Religions across the world have long maintained belief in the existence of demonic, paranormal entities; many, including the Catholic Church, further believe that these entities are capable of overtaking the body of any unsuspecting individual, whether faithful or non-spiritual, causing various bizarre and abnormal behaviors in the victim. The Catholic Church specifically has outlined a number of common symptoms which may indicate the presence of demonic possession, mild or severe.
Early Physical Warnings
The Catholic Church argues that many rationalists believe that signs of demonic possession are actually symptoms of mental and physical ailments, such as schizophrenia, but the Vatican has long maintained that these are not one in the same. Catholics believe that the symptoms of possession may include tremors and palsy, vocal outbursts, violent headaches, vomiting and stomach cramps.
The church insists that an individual can be both possessed and physically unwell at the same time and that, in fact, this is often the rule, citing Matthew 8:16 of the New Vulgate Bible: "And when evening came, they brought to [Jesus] many persons who were possessed; and he cast out the evil spirits with his word, and healed all that were sick."
Oftentimes a possessed individual will incur sudden new physical abilities. Father Gabriele Amorth, one of the most notable exorcists in modern history, relates that many of the truly possessed will become violent if prodded from their hiding place: "During an exorcism I saw a child of 11 held down by four strong men," he relates. "The child threw the men aside with ease. I was [also there] when a boy of 10 lifted a huge, heavy table." As the demon is provoked, it may also react in spurts of aggression by levitating objects or people and hurling them across the room, or by carving words into skin or walls.
Sudden Change in Behavior
Super-strength is not the only symptom present during a possession; sudden personality changes may often manifest themselves, such as turbulent outbursts, vehement aversion to any religious iconography and abrupt knowledge of archaic languages. Usually peaceful individuals will sometimes act out by making obscene or lewd comments or threatening others with violence or fear. The classical Greek word for demon ("daemon") can be translated to mean an "unclean spirit" or "fallen angel," so it is not uncommon for the once spiritual or virtuous who have been possessed to display overnight changes in routine behavior.
As with many religions, the Catholic Church's response to true demonic possession is exorcism. This is usually performed by a designated priest in tandem with another member of the clergy, responsible for the prayers, although some believe that an exorcism can be performed by any knowledgeable and faithful individual, should the need arise.
The rite is initiated by a dedicatory prayer to God (it also serves as a request to higher powers to assist in cleansing the unclean spirit), followed by the recitation of Psalms. Upon completion, the initial exorcism is performed. Many designated priests, including Amorth, rely on the assistance of items such as salt, oil and holy water. The Catholic Church is quick to point out that, in some cases, it may take up to a full year of exorcism rites to completely rid an individual of evil spirits and demons.
- 'Demonic Possession and Exorcism', FR. William Saunders
- New Advent: 'Demonic Possession' Catholic Encyclopedia
- Knox Bible, Westminster Diocese 2012
- Boston Catholic Journal: 'An Interview With Father Gabriele Amorth', Gyles Brandreth (Daily Telegraph), Oct. 2000
- Easton's 1897 Bible Dictionary, 'Daemon' (cat. alphabetically)
- Catholic Encyclopedia, 'Exorcists', New Advent
- Rite of Exorcism, Prayers and Psalms
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