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Exorcist - Truth or Delusion?

Updated on August 21, 2016
Austinstar profile image

L. Cargill, B.A., Sam Houston University, Huntsville, TX., has been writing cool and interesting articles for the internet world since 1995.

The Ouija Board

Ouija board game
Ouija board game | Source

Ouija board game is a trademark a board on which are marked the letters of the alphabet. Answers to questions are spelt out by a pointer or glass held by the fingertips of the participants, and are supposedly formed by spiritual forces.


The Death of an Aunt and a Ouija Board Seance

Few people know that The Exorcist movie was based on the diary of a Catholic Priest's efforts to "cure" a young teenage boy afflicted by demons.

It all began in 1949 in the small town of Cottage City, Maryland, where a young impressionable boy had the misfortune of experiencing the death of a favored aunt. The boy was described as quiet and studious, what we would call a nerd in today's culture. He was most certainly entering puberty when these events began. He also experienced the death of a family member at the same time.

The Ouija board game was becoming popular at this time. It was a novelty game for old Houdini fans. The game was marketed as a way to contact the spirits of loved ones that had passed on to the great "beyond".

After the seance with the ouija board, the boy experienced some typical poltergeist phenomenon, but this was also a little understood thing during that time.

The family heard unusual sounds, odd scratching, knocking in the walls, marching feet, and shaking of furniture (particularly the bed in which the boy slept). The young man also presented with odd marks on his body, similar to the way some teens cut themselves today.

The boy was examined by a doctor and referred to a psychiatrist who could find nothing untoward in his exams. Eventually, a catholic priest, Father Hughes, was consulted and, according to witnesses, was declared possessed by "Legions" of demons.

The boy was taken to a reclusive area where he was confined and ministered to by Father Hughes and others. He became so violent that he was restrained and eventually managed to harm Father Hughes with a bed spring cut. The good Father referred the boy to a diocese in St. Louis where further "exorcisms" were performed and a diary was kept.

This diary later became the basis of the book, The Exorcist, by William P. Blatty. It was also made into a movie that became quite famous and is still considered the source of the almost instantaneous resurgence of belief in demonic possession.

Eventually, the boy was "cured" of his demon possession when a nun introduced an icon of St. Michael (the patron saint of exorcisms) into his room and the poltergeist activity seemed to disappear.

The boy grew up and later became an employee of NASA.

From The Exorcist Movie Trivia File:

Blatty was asked to rename the movie because at the time, practically no one had ever heard of the word "exorcism", and had no idea of what the Catholic church did during one.

The Exorcist Puppet

Exorcist Puppet
Exorcist Puppet | Source

The Roman Catholic Church and Exorcism

Oddly, the boy in the original diary on which the movie was made, was not a Catholic at the time of his "possession". His parents asked Father Hughes to convert their son to Catholicism for the purposes of the exorcism.

Even though the Roman Catholic church is considered to be the authority in the matter of demonic exorcisms, they are not the only religion to practice the removal of demons from human beings. In fact, demonic possession, has been allegedly been around even before the birth of Catholicism and Christianity.

The Roman Catholics have established a patron saint specifically for exorcisms, St. Michael, and they have a specific book, written in Latin, that prescribes the litany for compelling the demons out of the possessed soul.

The Catholics have also established procedures and education for priests that give them a "license" to practice official exorcisms within the church. Only trained priests are eligible to perform these rites.

Up until the movie, The Exorcist, came out and became popular, very few exorcisms were performed worldwide. Since the movie came out, interest in the occult (hidden knowledge) has exploded and continues to this day.

Demonic Possession Versus Mental Illnesses and Conditions

Common Symptoms of "Possession"
Scientific or Medical Name
Possible Explaination
Superhuman strength and muscle spasms
Excess adrenaline
Fear of being punished or experiencing pain and stress can cause high levels.
Speaking in 'tongues' or old languages
Mumbling and repetition of some phrase or language that was overheard and is exclaimed like a hiccup in the brain.
Cursing and twitching
Tourette's syndrome
Tourettes is an irritation in a specific area of the brain that produces loud cursing and facial or body tics
Hearing voices
Hearing voices and 'seeing' invisible things is a classic symptom of schizophrenia
Seeing visions
'Religious' visions and 'sinister' thoughts are particular to right hemisphere brain irritation or damage
Skin eruptions or cuts
Emotional overload
Especially in teens. When things become emotionally unbearable, teens often cut, mark or burn themselves to release the 'pain'. Some people cut themselves in Patterns or others perceive patterns in the marks. This is called Pariedolia.
Moving objects and furniture
Excessive kinetic energy
This one and abnormal sounds may be figments of an overactive imagination or hyperactivity syndrome.
Unusual sounds
Paracusia or auditory hallucinations
Many people experience auditory hallucinations. Sometimes common sounds are perceived as louder than normal or unrecognizable sounds are thought to be caused by 'ghosts'. Usually, there are mundane explanations for odd sounds in the house.

Pareidolia is a psychological phenomenon involving a stimulus (an image or a sound) wherein the mind perceives a familiar pattern where none actually exists.

— Wikipedia definition

Demons in the Flames

Demons in the flames
Demons in the flames | Source

Pariedolia - Can you see the 'demons' in the flames above?

One of the most unusual symptoms found in people thought to be possessed is the presence of marks on the patient's body.

Sometimes these marks are quite similar to the cutting marks found on emotionally disturbed teenagers when their young minds cannot cope with family stress or the stress of major hormonal changes in their young bodies.

Teens often have rather severe nightmares and can injure themselves in their sleep. These marks can resemble welts and 'burn' marks.

The idea that these marks form a pattern on a body is the result of pariedolia. Most people have a tendency to see patterns where others do not. This also results in the phenomenon of seeing "Jesus or Mary" patterns in toast or tree trunks or window panes.

Iatrogenic behavior:

i·at·ro·gen·ic (ī-ăt′rə-jĕn′ĭk)


Induced in a patient by a physician's activity, manner, or therapy.

— The Free

Iatrogenic Phenomenon in Demonic Possession

Outside observers and impartial investigators often encounter iatrogenic phenomenon in so-called demonic possession.

Since 'demonic possession' is almost exclusively found in the young and mentally ill patients, it is frequent that their treatment is often based on what the 'exorcist' believes he is seeing and hearing.

The power of suggestion is almost immediately apparent when the exorcist asks such questions as:

  • is there any speaking of tongues?
  • is there any sign of speaking in Latin?
  • has there been any strange marks found on the body?
  • has the family heard or seen strange occurrences?

These and other suggestive questions are asked almost exclusively of suspected 'possessions'. The answers almost always direct the priest's treatment of the alleged patient.

It's almost as if the family and clergy are 'making the case' for possession and try to present scenarios that may or may not occur. The family and patients are then either consciously or subconsciously trying to fit the behavior of the patient to the symptoms of demonic possession in a kind of self-fulfilling scenario.

The God Helmet

Truth or Delusion

Several medical doctors, psychiatrists, and researchers have tried to find explanations for demonic possession or the symptoms that result from alleged possession. The video above is about these types of studies.

There is evidence to suggest that 'demonic possession' is related more to mental illnesses and strong hormonal disruptions in children than it is to actual spirits and demons.

Some sufferers of possession have been later found to have schizophrenia, other mental illnesses, and even brain tumors.

The case study of the possessed boy in the beginning of this hub just grew out of his so-called possession, and this is typical of teenage possessions. This suggests that they were not demonically possessed at all, but rather simply going through strong hormonal changes in their bodies.

What do you think?

Is demonic possession and exorcism real? or delusion?

See results

© 2015 Lela

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  • Austinstar profile imageAUTHOR


    3 years ago from Somewhere near the heart of Texas

    Oh, if only there were a big enough stick to beat the stupid out of people!

  • ValKaras profile image

    Vladimir Karas 

    3 years ago from Canada

    Hey, ladies, I just love your diagnostic methodology - "jackass", "mental cases"; I always thought the proper scientific term was "ignoramus idioticus", it even sounds scientific. At least it sounds Latin enough, opposing the Latin word "demon". We have all seen enough of them, actually so many that an army or exorcists wouldn't be enough to beat the stupidity out of them.

  • fpherj48 profile image


    3 years ago from Beautiful Upstate New York

    I lost count of how many people I've encountered who can pass for a demon but not because they're possessed or one lives within. For the most part it's frankly because they're a total jackass. Why complicate things?

  • Austinstar profile imageAUTHOR


    3 years ago from Somewhere near the heart of Texas

    Thanks, Paula. I have seen many medical cases of "possession" also. Epilepsy is one of the most maligned "demon" diagnoses. And then there are the psychological disorders, which are very much assigned to demonism even in this day and age. We have a long way to go before we figure things out.

  • fpherj48 profile image


    3 years ago from Beautiful Upstate New York

    Lela....During my 32 year career, I can attest with specific (& medical) certainty, I've observed many a "possessed" individual. Each & every case being possessed by a myriad of mental, emotional as well as physical maladies. I can appreciate & relate to your REALITY list of explanations for the various abnormalities that VOODOO practitioners enjoy making into a very poorly-done Melodrama!.........A+ Hub. Paula

  • ValKaras profile image

    Vladimir Karas 

    3 years ago from Canada

    Austinstar- I am happy that you see where I am coming from. Religion, supernatural, mythology, and alike is not my cup of tea, or my cup of anything.

  • Austinstar profile imageAUTHOR


    3 years ago from Somewhere near the heart of Texas

    I think we are on the same page. I dont think you are in any way confusing science and the supernatural. Thank you.

  • ValKaras profile image

    Vladimir Karas 

    3 years ago from Canada

    Austinstar - I may have made a strange impression, but I am very aware of what you say. My whole point is that just because something is not scientifically explainable - so far - we don't have to use the only available explanation. I actually said it in my first sentence that I don't believe it's "demons", "exorcism" is b.s., Ouija board may be fun for some, and movie could have been entertaining to some. I hope we are on the same page now, my friend.

  • Austinstar profile imageAUTHOR


    3 years ago from Somewhere near the heart of Texas

    All i can say is that i do not believe it is "demons" that cause people to behave strangely. It's the "god of the gaps" theory all over again.

    Science is not a "thing". Science is a method of study. Like math is a method of adding numbers together. There is no comparison of science to spirituality or religion. They are like oil and water.

    Religionists seem to want to prove their religion by scientific study, but it just doesn't work that way. Science is the study of the natural world.

  • ValKaras profile image

    Vladimir Karas 

    3 years ago from Canada

    Austinstar - Let's put Ouija board, the movie, and the demons ALL into a bag labeled "nonsense". And then, let's put psychiatry into another bag labeled "unreliable".

    Psychiatry is an interpretive, not an exact science like chemistry, physics (before quantum theory came up), or mathematics. For the best part psychiatry is only as effective as its pharmacology - while making symptoms bearable, not causes removed. Something like brain chemistry imbalances have never been proven, but is still allowing shrinks to use psychoactive drugs on people under pretense that they are helping patients to produce more serotonin, GABA, endorphin, and dopamine - those "feeling good" neurotransmitters. Endocrine system is extremely delicate, and it's closely connected to nervous system which may be out of whack for any million number of reasons.

    My point so far being that psychiatry can only make some guesses when something like "demonic possession" is in question. No matter how much we want to trust science, science is continuing to evolve, and what is a scientific truism today may be a total nonsense tomorrow.

    I don't like intellectual arrogance, which means that I would be much happier hearing from shrinks something like "I have no clue", rather than trying to squeeze the psycho-physical and energetic complexity of human dynamics into their ambitious theories, clear cut diagnoses and a well known tendency to experiment on a patient for a lack of knowing.

    Their fancy terminology doesn't impress me one bit. Simply put, we don't know what exactly is happening with those "possessed". There have been some well documented cases of spontaneous combustion, for which science doesn't have an explanation either. We are hardly scratching the surface of quantum field and what in it may manifest itself in a strange way in our physical Newtonian world as we only know it.

    For one, I prefer that we don't turn science into another religion, and in an absence of provable explanations resort to some of our available models of understanding always ready in our intellectual tool box.

    So, as for a bottom line, I am happy to admit that I have no slightest idea what REALLY causes people to act that way. Hey, we are nonchalantly using the word "schizophrenia", without REALLY knowing the mechanism in the cause of that illness. Just guessing and medicating.

  • CallumCharles profile image


    3 years ago from Edinburgh, Scotland

    Thank you for this hub, I knew about the boy but not the whole story.

    You have filled in the gaps for me. I found this fascinating and a good read from start to finish. Looking forward to reading your other hubs.

  • CallumCharles profile image


    3 years ago from Edinburgh, Scotland

    Another great hub, I knew about the film being based on true accounts. However, I did not know much. Thank you for filling in the blanks for me, it's always good when you get closure and learn the truth behind things.

    I look forward to reading more.

  • Austinstar profile imageAUTHOR


    3 years ago from Somewhere near the heart of Texas

    The ouija board game and resulting phenomenon has always fascinated me. The fact that people can literally fool themselves into believing in ghosts and demons is amazing. Humans have an ubelievable ability to create thei own reality regardless of facts.

  • Titen-Sxull profile image


    3 years ago from back in the lab again

    This is great stuff, really breaks down the different and completely natural components of so-called demonic possession.

    People seem to underestimate their ability to fool themselves. If someone believes they are demon possessed, when really they are mentally ill, they may deceive themselves into the voice affectations, physical contortions, etc just because that is stereo-typically what demonic possession manifests as.

    In the same way people who suspect they've been abducted by aliens are often put under hypnosis and what do you know their suspicions turn out to be "true" and the aliens described are often the stereotypical greys we see in X-Files and Close Encounters.

    I look at people funny when they say they had a bad Ouija board experience. It's a board game owned by Parker Brothers that is, primarily, just the alphabet and maybe a yes or no. If a Ouija board is magical than my keyboard should be magical as well. Hell my keyboard even has punctuation so the ghosts should be able to tell me something with correct spelling, punctuation and grammar.

    The whole Ouija thing always reminds me of stream of consciousness. As someone who writes a lot sometimes it's fun to just start writing whatever is on the tip of your fingers even if it doesn't always go anywhere or even make much sense.

  • Austinstar profile imageAUTHOR


    3 years ago from Somewhere near the heart of Texas

    I'm a scientist, so I can't seem to just leave things a mystery. Thanks for the kind word!

  • CrisSp profile image


    3 years ago from Sky Is The Limit Adventure

    Interesting hub but just like the subject of paranormals, maybe it's best to leave it a mystery.

    Great presentation and explanation.

  • peachpurple profile image


    3 years ago from Home Sweet Home

    it sounds scary to me

  • Austinstar profile imageAUTHOR


    3 years ago from Somewhere near the heart of Texas

    Thanks for the email, Paula. I will see what I can do.

  • fpherj48 profile image


    3 years ago from Beautiful Upstate New York

    Lela....I sent you an email. Please check for it. Thanks.

  • Austinstar profile imageAUTHOR


    3 years ago from Somewhere near the heart of Texas

    It is, like you say, a big excuse for child abuse. Maybe that's how demonic possession got started in the first place. Parents beating their kids for "acting out". They covered up the abuse by blaming demons.

  • CatherineGiordano profile image

    Catherine Giordano 

    3 years ago from Orlando Florida

    You did a great job of explaining "demonic possession." One thing you could have added is how these supposedly possessed children are often physically and emotionally harmed by the exorcism. Some of them have died.

    The power of suggestion is strong. The possessed child's caretakers will see and hear what they expect to see and hear. They will also misinterpret innocent things as signs of possession. The victim will also manifest according to the expectations of the people around him.

    There are no demons. It is all superstition and hysteria.

  • Laura Sumner profile image


    3 years ago from Bucharest

    I've never witnessed an exorcism or a possession either, though I admit I'm curious. But that'll never happen since all those symptoms are medically explainable. Nice post btw :)

  • Say Yes To Life profile image

    Yoleen Lucas 

    3 years ago from Big Island of Hawaii

    "Demon posession" seems to happen only in certain cultures and settings. I have never witneseed it, and I've heard of only a few cases in the US. In the mid 1970s, a youth magazine from my church had an article about 8 students from Monterey Bay Academy (an Adventist School) who became demon possessed. Based on what I read, I'll take demon possession over the common violence of Oakland public schools any old day. Also, a former client of mine claimed his house had originally been demon possessed. He had a local priest exorcize it. Sometimes a place will put out a bad vibe - maybe because of a previous negative event that occurred there. I asked my client if I had been demon possessed when I rebelled against the church in my late teens, but he said no.

    Based on the descriptions, demon possession sounds like schizophrenia, epilepsy, or temporary insanity. Different cultures merely call it by different names.

  • Austinstar profile imageAUTHOR


    3 years ago from Somewhere near the heart of Texas

    The movie created quite a sensation that continues to this day. I don't know if this is a good thing or a bad thing. Personally, I do not believe in ghosts, demons, or anything supernatural. Humans are simply easily swayed by fear of the unknown.

  • drbj profile image

    drbj and sherry 

    3 years ago from south Florida

    Interesting hub, Lela. As well as creative suppositions. The "Exorcist" book and film may have created numerous believers in the existence of demonic possession.


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