Do Exorcisms Work?

FrightenedDo exorcisms work? Many people wonder about exorcisms when they’re dealing with paranormal and dark forces.

The answer is yes… and no.

I never thought much about exorcisms until I met demonologist John Zaffis. I’m simply not interested in the subject of demons.

However, after a short, informal conversation with Mr. Zaffis, I was a believer. He had photos with red figures in them, eerily similar to some from my most baffling case, and he’s had lengthy experience with exorcists.

Since then, here’s what I’ve observed about exorcisms and exorcists.

Exorcisms rarely work the first time.

From what I’ve seen and heard, the initial exorcism may only provide brief relief, if any help at all. Results improve with subsequent exorcisms (usually by the same exorcist), and it’s not unusual to require a dozen exorcisms to see lasting benefits.

It’s best not to start down this path unless you’re willing to see it through. You cannot simply walk away from an irate, vindictive, defensive demon, or a client who is dealing with one.

Exorcisms are exhausting for everyone involved.

Exorcisms often involve spirits (or Satan, satans or demons) that can drain or at least draw energy from the victim, the witnesses and the exorcist. Physical health issues can be a concern, and it can be wise to involve a medical doctor or a professional healer in the process.

Mental and spiritual health are always issues for all participants in the exorcism. Without exception, if you’re involved in an exorcism, even as a silent witness, it’s vital to take precautions.

Exorcisms rely on personal and spiritual power more than experience, per se.

The innate power of the exorcist can be vital. A person with numerous weaknesses or untested spirituality can become vulnerable during the exorcism. This is one reason why full-time religious professionals and profoundly spiritual people are usually the best exorcists.

Whether the exorcist’s skill has been acquired through training, experience or a natural/spiritual gift, the exorcist should be someone who does not falter, even for a split-second, during the process.

The ideal exorcist is a trained professional with extensive experience and a nearly blemish-free character. In lieu of that, from what we’ve heard, choose a trained professional with less experience but a sterling character.

The most unfortunate results seem to occur when the exorcist — despite training and experience — has been worn down by his or her work, and let character flaws develop.

That said, we wouldn’t risk an exorcism with an unsupervised apprentice exorcist, no matter how superior his or her knowledge and personal character.

Looking for an exorcist? Consult a professional.

We routinely refer people to two experts in this field: John Zaffis and Pete Haviland. Even if they can’t help you, follow whatever advice they give you.


John Zaffis,

Pete Haviland, Lone Star Spirits,

I also like both of the Johnson brothers, associated with NEAR

(If you’re a professional ghost hunter and have had positive experience with other exorcists, use our Contact form — linked at the top of this page — to recommend them.)

Using Tarot Cards to Contact Ghosts

Tarot cards are a divinatory tools. Some psychics, mediums, and ghost hunters use them on investigations.

I recommend not using them.

I don’t question whether they can work. In the past, I’ve seen responses with surprising accuracy.

Don't use Tarot cards on ghost huntsInstead, I question their safety, and whether they’re even necessary for our research. After all, we can get clearer and more precise responses with tools like a ghost box, Ovilus, Puck, and so on.

My concern is this: In recent years, we’ve seen problems with some divinatory tools.

Some people – even those with previous experience – have been subject to spiritual attack by malicious entities.

I don’t mean angry ghosts; we deal with them regularly.

I mean things we might describe as demons, fallen angels, and so on.

Take this issue seriously. 

I’m not sure what door has been opened and how. In general, Tarot cards are best as a focus for meditation or as collectible artwork.

While ghost hunting, I prefer to try to contact the ghosts by talking out loud to them, and then using real-time communication tools such as EMF meters (on/off answers), Ovilus and Puck devices, or real-time EVP tools.

Yes, Tarot cards can be used to contact spirits.  However, it is never necessary to use divinatory tools for ghost research, especially tools that can open doors that lead to… well, we don’t really know what.

In the past, I thought Tarot cards were a fine secondary tool for supporting research.  That was before 2005, when we first noticed increased demon reports.

Then, around 2008, demonic reports surged.

Now, I won’t use tools that require (or can easily lead to) some internalization.  In other words, if the tool can be propped up and work without any physical contact, I’m okay with them.

If the divinatory tool requires someone, on-site, to handle it to work – such as Tarot cards, Ouija boards, etc. – I think the risks are too great.

We have plenty of other ghost hunting tools – including ghost boxes, Ovilus and Puck devices, ghost radar, etc. – that don’t require anyone to act as a physical conduit to the other side.

Avoid risks when you can.

Are Ouija Boards Dangerous?

For many years, when I talked to groups – especially to people who aren’t ghost hunters – I heard more questions about Ouija boards than any other subject.

Ouija boards have always been a volatile subject.

The following are my opinions, and how I reply to some questions and claims.

Claim: If you use a Ouija board, you’re asking for trouble.

Are Ouija boards dangerous for ghost hunting?In most cases – but not all – I agree.

When a professional is called to investigate a serious haunting, we almost always discover that the homeowner had used a Ouija board.

Some people insist that that Ouija boards can cause hauntings.

My opinion…?

I respectfully suggest that – in some cases – this might be putting the cart before the horse.

If a haunting is severe enough to call a professional, the homeowner has probably tried many other ways to deal with the problem… including folk remedies and Ouija boards.

In other words, the trouble was already there.

The Ouija board often came later.

However, in the case of demonic activity – something I don’t deal with, but refer people to Pete Haviland, John Zaffis, and other friends – almost every case involved a Ouija board. 

Some demonologists offer deeper insights. I trust their opinions. Here’s what John Zaffis has said.

John Zaffis and the Power of OUIJA

Asst. Editor Joseph Robert Jobe goes one-on-one with 36 year DEMONOLOGIST John Zaffis as to the validity of using a OUIJA BOARD to contact the spirit world. …

John Zaffis on Zozo Hauntings and Ouija Paranormal Activity

On May 12th, 2010, John Zaffis was interviewed on Haunted Radio with Denise Jones. Here John reveals that this Zozo entity has come up time and time again du…

But, if you’re called to investigate a haunting, blaming the homeowner for using a Ouija board won’t resolve anything.

Look for solutions, instead.

Claim: Psychics can be ghost hunters, but they shouldn’t conduct seances.

Maybe. In my opinion, the problem is how we use different words, and what they mean to different people.

First of all, I believe everyone has some psychic abilities.  I think it’s hard-wired into us.

But, just like some people can sing beautifully and others sing off-key, some people are gifted psychics.

Others have talents in other areas.

I don’t think it’s appropriate to set up a seance. That is, a formal gathering where the psychic opens him/her/their selves to allow a spirit to speak through that person, or through a Ouija board.

My concern is about a technique that involves inviting an entity to use the body of the psychic, so the entity can speak to others attending the seance.

At a haunted site, a psychic might:

  • Sense ghostly or spiritual energy. That could be from an entity or residual energy. That’s commonplace during a routine ghost investigation, and it can help confirm if a site is active.
  • Receive messages. That’s less common, and it usually involves a ghost who’s trying to make contact. The experience is like receiving a phone call, but the message can be a little garbled or difficult to understand.
  • Act as a trance medium. This could be planned or it could be spontaneous. In most cases, that’s a conscious choice by the psychic (or medium), and it can be a risky one. Generally, I ask my researchers not to do this. Not during the formal investigation, anyway.
  • Conduct a seance. This is very different from most of what goes on during routine ghost investigations.

Problem #1

The psychic puts himself or herself at risk as soon as the door is open, even a little.

That’s up to the psychic.  Most of them are aware that they may be in danger, and take precautions before opening at all, even to “lite” spirit messages.

In my research, I evaluate many things before saying yes. Is the psychic very experienced in his/her/their work? Will anyone else be at risk, if things go very wrong? And, is the psychic prepared to deal with any repercussions?

Note: If you don’t have confidence in the skills and spiritual defenses of a psychic you’re working with, don’t work with that person.

Problem #2

In some settings, trance mediums can give spirits the idea that it’s okay to move into any undefended person’s mind or body.

It may be a rare occurrence, but if even one trance channeling session goes wrong, it’s one too many.

In one case in downtown Salem (Massachusetts), a trance medium was part of a team investigating a haunted house.

The trance medium allowed a spirit to speak through her.

But, whether from inexperience or spiritual interference, she didn’t close that door firmly when the investigation concluded.

About 20 minutes after the investigating team left the house, the spirit successfully invaded the mind and body of one of the homeowners.

It was so terrifying, that person’s partner called 911.

Extreme? Yes. Rare? I hope so.

However, starting around 2005, and certainly since 2008, we’ve seen a dramatic increase in demonic attacks in this field.

(Note: I talk about demonic activity. Whether all of that comes from actual demons… that’s outside my range of expertise.)

I’m talking about sessions in which a psychic or a medium isn’t just transmitting messages from one world to another.  The psychic or medium is actually allowing the entity access to his/her/their mind, body, or both.

There’s a fine line between “getting a message,” externally, and a spirit that’s “inside my head and saying ___.” That line is difficult to explain if you’re not accustomed to working with psychics.

Don’t open unknown spiritual doors

In general, I believe that ghost hunters should avoid making any investigation personal.

If spirits want to communicate with you, it should be on the same terms as the living. We make it as easy as possible for them to speak to us through EVP, photos, ghost boxes, other devices and measurable means.

There is absolutely no reason for anyone to put themselves at risk by “letting in” a spirit that might be malicious, but cleverly disguised.

I’m not questioning the skills, spiritual gifts, or competence of most psychics.

But why take chances you don’t need to?  Carry and use devices like voice recorders, EMF meters, etc., and give spirits time to figure out how to communicate through them.

A skilled, trained, experience psychic can be an invaluable asset to paranormal research. I’m happy to work with psychics during almost any investigation.

However, alternatives (such as real-time communication devices) should – in theory – work just as well (or better) in most haunted settings.

Establish firm boundaries and know your limits

The trance state should not be attempted by novice investigators, especially in haunted settings.

Also, there have been enough problems with Ouija boards – under any label – that I won’t use one, or allow my team members to use one during a formal investigation.

In general, it’s risky to use any divinatory tool if you don’t fully understand:

  • The difference between allowing a spirit to use a device, and letting the spirit use you as the conduit to that device.  If you’re part of the spiritual “circuit” (referencing electrical connections), you’re putting yourself at risk.
  • Defenses you must set up before using the device.
  • The doorways you’re opening.
  • How to recognize trouble as it approaches.
  • What to do to protect yourself if the worst happens.

The problem isn’t necessarily the tool you choose.

The issue is a lack of boundaries.  I’m concerned that some people may not have the experience and training they need.

Know when firm boundaries are needed, Recognize when they’ve been crossed.

And, be prepared for the worst: Know what to do if you (team members) discover you’ve been fooled by something that’s not a ghost, after all.

In most cases, it’s best not to open those doors – with Ouija boards and seances – unless the situation offers no alternatives.

What you see on TV is just part of the production team.

In most (not all) shows, the stars and producers know the risks, and they’re prepared to take responsibility for them if things go wrong.

Please don’t think you can casually replicate what you’ve seen on TV, or at a faux “haunted house” event.

The risks can be deadly.

Ouija Boards and Ghost Hunting

Ouija boardOuija boards are a controversial topic, and not just among ghost hunters. Many people ask me about Ouija boards, and if I believe in them. Others warn me about demons and divination tools of all kinds, but especially Ouija boards.

If someone is having problems with demons, we refer him or her to John Zaffis. He’s the very best in the demonology field.

However, demons (or malicious entities, no matter what you call them) aren’t the only reason I don’t use or permit Ouija boards at my own investigations.

For me, credibility is a huge issue. If a research tool can’t be trusted, I prefer not to use it.

We know that spirits can lie and — with a Ouija board and many other divinatory tools — it’s difficult to sort the truth from very clever lies.

Also, when someone is using any device like a Ouija board (such as an upside-down glass on a table), it’s difficult to tell if someone is pushing the glass, platen, or indicator.  In most cases, the person influencing the motion doesn’t realize he (or she) is doing that. To an onlooker, the unintended manipulation can be far more obvious.

Independently, I’ve had convincing experiences with Ouija boards. I have no doubt that they can provide valid and predictive answers to questions.

However, people are vulnerable when they think they’re talking to a loved one or a lofty “spirit guide.” It’s too easy for a prankster (human or spirit) to have fun at the expense of a beginner.

In addition, I’ve seen researchers actually lose locational advantages by relying on divinatory tools during ghost hunts. It’s like using a mobile phone to talk to someone who’s standing next to you.  It’s silly, at best.

For a variety of reasons, including recent, increased reports about demonic attacks and malicious entities, I no longer recommend using Ouija boards during ghost investigations.

Here’s the late Father Andrew Calder explaining some of the issues. I knew Andy and still have the greatest respect for the work he did while he was among us. He had far more experience with demonic energy than most people I know.

In the following videos about the dangers of paranormal research — including Ouija boards — Father Andy’s advice is credible and something to pay attention to.

Need an exorcist? Help is on the way. Maybe.

One of the Catholic Church’s spokesmen, Father Gabriele Amorth, correctly summed up the exorcist shortage when he said that people have had to “hunt high and low for a properly trained exorcist.”

As of December 2007, that’s changed. Pope Benedict XVI ordered all Catholic bishops to set up “exorcism squads.” Every diocese will have trained priests who can perform exorcisms.

Technically, any priest can perform an exorcism. Canon Law established that in the early 12th century. However, finding a priest with the confidence to deal with demonic possession… that’s been a challenge.

Will this change be helpful to people living fearfully in haunted homes? I’m not so sure.

Father Amorth is the founder of the Association of Exorcists. He’s described as the Pope’s “caster out of demons” and “exorcist-in-charge.” By Fr. Amorth’s own count, he’s performed over 30,000 exorcisms, perhaps as many as 50,000. (However, he says that he’s witnessed only about a hundred actual demonic possessions. I’m wondering how he explains the other 29,900+ exorcisms that he’s conducted.)

The priest seems to cast a wide net. He’s said that Hitler, Stalin and all Nazis were possessed. On Vatican Radio, Father Amorth stated, “Behind Harry Potter hides the signature of the king of the darkness, the devil.” The priest has also said, “When magic works, it is always the work of the demon.”

So, what about the presence of dark or confused spirits that attempt to inhabit the body of someone who’s alive?

In June 2002, Fr. Amorth said, “Evil spells are by far the most frequent causes of possessions,” and estimates that 90% of possessions can be traced back to “evil procured through the demon.”

Fr. Amorth described the only four situations in which demonic attacks can occur: “One can be subjected to the attacks of the demon in four cases. Either because it constitutes a blessing for the person and such is the case with many of the saints, or because of irreversible persistence in sin, or because one is the victim of a curse uttered in the name of the demon, or else when one gives oneself up to practices of occultism.”

In Fr. Amorth’s two books on exorcism, he lists reasons why someone might be under a demonic curse, including “membership in the Freemasonry.”

And, on page 30 of his book, An Exorcist Tells His Story, Father Amorth says that the concept of ghosts or a “wandering soul” is purely an invention of spiritists. He states “The souls of the dead who are present during seances … are none other than demons.”

Whether you agree with Father Amorth or not, it remains to be seen if his attitudes will filter down to parish priests.

While we applaud the increased availability of exorcists for those who need them, we’ll probably continue to refer people to John Zaffis. John is a personal friend and, though I was skeptical when I first met him, his level-headed approach and experience with hauntings changed my mind.

Psychics: Maintaining Your Boundaries

Sometimes, psychics and mediums ask me about spiritual protection.  They know that I’m psychic, and have had served as a medium.

Note: A medium is someone who acts as the go-between.  You’re in the middle, acting as the conduit between the ghost world and ours.  Most mediums are psychic. Not all psychics are mediums.

In general, ghosts and spirits can’t take over a person without his/her permission. Even misguided ghosts aren’t that powerful. Really.

I’m not talking about demons or malicious spirits. That’s another topic. I’m seeing increased reports of demons and malicious entities, but it’s still a very small issue in ghost hunting.

When someone is dealing with a demon or possessions, I refer them to John Zaffis, Pete Haviland, or NEAR.  (Note: This article was written long before John Zaffis became a household name due to his Haunted Collector TV series.)

However, there are times when a medium — or someone developing his or her psychic gifts — feels an unwanted presence in her field of energy, or even in her mind. (I’ll use the feminine pronoun in this article, but this advice is for men and women alike.)

Whether or not you’re psychic, always know where your boundaries are… and when they’ve been crossed.

Start by recognizing how you feel without the influence of others, including spirits.

Start your day with a reality check

First, see how you feel when you start the day. I’ve talked about this in other articles, notably Baseline… Yourself, in my free Introduction to Ghost Hunting course, and in my podcast (plus free worksheet), Baseline Yourself for Ghost Hunting. (Podcast currently unavailable.)

Here’s a quick summary:

When you wake up each morning, pause before getting out of bed and do a reality check. I mean that literally:

  • Check your emotions. Are you cheerful or grumpy? Calm or anxious?
  • See how you feel, physically… healthy, allergies, etc. Do you feel energized, or is it especially difficult to get out of bed today?

After completing that “baseline” check, it’s time to look ahead.  I like the phrase, “pave the road.”  That is, visualize how your day is likely to go, and how you’ll feel as you accomplish items (specific items) that you intend to complete.

During the day, pause regularly to see if you’ve accepted energy or emotions from people or the environment around you.

During each ghost hunt, pause regularly. See if you’ve been gradually accepting impressions from spirits. It’s best to notice this before it becomes a problem.

If you’re feeling imposed upon by spirits, re-center yourself.

  • Use your morning feelings and emotions as your reference point. (My free baseline instructions and worksheet can help.)
  • Remember how you felt then, and do your best to re-experience those feelings.

Creative visualizations

Some psychics use creative visualizations to protect their personal space. Here’s one way to do that.

  • Imagine a real, physical room in the “psychic space” where spirits contact you.
    1. Create a visual sense of boundaries… physical walls with windows and a door. Imagine your perfect room in your perfect house, with perfect views out windows on at least three sides of the room.
    2. Make this very clear and very specific. Write it down, if that helps. Or, use a photo from a decorating magazine, or a place where you’ve lived or visited.
    3. Decide that you are the only person who can enter the room through the door. Perhaps its similar to a door in Star Trek, and only responds to your voice. The door always works. You can always leave the room and return to your own world easily and immediately.
    4. As a psychic, imagine that you’re opening only one of those windows (with a screen) to talk with the spirits. If, at any point, you want to close the window, you can. Or, you can turn your back on that window, and look out at least two other windows with happier views.Spirits cannot enter this room, but only communicate through the window. Make the screen electrically charged, if that helps. Imagine a line of salt along the window ledge, since–in folklore–ghosts generally can’t cross salt.
    5. Make sure the room seems real to you. It’s your spiritual haven in a “between-worlds” space. Mentally visit it every morning, and remind yourself of its decor, and how restful and safe it feels.
    6. Use this imagery whenever you are preparing to contact (or open to) spirits. Treat it very seriously; this space is as real as you make it. It is

Rely on spiritual protection, if you need it.

As long as you’re dealing with ghosts — not demons — the following methods have been successful.

  • Use tried-and-true spiritual protections, including crosses, pentacles, stars of David, holy water, sage smudges, and so on… they work.
  • Sea salt seems to work well, too. According to stories, it’s a line that ghosts can’t cross. (Interestingly, some people report take kelp daily to reduce or prevent anxiety attacks. I use it myself when I’m stressed. Kelp’s composition is similar to salt’s.)
  • If you say to a spirit, “I banish you from my presence in the name of [deity],” they usually go away.

But, you need to repeat whatever you’re using regularly until the spirit/s get the point. Like persistent suitors who won’t take no for an answer, some spirits need to be told steadily and firmly that they are not welcomed.

When you’re dealing with ghosts, there is nothing to be afraid of.

Keep in mind that, along with psychic gifts, people are also given psychic protection. It’s mostly a matter of activating it.

Whether you choose a spiritual protection from your religion, or use creative visualization to keep spirits from intruding, there is little to fear as long as you remain alert and keep your boundaries in place.

Ghosts can be bullies, but ghosts aren’t dangerous. (Other entities can be, but that’s not what I’m talking about, here.)

Most spirits respond to what you say, out loud. As silly as it may seem, it’s helpful to say “Leave me alone,” or “Step back, you’re intruding in my space,” if you need to. Say it loudly and clearly, and be firm about it.

Most ghosts do not follow anyone home from ghost hunts. If they could leave the location that they’re haunting… well, they’d have left it long ago.  Something is holding them there, and it’s usually a self-imposed limit.

Daily “reality checks” will help you discern how you feel, and more quickly recognize external influences from the spirits.

Remember, if you reassert your personal boundaries when the problem is small, it’s easy to keep spirits from intruding where they shouldn’t go.