How Exorcism Works


Announcer: Welcome to Stuff You Should Know from howstuffworks.com.

Josh Clark: Hey, and welcome to the podcast. I'm Josh; that's Chuck and this is Stuff You Should Know. We're about to tell you some stuff you should know, aren't we, Chuck?

Chuck Bryant: We are. You never intro our title like that! I like that.

Josh Clark: It's new. I tried it before. I know that you like it which is why I instituted it.

Chuck Bryant: I do.

Josh Clark: I love to titillate and arouse you.

Chuck Bryant: Yeah. Moving on.

Josh Clark: Chuck, have you ever heard of a guy named Philip K. Dick?

Chuck Bryant: Yes, absolutely. He's an author, correct?

Josh Clark: Yes.

Chuck Bryant: He wrote Blade Runner, correct?

Josh Clark: Well, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep which was made into Blade Runner.

Chuck Bryant: Exactly.

Josh Clark: And he wrote Minority Report and A Scanner Darkly, some other ones that you may have heard of.

Chuck Bryant: Right.

Josh Clark: Good stuff, and if you can't tell yet, he was a science fiction writer but one of the more notable things of Dick's life, one of the more notable aspects of Dick's life was that, at one point, he became possessed by a being, another intelligence. He called it like a super alien or something like that. And it basically took him over and got his life in order. He was a total pill head, loved to drink wine. Really just kind of chased friends off! He just wasn't a really pleasant soul to be around and this alien kind of comes in and takes him over and all of a sudden he's getting back pay from publishers, he's writing more, his office is cleaner, I think he started wearing ties and just all around basically this thing got his life in order.

Chuck Bryant: Right and it wasn't scientology or anything?

Josh Clark: No, no.

Chuck Bryant: Interesting.

Josh Clark: As a matter of fact, I think he may have been a critic of scientology. I'm not sure. But he was possessed. He believed it 'till the day he died that something had taken him over and at the very least was helping him.

Chuck Bryant: I've never heard that.

Josh Clark: Yes.

Chuck Bryant: Interesting.

Josh Clark: So, that kind of I think is a really good segway into exorcism.

Chuck Bryant: Right. This was an exorcism that actually benefited somebody.

Josh Clark: Well, he wasn't exorcised and I don't think he needed to.

Chuck Bryant: A possession.

Josh Clark: Sure, sure. Now, I think for the most part when people feel like we're inhabited by something we feel like it needs to be exorcised, right?

Chuck Bryant: Right.

Josh Clark: Yeah?

Chuck Bryant: Yeah. Got the demons running through you?

Josh Clark: Exactly. So, we kind of - in the western world, in the 21st Century, we don't really believe in spirit intrusion much anymore, right?

Chuck Bryant: Some of us do.

Josh Clark: Some do, true but for the most part, the average American walking around probably doesn't believe that they're going to ever be taken over by a demon or something like that or even an angel probably.

Chuck Bryant: Right, true.

Josh Clark: But this isn't the case for much of the rest of the world. It's very commonly held that spirit intrusion can occur. Remember when we were talking about carrying a bride over the threshold, spirit intrusion, it can be a bad thing. It can cause disease, illness and it kind of makes you wonder - there's this dividing line that crops up. Is this really just a misunderstanding of a psychological problem or is psychology missing the point when there actually is something going on?

Chuck Bryant: Right. And a lot of demonic possessions are really people that are psychologically distressed or sometimes even physically, epilepsy and things like that - a lot of times are mistaken in some parts of the world.

Josh Clark: Well, with epilepsy, in particular, you can tell. You can throw somebody in an MRI machine and look at the parts of their brain and see, you know, oh, yeah, this person is definitely epileptic. Of course the convulsions often give them away as well but with schizophrenia say, for many eons that was viewed as a spirit intrusion or spirit possession which makes sense, I mean, you know, these people with dissociative personality disorder are different people at different times so you could understand how that would be mistaken as a possession.

Chuck Bryant: Sure. In the past I could.

Josh Clark: Sure, but still today I kind of wonder, is it just a clash of world views, you know?

Chuck Bryant: Maybe so.

Josh Clark: Is a psychological disorder just another term for spirit possession when they're really both talking about the same thing and does it matter? So -

Chuck Bryant: That's an interesting angle.

Josh Clark: Thanks buddy. So, the point is this, psychology has its own methods of exorcism, antidepressants -

Chuck Bryant: Psychotherapy.

Josh Clark: - yes, ECT, electro convulsive therapy which is still used to this day. Did you know that?

Chuck Bryant: I didn't.

Josh Clark: I think we have the method refined a little more than we used to but, yeah, they still hook people up with the electrodes and juice them.

Chuck Bryant: Actually, I did know that because it happened on six feet under and -

Josh Clark: Don't tell me. Don't tell me. I'm on Season 3. Don't tell me.

Chuck Bryant: Then it definitely does not happen on six feet under.

Josh Clark: Thank you - thank you for that.

Chuck Bryant: Sorry about that.

Josh Clark: Yeah, no problem. But - so, we've got this method of dealing with disturbance through psychology. We also have it through spirituality and specifically the Catholic Church is really, really big on exorcisms.

Chuck Bryant: Right. Yes, they're the only church that I know of that really still practices it and -

Josh Clark: Yeah, and I was raised Catholic and as you get older, you know, when you're raised in the Catholic Church, everything seems totally normally. Oh, this guy is wearing a robe and chanting and burning frankenscents and everybody is responding with some weird mystical words. The thing is, as you get older it becomes stranger and stranger because, as any Catholic knows, the older you get, the further you get away from the church, right? So, you get a little more objective - you get an objective view of it.

Chuck Bryant: I think that's not necessarily true for all people but certainly.

Josh Clark: So, when you look at the Catholic Church objectively or Catholicism, it's deeply rooted in mysticism. And it doesn't strike me as odd at all that the Catholic Church is still very much believes in exorcism, in demonic possession.

Chuck Bryant: Yeah, I believe it.

Josh Clark: Which we should probably give an actual definition of demonic possession as the Catholic Church sees it.

Chuck Bryant: Well, possession or exorcism?

Josh Clark: Possession.

Chuck Bryant: Well, I know some of the telltale signs -

Josh Clark: Yeah, let's hear them, buddy.

Chuck Bryant: Yeah, speaking in tongues a lot of times is considered -

Josh Clark: No, no.

Chuck Bryant: Pardon?

Josh Clark: No, no.

Chuck Bryant: It's not considered part of a demonic possession?

Josh Clark: Speaking in tongues is considered an expression of religious ecstasy. Speaking in foreign languages that one has never encountered or dead languages; that's an example, that's a telltale sign.

Chuck Bryant: I actually said speaking in foreign tongues. I just said it ver y quietly.

Josh Clark: Oh, the foreign - was the foreign silent?

Chuck Bryant: The foreign was silent. That is true. Knowing things that a person has no way of knowing!

Josh Clark: Yeah, like, what the Pope's wearing at any given time.

Chuck Bryant: Right. I bet he's wearing a robe and a tall hat. That's what I -

Josh Clark: No, underneath the robe. If you can call that, I imagine they're going to be, like, yeah, you know too much.

Chuck Bryant: Physical strength beyond what you normally would have.

Josh Clark: Um-hum. Which we've addressed as well?

Chuck Bryant: Right. And a violent aversion to God, the Virgin Mary or a cross or other religious images!

Josh Clark: Yeah, so that's pretty much. If you can fit all these then, you know, there's a chance that you are possessed by the devil as far as the church is concerned.

Chuck Bryant: I didn't see in here head spinning around or vomiting pea soup or the spider crawl.

Josh Clark: No, and of course Chuck's referring to the classic horror film, The Exorcist, which I watched actually this past Halloween. Not as scary as I remember but psychologically thrilling. Great. And after researching this, I found that if you take Linda Blair out of the scenes and you just have the exorcism, the rights of exorcism that are performed by Max Van Gilder and the other guy -

Chuck Bryant: It's accurate.

Josh Clark: It is, it's very accurate.

Chuck Bryant: Absolutely.

Josh Clark: It's pretty much the opposite of the website Garfield minus Garfield where if you take Garfield out,

it turns out that John is either schizophrenic or addicted to methamphetamineChuck Bryant: Right, or possessed by the devil.

Josh Clark: Possibly.

Chuck Bryant: Full circle.

Josh Clark: Yeah, so it's the opposite of that. It really - Catholic exorcism, or right of exorcism, is a series of special prayers and actually it's a combination of fairly familiar prayers. There's a call of call and response; there's dousing the possessed individual with Holy water; using crucifies and relics which can be anything, anything associated with a saint including a body part. There's actually the saint's - if you were a saint several hundred years ago, you were destined to be chopped up into as many little pieces as possible and sent to churches around the world. Relics are huge.

Chuck Bryant: Interesting.

Josh Clark: Yeah. Well, there you go.

Chuck Bryant: Didn't know that either. Well, before this all happens, there's an investigation. I mean, this is when there is a real threat of a possession. You can actually lodge a query to the Catholic Church and they'll send someone out, a lot of times that priest will come with a psychological evaluator just to rule out other things, sometimes they'll go to a medical doctor, but they actually do a full-fledged investigation and they said I think one in 5,000 turns out to be what they consider to be a real demonic possession.

Josh Clark: Or, at the very least, worth using an exorcism for.

Chuck Bryant: Yeah, worth giving it a shot.

Josh Clark: Yeah, I didn't want you to get the impression that I think that the churches approach to exorcism is hooky in any way. I think they take a very methodical approach and they rule out everything else that it could possibly be. I think if you decide to perpetrate a fraud, you know, like you're possessed by the devil, you're in for a really long painful evaluation process where you really have to be committed to the bit to follow it through and finally get to the exorcism and if you're basing it on movies; you'd probably be really disappointed. There's this book that this guy wrote, I cannot remember his name or the name of the book, but he was a sociologist who basically went to exorcisms performed around the country for several years during his research period and he describes one where a guy named Warren who is basically depressed, drinks a lot and really his life is pretty out of sorts and he's come to believe that he's possessed by a diabolic presence I think is the church vernacular for it and basically the priest just prayers for him and there's the Holy water and the crucifix and all of that and Warren just kind of sits there looking a little gloomy the whole time and then that's about that and apparently in the book, Warren reported feeling like something had left him, which is good. It's a good thing. He said he felt fine but it was fairly anticlimactic. Like you said, no head spinning or anything!

Chuck Bryant: I have that book title if people want to read it. It's called American Exorcism, Expelling Demons in the Land of Plenty by Michael C-U-N-E-O, Cuneo.

Josh Clark: Cuneo.

Chuck Bryant: Cuneo.

Josh Clark: Let's go with Cuneo.

Chuck Bryant: Yeah.

Josh Clark: [Inaudible].

Chuck Bryant: [Inaudible]. So, yeah, they're kind of anticlimactic but if, at the end, people like Warren feel like their life has changed, if it's just using their faith to maybe manipulate them even, even if there's no intentional manipulation but if that's really what's going on in the most objective view, how could it hurt, you know, why don't we just run around performing exorcisms all the time.

Josh Clark: I have an answer for you.

Chuck Bryant: Lay it on me.

Josh Clark: Sort of. Because there aren't priests really to go around that are capable of doing this. The Catholic church actually appointed 10 priests in 1996 and I think there was already previously one, the only guy doing exorcisms, so there's now 11, at that time at least, and they have a group called the International Association of Exorcists and they -

Chuck Bryant: I noticed this.

Josh Clark: Yeah, they meet every year in Rome.

Chuck Bryant: They have a quarterly newsletter. Do you know what I would do to get my hands on that newsletter? Apparently, they share tricks of the trade and tips for one another for exorcisms and I would love to get my hands on that.

Josh Clark: Right. I'd love to sit in one of those meetings. I bet that's a lot of fun.

Chuck Bryant: It is. That's one reason why, you know, we just don't have or the Catholic Church just doesn't have the manpower to go around performing exorcisms.

Josh Clark: Right.

Chuck Bryant: But also there's a couple other problems with exorcism as far as controversy generated by them. One is what we've talked about. The psychology versus religion clash which has been going on pretty much since medicine came about and basically labeled everybody else as witches or, at the very least, simple or what have you, archaic, primitive. And that's one problem. If we just ran around performing exorcisms and there were people who had very treatable psychological disorders, would the exorcisms work? Or would pharmaceuticals be better or some sort of immersive therapy be better for them? So, it could actually do damage which is why the church, I imagine, has a psychological evaluation done and these are done by professionals from my understanding as well. It's not like the priest is, like, hey, are you crazy?

Josh Clark: Right, right. They get a psychiatrist or psychologist outside out of the Catholic Church.

Chuck Bryant: The other problem is the - there's groups that do exorcisms for profit.

Josh Clark: Yeah, this is where it gets a little, I don't know, greedy, fake maybe.

Chuck Bryant: There's one group that is well-known for their exorcisms. There's a guy named Bob Larson.

Josh Clark: Yeah, Bob Larson Ministries.

Chuck Bryant: He actually has a showed called the Real Exorcist on the Sci-fi channel.

Josh Clark: Uh-huh. That should be your first clue right there.

Chuck Bryant: Exactly. He runs the Spiritual Freedom Church as far as I know and he does exorcisms. I don't know that he actually charges for exorcisms but I think he's really good at drumming up donations.

Josh Clark: Well, yeah, and he does this in front of a crowd and he charges for tickets.

Chuck Bryant: Does he really?

Josh Clark: Yeah, because apparently you can get a family rate on your tickets to go see these exorcisms.

Chuck Bryant: Okay. All right.

Josh Clark: So, he gives you a break if you bring the kids along.

Chuck Bryant: Well, I was reading on the Spiritual Freedom Church website a testimonial from a girl named Autumn from my dear esteemed hometown of Toledo, Ohio. Apparently, the Spiritual Freedom Church rolled through town and held a mass exorcism or whatever, spectacle, and Autumn it turned out had been possessed by a several centuries old African woman named Mooshita. Now, Mooshita apparently means whore in whatever ancient African vernacular that her name comes from and she basically was pretty much into committing acts of whordum in reference for an African diati.

Josh Clark: So, she became promiscuous?

Chuck Bryant: Yes.

Josh Clark: Is that right?

Chuck Bryant: Well, it was really Mooshita but it was Autumn who was running around committing acts of whordum. This is not my word by the way. I actually didn't realize whordum was a word until just this very afternoon.

Josh Clark: I didn't ether. Is that her right there?

Chuck Bryant: That's her. She's kind of cute. So, Autumn goes to see Bob Larson who exorcises the demons and apparently you could see an immediate change in Autumn and she was very grateful. So, again, we come to this fine line, as far as I'm concerned, if Autumn is no longer running around being promiscuous as you said, she no longer feels like she's out of control of her life, does it mat ter whether it was an exorcism or antidepressants or whether she paid for this or not?

Josh Clark: Right, a come to Jesus moment and a seeing of the light.

Chuck Bryant: Does it matter?

Josh Clark: No, there's all kinds of ways of reaching that moment of clarity if you ask me.

Chuck Bryant: I agree. I agree. So, as far as I'm concerned, to each his own.

Josh Clark: Sure. That's our motto here.

Chuck Bryant: If you want to pay - yeah, it pretty much keeps us out of hot water. So, if you want to pay for your exorcism, there's plenty of places you can do it. Just go onto a Google search and I believe you type in exorcist and you will find what you're looking for.

Josh Clark: And good luck.

Chuck Bryant: So, stick around because we have a new bit here. We like to fill up time as much as possible. We're going to call it correction time.

Josh Clark: Right. It's a good title.

Chuck Bryant: It's coming up right now.

Josh Clark: So, Chuck, we have a correction from one of our listeners.

Chuck Bryant: Right. This was from a couple of our podcasts that we mentioned this famous study in Massachusetts.

Josh Clark: Let's go to a clip of Chuck being wrong.

Chuck Bryant: "So, what they've learned is that there was this big study and I know that you loved this study, the Farmington Hart Study. I love this study. It's enormous, it's sweeping, this is what a study should be like." Right. So, that's me and that's my voice and it is not Farmington.

Josh Clark: No.

Chuck Bryant: It is actually Framingham.

Josh Clark: Not even. There's no ton involved.

Chuck Bryant: There's no farm; it is a frame and this was point out by one of our listeners, Glenna Carpenter wrote us in. Thank you, Glenna for pointing that out.

Josh Clark: Yes, Glenna won herself a new Ford Focus actually for pointing that out.

Chuck Bryant: She did. Yeah.

Josh Clark: So, if you want to point out something that we've done wrong or tell us how much you like us -

Chuck Bryant: Or hate us.

Josh Clark: Yeah, more like us though.

Chuck Bryant: Okay.

Josh Clark: You can send an email to stuffpodcast@howstuffworks.com.

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