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  Columnist: Kim Rain

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The battle between good and evil

Posted on Thursday, 16 February, 2012 | 5 comments
Columnist: Kim Rain

In early 2011, newspapers reported the heartbreaking murder of a 2-year-old boy by his own mother. The Fort Wayne woman and her roommate, convinced that their children were possessed, forced them to drink a mixture of olive oil and vinegar in an attempt to drive the demons out. The other three children vomited up the vile mixture, while the 2-year-old’s mother held her hand over his mouth to force him to swallow. She compressed his neck and released his own soul from his body. Convicted for murder in June, her roommate pled guilty to her own role in the death last month.

In 2010 in Guyana, a local pastor had convinced a family that the convulsions their 14-year-old daughter was having were caused by a demonic possession. Before she was taken to a hospital where she died, the pastor and his aides rubbed and pounded her stomach and forced her to drink lime juice. The next month in Kodinar, India, reporters commented on the death of a 36-year-old woman who was starved, chained and forced to sleep out under the sun for days in an attempt to exorcise the demon inside her. And in 2009, a New Zealand family killed 22-year-old Janet Moses by pouring water into her eyes and down her throat, in accordance with a Maori custom of exorcism.

These cases are becoming more frequent as people worldwide are taking it upon themselves to fight the forces of darkness. Many in the Catholic Church, including the Vatican’s Chief Exorcist, Father Gabriele Amorth, say that the number of possessions has increased tremendously, and they are struggling to keep up with the need. Amorth has claimed to have performed some 70,000 exorcisms since 1986, and has been pushing for every Bishop everywhere to appoint an exorcist in their own area. He also founded the International Association of Exorcists, an organization that meets every two years with the intention of increasing the number of exorcists worldwide.

The Church believes so strongly in this rising threat that Pope Benedict XVI hosted a group of exorcists in 2005 to encourage their work, and ordered bishops to set up exorcism squads in 2007. The Vatican authorized a class in 2005 to teach many professionals about the work involved in exorcism and assembled an Anti-Sect squad in 2006 to combat satanic cults. It is a battle that has been waging since humanity came into existence. Many have said that Satan's greatest triumph was to make us believe that he doesn't exist. If that were true, then why do people flock daily to Father Amorth and other exorcists, traveling great distances in dire need of heavenly help to banish the demons dwelling inside?

Demons Throughout the World

Spirit possession is not a new occurrence, but a situation and tradition that have been in our history long before Jesus cast out demons in the bible. It can be found in every culture, in every time, and has been seen much differently than what we might be used to in the West.

It started far back in our evolution when man started to think about death and what it meant, leading to the idea of a soul. It was the beginning of ancestor cults, which developed the belief that souls passed from the dead into their living descendants. This inferred that if a soul could inhabit a body, then any other spirit, good or bad, could too. In places where tribal cultures still exist, anthropologists have seen the fear of possessions that persist even today. Shamans and holy men spend countless hours exorcising demons and spirits out of people, using the same practices and rituals passed down from their very distant kin. These same shamans also spend time in trances communicating with spirits, and even sometimes invite spirits into themselves for various reasons.

When a possession is invited, it is usually to seek aid or advice from the gods or spirits. This can be seen most recently in today’s religions of Santeria and Vodou, where possession is sought after. Rituals and community practices use these possessions as glue to cement their relationships with the gods and spirits around them, ensuring their help when the people need it. Both religions have African origins, and both have incorporated parts of Catholicism. But instead of seeing a possessing entity as evil, both religions’ traditions dictate that it is an honor to receive them, and even more so, a duty. Through dancing, chanting and drumming, the spirit is guided into the waiting vessel, and then driven out when the intended work is done.

In Africa, much of the ancient traditions persist today. In Ethiopia, Zar spirits usually possess women when domestic conflict arises, and exorcisms can consist of magical incantations, holy water, and the smoke of a burning root or dung fire. In another cult from the same country, the Atete spirits will possess a girl once or twice a year. She spends a day preparing for it with the proper clothing, food and ritual actions, and then spends two or three days being possessed. During this time, spectators sing, clap, dance and drum to appease the spirit and beg it not to hurt her. Zambia’s n’ganga will perform a serious of dances and chants amid drums to drive spirits out. Biofeedback studies have suggested that drumming along with the human heartbeat alters brainwave patterns and reduces stress, giving a scientific reason that drums seem to calm the possessed and aid the shaman in his/her work.

Ancient civilizations have had their own share of problems with invading entities. Mesopotamians attributed all forms of sickness to possession by evil spirits. And in Babylonia, fears of the large number of spirits waiting to possess people were part of daily life. Babylonian priests would destroy a clay or wax image of the demon to exorcise it. We have found tablets of Assyrian origin speaking of exorcism rituals, including incantations, prayers, and direct challenges to the demons themselves. Persia’s Zoroastrian religion used prayers and holy water in their exorcisms, dating all the way back to the 6th century BC. Some Egyptian priests went into trances to find out how to rid these mischievous spirits, while others relied on incantations along with the injection of medicines into various body orifices, as well as talismans, amulets and spells. In Greece, they took a different method and used possession to their advantage, as in the case of the Priestess of Delphi, the Pythia, who let the god Apollo possess her to give out predictions and advice to those who sought it.

Ancient Chinese that dwelt along the Yangtze River developed a massive exorcist culture, with many temples built for the purpose, and carved elaborate masks that depicted the demons themselves. These masks were used in ceremonial dances to rid the evil spirits, and remnants of these beliefs can still be seen in the area today. Shintoists of ancient Japan battled oni, animal spirits that brought all kinds of illness and calamity with their possessions. Some Tibetan groups still hold a Wutu ceremony in hopes of expelling the evils in the village from the past year. In a very long and complicated set of rituals that start the night before, the participants dance, sing, chant and eat. On the same day, the village on the opposite side of the stream will attempt to dispel the evil spirits that were kicked out by the wutu ceremony by positioning empty baskets with the mouths facing the other village along the water’s edge.

The fact that these rituals still exist today shows that such beliefs are not ancient. They are alive and adapting with the times. In a settlement in Chiapas, Mexico, the people had once used an alcoholic beverage called posh to cause belching to relieve evil spirits, but due to the spread of alcoholism, they have switched to Coca-Cola. In other areas, where once the great Mayans had exorcised by mortification rituals like tongue-piercing, now they gather in churches for mass exorcisms.

Judaism was once known for using poisonous root extracts and making sacrifices to exorcise spirits. Other methods were fumigating to make the demon show itself, and conversing with the demon, something frowned upon by Catholic authorities who say this only gives the spirit more power. Today’s ceremony includes a rabbi and ten witnesses who recite psalms, and then blow a ram’s horn. Instead of battling demons, followers of Judaism and the Kabbalah believe the otherworldly inhabitants to be dybbuks, souls of dead people who have unfinished business left on earth.

The Warriors Against Evil

Across the landscape of spiritual and religious belief, the threat of demonic forces seems to be increasing. Our modern day warriors of evil are most prominently under the cloak of Catholicism, which has a long tradition of fighting demons. Practicing methods handed down from Jesus in the New Testament, Father Amorth, and his student Father Jose Antonio Fortea, have been waging war against the devil’s minions on a daily basis, and both have voiced the need for more exorcists. Father Fortea’s congregation in Spain holds weekly exorcisms, and even the local police don’t bat an eye at the screams that sometimes issue forth from the church.

Father Jose Francisco Syquia has a long history of tackling demons in the Philippines. He’s the head of the Manila Archdiocese’s Office of Exorcism. The office is the only one of its kind in a nation of 94 million people, and has published its own guidelines for exorcists and lay people alike. Father Syquia feels a certain calling to undertake the struggle he sees in his parishioners, especially since there are only ten authorized exorcists in the entire country.

The need for exorcists has prompted many conferences on the topic, the most recent having taken place in 2011 in Warsaw at the Jasna Gora monastery. Polish exorcists have increased from 30 to over 100 since 1999 in response to demonic threats. Many in their church feel the need to differentiate between the misconceptions of the public about the rite and the reality of what exorcism really is. Some 300 exorcists from around the world attended the conference, including the famous Indian exorcist Father Rufus Pereiraas and chief exorcist of the Archdiocese of Vienna, Larry Hogan. Issues slated for discussion were the devil’s deceit, mental illness, and society’s fascination with vampires.

A two-day conference in Baltimore in 2010 also discussed many aspects of exorcism, as well as reviewed the protocol for appointing exorcists. Organized by Bishop Thomas J. Paprocki, the closed-door conference was attended by some 56 bishops and 66 priests with one of its primary objectives on how to better distinguish between authentic possession and those who are simply suffering from psychological or other explainable factors. Under church law, Canon 1172 states that only priests who get permission from their bishops can perform the rite. Everyone is in agreement that many more properly trained exorcists are needed.

As possession and other related dark-supernatural phenomena continues to occur around the world, crossing-over all religious denominations and belief systems, the need for warriors specially trained to deal with these extraordinary episodes is just as relevant today in this modern world as its ever been. Because of the wide variety of evil manifestations, many originating from ancient concepts that predate mainstream historical accounts, the methods of dealing with such phenomena range from the traditional exorcism rites practiced by the mainstream religions to obscure spiritual practices handed-down since the beginning of recorded history. However, what if the demonic force being battled does not respond to these traditional methods and the dark phenomena far exceeds anything typically dealt with? One of their only options is to turn to a hand full of specialized experts who are considered to be the “last resort”. One of these rare and elite consultants is Christopher Chacon.

Chacon is one of the world’s top supernatural and paranormal experts with an unparalleled body of experience that spans several decades traveling the world dealing with thousands of cases of supernatural phenomena. His impressive background dealing with these phenomena covers many years as a specially trained field scientist, many years as a parapsychologist, and finally many more years researching and exploring metaphysics and ancient occult/supernatural practices. In order to deal with such a wide variety of demonic and dark forces, originating not only from mainstream religious beliefs, but also from obscure and ancient origins, Chacon utilizes a unique hybrid approach. He has an innovative wide-spectrum technique, utilizing cutting-edge scientific methods as well as metaphysical ones, many arcane in nature, adapting his technique to accommodate the situation and phenomena. Because of his impressive results and the degree of confidentiality that he offers, Chacon is often utilized to assist those exorcists/demonologists dealing with only the most severe situations that also require the utmost discretion. From Priests to Shamans, those who have dealt with Chacon have given him high praises for his assistance. In a 2007 interview, the late Father James LeBar stated, “He (Chacon) has the uncanny ability to step-outside-the-box of the situation and conventional thinking, to better understand and deal with the dark forces he confronts.” Father LeBar was one of America’s top exorcists for almost twenty years, based out of the New York Archdiocese, and was a prominent figure and spokes-person regarding exorcism and cults for the Catholic Church in U.S. until his death in 2008. Chacon is highly respected by the top exorcists/demonologists as a “secret weapon of sorts”, and as such, typically deals with only the most volatile and extraordinary phenomena. Because of his vast knowledge to consider all religious, spiritual and supernatural beliefs, Chacon has dealt with countless cases that redefine the “possession” phenomenon, as well as methods in dealing with it, many that are groundbreaking. Though Chacon has been called an exorcist, a demonologist, a scientific investigator of the supernatural and even a metaphysical practitioner, he himself prefers to simply be called a “consultant”, and charges no fees for his assistance or services and adheres to rigorous prerequisites regarding ruling-out practical explanations first, before taking-on a case of possession or other supernatural phenomena, as well as strict requirements for confidentiality and nondisclosure.

While most religions and spiritual beliefs have some version of an exorcist or learned authority that has experience in dealing with malevolent supernatural forces, demonologists are typically independent individuals, not necessarily officially associated with any specific denomination. Though demonology itself is not an exact uniform discipline and is often dependent upon the many cultures and belief systems that the particular individual gravitates toward, with most demonologists embracing a Judeo-Christian interpretation of evil. One of the world’s top demonologists is Dr. William Bradshaw who has researched devil lore throughout history, as well as the history of possession and exorcism. An ordained minister, he has served in academia for many years, publishing a few books, one most notably influenced by his research. Another long-time demonologist is Lorraine Warren. She and her late-husband, Ed Warren, had a long history of taking-on clients plagued by demonic phenomena. Both Bradshaw and Warren take the traditional Judeo-Christian stance toward demonology and approach any cases they receive with that mindset.

Demonologists and exorcist practitioners can be found in every corner of the world, ready to offer their assistance, usually with the primary objective of expelling demonic forces to help others. Many of these individuals however, offer their services expecting some sort of payment or reciprocation. The vivacious Bob Larsen for example, known in the media as the “Exorcist for Hire”, will rid you of your demon for a mere sum of $495, US dollars. With his public exorcisms, and his ever-growing teams of exorcist groups, over 40 of them throughout the U.S., his methods have left many in both the Catholic Church, as well as Christian denominations appalled. Occasionally we hear about ex-Priests, ex-Rabbis, ex-Imams, ex-Gurus, etc., that also charge a fee for their services since they are no-longer directly associated with their religious hierarchy, but these individuals are usually coerced to stop their independent activities for fear of repercussions, legal and otherwise. More common are; tribal shamans, witchdoctors, curanderas, medicine-men and so forth, that expect some type of remuneration for their metaphysical services, if not for any other purpose to show one’s gratitude. The concept behind receiving payment for offering these types of “supernatural” services has been heatedly contested by western thinking since the dawn of modern psychology. Those charging for their services argue that the medical and psychiatric communities around the world expect payment, so how is it any different that their services, be it belief-system based, be any different. While there have been countless cases of fraudulent practices by those claiming to perform exorcisms and metaphysical services, it would be irresponsible to immediately assume that anyone who charges for their services be regarded as illegitimate, as a larger number of cases exist whereby the outcome is nothing short of miraculous. The issue with charging fees of course lies in the legitimacy of those performing the services, since the medical and psychiatric communities are for the most part, regulated globally, where the metaphysical, spiritual and supernatural communities are not. Though even with regulation, fraud and deception continues to exist even in the medical and psychiatric communities.

A Necessary Evil?

As if battling supernatural dark forces weren’t enough of a concern, these warriors of evil must also contend with the many who oppose the act of exorcism itself, even within their own religious and spiritual denominations.

Father Amorth has affirmed to interviewers that he has seen much opposition from Vatican officials and bishops to his work, supporting a statement of his that Satan has infiltrated the Vatican. This may be why not every bishop has appointed an exorcist, and why exorcists are in such high demand, causing some of the afflicted to travel across the world to find one. The film “The Exorcism of Emily Rose” was based on a true story about an exorcist on trial for the murder of the possessed girl he was trying to exorcise. During the release in 2005, newspapers reported a story of a Romanian priest who was accused of killing a young girl by binding and gagging her for three days without nourishment in an attempt to rid her of a demon. Unfortunately, these stories of abusive and unsanctioned mishaps grab the most attention, and the thousands of successful exorcisms performed by priests and professionals worldwide go unnoticed, garnering a one-sided view by much of the public. In this regard, one could make a comparison to the general depiction of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). The CIA prides themselves on the countless successful missions and intelligence accomplishments, though for obvious reasons, the general public will never have any knowledge of their successes. Because of this necessary vacuum of information, the CIA is typically seen in a bad light due to a handful of failures that have gone public, misrepresenting the true depiction.

In India, home to thousands of gods and traditions, people hold fast to their ancient ways. Exorcisms here have included everything from chanting mantras and blowing sacred ash on the afflicted, to burning pig excrement, offering gifts to the gods, and pulling the afflicted’s hair. Many methods are prescribed in the Atharva-Veda, an ancient holy book. There are even exorcist temples, such as Balaji temple at Mehandipur in Rajasthan, whose exorcism regimen can include physical abuse, such as keeping heavy stones on various parts of the body. Skeptics say that in a country with hardly any psychiatrists, and only 37 mental institutions to serve its 1.2 billion population, people often turn to faith to heal instead of medicine. Not only does it fuel temple economy, but it forces medicine to do battle with religion on a daily basis.

The variety of cultural differences and beliefs around the world must also be taken into consideration. Not all possession is construed as evil. In many parts of the world exorcism is frowned upon because possession is not regarded in such a malevolent manner. In addition to several ancient cultures that believe that the possessing spirit is not demonic, but rather benevolent, and is only a passing condition that presents no harm to the host’s body or soul, there are also several cultures that actually invite spirit possession to occur. Those who allow themselves to become the vessels and thereby the instrument of enlightened spirits allow the spirit to communicate such things as worldly and spiritual advice, insights into work and love and even manifest physical and psychological healings.

There have been some voices that admit the validity of the exorcism ritual to the human experience. One of the most famous anthropologists, Claude Levi-Strauss, published his thoughts in the 1940’s on the shamans who were performing exorcisms and other rituals, stating that they were the equivalent of modern day psychoanalysts. It mattered little if the problem stemmed from demons because the ritual itself produced results. Whether that meant giving a name to the disease and thereby a way to fight it, thus causing the unconscious mind to heal, or to draw an individual that felt ousted from society into the community by cleaning their soul and tightening the bonds between neighbors, it seemed to have a place in the human psyche.

Peter J. Claus stated, during on his work with the Tulu in India, that anthropologists and scientists need to look at the context of possession within the society they are studying. Exorcism is a very relevant and important activity that conjoins the individual with his/her society’s moral order. Its meaning needs to be seen within that society’s own collective symbols to truly glean its function.

Chacon’s unique objective approach with the possession phenomena allows him to consider all these perspectives, good and bad, and many others usually not taken into account. Whether the phenomena is authentic or not, not only does Chacon take into consideration the conventional paradigms about possession/exorcism, but he also considers innovative new cutting-edge concepts, even scientific theories and applications, as well as obscure ancient beliefs and practices, many either long-forgotten or newly discovered. Chacon reiterates the importance of properly assessing the phenomena and not jumping to inaccurate conclusions. He describes the broad spectrum of misdiagnosed possessions and unnecessary exorcisms, including those that did not rule-out rational explanations first, to those extraordinary circumstances whereby an anomalous phenomenon was misinterpreted as a possession or being demonic-in-nature. In these cases, because of predispositions and the confirmation bias of those assessing and performing the exorcism, they misinterpret the circumstances and the phenomena as something demonic when in fact it could not be farther from the truth. Chacon adds that this misinterpretation also includes those cases of genuine possession that were misdiagnosed as being simply psychological/physiological in-nature. Chacon reiterates that the ideal way of approaching these phenomena would be to step-back and observe every aspect without the many biases we bring into it, coming to conclusions only after an objective assessment can be done so as to not misinterpret the true phenomena.

On the Rise

With Rome swelling its exorcist numbers to over 300 and important figures in the church warning us against demonic influence, we are left to wonder why so many more people today are experiencing possession and other supernatural phenomena and seeking spiritual aid than in the past. Most Judeo-Christian experts attribute the global rise in demonic possession to the increase in satanic cults, occult practices in general and as well as witchcraft, while others point to new age practices which are considered by some as a rejection of God. Aboriginal and tribal experts assert a variety of ancient beliefs as the culprit behind the rise in possession, including humanity’s separation from nature due to technology as one possibility. There are as many causes being proposed for the rise in demonic possession, as there are different religious and spiritual beliefs. Though one could certainly argue on whether there are indeed more cases, or with an exponentially growing world population, just more people alive that can be susceptible to possession.

A University Congress held in 1991 in Perugia, Italy, disclosed that followers of esoteric teachings reached to 12 million in that country alone. Some cite the fact that these practices offer and promise quicker results than the Church. To be approved for an exorcism by the church can take a long time, as priests argue a case through the correct channels until consent is given. In contrast, anyone can go to a witch, medium or shaman and attain immediate results, the majority for a price.

Even rock music, television and movies have been stated to help the devil’s cause by fictionalizing evil, thus helping us to doubt its existence, another path to possession. In 2005, British station Channel 4 broadcast an exorcism live on television, and had used neuro-imaging technology to collect data on brain activity, but viewers were enraged. Some said that televising it turned it into entertainment, while others feared a misunderstanding of the ritual. Still others are suggesting that the rise in possession and the disproportionate disbelief in such evil manifestations are due to the impending apocalyptic events surrounding the prophesied Armageddon.

Do movies like “The Exorcist”, “The Exorcism of Emily Rose”, “The Last Exorcism” and “The Devil Inside” really make us too satiated with demonic lore to care if demons exist or not? Or do they make us aware of the real dangers all around us? “The Exorcist” is Father Amorth’s favorite movie, and he says that though quite theatrical in its presentation, it remains truthful in many ways, and we should heed its warning.

When asked who is likely to become possessed, Father Amorth tells us everyone, from housewives to doctors, lay people to priests and nuns. He also tells us his top four reasons why possession would occur, evildoing topping the list and accounting for 90 percent of possessions and demonic troubles. The other three include indulging in the occult, a curse of the devil, and surprisingly, as a test of faith, as in the case of saints.

So what can we do to protect ourselves from this growing evil? The answer to this question depends entirely on whom you are asking. For example, Father Amorth, like many Catholic Exorcists, says that, above all, we must lead a healthy life, devoted to God. We mustn’t seek out experiences that lead us away from the faith, and we must never, never forget that the Devil is real. Other more ancient supernatural beliefs tells us that only by using spiritual counter-measures can evil be kept at bay. And still other beliefs suggest, like your moment of death, you really have no control over such supernatural events; as they are either a result of fate, a part of a greater design created by a Supreme Being or the product of other unknown forces in the universe. Chacon says that the answer to this question is not quite so simple since the forces and/or circumstances behind these phenomena often possesses its own unique characteristics, which explains why there continues to be so many cases of possession that defy conventional thinking.

As people around the world continue to be plagued by demonic possession and dark supernatural forces, the world’s top exorcists and demonologists remain vigilante in helping those who need their assistance in a battle between good and evil that is as old as humanity itself.

Article Copyright© Kim Rain - reproduced with permission.

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