A WALK IN THE LIFE: Exorcism off the big screen and in practice

Millie Ronkainen

Screaming girls, maniacal dolls and blood dripping from the walls –– typical Hollywood depictions of demonic possession and romanticized exorcisms. What are exorcisms? What is true demonic possession and how does it occur?

Simply put, an exorcism is the removal of a demon from the bodily presence of a person or from an object such as a house. It is performed by a specially trained priest known as an exorcist that follows a certain structure set by the Catholic Church. An exorcism is only performed if it can be definitely determined that person or object is possessed.

There are several telltale signs that distinguish possession from other conditions such as a mental illness. Signs can also indicate the severity of the possession which can range from mild to severe.

A person who is possessed will have an extreme aversion to holy things. A priest once told me that a possessed man jumped through a plate-glass window to escape drops of blessed water. Sometimes possessed people will have extraordinary strength, such as a frail old lady who threw an entire couch out a window during her possession. People suffering from a possession sometimes display knowledge of secret information or fluently speak a language they have not learned.

Demons can only possess someone who gives them permission to do so. Permission can be given in seemingly insignificant actions, most notably mantras, séances and use of a Ouija board. Sometimes priests will ask the demon its name during exorcisms. One demon revealed his name to be the personal mantra of the man whom he was possessing. The man had been saying this mantra during meditation and had summoned the demon into himself by repeating his name.

Séances and Ouija boards are direct methods of communication with demons who disguise themselves as spirits of the dead. They present a danger because they inherently open the mind to demons while they are spiritually present.

My aunt was the subject of an exorcism a few years ago. She had been experiencing a mild form of possession displayed as extreme irritability, hearing whispers of voices in her house, and an aversion to holy things.

This was a result of her involvement in the New Age spirituality, fortune telling and séances. As the priest was praying over her, she said she felt a wrenching, burning sensation pulling away from her body, especially her stomach. The change in her behavior from pre-exorcism to post-exorcism was astounding. She is happier, more lighthearted and more patient now, and when she laughs she genuinely seems to be enjoying herself.

Although movies may overdramatize the realities of possession and exorcism, both are very real phenomena. But do not be afraid. Good judgement can prevent demonic possessions.

With that being said, as we approach Halloween, I would encourage you to reconsider any adventures that may include Ouija boards or communication with the dead. Neither are worth the discomfort of even a mild possession.