The Temples of the Devils: Exorcism Exposed

By at 13 July, 2010, 4:21 pm

“Exorcism of Emily Rose”, a horror classic is based on the true story of Anneliese Michel, a 17 year old girl in Germany who was exorcised by her parents and two priests.  She suffered from schizophrenia which could be treated by medicines. But her parents relied on exorcism rituals to cure her. She died after few days of exorcism due to malnutrition and starvation.

The court observed that because of lack of nutrition her body was unable to recover from the injuries which were result of both exorcism as well as self infliction and awarded all the four accused imprisonment of six months.

Recently a similar instance happened in Kodinar near Rajkot. Farida (36 yrs) died when she was not given food for 22 days and made to sleep on sand under sun by her husband and in-law who believed her to be ‘possessed’.

Epilepsy or Possession

Epilepsy (also known as fits or seizures) results from rapid uncontrolled electrical activities of the brain. This could result in contraction of muscles and loss of consciousness for several minutes. The patient may fall on to floor, shake tremendously, urinate or foam at mouth.

Some people consider these symptoms signs of possession. In places like Mehendi Pur Ke Balaji, Rajasthan many frauds are self proclaimed specialists in treating cases of possession. Due to lack of awareness many people are duped in to this trap.

The treatment is not only orthodox but cruel most of the times. Blowing cow-dung smoke, burning pig excreta, beating or pulling the victim’s hair and reciting prayers or mantras are common. The worst suffers are women patients who are sometimes molested, raped or sexually harassed in name of the ritual.

Exorcism: the Global Phenomenon

Exorcism means “to bind by oath”.  It is a ritualistic act of driving out evil spirits from the victims body. It is believed that through exorcism saints in various religions and communities win over evil.

In Ethiopia many forms of zar possession are known to occur.  Zar spirits typically possess women whose husbands intend to marry an additional wife or there are domestic conflicts present in the family.  Exorcism of the zar spirit results in a complicated, large and expensive dance ceremony for the victim.

After the expensive ceremony wives have been known to threaten a relapse if their demands are not met; consequently extorting further economic sacrifices from their husbands. The “zar possession strategy” to get needs met has been adopted by women (and some men) throughout the world: Muslim Somali, Muslim Sudan, Egypt, parts of North Africa, Arabia, East Africa, Arabia, South America etc. The ritual mainly guards the notions of family in these cultures.

When Exorcists were Doctors:

The works of the Exorcists in some societies were similar to doctors in the present times; they cured illness, misfortune and tough luck of their patients.

In ancient Mesopotamia both physical and psychological sickness were considered result of possession. Ancient Babylonian priests were required to destroy the wax image of a demon in order to destroy the attached spirit. Treatment included prayers as well as direct challenges to the demons which were believed to inflict diseases of every type.

Judaism exorcist rituals can be traced back to the 1st century AD.  The dybbuk is considered an evil spirit which possesses the soul of its victim causing mental illness and changes in the personality. The dybbuk is exorcised through the victim’s small toe and may either be redeemed or sent to hell.

Shamanism is another similar example. The word shaman comes from the language of the Arctic Tungus which means “one who is excited, moved, or rose.” The shaman is one who dominates spirits and can introduce them into his own body on his choice. “Arctic Hysteria”, the distress caused to women in chilling winter months in Polar Regions is often termed as spirit possession.

Positivist Stage

Nowadays people have set aside their inhibitions and hesitations in visiting a doctor or a medical practitioner. The help of psychiatrists and counsellors are now being preferred. There is more emphasis on the scientific reasoning rather than the spiritual thoughts. Many diseases like jaundice were earlier considered to have spiritual origin but now people have started taking medical advice.

We are conditioned to respect the almighty and fear the evil. The annual celebration of Halloween has somewhere kept the  belief alive that the ghosts and spirits exist.

Exorcism was probably evolved to overcome the miseries of people. In past, there no medical aid was access-able. It was the only effective and viable solution available. Many psychological problems were healed, relations were protected (like Zar possession in Ethiopia) and people were encouraged to be benevolent.

The social evolution has transformed the beliefs of the people. Exorcism in most of the cases has been diluted to mere fraud and superstition. The people (mostly poor and illiterate) are deceived by the self proclaimed religious healers. The lack of medical facilities in villages and poor understanding of epilepsy has encouraged the practice. The Epilepsy Task Force in Sri Lanka has been applauded worldwide for its awareness campaigns in villages. The task force which consists a multi-disciplinary team of doctors and social workers has been instrumental in providing advance medical treatment to the patients.

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