It has been suggested that this article be merged into Spirit possession. (Discuss) Proposed since April 2021.

Demonic possession involves the belief that a spirit, demon, or other entity can control a person's actions.[1] Those who believe themselves to be possessed commonly claim that symptoms of demonic possession include missing memories, perceptual distortions, loss of a sense of control, and hyper-suggestibility.[2][circular reference] Erika Bourguignon found in a study of 488 societies worldwide that seventy-four percent believe in spirit possession, with the highest numbers of believing societies in Pacific cultures and the lowest incidence among Native Americans of both North and South America.[3]

Abrahamic religions


The Catholic Encyclopedia says that there is only one apparent case of demonic possession in the Old Testament, of King Saul being tormented by an "evil spirit" (1 Samuel 16:14), but it relies on an interpretation of the Hebrew word "rûah" as "evil spirit", an interpretation that is doubted by the Catholic Encyclopedia. In addition, Saul was only described to be tormented, rather than possessed, and he was relieved from these torments by having David play the lyre to him.[4] Some theologians such as Ángel Manuel Rodríguez say that mediums like the ones mentioned in Leviticus 20:27 were possessed by demons. Another possible case of demonic possession in the Old Testament includes the false prophets that king Ahab relied upon before re-capturing Ramoth-Gilead in 1 Kings 22. They were described to be empowered by a deceiving spirit.[5]

According to the Catholic Encyclopedia, Jewish methods of exorcism were described in the extrabiblical Book of Tobias.[6][7]

In the 16th century, Isaac Luria, a Jewish mystic, wrote about the transmigration of souls seeking perfection. His disciples took his idea a step further, creating the idea of a dybbuk, a soul inhabiting a victim until it had accomplished its task or atoned for its sin.[8] The dybbuk appears in Jewish folklore and literature, as well as in chronicles of Jewish life.[9]


Further information: Exorcism in Christianity and Exorcism in the Catholic Church

From its beginning,[1] Christianity has held that possession derives from the Devil, i.e. Satan, his lesser demons, the fallen angels.[10] In the battle between Satan and Heaven, one of Satan's strategies is to possess humans.[1] The New Testament mentions several episodes in which Jesus drove out demons from persons.[10] Whilst most Christians believe that demonic possession is an involuntary affliction,[11] there are Biblical verses that suggest that demon possession is voluntary. An example of this is Judas Isacriot, who fell under the Devil's possession in John 13:27 because he continually agreed to the Devil's suggestions to betray Jesus and wholly submitted to him.[12]

In May 2021, the Baptist Deliverance Study Group of the Baptist Union of Great Britain, a Christian denomination, issued a "warning against occult spirituality following the rise in people trying to communicate with the dead".[13] The commission reported that "Becoming involved in activities such as Spiritualism can open up a doorway to great spiritual oppression which requires a Christian rite to set that person free."[13]


Catholic exorcists differentiate between "ordinary" Satanic/demonic activity or influence (mundane everyday temptations) and "extraordinary" Satanic/demonic activity, which can take six different forms, ranging from complete control by Satan or demons to voluntary submission:[14]

  1. Possession, in which Satan or demons take full possession of a person's body without their consent. This possession usually comes as a result of a person's actions; actions that lead to an increased susceptibility to Satan's influence.
  2. Obsession, which includes sudden attacks of irrationally obsessive thoughts, usually culminating in suicidal ideation, and which typically influences dreams.
  3. Oppression, in which there is no loss of consciousness or involuntary action, such as in the biblical Book of Job in which Job was tormented by Satan through a series of misfortunes in business, material possessions, family, and health.
  4. External physical pain caused by Satan or demons.
  5. Infestation, which affects houses, objects/things, or animals; and
  6. Subjection, in which a person voluntarily submits to Satan or demons.

In the Roman Ritual, true demonic or satanic possession has been characterized since the Middle Ages, by the following four typical characteristics:[15][16]

  1. Manifestation of superhuman strength.
  2. Speaking in tongues or languages that the victim cannot know.
  3. Revelation of knowledge, distant or hidden, that the victim cannot know.
  4. Blasphemous rage, obscene hand gestures, using profanity and an aversion to holy symbols and names, relics or places.

The New Catholic Encyclopedia states, "Ecclesiastical authorities are reluctant to admit diabolical possession in most cases, because many can be explained by physical or mental illness alone. Therefore, medical and psychological examinations are necessary before the performance of major exorcism. The standard that must be met is that of moral certitude (De exorcismis, 16). For an exorcist to be morally certain, or beyond reasonable doubt, that he is dealing with a genuine case of demonic possession, there must be no other reasonable explanation for the phenomena in question."[17]

Exorcism of the Gerasene Demonaic
Exorcism of the Gerasene Demonaic

The New Testament (of The Holy Bible) indicates that people can be possessed by demons, but that the demons respond and submit to Jesus Christ's authority:

33In the synagogue, there was a man possessed by a demon, an evil spirit. He cried out at the top of his voice, 34"Ha! What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God! "35"Be quiet!" Jesus said sternly. "Come out of him!" Then the demon threw the man down before them all and came out without injuring him. 36All the people were amazed and said to each other, "What is this teaching? With authority and power he gives orders to evil spirits and they come out!" 37And the news about him spread throughout the surrounding area. (Luke 4:33-35 NIV)[18]

It also indicates that demons can possess animals as in the exorcism of the Gerasene demoniac.[18]

Official Catholic doctrine affirms that demonic possession can occur as distinguished from mental illness,[19] but stresses that cases of mental illness should not be misdiagnosed as demonic influence. Catholic exorcisms can occur only under the authority of a bishop and in accordance with strict rules; a simple exorcism also occurs during baptism.[1]


The infliction of demonic torment upon an individual has been chronicled in premodern Protestant literature. In 1597, King James discussed four methods of daemonic influence upon an individual in his book Daemonologie:[20]

  1. Spectra, being the haunting and troubling of certain houses or solitary places.
  2. Obsession, the following and outwardly torment of an individual at diverse hours to either weaken or cast diseases upon the body, as in the book of Job.
  3. Possession, the entrance inwardly into an individual to beget uncontrollable fits, induce blasphemies,
  4. Faerie, being the influence those who voluntarily submit to consort, prophesy, or servitude.

King James attested that the symptoms derived from demonic possession could be discernible from natural diseases. He rejected the symptoms and signs prescribed by the Catholic church as vain (e.g. rage begotten from Holy Water, fear of the Cross, etc.) and found that the exorcism rites to be troublesome and ineffective to recite. The Rites of the Catholic Church to remedy the torment of demonic spirits were rejected as counterfeit since few possessed could be cured by them. James therefore declared the Protestant view of casting out devils, "It is easy then to understand that the casting out of Devils, is by the virtue of fasting and prayer, and in-calling of the name of God, suppose many imperfections be in the person that is the instrument, as CHRIST himself teaches us (Mat. 7) of the power that false Prophets all have cast out devils."[21]

In medieval Great Britain, the Christian church had offered suggestions on safeguarding one's home. Suggestions ranged from dousing a household with holy water, placing wax and herbs on thresholds to "ward off witches occult," and avoiding certain areas of townships known to be frequented by witches and Devil worshippers after dark.[22] Afflicted persons were restricted from entering the church, but might share the shelter of the porch with lepers and persons of offensive life. After the prayers, if quiet, they might come in to receive the bishop's blessing and listen to the sermon. They were daily fed and prayed over by the exorcists, and, in case of recovery, after a fast of from 20 to 40 days, were admitted to the Eucharist, and their names and cures entered in the church records.[23] In 1603, the Church of England forbade its clergy from performing exorcisms because of numerous fraudulent cases of demonic possession.[19]


In both charismatic and evangelical Christianity, exorcisms of demons are often carried out by individuals or groups belong to the deliverance ministries movement.[24] Symptoms of such possessions, according to these groups, can include chronic fatigue syndrome, homosexuality, addiction to pornography, and alcoholism.[25] The New Testament's description of people who had evil spirits includes a knowledge of future events (Acts 16:16) and great strength (Act 19:13-16),[10] among others, and shows that those with evil spirits can speak of Christ (Mark 3:7-11).[10]


Various types of creatures, such as jinn, shayatin, 'afarit, found within Islamic culture, are often held to be responsible for demonic possession. Usually, Iblis, the leader of evil spirits, only tempts humans into sin by following their lower desires.[26][27] Though not directly attested in the Quran, the notion of jinn possessing humans is widespread among Muslims and also accepted by most Islamic scholars.[28] There are various reasons given as to why a jinn might seek to possess an individual, such as falling in love with them, taking revenge for hurting them or their relatives, or other undefined reasons.[29][30] Since jinn are not necessarily evil, they are distinguished from cultural concepts of possession by devils/demons.[31] In contrast, the shayatin are inherently evil.[32] Hadiths suggest that the demons/devils whisper from within the human body, within or next to the heart, "devilish whisperings" (Arabic: waswās وَسْوَاس) are thought of as a kind of possession.[33]


Buddha, resisting the demons of Mara
Buddha, resisting the demons of Mara

In Buddhism, a demon can either be a being suffering in the hell realm[34] or it could be a delusion.[35] Before Siddhartha became Gautama Buddha, He was challenged by Mara, the embodiment of temptation, and overcame it.[36] In traditional Buddhism, four metaphorical forms of "māra" are given:[37]

It is believed that the demon will depart to a different realm once the demon is appeased.[34]

Other religions

In many of the Diasporic traditional African religions, possessing demons are not necessarily harmful or evil, but are rather seeking to rebuke misconduct in the living.[39] As Pentecostal and Charismatic Christian churches move into both African and Oceanic areas, a merger of belief can take place. Demons can be representative of the "old" indigenous religions, which the Christian ministers work to exorcise.[40]

Medicine and psychology

Those who profess a belief in demonic possession, also referred to as possessive trance disorder,[1] have sometimes conflated possession with the symptoms associated with physical or mental illnesses, such as hysteria, Tourette syndrome, epilepsy,[41] schizophrenia,[42] conversion disorder or dissociative identity disorder.[43] In its article on Dissociative Identity Disorder, the DSM-5 states, "Possession-form identities in dissociative identity disorder typically manifest as behaviors that appear as if a 'spirit,' supernatural being, or outside person has taken control such that the individual begins speaking or acting in a distinctly different manner.[44]" It is not uncommon to ascribe the experience of sleep paralysis to demonic possession, although it's not a physical or mental illness.[45] The symptoms vary across cultures.[46] Demonic possession is not a valid psychiatric or medical diagnosis recognized by either the DSM-5 or the ICD-10.[47] The DSM-5 indicates that personality states of dissociative identity disorder may be interpreted as possession in some cultures, and instances of spirit possession are often related to traumatic experiences—suggesting that possession experiences may be caused by mental distress.[48] Some have expressed concern that belief in demonic possession can limit access to health care for the mentally ill.[49] Studies have found that alleged demonic possessions can be related to trauma.[48]

Notable cases of claimed demonic possession

In chronological order:

See also


  1. ^ a b c d e Jones, Lindsay (2005). Encyclopedia of Religion. Detroit: MacMillan Reference USA. p. 8687. ISBN 978-0-02-865733-2. Spirit possession may be broadly defined as any altered or unusual state of consciousness and allied behavior that is indigenously understood in terms of the influence of an alien spirit, demon, or deity.
  2. ^ "Hypnosis - Wikipedia". Retrieved 2020-04-12.
  3. ^ Jones, Lindsay (2005). Encyclopedia of Religion. Detroit, MI: Macmillan Reference USA. p. 8687. ISBN 0-02-865733-0. The anthropologist Erika Bourguignon found that in a sample of 488 societies 74 percent believe in spirit possession. The highest incidence is found in Pacific cultures and the lowest in North and South American Indian cultures.
  4. ^ Herbermann, Charles, ed. (1913). "Demoniacal Possession" . Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company.
  5. ^ Ángel Manuel Rodríguez (1998), "Old Testament demonology", Ministry: International Journal for Pastors, 7 (6): 5–7, retrieved October 29, 2017
  6. ^ Herbermann, Charles, ed. (1913). "Exorcism" . Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company.
  7. ^ "Demons and demonology". Jewish Virtual Library. 2008. Retrieved November 20, 2019.
  8. ^ "Dybbuk". Encyclopaedia Britannica. Retrieved November 20, 2019.
  9. ^ "Dybbuk". Jewish Virtual Library. Retrieved November 21, 2019.
  10. ^ a b c d "The New Testament". Bible Gateway. 2011. Retrieved November 21, 2019.
  11. ^ Malachi M. (1976) Hostage to the Devil: the possession and exorcism of five living Americans. San Francisco, Harpercollins p.462 ISBN 0-06-065337-X
  12. ^ "John 13:27 Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges". Biblehub.
  13. ^ a b Showalter, Brandon (26 May 2021). "UK Baptist group warns against occultism amid rise in grief-stricken seeking to contact the dead". The Christian Post. Retrieved 27 May 2021.
  14. ^ Amorth, Gabriele (1999). An Exorcist Tells His Story. San Francisco, CA: Ignatius Press. p. 33. ISBN 9780898707106.
  15. ^ p.25, The Vatican's Exorcists by Tracy Wilkinson; Warner Books, New York, 2007
  16. ^ The Rite: The Making of a Modern Exorcist by Matt Baglio; Doubleday, New York, 2009.
  17. ^ New Catholic Encyclopedia Supplement. Detroit, MI: Gale. 2009. p. 359.
  18. ^ a b "Bible: New International Version". Bible Gateway. 2011. Retrieved December 10, 2019.
  19. ^ a b Netzley, Patricia D. (2002). The Greenhaven Encyclopedia of Witchcraft. San Diego, CA: Greenhaven Press. pp. 206. ISBN 9780737746389.
  20. ^ Warren, Brett (2019). The Annotated Daemonologie: A Critical Edition. p. 69. ISBN 978-1532968914.
  21. ^ Warren, Brett (2019). The Annotated Daemonologie: A Critical Edition. pp. 84–86. ISBN 978-1532968914.
  22. ^ Broedel, Hans Peter (2003). The Malleus Maleficarum and the Construction of Witchcraft. Great Britain: Manchester University Press. pp. 32–33. ISBN 9780719064418.
  23. ^  One or more of the preceding sentences incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainChisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Energici". Encyclopædia Britannica. 9 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. p. 398.
  24. ^ Cuneo, Michael (1999). "Contemporary American Religion". Gale eBooks. Retrieved December 3, 2019.
  25. ^ Tennant, Agnieszka (September 3, 2001). "In need of deliverance". Christianity Today. 45: 46–48+. ProQuest 211985417.
  26. ^ Michael Anthony Sells Early Islamic Mysticism: Sufi, Qurʼan, Miraj, Poetic and Theological Writings Paulist Press, 1996 ISBN 978-0-809-13619-3 page 143
  27. ^ Islam and rationality : the impact of al-Ghazālī : papers collected on his 900th anniversary. Leiden, Netherlands: Brill. 2005. p. 103. ISBN 978-9-004-29095-2.
  28. ^ Dein, S. (2013). "Jinn and mental health: Looking at jinn possession in modern psychiatric practice". The Psychiatrist. 37 (9): 290–293. doi:10.1192/pb.bp.113.042721. S2CID 29032393.
  29. ^ Dreaming in Christianity and Islam: Culture, Conflict, and Creativity. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press. 2009. p. 148. ISBN 978-0-813-54610-0.
  30. ^ Rassool, G. Hussein (2015). Islamic Counselling: An Introduction to theory and practice. New York: Routledge. ISBN 978-1-317-44124-3.
  31. ^ Al-Krenawi, A. & Graham, J.R. Clinical Social Work Journal (1997) 25: 211.
  32. ^ Meldon, J.A. (1908). "Notes on the Sudanese in Uganda". Journal of the Royal African Society. 7 (26): 123–146. JSTOR 715079.
  33. ^ Szombathy, Zoltan, “Exorcism”, in: Encyclopaedia of Islam, THREE, Edited by: Kate Fleet, Gudrun Krämer, Denis Matringe, John Nawas, Everett Rowson. Consulted online on 15 November 2019<> First published online: 2014 First print edition: 9789004269637, 2014, 2014-4
  34. ^ a b Hinich Sutherland, Gail (2013). "Demons and the Demonic in Buddhism". Oxford Bibliographies. doi:10.1093/OBO/9780195393521-0171. Retrieved December 12, 2019.
  35. ^ "Tibetan Buddhist Psychology and Psychotherapy". Tibetan Medicine Education center. Retrieved December 12, 2019.
  36. ^ Kinnard, Jacob (2006). Worldmark Encyclopedia of Religious Practice. Gale Virtual Reference Library: Gale.
  37. ^ Buswell, Robert Jr; Lopez, Donald S. Jr., eds. (2013). Princeton Dictionary of Buddhism. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. pp. 530–531, 550, 829. ISBN 9780691157863.
  38. ^ "Four maras". Lama Yeshe Wisdom Archive. 2019. Retrieved December 8, 2019.
  39. ^ Verter, Bradford (1999). Contemporary American Religions. Gale eBooks: Macmillan Reference USA. p. 187.
  40. ^ Robbins, Joel (2004). "The globalization of pentecostal and charismatic Christianity". Annual Review of Anthropology. 33: 117–143. doi:10.1146/annurev.anthro.32.061002.093421. ProQuest 199862299.
  41. ^ Pfeifer, S. (1994). Belief in demons and exorcism in psychiatric patients in Switzerland. British Journal of Medical Psychology 4 247-258.
  42. ^ Tajima-Pozo, K.; Zambrano-Enriquez, D.; De Anta, L.; Moron, M. D.; Carrasco, J. L.; Lopez-Ibor, J. J.; Diaz-Marsá, M. (February 15, 2011). "Practicing exorcism in schizophrenia". BMJ Case Reports. 2011: bcr1020092350. doi:10.1136/bcr.10.2009.2350. PMC 3062860. PMID 22707465.
  43. ^ Ross, C. A.; Schroeder, E.; Ness, L. (2013). "Dissociation and symptoms of culture-bound syndromes in North America: A preliminary study". Journal of Trauma & Dissociation. 14 (2): 224–225. doi:10.1080/15299732.2013.724338. PMID 23406226. S2CID 205868964.
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  45. ^ Beyerstein, Barry L. (1995). Dissociative States: Possession and Exorcism. In Gordon Stein (ed.). The Encyclopedia of the Paranormal. Prometheus Books. pp. 544-552. ISBN 1-57392-021-5
  46. ^ Bhavsar, Vishal; Ventriglio, Antonio; Bhugra, Dinesh (2016). "Dissociative trance and spirit possession: Challenges for cultures in transition". Psychiatry and Clinical Neurosciences. 70 (12): 551–559. doi:10.1111/pcn.12425. PMID 27485275. S2CID 24609757.
  47. ^ Henderson, J. (1981). Exorcism and Possession in Psychotherapy Practice. The Canadian Journal of Psychiatry 27: 129-134.
  48. ^ a b Hecker, Tobias; Braitmayer, Lars; Van Duijl, Marjolein (2015). "Global mental health and trauma exposure: The current evidence for the relationship between traumatic experiences and spirit possession". European Journal of Psychotraumatology. 6: 29126. doi:10.3402/ejpt.v6.29126. PMC 4654771. PMID 26589259.
  49. ^ Karanci, A. Nuray (2014). "Concerns About Schizophrenia or Possession?". Journal of Religion and Health. 53 (6): 1691–1692. doi:10.1007/s10943-014-9910-7. PMID 25056667. S2CID 34949947.

Further reading