Today, when many consider the idea of exorcism the first thing that comes to mind is a litany of scenes from horror movies. In reality, this deeply spiritual practice is a cross-cultural ritual that dates back centuries.
Exorcisms date back as early as Mesopotamia. At this time, it was believed that illness, in any form, was the sign of a demon latching itself onto the soul of the sick person. Ancient tablets have been found where Mesopotamians have recorded directions in casting these demons out. Ancient priests would chant incantations and prayers to the gods, and challenge the demons that dwelled within the sick individual directly. Ancient Babylonians would conclude these early versions of exorcisms by destroying clay or wax figures that had been shaped to resemble demons.
In the ancient Hindu texts, known as Vedas, there are writings about powerful, otherworldly evil that interferes with the work of the gods, and can cause harm to mortals. The Vedas is said to have been written around 1,000 B.C.
Zoroaster, who is historically known as being the world’s first magician, was a deeply religious man who would routinely perform exorcisms within Persia around 600 B.C. Recordings of these rituals state they included the use of prayer, ritual and holy water to rid each soul of evil.
Even when Christianity was first forming, there are many references to exorcisms. Jesus Christ himself was well known for casting out evil spirits. In one ancient scripture, Jesus is described as having successfully rid a man of the demons that dwell within him by transferring the entities into the souls of nearby pigs.
After the fall of the Roman Empire, the Dark Ages began. While art, culture, and even the economy declined, there was a surge and interest in demonic exorcisms. Those who were mentally disabled in some form or other were often thought to be possessed by demonic spirits. Often clergymen would try to exorcise these spirits out by any means necessary.
While many believe that ritualistic exorcisms have fallen out of favor since this time, the Roman Catholic Church has taken upon itself to train more men of the cloth in this ancient practice. As more and more people around the world dabble in the paranormal and occult, the Church recognizes that people are much more susceptible to becoming possessed.
Despite being a globally recognized and ancient practice, many modern day skeptics claim that demonic possession does not exist. Those who doubt believe that individuals who claim to be possessed, either by themselves or by loved ones, are actually suffering from a form of an undiagnosed mental illness, such as psychosis, hysteria, schizophrenia, or some degree of personality disorder.
Despite modern day medical findings, and many misdiagnosed cases of demonic possession, many religious factions continue to believe in its validity. Priests who have participated in a ritualistic exorcism have considered the possibilities of mental disorders prior to conducting the ritual. The possibility of a chemical or developmental explanation is shattered when the possessed person in question is able to defy the laws of physics by telekinetic power, or divulge information or demonstrate a language they had no possible prior knowledge of. These elements cannot be explained away be any form of mental illness.