Exorcism made a major comeback 38 years ago when Linda Blair’s swivelling head terrified cinema audiences in the most profitable horror film of all time. There was a big increase in deliverance ministry in the United States as a result, and there has been a fascination with casting out demons ever since.
The Daily Mail reflected another renewal in interest recently with a lurid look at “inner healing and spirit deliverance” as practised by a Pastor Vincent who learned his trade on a five-week training course at the Spiritual Freedom Church in Phoenix, Arizona. He has since launched an online Vincent Ministries and now conducts 100 exorcisms a year. “There’s been a massive rise in demand lately,” he told the Mail. “So I have been incredibly busy.”
The paper went on to say that there are now thousands of exorcists in the UK who advertise their services on the Internet, in Yellow Pages or through the social networking sites Facebook and Twitter in return for generous offerings and donations. There are even online training courses for newcomers to the trade.
All of which will appal Church of England priests who work in the low-key Ministry of Deliverance, a requirement in every diocese since it was set up in 1974 as part of the Church’s Ministry of Healing. “It is not something encountered by most of us very often,” says the website for the Diocese of Newcastle. “It is, however, something that most clergy will be required to deal with on at least one occasion during the course of their ministry. Quite often the phenomena appear puzzling, bizarre and certainly to those experiencing them, disturbing.”
Yet few outside the Church are aware of the help available to those faced with haunting, poltergeists or demonic possession. There is a good book on the subject, The Reluctant Exorcist by Canon Ken Gardiner in Kingsway Publications Ministry Guides series. Ken’s conviction that his faith enables him to handle anything Satan cares to throw at him is impressive, as is his belief that invoking Jesus is usually enough to stop the afflicted coming to further harm.
The CofE report A Time to Heal has a chapter devoted to deliverance ministry and for those who want to delve further the standard text is Deliverance (2nd edition) edited by Michael Perry who used to be the Bishop’s Adviser in the Durham Diocese. Deliver us from Evil is a leaflet written by the Rev Mike Pennington and produced by the Churches’ Fellowship for Psychical and Spiritual Studies.
There is apparently no specific technique for this kind of thing, and the priest should do whatever feels right at the time with the Holy Spirit as guide. Each case is different but broadly, and I simplify hugely here, the offending spirit is told that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow and ordered to skedaddle pronto. Clearly there can be mental health issues involved so working alongside mental health professionals is advisable, although many psychiatrists will have no truck with deliverance.
Ken Gardiner tells some remarkable stories after more than 30 years work in this field, and not all of them involve exorcism as the layman would understand it. A mother thought her six-year-old son was under spiritual attack when his teachers reported he was talking to himself and behaving as if he had a split personality. It turned out the mother had aborted a male foetus before her son was born, and what he was in touch with was the soul of his brother. A ‘communion service with intent’ without her son present, a kind of requiem for the dead child, was enough to return her son to normality. And he never knew a thing about it.
A more disturbing case involved three college students out drinking to celebrate the end of term. One of them had confessed while under the influence of the alcohol that she had been involved in black magic and Satanism and the other two brought her to Ken. Prayer made her go rigid, her fingers forming the ‘horned god’ of the devil, her eyes rolled up into their sockets. The name of Jesus made her repeat what sounded like “sausage” but was really Jesus backwards. When a Bible was produced she read passages backwards with astonishing speed.
A voice from within the girl shrieked “kill her” and she put her head down and tried to run headlong into a wall before being restrained. It was replaced by a deep, male voice saying ‘he’ had been invited into her and so refused to leave, and it took two hours of ministering to eject three distinct spirits. “The experience felt to me similar to tearing out a very deeply embedded weed in the garden,” remembers Ken.
There is danger in dabbling in any occult practice; even light-hearted after-dinner games involving seances or Ouija boards can let evil in. Yet most of us know too little about this specialised field of ministry and we should know more, if only to demystify it so it is not dismissed as wacky. This newspaper would certainly like to learn more so if you can help separate the facts from the fiction, or suggest ways in which this subject can be presented in a meaningful but non-sensational way, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Nigel Nelson is political editor of The People