Culture

Everything You Need to Know About (Real-Life) Exorcism in the Philippines

That movies don't show you.
IMAGE "The Exorcist" (1973)
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Exorcism is one of those rituals that has captured our imagination. Many of us are curious about it and even find ourselves titillated by it. 

Most of us first learned about exorcism through The Exorcist, the 1973 horror flick that terrorized an entire generation with Linda Blair's spider walk, 360-degree head spin, and projectile vomiting. On hindsight, some parts of the iconic film are downright funny.

Of course, there's nothing funny about demonic possession. Having to call in a priest to do an exorcism is often the last resort. It means that things have gotten so bad that the only possible solution is divine intervention.

 

Inner demons

To understand exorcism—which is the ritual to expel the demons that have infested a person—it's necessary for us to know the cause of demonic possession.

The Archdiocese of Manila's Office of Exorcism explains: "Demonic possession is state wherein demons take control of the body (not the soul) of the person. They speak and act without the consent of the person and the person later has no knowledge of what transpired while he was under control. This is the greatest form of demonic attack wherein the demons act from within the person. The manifestations of possession can range from an immobile catatonic trance state to a full-fledged, physically violent display of hatred and pride." 

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According to Fr. Jocis Syquia—the director of the Office of Exorcism and author of Exorcism: Encounters with the Paranormal and the Occult—lists 10 demonic possession gateways. They are the following:

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  1. Occult involvement
  2. Traumatic experience
  3. Opening the third eye
  4. Contamination (victim of occult activities)
  5. Sinful lifestyle
  6. New Age practices
  7. Unforgiveness
  8. False Christian beliefs and practices
  9. Pornography
  10. Satanism

Catholic Culture also lists the signs of a demonic possession: 

  1. A sudden capacity to speak unknown languages
  2. Abnormal physical strength
  3. The disclosure of hidden occurrences or events
  4. Vehement aversion to God, the Virgin Mary, the saints, sacramental rites and religious images, especially the Cross 

In a 2012 interview with The Philippine Star columnist RJ Ledesma, Fr. Syquia pointed out: "Actually, most of our cases [involve] children and women. For children, the right side of their brains are very active—since the rational side of their brain is not fully developed, they are very intuitive. Children are very open to the spirit world. Women are more right-brained, so they are more intuitive and (are inclined toward) psychic abilities. They can sense when something is wrong."

 

Ritual specs

Aside from other church people, Fr. Syquia's exorcism team includes a lawyer and a psychiatrist. Prior to conducting an exorcism, they examine the afflicted individual to rule out mental health issues and determine if he or she is, indeed, possessed by demonic spirits. They also take videos of their exorcism sessions.

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The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) cites the tools used in the ritual: "In addition to the use of the Psalms and Gospel readings and the recitation of the exorcistic prayers, a series of sacred symbols is utilized in the Rite of Major Exorcism."

The USCCB went on to say, "To begin, water is blessed and sprinkled recalling the centrality of the new life the afflicted person received in Baptism and the ultimate defeat of the devil through the salvific work of Jesus Christ. The imposition of hands, as well as the breathing on the person's face (exsufflation) by the exorcist, reaffirms the power of the Holy Spirit at work in the person as a result of his/her Baptism, confirming him/her as a temple of God. Finally, the Lord's Cross is shown to the afflicted person and the Sign of the Cross is made over him/her demonstrating the power of Christ over the devil."

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More exorcists needed

It's worth noting that not all priests can perform exorcisms. An exorcist is either a bishop or a priest appointed by him and given special permission of a local ordinary (usually a bishop of the diocese) to perform the exorcism ritual. 

That said, there is a need for more exorcists in the Philippines. In 2015, the Catholic News Service noted that the country's demand for exorcisms had increased. At that time Fr. Syquia had disclosed, "These days we have around 80 to 100 cases at any given time."

Fr. Syquia explained that many dioceses do not have in-house exorcists. Thus, some Pinoys would seek help from "healers and occult practitioners." Fr. Syquia said that this only makes matters worse because the possessed person's agony is prolonged. By the time the legit exorcism team got to them, they were already in pretty bad shape.


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In any case, the Catholic Church maintains that demonic possession continues to be a rare occurrence. Besides, we already know that some people don't need to be possessed by demons in order to do evil things. Many of them are, in fact, already well on their way to becoming well-accomplished demons. If they get possessed, then it would be considered redundant.

Meanwhile, there have been scarier movies tackling exorcism since The Exorcist. There's The Exorcism of Emily Rose (2005) and The Atticus Institute (2015). They don't feature 360-degree head spins, but they have moments where you simply just want to look away.

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