A Spell to Break: Demonic-Possession

The state of Texas recently made it legal for clergy to abuse children.

No shit. [via Pharyngula]

I’ve been thinking of writing a post that looks at exorcism from an anthropological and psychological perspective for some time now, and I’ll probably return to this topic again in the future.

For now, however, I think its important to make a quick post regarding a recent Texas Supreme Court decision that essentially makes it okay to abuse children if the reason is religious.

Here’s the background:

Demonic Possession in Christianity
Demons have been taking possession of humans since the days that the alleged Christ (one of several Christian deities) allegedly walked the shores of Galilee. Many may recall the story in the Gospels that tell how Jesus casts demons out of hapless humans and into a bunch of swine who then run off and drown themselves in the sea. But there are other examples in history, such as the Benedictine abbess, Hildegard of Bingen, who in the 12th century CE, was accused of being demon-possessed when she herself claimed to be singing in tongues -words spoken by channeling the Holy Spirit (another of several Christian deities).

Ignatius Loyola, of the 16th century CE, found himself speaking in tongues during prayer and wasn’t sure if it was the voice of God (a primary Christian deity) or a demon (a minor Christian deity).

The Roman Catholic Church defines demon-possession as:

when Satan enters and takes over the physical and mental capabilities of a victim, however, the soul and will remains free. Satan acts through the victim without the victim’s consent, thus the victim is morally blameless. Satan does not act alone when he possesses an individual. He works side by side with many evil spirits such as spirits of lust, hate, destruction, suicide, revenge, anger, anxiety, desperation, death, torment, etc. Such an example is found in Luke 8:30 the case of the possessed man in the territory of the Gerasenes: “Then Jesus asked him, “What is your name?” He replied, “Legion,” because many demons had entered him “.

And how do the religious identify the possessed? The link above offers these signs and symptoms:

  • Victim speaks or understands unknown languages without ever studying the language being spoken or heard
  • Victim clearly knows things that are distant or hidden
  • Victim can predict future events (sometimes through dreams)
  • Victim has an intense hatred for holy things
  • Victim shows a physical strength far above his age or normal condition

One is left to wonder how the observer is to know that a bit of babbling is actually an “unknown language.” Isn’t an “unknown language” by definition unknown? Likewise, the remaining signs on the list have their faults, which I’ll not go into. Rational thought reveals them.

There are also reasons listed as to why people become “possessed” to begin with:

  • Pure Diving Permission (goddidit)
  • Subject to a Curse
  • Grave Hardening of Sin (sexual perversion, drug use, abortion)
  • Proximity to Evil Places or Persons (hanging out with drug users, perverts, abortionists)

Conservative Protestants

The religious nutjobs in the United States who believe in demonic-possession are legion, to borrow a cliche. The Religious Tolerance website echoes a report by ABC’s Good Morning America that over 500 deliverance ministries in the U.S. specialize in exorcising people and, they say, it’s big business. The site also refers to J.F. Cogan’s Demon Possession Handbook for Human Service Workser, a book that attributes many human failings to “demon-possession” including, spousal abuse, child abuse, physical disabilities, childhood learning disabilities, mental illness, etc. Oh, and all serial killers are demon-possessed.

The trend is clear: disavow any human responsibility and deny that it is human nature to do bad things or be imperfect.

The Court Case in Texas

The Texas Supreme Court on Friday threw out a jury award over injuries a 17-year-old girl suffered in an exorcism conducted by members of her old church, ruling that the case unconstitutionally entangled the court in religious matters.


Laura Schubert testified in 2002 that she was cut and bruised and later experienced hallucinations after the church members’ actions in 1996, when she was 17. Schubert said she was pinned to the floor for hours and received carpet burns during the exorcism, the Austin American-Statesman reported. She also said the incident led her to mutilate herself and attempt suicide. She eventually sought psychiatric help.

She was still in high school and was at an event sponsered by her church’s youth ministry. Initially the girl and her family were awarded $300,000 after a jury found the church liable for abuse and false imprisonment. Now the TX Supreme Court has said that physical abuse and imprisonment are okay aslong as it’s done with a religous intent.

I’m going to delve more into demonic-possession and exorcism in future posts, focusing on both historical and modern cases of this spell of thinking which inflicts humans the world over. I’ll also examine the anthropological, sociological, and psychological aspects of belief in demonic-possession.