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Possession and Exorcism

Copyright Ross Henton ©2002

Edited by Lowell R. Matthews for The Guild Companion

Of all the stories associated with demons and demonology, none have inspired terror and loathing equaling the tales of demonic possession.  Although most people are familiar with William Peter Blatty's tale entitled The Exorcist, which has become synonymous with the genre, the story depicted in the now-famous film is actually a rather mild and easily handled case.

Recorded incidences of demonic possession began to flourish along with the witch-hunting craze at the end of the Hundred Years War in 1453, and thrived until the latter part of the Eighteenth Century.  Most possessions were of young women (just as are most poltergeist cases), and cropped up most often in the ascetic cloister of the convent.  Today, diagnosticians would attribute much of the activities to sexual hysteria, and where extreme seizures were involved, the verdict would point to epilepsy or similar diseases.  However, in times past, demonic possession served as a catchall explanation of practically anything anomalous in the personality.

Demons, in many cases, were believed to gain residence when the person ate them with food ingested without first purifying it with the appropriate sacraments and prayers.  Other people were said to accept demons by voluntarily attending witches' sabbats; some were said to sign pacts with demons in exchange for forthcoming rewards.  Some were believed possessed by handling cursed artifacts or containers in which a demon had been bound.  Others were believed possessed simply due to having the proper state of mind to allow forces of evil to take hold.

One historical description narrated how the demon "tyrannically uses another's body, another's instruments, as his own property; he throws down him who stands upright; he perverts the tongue and distorts the lips.  Foam comes instead of words; the man is filled with darkness; his eye is open, yet his soul sees not through it; and the miserable man quivers convulsively before his death."

Multiple Possessions

Mass possessions often appear in the historical record.  When a nun displayed signs of possession, an epidemic often broke out that could only be quieted through exorcism.  Such outbreaks were most common in Spain and Italy before the turn of the Seventeenth Century, but the epidemics began to spread like the plague.  The most famous of the accounts was the incident reported at the French city of Lille in 1613.  The possessed nuns were accused of "copulating in Mondays and Tuesdays, and of practicing sodomy on Thursdays."  Saturday, it was said, was reserved for bestiality.  "On this day, they have to do with all kinds of animals, like dogs, cats, pigs, goats, and winged serpents."  On Wednesdays and Fridays, the bewitched women were accused of singing litanies to the devil.

The Symptoms

After eighteen nuns were afflicted with possession at Louviers in 1642, an attempt was made to catalogue the symptoms.  Fifteen indications of true possession were included in the treatise that followed:

  1. To think oneself possessed.
  2. To lead a wicked life.
  3. To live outside the rules of society.
  4. To be persistently ill, falling into heavy sleep and vomiting unusual objects (either such natural objects as toads, serpents, maggots, iron, stones, and so forth; or such artificial objects as nails, pins, etc.).
  5. To utter obscenities and blasphemies.
  6. To be troubled with spirits ("an absolute and inner possession and residence in the body of the person").
  7. To show a frightening and horrible countenance.
  8. To be tired of living.
  9. To be uncontrollable and violent.
  10. To make sounds and movements like an animal.
  11. To deny knowledge of fits after the paroxysm has ended.
  12. To show fear of sacred relics and sacraments.
  13. To cursing violently at any prayer.
  14. To exhibit acts of lewd exposure or abnormal strength.

Practically every symptom included in this and other treatises was prevalent in an incident in 1633 involving the nuns in the convent of Loudun, in western France.  Other signs of possession included (but were not limited to):  speaking in tongues, levitation, tremors, psychokinetic phenomena, making strange sounds not usually possible for the human vocal cords, sensitivity to holy water, electrical disturbances, partial or total shape-changing, radical temperature changes, the gift of prophesy, and (often most disturbing to the exorcist) the gift of clairvoyance.

Traditionally, five signs are almost universal to true cases of demonic possession:

  1. Speaking in Tongues:  the possessed victim will speak, scream, and curse fluently in languages with which he is totally unfamiliar.  Sometimes these will be common languages spoken backwards; sometimes they will even be magical languages, in particular the language Porneia (RMCI, §2.4).
  2. Physical Strength:  the possessed will usually exhibit truly inhuman physical strength, equivalent to that of the demon possessing him.  Restraints designed to hold a human securely would be no proof against the physical prowess of a powerful demon.  The strength will often be sufficient to bend iron bars and snap heavy leather restraints like wet tissue.
  3. Levitation:  possessed subjects almost invariably display the power of levitation.  Although the power of flight has been reported, it is much less common.
  4. Sensitivity to Icons:  the possessed will be intolerant (and usually become highly violent) at the presentation of holy symbols and other blessed religious icons.  Although contact with such items will not burn the victim (as one would expect a Vampire or other Undead to be burned), it may result in the raising of temporary stigmata on the skin, resembling the welts sometimes due to allergies.  Holy water, however, will always burn the truly possessed, inflicting intense, wracking pain.
  5. Clairvoyance:  the possessed will often be knowledgeable of events and facts far outside his range of perception and experience.  This is often the most formidable of weapons at the demon's disposal, as the demon will use this power to play on the weaknesses of the exorcist, and to increase the suffering of the victim's loved ones.  The demon will invariably find the exorcist's weakest points, and exploit them to keep him off balance and disrupt the exorcism.

The Exorcism

The performance of an exorcism is a dangerous and risky matter.  The fact of possession must first be established beyond the shadow of a doubt, and even then, the official sanction of the church must first be sought before the exorcism may proceed.

The traditional view of an exorcism, as espoused in popular films and literature, typically shows an exorcism lasting but a single night and involving a single entity.  However, anywhere from one to twenty entities may inhabit a single victim simultaneously.

Historically, exorcisms have been known to last anywhere from several days to several weeks.  The physical and mental rigors of the ritual of exorcism are such that the exorcist must be both in the best of health and unshakable in his faith to see the service through to completion.  Exorcists often work in teams of up to twenty in the most deadly cases.

The dangers of an exorcism are multiple.  Not only is the inherent violence of the entity often a risk to those around the possessed, but the necessary spiritual closeness of the exorcist makes him a target for possession as well.  Often, the very faith and spiritual strength of the exorcist is the deciding factor in the exorcism's success.

The wise exorcist will undergo a period of up to a week of fasting and prayer in order to cleanse his body and spirit for the ordeal.  More than one exorcist has died during an exorcism, and many have even succumbed to possession by the very entity they are attempting to drive out while their defenses are at the lowest ebb.

The Exorcist

The Exorcist is often at grave risk during the exorcism; therefore, he must be among the wisest and most experienced of the clergy.  He must be able to discern true possession from the more common psychotic episodes and unfounded claims of possession.  Since the rigors experienced in the conduct of an exorcism are extreme, he must be possessed of almost uncanny strength of both flesh and faith.  He must be well educated in demons, spirits, and their ways, as well as the many prayers and rituals relevant to the exorcism.

Exorcists throughout history have held a unique place in the church.  Most exorcists have often been found behind the walls of the monastery or similar cloistered environs, where they form an entire order to themselves.  While the exorcist often represents the most experienced of the priesthood, he seldom holds any real political power in the church hierarchy.  His almost fanatical dedication and his willingness to engage in the most direct fight against evil, necessarily performing what is often the vilest and most dangerous of services, have usually made him a social untouchable.

Most importantly, an almost clinical detachment is required to perform an exorcism safely, both for the sakes of the exorcist and the possessed.  The exorcist must be prepared for the fact that the possessing entity will attack him where he is psychologically most vulnerable.  Moreover, although this is not often expressed to laymen, the safety of the possessed is not the primary consideration.  It must be remembered that exorcism is not for the good of the possessed—it is for the good of the world.

The Exorcist Profession

The Exorcist, described herein and in the accompanying articles detailing his three unique spell lists, is a pure spell-user of Channeling who specializes in the exorcism and banishment of demons and spirits from their possessed victims.  Although he is often not as skilled in social interaction as are the more public members of the clergy, his expertise and knowledge make him invaluable when his services are needed.  He must be strong in both body and mind due to the rigors he must endure in even the most routine of exorcisms.  His life is a harsh one, spent either behind the walls of a monastery or in the life-and-death struggle which is his stock in trade.

The Exorcist is a variant of the Cleric profession.  His Prime Requisites are Intuition and Constitution (IN/CO).

Exorcist Base Spell Lists

  1. "Hand of the Exorcist"
  2. "Communal Ways" (Cleric Base List, Spell Law, p. 34)
  3. "Voice of the Exorcist"
  4. "Channels" (Cleric Base List, Spell Law, p. 34)
  5. "Fortress of the Exorcist"
  6. "Life Mastery" (Cleric Base List, Spell Law, p. 35)

Exorcist Skills Costs

  • Weapon Skills:  6; 7; 9; 9; 9; 20
  • Maneuvering in Armor:
    • Soft Leather:  1/*
    • Rigid Leather:  2/*
    • Chain:  10
    • Plate:  11
  • Magical Skills:
    • Spell Lists:  1/*
    • Runes:  2/5
    • Staves & Wands:  2/5
    • Channeling:  1/5
    • Directed Spells:  5
  • Special Skills:
    • Ambush:  9
    • Linguistics:  2/*
    • Adrenal Moves:  5
    • Adrenal Defense:  20
    • Martial Arts:  6
    • Body Development:  6
  • General Skills:
    • Climbing:  5
    • Swimming:  3
    • Riding:  3
    • Disarming Traps:  7
    • Picking Locks:  8
    • Stalk & Hide:  5
    • Perception:  3
Other Skills:  Refer to the Development Point costs given below for those skills unique to the Exorcist profession.  All other skills' DP costs are identical to those of the Cleric.

  • Academic Skills:
    • Demon/Devil Lore:  1/2
    • Sanity Healing Lore:  1/4
  • Magical Skills:
    • Circle Lore:  1/4
    • Magical Languages:  1/*
  • Social Skills:
    • Diplomacy:  2/5
    • Interrogation:  1/4
    • Leadership:  3/6
  • Linguistic Skills:
    • Public Speaking:  3/5
  • Medical Skills:
    • Hypnosis:  1/3

Exorcist Level Bonuses:

  • Academic Skills:  +2
  • Base Spell Casting:  +1
  • Concentration Skills:  +2
  • Magical Skills:  +2
  • Medical Skills:  +1
  • Perception Skills:  +2

Flesc Demons

The accompanying article describes the Flesc or Possessor Demons, frequent enemies of Exorcists.

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