The Ancient Near East
· An Exorcism from the Library of Ashurbanipal, Seventh Century BCE
· The Bentresh Stela, Fourth Century BCE
The Greco-Roman World
· Hippocrates, “On the Sacred Disease,” 400 BCE
· Lucian of Samosata, The Syrian Exorcist, 150 CE
· Tertullian, The Nature of Demons, 197 CE
· Philostratus, The Life of Apollonius of Tyana, 210 CE
· Athanasius, The Life of Saint Anthony, 370 CE
· Cynewulf, “Juliana,” 970–990
· Thomas Aquinas, The Powers of Angels and Demons, 1274
Early Modern Europe and America
· Desiderius Erasmus, “The Exorcism or Apparition,” 1519
· A Possessed Woman Attacked by a Headless Bear, 1584
· “A True Discourse Upon the Matter of Marthe Brossier,” 1599
· Des Niau, The History of the Devils of Loudun, 1634
· Samuel Willard, “A briefe account of a strange & unusuall Providence of God befallen to Elizabeth Knap of Groton,” 1673
· The Diary of Joseph Pitkin, 1741
· Fray Juan José Toledo, An Exorcism in the New Mexico Colony, 1764
· George Lukins, the Yatton Demoniac, 1788
Jewish Traditions of Exorcism
· Flavius Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, 94 CE
· The Spirit in the Widow of Safed, 1571
· Exorcisms of the Baal Shem Tov, 1814
The Islamic Tradition
· Ahmad b. Hanbal, “The Prophet Muhammad Casts an Enemy of God Out of a Young Boy: A Tradition from Ahmad B. Hanbal’s Musnad,” 855 CE
· The Trial of Husain Suliman Karrar, 1920 CE
South and East Asia
· A Hymn to Drive Away Ghandarvas and Apsaras, Eleventh to Thirteenth Century BCE
· Chang Tu, “Exorcising Fox- Spirits,” 853 CE
· A Fox Tale from the Konjaku Monogatrishū, Eighth to Twelfth Centuries CE
· Harriet M. Browne’s Account of Kitsune Tsuki, 1900
· D. H. Gordon, D.S.O., “Some Notes on Possession by Bhūts in the Punjab,” 1912
· “The Ceremony of Breaking the Stone,” 1931
· An Exorcism Performed by Joseph Smith, 1830
· W. S. Lach-Szyrma, Exorcizing a Rusalka, 1881
· Mariannhill Mission Society, An Exorcism of a Zulu Woman, 1906
· F. J. Bunse, S.J., The Earling Possession Case, 1934
· “Report of a Poltergeist,” 1949
· Lester Sumrall, The True Story of Clarita Villanueva, 1955
· Alfred Métraux, A Vodou Exorcism in Haiti, 1959
· E. Mansell Pattison, An Exorcism on a Yakama Reservation, 1977
· Michael L. Maginot, “Report Seeking Permission of Bishop for Exorcism,” 2012
An Exorcism from the Library of Ashurbanipal
Seventh Century BCE
Ashurbanipal ruled Assyria from approximately 668 BCE to around 630 BCE. In the 1850s, thirty thousand cuneiform tablets and fragments were excavated from the site of his royal library in Ninevah. In addition to legal and historical texts, many of the tablets describe medical and magical practices, including exorcism. In the ancient Near East, exorcism was frequently used to treat the symptoms of disease, blurring the line between religious ritual and medicine. Demons were imagined as residing in the desert, and exorcism frequently involved ritually removing the spirit and returning it to the desert.
The exorcism below, written on two sides of a tablet, describes a man suffering from paralysis, pain, and loss of appetite. The first part of the exorcism describes the imagined cause of the symptoms: an evil spirit who prowls the desert. The exorcism invokes the god Marduk. In the Babylonian creation myth, the Enuma Elish, Marduk defeats the dragon Tiamat and her army of monsters. The exorcism also invokes Ea, a deity frequently associated with Marduk, whose domain includes civilization and water. Eridu, mentioned in the text, is a location in southern Mesopotamia that is sometimes described as the home of Ea.
The ritual itself involves sprinkling the patient with an herbal concoction. The ingredients of this medicine are unclear, although the translator suggests that alalu may be an Indian herb akin to ginger. Next, an image of the patient is constructed "in dough," possibly a substance like cornmeal. The water is drained off the patient (or perhaps the dough image), taking the sickness with it, and into a cup. The cup is then emptied "in broad places," essentially returning the evil spirit to its natural habitat. The final lines refer to the month in which the spirit began causing problems. This is a common feature of ancient Near Eastern exorcisms, as spirits were thought to operate within predictable patterns of time.
The evil Spirit hath lain in wait in the desert
unto the side of the man [hath drawn nigh],
The evil Genius for ever is rampant
And none can [resist him],
The evil Ghost goeth furtively in the desert and
[Causeth] slaughter [among men].
The evil Devil prowleth in the city,
[It hath no rest?] from slaughtering men.
They smite the hero,
They lay low the maiden,
The little ones like a leek they tear in pieces,
They tear out the heart. . . .
Like a demon they envelop. . . .
They draw near. . . . .
[Where?] he sitteth they turn him back like
a shut gate(?)
Unto his house they drive him . . .
. . . is estranged (?), he falleth in the marsh.
He cannot lift [his limbs], nor turn his side.
He hath no desire to eat food,
Nor drink water,
His members are dissolved, and his body is filled
Marduk hath seen him (etc.),
What I (etc.),
Go, my son (Marduk),
Fill a pot with water and
Binu the matakal-plant, suhuu, a stalk of
And white cedar put therein and
Perform the Incantation of Eridu and
Make perfect the water of the Incantation and
Make perfect thy pure exorcism,
Sprinkle the man with the water and
Set li'i-food at his head and
Make the 'atonement' for the wanderer, the
son of his god, and
Fashion a figure of him in dough,
Put water upon the man and
Pour forth the water of the Incantation;
Bring forth a censer (and) a torch,
As the water trickleth away from his body
So may the pestilence in his body trickle away.
Return these waters into a cup and
Pour them forth in the broad places,
That the evil influence which hath brought low
May be carried away into the broad places,
That the spittle which hath been spat
May be poured forth like the water,
That the magic which mingleth with the
May be turned back,
By the magic of the Word of Ea,
The chanting lips which have uttered the ban,-
May their bond be loosened!
That this man may be pure, be clean!
Into the kindly hands of his god may he be
Incantation:-Evil Spirit, evil Demon, evil Ghost,
evil Devil, that bring evil at the beginning of an incomplete month.
The Bentresh Stela Fourth Century BCE
A stela is an upright stone slab with an inscription. In the ancient Near East, kings erected stele to commemorate law codes, military victories, and other accomplishments. The Bentresh Stela narrates the possession and exorcism of Princess Bentresh, daughter of the prince of Bakhtan. In the story, Bentresh's sister is the wife of the pharaoh Rameses II. The possessing spirit agrees to leave after the pharaoh sends a statue of the lunar god Khonsu to Bakhtan. Although the story is set during the reign of Rameses II, most scholars believe it was actually carved during the early Ptolemaic Period in the fourth century BCE. Physically, the stela consists of a block of black sandstone, approximately six and a half feet tall, engraved with twenty-eight lines of hieroglyphs. It was discovered in 1829 in a sanctuary near the Temple of Khonsu in Karnak, Egypt, and currently resides at the Louvre in Paris.
The purpose of the stela was almost certainly propaganda intended to communicate the power of the god Khonsu and the advantages of forming diplomatic alliances with Egypt. But there are also fascinating details about the culture of possession and exorcism during this period. The statue is the god Khonsu for all intents and purposes, and the possessing spirit yields to the god's power. Intriguingly, the statue is also described as "nodding violently," suggesting that it could move. Some have speculated that the statue was a kind of puppet that priests could animate using hidden apparatus.
The story also suggests a theme of sibling rivalry. Although the symptoms of Bentresh's possession are not described, one can imagine that having her sister chosen as the pharaoh's bride and taken away to live in the court of a more powerful nation may have left her feeling jealous or depressed. Possession could have been a socially acceptable way of expressing these feelings. When possession resulted in the arrival of an entourage from Egypt, complete with feasting, this may have helped to appease these feelings, causing the possession to cease.
Horus: Mighty Bull, Likeness of Diadems, Abiding in Kingship, like Atum; Golden Horus: Mighty of Strength, Expelling the Nine Bows; King of Upper and Lower Egypt, Lord of the Two Lands: Usermare-Setepnere; Son of Re, of his Body: Ramses-Meriamon, beloved of Amon-Re, lord of Thebes, and all the gods of Thebes. . . .
Tribute in Naharin
Lo, his majesty was in Naharin according to his yearly custom, while the chiefs of every country came bowing down in peace, because of the fame of his majesty. From the marshes was their tribute; silver, gold, lapis lazuli, malachite and every sweet wood of God's-Land were upon their backs, each one leading his neighbor.
Marriage of Ramses and Chief of Bekhten's Daughter
Then the chief of Bekhten caused his tribute to be brought, and he placed his eldest daughter in front thereof, praising his majesty, and craving life from him. Now, she was exceedingly beautiful to the heart of his majesty, beyond everything. Then they affixed her titulary as: "Great King's-Wife, Nefrure." When his majesty arrived in Egypt, she fulfilled all the functions of king's-wife.
Arrival of the Messenger from Bekhten
When the year 23, the tenth month, the twenty-second day, came, while his majesty was in Thebes, the victorious, the mistress of cities, performing the pleasing ceremonies of his father, Amon-Re, lord of Thebes, at his beautiful feast of Southern Opet (Luxor), his favorite seat, of the beginning (of the world), came one to say to his majesty: "A messenger of the chief of Bekhten has come, bearing many gifts for the King's-Wife." Then he was brought before his majesty together with his gifts. He said, praising his majesty: "Praise to thee, Sun of the Nine Bows! Give us life from thee." So spake he, smelling the earth before his majesty. He spake again before his majesty: "I come to thee, O king, my lord, on account of Bentresh, thy great sister of the King's-Wife, Nefrure. Sickness has penetrated into her limbs. May thy majesty send a wise man to see her."
Dispatch of the Wise Man to Bekhten
Then said his majesty: "Bring to me the sacred scribes and the officials of the court." They were led to him immediately. Said his majesty: "Let one read to you, till ye hear this thing. Then bring to me one experienced in his heart, who can write with his fingers, from your midst." The king's-scribe, Thutemhab, came before his majesty, and his majesty commanded that he go to Bekhten together with his messenger.
Arrival of the Wise Man in Bekhten
The wise man arrived in Bekhten; he found Bentresh in the condition of one possessed of a spirit. He found her unable to contend with him.
Message of the Chief of Bekhten to Ramses
The chief of Bekhten repeated in the presence of his majesty, saying: "O king, my lord, let his majesty command to have this god brought [. . . Here text has been lost between two fragments of the stela . . .]" Then the wise man whom his majesty had sent, returned to his majesty in the year 26, the ninth month, at the feast of Amon, while his majesty was in Thebes.
Ramses' Interview with the Two Khonsu's
Then his majesty repeated (it) before Khonsu-in-Thebes-Beautiful-Rest, saying: "O my good lord, I repeated before thee concerning the daughter of the chief of Bekhten." Then they led Khonsu-in-Thebes-Beautiful-Rest to Khonsu-the-Plan-Maker, the great god, smiting the evil spirits. Then said his majesty before Khonsu-in-Thebes-Beautiful-Rest: "O thou good lord, if thou inclinest thy face to Khonsu-the-Plan-Maker, the great god, smiting the evil spirits, he shall be conveyed to Bekhten." There was violent nodding. Then said his majesty: "Send thy protection with him, that I may cause his majesty to go to Bekhten, to save the daughter of the chief of Bekhten." Khonsu-in-Thebes-Beautiful-Rest nodded the head violently. Then he wrought the protection of Khonsu-the-Plan-Maker-in-Thebes, four times.
Departure of Khonsu-the-Plan-Maker
His majesty commanded to cause Khonsu-the-Plan-Maker-in-Thebes to proceed to a great ship, five transports, numerous chariots and horses of the west and the east.
Arrival of the God in Bekhten
This god arrived in Bekhten in a full year and five months. Then the chief of Bekhten came, with his soldiers and his nobles, before Khonsu-the-Plan-Maker. He threw himself upon his belly, saying, "Thou comest to us, thou art welcome with us, by command of the King Usermare-Stepnere (Ramses II)."
Cure of Bentresh
Then this god went to the place where Bentresh was. Then he wrought the protection of the daughter of the chief of Bekhten. She became well immediately.
Conciliation of the Spirit
Then said this spirit which was in her before Khonsu-the-Plan-Maker-in-Thebes: "Thou comest in peace, thou great god, smiting the barbarians. Thy city is Bekhten, thy servants are its people, I am thy servant. I will go to the place whence I came, to satisfy thy heart concerning that, on account of which thou comest. (But) let thy majesty command to celebrate a feast-day with me and with the chief of Bekhten." Then his god nodded to his priest, saying: "Let the chief of Bekhten make a great offering before this spirit." While these things were happening, which Khonsu-the-Plan-Maker-in-Thebes wrought with the spirit, the chief of Bekhten stood with his soldiers, and feared very greatly. Then he made a great offering before Khonsu-the-Plan-Maker-in-Thebes and the spirit; and the chief of Bekhten celebrated a feast day with them. Then the spirit departed in peace to the place he desired, by command of Khonsu-the-Plan-Maker-in-Thebes, and the chief of Bekhten rejoiced very greatly, together with every man who was in Bekhten.
Retention of the God in Bekhten
Then he took counsel with his heart, saying: "I will cause this god to remain with me in Bekhten; I will not permit that he return to Egypt." Then this god tarried three years and nine months in Bekhten.
Vision of the Chief of Bekhten
Then the chief of Bekhten slept upon his bed, and he saw this god coming to him, to forsake his shrine; he was a hawk of gold, and he flew upward toward Egypt. He (the chief) awoke in fright.
Departure of the God for Egypt
Then he said to the priest of Khonsu-the-Plan-Maker-in-Thebes: "This god, he is still with us; let him depart to Egypt; let his chariot depart to Egypt." Then the chief of Bekhten caused this god to proceed to Egypt, and gave to him very many gifts of every good thing, very many soldiers and horses.
Arrival of the God in Egypt
They arrived in peace at Thebes. Then came the city of Thebes and the-Plan-Maker-in-Thebes to the house of Khonsu-in-Thebes-Beautiful-Rest. He set the gifts which the chief of Bekhten had given to him, of good things, before Khonsu-in-Thebes-Beautiful-Rest, (but) he gave not everything thereof into his house. Khonsu-the-Plan-Maker-in-Thebes arrived [at] his [plac]e in peace in the year 33, the second month, the ninth day, of King Usermare-Setepnere; that he might be given life like Re, forever.