She was sixteen years old. She knocked on my door early on a Saturday morning, disheveled and frightened. “There is something around me. It’s like a shadow or something and it talks to me. It’s weird and I’m scared!” I asked a few questions and found she had been hanging around with the members of a witch’s coven in the town. I picked up the phone to call a more experienced priest and she started screaming, “It’s inside me. It’s inside me!” At that point her appearance changed. The pretty teenaged girl looked like a malevolent and sick old woman. She started growling in a foreign language neither of us could understand. The other symptoms of demonic infestation soon manifested themselves, and fortunately the older, experienced priest arrived within minutes and conducted an exorcism then and there. He went through the ritual and when the holy water hit her she shrieked and returned to normal.
I witnessed this exorcism and never wish to even come close to such a thing again. Ever.
It led me to read more on the subject of the deliverance ministry, and what I learned about the realm of the diabolical is that it is impossible to specify much of anything about the realm of the diabolical. What I mean is that it is impossible to accurately classify and explain and analyze what is going on when dealing with demonic possession. There is so much that is unknown–so much that is complex and ambiguous.

This is true for several reasons: First of all, it is difficult to truly pin down anything in the spiritual realm because we are dealing with a realm of reality that is totally alien to our physical, materialistic assumptions. Analysis and categorization are poor tools when dealing with the spiritual realm because the spiritual realm operates according to different criteria and expectations. From our materialist perspective everything is ambiguous. We see through a glass darkly. The spiritual realm operates with a different set of causal factors. Behaviors are unpredictable and defy our attempts to classify and explain.

Secondly, we perceive the spiritual realm through the aspect of our personality which might be called Imagination. This is the part of our mind with which we dream and intuit and pray and contemplate. Consequently, this part of our mind uses a different language. Symbols and signs and mythopoeic images are used to communicate. Raw emotion and primal experiences are the language of this realm. Rationality, language and grammar break down. We are in a realm that cannot be experienced but not explained.

Thirdly, this realm of the Imagination is not only sub-linguistic, but it is extremely complex. We are in a vast unknown realm. “On the edge of a grimpen where there is no foothold” This realm within our perception is inter-knotted with emotions, rational thought, ancestral memories, personal memories, relationships present and past. It is influenced and interwoven with our physiology–our medical history, mind altering drink and drugs, addictions, tragedies and triumphs–in other words our whole self.

To complicate matters further, is there is a demonic element involved, then by definition, we are dealing with a deceiver. The devil transforms his appearance. He lies. He hides. He is a shapeshifter, he transposes and transmogrifies. One moment a beast from beyond the darkness and the next moment whispering sweet nothings as an angel of light. We are out of our depth, and he knows it.

This is why the exorcist must be expertly trained not only in the rite of exorcism, but in psychology. This is why he must consult with sympathetic mental health experts, counselors and others who are expert in discernment of spirits. Those who have written on this subject have attempted to classify the levels of demonic influence. The lists are tentative and the borders are porous. The classification is more that of a continuum of influence rather than any strict method of diagnosis.

The first level of demonic influence is temptation. This is what we all experience which is one step up from the simple temptations of everyday life. We may be hungry and tempted to steal a loaf of bread. This is simple temptation, and only part of human nature. Demonic influence comes in when the temptation is to do something truly vile, or to spend time planning and pre meditating on a sin and beginning to wallow in it.

The second level of demonic influence is obsession. This is when the soul, after indulging in the sin becomes obsessed with it. The person thinks about the sin, if not constantly, then frequently enough that their life begins to revolve around the sin. This is where many addictive behaviors can overlap with demonic influences. At this point the personality of the obsessed person may begin to change. The change may be dramatic and sudden, but more likely it is gradual. Even when gradual the change may manifest itself from time to time in a sudden and dramatic way. The personality may alter, but the demonic influence is outside the person.

Experts disagree about the third and fourth stages. Some say that what we normally think of as ‘possession’ with the dramatic and horrifying manifestations should better be called infestation. At this point the demon has entered the personality and all the symptoms are evident and the exorcist is summoned.

What is most disturbing is that some go on to explain that true possession is when the horrible symptoms disappear and the person seems to go back to ‘normal’ but what has happened is that the demon has taken true possession and is now lodged permanently and deeply within the personality and is hiding there. Such a deeply possessed person will not exhibit any dramatic and monstrous symptoms, but the person will ‘live for the devil’. In other words, they will seem ‘normal’ but will pursue a sinful life without the slightest sense of guilt or shame. They will ridicule and (if pressured) exhibit a scorn and hatred of Christ and his disciples.

This is a debatable point because, of course, there are no obvious symptoms for these ‘truly possessed’ individuals. It is a frightening point as well because, if this is true, then there may well be very many individuals living among us who are truly and deeply possessed by the evil one. Because of the ambiguous nature of these diagnoses it is impossible to categorize neatly and certainly it is unwise to attempt a diagnosis of the spiritual condition of other individuals. Nevertheless, I have come across one or two people who seemed to me to be in this condition–one a totally charming and worldly man who seemed kindly to all, but who, beneath the surface, was quite evil. When the subject of religion ever came up he would go silent and it was like a shadow came over his face. If he ever spoke about religion it was with open scorn and ridicule.

What to do about it? This is why I rarely write on the subject–because the best thing to do about the devil is to laugh at him or ignore him. He’s proud and hates that. Not to ignore him in disbelief of course. Be watchful at all times. He is prowling around like a roaring lion seeking whom he may devour.

Keep him in the corner of your eye, but focus on Christ and his beautiful face. Live the Christian life with simplicity, vigor and peace. Pray without ceasing. Go to confession with joy and tears. Worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness. Receive Christ in the sacraments and serve the Lord with gladness.

The devil will be enraged and run far from such a soul.