The following is an excerpt entitled "A Brief Handbook of
Exorcism". It is taken from Malachi Martin's 1976 classic work
on the subject of possession and exorcism called, "Hostage To The
Devil". Among other things, the 477 p. book also contains an in
depth analysis on the recent possessions of 5 "ordinary"
Americans. For further information on the subject, the reader is
invited to consult the book. It is published by Perrenial
Library of New York.
Note: Italicized words are represented through use of 'single'
"A Brief Handbook of Exorcism"
The recent vast publicity about Exorcism has highlighted the
plight of the possessed as a fresh genre of horror film. The
essence of evil is lost in the cinematographic effects. And the
exorcist, who risks more than anyone else in an exorcism, flits
across the screen as necessary but, in the end, not so
interesting as the sound effects.
The truth is that all three - the possessed, the possessing
spirit, and the exorcist - bear a close relation to the reality
of life and to its meaning as all of us experience it each and
Possession is not a process of magic. Spirit is real; in
fact, spirit is the basis of all reality. "Reality" would not
only be boring without spirit; it would have no meaning
whatsoever. No horror film can begin to capture the horror of
such a vision: a world without spirit.
Evil Spirit is personal, and it is intelligent. It is
preternatural, in the sense that it is not 'of' this material
world, but it is 'in' this material world. And Evil Spirit as
well as good advances along the lines of our daily lives. In
very normal ways spirit uses and influences our daily thoughts,
actions, and customs and, indeed, all the strands that make up
the fabric of life in whatever time or place. Contemporary life
is no exception.
To compare spirit with the elements of our lives and
material world, which it can and sometimes does manipulate for
its own ends, is a fatal mistake, but one that is very often
made. Eerie sounds can be produced by spirit -but spirit is not
the eerie sound. Objects can be made to fly across the room, but
telekinesis is no more spirit than the material object that was
made to move. One man whose story is told in this book made the
mistake of thinking otherwise, and he nearly paid with his life
when he had to confront the error he had made.
The exorcist is the centerpiece of every exorcism. On him
depends everything. He has nothing personal to gain. But in
each exorcism he risks literally everything that he values.
Every exorcist must engage in a one-to-one confrontation,
personal and bitter, with pure evil. Once engaged, the exorcism
cannot be called off. There will and must always be a victor and
a vanquished. And no matter what the outcome, the contact is in
part fatal for the exorcist. He must consent to a dreadful and
irreparable pillage of his deepest self. Something dies in him.
Some part of his humanness will wither from such close contact
with the opposite of all humanness - the essence of evil; and it
is rarely if ever revitalized. No return will be made to him for
This is the minimum price an exorcist pays. If he loses in
the fight with Evil Spirit, he has an added penalty. He may or
may not ever again perform the rite of Exorcism, but he must
finally confront and vanquish the evil spirit that repulsed him.
The investigation that may lead to Exorcism usually begins
because a man or woman -occasionally a child -is brought to the
notice of Church authorities by family or friends. Only rarely
does a possessed person come forward spontaneously.
The stories that are told on these occasions are dramatic
and painful: strange physical ailments in the possessed; marked
mental derangement; obvious repugnance to all signs, symbols,
mention, and sight of religious objects, places, people,
Often, the family or friends report, the presence of the
person in question is marked by so-called psychical phenomena:
objects fly around the room; wallpaper peels off the walls;
furniture cracks; crockery breaks; there are strange rumblings,
hissess, and other noises with no apparent source. Often the
temperature in the room where the possessed happens to be will
drop dramatically. Even more often an acrid and distinctive
stench accompanies the person.
Violent physical transformations seem sometimes to make the
lives of the possessed a kind of hell on earth. Their normal
processes of secretion and elimination are saturated with
inexplicable wrackings and exaggeration. Their consciousness
seems completely colored by the violent sepia of revulsion.
Reflexes sometimes become sporadic or abnormal, sometimes
disappear for a time. Breathing can cease for extended periods.
Heartbeats are hard to detect. The face is strangely distorted,
sometimes also abnormally tight and smooth without the slightest
line or furrow.
When such a case is brought to their attention, the first
and central problem that must always be addressed by the Church
authorities is: Is the person really possessed?
Henri Geslaud, a French priest and exorcist who works today
in Paris, stated in 1974 that, out of 3,000 consultations since
1968, "there have been only four cases of what I believe to be
demonic possession." T.K. Osterreich, on the other hand, states
that "possession has been an extremely common phenomena, cases of
which abound in the history of religion." The truth is that
official or scholarly census of possession cases has never been
Certainly, many who claim to be possessed or whom others so
describe are merely the victims of some mental or physical
disease. In reading records from times when medical and
psychological science did not exist or were quite undeveloped, it
is clear that grave mistakes were made. A victim of disseminated
sclerosis, for example, was taken to be possessed because of his
spastic jerkings and slidings and the shocking agony in spinal
column and joints. Until quite recently, the victim of
Tourette's syndrome was the perfect target for the accusation of
"Possessed!" : torrents of profanities and obscenities, grunts,
barks, curses, yelps, snorts, sniffs, tics, foot stomping, facial
contortions all appear suddenly and just as suddenly cease in the
subject. Nowadays, Tourette's syndrome responds to drug
treatment, and it seems to be a neurological disease involving a
chemical abnormality in the brain. Many people suffering from
illnesses and diseases well known to us today such as paranoia,
Huntington's chorea, dyslexia, Parkinson's disease, or even mere
skin diseases (psoriasis, herpes I, for instance), were treated
as people "possessed" or at least as "touched" by the Devil.
Nowadays, competent Church authorities always insist on
thorough examinations of the person brought to them for Exorcism,
an examination conducted by qualified medical doctors and
When a case of possession is reported by a priest to the
diocesan authorities, the exorcist of the diocese is brought in.
If there is no diocesan exorcist, a man is appointed or brought
from outside the diocese.
Sometimes the priest reporting the exorcism will have had
some preliminary medical and psychiatric tests run beforehand in
order to allay the cautious skepticism he is likely to meet at
the chancery when he introduces his problem. When the official
exorcist enters the case, he will usually have his own very
thorough examinations run by experts he knows and whose judgment
he is sure he can trust.
In earlier times, one priest was usually assigned the
function of exorcist in each diocese of the Church. In modern
times, this practice has fallen into abeyance in some dioceses,
mainly because the incidence of reported possession has decreased
over the last hundred years. But in most major dioceses, there
is still one priest entrusted with this function -even though he
may rarely or never use it. In some dioceses, there is a private
arrangement between the bishop and one of his priests whom he
knows and trusts.
There is no official public appointment of exorcists. In
some dioceses, "the bishop knows little about it and wants to
know less" -as in one of the cases recorded in this book. But
however he comes to his position, the exorcist must have official
Church sanction, for he is acting in an official capacity, and
any power he has over Evil Spirit can only come from those
officials who belong to the substance of Jesus' Church, whether
they be in the Roman Catholic, the Eastern Orthodox, or the
Protestant Communions. Sometimes a diocesan priest will take on
an exorcism himself without asking his bishop, but all such cases
known to me have failed.
It is recognized both in the pre-exorcism examinations and
during the actual exorcism that there is usually no one physical
or psychical aberration or abnormality in the possessed person
that we cannot explain by a known or possible physical cause.
And, apart from normal medical and psychological tests, there are
other possible sources for diagnosis. However rickety and
tentative the findings of parapsychology, for example, one can
possibly seek in its theories of telepathy and telekinesis an
explanation of some of the signs of possession. Suggestion and
suggestibility, as modern psychotherapists speak of them, can
account for many more.
Still, with the diagnoses and opinions of doctors and
psychologists in hand, it is often discovered there are wide
margins of fluctuation. Competent psychiatrists will differ
violently among themselves; and in psychology and medecine,
ignorance of causes is often obscured by technical names and
jargon that are nothing more than descriptive terms.
Nevertheless, the combined medical and psychological reports
are carefully evaluated and usually weigh heavily in the final
judgment to proceed or not with an exorcism. If according to
those reports there is a definite disease or illness which
adequately accounts for the behaviour and symptoms of the
subject, Exorcism is usually ruled out, or at least delayed to
allow a course of medical or psychiatric treatment.
But finally, reports in hand, all evidence in, Church
authorities judge the situation from another, special point of
view, formed by their own professional outlook.
They believe that there is an invisible power, a spirit of
evil; that this spirit can for obscure reasons take possession of
a human being; that the evil spirit can and must be expelled -
exorcised - from the person possessed; and that this exorcism can
be done only in the name and by the authority and power of Jesus
of Nazareth. The testing from the Church's viewpoint is as
rigorous in its search as any medical or psychological
In the records of Christian Exorcism from as far back as the
lifetime of Jesus himself, a peculiar revulsion to symbols and
truths of religion is always and without exception a mark of the
possessed person. In the verification of a case of possession by
Church authorities, this "symptom" of revulsion is triangulated
with other physical phenomena frequently associated with
possession -the inexplicable stench; freezing temperature;
telepathic power about purely religious and moral matters; a
peculiarly unlined or completely smooth or stretched skin, or
unusual distortion of the face, or other physical and behavioural
transformations; "possessed gravity" (the possessed person
becomes physically immovable, or those around the possessed are
weighted down with a suffocating pressure); levitation (the
possessed rises and floats off the ground, chair, or bed; there
is no physically traceable support); violent smashing of
furniture, constant opening and slamming of doors, tearing of
fabric in the vicinity of the possessed, without a hand laid on
them; and so on.
When this triangulation is made of the varied symptoms that
may occur in any given case, and medical and psychiatric
diagnoses are inadequate to cover the full situation, the
decision will usually be to proceed and try Exorcism.
There has never been, to my knowledge, an official listing
of exorcist together with their biographies and characteristics,
so we cannot satisfy our modern craving for a profile of, say,
"the typical exorcist." We can, however, give a fairly clear
definition of the type of man who is entrusted with the exorcism
of a possessed person. Usually he is engaged in the active
ministry of parishes. Rarely is he a scholarly type engaged in
teaching or research. Rarely is he a recently ordained priest.
If there is any median age for exorcists, it is probably between
the ages of fifty and sixty-five . Sound and robust physical
health is not a characteristic of exorcists, nor is proven
intellectual brilliance, postgraduate degrees, even in psychology
or philosophy, or a very sophisticated personal culture. In this
writer's experience, the 15 exorcists he has known have been
singularly lacking in anything like a vivid imagination or a rich
humanistic training. All have been sensitive men of solid rather
than dazzling minds. Though, of course, there are many
exceptions, the usual reasons for a priest's being chosen are his
qualities of moral judgment, personal behaviour, and religious
beliefs -qualities that are not sophisticated or laboriously
acquired, but that somehow seem always to have been an easy and
natural part of such a man. Speaking religiously, these are
qualities associated with special grace.
There is no official training for an exorcist. Before a
priest undertakes Exorcism, it has been found advisable - but not
always possible or practical - for him to assist at exorcisms
conducted by an older and already experienced priest.
Once possession has been verified to the satisfaction of the
exorcist, he makes the rest of the decisions and takes care of
all the necessary preparations. In some dioceses, it is he who
chooses the assistant priest. The choice of the lay assistants
and of the time and place of the exorcism is left to him.
The place of the exorcism is usually the home of the
possessed person, for generally it is only relatives or closest
friends who will give care and love in the dreadful circumstances
associated with possession. The actual room chosen is most often
one that has had some special significance for the possessed
person, not infrequently his or her own bedroom or den. In this
connection, one aspect of possession and of spirit makes itself
apparent: the close connection between 'spirit' and 'physical
location'. The puzzle of spirit and place makes itself felt in
many ways and runs throughout virtually every exorcism. There is
a theological explanation for it. But that there is some
connection between spirit and place must be dealt with as a fact.
Once chosen, the room where the exorcism will be done is
cleared as far as possible of anything that can be moved. During
the exorcism, one form of violence may and most often does cause
any object, light or heavy, to move about, rock back and forth,
skitter or fly across the room, make much noise, strike the
priest or the possessed or the assistants. It is not rare for
people to emerge from an exorcism with serious physical wounds.
Carpets, rugs, pictures, curtains, tables, chairs, boxes, trunks,
bedclothes, bureaus, chandeliers, all are removed.
Doors very often will bang open and shut uncontrollably; but
because exorcisms can go on for days, doors cannot be nailed or
locked with unusual security. On the other hand, the doorway
must be covered; otherwise, as experience shows, the physical
force let loose within the exorcism room will affect the
immediate vicinity outside the door.
Windows are closed securely; sometimes they may be boarded
over in order to keep flying objects from crashing through them
and to prevent more extreme accidents (possessed people sometimes
attempt defenestration; physical forces sometimes propel the
assistants or the exorcist toward the windows).
A bed or couch is usually left in the room (or placed there
if necessary), and that is where the possessed person is placed.
A small table is needed. On it are placed a crucifix, with one
candle on either side of it, holy water, and a prayer book.
Sometimes there will also be a relic of a saint or a picture that
is considered to be especially holy or significant for the
possessed. In recent years in the United States, and
increasingly abroad as well, a tape recorder is used. It is
placed on the floor or in a drawer or sometimes, if it is not too
cumbersome, around the neck of an assistant.
The junior priest colleague of the exorcist is usually
appointed by diocesan authorities. He is there for his own
training as an exorcist. He will monitor the words and actions
of the exorcist, warn him if he is making a mistake, help him if
he weakens physically, and replace him if he dies, collapses,
flees, is physically or emotionally battered beyond endurance -
and all have happened during exorcisms.
The other assistants are laymen. Very often a medical
doctor will be among them because of the danger to all present of
strain, shock, or injury. The number of lay assistants will
depend on the exorcist's expectation of violence. Four is the
usual number. Of course, in remote country areas or in very
isolated Christian missions, and sometimes in big urban centers,
there is no question of assistants. There simply is none
available, or there is no time to acquire any. The exorcist must
go it alone.
An exorcist comes to know from experience what he can expect
by way of violent behaviour; and for their own sakes, possessed
people must usually be physically restrained during parts of the
exorcism. The assistants therefore must be physically strong.
In addition, there may be a straightjacket on hand, though
leather straps or rope are more commonly used.
It is up to the exorcist to make sure that his assistants
are not consciously guilty of personal sins at the time of the
exorcism, because they, too, can expect to be attacked by the
evil spirit, even though not so directly or constantly as the
exorcist himself. Any sin will be used as a weapon.
The exorcist must be as certain as possible beforehand that
his assistants will not be weakened or overcome by obscene
behaviour or by language foul beyond their imagining; they cannot
blanch at blood, excrement, urine; they must be able to take
awful personal insults and be prepared to have their darkest
secrets screeched in public in front of their companions. These
are routine happenings during exorcisms.
Assistants are given three cardinal rules: they are to obey
the exorcist's commands immediately and without question, no
matter how absurd or unsympathetic those commands may appear to
them to be; they are not to take any initiative except on
command; and they are never to speak to the possessed person,
even by way of exclamation.
Even with all the care in the world, there is no way an
exorcist can completely prepare his assistants for what lies in
store for them. Even though they are not subject to the direct
and unremitting attack the priest will undergo, it is not
uncommon for assistants to quit - or be carried out - in the
middle of an exorcism. A practiced exorcist will even go so far
as to make a few trial runs of an exorcism beforehand, on the old
theory that forewarned is forearmed - at least to some degree.
Timing in an exorcism is generally dictated by
circumstances. There is usually a feeling of urgency to begin as
soon as possible. Everyone involved should have an open
schedule. Rarely is an exorcism shorter than some hours - more
often than not ten or twelve hours. Sometimes it stretches for
two or three days. On occasion it lasts even for weeks.
Once begun, except on the rarest of occasions, there are no
time outs, although one or other of the people present may leave
the room for a few moments, to take some food, to rest very
briefly, or go to the bathroom. (One strange exorcism where there
was a time out is described in this book. The priest involved
would have preferred one hundred times going straight through the
exorcism rather than suffer the mad violence that caused the
The only people in an exorcism who dress in a special way
are the exorcist and his priest assistant. Each wears a long
black cassock that covers him from neck to feet. Over it there
is a waist-length white surplice. A narrow purple stole is worn
around the neck and hangs loosely the length of the torso.
Normally, the priest assistant and the lay assistants
prepare the exorcism room according to the exorcist's
instructions. They and the exorcee are ready in the room when
the exorcist enters, last and alone.
There is no lexicon of Exorcism; and there is no guidebook
or set of rules, no Baedeker of Evil Spirit to follow. The
Church provides an official text for Exorcism, but this is merely
a framework. It can be read out loud in 20 minutes. It merely
provides a precise formula of words together with certain prayers
and ritual actions, so that the exorcist has a preset structure
in which to address the evil spirit. In fact, the conduct of an
exorcism is left very much up to the exorcist.
Nevertheless, any practiced exorcist I have spoken with
agrees that there is a general progress through recognizable
stages in an exorcism, however long it may last.
One of the most experienced exorcists I have known and who
was in fact the mentor of the exorcist in the first case related
in this book, gave names to the various general stages of an
exorcism. These names reflect the general meaning or effect or
intent of what is happening, but not the specific means used by
the evil spirit or by the exorcist. Conor, as I call him, spoke
of 'Presence', 'Pretense', 'Breakpoint', 'Voice', 'Clash', and
'Expulsion'. The events and stages these names signify occur in
nine out of ten exorcisms.
From the moment the exorcist enters the room, a peculiar
feeling seems to hang in the very air. From that moment in any
genuine exorcism and onward through its duration, everyone in the
room is aware of some alien 'Presence'. This indubitable sign of
possession is as unexplainable and unmistakable as it is
inescapable. All the signs of possession, however blatant or
grotesque, however subtle or debatable, seem both to pale before
and to be marshaled in the face of this 'Presence'.
There is no sure physical trace of the 'Presence', but
everyone feels it. You have to experience it to know it; you
cannot locate it spatially - beside or above or within the
possessed, or over in the corner or under the bed or hovering in
In one sense, the 'Presence' is nowhere, and this magnifies
the terror, because there 'is' a presence, an 'other' present.
Not a "he" or a "she" or an "it". Sometimes, you think that what
is present is singular, sometimes plural. When it speaks, as the
exorcism goes on, it will sometimes refer to itself as "I" and
sometimes as "we", will use "my" and "our."
Invisible and intangible, the 'Presence' claws at the
humanness of those gathered in the room. You can exercise logic
and expel any mental image of it. You can say to yourself: "I am
only imagining this. Careful! Don't panic!" And there may be a
momentary relief. But then, after a time lag of bare seconds,
the 'Presence' returns as an inaudible hiss in the brain, as a
wordless threat to the self you are. Its name and essence seem
to be compounded of threat, to be only and intensely baleful,
concentratedly intent on hate for hate's sake and on destruction
for destruction's sake.
In the early stages of an exorcism, the evil spirit will
make every attempt to "hide behind" the possessed, so to speak -
to appear to be one and the same person and personality with its
victim. This is the 'Pretense'.
The first task of the priest is to break that 'Pretense', to
force the spirit to reveal itself openly as separate from the
possessed - and to name itself, for all possessing spirits are
called by a name that generally (though not always) has to do
with the way that spirit works on its victim.
As the exorcist sets about his task, the evil spirit may
remain silent altogether; or it may speak with the voice of the
possessed, and use past experiences and recollections of the
possessed. This is often done skillfully, using details no one
but the possessed could know. It can make everyone, including
the priest, feel that it is the priest who is the villain,
subjecting an innocent person to terrible rigors. Even the
mannerisms and characteristics of the possessed are used by the
spirit as its own camouflage.
Sometimes the exorcist cannot shatter the 'Pretense' for
days. But until he does, he cannot bring matters to a head. If
he fails to shatter it at all, he has lost. Perhaps another
exorcist replacing him will succeed. But he himself has been
Every exorcist learns during 'Pretense' that he is dealing
with some force or power that is at times intensely cunning,
sometimes supremely intelligent, and at other times capable of
crass stupidity (which makes one wonder further about the problem
of singular or plural); and it is both highly dangerous and
Oddly, while this spirit or power or force knows some of the
most secret and intimate details of the lives of everyone in the
room, at the same time it also displays gaps in knowledge of
things that may be happening at any given moment of the present.
But the priest must not be lulled by small victories or take
chances on hoped-for stupidities. He must be ready to have his
own sins and blunders and weaknesses put into his mind or shouted
in ugliness for all to hear. He must not make excuses for his
past, or wither as even his loveliest memories are fingered by
ultimate filth and contempt; he must not be sidetracked in any
way from his primary intention of freeing the possessed person
before him. And he must at all costs avoid trading abuse or
getting into any logical arguments with the possessed. The
temptation to do so is more frequent than one might think, and
must be regarded as a potentially fatal trap that can shatter not
only the exorcism, but quite literally shatter the exorcist as
Accordingly, as the 'Pretense' begins to break down, the
behaviour of the possessed usually increases in violence and
repulsiveness. It is as though an invisible manhole opens, and
out of it pours the unmentionably inhuman and the humanly
unacceptable. There is a stream of filth and unrestrained abuse,
accompanied often by physical violence, writhing, gnashing of
teeth, jumping around, sometimes physical attacks on the
A new hallmark of the proceedings enters as the 'Breakpoint'
nears, and ushers in one of the more subtle sufferings the
exorcist must undergo: confusion. Complete and dreadful
confusion. Rare is the exorcist who does not falter here for at
least a moment, enmeshed in the peculiar pain of apparent
contradiction of all sense.
His ears seem to 'smell' foul words. His eyes seem to
'hear' offensive sounds and obscene screams. His nose seems to
'taste' a high-decibel cacophony. Each sense seems to be
recording what another sense should be recording. Each nerve and
sinew on onlookers and participants becomes rigid as they strive
for control. Panic - the fear of being dissolved into insanity -
runs in quick jabs through everyone there. All present
experience this increasingly violent and confusing assault. But
the exorcist is the one who rides the storm. He is the direct
target of it all.
The 'Breakpoint' is reached at that moment when the
'Pretense' has finally collapsed altogether. The voice of the
possessed is no longer used by the spirit, though the new,
strange voice may or may not issue from the mouth of the victim.
The sound produced is often not even remotely like any human
At the 'Breakpoint', for the first time, the spirit speaks
of the possessed in the third person, as a separate being. For
the first time, the possessing spirit acts personally and speaks
of "I" or "we", usually interchangeably, and of "my" and "our" or
"mine" and "ours".
Another very frequent sign that the 'Breakpoint' has been
reached is the appearance of what Father Conor called the
The 'Voice' is an inordinately disturbing and humanly
distressing babel. The first few syllables seem to be those of
some word pronounced slowly and thickly - somewhat like a tape
recording played at subnormal speed. You are just straining to
pick up the word and a layer of cold fear has already gripped you
- you know this sound is alien. But your concentration is
shattered and frustrated by an immediate gamut of echoes, of
tiny, prickly voices echoing each syllable, screaming it,
whispering it, laughing it, sneering it, groaning it, following
it. They all hit your ear, while the alien voice is going on
unhurriedly to the next syllable, which you then try to catch,
while guessing at the first one you lost. By then, the tiny,
jabbing voices have caught up with that second syllable; and the
voice has proceeded to the third syllable; and so on.
If the exorcism is to proceed, the 'Voice' must be silenced.
It takes an enormous effort of will on the part of the exorcist,
in direct confrontation with the alien will of evil, to silence
the 'Voice'. The priest must get himself under control and
challenge the spirit first to silence and then to identify itself
As in all things to do with Exorcism of Evil Spirit, the
priest makes this challenge with his own will, but always in the
name and by the authority of Jesus and his Church. To do so in
his own name or by some fancied authority of his own would be to
invite personal disaster. Merely human power unadorned and
without aid cannot cope with the preternatural. (It is to be
remembered that when we speak of the preternatural, we are not
speaking about what are known as poltergeists.)
Usually, at this point and as the 'Voice' dies out, a
tremendous pressure of an obscure kind affects the exorcist.
This is the first and outermost edge of a direct and personal
collision with the "will of the Kingdom," the 'Clash'.
We all know from our personal experience that there can be
no struggle of single personal wills without that felt and
intuitive contact between two persons. There is a two-way
communication that is as real as a conversation using words. The
'Clash' is the heart of a special and dreadful communication, the
nucleus of this singular battle of wills between exorcist and
Painful as it will be for him, the priest must look for the
'Clash'. He must provoke it. If he cannot lock wills with the
evil thing and force that thing to lock its will in opposition to
his own, then again the exorcist is defeated.
The issue between the two, the exorcist and the possessing
spirit, is simple. Will the totally antihuman invade and take
over? Will it, noisome and merciless, seep over that narrow rim
where the exorcist would hold his ground alone, and engulf him?
Or will it, unwillingly, protestingly, under a duress greater
than its single-track will, stop, identify itself, cede, retire,
disappear, and be volatized back into an unknown pit of being
where no man wants to go ever?
Even with all the pressure on him, and in fullest human
agony, if the exorcist has got this far, he must press home. He
has gained an advantage. He has already forced the evil spirit
to come out on its own. If he has not been able to until now, he
must finally force it to give its name. And then, some exorcists
feel, the exorcist must pursue for as much information as he can.
For in some peculiar way, as exorcists find, the more an evil
spirit can be forced to reveal in the 'Clash' and its aftermath,
the surer and easier will be the 'Expulsion' when that moment
comes. To force as complete an identification as possible is
perhaps a mark of domination of one will over another.
It is of crucial interest to speculate about the violence
provoked by Exorcism - the physical and mental struggles that are
so extreme they can bring on death. Why would spirit battle so?
Why not leave and waft off invisibly to someone or someplace
else? For spirit itself seems to suffer in these battles.
Time and again, in exorcism after exorcism, there occurs
that curious thing to do with 'spirit' and 'place', the strange
puzzle mentioned previously in connection with the room chosen
for the exorcism. When Jesus expelled the unclean spirits, those
spirits showed concern for where they might go. In record after
record, as well as in several exorcisms recounted in this book,
the possessing spirits wail in lament and questioning pain:
"Where shall we go?" "We too have to possess our habitation."
"Even the Anointed One gave us a place with the swine." "Here...
we can't stay here any longer."
Evil Spirit, having found a home with a consenting host,
does not appear to give up its place easily. It claws and fights
and deceives and even risks killing its host before it will be
expelled. How violent the struggle probably depends on many
things; the intelligence of the spirit being dealth with and the
degree of possession achieved over the victim are perhaps two one
could speculate about.
Whatever determines the actual pitch of violence, once the
exorcist has forced the invading spirit to identify itself, and
sustained the first wordless bout of the 'Clash', and then
invoked its formal condemnation and expulsion by the Exorcism
rite, the immediate result is generally a struggle tortuous
beyond imagining, an open violence that leaves all subtlety
The person possessed is by now obviously aware in one way or
another of what possessed him. Frequently he becomes a true
battleground for much of the remainder of the exorcism, enduring
unbelievable punishment and strain.
It is sometimes possible for the exorcist to appeal directly
to the possessed person, urging him to use some part of his own
will still free of the spirit's influence and control, and engage
directly in the fight, aiding the exorcist. And at such moments
no animal pinned helplessly to the ground struggles more
pathetically against the drinking of its life's blood by a
voracious and superior cruelty. The very nauseous character of
the possessed person's appearance and behaviour appears to be a
sign of his desire for deliverance, a desperate sign of struggle,
evidence of a revolt where once he had consented.
Increasingly what had possessed him is being forced into the
open, all the while protesting its victim's revolt and its own
expulsion. The violence of the contortions and the physical
disfigurement of the possessed can reach a degree one would think
he could not possible withstand.
The exorcist, too, comes in for full attack now. Once
cornered, the evil spirit seems able to call on a superior
intelligence, and will try to lure the exorcist on to a field
boobytrapped and mined with situations from which no human can
Any weakness in the religious faith that alone sustains the
exorcist or any fatigue will allow the exorcist's mind to be
flooded with a terrible light he cannot fend off - a light that
can burn the very roots of his reason and turn him emotionally
into the most servile of slaves desperate to be liberated from
all bodily life.
These are only some of the dangers and traps that face every
exorcist. His pain is physical, emotional, mental. He has to
deal with what is eerie but not enthralling; with something
askew, but intelligently so; with a quality that is upside down
and inside out, but significantly so. The mordant traits of
nightmare are there in full regalia, but this is no dream and
permits him no thankful remission.
He is attacked by a stench so powerful that many exorcists
start vomiting uncontrollably. He is made to bear physical pain,
and he feels anguish over his very soul. He is made to know he
is touching the completely unclean, the totally unhuman.
All sense may suddenly seem nonsense. Hopelessness is
confirmed as the only hope. Death and cruelty and contempt are
normal. Anything comely or beautiful is an illusion. Nothing,
it seems, was ever right in the world of man. He is in an
atmosphere more bizarre than Bedlam.
If, in spite of his emotions and his imagination and his
body - all trapped at once in pain and anguish - if, in spite of
all of this, the will of the exorcist holds in the 'Clash', what
he does is to approach his final function in this situation as an
authorized human witness for Jesus. By no power of his own, on
account of no privilege of his own, he calls finally on the evil
spirit to desist, to be dispossessed, to depart and to leave the
And, if the exorcism is successful, this is what happens.
The possession ends. All present become aware of a change around
them. The sense of 'Presence' is totally, suddenly absent.
Sometimes there are receding voices or other noises, sometimes
only dead silence. Sometimes the recently possessed may be at
the end of his strength; sometimes he will make wake up as from a
dream, a nightmare, or a coma. Sometimes the former victim will
remember much of what he has been through; sometimes he will
remember nothing at all.
Not so for the exorcists, during and after their grisly
work. They carry nagging doubts and bitter conflicts untellable
to family, friend, superior, or therapist. Their personal
traumas lie beyond the reach of soothing words and deeper than
the sweep of any consoling thoughts. They share their punishment
with none but God. Even that has its peculiar sting of
difficulty. For it is a sharing by faith and not by face-to-face
But only thus do these men, seemingly ordinary and
commonplace in their lives, persevere through the days of quiet
horror and the nights of sleepless watching they spend for years
after as their price of success, and as abiding reminders that,
once upon a time, another human being was made whole, because
they willingly incurred the direct displeasure of living hatred.
- End -
About The Author: Malachi Martin, a former Jesuit
professor at the Pontifical Biblical
Institute in Rome, was trained in
theology at Louvain, specializing in
the Dead Sea Scrolls and intertesta-
mentary studies. He received his
doctorate in Semitic languages,
archeology, and Oriental history.
He subsequently studied at Oxford
and at the Hebrew University,
concentrating in knowledge of Jesus
as transmitted in Jewish and Islamic
sources. Among the many exorcists of
personal acquaintance was the re-
doubtable Father Conor, who figures
importantly in the first case in this
book ("Hostage To The Devil"). Dr.
Martin is also the author of "The New
Castle", "Jesus Now", "Three Popes and
the Cardinal", "The Encounter", "The
Scribal Character of the Dead Sea Scrolls",
and "The Pilgrim".