Are exorcisms real?

A recent book ban has people talking about exorcisms. But what are they?

On an exorcist’s recommendation, a Catholic Church school in Nashville has banned the Harry Potter series. The reason: while a fictional series, the Potter books contain ‘real spells’ that the exorcist says could open the doorway to a dark realm.

In an email sent to parents and carers, Rev. Dan Reehil explains that the school has consulted several exorcists in the US and Rome, and it was recommended that the school therefore remove the books.

“These books present magic as both good and evil, which is not true, but in fact a clever deception,” Rev. Reehil said of the Harry Potter series.

“The curses and spells used in the books are actual curses and spells; which when read by a human being risk conjuring evil spirits into the presence of the person reading the text.”

As strange as this story is (providing much fodder for jokes around Insights’ office) it is the latest in a series of exorcism stories to come out of the United States.

Exorcisms, and stories about them, have long been part of the popular imagination. Some forty six years ago, William Friedman terrorised audiences with The Exorcist, a film adaptation of a novel by the same name.  
Stories like this tap into a public fascination with exorcisms.

As Robert Kirkman, author of the popular exorcist comic series Outcast (and The Walking Dead), there are hundreds of documented cases of exorcisms across the United States every year.

Of course, exorcisms are biblical, with the gospels portraying Jesus as performing several exorcisms. One of the most famous of these occurs in Mark’s gospel and is probably repeated in Luke’s, (although the details differ somewhat).

As is the case with many of the Bible’s miracle accounts, interpretations of these events differ widely.

One commonly argued point is that these events’ locations and placement in the gospel accounts serves as a partial clue for how they should be understood. In Mark 5:1-20, the location takes place in Gerasenes, near a plot of land given to Roman war veterans. As Ched Myers writes, “It is no accident…that this gospel story is laced with military imagery. ”  

Furthering the doublet, the man’s name is “legion” ostensibly because there are many demons (and also the name given to a group of Roman soldiers).

In this, and many other cases, the exorcism stories may be dealing with what contemporary audiences now understand as mental illness.

Biblical exorcisms, then, deal with very real situations and spiritual realities lurking beneath the surface, those demons that need to be addressed in order for a person to be restored to their place in the community and Kingdom of God.

Harry Potter is available in bookstores. It is not banned in Uniting Church facilities.

Jonathan Foye is Insights’ Editor




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