I have been doing a lot of research in recent months on the surprisingly high number of injuries and fatalities that have been caused by forced exorcisms over the last two decades (I am only part of the way through my initial research, and I have found multiple cases of serious injuries and literally dozens of deaths caused by forced exorcisms in the last 20 years ... and, what's most disheartening, nearly half of them were children).
I should probably start by explaining what I mean by “forced exorcisms.” More or less, these are exorcisms that are performed on individuals, who may or may not actually be possessed, in one of the following common scenarios:
Scenario 1 – Untrained Exorcist; An untrained individual (meaning someone who is NOT an actual exorcist) believes that a person is possessed (and because they are untrained, this belief is usually wrong) and so the person tries to remove the perceived demon on his/her own. Often, these are cases where the untrained person tries to literally “beat the devil” out … meaning, by use of physical violence. Sadly, since there is no demon to remove (and since demons cannot be physically “beaten out” of a person to begin with) … these cases often end in fatalities.
Scenario 2 – Overzealous Exorcist; A trained exorcist or similar clergy member becomes convinced that a person is possessed, despite evidentiary findings to the contrary (for example, the person is found to suffer from neurological defect, mental illness, drug use, schizophrenia, etc.). As happens in Scenario 1, since there is no demon to remove, these sorts of exorcisms accomplish nothing ... aside from exacerbating the actual cause. The most well known fatality caused by this scenario is that of Annaliese Michel, who died of malnutrition, dehydration, and infection after undergoing weeks of fruitless exorcisms when a group of clergy attempted to exorcize her despite the church’s findings that the girl suffered from mental illness caused brain a brain tumor. However, this is by no means the only case. In 2005, a Romanian priest literally exorcized a nun to death under the mistaken belief that she was possessed.
Scenario 3 – Mass/Social Hysteria; This is a situation in which a small to medium sized group of people come to believe that a single individual is responsible for their misfortune, illness, etc. … or that the person’s refusal to conform to a certain belief structure is due to demonic possession. Such cases often occur in the chaos of certain protestant church settings. For example, during a church retreat a teenage girl’s refusal to participate in her church youth group’s activities may be seen as a result of possession by the other teens and youth pastor. They hold the girl down and start trying to call demons out when there are none present. These cases rarely result in fatalities, I have found. However, the psychological scars they cause can be devastating.
Scenario 4 – Perfect Possession/Involuntary Exorcism; this one is a bit more complicated, mainly because in this scenario the person is actually possessed. However, they have reached the ultimate/final stage—perfect possession. This means the person is likely highly dependent upon the residing demon (or at least feels that he/she is), and does not wish for it to be removed. Any legitimate exorcist will tell you that an exorcism requires the possessed individual’s participation in order for it to be successful. Long story short? You cannot force a demon out of someone who does not want the demon gone, no matter how long or hard you pray and/or recite from exorcism rites. All you will succeed in doing is ticking the damned thing off … likely causing it to harm the possessed person out of anger.
All of the above scenarios have led to nearly 30 cases of injury or death (that I have found so far) caused by forced exorcisms over the last 15 years. Not only are the above scenarios futile, morally twisted, and ethically problematic … they are ILLEGAL. From my work as a demonologist, I am well aware of the fact that less than 1% of all suspected possession cases are found to be real. From my work as a mythologist, I am also well aware of how human beliefs … if not tempered with reason … can go horribly wrong.
I am hoping that, sometime in the near future, I will be able to put together a book on this subject and find a publisher willing to print it. For now, however, I will continue my research.
If any of my readers have ever been involved in, witnessed, or know of an occurrence of any of the abovementioned scenarios, then I would love to hear from you about it.
I plan to blog on this more in the future. So this is only the first installment of my discussion of this topic, about which I will be posting far more entries over the next 12 months or so.