11 Things You Need to Know about the Devil, Demonic Possession, and Exorcisms

We live in wicked times. Not only with the rise of urban violence and recent phenomena of mass shooting events at movie theaters and nightclubs and the like. But also the rise of satanic, racist ideologies that would deny God’s glory set within every person by nature of their being image bearers of the Creator. Add to this the toxic display of pride and anger and malice on social media, combined with the rise in the occult and there’s no denying it: We live in wicked times.

Why is this?

Part of it is the fact that every one of us is born with a heart primed for such wickedness, having inherited a sinful nature from our original ancestor Adam. Yes, we still bear the image of our Creator. But that image is broken and busted beyond all self-repair; we truly are desperate for a heart transplant, which Christ offers freely through his rescue mission on the cross.

However, there is another reason: the reality of Satan and presence of demonic darkness in the world. We moderns, in all of our sophisticated rationality and demand for naturalistic causes, have generally written off such supernatural manifestations—both outside and the Church, but inside as well. And with disastrous consequences.

I’m not one to find the Devil hiding under every rock and cautious to ascribe every evil act to him, but I cannot help but think that much of the wickedness we find in the world has far more demonic and Satanic designs behind it than we give it credit. So I thought, why not write a book that would attempt to clue people into these demonic dimensions and the clear and present dangers that the cosmic powers of this present darkness, the spiritual forces of evil pose to the world?

I wrote Rite of Darkness, the seventh book in my action-adventure religious thriller series Order of Thaddeus that plumbs the depth of the demonic and occult, and the Church’s healing deliverance through exorcisms.

Here is some of the research that went into the historical and theological facts sitting at the heart of the thrilling, page-turning story. And 9 things you need to know about the demonic.

1) The Devil Plays a Major Role in the Bible and Christian Teaching

The word we use for Devil comes from the Greek diabolos, meaning ‘adversary’ or ‘opposer.’ We only find the Devil in the Old Testament a few times, and even then he is far from a personified being. He appears most prominently in the Book of Job, where he had access to the heavenly court and appeared to be acting as God’s agent as a kind of prosecuting attorney and convinced God to give him the power to test Job’s loyalty and unleash a wave of destruction upon his life. But we first find the Prince of Darkness in the opening chapters of the very first book in the Bible, Genesis, where he convinced Adam and Eve to rebel against God—plunging all of creation into chaos and ruin, sin and death.

In the New Testament the Devil is far more prominent. At the time of Christ’s coming, the whole world was lying under the power of the Evil One, as John wrote in his first letter. Part of the mission of Christ, then, was to destroy the works of the Devil, as the Evangelist wrote. This is clearly evident in the battle lines drawn throughout the Gospels. Two sides, between Satan and Christ. The Devil tempts Christ directly in the desert and attacks him indirectly through tempting his followers, inflicting with bodily harm and even through possession. A major feature of the ministry of Jesus throughout the Gospels was him confronting the Devil head-on through exorcisms.

For Catholics, the catechism teaches ‘The devil and the other demons were indeed created naturally good by God, but they became evil by their own doing.’ According to Christian tradition, Satan was the principal fallen angel with the highest rank above all other angels. He was the brightest and most perfect of all God’s creatures who fell from grace. Matthew the Evangelist writes about ‘the Devil and his angels.‘ Luke speaks of him as ‘the ruler of the demons.’ John the Apostle writes about ‘the dragon and his angels’ in his Apocalypse.

2) The Devil Plays a Major Role in Our Lives

After the angels fell from grace, God created the world, including our first human ancestors. After God’s crowning creative achievement, investing his very image in his human creatures, Satan turned his rage on humanity, as a sort of proxy in his menacing rebellion against God. As Pope John Paul II described it, Satan ‘transplanted into man the insubordination, rivalry and opposition to God, which had become the motivation for his existence.’ The Book of Genesis describes how Satan, in the form of the serpent, tempted Adam and Eve to rebel against God and his authority by sinning against him through disobedience.

Part of the result of this fallen world and fallen humanity is that Satan has been given some degree of dominion over our world, over our lives. The Gospel of John calls him ‘the ruler of this world’ and Saint Paul referred to him as ‘the god of this world’ in 2 Corinthians. While God is the ultimate ruler and ultimate authority over the universe and everything in it, including the Devil. Satan still retains his former angelic stature and powers and rule. Although, as Saint Augustine taught, God does not give Satan free rein and a free hand, otherwise no man would be left alive.

3) The Devil and the Fallen Angels Are Limited in Their Actions

By their nature as created beings and by the will of God. No matter his superiority to humans, the Devil is still a finite creature, which means he is bound by the limitations of the created order. He cannot perform a miracle, for instance, because a miracle is something that surpasses the power of natural laws and reality. Such a performance requires supernatural power, which Satan does not have. His is preternatural power. However, he can still create the appearance of a miracle given that his powers allow him to surpass human limits. And he certainly exerts himself in a way that appears supernatural, even over the affairs of men, going so far as to impress himself upon individuals.

The Devil is also limited by God’s own will. Again, the Devil is a created being, not the Creator. Which means his status as a lower being is as a creature, far beneath that of God Almighty. He is often falsely represented as a sort of god of evil, a view held by many satanic cults. The clash of good versus evil in many pop culture phenomenons often pits good against evil, or God against the Devil, as equals. Which is fundamentally not true. Even though the Devil, because of his angelic stature, has more power than humans, he can do nothing unless God allows it. The Book of Job, chapter one, makes that clear: ‘The Lord said to Satan, Very well, all that he has is in your power; only do not stretch out your hand against him!’

4) Demons Use Doorways to Take Possession of a Person

Things like habitual sin and family curses, which can include sins committed by one generation that carry on in later generations, open the door for the Evil One to gain entrance into a person’s life. However, there are two clear doorways that seem to allow demons to gain purchase in people’s lives: abuse, particularly sexual abuse, and the occult.

5) A Major Doorway into Demonic Possession is Sexual Abuse.

Some exorcists have claimed that as many as 80 percent of those who have come to them in their lifetime seeking an exorcism have been victims of sexual abuse. Given the nature and trauma of sexual abuse, it creates what I would call a soul wound in a person, making them more vulnerable to demons and susceptible to their affliction. Now, this isn’t to say that people are tormented by such abuse so that they believe they are possessed. Instead, abuse fosters the conditions for actual demonic possession, given the satanic depravity the victim has experienced at the hands of people.

6) A Second Major Doorway for Demonic Possession is the Occult

Many believe the root cause in the prevalence and resurgence of demonic possession in our age is due to the reawakening of interest in magic, divination, witchcraft, and attempts to communicate with the dead. Engaging with the occult involves accessing parts of the spiritual realm inhabited by demonic forces. Those practices become the engine that allows the demon to come into a person’s life—into their very person—and take possession over them, their faculties and senses. Plenty of journalistic and academic studies in recent years have documented the renewed interest in magic, astrology, and witchcraft, especially among the Millennial generation.

7) Apparently, Christians and Non-Christians Can Be Possessed

This was a surprising insight from the foremost exorcist in the world, Father Amorth. As he wrote in his book An Exorcist Explains the Demonic:

[People of every faith or none. The Devil does not look in the face of everyone.] No one can consider themselves excluded: they can be young or old, believers or atheists, Christians or those of other religions….Not even consecrated religious are ruled out. I recall the case of Sister Angela, who was obsessed with a cursing that resounded in her mind. In most cases, those who are distant from the Faith are more susceptible to this risk, but this is only an indication of the maxim that says the Devil is more tranquil if he does not have to live with prayer, fasting, the Eucharist, and the other sacramental practices. (67)

8) Demons Possess the Person not the Soul

Admittedly, I struggled with this idea at first, the idea of Christians becoming possessed (and am still considering the notion, to be honest), given my own tradition did not hold this, believing it to be at odds with their becoming filled with the Holy Spirit at salvation. However, another insight from Amorth gave some clarity:

Without a doubt, diabolical possession, the invincible influence of the Devil on a person, is the most striking and serious form of the extraordinary action of the Devil. When the demon is able to take possession of a person, he can make him say and do what he wishes. It is necessary to clarify that the Devil is not able to take possession of the soul of a man (unless the person expressly consents to it), but only his body. (66)

He also goes on to say that cases of vexation, obsession, infestation, and oppression are far more common than actual possession, and is seldom permanent.

9) The Bible Shows Followers of Jesus Becoming Filled with Satan

Judas Iscariot, one of Jesus’ own Twelve Disciples, was possessed by the Devil. The Evangelist Luke makes plain that ‘Satan entered into Judas’ (Luke 22:3) before he carried out his wicked deeds. And then the apostle Peter, the rock upon which the Church was founded, was warned by Jesus that ‘Satan has demanded to sift all of you as wheat.’ (Luke 22:31) The Devil obtained permission to try and drag them into his dastardly designs, and he succeeded with Peter (who later repented and was restored to relationship with Christ, unlike Judas who hung himself).

Then there was Ananias, another disciple of Christ from the Book of Acts whom Luke quotes Peter asking, ‘why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit,’ (Acts 5:3) suggesting a contrast of two ‘fillings’—between Satan and the Spirit of God, even within believers. And pointing to this reality of demonic influence within the life of the believer, even on top of temptation and oppression.

10) Exorcisms Was a Major Feature of Jesus’ Ministry and the Disciples

If anyone needs evidence of the necessity of the ministry of deliverance offered by exorcists, then look no further than Jesus! Exorcism was a central feature of his ministry, and the New Testament is full of stories where Jesus offered deliverance to those afflicted by demonic possession—one of the more dramatic is Mark 5:1-20. This not only proved his divinity, but was also a tangible representation of his mission to defeat the kingdom of Satan and usher in the kingdom of God. As Matthew’s Gospel records: ‘But if it is by the Spirit of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come to you’ (Matthew 12:28).

Matt Baglio in his book The Rite describes Jesus’ ministry in this way:

Although Jesus was not the only exorcist of his day, his method was special. Rather than using the complex rituals and props of his contemporaries, he simply ordered the demon to depart, sometimes even in the first person. In fact Jesus’ exorcisms were considered so radical that he was accused by his enemies of harnessing the power of demons (Mark 3:20–30), a charge Jesus answered by saying simply that it was impossible for a demon to cast out a demon. (34)

This ministry also extended to the disciples. ‘Then Jesus summoned his twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to cure every disease and every sickness’ (Matthew 10:1). Luke 10:17–20 records seventy-two disciples returning joyfully to tell Jesus that ‘even the demons are subject to us because we use your name!’ This ministry continued after the Church was established, where Acts 8:5-7 records ‘unclean spirits, crying with loud shrieks, came out of many who were possessed’ when ‘Philip went down to the city of Samaria and proclaimed the Messiah.’

This deliverance ministry known as the Roman Ritual or the Rite has continued throughout the Church’s history. However, this is where my Catholic brothers and sisters have a leg up on us Protestants (of which I consider myself), who have traditionally been far more intentional about naming possession and offering healing. They offer a deliberate process for discerning, identifying, confronting, and releasing people from demonic possession I found inspiring.

11) There Has Been a Resurgence of Exorcists and Requests for Exorcisms, Brought on by a Resurgence in Magical Thinking

While eight years ago there were fewer than fifteen known Catholic exorcists in America, today there are over a hundred exorcists ministering to the needs of the demonically oppressed and possessed. The Church has reclaimed this traditional ministry that had been set aside. This past year alone I have received 1,700 phone or email requests for the exorcism Rite, by far the most I’ve ever received in one year. Others get at least a dozen requests each week.

As people’s participation in orthodox Christianity declines, there has always been a surge of interest in the occult and the demonic. Yet there is a hunger for contact with the supernatural, even as the thirst for Christ’s font has waned, and people have begun to look for their own answers. At the same time, there has been a resurgence in magical thinking through American culture, with the rise of movies and TV shows touting the supernatural, and other media about demons and the demonic. Such books and films may seem innocent on the surface, but they are far more devious and dangerous. They have disarmed Americans from the reality that all magic is darkness and not of God, regardless if it is conjured by twelve-year-old wizards-in-training or sixty-year-old witches and warlocks from an urban coven.

* * *

The Devil is real, so are his forces that wage war against us. The demonic gains a foothold in the human heart when we open the door through habitual sin, but especially the occult and witchcraft. And while I’m not so sure reading Harry Potter is one of those doorways, the principle is that much in our culture has desensitized us to the realities and plans of the cosmic powers of this present darkness. Let us remember the words of Paul in Ephesians 6

For our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to withstand on that evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm.

May we take deliberate steps to guard ourselves against these forces by taking up the armor of God, standing firm during our hour of oppression and testing. And may we also recognize the forgiveness and healing available to all through the freeing power of Jesus Christ when allow wickedness to take hold in our lives—regardless of its form.

 

Research is an important part of my process for creating compelling stories that entertain, inform, and inspire. Here are a few of the resources I used to research the story:

 

  • Amorth, Gabriele. An Exorcist Explains the Demonic. Manchester, NH: Sophia Institute Press, 2016. www.bouma.us/rite1
  • Baglio, Matt. The Rite: The Making of A Modern Exorcist. New York: Crown Publishing, 2009. www.bouma.us/rite2

RITE OF DARKNESS NOW AVAILABLE

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In a page-turning, heart-pounding, historically-rooted tale ripe for a world plagued by a rise in frightening wickedness and a fascination with witchcraft, J. A. Bouma combines faith, fact, and fiction like few writers to weave an explosively inventive religious thriller steeped in occult suspense that raises the stakes for the Order of Thaddeus like never before—taking the series and its characters in a direction that will leave fans speechless.

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Rite of Darkness

Order of Thaddeus • Book 7

An evil unleashed. An occult past unearthed. Will the world survive a rising demonic force?

On Halloween, a raging psychopath unleashes a menacing evil that rivals recent mass shooting events—only this one is different. Questions surround the identity of the man and his past, his motives, what he was carrying with him and why—and more importantly: why he appeared to be possessed by the Devil himself.

Sounds like just the job for SEPIO, the muscular arm of the Order of Thaddeus, ancient defender of the Church, whose agents were caught up in the mayhem—and who fear all is not as it seems.

For two old acquaintances reappear from two agents’ past lives to add a confusing, charged dynamic to the events. Then the case takes a dramatic turn when evidence points to an unearthed occult history. And when the truth of what has been unleashed threatens one of their own, the entire game changes—leading to a climax that will leave readers clutching their chest with frightful anticipation staring down the Devil himself.

In a page-turning, heart-pounding, historically-rooted tale ripe for a world plagued by a rise in frightening wickedness and a fascination with witchcraft, J. A. Bouma combines faith, fact, and fiction like few writers to weave an explosively inventive religious thriller steeped in occult suspense that raises the stakes for the Order of Thaddeus like never before—taking the series and its characters in a direction that will leave fans speechless.

Grab the 7th book in the bestselling religious suspense series readers say offers a “highly entertaining” and “compelling read”!

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