Non-Catholic and more obscure alternatives to an exorcism?
The Catholic exorcist, Fr. Gabriele Amorth in his books An Exorcist Tells His Story and An Exorcist: More Stories mentions that more modern denominations use an informal manner of exorcism based on community prayer and support. He makes note that such cases of possession have a genuinely successful outcome; he admits that he has been called in as a consultant on very difficult cases.
Robert Brigges in 1574, whose possession was handled by none other than John Fox, one of the early Protestant Reformers was recorded largely by Brigges himself.
Protestant and Possessed in 1574
One of the earliest and most complete accounts of a Protestant exorcism was that of Robert
Brigges in 1574, whose dispossession was handled by none other than John Foxe, one of the early Protestant Reformers. Brigges‘ case is unique in that it was recorded largely by Brigges himself, in his own words, rather than by observers or analysts after the fact. Additionally, Brigges was, although not a member of the noble class, certainly well off and a gentleman; this is quite unlike the majority of possession cases which occurred at this time, which primarily affected the lower classes, the young, and those in poverty. It is an excellent example of how the issue of exorcism and possession acted as a wedge to drive the rift between Catholicism and Protestantism further apart. Exorcisms were one of the many ways that religious authorities on each side of the battle sought to prove their worth. Certainly, if God were not on their side, then their exorcisms would prove ineffective, much like the Old Testament Elijah and the Prophets of Baal (1 Kings 20-40). Therefore, each side emphasized the aspects of their exorcisms that were unique to their own camp. For the Catholics, that was the necessity of ordained priests and the arcane and mysterious ritualism of the exorcism rite; for the Protestants, it was the name of Christ and the redemptive power of prayer.
Although it is uncertain, Brigges is believed to have been raised Catholic. Following a rousing sermon, he decided to convert to Protestantism, a momentously personal event which spurred a flurry of demonic activity within his life. This calm and learned man suddenly began attempting suicide—he made three failed attempts—contemplating murder, and arguing theological discourse in a rapid-fire fashion at length with Satan himself.
Brigges‘ case is not at all unusual in its details. He is assaulted with tales of heresy and sin; he is tempted by beautiful demonesses; he, his family and friends are threatened; his physical senses are attacked and he is blinded. The Devil in this instance is particularly fond of utilizing rationale and rhetoric against Brigges, perhaps due to his education and intellect. Powerless to help himself and seeing his hard-built life crashing down around him, he sought the help of John Foxe, whom he idealized as an impeccable Christian.
Foxe utilized what would become a common Protestant method of exorcism: community prayer and support combined with the power of the Word: the name of Jesus Christ. The significance of using the name of Christ as a weapon against the demonic has already been briefly discussed. Its usage in this context is significant however, because if it is not the first recorded instance of its use in a Protestant setting in such a specific and narrow manner, it is certainly one of the first; additionally, John Foxe was firmly anti-Catholic, and his method of exorcism reflects a complete rejection of Catholic ritualistic methods, and helps to set the patterns for the anti-exorcisms: the depossessions and deliverances of later centuries.
Foxe arrived when Brigges was at his worst: catatonic and deprived of all his senses. First he assembles the bystanders and exhorts them to extend forgiveness to their enemies and repent of their sins. Then, the group kneeling while he stands, he leads them in a loud and charismatic prayer for the restoration of Brigges‘ health, which occurs immediately. Kathleen Sands‘ extensive study of the Brigges manuscripts provides a succinct summary of the importance of the Word at this moment:
By making a first and separate prayer for the restoration of Brigges‘ speech alone, Foxe emphasized the significance of the word, adjuring the demon to depart Brigges‘ body in the name of Christ Jesus. This adjuration demonstrated the power of the five-letter ―weapon that Brigges and Stephens [another possessed victim to whom Foxe attended] had lost (J-E-S-U-S), for at the moment Foxe pronounced Jesus‘ name, Brigges recovered his speech and cried out, ―Christ Jesus, magnified and blessed be thy name, at whose name the devil ceaseth to molest thy creature. Blessed and glorified be thy name, who by the humble prayer of thy penitent servants and by the pronouncing of thy most glorious name, Jesus, the devil departeth. “The word is the way of God: ―he hath promised me by his word I shall have a way out”—a way out of sin and into grace, a way out of death and into life.”
This usage of the name of Christ as a weapon against the demonic goes beyond the many testaments contained within the gospels of Jesus‘ abilities as an exorcist. Prior to his ministry, the world lived in unbroken thrall to Satan. The pagan exorcists did their work through the agency of the Devil.109 If their attempts to free a possessed person were effective, they were only effective in appearance.
With the advent of the ministry of Jesus, suddenly the demons were no longer free to assault humanity at their pleasure. Jesus was able to truly cast them out and to free the afflicted from their torment.110 Theologically this was a turning point, and the symbolism of Jesus as not only the consummate exorcist, but also as the first true exorcist, cannot be denied. Therefore, an exorcist who calls upon the name of Christ to exorcise a demon from a possessed individual, is linking himself to the absolute beginning, the genesis of the first legitimate healing ministry. Aside from any apparent miraculous abilities which may result from the invocation of the name of Jesus Christ, the exorcist is symbolically and ritualistically drawing the participants back to that critical moment when the demons were chained beneath the power of the believer. This is an idea echoed by religious anthropologist Simon Coleman, who relates miraculous Gifts of the Spirit—i.e., speaking in tongues, spiritual ecstasy, visions of Christ—to attempts, whether conscious or unconscious, to connect directly to significant events within the tradition, such as exorcisms, in this case.
Protestant exorcisms can be as simple as an invocation of the name of Jesus Christ, through which the demons are bound under the dominion of God. Compare this to a Catholic exorcism, with its extensive preparation and detailed ritual (although preliminary blessings are comparable to Protestant prayers). A Catholic exorcism draws upon this critical moment as well; however, the focus is on the entire ritual, and the ritual itself becomes, as a whole, talismanic. With the non-traditional Protestant ritual, the name itself is the critical ingredient, and combined with repentance, faith, and prayer it becomes a complete ritual. Everything else is superfluous.
Coleman also points out that Pentecostal groups—within which exorcism ministries are more common—believe that the Holy Spirit resides within the person as well as working through the person. He cites the admonition from Corinthians 6:19 as the source of this belief: Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, which you have from God, and that you are not your own? If this is the theological reasoning behind the spiritual gifts, then it may also be viewed that demonic possession is possible, and would indeed be sought after by the satanic element. If a demon can turn the temple of the Holy Spirit into his own house, then he is corrupting not only the individual but also the temple. This corruption extends beyond the physical and far into the spiritual, where such things as human boundaries and walls seem less relevant. Corrupting the house of God in one person may go beyond the damage done in that one person.
Josephus recounts incidents of possession and exorcism in his Antiquities of the Jews. In his description, exorcism involved burning herbs and immersing the possessed person in water.
Exorcism is a ritual of power performed in order to drive an evil spirit, whether demonic or ghostly, from a possessed person, location, or object. The Christian scholar Origen credits Jews with a special talent for exorcising demons (Against Celsus, book 4).
The first allusion to exorcism appears in the Bible, in the youth narratives of David (l Samuel). But while the biblical David seemed to be able to effect a temporary expulsion of Saul’s evil spirit using music, the book of Tobit contains the first explicit description of an (informal) exorcism. Josephus recounts incidents of possession and exorcism in his Antiquities of the Jews (2, 5, 8, 45-48). In his description, exorcism involved burning herbs and immersing the possessed person in water. The New Testament also reports Jesus to have performed numerous exorcisms of demonic spirits in first-century Palestine (Matthew 12; Mark 5, 6, 13; Luke 8).
The Dead Sea Scrolls include several exorcism incantations and formulae, mostly directed against disease-causing demons. The DSS Psalms collection in particular (11Q5) has “four songs for the charming of demons with music.” People who fell under the influence of false prophets and mediums were thought to also require the exorcism of possessing evil spirits (the false prophets and mediums themselves were subject to death, a sure cure for most possessions; see Zechariah 13).
The Midrash mentions the procedure, though at times in a tongue-in-cheek manner (Pesikta de-Rav Kahannah 1:4, Numbers Rabbah 19.8). An extended story in Leviticus Rabbah 24:3 tells of the exorcism of a well of water involving iron implements and shouted formulae. Shimon bar Yohai exorcises a demon that assists him in getting the cooperation of Caesar in lifting an oppressive decree against the Jews. In a medieval Midrash, Hanina ben Dosa is credited with exorcising an evil spirit haunting an old woman. Intriguingly, in the last two accounts, the Sages exorcise demons, even though each of the evil spirits actually behaved in a beneficial fashion. By the late Middle Ages, whole texts dedicated to demons started to appear.
Josephus Flavius ("Ant." viii. 2, § 5) relates the following:
"I have seen a certain man of my own country, whose name was Eleazar, releasing people that were demoniacal, in the presence of Vespasian and his sons and his captains and the whole multitude of his soldiers. The manner of the cure was this: He put a ring that had a root of one of those sorts mentioned by Solomon to the nostrils of the demoniac, after which he drew out the demon through his nostrils; and when the man fell down, immediately he abjured him to return into him no more, still making mention of Solomon, and reciting the incantations which he composed. And when Eleazar would persuade and demonstrate to the spectators that he had such a power, he set a little way off a cup or basin full of water, and commanded the demon, as he went out of the man, to overturn it, and thereby let the spectators know that he had left the man; and when this was done the skill and wisdom of Solomon were shown very manifestly." See Ba'aras (Jewish Encyclopedia)
It could be noted also that Fr. Gabriele Amorth mentions that Sacred Chant (Gregorian Chant in the Latin Rite or Byzantine Chant in the Orthodox Churches) is efficacious in delivering souls from possession, as well as burning blessed incense, just as in the Book of Tobit.
Many styles of exorcisms are seemingly being used by different communities. The Holy Spirit seems to operate in ways that need to be done.