Casting out Satan

Denying Satan - Carl Heinrich Bloch (1875)I was driving in my car on Saturday listening to a radio program called “The Other Side” with Steve Godfrey. Steve believes himself to be a psychic medium, someone through whom people can connect with loved ones who have passed on to the “other side.” I do not deny the possibility of communicating with those who are on the other side of the veil, as many have done just that within the Church, but the way these so-called psychics say they connect with relatives on the other side just seems a little shady to me. To me it seems like more of a show than any actual communication going on – Steve asks the person lots of questions in order to divine what the person on the “other side” might be saying. A lot of “wait a minute,” and “hold on,” and “just a second,” are thrown into the mix as Steve receives his revelations from passed loved ones. His website says his “mission in life is to help you believe that there is life after death, and love eternal,” which is a good cause, but I am very skeptical of his methods and motives.

But he said something on the program that night which resonated with me, and with LDS beliefs. He had received a letter from a listener that was having problems at home. This woman and her son were very fearful in their home. She did not believe she was raising her son right, and she also believed there was something going on in her kitchen. She said that they had been hearing unexplained sounds and noises, which continued to make them more fearful.

After reading the letter, Steve said that these so-called “demons” that many people believe exist are really lower thought patterns, and that the fear she was experiencing, a lower thought pattern itself, was attracting more lower thought patterns and “lower entities,” in the way that light attracts light or dark attracts dark (cf. D&C 88:40). Latter-day Saints know that these could very well could be evil spirits, Satan’s devils from those 1/3 spirits cast down from heaven to earth, and that they are very real and presence can be literally felt. Steve did, however, offer a way to get rid of them from their home, or “smudge” them, as he put it. While the traditional smudging method involves burning sage (which has interesting implications in incense burning), he didn’t like that method, and so he offered another method he liked better. He said something like:

You can take a white candle(s), like the kind you get at the grocery store, and put them into the rooms of your home, and light them. Make sure to be careful with the candles, as they can be dangerous. Light the candle and then you do a ritual. You say, “In the name of God, I cast out all demons or lower entities, and purify this room by the Holy Ghost,” or something like that. That’s it. Very simple and easy thing to do. You can word it how you like…

I immediately recognized a pattern in this of casting out unclean spirits, which is similar in many religious traditions and cultures. I believe that such a tradition exists throughout the world because it descended from the teachings of the temple in antiquity. LDS temple scholar Matthew Brown has offered as much:

The renunciation of Satan and everything associated with him is a common element in early Christian initiation texts (see Yarnold, The Awe-Inspiring Rites of Initiation, 17-18, 178). In some texts it appears that Satan was considered to be present when this renunciation occurred (see Riley, Christian Initiation, 42-43, 49). In one set of initiation texts, the candidate raises one hand while renouncing Satan (see Vellian, ed., Studies on Syrian Baptismal Rites, 93).1

Saint Francis of Assisi exorcising devils in Arezzo - Giotto di Bondone (1297-99)One of the clearest examples of this tradition in early Christianity’s mystagogical teachings is from Cyril of Jerusalem (ca. 313–386 A.D.) in his first lecture on the mysteries. In fact, the practice of a renunciation of Satan before the real teaching begins is the focus of the entirety of Cyril’s first lecture to the newly initiated, the first thing one does before further sacred instruction occurs:

First ye entered into the vestibule of the Baptistery, and there facing towards the West ye listened to the command to stretch forth your hand, and as in the presence of Satan ye renounced him. Now ye must know that this figure is found in ancient history. For when Pharaoh, that most bitter and cruel tyrant, was oppressing the free and high-born people of the Hebrews, God sent Moses to bring them out of the evil bondage of the Egyptians. . . .

. . . here, the blood of the Lamb without blemish Jesus Christ is made the charm to scare evil spirits . . .

This is done as if Satan is actually there:

But nevertheless you are bidden to say, with arm outstretched towards him as though he were present, “I renounce you, Satan.” . . .

Indeed, this is the correct way to renounce Satan, for many other methods have been given, but to no avail:

After this you say, “and all your service.” Now the service of the devil is prayer in idol temples; things done in honour of lifeless idols; the lighting of lamps, or burning of incense by fountains or rivers, as some persons cheated by dreams or by evil spirits do [resort to this], thinking to find a cure even for their bodily ailments. Go not after such things. The watching of birds, divination, omens, or amulets, or charms written on leaves, sorceries, or other evil arts, and all such things, are services of the devil; therefore shun them.

Once renounced in this way, Cyril gives imagery of breaking with the Adversary, moving in a different direction, and perhaps even Satan leaving:

When therefore you renounce Satan, utterly breaking all your covenant with him, that ancient league with hell, there is opened to you the paradise of God, which He planted towards the East . . .

Guarded therefore by these discourses, be sober. For our adversary the devil, as was just now read, as a roaring lion, walks about, seeking whom he may devour. . . . [1 Peter 5:8]

And these things were done in the outer chamber.

Of course, this practice is part of what is well-known as religious exorcism. We are informed that this word comes from the Latin exorcismus, from Greek exorkizein, meaning “to adjure,” or to charge a person to do something as though on oath,” or “command solemnly.” Wikipedia does a good job of showing how ancient this practice is, and its universality. It is shown to exist in Christianity (Matthew 10:1; Matthew 10:8; Mark 6:7; Luke 9:1; Luke 10:17; Mark 16:17; Acts 16:18), Judaism, Hinduism, Scientology, Islam, and other belief systems.

Wikipedia has some interesting notes on the Christian form:

In Christianity, Exorcisms are performed using the “power of Christ” or “In the name of Jesus.” . . .

According to the Catholic Encyclopedia article on Exorcism: Jesus cast out demons as a sign of his Messiahship and empowered his disciples to do the same.

The Jewish Encyclopedia article on Jesus stated that Jesus “was devoted especially to casting out demons” and also believed that he passed this on to his followers, however he was superior to them in the Exorcisms.

One interesting non-Christian associated example of a similar pattern that I’ve written about before comes from a Buddhist legend, and incorporates the use of a hand gesture called the Abhaya mudra, which is essentially a raised right hand:

Devadatta, a cousin of the Buddha, through jealousy caused a schism to be caused among the disciples of Buddha. As Devadatta’s pride increased, he attempted to murder the Buddha. One of his schemes involved loosing a rampaging elephant into the Buddha’s path. But as the elephant approached him, Buddha displayed the Abhaya mudra, which immediately calmed the animal.2

I believe these things have descended from teachings given to Adam and Eve, which have spread into many cultures and traditions throughout the world, and that the Latter-day Saints today are taught the true form of casting out devils in the House of the Lord, as well as having the priesthood authority from God to do so.

Notes:
  1. Matthew B. Brown, The Gate of Heaven, 203. []
  2. http://www.exoticindiaart.com/mudras.htm []

One Comment

  1. Howard
    Posted June 3, 2008 at 11:03 am | Permalink

    An Old Testament example of “smudging” can be found in Numbers 16:44–50. Aaron stood between the dead and the living, offering incense to make atonement for the congregation and the plague was stayed.

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