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Observations placeholder

Dr William Sargant – Casting out demons in church



Type of Spiritual Experience


Dr William Sargant was born in Highgate, London, in 1907 and educated at Leys School and St John's College, Cambridge.  Up to 1972 he was Physician in Charge of the Department of Psychological Medicine at St Thomas's Hospital, London. He was Associate Secretary of the World Psychiatric Association and on the staff of the Maudsley Hospital, London for many years, He was also Registrar of the Royal Medico-Psychological Association, Rockefeller Fellow at Harvard University and Visiting Professor at Duke University. He was also the author of Battle for the Mind, and The Unquiet Mind.

A description of the experience

The Mind Possessed  - Dr William Sargant

We arrived at the church in time for the evening service. Outside the door of the church, sitting begging alms, were a number of the 'halt, the maimed and the blind'. I also saw lepers who were 'living among the tombs' in Addis Ababa, just as Jesus had seen in Palestine. Inside the church, which was small and made of wood, was a varied collection of fetters and chains. These were the 'bonds' of lunatics who had come in their fetters and had cast them off when they were healed - just as they did in the days of Christ.

The church was crowded, and there was no doubt about the popularity and influence of the priest. Some high officials of the province attended the service. We heard that he was famous all over Ethiopia, although he had been forced to leave the official Coptic Church because of the methods of healing he used.

He started to preach and intone in a slow monotonous voice. But gradually he worked himself and his audience up to a higher pitch. As he went on, members of the congregation moved down the centre of the church to a square space in front of the pulpit. The priest came down from the pulpit to this space where most of the men and women who had gathered were in trance and started talking through these 'possessed' people. The priest talked directly back to the ‘Satans’, commanding them to leave the bodies of their victims. It is most important to understand that the dialogue was between the priest and the possessing spirits, not between the priest and the patients. Again and again the priest touched them on the forehead or the shoulder with his cross at the same time ordering the Satans to leave.

In one case several different voices were talking through a possessed woman's mouth in a manner closely resembling the Punch and Judy effect I had observed in the witch-doctor's tent in Kenya. One man was possessed by ten spirits; seven of them left him at the command of the priest but the other three remained, giving various reasons why they had entered his body and intended to stay there. The verbal battle went on until the patient suddenly collapsed and fell exhausted on the floor.

Yet again we found that when the final collapse stage had been reached, after the prolonged verbal battle between priest and spirits, the person possessed would wake up sometimes in his right mind again.

After the service we had dinner with the priest. I tried to discuss his methods with him, but he cut me very short and asked me whether or not I believed in the power of God. He believed that he could heal only because he was an agent of God and ordained by God to cast out evil spirits. He was not interested in questions of the necessity of first exciting the patient and then bringing him to a state of final collapse, and would not talk about it. To him the healing was God's doing and nothing else explained it. Naturally, the numerous cures he obtained created intense faith, in the mind of the priest himself, in those who were apparently cured, and in the crowds of people who came to witness the cures.


On my return to Addis Ababa, while staying with the Dean of the Medical School, I played him some of the tape recordings of the casting out of Satans and the Satanic talking, and the maid waiting at table burst out laughing.

She explained to the Dean's wife that her sister had been healed by this priest after a five-year depression following childbirth. The possessing Satan had talked to the priest and said that he had entered the girl because she liked fine clothes and wanted to become a prostitute, and the maid said this was true of her sister. She emphasized that her sister had recovered from her illness and had been better for a year or more after her cure.

The source of the experience

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