Parallels Between Haitian Voodoo and Demonic Possession

Parallels Between Haitian Voodoo and Demonic Possession

August 25, 2021 – After having read some interesting things about Haitian Voodoo, and growing up in South Florida where there is a large and lively Haitian immigrant community, I wanted to look at it from a Christian perspective. Obviously the purpose here is not to condemn Haitians or their religion, but to look at similarities in Voodoo practice with occultism and demonic possession.

There are currently over 30 million practitioners or followers of Voodoo (Vodun, Vodou) in the world today. The practice of voodoo goes back several hundred years and the religion itself is a sort of amalgamation of African animism, ancestor worship and French Catholicism. Robert and Marilyn Stewart have noted the followingZombies, black magic and the mysterious Voodoo queen, Marie Laveau, are intriguing images of a popular Hollywood depiction of voodoo. But those who practice voodoo perceive it to be an ancient religion, founded on the spiritual traditions of West Africa, and embracing universal concepts found in other religions.

Regarding the origins of the religion they write, “During the period of European colonization of the 16th-18th centuries, thousands of slaves were taken from the coast of West Africa to the island of Hispaniola that is today divided between the Dominican Republic and Haiti. Numerous tribes were represented on the island, including the Dahomey, Yoruba, Ewe, Congo, Nago, and Fon tribes. Taking its name from the Fon word for ‘spirit,’ voodoo arose from this melting pot of African ethnic groups as a religion of animistic characteristics that pays homage to spirits and ancestors.

The West African tribal beliefs that gave rise to Voodoo held that a supreme being named Bondye created the earth and maintained cosmic balance, but whose highly elevated stature made him unconcerned with human needs. Voodoo describes the creator-supreme being (Bon Dieu or Gran Tet) as all-powerful, all knowing and even omnipresent, but distant and aloof. The term ‘goddess’ may be applied equally well to this being who relinquished communications with human beings, turning that over to a host of lesser spirit beings called loa. God is not believed to deal directly with humans but meets only with the loa and considers their requests on behalf of mankind. In Haiti, God’s name is used freely, but often denotes an idea more akin to ‘fate.’ God is viewed as a vague and impersonal force, and requires little from human beings.

Thomas Sappington of the Gospel Coalition defines demonic possession as follows “‘Demon possession’ is a term frequently used to translate the Greek term daimonizomai in the New Testament. This term describes a variety of conditions, both physical and emotional-mental-psychological, for which the cause is identified as direct demonic influence. The remedy that was used by Jesus and the Early Church for such conditions was exorcism. The term ‘demon possession’ is frequently used in English translations of the New Testament, most notably in the Synoptic Gospels, to render the meaning of the term daimonizomai. In addition, the parallels between Matthew 8:28Mark 5:2 and Luke 8:27 suggest that the terms ‘with an unclean spirit’ (en pneumati akathartō) and ‘having a demon’ (echōn daimonian) are viewed as similar in meaning (cf. Mark 1:23/Luke 4:33), both to each other and to daimonizomai. These terms seem to indicate the presence of demons or unclean spirits, who are exerting a degree of regular or intermittent and pernicious influence in a person’s life.

Father Lawrence Farley of the Orthodox Christian Network writes about the reality of demonic possession:

…Those imprisoned by chronological snobbery imagine that the ancients diagnosed demonic possession simply because they did not know about epilepsy. But in fact, they did know about epilepsy, and still managed to distinguish between it and demonic possession. Consider Matthew 4:24: ‘His fame spread throughout all Syria and they brought Him all the sick, those afflicted with various diseases and pains, demoniacs, epileptics, and paralytics, and He healed them.’ Note that the ancient author mentioned demoniacs and epileptics as two separate categories. It is possible, then, (and even likely) that some people were misdiagnosed, and thought to be demon-possessed when they were simply epileptic. Misdiagnoses occur even now among attending physicians, so there is no reason to think they did not sometimes occur then. But the point is that the ancients saw enough different symptoms in some sufferers to diagnose not simply epilepsy, but demon possession.

What might these symptoms have been? We can guess by looking at people thought to be demon-possessed now. In my own limited experience and in the wider experience of missionaries in Africa and Asia, we find people exhibiting a wide variety of behaviors not found among epileptics—behaviors such as violence when confronted with icons, or the image of the Cross, or the Name of Jesus, or by contact with Holy Water. We find them becoming agitated when in church, though calm when taken outside. We find them speaking with different voices when challenged by an exorcising priest. And, most significantly, we find that they experience a palpable sense of relief and a subsequent freedom from these behaviors after the exorcism.

Looking at it objectively (and even scientifically), what then should one conclude from all this? If one has a headache and takes an aspirin and the headache then subsides, one will not unnaturally conclude that is a cause and effect, and that aspirins help ease headaches. In the same way, if one exhibits the classic symptoms of demonic possession and undergoes a Christian exorcism and the symptoms then vanish, one will not unnaturally also conclude that it is a cause and effect, and that exorcisms drive away demons. If one knew for certain that demons did not exist, one would then look for other explanations. But in fact, we do not know for certain that demons do not exist. The global experience of humankind since recorded history began testifies to the opposite, and to the reality of the world of demons and spirits.

The lesson here is humility—a difficult lesson for any to learn, but perhaps especially difficult for those of us living in technological affluence and the pride it can often engender. The whole world until the rise of the Enlightenment (I use the historical term generously) accepted unquestioningly the reality of an unseen world, a world often experienced as threatening and malevolent. The existence of evil and malevolent spirits was accepted by Christ and acted upon, and He gave not the slightest hint that belief in these spirits was among the beliefs that should be questioned. He was not shy about telling His contemporaries which beliefs they had wrong—He challenged their view of the Sabbath, the Law, and even the unitary nature of God, so it is unlikely that He would balk at challenging their view of demons if He thought that they had that wrong too. In fact, however, He did not challenge it, but enthusiastically accepted it and built His reputation upon it as the great deliverer from Satan’s authority in the world (see John 12:31). Christ was followed by His apostles, who continued to cast out demons (Acts 5:16, 8:7, 16:18), and by His Church after them. Exorcisms now form a part of every baptism ritual, and belief in the reality of the demonic is woven into many of our prayers. You cannot sensibly be an Orthodox Christian while repudiating the existence of demons; it is part of the fabric of our faith. – Father Lawrence Farley

Here Father Farley discusses the reality of demonic possession and influence. He has worked extensively in parts of Asia and Africa and has seen first hand what possession looks like.

A Haitian Missionary named Howard Culbertson noted what he thought he perceived as a connection between Haitian loa possession and Biblical descriptions of demonic possession. In his writings he made a comparison between Biblical descriptions of demonic possession and stories of loa possession in Haitian Voodoo. He writes:

Within Scripture, actual possession by demons or demonic forces is almost exclusively a New Testament phenomenon. Certainly, references to demons do occur in the Old Testament. Demons or evil spirits are mentioned in such passages as Leviticus 17:7, Deuteronomy 32:17, 2 Chronicles 11:15, Psalms 95:5 and 106:37, and Isaiah 13:21 and 34:14. None of these biblical passages speak, however, of that ‘use of a living body by another spirit’ as one writer has defined possession. Though spiritism is forbidden in Scripture, what is referred to in Leviticus 19, Deuteronomy 18 and Isaiah 8 doesn’t seem to have included possession.

J. S. Wright is one of the few Old Testament scholars to assert that the Old Testament does actually contain identifiable references to demon possession. He says: In the Bible, the pagan prophets probably sought possession. The prophets of Baal in 1 Kings 18 would come in this category. Mediums, who were banned in Israel, must have deliberately cultivated possession since the Law regards them as guilty people, not as sick (e.g., Leviticus 20:6, 27). In the Old Testament Saul is an outstanding example of unsought possession (1 Samuel 16:14; 19:9).

In this particular case involving Saul, Wright stands almost alone in his categorical statement. Among scholarly Biblical commentators, only a few like early Methodist scholar Adam Clarke and David Erdman even allow for the possibility of actual demon possession having occurred here. Although the scripture says that “an evil spirit from the Lord tormented (Saul)”, most writers dismiss Saul’s problem as one of simple insanity. They would opt for a statement like that of Laird Harris, professor at Covenant Theological Seminary: ‘Demon possession is not mentioned in the Old Testament.’

The picture changes considerably when one turns to the New Testament, of course. In the New Testament, demons (daimon in Greek) are referred to more than 100 times, with many of those references involving possession. This is particularly true of the gospel accounts where J. Ramsey Michaels, professor at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, asserts: ‘Nothing is more certain about the ministry of Jesus than the fact that He performed exorcisms.’

Dealing with demon possession was an integral part of Jesus’ daily life and ministry. It was also something in which He involved the Apostles and His other followers. As Bible scholar and Christian apologist Merrill Unger reminds his readers: ‘Not only did Jesus cast out demons, . . . but he delegated this power to the Twelve, to the Seventy, and even to believers.’

Unfortunately, only a few of the cases in Scripture are treated with sufficient detail to be of any help in this study. Even those descriptions are often briefer than one would wish. In several passages where demon possession is mentioned, it is only in passing, such as in Mark 1:32: ‘They brought to him all who were sick or possessed with demons.’ The lack of any further detail doesn’t provide much help for a study of this type except to support a distinction being made in scripture between demon possession and illness. Nine cases in the New Testament are described with enough detail to make possible some comparisons between them and modern-day phenomenon such as Haitian loa possession. – Culbertson

In this first passage, Culberston is looking at references of demonic possession in both the Old and New Testaments and how this process is described in Biblical Scripture. He lists the New Testament references that are useful to us here:

  1. The demoniac in the synagogue at Capernaum (Mark 1:23-26; cf. Luke 4:33-37)
  2. The Gadarene demoniac (Mark 5:1-20; cf. Matthew 8:28-34; Luke 8:26-39)
  3. The daughter of the syro-phenician woman (Mark 7:24-30; cf. Matthew 15:21-28)
  4. The demoniac boy (Mark 9:14-29; cf. Matthew 17:14-20; Luke 9:37-43)
  5. The dumb man (Matthew 9:32; cf. Luke 11:14-15)
  6. The blind and dumb man (Matthew 12:22-28)
  7. The crippled woman (Luke 13:11-16)

These are from Matthew, Mark and Luke. There is no reference to possession in John.

Two cases of demon possession described in some detail are included in the book of Acts. These are:

  1. The slave girl at Philippi (Acts 16:16-18)
  2. The strong man at Ephesus (Acts 19:13-17).

With this in mind, Culbertson then goes into the features from these Scriptures of demonic possession:

None of the cases of demon possession identified as such and described in the Bible are exactly alike any of the others in their manifestations. Some are certainly more sensational than others. It is possible, however, to list certain features or characteristics which seem to be a part of demon possession:

  1. Exchange of Personality

In most of the cases of demon possession in the Bible, a totally different personality presents itself and takes total control of a human being, speaking and acting through that person while the person himself no longer seems present. S. Vernon McCasland, University of Virginia professor, calls this exchange of personality ‘the most decisive mark of demon possession.’ In his classic book on demon possession, John Nevius, Presbyterian missionary to China, argued that ‘to persons of this class alone [where personality exchange occurs] is the term ‘possession’ properly applied.’

This phenomenon is most clearly evident in the demoniacs at Capernaum and in Gadera. However, in all of the other cases, the Scriptures speak of demons being asked to leave a person.

A brief catalog of sub-characteristics of this personality exchange would include:

  1. The new personality says he is a demon and will even give a title or a name for himself different from the person he is possessing.
  2. The new personality uses personal pronouns which indicate a distinctly different person. When the demon speaks, he or she consistently uses first person when referring to himself and third person when referring to the person being possessed.
  3. While in the state of possession, the possessed person displays sentiments, facial expressions and even physical attributes totally different from those of his normal state.
  4. Contrary to medieval artists’ representations, the separate personality does not have a physical or corporeal existence apart from the persons it possesses. Unlike angels, demons in the scripture are ‘discarnate spirits’. 
  1. Clairvoyance

In some of the biblical cases, a person in a possessed state displays clairvoyance and occult powers. The clearest example of this is the slave girl in Philippi. In other instances, the possessed person appeared to recognize Jesus for all that he was without ever having been introduced to him. This happened in both of the cases in the book of Acts as well as in the cases of the Capernaum and Gadarene demoniacs. Alexander even argues that this particular characteristic alone indicates that demon possession is something more than mere insanity. ‘The confession of Jesus as the Messiah or Son of God is . . . the classical criterion of genuine demonic possession.’

  1. Unusual Strength

While not mentioned in every case, the exhibition of unusual or supernormal strength characterizes some instances of biblical demon possession. The possessed man in Ephesus overpowered seven other men. The Gadarene demoniac could tear chains apart.

  1. Moral Impurity

When the exchange of personality occurred in a demon possessed person, a change in moral character toward impurity sometimes took place. The Gadarene demoniac, for instance, ran about naked, and the spirits in him seemed to have no regard for the property rights of others. The possessed man in Ephesus was ill-tempered — to say the least — when he was possessed.

  1. Seizures and Convulsions

Some instances of biblical possession — notably that of the demoniac boy — include seizures and convulsions and other symptoms such as rigidity and foaming at the mouth. Sometimes, as in the case of the boy and of the Gadarene demoniac, there was an almost visible conflict within the person that manifested itself in self-destructive tendencies.

To be sure, some skeptics have seized upon this particular category of characteristics to argue that demon possession was nothing more than epilepsy. This is, however, only one of the categories of symptoms. Epilepsy does not also have the other symptoms in this list.

  1. Physical illness

Demon possession is sometimes, though not always, accompanied by physical illnesses which are identified as being caused by the demon. These include blindness, dumbness, and paralysis. It must be noted, however, that a distinction is made in Scripture between sickness and demon possession. ‘The New Testament writers show the ability to ascribe similar disorders on some occasions to demonic reality and on other occasions not.’ Thus, there is a blind man possessed by a demon; there are other blind men who are not.

The other manifestations of demon possession tend to be episodic with the person at times being demon possessed and at other times not. The illnesses in the biblical cases are, however, continuously present until the demon is cast out.

  1. Socioeconomic factor

Unger notes that ‘it is perhaps not without significance that almost all the cases of demon possession are recorded as occurring among the rude and half-Gentile populations of Galilee.’ No cases are recorded in Jerusalem and only one in Capernaum. The others were in rural sections of Galilee, Gadera and in the regions of Tyre and Sidon and that of Caesarea Philippi.

  1. Voluntary versus involuntary

Most of the biblical cases seem to indicate that these were involuntary possessions. The details of the stories are not explicit enough, however, and scholars so not agree. ‘Theories vary from assigning complete responsibility to denying any accountability whatever,’ says Unger.

  1. Deliverance and transference

In eight of the nine cases in the New Testament the person was delivered instantaneously from the demon and, in the case of the Gadarene demoniac, occult transference took place and the demons entered another being–in this case, a herd of swine. This instantaneous deliverance is also evidence in the cases where demon possession is mentioned only in passing such as Mark 1:32-34, Matthew 8:16-17; Luke 4:40-41; Matthew 4:23; Mark 3:7-12; Matthew 12:15-16; and Luke 6:17-19.

All of these incidents of demons being cast out seem to have occurred without the ‘conjurations, incantations, or religious or magical ceremonies’ which are today associated with exorcism. – Culbertson

This is a very interesting list of the features of demonic possession. There are other sources describing possession in more detail coming from the Church Fathers or the desert fathers. These ascetics describe doing literal battles with these demons and suffering physical blows from these battles. Howard states: “Before leaving this data to turn to loa possession in Haiti today, one must consider the hermeneutical question: How are these descriptions to be considered? Here is Virkler’s answer to that question: ‘We have no guarantee that the relatively brief descriptions of demonically-caused symptomatology found in Scriptures were meant to be considered normative examples of possession across time and cultures. All that the narrative accounts of demonization found in the Gospels and Acts claim is that they are accurate descriptions of demonization of that time, not normative descriptions of demonization that can be used for all succeeding generations.'” With that caution in mind he then turns to the question of Loa possession.

An American military attaché and his wife who have spent several years in Haiti have written: ‘Haiti is a magic island, and the laughter of a thousand African gods echoes through her mornes.’ These gods and their periodic possession of voodoo worshipers have fascinated anthropologists and tourists alike since the last century. Actually, Voodoo should properly be defined as an ancestral worship cult. However, spirit or loa possession does play a very important part in voodoo. And this possession experience is, says Haitian psychiatrist Emerson Douyon, one of the things which Haitian society ‘valorizes.’ The experience is not just for the voodoo priest (a male houngan or a female mambo) or to a bokor (a shaman or sorcerer loosely linked to voodoo practice), but it is for all adherents.

All kinds of explanations have been advanced for this phenomenon called loa possession. It has been regarded variously as a form of neurosis, as the fulfillment of a ‘need for self-transcendence, an attention-getter, an opportunity to act out fantasies, a chance to shed responsibility, . . . mass hysteria, or masochism.’

Kristos writes of hallucination or mass hypnosis as possible explanations and then says it could well be ‘the visitation of a supernatural being.’

It thus is doubly important for any Christian working in Haiti to understand loa possession. First of all, because loa possession is one of the items which Haitian society valorizes. Secondly, one has to make a decision, however tentative it may be, as to what these gods are whose laughter echoes through the mountain valleys of that Caribbean island nation.

Dow argues that ‘there is correspondence between descriptions of present-day demonic phenomena . . . and the descriptions . . . in the New Testament.’ Anthropologist Alan Tippett goes a step further, particularizing the parallel when he says: ‘Probably there is no better extant example of possession phenomena in the whole world than the form known as voodoo, especially the variety in Haiti.’

What are some of the similarities or parallelisms which would lead scholars to make comparisons between what is described in the Bible as demon possession and modern day possession phenomena? – Howard Culberston

First Howard looks at Loa possession in Haitian Voodoo, then he looks at the correspondence between it and Biblical demonic possession. We quote and cite Mr. Culbertson extensively due to his personal, eyewitness experience as a missionary who traveled to Haiti and spent time there. He came as a Christian missionary so he discusses it through that lens, which is what we also seek to do. Turning his attention to the features of Haitian loa possession, he notes:

  1. Exchange of personality

When a Haitian loa possesses a person, a markedly different personality seems to take control. ‘The possessed person behaves quite rationally,’ says Sargant, ‘but in the way the loa would behave.’ There are literally hundreds of loa, each with his or her own special voice, manners, facial expressions and physical attributes. Each loa even has his or her own ‘food and drink preferences, color and clothing preferences’ to the extent that a possessed person may even change clothes after being possessed to conform more closely to the loa who has possessed him.

When a loa possesses a person, other people in the immediate vicinity have no doubts in their mind as to the identity of the loa that has appeared. Later — hours or even occasionally days — when a possessed person returns to his normal personality, he or she will remember nothing of what transpired during the possession state. It is as though the person has truly been absent from his or her body while another being was using it.

While the Haitians do fear zombies and other kinds of spirit world creatures who appear from time to time, the loa apparently have no corporeal existence apart from the persons they are possessing. While paintings of Catholic saints are sometimes used in voodoo sanctuaries to represent some of the more well-known loa, these loa only appear when they have a human body to utilize.

  1. Clairvoyance

While possessed, many of the Haitians exhibit mediumistic abilities. Anthropologists have documented cases of possessed persons knowing secrets to which, in normal life, they would not have had access. Haitian ethnologist Jean Price-Mars tells of possessed persons giving predictions and prophecies about the future. There are also some instances in which the loa recognize the higher authority of Jesus Christ, even as happened in New Testament times. Even given the peaceful co-existence that seems to exist between Roman Catholicism and voodoo, anthropologist Francis Huxley relates isolated instances in which loa prohibit people from going to church and forbid them to ‘hear the words of the Gospel.’ With Protestantism, of course, the antagonism is more pronounced. Nazarene missionary Paul Orjala tells of loa who ‘speak directly to the Christian through the person possessed and argue their right to do their work.’ Haitian anthropologist Jacque Romain notes if a person becomes a born-again believer, there is irreconcilable conflict between a person and his patron-loa.

The powers which the loa or spirits give to their ‘horses’ were explained to Oberlin college professor George Simpson by at least one voodoo priest as due to the fact that ‘the loas are fallen angels.’ That, of course, is the same explanation which many conservative biblical scholars give for demons.

  1. Unusual strength

The ability of possessed persons to physically do things not ordinarily possible for them seems even more prevalent in Haitian loa possession than it was in the cases of demon possession recorded in the Bible. Jeremie Breda mentions ‘an old man (who) climbs a tree like a monkey’ while possessed and ‘a girl (who) handles a red hot iron without feeling pain.’ Anthropologist Melville Herskovits writes of the extraordinary bodily strength he had witnessed in possessed persons. Harold Courlander, anthropologist and folklorist, joins other writers in recounting stories of certain loa who cause their ‘horses’ to eat glass or broken razor blades without causing any injuries and of other Haitians who plunge their arms into boiling oil while possessed without suffering any after effects.

It is this characteristic of unusual physical ability which calls into serious question any explanation of loa possession as mere role enactment. Some characteristics of loa possession could be easily simulated if role playing was all that was involved. However, the super-normal strength and abilities like those described in anthropological studies would seem difficult, if not impossible, to simulate in a merely theatrical performance.

  1. Moral impurity

Simpson has noted that in normal, everyday life, there is ‘considerable sexual modesty among the peasants.’ The picture changes radically during possession experiences. Huxley writes of the ‘sexual megalomania’ which seems to characterize many possessions. Possessed persons often have to be restrained from taking off their clothes to go naked. Courlander writes of the contempt for proprieties and of the lascivious and lurid behavior and speech of some of the loa. Behavior which would be quite unacceptable to the community and even to the possessed person himself is excused because the loa — not the person being possessed — is responsible for such behavior and speech.

  1. Seizures and convulsions

Almost without exception, the beginnings of a loa possession are marked by ‘trembling, by a kind of frenzy without controls or direction. (The person being possessed) may stagger, fall, and go into convulsions.’ This seizure gradually wears off and the personality of the individual loa begins to appear. Finally, the person seems normal, except that he or she has completely switched personalities, including perhaps sex.

Sometimes possessed persons also exhibit self-destructive tendencies. ‘loa will cause their ‘horses’ to rub hot pepper into their eyes. Still others will compel possessed persons to cut themselves with machetes.’ At times possessed persons have to be restrained from throwing themselves into deep water.

  1. Physical illness

loa possessions in Haiti are almost always episodic with many of them coming during religious ceremonies (even those in the Roman Catholic church!). Physical illnesses do not accompany this type of possession. However, Frederick Conway of San Diego State University says, ‘When they are angry, the loa are believed to express their displeasure most frequently by making a family member ill.’ Gerald Murray, University of Florida professor, notes that Haitians believe that causing illness is a principal activity of the loa. The peasants do, however, differentiate between ‘spirit-caused illness (maladi loa) as opposed to naturally caused illness,’ a distinction also made in the New Testament.

  1. Socioeconomic factor

loa possession occurs most often among the rural subsistence farming population and its members who may have emigrated into the cities. As in Biblical Palestine, the incidence of possession is lower in the cities and particularly among the well-educated sector of the population. The Haitian elite have even made some unsuccessful attempts to stamp out voodoo and for a long time refused to even grant it the status of a folk religion.

  1. Voluntary versus involuntary

While not actively sought after, loa possession in Haitian is very much welcomed. This is not true in most of the possession cases in the New Testament. There does not, however, seem to be attempts on the part of the Haitians to work themselves into a state of possession. Occasionally a tourist, or even an anthropologist who has gone to watch a voodoo ceremony, will be possessed without his or her having willed the possession. Huxley relates the story of a young Haitian Protestant who had gone to witness a voodoo ceremony, ‘and despite all he could do, had been possessed.’

Sometimes, during a certain period, a voodoo worshiper may wish to not be possessed. The worshiper may even take certain countermeasures against being possessed. These precautions are not always successful, and the worshiper will sometimes be possessed against his or her will.

  1. Deliverance and transference

Upon conversion, Protestants normally are freed from further loa possession experiences. In fact, Tippett says that ‘the type of Protestantism most successful in Haiti is the form most hostile to voodoo, because it comes into encounter with it on a meaningful level.’ The freedom that born-again believers have from possession is recognized in Haitian society. Former missionary Orjala notes that Nazarene pastors in Haiti are continually being called upon to cast out the loa.

This deliverance, when it occurs, seems to be instantaneous even as is the deliverances recounted in New Testament documents.

The Roman Catholics, on the other hand, lacking an emphasis on a life-changing born-again experience, have been fighting a losing battle with syncretism. Today, most voodoo worshipers also consider themselves to be Roman Catholic.

When a voodoo worshiper dies, a type of transference ceremony is held in which a voodoo priest removes the ‘talent’ of the one that had been possessed and transfers it to someone else.

  1. Unique Features of loa Possession

Some aspects or features of Haitian loa possession are absent from the accounts of demon possession recorded in Scripture. These include:

  1. Part of a religion

loa possession is a recognized feature of voodoo, the Haitian peasant religion. ‘Peasants welcome the (possession) experience and express neither surprise nor fear’ when it occurs.

None of the instances reported in Scripture appear to be an integral part of the religious practices of a group of people. In Haitian voodoo, moreover, everyone actually has a loa-patron, whether or not he has even been possessed. There is no record in the New Testament of such a belief or practice as regards demons.

  1. Glossolalia

Price-Mars wrote of occurrences of glossolalia during loa possession. There are also documented reports of certain loa speaking perfect French although researchers were certain their ‘horses’ could not do so in normal life given the fact that ‘probably no more than five percent of the population can speak French fluently.’ – Howard Culbertson

Obviously there are major connections here to the descriptions of demonic possession from the Bible. The ability for the possessed person to handle hot irons without feeling pain and the ability to walk on razors and broken glass without pain is a common feature of demon possession. Perhaps all the features of loa possession have a similar component in Biblical descriptions of the demonically possessed. Most disturbingly possession against a person’s will, sexual megalomania out of character for the person when not possessed, being told not to read the gospel or enter a church, the loa admission of Christ’s higher status relative to themselves and the attempt to self harm. Imitating Catholic patron saints and syncretizing with the Roman Catholic religion also doesn’t surprise me, as the papacy is heretical as well. Shockingly, even a Voodoo priest admitted the loa are “fallen angels,” which is something many Christians believe demonic entities to be. Haitian Christians and missionaries identify it as “unquestionably” demonic possession, and this has enabled them to deal with it in an effective manor.

GOARCH, the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America note their views on the doctrine of evil and on exorcism as a practice of the church:

To understand the Orthodox view and practice of exorcism, one must know the Orthodox presuppositions of evil and its doctrine of Satan. The patristic evidence points to the fact that the cause of evil in the world is the devil. The devil was created by God as an angel, who was free, and as a free agent chose to oppose the plan of God. That is, the devil is a fallen angel. Satan is not evil by nature, but by will and action. In Satan there is no truth whatsoever; he is absolute falsehood and deception. Satan is not just a negation or deprivation of good, but a positive force with free will that always chooses evil. The devil has the ability to recognize divine power, as in the incident of recognizing Christ as the Son of God (Matt. 4:1-11; Luke 4:1-3). Satan has under his leadership legions and invisible powers, with their own ‘satanic teachings.’ The devil and evil spirits know that God exists and recognize true and devoted Christians, but pious Christians discern the plans of the devil. The devil, however, constantly employs every method of deception to enslave man to satanic forces and causes rebellion against God. He is the cause of corruption and disorder, a parasitic power in the world that will ultimately be destroyed by the power of God in the ‘last days.’ Because there is no compromise between God and the devil, the struggle will continue until the end.

The Orthodox doctrine of God is that He is eternal, uncreated and incorporeal. All other creatures, both visible and invisible, were created by God as free. The power of the devil will ultimately be destroyed by the resurrection of the dead and the renewal of creation. Salvation from all evil will be attained by obedience to God and His plan. This world is a battleground between the acceptance of good and evil. It must be pointed out that the world as the creation of God is not evil. What is evil is the satanic power, destroyed by the power of the cross and the resurrection of Christ.

After examining the doctrine of Satan in the Orthodox Church, it is imperative to proceed to the method of repelling and exorcising the evil powers. In the New Testament, Christ sent out His apostles to heal and to “cast out devils” (Matt. 10:8, Luke 10:17-20). Christ Himself often expels demons from the possessed (Mark 1:23-27; Luke 4:33-35, 9:43; Matt. 10:1; Mark 16:17; Matt. 7:22). The New Testament, however, rejected popular uses of magic incantations and rites to expel the satanic powers from people, because they took advantage of superstitious religiosity (Acts 19:13).

In the name of Christ, one is able to cast out demons and to destroy the evil powers (Matt. 10:8). The Fathers of the Church accepted this doctrine and expanded on it. Justin Martyr (Apology 85, 2) says that in the name of Christ, the Son of God who was crucified and rose again, every demon that is exorcised is defeated and submits (Library of the Greek Fathers and Church Writers, Athens: Apostolike Diakonia 1955, Vol. 3, pp. 288-89). The satanic powers are destroyed through the power of the cross and the name of Christ. Objects possessed by demons, when exorcised in the name of the living God, are freed from the possession of evil. The patristic evidence is abundant in the belief in possession and expulsion of the devil by the power of the word of God (Ignatios, Epistles to Philippians 3 and 12; Library of the Greek Fathers and Church Writers, Vol. 2, pp. 333 and 336; Clement of Alexandria, Stromata 4:14; Library, Vol 8, p. 82; Origen, Against Celsus, 6:44; Library, Vol. 10, p. 93).

The demonic possession of individuals and even of objects, has been accepted by the Orthodox Church today in the Sacrament of Baptism, in exorcising satanic powers in the case of the evil eye (vaskania), and in exorcising the devil in the case of a possessed person. In the early Church exorcisms were performed by a person especially trained and appointed to pray to drive out evil from those about to be baptized. Since the fourth century the place of the exorcist, as well as other functions and ministries, have been taken over by the priest. The exorcisms are prayers that invoke God to expel evil spirits. The priest prays to expel all evil, the spirit of error, of idolatry, of covetousness, of Iying and every impure act that arises from the teachings of the devil. The renunciation of the devil in baptism is used in every baptism that is performed in the Orthodox Church. – GOARCH

It is my personal belief that the Holy Orthodox Church has the best and most accurate understanding of the Bible and that it is the unchanged church of Christ and the apostles in existence since 33AD. I see them as the most equipped to deal with the phenomena and interestingly, the Roman Catholic Church frequently asks for their help in conducting exorcisms.

Metropolitan Tikhon delivered a powerful sermon entitled “HOW INDIVIDUALS AND NATIONS BECOME DEMONICALLY POSSESSED” addressing this phenomenon and its absolute reality:

In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit

The event we remember today is shocking—the casting out of demons from the two Gadarene demoniacs. No one could handle them, and they couldn’t handle themselves. Only God freed them from this demonic possession. But in this Gospel story there is something even more amazing that the people and the demons wrought, and not God. If the Lord cast the out demon from the demoniac, then people cast God from themselves. This is even more astounding! People saw the ineffable miracle of God in the healing of an incurably sick man, which brought wonder upon the entire region and upon those present. But instead of falling down at Jesus’s feet to thank Him, saying, ‘Stay with us forever’, they said, ‘Depart from us!’ This is a real diabolical wonder that takes place in the human race.

Now even certain Orthodox priests are saying that demonic possession doesn’t exist, that it’s a mental illness, that it’s nothing but Orthodox people’s emotional over-exhilaration, and sometimes even simulation. They weren’t here [in the Pskov Caves Monastery] in the 1980’s when Fr. Adrian served the rite of exorcism in the Church of the Meeting of the Lord. We saw with our own eyes how a thirteen-year-old girl just tossed off strong men as she headed for some goal known only to her. People don’t think about what’s happening in their own lives, in the lives of their close ones, and in the life of a country and people; how God’s spirit works, how guardian angels influence people’s thoughts and deeds, how the devil and the demons influence those deeds, thoughts, and the state of the soul. Man is always falling for these terrible influences, because the evil spirits, the devil, demons, the multitude of spirits who are at enmity with God, who hate man and hate God even more, act upon our souls and minds in ways that we don’t even suspect.

The holy fathers warn us not to think too much about this, because it’s beyond the capacity of the human mind. As a rule, when people begin to think about it they fall into a state where the demons start taking over their minds and souls. But we do need to understand and know about this! Continual concentration on the infernal and cruel subject of demons—which definitely exist—can drive a person out of his mind and make him a plaything of the demons. But it is necessary to remember this. Sometimes whole nations become subservient to these spiritual beings, the demons. Demons move into people’s souls, which then unite in spirit with evil and madness, and then destroy themselves, their minds, and their country. They do things in a state of ecstasy, intoxication, and infernal joy that they are later ashamed of, and they don’t understand how they could have possibly done such things! They as if realize their dream, but that dream was sent to them from the devil and taken from the devil. From time to time we see how dangerously a man proceeds when he’s in a state of ‘heated blood’, as St. Ignatius (Branchaninov) wrote, and as if possessed, lurches after a certain goal. He wants it very much, pays attention to nothing else, hears nothing else, and is in a state of total ecstasy and intoxication. We can see that something peculiar and abnormal is happening to that person. He has joy—but it’s demonic joy.

We recall, ‘Serve ye the Lord with fear and rejoice in Him with trembling.’ But there is no trembling here! Only terrible intoxication. Such people are stubborn; they do not obey the Church and reason. These people are suicides, who only later understand it. These people are involuntary murderers—they kill the souls and lives of many people. But they only understand that as time goes by. Examples of such terrible madness and demonic possession were our Russian revolutions. It was not without reason that our Russian saints warned that demonic possession awaited the Russian people. At the end of the 1820s, St. Seraphim of Sarov warned about the terrible events to come. In 1823–1824, when a man who would later participate in the Decembrist uprising of 1825 came to St. Seraphim, who was standing near the holy spring that had welled up by his prayers, the saint refused to bless that sincerely religious revolutionary who came to him for a blessing. He sent him away with the words: ‘Everything you are scheming is a terrible demonic obsession. You will lead Russia and the Russian people to catastrophe.’ St. Seraphim’s disciple asked him why he refused to bless the believing man. And St. Seraphim pointed to his usually pure, translucent spring now completely murky, and said, ‘They will stir up and darken Russia, just like this spring.’

St. John of Kronstadt also warned of the events that would take place in February, 1917, saying that Russia would soon go mad. He died in 1908, having warned everyone about this in advance. St. Theophan the Recluse, St. Ignatius (Brianchaninov), and our contemporaries saw with horror how demons entered people, and they told us about it… – Metropolitian Tikhon

Metropolitan Tikhon goes on to describe in detail demonic possession that sounds incredibly like what we see in Haitian loa Voodoo possession. He explains how an entire nation, due to this demonic activity can become possessed and filled with the spirit of wickedness. He says that calamity then befalls it.

Robert and Marilyn Stewart write about Voodoo and claims by its practitioners that it is compatible with the Christian faith:

Distinct from the loa are the Marassa, or Divine Twins, the spirit beings said to be the first of ‘God’s children’ and the first dead. ‘The worship of the Marassa… is a celebration of man’s twinned nature: half matter, half metaphysical; half mortal, half immortal; half human, half divine.’ Some have related the Marassa to voodoo’s view of the nature of Christ, that of being half human and half divine. Humans are believed to possess two ‘souls’ or ‘angels,’ both housed within the head of a person. The ‘ti-bon-ange’ or ‘little good soul’ is essentially the personality or conscience of a person, and is useful for moral and ethical judgments. The ‘big good angel’ or ‘gros-bon-ange,’ is the seat of intelligence, memory and is often called the soul. Good and evil in voodoo are considered intimately connected. Pain and suffering are not the result of human failure or sin, and evil does not deserve long-term punishment. Both good and evil are seen as components of life, joined as one in a wider cosmological notion of ‘God.’ Suffering can be made right through the balance achieved by maintaining a proper relationship with the cosmic forces. All experiences of life are regarded as opportunities for growth and renewal. Voodoo is an experiential system and does not look to the intervention of a supreme being for mankind’s needs, but rather focuses on the actions of human beings through honoring the ancestors and fulfilling commitments to the loa. The serviteur can seek answers, relief from suffering, or reward for service from his loa. One may offer traditional service to the loa, but creative, personalized means of service is quite acceptable. Voodoo Authentica represents the success of voodoo dolls as being ‘actually you the practitioner, who ‘works’ the doll or any other magickal tool. Through focused creative visualization, you can truly achieve just about any positive purpose.’ Despite the protestations of its devotees, voodoo cannot be harmonized with biblical Christianity. – Robert & Marilyn Stewart

This is very similar to occult and new age beliefs which all stem from demonically inspired writings by occultists like Alice Bailey, Helena Blavatsky & Aleister Crowley. Like ceremonial magicians, they are serving entities, not God.

In this short documentary video about a Haitian Voodoo priestess you can see many similarities in what the Voodoo practitioners are doing and what occultists do in order to invoke demonic entities. Using things like drugs and ritual dance to enter a frenzied state and altered state of consciousness required for the demonic beings to possess a human. Put simply, this is ceremonial magic. Demons are cunning, and they are very good liars. They might think they are invoking the spirits of their dead relatives whom they believe are present, but this is a demonic deception. Demons can imitate the dead because they can read your mind and thoughts. It is not difficult for them to pretend to be angels — hell, even Lucifer appears as an “angel of light.” It is also not hard for demons to present themselves as UFOnauts or aliens, or enlightened “tall whites.” They will take the form of whatever they think you will find most appealing. That is the sinister nature of what we are up against.

For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.” – Ephesians 6:12 

Further Reading:

Alien Abductions and the Orthodox Christian

The Vudon Service in Northern Haiti


Signs and Symbols of Voodoo

See a spelling or grammar error? Let us know! Highlight the text and press Ctrl+Enter.

Notify of
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments