Christian exorcism is not the only form of exorcism in the world; nor is it likely that Christians were the first group to perform exorcisms. The idea of evil has been around as far back in human history as we are able to go without guessing and probably goes back much further. Therefore, it makes sense that the ritual act of ridding something of evil has been around for a very long time. However, for the most part, examples cited in this article will deal with Christian exorcisms, though the explanations of possible damage inflicted herein hold true for many forms of exorcism in many cultures.

We know that it has been dangerous to be possessed or thought to be possessed for a long time. History shows us that fear very likely caused authorities to torture, exorcise or kill many people who were probably mentally ill, not possessed. This sort of behavior seems like it belongs in a history book. Within our realm of knowledge, but far removed from our modern world. This is not the case.

On July 1, 1976, a 23-year-old woman named Anneliese Michel died in Germany. At the time, she was covered in self-inflicted wounds and sores that were evidence of severe physical illness. She weighed a mere 68 pounds and certainly looked the part of a possessed person before her premature death. Anneliese had been exorcised of supposed demons over the last 10 months of her life 67 times. She was diagnosed with epilepsy years before and as the years went by, she began to display symptoms of demonic possession or schizophrenia coupled with dissociative personality disorder. Epilepsy has been connected to symptoms of psychosis, but Anneliese, her family and 2 priests believed her possessed. They allowed her to stop eating, harm herself, lick up her own urine, spend days barking under the family dining table and eventually die. The constant exorcisms took a huge toll on Anneliese’s health. Her physical well-being was severely compromised by the ritual.

On the night of October 5-6, 1974, Michael Taylor underwent an exorcism at the British St. Thames Church in Barnsley, South Yorkshire. Practitioners told him that they had exorcised 40 evil spirits, but that the demon of murder remained within him. They sent him home to his wife, whom he then murdered in a horrific way, along with a family dog. It is obvious that Taylor was deranged, but it is thought possible that the exorcists’ power of suggestion helped pave the way to his behavior that night. One must wonder if they had suggested he still had the demon of cake making in him if his wife would have simply been the recipient of some lovely cakes instead of having her face literally torn off. This is just one example of how the ritual of exorcism can exacerbate psychosis.

Right now, in various areas of Africa, including the Democratic Republic of Congo, children are being abused severely because priests and parents claim they have evil inside them and/or that they are witches. An untold number of children have been subjected to physical and mental abuse at the hands of paid exorcists, typically Christian pastors, in these poverty-stricken areas. The injuries inflicted by these exorcists include burns, malnutrition, mental injuries and even death.

The moral questions the dangers of exorcism bring up are many. Who is morally responsible for these injuries and deaths? Even if the evils that are reportedly being cast out are real, is it morally correct to inflict such suffering? Does evil excuse evil deeds? In a way, the morals are no different than those posed in the medical industry. If a patient is needlessly harmed, it is nearly universally thought of as wrong.

There are some cases in which exorcism provides relief for a victim of mental ills (or evil spirits, depending on your belief system). This is not surprising, even if you take divine intervention out of the equation, because a religious practitioner is often comforting to the religious. Of course, relief is a good thing. However, there are cases where exorcism makes matters worse. In many places, these victims are protected by the law and the act of exorcism does not exempt practitioners from the law. In 2003, Terrence Cottrell, Jr. (age 8) was suffocated by a pastor during an exorcism in Milwaukee. Terrence was autistic, not possessed.


Questioning the Story, retrieved 4/11/11,

Congo Children Face Harsh Exorcisms, retrieved 4/11/11,
Children-Face-Harsh-Exorcisms/ Faith Healing Death, retrieved 4/11/11,

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