Where did demons come from?

From evil forcesWhat was left of demons

A sneering monkey face on the body of a pig with the leather wings of a bat; a scaly dragon with sharp claws, devil horns and the contorted features of a curmudgeon; a crippled human body with an ugly goat head sitting on it, huge ears and a long, pointed tongue. As stone gargoyles on the outer wall, as carvings in the choir stalls, in paintings and as sculptures - such representations can be found in every Gothic cathedral: In ancient times they should keep demons and witches away from the vicinity of the church.

"There is brutal evil in the world. That I then imagine it as a person or whatever in pictures, that is primeval human. But I think we have to ask: What is the meaning of these pictures and what experiences make them that way formulated, if they are drawn like this, they are carved in stone like this, "says Florian Schuller.

The fear that evil forces could take possession of people and ruin their souls was deeply rooted in the Christian faith of the Middle Ages - and is still felt today.

Florian Schuller: "That depends very much on how far I can explain people's actions or not. If I can't explain it and it's completely abnormal, then I come to this thought: These are somehow evil forces, who work in him or evil elements or evil beings. "

This decorative initial as opaque color painting with gold shows an expulsion of the devil, recorded in Stralsund in a manuscript with the title Liber ordinarius (= regulations for liturgical acts) from the 15th century (picture alliance / ZB / Stefan Sauer)

Florian Schuller has been a priest for more than 45 years and headed the Catholic Academy in Bavaria for a long time. He is skeptical about casting out demons.

"And there is the question: Can I then honestly speak of the fact that such evil forces are healed, as it often happened in the past with casting out demons? This is also the case with us and as it is now also happening in other cultures?"

Pope Francis considers exorcists to be indispensable

"The modern man, the man of the Enlightenment, sees himself as the only self-determined, freely acting being and does not want to acknowledge that there are other beings, other powers that influence his actions."

Says the Catholic theologian Thomas Ruster. But some "modern people" also believe in the power of evil magic and witchcraft. A quick look on the Internet is enough: Anyone who enters terms such as "exorcising demons" or "exorcism" into the search engine will find shocking videos: people twitching, hitting themselves, making growling and hissing sounds or shouting loudly, their faces drooling Distorted grimace. In addition, one or more helpers who handle the cross, holy water, oil and pious sayings to drive away the evil spirit.

Exorcism does not only play a role in sects. It is estimated that half a million people in Italy seek help from an exorcist every year. The Catholic Church in Poland founded a training center for exorcists in Katowice in 2019. Pope Francis calls the use of exorcists indispensable. In 2014 he recognized the "International Association of Exorcists"; In the spring of 2019, he declared that the abuse cases by priests of minors were only possible through the whispering of Satan.

Florian Schuller takes a critical look at exorcisms (Picture Alliance / dpa / Tobias Hase)

If, as Francis said, the devil is in the hand of the perpetrators, where is the personal guilt of the individual and the responsibility of the superiors? Florian Schuller:

"It is of course true that it can be abused, that I come to the wrong conclusion, namely: then the person is not guilty, but then other forces have done it. It is so that the talk of evil excuses people can be."

"Belief in demons is widespread"

Medicine, psychiatry and psychotherapy have made immense advances in the past few decades. Medicines help the mentally ill to live with their suffering. Neurobiology and brain research are deciphering puzzling diseases. In earlier times people were at a loss when faced with such phenomena - and suspected demons and evil spirits as the cause.

Thomas Ruster: "You can find this demonic element in all ancient religions, including the pre-Christian ones. The Indian, the Iranian, the Egyptian, the Syrian and the Greek religions talk about it in their own way, but the same phenomenon is always meant: that there is something powerful that can take hold of a person. "

Claudia Währisch-Oblau heads the evangelization department of the "United Evangelical Mission". She lived in China for years and is still a frequent guest in the member churches in Africa and Indonesia.

"Belief in demons, in curses, in witchcraft is very, very widespread among normal believers. In fact, more and more church people tell us: There are these problems and what can we actually do?"

"We have to do something about witch hunts"

Witches and demons do not appear in evangelical theology. Superstition is combated with enlightenment through preaching and educational work.

But what if evangelical believers - for example in Africa - come to their priest to be freed from a demon? This is often discussed in the UEM, the United Evangelical Mission.

"We had a general assembly and a church president from Cameroon stood up and said: Dear people, we have a problem in our church. We have more and more Pentecostal churches in our country that offer people to cast out demons, curses and witchcraft to them In my church, we are Protestant Reformed, we say it's all superstition. When people come to us with these problems, we say - oh, you don't have to believe that, you don't have to be afraid of. Then they say People: your church doesn't understand anything and go to the traditional priest or to the Pentecostal church. "

Expulsion from the devil is part of popular belief in large parts of the world (Picture Alliance / CTK / David Tesinsky)

The member churches of the UEM finally agreed on pastoral guidelines for the liberation from demons: The pastor is supported in his work by a prayer group and some lay people. The liturgy is entirely based on the Bible and prayer. Doctors, psychiatrists and psychotherapists are involved in advance. But not a few Protestant theologians are critical or even negative about the expulsion of demons in pastoral work - and have expressed doubts about the meaning of these guidelines. Claudia Währisch-Oblau defends the regulation. You have to weigh up, she says:

"We know that there are witch hunts from Tanzania to Indonesia in which people are killed and people are killed, including Christians from our churches. And we have to do something about it. We take what people believe seriously without us ask: What onthology is behind it? Are there demons? Are these intrapsychic realities, intrapsychic? Ultimately, we don't care. But we know it's a reality, we know it's a problem. "

The reality of obsession is a norm question

"In our culture there are people who are mentally ill. But we don't see them as possessed. We try to heal them with psychological interventions and medication and whatever is available. In a culture in which the obsession discourse is very formative , such people are likely to be perceived as obsessed, "says Christian Strecker.

He is theology lecturer at the Augustana University in Neuendettelsau and in his habilitation thesis dealt with the topic of exorcism in antiquity - a time when belief in demons was a matter of course. He says: "When people live in a society in which is recognized, that is very important: in which it is recognized that there is obsession, and if you know what obsession looks like in this society, then a reality can arise, namely the reality of obsession. People can then really experience it. "

Jesus speaks a word of power

"Evil" is mentioned frequently in the New Testament. Even before Jesus appears in public for the first time, he has to resist the temptation of Satan in the desert. Later it is told in many places how he healed people who were supposedly possessed by demons. The Gospel of Mark reports on the visit of Jesus to the synagogue in Karfanaum.

"Immediately there was a person there, possessed by an unclean spirit, who shouted: What have we to do with you, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are: the Holy One of God! And Jesus threatened him and said: Be silent and get out of him! And the unclean spirit tore him this way and that, and cried out loudly, and came out of him! "

Claudia Währisch-Oblau: "If you look at the stories of the casting out of demons in the New Testament: these are not sessions that go on for days or nights. That is usually a power word, then it is good."

The theologian Thomas Ruster (private)

The Catholic theologian Thomas Ruster explains:

"So that's special; also in the ancient religious world, where there were already exorcisms - but they were always associated with certain rituals that were prescribed. While Jesus simply says: drive out - or he simply speaks to him, and without With great use of power, he succeeds in separating spirits in peace. "

In some cultures today, people who believe they are obsessed are treated just as naturally. Claudia Währisch-Oblau remembers an incident in a youth camp of the Evangelical Church in Sri Lanka.

"In the middle of a seminar, a young girl suddenly falls from her chair, starts twitching, squirming, foaming at her mouth. My interpretation would be: epileptic seizure, we need an ambulance. The pastor who was sitting next to me said: 'That is a demon, Claudia, we'll drive him out now '- and put our hand on the young girl's shoulder and said:' Let's pray! ' - I was a little taken by surprise and prayed with him. Within 20 seconds this girl calmed down and got up again as if nothing had happened. And the colleague said: 'Good, the demon is gone.' "

"War against the demon"

"Heals the sick, wakes the dead, cleanses lepers, drives out demons!"

The invitation that Jesus addressed to his disciples in the Gospel of Matthew is clear. The early Christian Church followed this mandate, developing short incantations and prayers with which one hoped to heal the possessed.

But what Jesus did with a few clear words became a complex set of rules over the centuries. After the Council of Trent, the "Great Exorcism" was made binding in the "Rituale Romanum" in 1614.

Thomas Ruster: "Essentially, the ritual was designed in such a way that the evil spirits were summoned in the name of Jesus the Mighty, the Prince of Heaven, whose one sits at the right hand of God, or, ultimately, summoned to leave the body of the possessed; a very dramatic ritual where the exorcist addressed the spirit directly and asked it to give way to the greater power and surrender defeat and release the sick. "

The film "The Exorcist" shapes today's notion of expelling devils (imago-images)

Conversion therapy and casting out demons

Even in some evangelical congregations in Germany there are still expulsions of demons; about to cure homosexuals of their supposed illness.

These rituals are performed not only in front of the believers in the church, but also in the rooms of doctors' offices. Christian Deker, a young NDR journalist, experienced this firsthand. He went "undercover" for treatment by a doctor who is also an evangelical preacher.

Deker says: "Then he put his hand on my forehead and on my chest and said: go to the reception and then started to pray for me; and during this conversation he also prayed in tongues, which was among Pentecostals and evangelicals is common, and took oil from a small bottle and put it on my forehead and prayed and prayed. And at some point he said if I had noticed anything. Then I said I hadn't noticed anything. I actually had He didn't notice anything. Then he said that a cloud had come out of my body, if I hadn't noticed. And then he said that at least one ghost had left my body. And he then said that he was now sealing all entry points and speak freely of the past. "

(imago stock & people / epd) Homosexuals and churches - conversion therapies should be banned
Changing a person's sexual identity - this is what conversion therapies promise. They are now to be banned. Some theologians cheer, others warn.

The supposedly evil spirit was not impressed by the spectacle; Christian Deker stayed gay. The "Act to Protect Against Conversion Treatments" is expected to come into force in 2021, banning therapies that attempt to change people's sexual orientation. It has long been scientifically proven that this can lead to serious health damage, trauma or depression in those affected.

During his research, journalist Christian Deker met a devout young man who wanted to free himself from the "sin of homosexuality" and went to the same evangelical doctor.

"Obviously a black sting grew out of his back, which then crawled on the floor and crawled away into the corner of the room. This young man turned to the doctor with the same request - with the difference that he did not He was an undercover journalist, but that he really suffered from being homosexual and his main goal was to live a supposedly Bible-compliant life and to live a heterosexual life. "

Prayer turns into violence

"Unfortunately, we are increasingly finding this in Christian fundamentalist circles, it is increasing again; the idea of ​​deeply religious families that a family member is possessed by a demon who somehow behaves strangely and that he does not need medical or psychotherapeutic help, but requires a religious answer. "

Prayer often turns into violence - says psychotherapist Michaela Huber, who deals with victims of exorcism rituals.

"Most of the people to be exorcised are girls and women; most exorcists are men. Unfortunately, there are often enormously stressful events - I say this carefully - that can lead to people being deeply traumatized. These events can be, for example that they are put under enormous psychological pressure, that they have the feeling that the devil is in me, that I have something deeply terrible, evil in me, that causes great distress for those affected - and that they then surrender and get on with them You can do what you want. You instill something in them that is supposed to be beneficial. You whip them with some kind of herb whips, you make them naked. There are all kinds of - including physical - attacks on these people and it can not infrequently also lead to sexualised violence come."

"A reality to be reckoned with"

Florian Schuller says: "There are of course the most brutal experiences of how something like this can be abused and how people can also die as a result of such actions. Here we are on the subject of religious power. I can exercise power over other people so that I can destroy other people can. "

Sexual abuse, emotional cruelty, physical violence and even homicide - the history of exorcism has many dark sides. Mentally unstable people who grow up in a strictly religious environment easily become compliant victims of dogmatic preachers, sadistic violent criminals or windy businessmen - even today, in the 21st century.

Both the Catholic and Evangelical Churches have therefore drawn up guidelines for dealing with people who think they are possessed. Psychiatrists, doctors and theologians work hand in hand. Michaela Huber was asked by a priest to examine a woman who believed she was possessed and had asked him for an exorcism.

"It then turned out diagnostically that this woman had had the most severe experiences of violence behind her, that she had, so to speak, absorbed the voices of the tormenting people who repeatedly pressed her: 'You are worthless, you are angry, you bitch' - and so on."

Trauma treatment and prayer are no longer mutually exclusive when it comes to healing people who feel possessed. Claudia Währisch-Oblau says:

"Such a prayer can also have its place in psychotherapy.We try to develop a holistic model where this spiritual aspect is included in order to actually help people to become free from trauma and these evil realities that are a reality for them. I personally don't believe in demons. But I believe that when people believe in demons, that is a reality to be reckoned with. "