On casting out demons; purifying the polluted soul

With water and light

In the Gospel of Luke, Jesus cures a mute man by driving a demon out of him. The crowds are watching and growing, and he preaches to them about God and the devil, Beezelbub. He tells them that unclean spirits may be cast out of a person, and when they do they will go to a waterless place and wander, looking for other souls to inhabit. If the spirit finds no new place to dwell it will go back to its old home, says Jesus, finding it refurbished. Then, he says, the spirit will go out and bring back seven more spirits more vile than itself to enter and settle in you. So, he says, the person ends up worse off than when he started.

We must be careful of what we let enter our souls, bodies, and minds. We mustn’t let ourselves become a home for unclean spirits. When Jesus performs miracles and heals people in the Bible, they are usually sick both physically and spiritually. Does this mean that physical and spiritual health are bound to each other? Not necessarily; I don’t think all cancer patients are spiritually tarnished any more than the most physically healthy among us are necessarily saints. However physical and mental, emotional, and spiritual health are closely connected, and science is now bringing this to light. Chronic stress is toxic, and those who live with it are more likely to develop all kinds of diseases. Likewise, those who are depressed have weakened immune systems. If you are constantly plagued by negative feelings like guilt or anxiety they will rob you of your energy. Your perspective on life will dampen your spirit and your vitality.

Think of demons as lingering negative emotions and memories — guilt, anxiety, sadness and grief, linked to negative thoughts and negative behaviors, and traumas. These grab ahold of you like unclean spirits inhabiting you, and they are hard to get rid of. If you are able to banish or overcome them, having been prone to them in the first place, you must be wary that they not settle back and reassert themselves stronger than before. You must pay extra attention to maintaining your inner spiritual cleanliness, and not letting demons take over your mind, body, or spirit with sickness.

How can we cultivate and maintain inner cleanliness? Jesus suggests that salvation comes from giving of yourself and giving your possessions to the poor, and from belief in him and the Holy Spirit. When we are feeling low or sorrowful, or even physically ill, it might do us well to clear our minds and pray to the Holy Spirit, and meditate in its light. Secondly, when we can we must be forever generous to those around us, especially the poor, not only in material wealth but to those lacking in mental, spiritual, and physical health, in freely giving our money or things but also our time and our hearts. Next, if we are engaging in harmful behaviors we must make a change and ask for the Lord’s help in curing ourselves, ask for forgiveness, give penance, and if we can, atone for wrong actions by rectifying them or through acts of charity to purify our souls. Change, forgiveness, and atonement can help clear the soul of the pollution that comes with guilt, shame, and anxiety. Sometimes these emotions or “demons” are cast upon us by a judging, prescriptive society, and sometimes it is self-imposed because we genuinely feel we have done harm. Praying to the Holy Spirit and letting Its light flow through you can help you cast out the shadows and judgments of society, clarify your mind, or reconcile your beliefs with those of others. It can also help you heal and forgive yourself for any wrong you have done, and set you on the correct path to change. One polluted by demons will not right wrongs; guilt isn’t to be stewed in or embraced by self-punishment, but an emotion to identify as a signal that we may not be living in accordance with our values, that we have sinned, or that we are on the wrong path. Pray to Mary and the Holy Spirit, for forgiveness and light. Let them cleanse you and cast out any of these demons — guilt, fear, pride, greed — that are lurking in you.

Another way to help purify yourself is to be by water. Jesus says that unclean souls travel to waterless places — so water must dissolve them and restore us. Can any of us deny the feeling of relief when we take a shower, a hot bath, or go swimming in the ocean? Water is associated with healing and reflection in many traditions, and in Catholicism holy water is classically known to drive away demons and purify the soul. This method of purification, while physical, is not divorced from prayer and meditation — as Herman Melville said, “Yes, as everyone knows, water and meditation are wedded forever.”

Salt water in particular has a reputation for aiding all kinds of physical ailments, from tummy aches to infections. A friend once told me a story about how her grandmother got a severe infection on her foot. She lived by the sea, before the invention of penicillin, so her father brought her a bucket full of salt water to soak her foot in every day. Her foot miraculously healed within days.

So, if you find yourself in a situation where demons are tormenting you so much that you find it difficult to give to charity or even pray, look to water to begin the healing process, especially holy water or salt water. If you don’t have access to either of these, consider blessing the water yourself with a prayer. Living by water is also recommended, but even having a hot bath will help relax the body and cleanse the soul of demonic spirits.

After Jesus speaks of unclean spirits before the crowd, he speaks of light, and the light within us.

He says: “No one lights a lamp and then puts it in a cellar or under a bushel basket, but rather on a lampstand so that those who come in can see the light. Your eye is the body’s lamp. When your eye is clear, your whole body is flooded with light. When your eye is clouded, your body is shrouded in darkness. Take care, then, that the light within you is not darkness. If then your whole body is flooded with light, and no corner of it is darkness, it will be completely illuminated as when a lamp’s rays engulf you.”

Here Jesus talks about the light and darkness within us in much the same way he talks about unclean spirits. If we let the light of God illuminate us, unclean spirits, or darkness, will find no place. Pray to the Holy Spirit and meditate in Its light and purity to be filled with its light like a sun illuminating the earth, or an oil lamp ablaze, illuminating your body and all the space around you.

This is how we cast out sickness, darkness, and demons; with prayer, through giving, water, and light. By allowing the light of the Holy Spirit to fill every nook and cranny of our being.

Forgive, give, let joy enter your heart and light enter your soul.

As Jesus was speaking to the crowd, a Pharisee invited him to his house for dinner. Jesus did not wash before sitting at the table, and at this the Pharisee was astonished. Here we see inner and outer cleanliness beautifully juxtaposed. Jesus reprimanded the Pharisee, saying that he was like one who washes the outside of a cup, yet the inside was full of greed and evil. Here again he alludes to the cleanliness of the inner life and spirit. Jesus, unwashed, is not concerned with exteriors as is the Pharisee. Jesus condemns the Pharisees, calling them fools and damning them. He says, “Still, donate what is inside to charity, and then you’ll see how everything comes clean for you.” Here he indicates again that through giving and generosity — the opposite of greed — we can cleanse our souls (wash the inside of the cup) and make ourselves right with God.

Jesus goes on to tell the Pharisees that they neglect justice and the love of God, damning them for their vanity and pride. Certainly, Jesus displays little respect for wealth or authority, nor cleanliness nor appearance, but values the purity of one’s inner life and what one gives to others. His message is clear: giving will purify your soul.