Are Demons Real?

Born in 1952, Anneliese Michel grew up in the small German town of Klingenberg, Germany, part of a pious and highly observant Roman Catholic family But at 17 she started having convulsions

Gradually, her condition worsened Despite medication, Annelise became suicidal She started seeing the devil and hearing demonic voices She couldn’t bear to be around images of Jesus, couldn't drink holy water She started to eat spiders, coal, nails, growled like a dog, ripped the clothing off of her body, screamed through the night, and even began drinking her own urine

Her family finally arranged for a sanctified exorcism At the age of 23, Anneliese had had 67 rites of exorcism performed on her by 2 priests—42 of which were recorded She died in the spring of 1976 from pneumonia, weighing just 68 pounds Forty years later, her mother remains convinced that Anneliese was possessed by Satan, and regrets nothing Was Anneliese a victim of supernatural demonic possession? The existence of demonic possession is a widely held religious belief

In Islamic mythology, the jinn are supernatural spirits that can invade the body Within the Christian tradition, exorcism dates back to the New Testament, when Jesus expelled demons on a number of occasions Outside of the Judeo-Christian religions there are numerous permutations of demon possession, for example the Hindu Vedas scriptures depict evil spirits harming humans who are cured by exorcism Despite the lack of scientific evidence, a 2005 poll found that 42% of Americans believe in ‘diabolical possession’ Numerous cases of alleged demonic possession have occurred in the last 40 years, many of which have been dramatised on film and in television

In 2008 in New York, a psychiatrist diagnosed a patient as being ‘attacked by demons’ and even helped supervise her exorcism In fact, exorcisms in the Western World are on the rise There is now a papal Institute for training priests in exorcism and deliverance, and every US Bishop is allegedly meant to designate an exorcist

At least 10 official exorcists are thought to exist in America as members of the Catholic hierarchy, with 500-600 evangelical exorcism ministries (if not more) The Roman Catholic Church’s effort to bring exorcism back as a typical ritual has been seen as an effort to reclaim hierarchical authority In an era where there are fewer people in the western world becoming priests than ever before, having the ability to cast out demons is a unique and special power The Vatican is also answering to supply and demand: better that increasing requests for exorcisms are answered by sanctified priests But exorcism can result in serious harm

There have been a number of high profile exorcism-related deaths For example, in 1997 a woman in San Francisco was pummelled to death while being exorcised In London in 2000 a young girl was brutally murdered by her guardians, who believed her to be possessed The majority of historical cases of demonic possession would now be treated as a form of mental illness With the medical developments of social psychology—and a deeper understanding of Epilepsy, Schizophrenia, and Tourette’s in particular— what once might have been considered demonic possession is now largely understood as a psychiatric condition

In 1999 the Vatican updated its guidelines on exorcism for the first time since 1614—anyone requesting an exorcism must now undergo a preliminary medical examination Whether or not demons are real is largely down to a question of faith It is likely that if you believe in demonic possession, it will be a possible explanation for unstable behaviour Cases of possession are typically amongst the most vulnerable people who are in need of professional care—but life after death remains a mystery, and fear of the unknown will continue to entertain the notion of there being evil forces beyond our control

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