exorcism (ĕkˈsôrsĭzˌəm) [key], ritual act of driving out evil demons or spirits from places, persons, or things in which they are thought to dwell. It occurs both in primitive societies and in the religions of sophisticated cultures. The term is applied to all those acts that seek to dispel or frighten away demons or spirits, as distinguished from those rites that aim at propitiating or evoking their assistance (see magic and shaman). Exorcism may be applied to a particular person or thing or may be used in a more general way. In central Europe during Walburga's night (or Walpurgishnacht, May 1), the traditional witches' sabbath, witches and demons are exorcised from the town by use of holy water, incense, and loud noises of all kinds. The scriptural justification for exorcism is found throughout the New Testament, and many instances of Jesus' ability to cast out devils are recorded.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.