If you’re a film buff, you may recall The Exorcist, the 1973 horror film starring Ellen Burstyn, Linda Blair, Max Von Sydow, and Jason Miller. Two priests attempted to reclaim the soul of a 12 year old, who had been taken over by a demon. The film contained a memorable scene of the possessed girl’s head swiveling 360 degrees, and a notable eruption of green puke — quite horrifying at the time.
But exorcism has a much longer history; it’s a sacramental rite of the Roman Catholic Church dating back to 1614, and it’s purpose has always been to combat demonic possession. Exorcism can involve prayers, or prayers and a ritual conducted by an ordained priest.
Lest you think belief in demonic possession has gone the way of the dodo bird, think again. According to FiveThirtyEight, an online news feed to which I subscribe, 250 priests from 50 countries are registered for the Vatican’s current course entitled “Exorcism and the Prayer of Liberation”.
Think it might be some kind of weird fun to go? Sorry — you have to be a Roman Catholic priest.
I know that all religions have their odd bits and that for the most part, those bits are folded in with the more sensible stuff to comprise a whole belief system. But really, the religion of my childhood seems to retain more of this strange stuff than most. Judaism is a rather more rational set of arguments over Talmudic wisdom, and so it was always hard to explain to my late husband Jerry — when he came across something like indulgences or exorcism or relics — what these odd bits mean and how they function in current time.