cover image The Penguin Book of Exorcisms

The Penguin Book of Exorcisms

Joseph P. Laycock. Penguin, $17 trade paper (336p) ISBN 978-0-14-313547-0

Laycock (Speak of the Devil), professor of religious studies at Texas State University, delivers a gripping historical treatment of the often misunderstood realm of demonic possession and exorcism in this compendium of 37 stories and rituals. The author explains how accusations of possession and exorcisms have been used as religious rituals as well as political tools to establish authority and social order. Through religious texts, stela carvings, and diaries, Laycock presents various beliefs and practices from across time and cultures. One of the first mentions of Christian demon possession and exorcism came in 197 CE, in Carthage; a hadith from 855 CE Arabia describes how the Prophet Muhammad cast an evil spirit out of a young boy; in ancient Japanese Shinto, a person possessed by a kitsune (fox spirit) talks to it to learn why it is angry; in 1741, a Connecticut judge describes the possession of an attendee at First Great Awakening revivals; and, in 1977, a Yakima Indian woman in Washington is tormented by spirits of her ancestors. Laycock’s thoroughly researched, sometimes dense accounts are balanced by his descriptive flare in rendering the “goblinlike entities,” jealous demons, and evil spirits he finds. This is a boon for anyone curious about exorcism and its the wide-ranging, spiritually diverse legacy. (Sept.)