Case Study: Demonization and the Practice of Exorcism in Ethiopian Churches

This case study is part of my thesis submitted to ‘The Norwegian Lutheran School of Theology’ as partial fulfillment for Degree Master of Philosophy in Religious studies last spring. I am privileged to be proposed by Professor Tormod Engelsviken, supervisor to this part of my thesis, to present case study from Ethiopia.

Ethiopia is a country with diverse cultures, ethnic groups, traditions, languages and religions. The cultural diversity among the ethnic groups makes it complex to present a general context of spiritual warfare. This paper has four parts.

I. Christianity in Ethiopia
II. Demonization and Exorcism
III. Case study
IV. Contemporary challenges

I Christianity in Ethiopia

In the book of Acts we read that Philip baptized the first Ethiopian convert in the first century (Acts 8:24-40). I leave the dispute of the geographical area covered by Ethiopia in ancient times.

The history of Christianity was silent until the fourth century. The Ethiopian Orthodox church claims to have been established in Ethiopia from the beginning of the fourth century, with its first center in what is now the province of Tigray in the northern part of Ethiopia.

Christianity was introduced to the Axumite court after 330 AD during the reign of Ezana, the son of Ella Amida. The first bishop of the Ethiopian Church Frumentius (Abba Salama Kassate Berhan) was ordained by Athanasius the patriarch of Alexandria and sent back to Ethiopia where he had stayed earlier as the secretary of the king. Christianity was introduced to the rulers and soon became the state religion in 356 AD.

The founding of Evangelical Christianity in Ethiopia was based on the western missionaries’ endeavor. Though the first Protestant pioneer missionary to Ethiopia, a German Lutheran called Peter Heyling, arrived in 1633 there was no significant evangelization except the translation of the Gospel of John into Amharic. This was the first time common people could read the Gospel in their own language. He worked less than 20 years in the country and initiated a movement inside the Ethiopian Orthodox Church that indeed paved the way for Protestant missionary enterprises in the 19th and 20th century.

The first evangelical organization to commence work in Ethiopia was the Church Missionary Society (CMS). The first messengers of this organization, Samuel Gobat and Christian Kulger, came to Ethiopia in 1830. Their aim is not to revitalize the ancient Churches through distribution of the Holy Scriptures and other Christian Literature (Sæverås 1974:15)

A Swedish Lutheran mission, the Swedish Evangelical Mission (SEM) started mission work among the ransomed slaves from Ethiopia and people from the present day Eritrea in 19th century, while they were waiting for open doors to reach the Oromo people. These missionaries, together with ransomed indigenous people, made several expeditions to reach the Oromo people.

Though evangelical missionaries were not allowed to go into the interior of Ethiopia, they were training indigenous people who were ransomed from slave trade at the border in the present Eritrea. From there they were able to send the native evangelists to reach their people. At the end of the 19th century, indigenous Christians began to proclaim the Gospel. When the country opened her door to western missionaries different Lutheran Missions from Europe and America could come and started evangelistic work in different parts of the country.

The Swedish Evangelical Mission (Svenska Forsterlandsstiftelsen) had begun work in 1866 at Massawa, and in 1904 in Addis Ababa. The United Presbyterian Church of America commenced work at Sayo, West Wallaga in 1918. The Missionssällskapet Bibeltrögner Vänner (MSBV), who opened a centre in Eriterea in 1912, extended into Ethiopia in 1921. The German Hermannsburg Mission came to Ethiopia in 1927. The same year Sudan Interior Mission (SIM) arrived and founded its first station. Alfred Buxton of the Bible Churchman’s Missionary Society paid Ethiopia a preliminary visit in 1932 and full work was begun when he returned in 1934 with a party of recruits (Trimingham 1950:27-31).

Mennonite Mission (Eastern Mennonite Board of Missions) started in 1949. The Norwegian Lutheran Mission (Norsk Luthersk Misjonsamband) came to Ethiopia in 1948 and begun work in South Ethiopia. Danish Ethiopian Mission in March 1949 and American Lutheran Mission came 1957.

The aim of the first missionaries was not to establish new Protestant denominations, but to revitalize the Old Church and to reform it. The Anglican Evangelical Mission called ‘The Bible Churchmen’s Missionary Society’ affirmed this in its publications of ‘nine points (Sæverås 1974: 25-26). These nine points strongly favor the ministries of the EOC and the mission society as a partner in ministry. Several Protestant missionaries from different mission societies had come to Ethiopia in the 19th century with the same view of reforming the EOC rather than organizing new congregations. As missionaries started their work divergent views appeared. The discussions of forming congregations by mission societies, the rejection of the baptism of the Orthodox Church by Roman Catholics and Adventists and similar issues were the concern of the first missionaries and mission societies (see Sæverås 1974:23).

The pioneer evangelicals in the western part had established contact before the arrival of western missionaries. The leaders were gathered for a conference at Naqamte in 1907 to discuss a common policy. After a discussion of the difficulties that they had met at their various places, they resolved to continue with their evangelism without hesitation (Aren 1978: 431-432). These early contacts among the evangelicals continued and in 1944 more formal conferences, where minutes were taken, started to be arranged for closer organizational fellowship between evangelical groups. Dr. Erik Söderström reported the joy of a Conference of Ethiopian Evangelical Churches that took place in December 1944 arranged by the indigenous people. Several meetings were held and the constitution and doctrinal statement of the church was drafted and discussed.

Thus, with the encouragement of the Lutheran and Presbyterian Missionary Societies in Ethiopia and the Lutheran World Federation the Evangelical congregations in several parts of the country met on April 23 and 25,1958 to deliberate on the draft constitution and establish the Ethiopian Evangelical Church Mekane Yesus (EECMY). From these joint efforts the church was instituted as a national Church on January 21, 1959. EECMY has a motto of “Serving the Whole Person” which was developed in the 1970’s. This ‘holistic ministry’ theme of the Church has helped her to carry out her ministry in evangelism and development work.

As a result of the work of early Mission organizations different Evangelical Churches came to being. Kale Hiwot Church, Meserete Kirstos Church, and Lutheran Church in Ethiopia are the result of SIM, Mennonite Mission, and MSBV respectively. Other Evangelical Churches were formed by Missionary Societies, who arrived later, and indigenous people.

Though there is tremendous growth since then, the statistical report of 1993 (Johnstone 1993:213-214) shows that Evangelical Christians are only 14% of total population. The Ethiopian Orthodox Church 37%, Islam 35%, adherents of traditional religions 6%, and one percent non-religious people. Since then, the Church is experiencing tremendous growth.

II. Demonization and Exorcism

Demonization is found throughout Ethiopia, among many, if not most, of its peoples. Anthropological studies from the 1960’s and 1970’s indicate its existence among Oromo (in different regions), Amhara (Gondar, Menz), Qemant, Sidamo, Konso, Kafa, Gurage, Somali, and others.

A number of explanations have been suggested to account for these manifestations. Most of them give psychosocial explanations, which hold that socially induced depravity, low status, or feelings of inadequacy or inferiority produces psychological reactions in individuals, which become manifest in the odd, but socially acceptable, behaviors that accompany spirit possession.

Another explanation was that spirit possession point to the situations in which women who are socially disenfranchised, or men of “downtrodden categories,” or men with “frustrated status ambition” (see Lewis 1984:419).

Group, or individual, deprivation is an explanation of spirit possession given by John Hamer between the Sidamo of Ethiopia. Jan Brøgger (1975:289) disagrees with this explanation for similar possession occurred among well-off men with high prestige. He rather prefers a different explanation. He calls it a social and psychological mechanism of social cohesion and preservation of the group through the release from frustrations and the redirection of hostilities.

Thus the discussion of spirit possession centers on the problem of the cause and of individual participation mainly and the discussion of classification to some extent. Lewis (1984:420) argues that spirit possession rests on an idea and belief that there are incorporeal beings in the universe, which are capable of, and interested in seizing the bodies of human beings and using them for their purposes. He affirms the manifestation and interaction of spirit with humans in various ways.

Exorcism, as means of relief to those suffering under an invading spirit, is practiced in various forms. There are many possible ways of classifying the spirits. I admit also the possibility of organizing them in different ways than that of mine.

1. Zar Spirit

The Zar cult refers to a group of spirits, and to a set of assumptions and practices relating to these spirits and their function. It is one of the spirit possession cults. Zar is the invisible supernatural power, absolutely capable of reading the future, capable of solving even international problems, a courageous hero in war and battle, an efficient doctor in time of illness (except for venereal disease), and most capable of causing destruction, plague and death if people do not pay respect to him (Torrey 1966:217). I begin with the presentation of the zar spirit as described by anthropologists and then look at it critically.

1.1 Atete

Atete is a fertility cult in honor of the spirit of motherhood in Oromo tradition. The cult is known as conversion zar among the Amharas of Ethiopia (cf. Torrey 1966:219, and Bartles 1990:321). There is a similarity of practices between Atete and Conversion Zar. The preparation is the same. The main difference is that the conversion zar is practiced among the Amharas whereas Atete is practiced among the Oromos. Atete is a non-violent female goddess mainly connected with fertility. Women who seek supernatural help to become pregnant and bear healthy children are the main adherents.

The clients of this cult are women. A girl will take over or be possessed by her mother’s ayana (1). Her ayana normally possesses or visits her once or twice a year. She spends her day preparing things that are needed for the ceremony. She has to prepare herself wearing special clothes (often of the opposite sex), putting on beads and ornaments, perfumes and carrying a whip, steel bar or an empty gun. Green grass (reed from river side) is spread on the floor as a sign of ceremony or anniversary. Different types of foods like porridge, butter, lemons, dadhi (honey wine, yellow in color), farso (home made beer), and coffee is prepared before the ceremony starts. There might be some more sacrifice prescribed by ayana on its previous possession. So chicken, sheep or goat of certain color is offered as a sacrifice and perfumes or different spices are presented as an offer. If the spirit is pleased by the offerings and the preparation it occupies her. People know that she is possessed when she starts yawning, stretching the whole body here and there, salivating, and becoming drowsy. Her body wavers, and she also cries, speaks as if she is in dream alone. She often falls down and covers her face with her dress.

She may jump and run away and climb trees, not coming down until people beg her. Others stand on glowing wood or eat embers. She may cut herself with a knife, or crush pieces of glass and eat them. She speaks in a strange voice, often using a language understood only by the zar themselves. She may sing a song reserved for the occasion, or dance a peculiar dance associated with a particular ceremony. She acts very differently from normal strength, voice, activity, etc. which signify that the spirit has possessed her.

This possession may last from a few hours to two or three days. The main function of the gathered spectators throughout the ceremony is to appease the ayana, sing songs, clap, dance and beat a drum, and beg the spirit not to hurt her.

1.2 Seer Zar

In contrast to Atete which is dominated by women, seer zar is man’s zar. The ritual expert is dressed in special clothes for the occasion. The seer summons his zar whom he has learned to control. As the zar takes possession of him, people begin to clap and sing the zar’s song (Torrey 1966:220). The zar doctor, or Qalicha, usually starts dancing and does extraordinary things. In case of some plea from his clients, he can respond to the thing they have lost or something that has been stolen. He is believed to know the right sacrifice to make things right in case of calamities, disease and death in the family or in the society in which the help is needed.

A common belief connected to seer zar is the ability of the seer to read the future or the expected answer to the given problem from the moora of the stomach of the lamb or sheep. From the pattern of the layer of moora the seer reads something about the person.

The possessed seer is not touching a corpse or entering a house where there is a dead body. He does not eat certain food that his zar is not interested in. He can not cross the fields where certain crops are sown.

2. The Evil Eye Belief

2.1 Mythology of the origin of evil

Another anthropologist, Reminick (1985:180), describes the concept of the origin of evil according to the Amhara people of Ethiopia. His description of the concept of evil eye would be better if his views include at least the common consensus. His informants might be syncretistic nominal Christians.

It is said that Eve had thirty children, and one day God asked Eve to show Him her children. Eve became suspicious and apprehensive and hid fifteen of them from the sight of God. God knew her act of disobedience and declared the fifteen children she showed God as His chosen children and cursed the fifteen she hid, declaring that they go henceforth into the world as devils and wretched creatures of the earth. Now some of the children complained and begged God’s mercy. God heard them and being merciful, made some of them foxes, jackals, rabbits etc., so that they might exist as Earth’s creatures in a dignified manner. Some of the hidden children he left human, but sent them away with the curse of being agents of devil. These human counterparts of the devil are the ancestors of the Buda* people.

This explanation is not a well-known story to most people in the country. It must be information limited to a certain area or person he interviewed. But it may be one of the possible mythologies of the people of Ethiopia.

2.2 Who are the ‘evil eye people’?

They are people with a special gift of glancing at others and attack. There is no way of recognizing Buda from their physical qualities. Reminick has suggested some characteristics to distinguish Buda in the Amhara context. He claims that the Buda people may have an eye deformity or suffer discharge of tears or pus from their eyes. They may tend to look sidewise at people, or they may have an ashen substance in their mouths and be unable to spit saliva. Even for Reminick (cf. 1985:179f) these features are not enough to recognize them. They are empowered by evil spirit and attack people. Most people are fearful of Buda; even some Christians are afraid to eat together or share mutual life with Buda people.

A person is most vulnerable ‘to being eaten'(which means ‘to be attacked’) when the Buda sees fear, worry, anxiety in his potential victim. What is noteworthy here is that the Buda people are possessed people who can also create problems on others to the extent of killing them.

Because of the power of the evil eye, Buda people ‘can change into hyenas’ and roam the countryside at night. It is convenient for a Buda to attack a victim in this form to conceal his human identity.

The second method of attack involves the evil eye person finding a victim, twisting the root of a certain plant and forming loop with this root as if one were tying a knot. The loop is then drawn smaller very slowly, and while this is being done, the victim dies.

The third method of attack involves giving the evil eye gaze to the victim and then waiting for his death. Possible explanations of the attack of Buda are common not only among Amharas but also among non Amhara people of Ethiopia.

2.3 Diagnosis and cures

1. Taking the victim to a debtera.(2) He performs a rite over holy water, praying and pronouncing words in Geez ancient liturgical language. The drinking of this holy water and the smoke of a burning root may effect the cure. The Debtera may also find some rite in magic star book. This is a syncretistic exorcism. It consists of magical incantations and prayer on the holy water.

2. Bringing the patient to a Qalicha, one who has powers gained through possession, to communicate with the zar spirits and to effect cures for many kinds of illness.

This is also one way of exorcising the Buda spirit by being possessed by zar spirit. For further information on zar spirit refer the above discussion.

3. Exorcising through the smoke of dung fire. If a person is recognized as being attacked by evil eye and show certain signs, such as biting his/her lips, the relatives do the following to get rid of the spirit. They tie the victim’s left thumb with string. Then the patient will be made to breathe the smoke of dung fire that enables him or her to speak in the spirit of and voice of his attacker. The attacker asks for compensation and leaves shouting that he has left when he gets it. Then the family is able to exorcise the devil and the patient recovers.

4. Another method of exorcising the Buda spirit needs the presence of the attacker. If a family recognizes that the patient is attacked by the Buda spirit and suspects who the attacker is, they call both the Buda and non-Buda people to one place and ask them to spit saliva on glowing axes or any metal, a sickle or knife blade. When the Buda spits the patient will get relief and be cured (cf. Reminick 1985:179f).

These four methods of diagnosis and exorcism of a Buda spirit are traditionally accepted norms to get rid of the evil spirit. In these complex traditions we can see the operation of evil spirits, both as possessor and exorcist. The spirits demonize people and enable them to hurt others. In another case one kind of evil spirit effects the exorcisms of lesser spirits.

Demonization is not a new phenomenon. As I tried to illustrate above, involvement in demonization ceremonies shows that there are deliberate demonizations. The participants prepare themselves to be demonized. The spirit can reward them something for a while but at the end, inflict them with sickness or dangerous condition. Then the demonized people seek for possible help and come to Church where the spirit is exorcised.

A Christian explanation of the anthropological descriptions about ‘zar’ and ‘evil eye’ is that they are oppression of evil spirit under different names. The only solution to the problems caused by the spirits is given in the Scripture.

Demonization is not limited to a specific area, tribe or religion. Professor Tormod Engelsviken, a former missionary to Ethiopia, observed correctly when he says: ‘although the frequency may vary, reports of possession are found among most if not all tribes, in all areas of the country and in all religions, including traditional religions, Islam and Ethiopian Orthodox Christianity (Engelsviken 1991:83)

The confrontation between Christianity and traditional religion is on the level of power encounter. This is continued in the daily experience of the Christian life. The ‘Christus Victor’ is the experience of Christians. Most prayer meetings, and individual prayers, concentrate on rebuking of the evil spirits.

Prayers are offered for protection against evil. Worship and thanksgiving songs are sung because God overcomes the power of darkness. The victory songs are particularly emphasizing that Christ is victorious over all kinds evil spirits. This shows how much attention Christians in Ethiopia give to power encounter. The struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms (Ephesians 6:12).

3. Where to find the demoniacs?

In several cases the demoniacs are brought to prayer meetings, be it in the church, open air meetings, conferences, or house prayer groups. After being attacked by an evil spirit non-Christians search for possible cures available around them. They consult the seers (or Qalichas), who can tell them the method of getting relief from the spirit. The Qalichas ask for some sort of payment either in cash or kind, mostly in kind. The victim may try as many ways as possible to appease the spirit and get permanent relief. But the relief is only for a while. This forces the victim to search for another means of cure. Modern medicine is not applicable to the cure of the demoniacs. As a final attempt the victim either comes by himself or is brought by families or an immediate neighbor to the prayer meeting.

4. Symptoms of ‘demonization’

Various symptoms could be mentioned from several dialogues with the demoniacs I have seen throughout my past experiences.

(i) Physical symptoms

Most demoniacs suffer illness when they are under the control of an alien, evil, and hostile spirit. As it is in the New Testament, we have seen that demons can effect muteness (Matt 9:32f; Mk 9:17; Lk 11:14), blindness (Matt. 12:22), self inflicted wounds (Mk 5:5), fever, headache, and stomachaches. Demons can give ability to ignore pain or having pain with no physical cause. These sicknesses have no medically discernible cause, and do not respond to medical treatment.

(ii) Mental disturbance

I adopt some of Moreau’s list of symptoms that are also observed in Ethiopia. They show ‘unnecessary fears, unusual dreams or hallucinations (especially frightening and/or recurring ones), and mental problems that do not yield to normal treatment such as depression. Extreme sexual perversion, unnecessary self-accusation, hearing sounds (footsteps, noises, commands) that no one else hears, especially near the person at night. Extreme passiveness, overwhelming fear of evil, extreme confusion, cloudiness of thought and unusual or inappropriate emotional reactions such as laughter, sadness, crying, anger,’ etc. (Moreau 1990:152) are characteristics of the demoniacs that show they are under the control of other power.

All forms of exaggerated passions, addictions to commit sin, temper, anger, quarrelsomeness and domineering personality. This behavioral change result in actions that are beyond the norm of the society. Screaming, crying, eating sour leaves, going out naked, and all deeds that are ethically evil are symptoms of demonized person.

(iii) Supernatural abilities

The demoniacs get the ability to speak in the language they have not learned or even heard. There are several reports from different regions where the demoniacs speak in the language not used by the victims in their normal state. It is not only speaking in tongues but also the knowledge of facts hidden to the demoniac or to the exorcist.

Extraordinary strength is one of the characteristics observed, e.g. tearing chains, lifting things that naturally are impossible to lift, etc. A change of voice occurs, for example a woman speaks in a man’s voice or the other way around, or using animal voices such as those of a cat, hyena, donkey or dog are also observed. Loss of body control, and the avoidance of eye contact, and breathing as if suffocating are some physical symptoms.

(iv) Spiritual symptoms

Demoniacs’ reaction to the name of Jesus is the norm to identify demoniacs among Ethiopian Christians. Loss of spiritual growth and inability to concentrate on Scripture and prayers are some symptoms of demonization. Extreme self-righteousness, vision directing a person to go against God’s will, “spiritual gifts” that are accompanied by negative effects (like depression, doubt…) and a sense of being unique are signs of deceptive work of demons working in demonization.

5. Causes of ‘demonization’

It is difficult to list down the cause of demonization. The following points help us to organize some causes of demonization.

(i) Locality and time: argument from tradition

Ethiopians describe some places as the dwelling places for evil spirits. Ruined houses in which no one has lived for some time is thought to be an area occupied by the evil spirit who attacks any one trying to enter it. Dirty areas, caves, thick forests, and big water falls are suspected as dwelling places that fit the spirits. Midday sun heat is believed as a convenient time for demons to do their activities. Walking in the midday may cause interruption of their activities that result in an attack by the spirits to revenge themselves. Eating delicious food in the sun, or walking in the sun after a good meal may bring demonic attack. These and some more localities and times are ascribed to the evil spirit. This belief is deeply rooted in the culture and influences Christians to some extent.

(ii) Personal involvement

Personal involvement in the occult, Qalicha or zar worship is the major causes of demonization. Any involvement in magic, fortune-telling, astrology, etc. is dangerous. Most demoniacs, who come to Church to get help, were ritual expert or had excessive involvement in the ceremonies related to it.

(iii) Ancestral involvement

Evangelical Christianity is only a century old in the country. Some areas are newly evangelized, while others are not reached with the Good News. Magical abilities can be passed on by means of heredity. Often mediumistic powers of Qalichas and traditional cults can be traced back over some generations in one family.

(iv) Occult transference

There are times when people who get in contact with occult or demonic abilities become demonized. This can be through lying on hands, contact by holding hands, hypnotism, or some sort of magic treatment. There are many life examples of demonized persons who speak in tongues, prophecy, and have the gifts of healing who are exorcised and become free from deceiving evil spirits.

(v) The law of bondage

Sometimes the reason may be a vow that the possessed has taken to achieve some advantage or help in a critical situation. Such a vow may involve a sacrifice to the spirits or the dedication of some pieces of property, e.g. rings, pots, sticks etc.

(vi) Extremes in Emotion

Emotion is not bad by itself. What I mean here is the extreme anxiety can be a cause of demonization. Being frightened by a hyena or lion, having insulted or laughed at an another demonized person, having been alone in the night, or having taken a shower, or bath in river may be seen as a cause of possession above mentioned causes are often heard during exorcism ceremonies.

6. Who Shall Exorcise?

In the third century, the church instituted the office of exorcist to officiate the service of exorcism for catechumens before their baptism. The office of the exorcist is ranked higher than the readers, and is considered members of the clergy appointed by bishop (cf. Canon 26, Synod Laodicea; Canon 10, Synod of Antioch) in Greek Orthodox Church. The exorcist was considered by the church to have the gift of curing those who are demonized. In the Ethiopian Evangelical Churches every Christian can exorcise. There is no special call to do it. The gifts of exorcising powers and principalities are given to all.

III Case study

There is no formula to exorcise demons. It is confronting them in the name of Jesus. I have collected and analyzed twenty cases of exorcism of which only three are presented in detail. The following table shows who the demoniac is, the names of spirit he /she was possessed by, the place where the exorcism took place or where the demoniac came from, the year and approximate age of the demoniac. Out of the twenty cases given below 16 are from my own experience. The rest, four cases (10, 13, 17, and 20) are from reliable informants who had first hand information.

Twenty cases of exorcisms

 CaseNames of spiritPlaceYearAge ca.
1.A baby“High Fever”Boneya19916 months
2.A boy“Dache” (underneath)Boneya1991<15
3.A young girl“Madness”Abdata199115
4.Taye“Evil eye”Boneya1992=30
5.GetachewQalich”Mirkuze Mariam199018
6.A carpenter“Jealousy”Naqamte1984<35
7.A young girl“King of Aware”*Addis Ababa199225
8.A man“Deception”Warqai-Dirre>28 
9.A woman from delivery room“evil eye”Naqamte198430
10.A merchant“Disease”Asosa199530
11.A mother of baby (case 1)“Headache”Boneya199130
13.A lady“Disease”Jato1997 
14.EndashawUnusual reactionAddis Ababa1991>30
15.An adult“Of serpent”Naqamte199735
16.Old woman“Dache”Gara Hudha197938
17.Ex-Solider Fincha’a199738
19.An old lady  1978>40
20.An adult man“Qalicha”Ambalta199645

Key. * ‘Aware‘ is an area name in Addis Ababa

> Greater than, < less than

When we look at the above cases, demonization never depends on the locality, age, sex, or occupation. Six months old baby, or 45 (greater) years old adults are vulnerable to demonic attack. Neither age nor the social status of the person determines demonization. Demonization is not a compensation for social status one lacks in society. All are open to demonic attack if they have no protection against it. The demonic attack of baby (case 1), merchant (10), carpenter (6), former qalichas (5, 20), and small private company owner (14) demonstrate this reality.

As far as the location is concerned the case study given above covers different parts of Eastern Wollega, Illu-Ababora, Asosa, and Addis Ababa, areas that cover central, west and south west Ethiopia. The setting of exorcism was in rural (3,5,16,20), semi-rural (1,2,4,8,11,13,18), and urban areas (6,7,9,10,14,17). These include un-reached, newly evangelized, and evangelized areas.

The exorcism ministry has many implications. Physically the demoniacs become healthy, mentally normal, psychologically stable, and socially accepted person. Some of the exorcisms opened the door to bring Good News to un-evangelized areas. The exorcisms of case 5, and 20 ended up establishing two congregations at Banbachi and Ambalta (EECMY-CS) respectively. In other cases unbelievers who followed the demoniacs to the prayer meetings were attracted and became Christians because of the power of the name of Jesus in which the church does such wonder of delivering people from bondage. The conversion of a Muslim husband (case 10), a sister of the demoniac (7) in Addis Ababa, the surrender of five people to Christ (case 15) at Naqamte, and many more examples show the breaking of the power of demons and the expansion of the kingdom of God.

Evening at Naqamte Congregation /Case 15/

It was evening ca. 6 o’clock. I, together with one of the evangelists of Naqamte congregation (EECMY Central Synod), was at the main entrance of the Church compound. A group of about ten people brought a man chained to a Land Rover Pickup car crying and struggling to hold him down. We stopped and asked what had happened. They told us that something was wrong with him and that no one could hold him, even with ropes. So we brought him to the church to see if we could get help. There was no one in the church to pray for the man. So both of us took courage to do so. We rebuked the evil spirit to be quiet and ordered people to untie his ropes. They told us that the man could escape. But we assured them he would not. Then we ordered the demoniac to walk into the church. We bound the demon not to disturb while we shared the gospel to those who brought the man. All of them were non-Christian neighbors who came to assist his wife in bringing him to the church. So we preached the victorious Christ, not only of the evil spirit, but also of the sins of the people.

Then we rebuked the evil spirit to reveal himself, who he was and why he possessed the man. The spirit claimed that it was the spirit of the serpent (hafura Jawe), and ‘dache‘(literally mean “beneath” in Oromo language). The spirit said that they attacked him because the person disturbed them while they had coffee ceremony in the mid of the day. The spirits claimed that the person broke one cup which made them angry. Therefore they possessed him. In addition, the spirits said the person had no cover or any protection and was vulnerable for their attack. Afterwards, he was also continuously committing sins which the spirit offers him or urges him to do.

The aim of the spirits was to kill the person that evening and make an offering. We all were praying and praising. Those who brought the person were curiously observing what we did. The absence of any devices except the use of the name of the Jesus made special impact on the spectators. We rebuked the spirits turn by turn until they left. Finally the spirit left affirming that it was leaving. The person stayed reclined for about five minutes. Then he stood up wondering how he had come there. Then he realized he was in the church. He went home carrying his rope with which he was tied when he came. He came tied and went home free. The event was practical evangelization for others.

This is elaborated, but gives the whole picture of exorcism. The method is almost the same in all exorcisms practiced by Ethiopian Christians. It includes singing praise and victory songs, reading from the Scripture, prayer and confronting the spirit in the name of Jesus. Dialogue with the spirit is another important part of the exorcism ceremony. It helps the counselor (exorcist) to know how the spirit was operating in the life of the demoniac. The signs and events mentioned by the spirit are affirmed by the victim after deliverance. In some cases the dialogue with the demon is another way to search for other people. Some times the spirit identifies other demoniacs among the gathered people (be it in the church, house prayer meetings or open meetings). There are some exceptional cases where the demoniac may call on other demonized person from far away places.

Morning house prayer /case 13/

Three years ago a group of Christians was praying in a house prayer meeting at a place called Jato near Naqamte (331 km west of the capital). They were conducting their usual prayer meeting organized under Naqamte congregation. Kedir Yasin, who is a converted Muslim, was leading the morning prayer. Suddenly a lady was crying and the spirit in her revealed itself. Kedir commanded the spirit to tell if there are other demoniacs in the meeting. The spirit responded that they occupied a man who was herding his cattle near the Jato river which was ca. half a km. away from where the prayer took place. Kedir commanded the spirit to bring the demoniac from the riverside to the home. The people were praying and praising the almighty God who does wonder. One of the group was watching while the possessed woman was telling how the demoniac was running to the prayer house. Within a couple of minutes the demoniac came shouting that Jesus is tormenting him. They rebuked the spirit and both demoniacs were cured. Similar testimonies are reported from different directions.

There are times when exorcisms of demons are not successful. The prayer and evangelistic team of Naqamte Congregation faced a difficult situation in a given exorcism ceremony.

Consistent fight /Case 10/

A Muslim husband brought his demonized wife to Naqamte ECMY Wednesday prayer (mostly for the sick people) meeting. She had been terribly sick for a long period of time and found no cure. The prayer group tried to exorcise as they had been doing before. But they were unable to do it. The demoniac had extra strength and kicking all who tried to pray for her. The group decided to take time. They set a program for two weeks praying day and night. It was time-consuming, and demanding patience to see the result. The demons got hosts of other evil spirits empowering her to resist the prayer. The prayer group resisted all oppression. After two weeks the demons inhabiting the woman left. She was cured which resulted in the conversion of her husband and many more people of her town (Asosa, ca. 500 km west of the capital) where she was known as a sorcerer.

This is different from the other cases. It was demanding exorcism in many more ways. The result is victory over the evil spirit.

These case studies give different ways and settings of exorcism practiced by Christians in Ethiopia. In all cases the spirit is commanded in no other name than the name of Jesus. The exorcist tells the redemptive work of Jesus on the cross. The blood shed on Cross is also one means of threatening evil spirit. Whenever the blood of Jesus is called the demons shout that they are burned, troubled, or tortured. The first case shows the ordinary type of exorcism practiced quite often. The second one is rare. Calling the possessed from a far away area and exorcise the demon is a rare event. But it is sometimes done in newly evangelized area as a power encounter. The third event indicates that it is not always an easy task to exorcise demons. It requires prayer and intercession for a long time.

Not all exorcisms are successful. The cure of a man called Alemayew who was possessed for a number of years and acted as mad was one life example for Christians and non-Christians who live in Naqamte town. The congregation took the responsibility to give him holistic ministry for about five years. But after five years of normal life he was possessed and became mad again.

IV Contemporary Challenges

The following points are some of the challenges behind which the forces of evil are operating today in our country.

1. Challenge of syncretism

The ties to old tribal religions are not totally broken. Some Christians believe in suppressions. For example, belief in the power of ‘evil eye’ is still strong. ‘Fortune’ is one of the common suppression practiced also among some Christians.

2. Challenge of the right practice

Traditional practitioners use certain techniques to exorcise. This traditional elements influence Christian practice of exorcism. Slapping the demoniac and torturing persons attacked by ‘evil eye,’ pouring cold water on demonized people, etc. are remnant of the old tribal religions practiced by some Christians. The request of violent action of the spirit to prove exorcism needs reconsideration. It is neither grounded in the Scripture nor benefits the person. Rather the spirit can cause harmful damage against its former host as the revenge of its departure.

3. Follow up

Because of the religious freedom various sects with extreme views about evil spirit are growing in number. Some of them deny that Christians can not be possessed. In reality Christians that are baptized and confess their faith are seen possessed. Demoniac attack is not limited to non Christian. The fast numerical growth of Church membership and the luck of trained man power for proper teaching is a challenge Evangelical Churches are facing.

4. The revival of tribal religions.

The right of practicing the tribal religion has tempted some to go back to their former practices. This tribal religions have rituals that invite demons. Encouragement from the political parties to revive the old tribal religion as means of getting acceptance is a real challenge.

5. Political systems.

Political systems behind which the evil is acting is another challenge we are facing in Ethiopia. Famine, war and environmental destruction are the conditions that the regimes were bringing. Drought, as Dr. Seyoum once said, does not translate itself directly to famine if the people have enough reserves, and if the distribution of resources including food materials is fair

5.1 Great famine struck during Menelik expansionary war to the south in 1896 and Haile Selassie’s fight with Ogaden and Eritrea in 1973/74 resulted on the loss of millions of people in the country.

Similar famine attacked many more people when the Derg was waging war against opposition groups and protected war in different parts of the country in 1984. Today over eight million people are threatened with famine as the country is fighting with the neighbor country, Eriterea. The war cost millions of dollars each day when millions of people are starving. The war caused the massacre of hundreds and thousands people that is the highest record since World war II. I don’t know for how long the sad images from our country appear on the western TV screens to get humanitarian assistance.

5.2 The massive fire that consumed hectares of forest in the southern areas is one of the bad news shared globally some months ago. These areas of calamity are Bale and Borena in Oromia; Qoreleh in Ogaden; Malagawondo and Meme in Sidama; and scores of areas in the west as in Benishangul. The students who demonstrated against the government’s handling of the fire crises faced hostile response. Four students in Ambo, three students in Dembi Dollo were killed, and some schools were closed for some days.

This fire caused not only the death of some students but the imprisonment of some farmers, and the loss of particular mammals living in the forest.

5.3 The encouragement of ethno-national conflicts through the division within national

communities, religious and regional dimensions attacked the social structure of the country. This division is brought to church and it has negative impact on the unity and mission of the church in Ethiopia today.

We have to be reminded that ‘the god of this age’ (2Cor.4:4) prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour (I pet. 5:8). His aim is to exercise power over men and women, control, and lead them either to deny its existence or to believe and submit to it. The practical walk with Christ involves battle against Satan’s deception. Our responsibility is advancing the kingdom further through breaking the power of darkness.


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1. In this context ‘Ayana‘ refers to spirt.

2. Debtera is Cantor, scribe, poet, un ordained member of the clergy who is well educated in the Ethiopian Church rituals, literature, and scripture.