Exorcism — the practice of removing demonic forces from a person — is a lot more controversial than it was a few centuries ago. With advancements in medical knowledge, scientists and mental health professionals call alleged cases of demonic possession mental illness.
But Rev. Michael Schroeder of Madison, Wis., hasn’t had a dull moment in his year as an ordained exorcist. Schroeder said he usually performs one exorcism per week, sometimes more.
To clear up what it means to be an exorcist, A&E chatted with Schroeder about unexplained scratches, flying objects and the difference between demonic possession and mental illness.
How did you get into doing exorcisms?
About 20 years ago, I was praying, and normally when we pray, we don’t hear responses –– at least, I don’t on an ongoing basis. But I actually heard God talking back to me, and we had just a very short conversation about how I could help people, and I was told that this was something I could do –– I could help people get rid of demonic spirits.
I found a program that I went through to be trained. The program is through the American Association of Exorcists.
I’m not going around, you know, exorcising the demon of nicotine out of people. I’m talking about real cases where people are genuinely demonized and need some sort of spiritual intervention to help get these things away from them.
What are some of the symptoms you might see in someone who’s been demonized?
Well, dark figures that are different shapes, different forms.
Where do you see those?
People usually see them passing through areas or around areas or up above them. They also hear voices. I’ve been growled at from nothing. I was watching the news and was growled at. I’ve been hissed at. I’ve seen demons. People talk about being, you know, attacked, scratched out of thin air. A lot of times they’ll feel something burning, and then they’ll look and they’ll see scratches that go across their body.
I’ve had a number of things thrown at people, I’ve had people held down in their beds or had their covers ripped off them. A lot of times the person will feel some pains –– maybe pain in their chest or an extreme headache or something, or feel incredibly hot. Things that they go through while trying to get rid of the demonic spirit.
There’s a clear difference between what mental health people deal with and the demonic spirits that I deal with. I’m dealing with the spiritual side of the person, whereas a mental health person would obviously be dealing with the psyche.
How do you determine that difference?
Mental health doesn’t scratch you, it doesn’t … bite you, it doesn’t push you, it doesn’t punch you, it doesn’t throw things at you, it doesn’t flip your furniture, you know, it doesn’t make you nauseous.
What is the exact procedure for an exorcism?
Well, each one is a little bit different, but I start with a series of prayers and commands and questions that I learned through a spiritual warfare practice. You’re essentially commanding the demon to make us aware of what its name is, why it’s there, what it’s doing, and we kind of try to chip away at removing one.
A lot of times there’s more than one. We take them one at a time and remove them. I use a large portion of the Catholic Rite of Exorcism to get the demons to respond if they’re not responding initially.
Do you do this for free, or do you get paid for it?
I do it for free. Sometimes people will help cover my expenses, like gas or my hotel, but no ... I don’t even bring that up.
So you have a full-time job outside of that?
No, I’m pretty much doing this on a full-time basis.
How long does an average exorcism take?
Average would be a couple hours. After a couple hours, you have a pretty good idea if it’s going to be successful or if there’s something else that needs to be done before.
What if it’s not successful?
Well if it’s not, then we need to look at reasons why. It might not be successful if they have some kind of sin that they haven’t turned over to God and asked for forgiveness. Another thing is that they may not, honestly, really want to get rid of it. We all have free will, and if we choose to follow Satan and we choose to not fight Satan — then it’s not gonna happen.