Published: January 20th 2012January 8th 2012
They held her down, chained her up and pored holy water over her naked body. Screaming and shouting she violently reacted showing the devil in her eyes. In fear of the priest and talking backwards, a demonic voice emerges. You begin to feel a powerful presence sending shock-waves to your core. Standing amidst the Christian underworld you witness an ancient tradition few outsiders have seen before. The Christian Orthodox Exorcism.
"An Exorcism is the religious practice of evicting demons or spiritual entities from a person or place which they are believed to have possessed. Depending on the spiritual beliefs of the exorcist, this may be done by causing the entity to swear an oath, performing an elaborate ritual, or simply by commanding it to depart in the name of a higher power" (Wikipedia, January 2012)
You arrive in the Ethiopian mountains at a remote location seeking permission from the high priest. Eventually being invited into the inner circle of trust, you must follow important rules that are not to be broken. Sub-staining from sex, alcohol and nicotine for 48 hours, you are forbidden to take any photos. Being given the opportunity to witness an ancient ritual, the highest honor
and an opportunity not to be missed.
Asked to walk bare foot over holy ground, the sharp rocks dig into your feet. As you approach the monastery, piercing screams make your body hair stand on end, sending a cold chill down your spine. With your only knowledge being from the occasional horror movie, the anticipation builds as you nervously approach the unknown.
Receiving a blessing, walking on religious coins and cleansing your soul with holy water, you are permitted to enter the uninviting doors of the underworld. Walking beneath the powerful image of Christ, you gaze up, taking in the strange smell of burning roots, struggling to remember the last time you attended church.
As a young girl is stripped naked and held to the ground, Several priests form a circle while gently holding her head. Screaming and shouting with fear in her eyes, the devils voice can be heard. With her cries for release drowned out by religious chanting and biblical recitation, you watch in amazement while listening to the chilling sounds.
"Demoniacs get the ability to speak in languages they have not learned. Often gaining extraordinary strength, tearing chains or lifting things naturally impossible
to lift. A change of voice occurs. A woman speaks in a man's voice or the other way around" (Amsalu Geleta, Demonization & the Practice Of Exorcism In Ethiopian Churches", September 2000)
While a priest draws a cross over her forehead, she begins to talk backwards. As holy water is pored over her naked body she violently reacts with extraordinary strength. Chained to the floor and clearly in pain a final struggle emerges. As her eyes roll into the back of her head, a male voice can be heard as the colour quickly drains from her face.
Suddenly there is peace, a calm in her eyes as she lays there shivering in a pool of holy water. As the priests step back, you see her face. Truly believing the devil has been exorcised, she looks different, relaxed. The colour returning, a dazed look in her eyes. The demonic spirits gone.
Standing in shock, you cant help but feel the power of fear run through your veins. You begin to question your reality? You wonder if what you have witnessed is real? you soon realize that those involved truly believe. You begin to question yourself, Do you believe?
As more of the possessed are chained together, some resist while others shackle themselves in preparation for a religious ritual that has taken place for thousands of years. As each person is subjected to religious torture, others call it mental rehabilitation through the power of faith.
"Practitioners regard exorcism as more of a cure than a punishment. The mainstream rituals usually take this into account, making sure that there is no violence to the possessed, only that they be tied down if there is potential for violence." (Wikipedia, January 2012)
Leaving the monastery you get the chance to talk to some of the possessed. While some seem to remain consumed by the devil, your educated beliefs lead you to conclude they are suffering from schizophrenia, epilepsy or some other mental illnesses. Nevertheless family, friends and priests truly believe they must be exorcised in-order to expel the devil.
Discovering some of the posessed remain chained together for up to six months is surprising. Realizing that they are subjected to exorcisms and religious rituals on a daily basis is shocking. Eventually you begin to draw a comparison with a rehabilitation clinic based on faith instead of medical science.
A place where believers can seek help and comfort in a time of need
Yet not all exorcisms are carried out to expel the devil. Some believe it will cure Cancer, HIV, and other terminal illnesses. With Ethiopian doctors participating in the ritual, they claim to have witnessed miracles through the power of belief where medical science has failed.
The Christian Orthodox Exorcism, Ethiopia. How I Got Invited
I met an Anthropologist who was studying the Christian Orthodox Exorcism. Showing an interest, I was then introduced to Michael, a man of faith who subsequently introduced me to a senior member of the church. Seeking permission, I was invited to witness an exorcism in a remote location within Ethiopia. Under no circumstances was I permitted to take any photos or videos during the exorcism. Disclaimer
Please understand, I am not a anthropologist or person of religion. I have little understanding of what I witnessed. As always, I just write what I see. Yet I will honestly admit to feeling a powerful presence that I have never felt before. Photography
As agreed with the priests, it was not possible to take photos of the
Exorcism. The photos in this blog are of separate religious ceremonies that I have taken in different locations across Ethiopia.
There are more photos below