Demonic Possession: Mental Illness Or Malevolent Lifeforms

by Matt Shamblin

Mental IllnessAbstract

This paper explores the phenomenon of demonic possession. The demonic possession experience is transcultural. Demonic possession shares many characteristics of schizophrenia, and dissociative disorders. Most cases could be attributed to a mental illness. However, there are instances when perhaps the conventional diagnosis may not apply and another possibility presents itself.

Demonic Possession: Mental Illness Or Malevolent Lifeforms

We are the humans of the 21st century. We stand at the precipice, preparing to cross the divide from a Type 0 civilization to a Type 1 civilization. Yet there is still a phenomenon which humans experience today as did their ancestors. This phenomenon is termed demonic possession. It is transcultural. The belief in demonic possession, especially prominent in the Roman Catholic Church, and its exorcistic treatment can also be found in Judaism, Hinduism, Buddhism, as well as numerous other major religious systems (Diamond, 2012).

Demonic possession has been categorized by the Roman Catholic Church as genuine possession and pseudo-possession. In order for the church to declare someone genuinely possessed, priests consult mental health professionals. In 1999, the Vatican issued an official revision of the guidelines for both performing an exorcism and determining whether or not one needed to be performed at all (Kelly, 2014). The priest will look for the ability to fluently speak in a language previously unknown to the person, inappropriate strength, and the ability to know that which the afflicted should have no knowledge such as personal details about those performing the inquiry (Kelly, 2014).

The paranormal research community also has further criteria to establish a possible demonic haunting/possession (Shamblin, 2010). Someone who is possessed by a demonic entity will not abide scripture. The recitation of scripture will elicit a violent reaction. Also the person generally should not be able to recite scripture; rarely will they be able to. They will also tend to show an aversion to things like a cross or holy water. If the location is infested with a demonic presence the recitation of scripture will have a decidedly pronounced effect in the area. There may be physical manifestations such as objects being hurled through the air, temperature changes (typically warmer), feelings of heaviness, and auditory phenomena. The manifestation of multiple personalities with no previous history of mental illness. They do not generally manifest themselves in everyday life. These personalities are like primal forces with intelligence and malice. Another criteria to observe is a voice change that occurs with the multiple personalities the demonic entity manifests. The person makes a very unusual and seemingly impossible voice. There are times when the voice may seem to be coming from many places or from many people with an echo. This voice can be high pitched or even simply whispery. The most common vocal manifestation is the growl. Changes in eating habit should also be observed including: eating excessively without putting on weight or the person does not eat at all and seems to become engorged. Sometimes the possessed will eat something unimaginable, like insects, or their tastes for foods will become drastically different.

Anneliese MichelFurther physical phenomena include: scratches, punctures, welts and in extreme cases even words might appear on the skin. Phenomena such as moving objects, feeling a great weight is pushing down on you, shadows seem to move or morph, the appearance of someone familiar, etc. can be signposts of demonic entities. Sounds such as growling, knocking on the walls or ceiling, a relatives voice calling for you but they are not there are symptoms of a demonic presence. A foul stench like rotting flesh can accompany a demonic haunting(Shamblin, 2010).

It is clear to see that from this list of phenomenon that some of these manifestations could simply be diagnosed as schizophrenia, dissociative identity disorder, depersonalization disorder, intermittent explosive disorder, or other co-occurring disorders. However, what must ones logical reaction be to any of these objective manifestations? Could the differential diagnosis actually be demonic possession or could it be as Dr. Stephen Diamond termed it psychic infection? Counter-transference is what we technically call this treacherous psychological phenomenon, which can cause the psychotherapist to suffer disturbing, subjective symptoms during the treatment process (Diamond 2011).

We live in an awe inspiring universe. It is the height of arrogance to think that our species is the only expression of intelligence in it. It may be easier for some to rationalize that another intelligence exists on another world somewhere far away from us than it is to consider the possibility that another intelligence exists in a dimension that we cannot yet perceive or measure. According to M-Theory, the best guess we’ve got at Einsteins Theory of Everything, suggests the possibility of 11 dimensional space-time (Kaku, 2014). As we go about our everyday lives we perceive only 4 dimensional space-time. As Einstein would have put it, we may not yet know the mind of God but should we not at least consider the possibility of another intelligence that exists in a dimension we cannot perceive? With this information in mind it is not difficult for even an atheist to consider the possibility though remote as it may be.

Phenomenologically, the subjective experience of possession; feeling influenced by some foreign, alien force beyond the egos control is an experiential aspect of most mental disorders (Diamond, 2008). Patients who believe they are possessed often have sought psychotherapy but no meaningful progress is made. When working with delusional patients it is exceedingly difficult if not impossible to rationally dissuade someone of his or her fervent conviction that they are the victim of a demon (Diamond, 2011). Most psychotherapy patients need far more than what pharmaceutical intervention and/or cognitive therapy can provide. They need and deserve support through their painful, frightening crisis, their “dark night of the soul”. Until psychology can provide a better, meaningful alternative explanation of demonic possession and a more effective way to deal with it; belief in demonic possession and the practice of exorcism will persist (Diamond, 2012). There needs to be some familiarity on the behalf of the mental health professional with the religious practices of the patient in order to provide meaningful care.

Exorcism will and perhaps should continue. If what we are dealing with is truly and simply a mental illness, exorcism and its practitioners are providing an alternative therapy to very disturbed patients. If what we are dealing with is not a mental illness and there are malevolent extra-dimensional lifeforms that seek to do humans harm, exorcism today and throughout the ages seems to be somewhat effective in dealing with these beings. Only time will tell which of these are true. Either way, in the end, science will root out the answer eventually.


The demonic possession experience is a rather puzzling one. There are some cases in which a mental health disorder would seem to provide no certain answer. An open minded skepticism approach would seem to be the best one. One should consider the mundane and ordinary before jumping to the extraordinary conclusion about demonic possession. After all, is not the simplest answer most often the correct answer? Yet what one must consider when these objective manifestations occur after counter-transference is ruled out is extraordinary. One could even call it a paranormal explanation. The elegance and complexity of our universe is only beginning to crest the horizon of our understanding. We must consider the extraordinary when the ordinary seems to be ruled out.


Diamond, S.J. (2012). Devils, Demons, and Dybbuks: Possession, Exorcism and Psychotherapy. Psychology Today, demons-and-dybbuks-possession-exorcism-and-psychotherapy.

Diamond, S.J. (2011). Exorcism as Psychotherapy: A Clinical Psychologist Examines So-Called Demonic Possession.
Psychology Today, psychotherapy-clinical-psychologist-examines-so-called-demonic-posse.

Diamond, S.J. (2008). Exorcism and the Endangered Future of Psychotherapy.
Psychology Today, and-the-endangered-future-psychotherapy.

Kaku, M. (2014). M-Theory: The Mother of all SuperStrings.
Explorations in Science, superstrings

Kelly, D. (2014). How priests tell between demonic possession and mental illness.
Knowledge Nuts, demonic-possession-and-mental-illness.

Shamblin, J.M. (2010). Demonic Possession : 10 Clues to Consider
Appalachian Paranormal Center hauntings-10-clues-to-consider/

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