Rising demand for exorcisms is fuelling an industry of freelancers who claim they can dispel evil spirits – for a fee.
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Possessed to spend
Demand for exorcisms – the rite of expelling evil spirits – is on the rise in some European countries, with France leading the pack, according to the Economist. This demand has sparked a rash of ‘freelance exorcists’: people outside the clergy who will charge 900 euros ($1,060) or more to rid clients of evil and break spells.
There are no official statistics on exorcisms in France. But the French Catholic priests as well as specialists from the Vatican that BBC Capital spoke to all agreed that the number is on the rise.
Father Georges Berson is one of two exorcists for the Paris and Ile-de-France region. He performs about 50 exorcisms a year but says he and his colleague can deal with as many as 2,500 exorcism-related inquiries annually.
Father Ange Rodriguez, a monk of the Dominican order, is the official exorcist of the Lyon diocese.
The 81-year-old says that while there has been an increase in demand for his services over the past decade, he’s also seen a correlated rise in ‘freelance operators’ – those not affiliated to the church who say they offer similar services but for a fee.
“There’s a lot of fraud. Many people pretend to be real exorcists and ask for very large sums of money for their services. But the church never charges for this service.”
BBC Capital contacted some self-proclaimed exorcists working in France outside the Catholic church and were told that spells could be broken. Expelling evil spirits would entail first a consultation, costing 50 euros, then, once the correct ritual required was established, the fee would be between 900 and 1,500 euros ($1064-$1774).
Explaining the rise
So, what’s behind this surge in demand? One theory is that a lack of ‘official’ exorcists within the church has driven customers to look further afield.
According to the International Association of Exorcists in Rome, there are 100 priests licensed as exorcists in France but many are not practicing.
“I told the bishop that I can't find anyone willing to do this. Many of them are scared. Even priests can be scared. It's a difficult life.”
A crop of self-proclaimed practitioners has surfaced. The ease of booking a freelance exorcist online or over the phone means their services are accessible to a much wider audience than in the past.
Mental health warning
Theos, a Christian think tank, released a study in July on Christianity and mental health. The group reported a spike in exorcisms in the UK and while the report does not rule out the possibility of demonic possession, it stated that the rise in UK demand for exorcisms was “in defiance of any actual rules or procedures put in place by any church”.
It noted that exorcisms “are now a booming industry” in the UK, and warned that “if Christians start treating people with mental health issues as if they are possessed when they are not, they run the risk of doing very serious harm.”