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Demonic possession is often the term used to describe the control over a human form by a demon. Descriptions of demonic possessions often include: erased memories or personalities, convulsions, “fits” and fainting as if one were dying. Unlike in channeling or other forms of possession, the subject has no control over the possessing entity and so it will persist until forced to leave the victim, usually through a form of exorcism. Other descriptions include access to hidden knowledge and foreign languages, drastic changes in vocal intonation and facial structure, sudden appearance of injury (scratches, bite marks) or lesions, and superhuman strength.

Many cultures and religions contain some concept of demonic possession, but the details vary considerably. The Roma people believe that demons can also possess animals, plants, deceased persons or inanimate objects.

The oldest references to demonic possession are from the Sumerians, who believed that all diseases of the body and mind were caused by "sickness demons" called gidim or gid-dim . The priests who practiced exorcisms in these nations were called ashipu (sorcerer) as opposed to an asu (physician) who applied bandages and salves.Many cuneiform tablet contain prayers to certain gods asking for protection from demons, while others ask the gods to expel the demons that have invaded their bodies.

Most illustrations portray these spirits as small, sadistic-looking or tormented-looking beings with a human likeness. Demons are often referenced as familiars. Witches would provide shelter and nourishment via the witches' teat in exchange for the valuable services of familiars.

Shamanic cultures also believe in demon possession and shamans perform exorcisms too; in these cultures often diseases are attributed to the presence of a vengeful spirit or (loosely termed) demon in the body of the patient. These spirits are more often the spectres of animals or people wronged by the bearer, the exorcism rites usually consisting of respectful offerings or sacrificial offerings.

The Malleus Maleficarum speaks about some exorcisms that can be done in different cases. Depending on the severity of the alleged possession, solutions range from prayers of deliverance to the Solemn Rite of Exorcism as practiced by the Catholic Church.

Demonic possession in The Bible

According to the Catholic Encyclopedia: Demonical Possession:
"In the Old Testament we have only one instance, and even that is not very certain. We are told that "an evil spirit from the Lord troubled" Saul ( ). The Hebrew rûah need not imply a personal influence, though, if we may judge from Josephus (Ant. Jud., VI, viii, 2; ii, 2), the Jews were inclined to give the word that meaning in this very case. In New-Testament times, however, the phenomenon had become very common."

According to the American Standard Bible, King Saul requested that the deceased prophet Samuel be summoned by channeling, even though he had been admonished by God not to allow such practices in his kingdom. He used a woman possessed by a "familiar spirit" - the Witch of Endor - for this purpose (1 Samuel ch. 28).

The New Testament mentions several opportunities in which Jesus drove out demons from diseased persons, believed to be these entities responsible for those illnesses.

  • : Demon-possessed persons are healed by Jesus (also ).
  • : Many will drive out demons in Jesus' name (also ; ; ; ).
  • : Jesus healed many demon-possessed (also ; ).
  • : Jesus sent a herd of demons from two men into a herd of about two thousand pigs (also ; , both referring to only one man).
  • : Jesus made a demon-possessed and mute man speak, the Pharisees said it was by the power of Beelzebub (also ).
  • : The Twelve Apostles given the authority to drive out evil spirits (also ; ; ; ; ).
  • : "this generation" said that John the Baptist was possessed by a demon (also ).
  • : Jesus healed a demon-possessed blind and dumb man (also ; ; ).
  • : Jesus told an allegory of nasty spirits coming back home, that is to the human body where they have lived before (also ).
  • : Jesus expelled a demon from the body of the daughter of a Canaanite woman (also ).
  • : Jesus healed a lunatic by driving out a demon from him (also ; ).
  • : Jesus expelled a nasty spirit from a man (also ).
  • : A non-Christian is seen driving out demons in Jesus' name (also ).
  • : Jesus had driven seven demons out of Mary Magdalene (also ).
  • : Many people are cleansed from evil spirits by Jesus.
  • : Jesus expelled a spirit of disease from the body of a woman on the Sabbath.
  • : Jesus continued to cast out demons even though Herod Antipas wanted to kill him.
  • : Satan entered into Judas Iscariot (also ).
  • : A "crowd of Jews" that wanted to kill Jesus said he was demon-possessed.
  • : "The Jews" said Jesus was a Samaritan and demon-possessed.
  • : Many Jews said Jesus was raving mad and demon-possessed, others said he was not.
  • : Satan filled the heart of Ananias.
  • : The Apostles healed those tormented by evil spirits.
  • : At the teaching of Philip the Evangelist in Samariamarker, evil spirits came out of many.
  • : Simon Magus offered to buy the power of Laying on of hands.
  • : St. Peter said Jesus healed all who were under the power of the devil.
  • : Paul and Silas were imprisoned for driving a future-telling spirit out of a slave girl.
  • : Handkerchiefs and aprons touched by Paul cured illness and drove out evil spirits.
  • : Seven sons of Sceva attempted to drive out evil spirits by saying: "In the name of Jesus, whom Paul preaches, I command you to come out." But because they did not have faith in Jesus, they were unsuccessful and were actually driven from that house by the possessed.
  • : The Whore of Babylon is a home for demons, evil spirits and unclean birds.

Acts of the Apostles contains also a number of references to people coming under the influence of the Holy Spirit ( , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ) which is believed to be a good thing in contrast to demonic influence.

In Christianity

Despite an English language translation tradition, the Bible never refers to people as being possessed by demons. The main New Testament expressions referred to demonic influence are:
  1. 'to be demonized' (daimonizomai) - this is the most frequent expression.
  2. 'having a demon' (echon daimonion) - note it is the person who possesses the demon, not the demon who possesses the person.
Certainly the language of "possession", like other mistranslations, has gained a life of its own, as is reflected in the title of this article. Murphy comments on the traditional language of "possession": "Fortunately, the practice of using these terms is now in the process of correction because of renewed historical-contextual studies of Scripture and renewed experience with the demonized." Some allow the term "possession" but restrict its use only for the most extreme cases, which are thought to be extremely rare. In most cases where a demon is believed to be involved, it tends to (1) influence the individual towards sinful or violent behavior or (2) cause physical or mental ailments that prove resistant to medical or psychiatric intervention.

The literal view of demonization is still held by a number of Christian denominations. Official Catholic doctrine affirms that demonic oppression can occur as distinguished from mental illness, but stresses that cases of mental illness should not be misdiagnosed as demonic influence. Catholic exorcisms can occur only under the authority of a bishop and in accordance with strict rules; a simple exorcism also occurs during Baptism (CCC 1673). In charismatic Christianity, deliverance ministries are activities carried out by individuals or groups aimed at solving problems related to demons and spirits, especially possession.

A great deal of controversy surrounds the book War on the Saints originally published in 1912 as a resource to the Christian faced with combating demon influences.

The concept of demon influence in Christianity was similar to that of Jewish belief. In the New Testament Jesus is reported to have encountered people who were demonized and to have driven the "evil spirits" out of these demoniacs. In the 4th century, St. Hillary asserted that demons entered the bodies of humans to use them as if they were theirs, and also proposed that the same could happen with animals.

The New Testament's description of people who had evil spirits includes a capacity for hidden knowledge (e.g., future events, innermost thoughts of the people around them) (Acts 16:16) and great strength (Act 19:16), among others, and shows those with evil spirits can speak of Christ (Acts 19:16, Mark 3:11). According to Catholic theologian, demonic assault can be involuntary and allowed by God to test a person (for more details about God's tests on persons see Job). Involuntary demonic assault, according to these theologians, cannot be denied because this would imply the negation of the cases mentioned in the New Testament (12, some of them repeated in more than one Gospel). However, in the overwhelming majority of cases of alleged demonic possession in modern times, the victim can suffer due to any of a number of personal initiatives: occult practices, mortal sin, loss of faith, or psychological trauma, among others.

In previous centuries, the Christian church offered suggestions on safeguarding one’s home. Suggestions ranged from dousing a household with Holy water, placing wax and herbs on thresholds to “ward off witches occult,” and avoiding certain areas of townships known to be frequented by witches and Devil worshippers after dark.

In medicine

Demonic possession is recognized as a psychiatric or medical diagnosis by either the DSM-IV as the Religious or Spiritual Problem V62.89 or the ICD-10 F44.3 Trance and possession disorders . There are many psychological ailments commonly misunderstood as demonic possession, particularly dissociative identity disorder. In the early- to mid-20 Century, "mania" or "hysteria" were common diagnoses, but such terminology has generally fallen out of favor. In cases of dissociative identity disorder in which the alter personality is questioned as to its identity, 29% are reported to identify themselves as demons. However doctors see this as a mental disease called demonomania or demonopathy, a monomania in which the patient believes that he or she is possessed by one or more demons.

In fiction



  • The American sitcom Soap featured a second season storyline in which Corinne Tate's baby was possessed by the Devil.
  • The 1980s horror series Friday the 13th: The Series featured a second season finale/third season premiere storyline in which the main character of Ryan Dallion was possessed by the Devil.
  • During late 1994 and the first half of 1995, the daytime soap opera Days of our Lives dealt with the demonic possession of one of its star characters, Dr. Marlena Evans. This storyline, written by the late James E. Reilly, was controversial at the time, but did bring the show a huge spike in ratings when most other soaps were dying in the wake of the O.J. Simpson murder trial. Longtime character John Black, a priest at the time, exorcised the demon along with the help of other such characters as Father Francis, Kristen Blake Dimera, Caroline Brady, and Dr. Mike Horton.
  • In "Die Hand Die Verletzt", a 1995 episode from the second season of the X-Files, a substitute teacher named Mrs. Paddock (played by Susan Blommaert) kills a teenage girl by possessing her, while dissecting a pig fetus after class. The teacher also possesses a snake which eats and digests a human being in less than 5 minutes (despite Agent Dana Scully knowing that it would take hours or even days to digest a human being). Early in the episode, it was revealed that the school board members were devil worshippers themselves.
  • The series Buffy the Vampire Slayer often dealt with demons and possession.
  • Xena: Warrior Princess featured a few episodes that involved demonic possession of humans, but in a more fantasy-oriented manner given the nature of the show.
  • Possession (taken seriously) is central to the British TV series Hex.
  • The series Supernatural has also explored themes of demonic possession. Demons play a major part in the plots of the second and third seasons. They are portrayed as incorporeal beings, where they need to possess a body to carry out their actions.
  • In the episodes "The Impossible Planet" and "The Satan Pit" of Series 2 of the current Doctor Who series, the Doctor and companion Rose Tyler encounter an ancient demonic entity known as the Beast, who has taken possession of a space mining crew member Toby Zed, as well as the crew's alien Ood servants.
  • The main character of the 2008 BBC1 television drama series Apparitions is a priest who performs exorcisms.
  • In Family Guy episode Boys Do Cry, the town thinks Stewie Griffin is possessed by the devil after he vomits the blood and body of Christ.

Novels, comic books, etc.

  • In the 1970's book The Amityville Horror, the house at 112 Ocean Avenue is portrayed as demoniacally possessed.
  • The 1971 novel The Exorcist by William Blatty drew its inspiration on a 1949 exorcism Blatty heard about while he was a student in the class of 1950 at Georgetown Universitymarker, a Jesuit and Catholic school. Blatty wrote Legion, a sequel to the original novel in 1983.
  • The DC Comics character The Demon is a normal human named Jason Blood whose soul was bonded to a demon named Etrigan, and literally transforms into Etrigan in order to fight evil.
  • The concept behind the Marvel Comics superhero Ghost Rider involves motorcycle stunt daredevil Johnny Blaze being bonded with a demon named Zarathos by another demon, Mephisto. When necessary, Blaze is transformed and possessed by Zarathos to become the Ghost Rider character.
  • A Marvel Comics storyline from the 1980s involving the Avengers superhero team featured the Scarlet Witch being physically possessed by the demon Chthon.
  • The 2007 novel A Good and Happy Child deals largely with the possible subject of demonic possession.

See also


  1. Ferber, Sarah, Demonic Possession and Exorcism in Early Modern France(London, Routledge, 2004, 25, 116).
  2. Sumerian "gidim"
  4. Willis, Deborah, Malevolent Nurture: Witch-Hunting and Maternal Power in Early Modern England (New York, Cornell University Press, 1995)
  5. Murphy, Ed. 1996.The Handbook for Spiritual Warfare. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, Rev. Ed., p.51
  6. Murphy, Ed. 1996. The Handbook for Spiritual Warfare. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, Rev. Ed., p.50
  7. MacNutt, Francis. 1995. Deliverance from evil Spirits: a practical manual. Grand Rapids: Chosen Books. p.71
  8. Broedel, Hans Peter, The Malleus Malfeicarum and the Construction of Witchcraft (Great Britain, Manchester University Press, 2003, 32-33), Barajo, Caro, World of the Witches, (Great Britain, University of Chicago Press, 1964, 73)
  9. Microsoft Word - Haraldur Erlendsson 1.6.03 Multiple Personality
  10. Martin Shaw has a devil of a job in Apparitions, The Times. November 8, 2008


  • Castaneda, Carlos. 1998. The Active side of Infinity. NYC HarperCollins.

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