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March 4, 1974


JAMA. 1974;227(9):1047-1048. doi:10.1001/jama.1974.03230220037016

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Exorcism is nothing new; it is told more than once in the New Testament. "Possession," the drivings of the human mind (soul) from a demoniacal spirit, seems as old as history records. Indeed, prehistory may have had its part. Who is to know?

In American history, the Indian medicine man—the Shaman—sought to cure ills of body or mind by expelling evil spirits—the demons—who dominated the person. In Salem, Massachusetts, witches were hanged. In France, Joan of Arc, the Maid of Orleans, died at the stake because she heard "voices." Leadership, holiness, singleness of purpose, desire for right, stood for nothing to protect her from a court that found her heretical—demoniacal. The ancient Egyptians trephined skulls to loose evils, but to no avail except early death.

The Roman Catholic Church has long held that satanical possession is possible; and the Church has a ritual for exorcism. Surely, it goes back to