While studying her paper scriptures recently, my wife came across the story where Jesus cast out a devil from a child after the disciples could not do it. The disciples inquired afterward why they could not cast it out and Jesus started off by telling them they couldn’t cast it out because of their unbelief (Matt. 17:21). However, he then added, “This kind can come forth by nothing, but by prayer and fasting” (Mark 9:29). From this we learn that just as there are ranks of angels we read of in the scriptures (Seraphim and Cherubim), there are ranks of demonic angels as well.
Then my wife noticed and shared with me the footnote in Mark 9. It was to the Topical Guide entry for “Problem Solving,” and that really fascinated me. I had never thought of fasting and prayer as problem solving even though that’s what I’ve turned to when serious problems arise.
Reading these verses in the New Testament, I’d always been under the assumption that if you had to face an issue of possession, you would cast out the devil in the name of Jesus Christ, but if it was a more serious issue, need to fast and pray for additional power and then do it. Problem solved.
If you have never had to deal with an issue of possession, I can testify it is one of the most troubling and perplexing issues you will wrestle with. There are those devils that come out when commanded, but then there are others that require something more.
What I’ve learned is it’s not always simply a matter of fasting for more power to cast out the devils and unclean spirits. It’s a serious problem that needs solved. There are complexities that aren’t anticipated. Is there a part of the person that wants to keep inviting that spirit back? Does that person enjoy the companionship of the being, or maybe the attention it brings to them from others? Is the devil or unclean spirit a more powerful class that requires extra steps to get rid of? Is there some type of contract or claim made on the person from actions they’ve taken or had forced upon them? Does the devil use escape clauses or exceptions to, in a sense, pretend the casting out isn’t valid? And even when the entity is gone, what are the after-effects that need dealt with to effect healing?
I’m certainly no expert at this topic but there are a few things I’ve learned which I will share. This is by no means complete and is only subjective information based on my experiences. Possession is no longer talked about publicly even though it was one of the primary things Jesus dealt with in his ministry and told his disciples to go forth and cast out devils (Matt. 10:8). Is today an era devoid of devils and possession? Has science and modern ways driven them out? That’s laughable. There is an infestation of influence from Satanic forces throughout the world and even our local communities where we may think we are isolated from such things. There are also things that can happen within our homes which are tied to possession and influence issues.
One of Satan’s goals is to possess the bodies God creates for Adam and Eve. This isn’t just at birth. He seeks to wrap people in his chains and take “great hold upon the hearts of the people” (Alma 8:9). The natural defense God gave us to protect us, is an inborn enmity for Satanic things (Genesis 3:15, Moses 4:21).
Enmity is a hatred or hostility for something. It’s a spiritual protection for us to shun things of evil. When we sin, we feel guilt and are prompted to repent by instruction and guidance of the Holy Spirit. If we reject that and embrace a sinful practice, we break down that enmity with Satan by embracing sin, develop a carnal mind, and now have enmity with God (Romans 8:7). This can open us up to attachments that can afflict us and stoke that practice into an addiction.
Such attachments have always existed and the Savior often cast out attachments or stronger possessions and told his disciples to do so as well so that people could be free of these things, repent, be healed, and move forward with their lives.
Attachments and possession aren’t always due to sinful practices though. I don’t even begin to understand all the ways these things can happen to people. Devils and unclean spirits afflict people and look for ways to possess or attach to them.
This quote is from apostle Parley P. Pratt from his book, Key to the Science of Theology (pg. 73 of the pdf I have which is free online). I recommend reading all of chapter 12 for more information.
“Many spirits of the departed, who are unhappy, linger in lonely wretchedness about the earth, and in the air, and especially about their ancient homesteads, and the places rendered dear to them by the memory of former scenes. The more wicked of these are the kind spoken of in Scripture, as ‘foul spirits,’ ‘unclean spirits,’ spirits who afflict persons in the flesh, and engender various diseases in the human system. They will sometimes enter human bodies, and will distract them, throw them into fits, cast them into the water, into the fire, &c. They will trouble them with dreams, nightmare, hysterics, fever, &c. They will also deform them in body and in features, by convulsions, cramps, contortions, &c., and will sometimes compel them to utter blasphemies, horrible curses, and even words of other languages. If permitted, they will often cause death. Some of these spirits are adulterous, and suggest to the mind all manner of lasciviousness, all kinds of evil thoughts and temptations.
A person, on looking another in the eye, who is possessed of an evil spirit, will feel a shock—a nervous feeling, which will, as it were, make his hair stand on end; in short, a shock resembling that produced in a nervous system by the sight of a serpent.”
Now I do not know how all this works. There’s a fair bit of speculation here. Do evil spirits seeking to kill a person do it from corrupting the inside of a body, or the outside with spiritual weapons? Do they use physical injuries to a person to further molest a wound or attach to it seeking to make it worse and prolong suffering? I do not know and in this article I am only discussing possession type issues at a high surface level.
I will use a simplified classification. In general, there are voluntary and involuntary possessions, and there are minor and major levels of possession. In other words, sometimes people invite possession, and sometimes they are simply afflicted by a possession issue. It’s an attack upon them and these attacks can come from varying degrees of devils and unclean spirits. I will explain this in more detail below
I cannot even begin to explain the whys of this topic, but I’ll list some speculation about how I think some of this comes about.
I will start with a story. A few years ago, my wife and I were planning to go to the temple on a particular Saturday. That week I tried really hard to live in a state of peace and non-criticism of anything that went wrong at home. I could feel the spirit with me more and more and I was getting really excited to go to the temple on Saturday.
Saturday morning I was studying my scriptures and my wife called me on my phone from upstairs to ask me something. I cannot explain what happened next but I was instantly angry with her for no reason. Something seized by mind and I was expressing anger at being disturbed where a second before I was in total peace studying the scriptures. We hung up the phone and the feeling didn’t go away. I knew it wasn’t right, it wasn’t natural. Why was I so angry and upset? It didn’t leave me and for the next few hours I felt horrible.
My wife asked if I even wanted to go to the temple and I said I thought we needed to but even driving to the temple and entering I wondered if it was a good idea and why I couldn’t shake this feeling. I had apologized to my wife knowing I was in the wrong and yet I still couldn’t get rid of the feeling of anger. We sat through the session and entered the Celestial room and soon after, my wife had a powerful spiritual experience which she started to express to me and suddenly I was released from the anger. I don’t remember if I felt exhausted like coming off an adrenaline high, but I felt near instant relief that I felt normal again.
At no time during this process did I even contemplate that I was possessed, and yet soon after I realized that was what happened and it stayed with me completely through the temple experience. I would classify this as a minor involuntary possession. A true spirit of anger and contention entered into me and attacked me in a way unfamiliar to me at that time.
Since then, I have worked harder to cultivate a spirit of charity such that anger would not have a place in me and thus provide a level of protection to me against those entities. In retrospect I think I was attacked in part because the adversary knew something special would happen at the temple and wanted to prevent us from going. Even though I don’t believe I did anything to invite it, I was probably the easier target.
Jesus taught the Nephites,
3 Nephi 11:29. For verily, verily I say unto you, he that hath the spirit of contention is not of me, but is of the devil, who is the father of contention, and he stirreth up the hearts of men to contend with anger, one with another.
My experience was eye-opening. In the time since then, I’ve come to realize that all contention in the home casts out the Holy Spirit and invites unholy spirits to come in and stoke emotions. Nobody is asking to be possessed, but if people don’t practice the art of soft answers that turn away wrath (Prov. 15:1), they are at risk of some level of possession at least until they cool down. That “spirit of contention” is present to give people involved in the incident the best zingers to hurl at the other individual to spiritually attack and wound them. It really knows the family dynamics and what pressure points there are to maximize the damage inflicted on the other person. If individuals don’t recognize this and repent and cast out that spirit from themselves, it will linger and grow stronger.
One purpose of devils is to create all kinds of stress. Financial stress can lead to relationship stress, which can lead to divorce. I think it is helpful to realize the game plan of the enemy so when something happens, instead of reacting out of fear (link) we stay calm and take our concerns to the Lord so we can act in faith and under the Lord’s direction. When peace reigns in the home, better decisions are going to be made and relationships preserved.
Obviously, there are those who submit voluntarily to the spirit of contention, or don’t know what’s happening and can’t recognize the influence of evil spirits upon them. It doesn’t take much for someone to be afflicted. A disagreement can quickly turn dark as contention can bring in powerful influences to escalate the situation.
For example, what was it that drove Judas to be possessed? Did he have a character flaw expressed by John as being a thief (John 12:6)? Did he perhaps take things that didn’t belong to him? Was he jealous that Mary anointed Jesus with expensive spikenard prior to his crucifixion (John 12:5)? Jesus gently rebuked him and told him to let Mary alone. Then at the last supper, what was on Judas’ mind and in his heart that suddenly Satan entered into him (John 13:27)? Small chinks in our armor lead from one level of influence to major levels. Judas was referred to by Jesus as a “son of perdition,” meaning a follower of Satan. Did Judas actively want to betray Jesus and have him put to death? Personally, I don’t think so. However, when possessed, you really struggle to separate yourself from the being inside you driving you on to do something wrong. It doesn’t mean you don’t have agency, but it’s a wrestling match and perhaps under some circumstances, you can’t win and need divine help. It’s possible that when Judas criticized Jesus for allowing Mary to anoint him, that pushed him over the edge and provided an opening that Satan could exploit and get into. Satan knew the Jews were plotting the death of Jesus and used Judas to help bring it about. I’m not certain Judas knew he was facilitating the crucifixion, but obviously after it was over, his guilt drove him to commit suicide after playing his role in things.
There are things that influence and open us up to various types of possession. (And please keep in mind that even though I’m about to talk about ways people invite possession, it can happen to righteous people as well who aren’t inviting possession at all. In the early days of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints there was one example where a devil was cast out of someone, and immediately entered into someone else who I believe was present to assist in casting out the devil.)
1) Minor involuntary is the first stage. I think it’s activated by all minor sins including sarcasm (the devil really knows how to use a person’s tongue to hurt others), contention, and other injustices. We start listening to the Unholy Spirit instead of the Holy Spirit. We resist the Holy Spirit and contend with it because it feels good to really zing someone when we think we’ve been wronged. It can also be the result of affliction from dark forces such as in my example above. I am certainly not perfect, and I’ve engaged in contention far more than I should have in my life, but that week I was trying really hard to be good and that attack was unnatural and unexpected.
If you want great examples of minor involuntary possession and influence tactics by the devil, read or listen to C.S. Lewis’ masterful work, “The Screwtape Letters.” Humorous, spiritual, and very informative.
2) Major involuntary is the next stage. People don’t realize they’ve been possessed by stronger spirits. They didn’t ask for possession but either a train of abuses have led to this stage, which is going to be more challenging to overcome, or they are being afflicted by more powerful beings intent on their downfall. I might even classify my experience as major simply because it was a very real struggle against my will.
Alcohol and drugs open one up to possession where they will do things they wouldn’t when they aren’t on drugs. They may be partaking of something they know is mind altering, but they probably don’t want to be possessed by demonic powers. If they do want it, it would be voluntary. The brother of a friend of mine fell into the drug scene and made his own drugs in his basement and said one of the things that shook him to repent was one night he felt the literal presence of Satan right next to him pushing him to make the drugs. It scared him like nothing else ever had and he turned from doing it soon after.
Another story: I know of one individual that had a pornography issue for 46 years after being introduced by a neighbor to it when he was only 6 years old. It became a major compulsion and caused him major problems during his life. He was on his third marriage when his wife who had the gift of discerning of spirits told him he was possessed. After a breaking point, he went to his Bishop and asked for a blessing and to have it specifically cast out. When he received the blessing, he heard a “whooshing” sound as they left and immediately, he was a different person. He also had an interest in homosexuality and other negative traits which disappeared. That could have been caused by a female spirit attachment which was driving him to be attracted to males. The spirits took their compulsions with them when they left. What remained was bad habits, but minus the compulsions, he was able to change the conditioning through some concerted effort.
This also reminds me of the story “Return from Tomorrow” which I read as a teenager and was fascinated by the account of the author seeing someone in a bar get drunk, then a crack opened up in the crown of his head, and disembodied spirits slid in through the crack to again feel what it’s like to be drunk.
Elder Hartman Rector Jr. in the October 1970 General Conference said:
“…It is primarily the spirit that sees, hears, feels, knows passion and desire; it is the spirit that becomes addicted to drugs, bad habits, and evil desires. It is not just the physical body that is addicted, but the spirit also, which, of course, is the real you and me.”
Addictions aren’t a craving of the body. It’s an addiction and craving of the spirit to experience the sensations of the body experiencing those things. Possession comes at least in part by the desire of miserable devils trying to experience the sensations of the body again, while also seeking to corrupt the spirit of the individual they inhabit.
3) Minor voluntary happens when people start to engage in the black arts. Maybe they play with a Ouija board and feel something happen so they continue dabbling with it and come to regard those spirits as friends and companions. They are literally inviting evil spirits into their lives.
4) Major voluntary happens when someone is fully engaged in Satanic practices. People who have given themselves over to Satan and literally worship him and do his bidding. The Unholy Spirit has taken full possession of these individuals and they are fully engaged in unnatural and evil practices. They have rejected the light and embrace the darkness, seeking power and wealth.
It is critical for us to cultivate faith, hope, and charity, to ensure we are not ensnared by their plans and that we rely on the Lord to bring us through the trials ahead. When we are under the influence of doubt, despair, fear, anger, and other negative emotions, we are being stoked or possessed by devils skilled in evil.
So how does one overcome possession?
Stage 1 is casting out. Devils that possess someone are have no right to be there uninvited (the invited kind are the hard ones). The Lord said:
Doctrine & Covenants 35:9. And whoso shall ask it in my name in faith, they shall cast out devils; they shall heal the sick; they shall cause the blind to receive their sight, and the deaf to hear, and the dumb to speak, and the lame to walk.
Not only has the Lord authorized casting out devils, we may require it of him.
Doctrine & Covenants 24:13. Require not miracles, except I shall command you, except casting out devils, healing the sick, and against poisonous serpents, and against deadly poisons;
Stage 2 will require spiritual problem solving. If God were here, he would cast out the devils with perfect faith and understanding unless someone has invited the devils in. Even God won’t take away someone’s agency when they invite evil spirits into them.
For us mere mortals, if casting out at first doesn’t succeed, it may take a process of seeking for revelation and acting on impressions that come to us. Fasting helps us be more in tune and obtain greater power, but even so, simply fasting and casting out might not complete the process because we don’t know all the factors involved (as mentioned above). It may take a series of repeated casting out over a period of time. Prayer is needed to confirm what we need to do or to obtain specific revelation about what the next layer of the onion is that we need to peel back.
I know one person who had a vision of small demons in someone’s kidneys and saw the specific names of those things in order to cast them out by name. To some that will seem crazy, and to those people I would say, we don’t live in reality. We live in mortality and we are covered by a veil of unbelief. We don’t know what kinds of spiritual things are happening around us. We need to believe the things God puts into our hearts.
If you get a strange thought unexpectedly, something you’ve never thought of and wouldn’t have thought of, did you act on it, or dismiss it because it was weird or didn’t make sense? You might be guilty of casting something out by unbelief (Alma 32:28). I’ve learned that some images that seem random and have popped into my mind, are actually short visions of something I need to pay attention to.
God gives us challenges so we grow in experience. Fasting and prayer are crucial to understanding how to deal with these beings. The solutions could be highly varied and could include medical professionals or medication to help a loved one.
Sometimes people have been through involuntary Satanic abuse which led to warped views of right and wrong, or programming that affects their mind throughout their life and they need outside help to get those experiences resolved. We need to have great compassion for people because we really don’t know what they’ve been through.
It is important to reiterate that possession doesn’t just happen to people who have committed sin to open themselves up to attack. Sometimes it happens as part of a life experience to overcome it, or provides an opportunity to show the power of God in deliverance. Recall the first paragraph above where Jesus cast out the devils the disciples could not. Mark 9:21 tells us the man had been possessed since he was a child (and the Greek word means infant – IE. an innocent).
The best protection against evil spirits is the constant companionship of the Holy Ghost and every day and night asking for the protection of angels over your loved ones. Ask God to shield your family and protect them from the attacks of the adversary every day.
In my mind, it would also be appropriate to pray before giving a blessing of healing and inquire of the Lord if a sick or afflicted person has attachments that should be cast out as part of that blessing. The presence of such in the system may very well be part of the disease problem, causing “dis” “ease” to the person both in spirit and body. As Elder Pratt mentioned above, these beings seek our destruction and misery at every turn.
In closing, I’ll just remind the reader that most of what I’ve written is speculative. Come up with your own conclusions, but I hope for some, I’ve been able to share something of worth that might explain a situation you’ve encountered and couldn’t identify exactly what happened. Maybe this will help explain it. At the least, it’s something to be aware of and prayerfully consider when something happens you can’t figure out.
For further study, I recommend Elder Pratt’s book above, and consider doing these searches in Scripture Notes:
cast* and devil* (49 verses)
devil* (238 verses)
demon (1 verse)
enmity (10 verses)
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