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An Exorcist Tells Us What It's Like To Fight Demons For A Living

Professional exorcist explains how to tell if someone is really possessed and why Hollywood gets exorcisms wrong.

by Audy Bernadus
02 September 2017, 7:42am

Illustration by Dini Lestari

There was a knock on Father Budi's* bedroom door around midnight, it was a security guard. Four college students visited his church, bringing along their friend who they said was possessed. The possessed woman was inhumanly strong, Father Budi recalled. Her friends struggled to hold her down, but she was so strong that she could throw people off of her. Then the father exclaimed, "Those who are Catholics please join me in a prayer. Those who aren't please call out your own God."

"In the history of my service as a priest and anything related to the spirit world, that was the strongest spirit I have ever seen," he told VICE.

Father Budi is one of the few Catholic priests in Indonesia who has studied exorcism. He has participated in seminars and retreats on exorcism delivered by Pastor Jose Francisco C. Syquia, an exorcist from a Manilla parish. "God guided me to attend the retreat twice, first in Lembang, and then a few years later in Jakarta. Since I attended twice, I have a more comprehensive knowledge it helps me perform exorcisms as well," said Father Budi.

Exorcism, or the spiritual practice of evicting demons, is a ritual usually conducted by the Catholic church. The word 'exorcism' came from a Greek word, 'exorkizo', which means "to bind by oath." In Catholicism, the ritual of exorcism was performed by Jesus himself, who often had to evict demons from people. Jesus conferred this power to his disciples, so they could conduct the same ritual.



Exorcism is hyped in pop culture but under-practiced in real life, Father Budi said. He claimed that Hollywood's misinterpretation of exorcism has skewed people's perception of the Catholic Church's tradition, both in concept and application. "There's a lot of ignorance about it, haziness about the concept, about the values taught by the church. We're bombarded with movies, and yet know so little about the real thing," he said.

According to Father Budi, Hollywood movies depict exorcism as this great war between the exorcist and the evil spirit. In truth, the basic foundation of exorcism is prayer, nothing else. So an exorcist is someone who prays to God, begging for the power to release the victim from the shackles of an evil spirit. Exorcism has nothing to do with spiritual battle against demons. An exorcist has no 'personal business' with the evil spirit controlling the victim.

After attending exorcism retreats and seminars, Father Budi realized there's a lack of exorcists in Indonesia. Even in his diocese, there isn't a single pastor officially appointed by the bishop to conduct exorcism, so Father Budi still conducts the ritual as a personal service. He explained that aside from exorcism, there's something called deliverance or the prayer of liberation. "Exorcism is appointed and authorized by the bishop, but any priest can conduct deliverance. People often mix the two together," he said.

Father Budi said the biggest difference between exorcism and prayer of liberation lies on the authority given to the priest when fighting the evil spirit. The power given to the exorcist needs to come from the diocese where he works. Due to its formal nature, the priest needs to wear his pastoral robe along with other Catholic symbols when conducting exorcism. But when a priest is practicing deliverance, he is simply working for himself, so no formal uniform is needed.

The Catholic Church forbids exorcism from being carried out carelessly, which is why it has established strict rules around the practice. Appointing exorcists isn't an easy process, especially in Indonesia, where the pool of candidates is small. Technically speaking, everyone ordained to be a priest is able to perform an exorcism. However, since a priest also has its worldly shortcomings, a bishop has the final say if a pastor has what it takes to practice the ritual, judging on the priests individual and spiritual qualities.

The actual exorcism prayers and ritual is the same each time. He said during rituals, one usually uses Latin language instead of Bahasa Indonesia or English, not because it has a special power or wider vocabulary, but because evil spirits usually respond to Latin, therefore confirming whether someone is possessed or merely pretending.

"When I speak in Latin, it's almost impossible that a normal person would understand it. It's a dead and ancient language," said father Budi.

Other than having the ability to fluently speak an ancient language like Latin or Aramaic out of the blue, there are other signs that indicate that someone is really possessed by an evil spirit. A change of voice, an increase in body strength, reversed eyeballs and knowing someone else's past without actually knowing the person are just some examples.

Exorcisms uses a strict method to excise spirits. A priest will work in a team with a psychologist, a psychiatrist, a general practitioner, and another priest. A psychologist is needed to handle the victim's mental state, a psychiatrist is needed to deal with the victim's neurological condition, a general practitioner is needed if the victim needs medical treatment while a pastor is praying. Before starting the ritual, they will all judge if they're dealing with an evil spirit, not a patient's medical or psychological problem.

"Just like a doctor diagnosing one's illness before recommending certain treatment, judging his or her reaction afterwards. It's exactly like the work of a doctor," he said.

Father Budi said that an exorcist will also pay attention to the start of someone claiming of being possessed by an evil spirit. A human soul is like a fortress. However, there are things that causes the fortress to leak. One is when somebody does something bad. The more "evil" a person is, the easier it is for evil spirits to take over. When somebody practices occultism, they open themselves up to evil spirits. Practicing occultism even makes the person's family open to posession.

Following Father Budi's lead, the four college students prayed cross-legged that night. The process of getting rid of spiritual entities from the possessed woman took hours. It wasn't until dawn that she returned to her normal state. "She was finally free," he said.

*Name has been changed to protect Budi's identity