40: Mormons, Demons, and Exorcisms

Clay hosts with a discussion with Amy and guest panelist, Dennis, about the Mormon approach to demons, possession, and exorcism.


Saints of Sage and Saddle—Austin Fife
Newel Knight Exorcism–1830
An Address to all Believers in Christ—David Whitmer, p. 64-65
Heber Kimball’s mission experience
Contest with Evil Spirits by H.G.B., from Early Scenes in Church History, eighth book of the Faith-Promoting Series
A demon haunted mission

Ferracuti, S., Sacco, R., and Lazzari, R., 1996, Dissociative Trance Disorder: Clinical and Rorschach Findings in Ten Persons Reporting Demon Possession and Treated by Exorcism, Journal of Personality Assessment, 66(3), p. 525-539.

Pfeifer, S., 1994, Belief in demons and exorcism in psychiatric patients in Switzerland, British Journal of Medical Psychology, 67, p. 247-258.


Books Mentioned
The Vatican’s Exorcists: Driving Out the Devil in the 21st Century—Tracy Wilkinson
Switching Time: A Doctor’s Harrowing Story of Treating a Woman with 17 Personalities—Richard Baer
First Person Plural: My Life As a Multiple—Cameron West
When Rabbit Howls—Truddi Chase
Eros and Evil: The Sexual Psychopathology of Witchcraft—R. E. L. Masters


  1. JD

    Did anyone see the article in Deseret news ‘Former model leaves the runway for her faith’. What’s intriguing is that this LDS “Christian” model is photographed with a cross around her neck. A little subtle PR to help the church look “Christian” you think? For a church that is supposed to be led by a prophet, they sure do allot of following.

    Reply May 29, 2013 @ 20:38:11
  2. JD

    Very informative podcast. Thanks. You might be interested to know that the same type of rhetoric went around evangelical circles. A pastor once told the story of delivering a lady from demon possession and during the exorcism he asked the demon when it had entered the lady. The pastor went on to “cast out” the demon (so he claimed), and talking to the lady afterward he ask her “did you know you had that demon since you were 8 years old?” He claimed the lady looked at him and gasped stating “That was when I was baptized in the Mormon Church.”

    Reply May 30, 2013 @ 18:16:34
    • Clay

      Ha! Interesting, JD! Thanks for the input and story.

      Reply May 30, 2013 @ 18:25:33
  3. Scott

    Great podcast. I worked at the old Tooele hospital back in the 90s. It was spook central. We had the hospital and hooked on the back was the nursing home, and both were right next to the cemetery. But a recurring story was when one of the residents was getting ready to die in the nursing home was that they would see a little boy that would be hanging around. I always felt that this child was there to give comfort to those passing on. It’s nice to think of a child as a comforter.

    Reply May 31, 2013 @ 04:01:49
    • Clay

      Thanks, Scott, for the feed back. Ghost-Child = both spooky and comforting indeed!

      Reply May 31, 2013 @ 08:53:21
  4. JennWestfall

    I was not expecting this podcast to take the turn that it did at the end. I think the idea of depression and mental illness and the church should be a podcast in and of itself. That was my favorite part of the podcast by far. It is so hard for people to accept that the brain is an ORGAN–it fails, like the liver, pancreas, heart can all fail. As stated on the podcast, no one really expects a diabetic to will themselves out of being diabetic. Nor can a diabetic control their insulin levels by being more righteous. I don’t know why this does not extend to brain diseases. If you ever do a podcast on mental illness, and the church, etc., I would LOVE to be on it!! :)

    Reply May 31, 2013 @ 07:01:09
    • Clay

      Thanks for your input, Jenn. I agree that a “Mental Illness and Mormonism” could be an entire podcast itself and it would be a good one. I’ll put it on the idea list and include your name as a possible panelist.

      Reply May 31, 2013 @ 08:55:51
  5. Matt Brewster

    When you guys were talking about ouija boards (is that how you spell that?), it reminded me of a bizarre experience that happened at a friend’s house when we were about 10. You all have heard of the Bloody Mary incantation? Well, I think about 4 or 5 of us young boys took a break halfway through watching Stephen King’s “It” and decided to go into the bathroom to try out Bloody Mary. I felt it wasn’t something we should be doing, but it seemed fun. We turned out the lights in the bathroom, said it three times or whatever, and I don’t really have a way to explain what happened after that. I know I’ll sound crazy, but I remember us all panicking and a knife blade stabbing out of the faucet and the faucet turning on and what appeared to be blood gushing out. We all screamed and ran out of the bathroom. It was very vivid and real in my mind. I’ve always been a pretty level-headed guy and didn’t have a super vivid imagination for things like that as a child. So I can’t categorize it as mental illness at all, but I guess you could explain it with they hype and excitement we were all feeling. Not really sure. But whatever happened, it was a real, scary, powerful experience.

    Reply May 31, 2013 @ 09:36:12
  6. Matt Brewster

    I also wanted to echo in on this belief that we are being influenced by devils and demons. That’s a really scary though, which I think is useful for some people in trying to get out of a certain mindset. My mom recently brought this up with me, saying that we don’t know, but there could be dozens of devils that are real and assigned to each one of us, trying to bring us down and influence us with negative thoughts. Never mind the fact that I’m a gay Mormon who has been struggling with that, getting forced to leave a job at BYU for related ecclesiastical issues, trying to reconstruct a broken life Mormonism gave me, and myriads of other things, including family clinical depression that could be affecting me. My mother did recognize these things, too, but really thought that perhaps it was enabling devils to influence my emotions. For me, however, professional psychological therapy and medication have made a real difference. I agree that there is much danger in wanting to be better than the mental illness/depression and trying to will yourself spiritually to beat it, as Amy stated.

    Reply May 31, 2013 @ 09:55:30
    • Clay

      Thanks, Matt, for both of your comments.
      In regards to the Bloody Mary experience – I agree that not all encounters with the mystical (whatever the actual cause) can be attributed to mental illness. The brain is a powerful organ and perception is a complex issue. I also don’t like it when people attribute all visions to hallucinogenic drugs…! Our mind acts in ways that are fantastic sometimes.

      Reply May 31, 2013 @ 12:03:33
      • Greg Rockwell

        I think it’s also helpful to remember that memory itself is highly malleable and that the shift in our memories is completely out of our ability to perceive.

        You remember things differently over time, but you experience an illusion of continuity.

        Reply Jun 02, 2013 @ 14:12:47
        • Greg Rockwell

          As an example with which we are all familiar, I think it HIGHLY likely that Joseph Smith’s memories of his “visionary” experiences evolved over time.

          He started with a story about Nephi coming and telling him about the Indians in America.

          Then that became Moroni.

          Then later on, it as an angel.

          Then it got earlier in his childhood and became Jesus.

          THEN, in 1838, it was God AND Jesus!

          (Then, it changed again…)

          Since he didn’t have all of the (highly spaced out) source material to reference, I doubt he was even aware of how the story was changing over time.

          Reply Jun 02, 2013 @ 14:27:08
  7. Rod

    Parts of this podcast reminded me of a book I read years ago titled “The Sword of Laban: Joseph Smith, Jr. and the Dissociated Mind” by William D. Morain. I would be interested to know if anyone else has read it and what they thought. Here’s a Google Books link: http://books.google.com/books?id=u5kk7Z9t7qIC&pg=PA235&source=gbs_toc_r&cad=4#v=onepage&q&f=false

    Reply Jun 04, 2013 @ 17:39:07
    • Clay

      I have never read it, Rod, but thanks for posting a link – Now I am interested!

      Reply Jun 05, 2013 @ 15:35:30
      • Rod

        It has been years since I read it but the comments on dissociative identity disorder on the podcast dredged it up. I hope you can find a copy. The Google Books preview does not contain all of the book but perhaps enough so you can decide whether or not to pursue it. Let me know what you think. Good luck!

        Reply Jun 05, 2013 @ 18:07:17
  8. Allison

    I suffer from sleep paralysis and it is terrifying, especially when it happens the first few times and you don’t know what it is. My first incident was as an adult and I can only imagine the terror it would invoke on a child like Amy described it for herself. Sleep paralysis is still commonly attributed to demonic sources by people entrenched in the mysticism of their religious beliefs. When explaining this experience to other people, I have often related it to the story of Joseph Smith being overtaken by Satan in the grove. They may think I’m a little crazy but it puts it in a context that they can understand.

    Reply Jun 08, 2013 @ 12:17:44
  9. Matt

    Here’s that meme mentioned in the podcast. It’s great: http://www.quickmeme.com/Good-Guy-Lucifer/popular/1/?upcoming

    Reply Jun 13, 2013 @ 19:07:02
  10. scott

    I think that it is crazy now, that I used to beleive in them. I was taught that they were the third of the hosts of heaven that rejected Jesus’ plan for Lucifer’s, and that they were so pissed for not getting a body, that they spent the last 6000 years tempting mortals to do bad things (schizothrenia anyone?). I was taught that when someone gets drunk or take illegal drugs, that they become posessed. John Bytheway taught this, and my seminary teachers. repeated it. There is also that story of the LDS general authority (I dont know whom) that claimed he saw a vision of countless demons gathered to attack the Logan temple. I was taught as a child in Sunday school that we always were surrounded by these demons. My mom claimed that as she accompanied my great grandma at her deathbed that my great grandma rebuked my grandma into leaving her room because my grandma was surrounded by evil demons. I heard one story of a excorcism conducted at church, and when I was on my mission, a family from Utah, called us to their home to conduct an excorcism, because the wife was hearing voices in her head. By this time I was skeptical, thinking it was schizophrenia. But, I still conducted an exorcism via Priesthood blessing and rebuking the “evil spirits” into leaving.

    Reply Nov 10, 2013 @ 16:45:22
  11. M.A.

    Unless you have been through what Dennis described his wife going through, I highly suggest being very careful how you discuss it. As one who has been through something similar, there is no simple way to summarize it. If you have not been possessed by a demon or the devil yourself, you have no idea what that is like. It is a power far beyond what a person could create with the mind. If you have not been diagnosed with a serious mental illness, please do not pretend to know what you are talking about – especially regarding medication. I highly suggest visiting madinamerica.com or the icarus project. Medications for these disorders are not the same as medications for diabetes. It is over-simplification to assume that psychotropic medications work on the brain like insulin works for diabetes. Please, please, please become educated from the perspective of those who have actually experienced these things. We actually have great capacity for understanding ourselves and others that people often discount, since we appear to be “crazy” at times. My experience of darkness has taught me more about light and reality than any discussion or sermon ever could.

    I disagree with Matt Brewster. I believe I can overcome what has been labeled “mental illness.” I am more than it, and having spent over a decade being obedient to psychiatrists and doctors (and a few of the many therapists I have seen), and their view that I would have a lifelong disease (a number of diagnoses, actually) . . . well, it was a learning experience . . . but I finally realized that those medications were actually killing me. I have been medication-free for years now, and my mind is finally clear enough to actually heal the original trauma – some of which includes the effects of growing up LDS in Utah. While the LDS culture has certainly damaged me, the medications and mental health system have damaged me more. They have only served to numb me and attempt to make me feel less than human – far less than human.

    Being possessed or having a diagnosis of mental illness does not mean that we think we are inherently bad. A lot of us are aware that being abused by someone can split our mind apart in ways that allowed us to cope and function. Many of us know we are good at the core. There is not a black and white answer. It is both spiritual and mental, as well as highly emotional. The depth of trauma experienced by those who have been severely abused – especially sexually or spiritually – is evil. I know this as a therapist, and as one who has experienced these things. I know this, having been raised in the LDS church, and having questioned every aspect of what I know about it (based on my life experience). I am still questioning it, but not denying that there is a higher power involved. Until you have been reduced to nearly nothing yourself, you can only speak of God and Satan and demons intellectually. At the most, you can speak as Dennis, from the standpoint of someone who truly cares for the one afflicted. But it is still not the same as being the person afflicted with serious mental/spiritual/emotional disorder.

    Your discussion, though well-intended, still has an “us” and “them” feeling about those experiencing these extreme “mental illness.” We are human too. We are real. And our experiences are valid responses to what has happened in our lives, just like yours are for what has happened to you. I did feel your attempt to be inclusive and show some understanding – thank you – but in the end I wondered why you didn’t ask someone who has experienced these things to be part of your discussion.

    The word is “dissociative” – not “dissassociative” – by the way.

    Reply Dec 02, 2013 @ 23:42:40
    • Clay

      Thanks, M.A., for taking the time to comment. We appreciate your input and listenership.

      Reply Dec 03, 2013 @ 05:39:58
  12. Reb

    @Greg Rockwell

    Actually, Joseph Smith’s visions were completely steady. The “inconsistency” in people he saw that you’re describing were simply all different instances. He had multiple visions; one being the “Angel Moroni”, another being “God” and “Jesus the Christ”. He never had any mention of seeing Nephi though, so I don’t know where you got that one from. Nephi is simply a book in the Book of Mormon, so you may have gotten confused by that. A bit more research may be needed before throwing alleged inconsistencies around.

    Reply Sep 14, 2014 @ 18:03:04
    • Clay

      While you have aptly pointed our the official LDS position, recorded history does not favor your interpretation.
      In regards to Nephi, there were recorded accounts that Joseph saw Nephi instead of Moroni. The apologist answer to that is conveniently that it was recorded incorrectly.
      A bit more research may be needed by you before you start throwing accusations at us. We are not perfect and have made mistakes in the past (and will in the future), but the things you point out are not among them.
      And as always, thanks for listening to Mormon Expositor!

      Reply Sep 14, 2014 @ 19:05:58
  13. Spryduck

    Yeah, i should probably apologize for my part in the MTC demon scare back in fall 1992. We had no idea that anyone could be that gullible. In hindsight, maybe running around late at night in the service tunnels under the MTC while banging on the metal access doors (two rooms on the lowest levels had these covered by carpet under the bunk beds) yelling, “Elders, this is satan! I’m coming for you!”, wasn’t the greatest idea. Many arms were squared that night.

    Reply Sep 08, 2015 @ 15:27:07

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