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#1071: Desmangles responds :Exorcism (fwd)

From: leslie desmangles <leslie.desmangles@mail.cc.trincoll.edu>

from: Leslie.Desmangles@mail.trincoll.edu

I have been following the brief conversation about exorcism, and note that
the term itself has not been defined adequately. Exorcism is a broad term
that encompasses a whole set of religious practices related to the
misconduct, the abnormal behavior, or the illness of a person. I sense that
the word "exorcism" has been used in this discussion in the Hollywood sense
as portrayed in the popular, "trashy" film of the same name.

Exorcism simply means the extrication of a spirit (good or bad) from a
person or an object by means of a ritual performed publicly or privately by
a religious specialist. Nearly all religions have forms of exorcisms. A
Catholic priest who comes to bless your newly constructed house before you
move in it is performing an exorcism of some sort,  because the blessed
water that is sprinkled in the house is intended to drive out or extricate
the bad spirits that might have lodged themselves in the empty spaces of
the various rooms of the home. In a Roman Catholic funeral Mass, the priest
meets the body in the back of the church at the beginning of the ritual in
the Church, blesses it by sprinkling blessed water on the coffin and by
dispersing incense around it; both are ritual acts that are meant to drive
out bad spirits that might have lodged themselves in the inhabited space
within the corpse. This ritual of exorcism  must be performed before the
body is allowed to cross the sanctuary and stationed near the altar. A
Protestant evangelical preacher who lays out his hands on a person to heal
that person from an illness has performed  a ritual act of exorcism,
because it is thought that the illness is caused by a bad spirit that must
be extricated from that person. A Vodou healer's prescription (with leaves
or roots for instance) is also intended to remove the bad spirit within a
person that is causing the illness.  

In short, let us be mindful not to fall prey to Hollywood and its film
industry's use of a word which has been used generically for decades by
scholars to describe a whole array of ritual phenomena found throughout the
world. But I do agree that exorcism has its place depending on the
religious tradition, and is not required everytime it is believed that a
spirit is lodged in a person or an object. For instance, possession trance
in a Vodou ceremony does not require exorcism because the participants
believe that it is a blessing for a person's body to be used by a lwa.
Similarly, a person who becomes "baptized by the Spirit" and becomes
glossolalic (speaks in tongue)  in the context of a Pentecostal ritual is
not exorcised because the community believes that  it is a privilege to be
selected by the Holy Spirit. In both cases, the bodies of these persons are
said to become "temples" which harbor spirits that are regarded as
potentially good for the community.

I hope that I have offended no one. I merely wished to clarify a point from
a scholarly prespective.


Leslie G. Desmangles
Department of Religion and 
International Studies Program	Tel.  (860) 297-2407
Trinity College		Fax. (860) 651-0160
Hartford CT 06106

		In this age of universal deceit, telling the truth is a revolutionary act