Medieval and Renaissance Depictions of Possession and Exorcism
Demonic possession has plagued human kind since we began recording our histories. The Abrahamic religions in particular thrived off of the fear of demonic possession in their flocks; but no organization took it further than the Christian Industrial Complex. To this day, most major sects of Christianity have official policies on possession and the exorcism or “deliverance” of these demons from the afflicted person. But the Christian practice of exorcism really thrived in the Middle Ages and Early Renaissance, when Catholicism and the cult of sainthood had its iron grip on the ignorant masses of Europe. During these eras, exorcists were both members of the clergy and laypeople – as long as one was Christian, one had the power to cast out demons. Many exorcists became saints, and vice versa – post-mortem, saints’ relics and tombs were often used in exorcisms. The common belief was that each saint had a demon that they were in an eternal struggle with, so the only way to cast the demon out was to determine which saint was responsible for it. The saints followed what stories there were of Jesus casting out demons, using holy water, salt, prayers, the sign of the cross, the laying on of hands and sometimes brutal beatings, which were directed at the demon but took their toll on the victim. The demon was chased out of the victim through either their mouth or their victim, and special care had to be taken afterwards to prevent repossession. However, post-mortem saintly exorcism was much more common, since the saint was believed to have come into their true power once they were united with god. In many cases, a possessed individual was brought to the tomb of a saint and left there until the demon had left his or her body, sometimes remaining there for days. In other cases, the individual was touched with relics or brought to places of importance for the saint – where they performed their miracles or where they were martyred. Below are depictions of exorcism from the Middle Ages and Early Renaissance, featuring saints, clergy and Jesus himself casting demons out of the possessed.
For a more detailed account of Medieval exorcism, go here.