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In some religions an exorcist (also called a witchman) is a person who is believed to be able to cast out the devil or other demon. A priest, a monk, a healer, a shaman or other specially prepared or instructed person can be an exorcist. An exorcist is a person who performs the ridding of demons or other supernatural beings who are alleged to have possessed a person, or (sometimes) a building or even an object.

Exorcists in various religions


Since the Council of Trent, "Exorcist" was one of the four minor orders in the ministry Roman Catholic Church, received after the tonsure. At the time this order was formally defined and confined exclusively to exorcism of the catechumen in the rite of Baptism, leaving exorcisms of demons to priests; but its role was later expanded. By the twentieth century, the order had become purely ceremonial. As a minor order, Exorcists wore the surplice. The office of Exorcist was not a part of the sacrament of Holy Orders but as a sacramental was instead first conferred on those who had the special charism to perform its duties and later to those studying for the priesthood.[1]

The Exorcist order was suppressed during the reforms of the minor orders after the Second Vatican Council by Paul VI. It remains in societies which use the extraordinary form of the Latin Rite (also called "Ecclesia Dei communities"), such as the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter. Some believe that attainment of the position of Acolyte in post-Council practices implies ordination to the minor orders which used to be below it, such as Exorcist and Porter, although this has not been officially defined (although Canon Law section 1009 does specifically state that the only "orders are the episcopate, the priesthood and the diaconate").

The Catechism of the Catholic church states that: "Jesus performed exorcisms and from him the Church has received the power and office of exorcizing".[2] Recently, many dioceses have formally appointed priests to the function of Exorcist as a result of reaffirmation of exorcism as a necessary ritual by Pope John Paul II (who reportedly performed three exorcisms himself during his pontificate) and Pope Benedict XVI. Gabriele Amorth is the chief exorcist of the Diocese of Rome, and founder of the International Association of Exorcists.

Orthodox church

An exorcist is an extinct office within the minor orders of clergy. The primary duty of exorcists was as the instructor of catechumens, whose entrance into the catechumenate was accompanied by an exorcism, ridding them of any demonic presence that may affect them. An exorcist may also have been called upon in other instances requiring an exorcism, such as the suspicion of demonic possession of a person or location.

The exorcism of catechumens has subsequently been conflated into the rite of baptism and is usually performed by the priest or bishop celebrating the baptism. Since the fourth century, the functions and ministry of the exorcist have been subsumed by the presbyter.


"Exorcism" in Islam signifies ridding the human body of jinn possession (Christians would be familiar with the term demonic possession) by means of using halal (permissible) means. The halal means "centered around ruqya" and it essentially involves reciting the Quran in the presence of the possessed person. There are ahadith (plural of hadith) which claim that Muhammad did perform "exorcisms" - i.e., rid human beings suffering from jinn possession, and the use of ruqya (Quranic recitations) is not confined to getting rid of jinn but also to heal other ailments.

Here's a bit of a background: The jinn, along with human beings, are one of the two accountable creations that will have to render an account of their life on the Day of Judgement. Like human beings, they will either be successful or doomed in hell in the Hereafter, based on their deeds in their worldly lives. Therefore, just as in the case of human beings, there are good jinn who follow the right path and there are evil jinn who commit sins. Possessing a human being is an evil act, and jinn who engage in this behaviour are committing a wrong. Jinn also have different religions just like human beings (Jews, Christian, Muslims), and just as a Jewish, Christian or Muslim human may commit sins, so may a Jewish, Christian or Muslim jinn possess a human being.

In fact, Satan (Shaytan in Arabic, a.k.a. the devil, or beelzebub, in Arabic: azazeel) is a jinn who refused to follow God's order and prostrate to Adam. He was arrogant and felt that as he was created from fire (the material of origin for jinn) and Adam was created from clay he did not want to prostrate before Adam as he was commanded. For this arrogance and sin of his, he became an outcast and asked God to give him a respite till the Day of Judgement. His request was granted, and so began the age-old, ancient and eternal enmity between Satan and human beings. While Adam and Hawa (English: Eve) repented for falling into Satan's temptations to taste from the forbidden tree, Satan continues to try to corrupt humans with his sneaky whisperings and will continue to do so till the Last Day.

Some human beings, bent on evil, forge alliances with evil jinns, and therefore you have things like witchcraft, black magic, etc. As an extension of this corrupt and unnatural alliance, some humans resort to haram (forbidden) means to get rid of jinns. For example, a person suffering from jinn possession may end up going to a "healer" who may use means other than the permissible ruqya.

The jinn are mentioned in the Quran, and belief in jinn is an integral part of Islam: they are part of the unseen world (to human beings) created by God just as angels - they exist, but cannot be seen. Exorcisms using ruqya (permissible) are not stopped or blocked in Muslim countries such as Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan. It is in fact the haram (forbidden) means used by wizards, witches, sorcerers, and those indulging in the dark side that the authorities try to clamp down against and purge. For example, many charlatans offer love potions, love spells, freedom from jinn possession by using despicable means, and so it is the crackdown against these activities (which are anti-sharia and haram) that sometimes gets misinterpreted by others that Islamic countries and Islam do not recognize possession or "exorcism".

Finally it may be noted that the exorcism experiences reported in the Christian tradition are identical to those experienced and recorded by witnesses in an "Islamic exorcisms": after some moments of recitation of the Quran, the possessed human begins to talk in a very different voice and often scary voice (e.g. possessed man starting to speak in a different language or a very hoarse female voice when the female jinn starts speaking). The recitation of the Quran troubles and burns the jinn possessing the body, and so they start "coming clean" so to speak in an attempt to stop the pain they are feeling. Similarly, it is well known in the Christian tradition, that sometimes possessed persons (possessed by demons) would get physically hurt as the priests would hold them back, or restrain them, etc. but when they would recover, they would have no signs of pain or injuries and they would not remember anything from the exorcisms (the screaming, shouting they did, the evil voice they spoke in, etc.), it is the same thing in "Islamic exorcisms" : once the jinn leaves (Christians would say once the demons depart) the person comes around and does not recollect what went on during the exorcisms.


Beliefs and practices pertaining to the practice of exorcism are prominently connected with the ancient Dravidians in the south. Of the four Vedas (holy books of the Hindus), the Atharva Veda is said to contain the secrets related to magic and medicine. Many of the spells described in this book are for casting out demons and evil spirits. These beliefs are particularly strong and practiced in West Bengal, Orissa and southern states like Kerala.

The basic means of exorcism are the mantra and the yajna used in both Vedic and Tantric traditions.

Vaishnava traditions also employ a recitation of names of Narasimha and reading scriptures (notably Bhagavata Purana) aloud. According to Gita Mahatmya of Padma Purana, reading the 3rd, 7th and 8th chapter of Bhagavad Gita and mentally offering the result to departed persons helps them to get released from their ghostly situation. Kirtan, continuous playing of mantras, keeping scriptures and holy pictures (esp. of Narasimha) in the house, burning incense offered during a puja, sprinkling water from holy rivers, and blowing conches used in puja are other effective practices.

Main Puranic resource on ghost- and death-related information is Garuda Purana.

See also


External links

This article forms part of the series
Major orders Bishop | Priest | Deacon
Minor orders Subdeacon | Reader | Cantor | Acolyte
Other orders Chorepiscopos | Exorcist | Doorkeeper | Deaconess
Episcopal titles Patriarch | Catholicos | Archbishop | Metropolitan | Auxiliary | Titular
Priestly titles Protopresbyter | Archpriest | Protosyngellos | Economos
Diaconal titles Archdeacon | Protodeacon
Minor titles Protopsaltes - Lampadarios
Monastic titles Archimandrite | Abbot - Igumen
Related Ordination | Vestments | Presbeia | Honorifics | Clergy awards | Exarch | Proistamenos | Vicar

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