Saturday, 21 February 2009

Demonical Possession

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A human who has become inhabited or taken over by a demon and who cannot, consequently, exercise his own will is noted in the New Testament, specifically in Mark 5: 12. Josephus also mentions a method of exorcism prescribed by Solomon, which had "prevailed or succeeded greatly among them down to the present time."
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There is little doubt that cases of possession do seem to crop up from time to time, and mainstream churches do (sparingly) perform exorcisms. Some historians of times past believed that there were cycles during which demonic activity increased, and used this theory to explain various occurrences, much in the same way as today's economic historians might explain historical events in terms of trade, productivity and other factors. These older historians saw a rise in demonic activity accompanying such occurrences as the destruction of Jerusalem, the fall of Rome and the French Revolution, and would in all likelihood also have viewed the demonic theory at work in relation to the rise of Communism and the Second World War.
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Man is in various ways subject to the influence of evil spirits. By original sin he brought himself into "captivity under the power of him who thence [from the time of Adam's transgression] had the empire of death, that is to say, the Devil" (Council of Trent, Sess. V, de pecc. orig., 1), and was through the fear of death all his lifetime subject to servitude (Heb., ii, 15). Even though redeemed by Christ, he is subject to violent temptation: "for our wrestling is not against flesh and blood; but against principalities and powers, against the rulers of the world of this darkness, against the spirits of wickedness in the high places" (Eph., vi, 12). But the influence of the demon, as we know from Scripture and the history of the Church, goes further still.
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He may attack man's body from without (obsession), or assume control of it from within (possession). As we gather from the Fathers and the theologians, the soul itself can never be "possessed" nor deprived of liberty, though its ordinary control over the members of the body may be hindered by the obsessing spirit (cf. St. Aug., "De sp. et an.", 27; St. Thomas, "In II Sent.", d. VIII, Q. i; Ribet, "La mystique divine", Paris, 1883, pp. 190 sqq.).
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According to the doctor of Louis XV, Monsieur de St André in his "lettres au sujet de la magie, sorcellerie et des sorciers" in 1725, it was believed that somebody displaying the following signs was convinced of being possessed by the Devil:
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People being able to levitate without any exterior help or art.
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People being able to speak foreign or unknown languages (glossolalia) without any prior knowledge of them.
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Inquisitors used to ask questions in foreign languages and expected answers in the same language.
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People being able to inform about events occuring in distant places or in the future.
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People being able to discover hidden things without any knowledge of them.
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People being able to guess thoughts and feelings that are not expressed to them.
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Other visible signs of possessions include contortions, unnatural body movements, insults, blasphemies, stigmata or wounds that vanish as quickly as they appear.
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The expulsion of an evil spirit by a command, ritual or prayer is referred to as exorcism. At the root of exorcism lies belief in the power to transfer a spiritual being from place to place by ritual acts and words. Exorcism may have originated from old rituals of propritiation dating back from the Hittites of Asia Minor who transmitted to the early Romans. The Romans before the final assault against a hostile town carried out the evocation. It was a solemn ritual of calling the gods of the enemy. The gods were invited to join Rome with promises of worship and good treatment if they did. Josephus also mentions a method of exorcism prescribed by Solomon, which had "prevailed or succeeded greatly among them down to the present time." Unfortunately, Josephus does not describe the method used.
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In ancient times, and to a minor degree in recent times, demonology remained important as an influence on criminology. Demons can be defined either under an Old Testament version as fallen angels or under a New Testament version as malignant spirits. Many of them, for which names are known, are involved with various temptations toward lust, mischief, and crime. The key research question in demonology was whether demons work by temptation or possession.
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Asmodeus was believed to be the most active demon, and he could take male or female form to fill people with an insatiable lust and desire for adultery, buggery, and child molestation.
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Belphegor, identified in the Jewish Kaballah, operated much the same way, but concentrated on breaking up romances and about-to-happen marriages.
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Beelzebub was believed to be associated with murder, cannibalism, and anything to do with dead bodies (because of the flies he attracted). His favourite sin was gluttony whereas
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Lucifer's was pride.
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Sammael, the bat-winged demon, was also associated with the joy of taking life, or murder.
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Rakshasas, the vampire demon known mostly in India, also was associated with murder, lust, reanimation of dead bodies, and perverting the holy.
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The Catholic Church has turned the gift of exorcism as bestowed upon the apostles into a discipline acknowledged and respected by members of other branches of Christianity. That said, not many priests actually come into clear-cut cases of demonic phenomena, and so are unprepared for the horrors it has in store.
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