There are many, many myths about demonic possession and almost all of them come from Hollywood. Here are some of the most pervasive, and why they’re not true.
Myth 1. Only Christians can get possessed.
Possession as a concept can be found in almost all animistic traditions, as well as many religions. Animistic healers have been dealing with demons for longer than any book based religion has been around, and people from all traditions have experienced possession.
Myth 2. Possession can only be resolved through an ‘exorcism’.
Possession can be resolved through a confrontation between the demon and a healer or priest – whether that is a Christian priest, an animistic healer or a psychotherapist. The Christian version of this confrontation is a ritual that’s called exorcism, while other traditions have different methods and names for confronting a possessing demon.
However, possession can also be resolved through the host healing themselves, or through confronting the demon themselves. This tends to be much less dramatic, as well as less dangerous for the host.
Myth 3. If demons exist, God must as well.
Demons have been known about for millennia, long before the monotheistic religions began their expansion. Demons are one of many non-ordinary beings, which also include deceased ancestors and spiritual allies. Their existence does not prove the existence of any God or specific pantheon, because they are common to almost all traditions.
Myth 4. Only people who believe in demonic possession get possessed.
It’s possible that coming from a culture that believes in demons makes you more likely to become possessed, but I have no evidence of that and can’t see why it would be so. Certainly, I didn’t believe in demonic possession before I became possessed – in fact, I denied what was happening to me for years rather than face the reality of the situation, all because I didn’t believe possession was possible.
Myth 5. All ‘demonic possession’ is just mental illness.
Certainly, a lot of what the Christian church labelled as possession before the last century were in fact illnesses such as epilepsy or psychosis (with tragic results). However, not all demonic possession can simply be dismissed as mental illness, and some mental illness could be possession that’s overlooked.
Myth 6. Demonic possession is obvious, because of all the ‘supernatural’ phenomena.
Demonic possession is not like in the movies, and any ‘supernatural’ experiences during possession are subtle, difficult to describe or pin down. Possession is an internal experience, affecting mostly the mind, physical health and energy of a person.
Myth 7. Because no concrete proof exists of demonic possession, it must be impossible.
Not having evidence one way or the other doesn’t prove anything. To prove that possession isn’t real, scientists would have to definitively prove the non-existence of any kind of reality separate from the most concrete physical reality. All we can say until we have personal experience either way is that we’ve seen no proof and can’t be certain.