In several posts, I have discussed the prevalence of witchcraft in Africa. Before anyone gets the idea that Africans are somehow unique or backwards when it comes to this issue, I would like to point out the resurgence of interest in exorcisms within the Catholic Church.
As Laurie Goodstein reports for the New York Times, Catholic leaders in the United States recently held a conference on exorcism to ensure it can be recognized and appropriately handled (through various incantations and charms, which bring to mind the means of magic). If these statements were not couched in Christian jargon, few of us would hesitate to call this sorcery:
“Not everyone who thinks they need an exorcism actually does need one,” said Bishop Thomas J. Paprocki of Springfield, Ill., who organized the conference. “It’s only used in those cases where the Devil is involved in an extraordinary sort of way in terms of actually being in possession of the person. We deal with angels and demons.”
Some of the classic signs of possession by a demon, Bishop Paprocki said, include speaking in a language the person has never learned; extraordinary shows of strength; a sudden aversion to spiritual things like holy water or the name of God; and severe sleeplessness, lack of appetite and cutting, scratching and biting the skin.
Bishop Paprocki noted that according to Catholic belief, the Devil is a real and constant force who can intervene in people’s lives — though few of them will require an exorcism to handle it.
“The ordinary work of the Devil is temptation,” he said, “and the ordinary response is a good spiritual life, observing the sacraments and praying. The Devil doesn’t normally possess someone who is leading a good spiritual life.”
There are several good lessons here for those who wish to avoid possession by Satan or a demon and the grueling ordeal of an exorcism. Just ask Linda Blair. For Catholic priests interested in learning additional techniques, shamans are well known for their ability to deal with cases of possession.