I’ve asked and been asked many times over the years about demons and exorcisms. It seems to be a topic many are interested in and one which many know nothing beyond, possibly, what Hollywood has had to say on the matter. This blog is primarily about the scientific study of phenomena we call paranormal. The fact is that if you think there is little scientific research on ESP and ghosts, you’ll find there is even less about demons and exorcisms.
There is a lot out there on anomalous cognition. A bit less on healing by unexplained means. There is a LOT of information from unscientific sources of highly variable quality on ghosts and hauntings. If you want to study demons? Good luck.
To date, the best sources on demons and exorcisms all come from the Roman Catholic Church. While most religions have teachings on negative entities and how to get rid of them, the Catholic Church is known to have devoted a lot of good minds to the topic and the results show.
The Catholic requirements to denote a need for an exorcism are clear, concise, and well written. Talking about a quality of the priest to perform the exorcism, the old Rituale Romanum, their handbook on their rituals, the requirements are put forth:
3. Especially, he should not believe too readily that a person is possessed by an evil spirit; but he ought to ascertain the signs by which a person possessed can be distinguished from one who is suffering from some illness, especially one of a psychological nature. Signs of possession may be the following: ability to speak with some facility in a strange tongue or to understand it when spoken by another; the faculty of divulging future and hidden events; display of powers which are beyond the subject’s age and natural condition; and various other indications which, when taken together as a whole, build up the evidence.
From the “Rituale Romanum” 1964 Edition in English
Clearly, they make a distinction between possession and mental illness, a distinction not always made by less respectable people.
The rite itself was changed in 1999 and more recently, bishops are no longer required to get explicit permission from Rome, but these requirements are effectively unchanged. The revisions actually make it even more clear that all physical, mental, and psychological conditions must be ruled out before the rite is to be performed. The new rite has come under some criticism.
In the 25+ years I’ve studied the paranormal and occult, I have not once, personally witnessed anything I would consider clear proof of demons, let alone a possession needing an exorcism. At one point, I had contacts within the Catholic Church who informed me that exorcisms for demonic possession were extremely rare. At the time, there were less than a dozen full time exorcists in the entire Catholic Church. Recent news about more and more priests being trained and qualified as exorcists has come out, but I’ve heard nothing about the priests who do this full time. The newest rules now allow bishops to authorize exorcisms without the intercession of Rome, and so they need people who can properly perform the rite.
I have personally witnessed hauntings, ghosts, full-bodied apparitions, nature spirits, trance possession, precognition, micro-psychokinesis, spells, etc. But demons? Hardly. I’ve experienced what some would call “negative entities” who’s origin I don’t claim to know, but they never have been able to show me much power beyond making people freaked out. They were always easy enough to shoo away by anyone with sufficient ability, whether natural or trained.
So, beware of people who see demons in every shadow. Are they out there? Something certainly is, but so are ebola, giant squids, worm holes etc. They’re all pretty exceptional things in the world.
Would I like to study a real demon? Sure. Bring it on. I’ll call in the specialists if needed.