A recent Government report claims that satanic abuse is a figment of the evangelical imagination. Rachel Storm, who has studied exorcism, asks if some Christian fundamentalists also go too far in their enthusiasm for 'casting out' spirits...
THE ATMOSPHERE INSIDE the Christian healing centre is that of an out-dated doctor's waiting room. The helpers speak in hushed voices, the air is musty, and the light shining through the window shows up dancing specks of dust.
At length, the heavy silence is broken by the steady, rhythmic sound of a woman's voice issuing from behind a closed door on the top landing: "Out under the power of the cross of Jesus and the blood of Jesus... Get out under the cross of Jesus and thc blood ofJesus... Get out... Get out... Out in the name of Jesus. Out in the name of Jesus. Get out. Get out... Out under the power and love of Jesus... Out under the power and love of Jesus... Out... Out... OUT" Then all is quiet once more. A door slams and a tall, grey-haired man in a striped shirt, sleeves rolled up, appears.
The Rev Andy Arbuthnot's bearing still betrays his former career as a merchant banker, a profession he left in late middle-age to pursue the Christian ministry full-time.
He apologises for the delay the young man he and his wife Audrey are busy exorcising has proved a tougher nut to crack than they first thought.
He disappears again but within half an hour, their mission is, he says, accomplished.
Inside the deliverance room, a crucifix lies on he floor, another hangs on the wall and a goblet of red Dubonnet stands, half empty, on a desk.
"John" sits on a settee, his head bowed and face averted. Tattoos cover his arms and neck, his hair is shaggy and he twitches and jerks as he speaks. Three hours after his exorcism had begun, he looks exhausted.
Earlier that day, John had taken the train up from the south coast, convinced that his one line of hope lay in Andy and Audrey's ministry; he was confident that, with their help, the evil spirits he could feel battling for his soul would be put to flight once and for all.
Exorcism is the ministry of binding and casting out evil spirits. While it might seem to belong to the superstition of the Middle Ages, it is in fact thriving and even on the rise in the late 20th century.
Since taking over the London Healing Mission in 1983, Andy and Audrey have been struck by the huge rise in demand for deliverance from evil spirits.
These days, they say, nine out of ten people they deal with are troubled by them. The couple often find that not just one, but a whole hierarchy of spirits must be expelled from a person. On one occasion, Andy found he was casting out unclean spirits at the rate of one every 25 seconds.
Bored by the procedure, he began to cast them out in bundles. "I will always know when an unclean spirit has • come out because the person will cough or sneeze," he says.
According to Andy, before exorcising John, "We prayed down the Holy Spirit on him. For about an hour, the Holy Spirit was very powerfully on him you could actually see a type of radiance."
Then, allegedly, the demons began to manifest themselves.
Andy describes how the young man began screwing up his face in pain, then relaxing, then once again manically contorting his features.
While the Holy Spirit was on him, John had, says Andy, been given the ability to name the spirits which were allegedly infesting him. Among the evil entities which apparently made their exit were the spirit of death, the spirit of fornication, the spirit of Jezebel and Lucifer.
The London Healing Mission is held in high regard by many Christians and yet the exorcism of John failed to meet many of the guide-lines laid down by the Christian Deliverance Study Group.
Founded in the early 1970s, the CDSG trains Christians from a variety of denominations including some Catholics about the ministry of exorcism.
It advises that the exorcist "Beware of finding demons because you are looking for them, or because the client believes they are involved."
As an Anglican, Andy Arbuthnot should also have followed the guide-lines set down by the House of Bish
ops in 1975. These state that the exorcism should be done in collaboration with the resources of medicine, with the minimum of publicity and by an experienced person authorised by the diocesan bishop.
The reason why so many exorcists ignore guide-lines and regulations seems to lie in their belief that they have been given the gift of the discernment of spirits and must act on it.
The gift of discernment of spirits is one of the gifts of the Holy Spirit which the disciples received at Pentecost. It is the gift which exorcists refer to time and again when asked how they know whether or not someone is possessed: they simply "know".
The upsurge in the interest in the gifts 9f the Holy Spirit began in the 1970s with the rise of the Charismatic Renewal Movement. Alongside the Charismatic Renewal Movement, the House Church Movement also took off in the 1970s.
Members of the House Church Movement seek to return to a type of Christianity which they believe existed in the time of Christ.
This includes a firm belief in the existence of evil spirits and the need to cast them out of people. The rise of both these movements does much to explain the apparent rise in exorcism.
Some of today's House Church leaders haveeen known to cast out the sp. .lt of obesity, the spirit of felt' of spiders and the spirit of addiction of headache pills. The leaders have "discert ed" that the aforementioned pirits were infesting people For the people at the receiving end of exorci ms, the process can be extre ely upsetting especially if they continue to be afraii of spiders: to their way of thinking, the exorcism must have failed and they rerjaain
When such "exorcisms" appear to work, however, many Christians believe they give concrete evidence of the reality of Jesus.
As such, exorcism is a powerful recruitment tool, "proving" Christ's power. This explains why many Christians use exorcism as a tool for evangelism.
Given this current upsurge in evangelical Christianity, it is no surprise that exorcism, too, is on the rise.
"Exorcists: The Terrifying Truth" by Rachel Storm is available frmn Harper Collins at