Seven Things You Didn’t Know About… Exorcisms

By Tara Fowler

Poor Nell Sweetzer just can’t seem to catch a break. This weekend sees the opening of “The Last Exorcism: Part II,” in which the evil that haunted Nell in the first film returned for, well, round two. Worried the same will happen to you?

Never fear! We decided to educate ourselves on exorcisms, so that if a demon ever comes a-knocking, we’ll know what to do. Read on!

1) The right to exorcise (not to be confused with exercise) is protected by the First Amendment: As per a case in Texas, where a former parishioner sued her church for the “emotional trauma” she incurred after fellow church-goers attempted to rid her of evil spirits. The court ruled in the church’s favor.

2) They aren’t nearly as exciting (or bloody) as Hollywood makes them seem: Contrary to what you see on screen, vomiting, spider-crawling, and back-breaking are not a part of your typical exorcism ritual. The priest doesn’t scream the name of God and wave his arms maniacally, and he’s not imbued with magical powers. Instead, he recites a prayer in the name of Jesus, and his only tools are holy water and a cross. But it’s not half as cool to watch a guy chant for hours on end, is it?

3) Requests for exorcisms are on the rise: In fact, in late 2010, American bishops convened in Baltimore for a closed-door convention to prepare priests for the uptick in demand. Oddly enough (or not), this increase comes as we’re seeing a rise in exorcism/demon-based movies, such as “Exorcist: The Beginning,” “The Exorcism of Emily Rose,” and, of course, “The Last Exorcism” (or as it should now be referred to, “The Penultimate Exorcism”).

4) Exorcisms aren’t just doled out willy-nilly: A priest has to get approval from a bishop before performing the ritual and the “possessed” must be evaluated by a medical doctor (to make sure he/she is not suffering from mental illness or some other ailment). According to recent reports, only 2 or 3 actual exorcisms are performed out of about 400 annual requests.

5) Skin writing is a real thing: Remember those raised marks on Regan’s arm in “The Exorcist”? Well that’s actually a medical condition known as “Dermatographic urticarial” that’s seen in four to five percent of the population and not a sign of the devil. Though doctors still have no idea of the underlying causes…

6) One way to test for possession is to speak to the victim in a language they could not possibly know, like Latin. The possessed is unlikely to speak Latin (unless it happened to be an option at your high school, as it was at this writer’s school), and if he/she answers, it’s could be a sign that there’s something else inside of them.

7) Suspect your friend of being possessed by a demon? Here are other signs: super-strength, insomnia, an aversion to all things holy, lack of appetite, biting… Hey wait. Maybe your friend’s a vampire instead.