Demonic possession is often the term used to describe the control over a human form by the Devil himself or one of his assigned advocates. Descriptions of demonic possessions often include: erased memories or personalities, convulsions, “fits” and fainting as if one were dying.Unlike in channelling or other benign forms of possession, the subject has no control over the possessing entity and so it will persist until forced to leave the victim, usually through a form of exorcism. Many cultures and religions contain some concept of demonic possession, but the details vary considerably. Some cultures, in particular the Roma people believe that demons can also possess animals, plants, deceased persons or inanimate objects. The oldest references to demonic possession are from the Sumerians, who believed that all diseases of the body and mind were caused by "sickness demons" called gidim or gid-dim The priests who practiced exorcisms in these nations were called ashipu (sorcerer) as opposed to an asu (physician) who applied bandages and salves. Many cuneiform tablets contain prayers to certain gods asking for protection from demons, while others ask the gods to expel the demons that have invaded their bodies. Most illustrations portray these spirits as small, gruesome characters with inhuman distinctiveness. Often referenced as a witch’s “familiars” demons and other evil-spirits employed by witches are also displayed as society’s cast-offs or those beings incapable of caring for themselves thus seeking refuge with a witch. Witches would provide shelter and nourishment via the “witch’s teat” in exchange for the valuable services of the familiars in addition to spells, potions and other attempts by a witch to case evil or “maleficium” over another. Nevertheless there are no descriptions of specific punishments against possessed persons as it happened later many times in Christian societies. Shamanic cultures also believe in demon possession and shamans perform exorcisms too; in these cultures often diseases are attributed to the presence of an evil spirit or demon in the body of the patient. Demon possession became a plague among Christians; exorcisms and executions were performed on persons allegedly possessed; many mentally ill people were accused of being demon-possessed and were killed. The Malleus Maleficarum speaks about some exorcisms that can be done in different cases. In Christianity, animals were also believed to be able of being possessed; during the Middle Ages, hundreds of cats, goats, and other animals were slain because of the idea that they were either an incarnation of a demon or possessed by one.
Later, in the Middle Ages, a list of symptoms required to confirm demonic oppression was carefully prepared:
- The ability to curse/blaspheme in languages unknown to the person.
- The ability to find secret things, read the mind, and divine future happenings.
- The ability to make physical efforts abnormal for that person.
- The act of spitting or vomiting every object the demons would have made the person swallow.
Other symptoms occasionally listed include:
- Fear and/or hatred of holy objects.
- The inability to say the word "Christ".