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Art and Images in Psychiatry |

Exorcism: The Miracles of St Ignatius of Loyola Peter Paul Rubens

James C. Harris, MD1
[+] Author Affiliations
1Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, Developmental Neuropsychiatry, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, Baltimore, Maryland
JAMA Psychiatry. 2014;71(8):866-867. doi:10.1001/jamapsychiatry.2013.2747.
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Belief in demons as the cause of mental health problems is a well-known phenomenon in many parts of the world. A Gallup poll reported that 42% of Americans believe that “people on this earth are sometimes possessed by the devil.”3 It was unclear to its surveyors how many people believe this literally and how many interpret it metaphorically. Yet, clearly, many do have such convictions. Thus, exorcism to drive out demons as a cure for mental illnesses is an enduring belief. Its popularity peaked in the 1970s with the release of the film The Exorcist, which dealt with the exorcism of a 12-year-old girl who was “possessed by the devil.” The film is rated as one of the best and most frightening horror films of all time. The horror is the deep and abiding fear that the psyche can be invaded by alien forces that can take over the body and force the possessed to relinquish self-control.

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Peter Paul Rubens (1577-1640), Flemish. The Miracles of St Ignatius of Loyola, altarpiece. Oil on canvas (circa 1617-1618). © Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna, Austria. Photo credit: Erich Lessing/Art Resource, New York, New York.

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Detail of woman being exorcised by St Ignatius.

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