Many people may be familiar with one of the most iconically frightening movies in film history: The Exorcist. The film features demonic possession, exorcism, and frame after frame of terrifying images. After watching (if you dare to watch!) you may be left disturbed, scared, or horrified. But the good news is, that movie is just a fake, made-up Hollywood plot! Right?
Not quite. Many people, of multiple faiths, believe demonic possession IS a real occurrence - and alarmingly, it is also apparently on the rise.
In April 2018, the Vatican held its annual excorcism course in Rome, which was attended by at least 250 priests from 50 countries, a number that has more than doubled since the course’s inception in 2005. The increasing demand for exorcisms worldwide is being blamed on both a decline in Christian faith and on the internet for providing easy access to the occult, Satanism, and “pagan activities” that lead to addiction. In Italy it has been reported that half a million people seek exorcisms every year. The number of exorcisms performed in the UK has also been growing. And in the United States, priest-led exorcisms more than quadrupled between 2006 and 2016, jumping from 12 to 50, as priests expressed their struggle to keep up with the demand.
With demonic possession becoming so prevalent in the modern day, why does it still seem taboo to believe in such powerful spiritual activity? Why do we not start looking beyond the curtain of Hollywood movie sensationalism and take the subject more seriously?
Because, according to Dr. Richard Gallagher, a private psychiatrist and a professor at New York Medical College and Columbia University, demonic possession is often treated as or confused with mental illness. A devout Catholic himself, Dr. Gallagher believes that possession, though rare, is very real. In the last 25 years, he estimates that he has seen about 100 cases of true demonic possession, during which time he has served as a “consultant” for a growing network of exorcists in the United States.