Back in the day, exorcisms used to be all the rage. Any case of psychological trauma was ruled to be Demonic Possession
. You know what that means: head spinning, projectile vomit, and speaking in tongues. Pretty soon you have no choice but to haul in an exorcist
to cast the demon out of the person in question and send it back to Hell.
These affairs are likely to be very dramatic. The exorcist will call upon a deity's name (usually Jesus, but sometimes the Holy Ghost, the Father, or another deity altogether if the religion is not of this world
). There will be splashing of holy water, physical and emotional battles of will, fervent chanting in Latin
and perhaps some cool special effects. Expect the walls to bleed, the subject of possession to wail and shake in ways no human could imagine, and a demon to emerge either in physical or shadow form. Or so Hollywood would have you believe.
Nowadays, the Catholic church
is loath to declare "possession" and perform exorcisms. Real life cases have proved that many cases of Demonic Possession
are actually a result of severe psychological disorders (usually Epilepsy or Schizophrenia). This trope still gets play in Religious Horror
and other such genres, but is more likely to be subverted in more serious works.
Another point: Fictional portrayals of exorcism will sometimes involve "bell, book and candle." In real life, the Catholic casting-out ritual of bell, book and candle is a form of excommunication
, something quite different.
Finally, note that non-Catholic demons and exorcisms may look completely different, ranging from much gentler to much more violent. To this day in many cultures, mostly those where animist religions predominate, demonic possession is still considered a legitimate medical complaint.
Related to Demonic Possession
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Films — Live-Action
- The Exorcist is probably the Trope Codifier.
- Although the Catholic Church's reluctance to perform exorcisms was explicitly mentioned.
Chris: How do you go about getting an exorcism?
Karras: I beg your pardon? Well, the first thing — I'd have to get into a time machine and get back to the 16th century... Well, it just doesn't happen any more, Mrs. MacNeill... since we learned about mental illness, paranoia, schizophrenia... Since the day I joined the Jesuits, I've never met one priest who has performed an exorcism. Not one.
- A good quarter of the book was dedicated to details of Fr. Karras' scholarly research and interviews with "Regan" to convince first himself, and then the Bishop, that this was the genuine article.
- The doctors also say it might help. They conclude that as Regan genuinely thinks that she is possessed by a demon, an exorcism might convince her that the demon has been driven out.
- In The Order, Alex Bernier performed an exorcism on Mara before the movie begins.
- The movie Practical Magic has a rare example of witches performing an exorcism on one of the main characters, to rid her of the ghost of her ex-boyfriend.
- Constantine. The title character's attempt to exorcise Mammon from Angela Dodson. It doesn't work.
- Works like Poltergeist or The Amityville Horror apply this trope to entire buildings.
- The Rite plays this straight, albeit in a more subdued manner than usual, and lampshades it by having the exorcist joke about profectile vomit head spinning.
- The Exorcism of Emily Rose plays the exorcism rite as very much Hollywood Exorcism despite being loosely based on the real-life death of Anneliese Michel after a failed exorcism.
- In This Is the End, Jay Baruchel attempts an exorcism on a demonically possessed Jonah Hill. The others criticize him for copying The Exorcist, but (to everyone's immense surprise) it actually starts to work.
- Usually averted in Mike Carey's Felix Castor novels. Sure, there are ghosts and demons, and exorcists ply their trade, but the exorcisms aren't anything like what you usually see in Hollywood: the main character uses a tin whistle to send ghosts away, whilst others use card tricks, lighters, or poems. There are as many methods of exorcism as there are exorcists.
- Shadwell tries to perform an exorcism on Aziraphale in Good Omens, and believes it worked since, coincidentally, the angel stepped into a summoning circle just as Shadwell finished his incantation.
Aziraphale: Oh, fuck.
- Break of Dark by Robert Westall plays this straight in Blackham's Wimpy. Dadda Townsend, the bomber group's resident Irishman with some time at seminary, tries to convince the German ghost in S-Sugar to leave with the Bible, rosary beads, Latin and some just plain understanding and reasoning. It doesn't work.
- The Changeover: Laura removed the villain, Carmody Braque, in a way that could be comparable to an exorcism.
- Back in 2000 BBC did a show called Everyman and one of the episodes was about real exorcism done by real priests."Everyman- Exorcism "
- Subverted in an episode of Psych. The subject of the possession plays it up, and a real Catholic exorcist is called out. But she's faking, using what she knows of possession from movies (and stealing the priest's medication to bring on some symptoms) to convince everyone she's possessed, all to cover up a murder.
- Law & Order has also subverted this a few times with the exorcism-gone-wrong, leading to somebody's death. Usually the victim is suffering from some form of psychosis.
- One episode deconstructed this trope. The exorcist did a very Hollywood-style exorcism, tying a girl to the bed, and that led to her death. A priest pointed out that there are procedures before doing a real one, most notably to eliminate the possibility of just more mundane causes like the above mentioned psychosis, nor would he have been so reckless about the safety of the girl.
- In True Blood, Miss Jeanette performs an exorcism on Tara's mom to cure her alcoholism. In all fairness though, Miss Jeanette turns out to be a fraud.
- The Angel episode "I've Got You Under My Skin" shows Wesley attempting and Angel succeeding in performing an exorcism on a possessing demon. There's talk about an exorcist priest which the two had sought before, but the priest in question had been killed by the same type of demon they wanted to exorcise. In any case, turns out the child was even worse than the demon.
- A technofantasy version in the Torchwood episode "Sleeper" (supposedly forcing an alien secondary personality to manifest, but played just like Hollywood Exorcism)
- Demon-heavy show Supernatural keeps things simple. To exorcise a demon, recite the proper incantation. Getting the demon to sit still long enough to do it is one thing though, and remembering the words is another...
- The Scooby Gang performed an exorcism with bell, book and candle in one episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, though on a ghost rather than a demon. Cordelia was reluctant to participate, as "I've seen that movie. Even the priest died."
- Nice twist on this in the Babylon 5 Direct-to-Video spin-off The Lost Tales. A character on the station was spectacularly demon-possessed, but we didn't see the exorcism as the preacher had him shipped back to Earth for it. The concept was that demons are trapped on Earth by some mystical barrier, and that this demon was deliberately trying to get exorcised from its victim on a space station so that it could then wander the universe freely.
- A nun tries this on Jaye in Wonderfalls.
- A very creepy Criminal Minds episode called "Demonology" centered around a priest who had been performing lethal exorcisms. Though it was left ambiguous as to whether he was using poisoned Holy Water (the teams working theory) or if the victims were all actually possessed by "taking you with me" demons.
- A medium attempts to exorcise Sally in the North American remake of Being Human. It very nearly works, but Sally manages to stop the ritual by briefly possessing the medium.
- Salem: Mercy's father gives her one, though it doesn't have the usual "The Power of Christ compels you!" bit. Notably it includes making a cut on her stomach, and then a snake slithers out. Turns out that was how the witches were controlling her, it actually worked.
- In Linda Smith's A Brief History of Timewasting, the cast perform an exorcism on a spirit inhabiting Linda's flat. They try the bell, book and candle method, but since they can't find the required items, cab driver Worra improvises with a musical air freshener (bell), the manual for his Nissan (book), and a glowing car cigarette lighter (candle).
- In Magna Veritas, Walther is the archangel of exorcists. Originally the vicar of a little church, he somehow managed to exorcise demon prince Andromalius himself, which earned him an instant promotion (skipping all angel ranks) but left him schizophrenic from the mental battle. Angels working for him can banish a demon and get the original soul back in the body, in a state depending of where it was.
- Warhammer 40,000:
- Most cases of exorcism are treated by a quick lasbolt to the head before the daemon can fully emerge (psykers are particularly prone to Demonic Possession, shooting them straightaway is actually a Mercy Kill). The Exorcists chapter of Space Marines takes it a step further: as part of their initiation, every Marine is intentionally possessed by a daemon for a short time before being exorcised. While incredibly risky, this has the advantage of rendering them far more resilient to the taint of Chaos and even affords them a measure of protection when fighting Warp-spawned entities.
- The Ordo Malleus section of the Inquisition is charged with investigating suspected Chaos activity and putting a stop to it before it gets out of hand. Best case scenario is that no more than a dozen people end up getting killed, while the worst case scenario may well involve having entire planets destroyed to prevent further spread of Chaos contamination.
- Tenuously related: NetHack requires you to perform a "bell, book and candle" ritual on top of a vibrating section of floor at approximately dungeon level 50 in order to reach the final level of Gehennom. Good luck figuring this out by yourself.
- The final battle of Sweet Home involves the survivors trying to exorcise the vengeful spirit of Mamiya. This involves using important items and Praying at the right moments.
- In Chinese Paladin, at one point you are required to help a relative overcome some demons. To that end you are tasked with finding an exorcist, who promptly performs the ritual with all the bells and whistles, while chanting a chinese rhyme. Hilariously the moment he finishes, his wards and seals burst into flame as the real Demon shows up. Apparently the words he used to bring demons out were right, but all of his wards were fake. Ironically, at the end turns out the demon he aggravated was the benevolent one, so even if he was real he would have done nothing anyways.
- In The League of S.T.E.A.M.'s webisode "Dinner with the Devil", Sir Conrad performs one. It goes awry.
- In episode 4 of Web Video/Spooked, the team perform an exorcism, complete with Bible recitals, candles, a circle of salt and a member of the group dressing up in priestly garbs.