Movies are filled with fantastic and frightening depictions of demonic possession, including the heads of the possessed spinning around, drastic changes in facial features, spitting a pea soup sort of fluid, and much worse.
These dramatic fantasies of diabolic activity make for great horror films, but are they really accurate? We know that, as Christians, we are in a spiritual war (Ephesians 6:12), but what are the signs of demonic possession?
What Is Demonic Possession?
First, it must be said that demonic possession is extremely rare. The more common forms of demonic activity are diabolic temptation and diabolic oppression. Many who are victims of these two forms of attack mistakenly think themselves possessed.
By way of explaining these, I’ll start with the basics. We all have five senses: Sight, sound, smell, touch, and taste. It is through these senses that we experience our world.
There is a sort of unseen force, so to speak, which we can call the “common sense,” that binds the experiences of the individual senses together, transferring it to our memory and imagination, generally in the form of images.
For example, once you have experienced cherry pie, the smell and sight of a cherry pie immediately bring to mind that experience — the taste, texture, etc. Our cogitative faculty, making use of the data gained from the senses, determines whether that pie is good or bad.
Likewise, this data can impact emotions. We have two types of emotions:
1. Antecedent Emotion. Those that occur without you thinking about it.
2. Consequent Emotion. These occur when you think about something and are considering it.
Because we are fallen beings, our emotions and imaginations are often in error. We desire the things we should not, eschew the things we should value, and are emotionally attached to things that work to our own destruction.
Demons know these weaknesses and manipulate us via our imagination and emotions. In diabolic temptation, they constantly bring to mind sinful actions and disordered desires they know we have a weakness for.
If our weakness is sex, they will constantly bring to mind thoughts of sexual pleasure, urging us to act on those desires. The sensory data we have is that of pleasure, so our Antecedent Emotion immediately takes pleasure in the very thought of acting on the temptation.
When the demon suggests the sin, our Consequent Emotion will see the image delivered by the “common sense,” and consider it. The longer we entertain the image, the more we consider it, the more likely we are to act on the desire.
In diabolic temptation, demons make sure those images are brought to mind constantly, at a far more frequent rate than normal temptations. These are internal attacks. In diabolic oppression, we have a much more external manifestation of demonic activity.
Demons will manipulate the victim’s life and environment with the goal of making them depressed, despondent, and despairing even of the grace of God. The most obvious example we have of diabolic oppression is the story of Job in Scripture.
Job lost everything — his children, his wealth, his health. He was made miserable by the direct attack of the Adversary on his life. Job’s victory was in his refusal to curse God, whom he maintained faith in, even if he didn’t understand why he was suffering so (Job 1:22).
Unfortunately, most who are under oppression don’t have Job’s faith, and they collapse under the vicious onslaught of the demonic.
They find their marriage in jeopardy or ending, their child develops a drug habit, they lose their home, and their boss fires them unexpectedly, all of which culminates in most people despairing of the love of God and the value of life itself.
To be abundantly clear, we are not talking about a simple series of unfortunate incidents, but a constant string of negative outcomes that defy the odds.
This form of attack also works on the imagination and emotions, often leading to significant psychological problems and/or suicide. These are the most common forms of demonic attack.
What Defines Demonic Possession?
Demonic possession is the most severe state of diabolic attack, as it involves the transient involuntary loss of control of the faculties and emotions. It is also the rarest form of diabolic attack, though experienced exorcists have noted that it has been on the rise since the 1960s.
The reasons for this are the erosion of traditional Christian morals, values, and ethics, which has given rise to sexual promiscuity and other disordered sexual behaviors, materialism, the advancement of various lies in government, schools, and culture, the destruction of the traditional family, post-genderism, occultism, and, ultimately, nihilism.
The specific signs of demonic possession include:
1. An irrational, uncontrollable aversion to sacred things and places.These would include crosses, Bibles, churches, hymns, and prayer. The responses to these things are a mixture of intense hatred and abject fear.
2. The ability to speak languages completely unknown to the victim. Often these languages are considered “dead” languages, such as Latin, Koine Greek, Akkadian, etc.
The mere uttering of a few phrases is not considered evidence of demonic possession, since someone could glean these from a textbook.
What the exorcist looks for is a demonstrated fluency in the language that defies all-natural explanation.
Sometimes what the demon says through the victim will be a direct clue to how and why the demon gained access to the victim, or even to the demon’s identity.
3. A knowledge of things unknown to the victim. We are not talking of educated guesses, but detailed and precise knowledge of things distant from the victim.
For example, knowledge of the secret activities or sins of a person unknown to them, knowledge of things occurring to a family member or friend in another place that later prove to have been accurate.
These are just a few of the signs an exorcist looks for in the investigation of potential demonic possession.
The Power of Jesus Christ
While it is indeed a wise thing to be aware of the tactics and signs of the enemy’s presence, it must be said, however, that Christians need not fear these things if they are in a healthy relationship with Jesus Christ.
Our proximity to Christ makes it much more difficult for the Adversary to attack us, and He has given us authority over the power and tactics of the enemy, and we are admonished in Scripture to take joy in the fact that the evil spirits are subject to us through Him (Luke 10:19-20). Although it may seem like a scary concept, we are covered by the blood of Jesus. The demons shudder at the name of Jesus. If a Christian is saved, through the name of Jesus, they have power over the evil forces of this world.
Take heart and know that Christ has already won the battle and that Satan and his demons will not hold power for long.
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J. Davila-Ashcraft is an Anglican priest, Theologian, and Apologist, and holds a B.A. in Biblical Studies and Theology from God’s Bible College in Cincinnati, Ohio. He is a recognized authority on the topic of exorcism, and in that capacity has contributed to and/or appeared on programming for The National Geographic Channel, Discovery Channel, and CNN. He is the host of Expedition Truth, a one-hour apologetics radio talk show.