Are Demons Real?

Are Demons Real?

September 10, 2019 100 By William Hollis


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 U.S. 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.