Exorcism is the practice of evicting demons or other evil spiritual entities from a person or place of which they have possessed. The practice is quite ancient and still part of the belief system of many religions. The concept of possession by evil spirits and the practice of exorcism are very ancient and were widespread, and may originate in prehistoric Shamanistic beliefs.
The Christian New Testament includes exorcism among the miracles performed by Jesus. Because of this precedent, demonic possession was part of the belief system of Christianity since its beginning, and exorcism is still a recognized practice of Catholicism, Eastern Orthodox and some Protestant sects. In recent times, the practice of exorcism has diminished in its importance to most religious groups and its use has decreased. Generally, it is currently found mainly in Eastern Europe and Africa, with some cases gaining media coverage; Anneliese Michel is perhaps the most recent of these. This is due mainly to a greater understanding of psychology and the functioning and structure of the human mind. Many of the cases that in the past which were candidates for exorcism are often explained to be the products of mental illness, and are handled as such. More generally, the change in worldview since the Age of Enlightenment, which put increased value on rationalism, materialism, and naturalism, has led to a decrease in the belief of God and the supernatural.
In kabbalah and European Jewish folklore (which does not believe in possession by demons), possession takes on a different (and often much more positive) context. A person may be possessed by a spirit called a dybbuk — which is believed to be the dislocated soul of a dead person, returned from Gehenna (a Hebrew term for the in between world or purgatory that all spirits go to before entering heaven. It literally refers to the valley outside Jeruselem where the city's garbage and dead bodies were burned. The word later came to mean "the valley of dead", and became very loosely translated as "hell" by later Christian researchers). According to those beliefs, on rare occasions a soul which has not been able to fulfill its function in its lifetime is given another opportunity to do so in the form of a dybbuk. The soul then seeks out and "attaches" itself to a living person who is going through things or in a similar "life position" to what the soul was in during its lifetime.
It is believed there are good dybbuks and bad, with a good dybbuk's "attachment" performing more the role of a "spiritual guide" there to help the person through their current trials and tribulations that the soul was attracted to. These "good" possessions are usually referred to as a 'sod ha'ibbur. In the case of a negative dybbuk, the spirit is not there to help as much as cause the same mistakes and chaos that it originally experienced during its own lifetime. In the case of exorcism, there are generally two types - though both take on a much less negative confrontational manner than in the Christian context.Briefly, the first involves a non-invasive approach (which generally is applied to the non-negative type of attachment but can be used in both) and involves treating the person and attached entity as a whole. Helping "him" to identify his goal or path in life (his true identity and purpose) and guiding them along it. In the case of a positive attachment, the spirit will leave when the "path" or purpose is significantly engrained and pursued. In the case of a negative, the pursuant of the "path" keeps it in check and eventually causes it to loose its connection (sometimes referred to as the "void" in the host) thereby forcing it to move on.
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