Testing Demonic Possession

Testing Demonic Possession

People who hold to a naturalistic worldview find the Christian concept of a Creator difficult enough. But when it comes to the dark world of demonic possession, supernaturalism can seem downright silly. Analysis of a recent patient (who lacked major clinical psychiatric illness, yet displayed bona fide symptoms consistent with demonic possession) provides a test for supernaturalism.

Emergency psychiatrist Richard Gallagher recently published an article in the New Oxford Review entitled “Among the Many Counterfeits: A Case of Demonic Possession.” 1 He presents a case of demonic influence in a young lady who had had a long history of involvement with explicitly Satanic groups. The patient evaluated in this case report showed multiple signs consistent with possession:

Trance states, during which the patient experienced: (1) Vocalizations (in voices different from the patient’s) of a derogatory, blasphemous, and insulting nature; (2) Use of unusual languages previously unknown to the patient; (3) Psychic knowledge of events, places, and actions of others outside the possible realm of the patient’s awareness

  • No recollection of the trance states
  • Large temperature changes
  • Movement of objects on bookshelves by invisible force
  • Unusual strength during the exorcism
  • Strong reaction to holy water
  • Levitation

Gallagher’s article title points out the commonality of the problems that obscure these kinds of incidences. He addresses it in the first paragraph:

“Amid widespread confusion and skepticism about the subject, the chief goal of this article is to document a contemporary and clear-cut case of demonic possession. Even those who doubt such a phenomenon exists may find the following example rather persuasive. For clergy, or indeed anyone involved in the spiritual or psychological care of others, it is equally critical, however, to recognize the many and infinitely more common ‘counterfeits’ (i.e., false assignations) of demonic influence or attack as well.”

However, there is no confusing this young woman’s case of demonic possession with the broad group of potential different diagnoses. An emergency psychiatrist myself, I regularly see patients with psychosis of varying sorts and degree, including patients who are “hyper-religious” or hear voices that are attributed to God, Satan, angels, demons, or other supernatural beings. In this role, a wide array of severe psychopathology can be observed. Likewise, Gallagher is exposed to the extremes of psychiatry almost daily. As a qualified professional, his involvement in this patient’s plight helped establish the veracity of the claim that she was indeed possessed.

Detailed, specific, and exacting, Gallagher’s article revealed carefully documented psychiatric examination. Collusion between witnesses and potential fakery on the part of the patient can present potential complications; however, the thorough investigation, which included several eyewitnesses, makes it unlikely that this patient’s case is a hoax. Gallagher makes clear that, when not in a trance state, the patient was perfectly normal and not suffering to a great deal in any way from mental illness—albeit still aware that she had problems; and herself of the belief that she was possessed.

He also makes a distinction between the patient’s symptoms and Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID). Features seen in someone with DID were not present in this case. Conversely, the multiple unique characteristics in this situation wouldn’t be seen in DID. Gallagher does note that the majority of patients he has evaluated in the past were found to be suffering from psychological illness of the more common variety, rather than the more unusual cases of true possession. However, this patient’s symptoms and behaviors, as described in the article, are not consistent with any other known psychiatric diagnosis or combination of diagnoses.

This report provides experimental evidence for the existence of supernatural beings. Thus, critics of the Scriptures who ascribe belief in demonic possession as the product of unenlightened superstition must contend with the findings of this well-documented case report.

James C. Patterson II, MD, PhD

Dr. James C. Patterson II received his MD and PhD degrees from the University of Texas Medical Branch in 1996, and currently serves as Associate Professor of Psychiatry and Director of Emergency Psychiatry at the Louisiana State University Health Sciences Center in Shreveport, Louisiana. He is also a member of the Shreveport Chapter of RTB.

  1. Richard E. Gallagher, “Among the Many Counterfeits: A Case of Demonic Possession,” New Oxford Review 75, no. 3, (March 2008).