Ethiopia has a diverse culture. The semi-modern lifestyle in the capital of Addis Ababa contrasts dramatically with the sometimes-barbaric tribal rituals of the native Africans in the rural and remote areas. These rituals include force-feeding females before marriage to fatten them up in order to make them more desirable and scarification of young girls to supposedly make them more attractive. Plates are used to stretch the lower lip and earlobes.
Christianity influenced Ethiopia from the beginning of the Christian religion. At the Bible (Acts 8:24-40), it says that Phillip baptized the first Ethiopian during the first century A.D. The Ethiopian Orthodox church was established in the fourth century.
Superstition runs rampant in Ethiopia, where it is thought that those who possess the “evil eye” can put a curse on another person. Possession by demons is considered possible according to the African traditions as well as Christianity. Ignorance of the root causes and symptoms of physical and mental illness creates a belief system where many people with illnesses are falsely thought of as cursed by demonic possession.
In Ethiopia, the ancient African traditions and Christianity create a hybrid form of rituals that are used by priest/shamans to rid a person of demonic possession. This is a serious business, requiring a costly donation to the priest or shaman (called a “Qalicha”) in order for them to perform the exorcism ritual. Many Ethiopians undergo these exorcisms because if they do not get rid of the demons, it means they will be ostracized from their family/tribe and perhaps killed by their own family members.
15. Ritual Indoor Exorcism Setting
Exorcisms are performed in Ethiopia both indoors and outdoors. They can be a singular affair or the priest may exorcise demons from a large group. When the demon possession is severe, this requires the personal attention of the priest/shaman. The exorcism may last many hours while the priest chants holy phrases to compel the demon to leave the body of the affected person. The priest also continuously sprays the person with holy water.
Usually, the demon that has control of the person puts up quite a fight. At first, it refuses to leave. This causes intense agony for the person who is possessed. They screech and scream when sprayed with holy water or if the priest touches a cross to their forehead. The scenes are very dramatic just like in the Exorcist movies, with lots of writhing about, except the person usually does not levitate or have their head spin completely around like in the movies.
If one looks closely at this photo, there is a person under a white sheet lying on the floor. This person is the one who had a demon removed. He or she stays on the floor until feeling strong enough to get up and go home. The priest has already left because the exorcism is complete.
14. Outdoor Exorcism Ritual
In this photo, we see that a woman who is possessed needs to be restrained by three men while the exorcism ritual is performed. The possessed individual can be very physically violent. This is the reason for the restraints. One man stands on each side holding each arm and another one stand behind her, embracing her body to hold her in position. The woman performing the exorcism, who is shown on the left side of the photo, is drenched in holy water for personal protection. The priest placed a pendant, with a cross on it, around the neck of the woman who is possessed.
When the holy water was applied, she screamed out. She thrashed about to trying to break free. Some have been known to bite the men restraining them. In this case, the men held fast. She was not able to escape or harm anyone else. The possession was eventually defeated and removed.
13. Removing The Curse Of The Evil Eye
This photo shows a part of the traditional Ethiopian ritual to remove the curse of the evil eye. Ethiopians who follow this tradition say that they would rather kill their own children than have this type of curse. That is why any young man of marrying age must undergo this cleansing ritual before they are permitted to take a bride. The ritual is a type of dance where the young virgin women pass their purity onto the young men.
The real trouble with this evil eye curse in Ethiopia is that it can happen at any time. All that is necessary is for someone who has this evil power to simply look at a person with the intent of the evil eye. The superstition got reinforcement by the Christian commandment not to covet your neighbor’s wife, his house, or any of his possessions.
The Biblical commandment means not to be jealous of others; however, the Ethiopians took this to mean that simply looking at someone the wrong way could put a curse on them, causing them to have bad luck.
12. Eastern Orthodox Church
The Eastern Orthodox Church is the oldest and most popular form of the Christian religion in Ethiopia. Missionaries attempted to bring other denominations such as the Lutherans and Mennonites, however, they only achieved a small following because they did not come to the country until the 1830s and were not permitted to venture into the interior parts of Ethiopia.
In the third century, the Eastern Orthodox Church created the “Office of Exorcist” to assist people before baptism. The clergy of the Office of Exorcist rank higher than regular ones. The exorcist priests have the power to remove demonic possession. The ritual is complex. The priest wears special garments and robes for protection from the evil spirits.
In contemporary times, in the Ethiopian Evangelical Churches, they believe any Christian has the power to exorcise demons. They use lots of holy water to anoint themselves and the crowd. They also drink the holy water.
11. Mursi Tribe
The woman in this photo is from the Mursi tribe of Ethiopia. They practice a “beautification” ritual where they pierce the lower lip and insert a peg. Over time, they continue to insert slightly larger pegs until they can stretch the lower lip opening enough to accommodate a plate. The same technique is used to stretch the earlobe.
The bottom teeth of the females are knocked out to make room for the plate. The stretching continues as increasingly larger plates are put in the loop of the lower lip to extend it as much as possible without tearing it. Just like dentures, the plates can be taken out at night, when sleeping, for more comfort. In a country where these types of practices still exist today, exorcism seems to fit right in.
No one really knows how this tradition started. It has been handed down, generation after generation, and the women of the Mursi tribe do not question its validity. The practice is encouraged by the Mursi men, who indeed do find this particular look, of lip and earlobe plates, very attractive.
10. Photographic Evidence Of Demonic Removal?
Photos, taken at the Ethiopian Evangelical exorcism ceremonies, purportedly show the demons being cast out of the person’s body in the form of a ghostlike white/blue energy spirit. This “demon spirit” can be seen in this photograph as the white and blue cloud coming out of her back just after she was doused with a huge amount of holy water.
To us, it looks more like there is something out of focus in the foreground caught by the camera. It seems like it is a person wearing a white and blue shirt or someone is holding a water bottle that is partially caught by the camera lens. It is out of focus because of the depth of field. Maybe she is screaming because the holy water that is drenching her is too cold?
9. Cross On The Forehead
The Ethiopian cross is a Byzantine style which is very ornate and has lots of filigrees. The designs may have many intertwining metal sections that consist of smaller crosses. The Ethiopian cross is unique in that the style of creating one is the same; however, no two crosses are made alike. It is intentional that each and every Ethiopian cross be a unique piece of artwork.
The reason for this is symbolic. The Ethiopian cross represents both Christianity and the Tree of Life showing nature in all its marvelous variety of forms. Priests will pass their personal cross down to the next generation of priests by selecting a successor to continue to use the cross when they retire. Some of these crosses, which are used for the exorcism rituals, are quite old. It is thought by the Ethiopian people that the older crosses gain strength over time by defeating so many demons.
8. Presence Of The Holy Spirit
This photo supposedly shows the presence of the Holy Spirit in the spray of the holy water. Amidst the droplets of the sprayed holy water, two distinct objects can be seen. One looks a bit like a corkscrew entering the head of the man who is demon possessed. The other object is higher up in the air. It somewhat resembles a white dove in flight.
The white dove is the Biblical representation of the Holy Spirit. According to the Bible when Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist in the River Jordan, a white dove came down from the heavens and alighted on him. This made John the Baptist recognize Jesus as the long-awaited Messiah in fulfillment of the Biblical prophecy.
The Ethiopian Evangelicals believe that anyone who is “filled” with the Holy Spirit has the power to expel demons from any other person. They are quite happy to see the presence of the Holy Spirit in the holy water used on the crowd.
7. Shaman Versus Priest
In this photo, the Shaman (Qalicha) is shown on the left. On the right, is an Ethiopian Orthodox priest. In the center of the image is an African mask that would be used by a sorcerer. A sorcerer may work with either black or white magic. Sometimes a sorcerer may use a combination of both types of magic.
When presented with a demonic (a person possessed by a demon), a Shaman first evaluates what will be the best way to remove the evil spirit. After receiving a substantial amount of money, the Shaman explains the method he or she will use to defeat the demon and rid the person of possession.
The Shaman may use a series of magical incantations, combined with prayers, touches by the cross, and holy water. A Shaman may take on possession of a stronger spirit in order to defeat a weaker one. In Ethiopia, these are called “Zar” spirits.
A Shaman practices for many years to allow the Zar Spirits to possess him or her. The Shaman must still be able to control the outcome, even when possessed, in order to achieve the exorcism of the demon. Then, the Shaman returns the Zar spirit back to whence it came because the Shaman has control over it.
6. Attire of Ethiopian Priests
Ethiopian Orthodox priests wear very ornate costumes for public ceremonies and festivals. It is almost as if they are inside their own, very small, protected space that separates them from the rabble-rousing crowd.
The attire of the clergy from the Office of Exorcist is just as ornate, except the design of the exorcist costume is made specifically to thwart any attempts by the demons to possess the priest. The priest reads the exorcism ritual while protected inside this box-shaped costume. The priest does not look at the person possessed by the demon. This type of costume is probably also used as an attempt to avoid coming into contact with the evil eye.
To use the evil eye on someone effectively, the person attempting to use the curse must be able to stare at the victim directly for a long time. It is thought in Ethiopia that if they stare long enough at a victim directly that the person will die. This is one reason why the elder priests shield themselves from the crowd by staying in these boxlike costumes when they go out in public.
5. Expelling Demons At Funerals
When an important person dies, the members of their extended family and those from the community, where they live, all gather to hold a candlelight vigil. The mourning for the deceased person lasts three days. Drumming and chanting are used to drive away any evil spirits that attempt to capture the soul of the recently departed.
Family members cry out loudly, calling out the name of the deceased person. They beat themselves in the head and hit their chests. Women relatives may tear their hair out, scratch their faces, faint, and throw themselves to the ground. Men continue to chant non-stop. Some tell stories about the one who died, giving that person as much praise as possible.
4. Spirit Worship
The tribes in Ethiopia who follow the ancient traditions believe in spirit worship. There are both benevolent spirits and maleficent spirits. The benevolent ones need to be encouraged in order to have good luck and the evil ones need to be expelled.
The signs of demonic possession include physical illness and mental disturbances. The illnesses may not have any discernible cause and the person does not respond to medical treatment. Mental disturbances include having overwhelming fear, hearing sounds or voices that others do not hear, extreme confusion, and sudden outbursts of emotions that are inappropriate for the circumstances.
Another practice by the Mursi tribe and others like the Surma tribe in Ethiopia is scarification. This is a technique of leaving permanent patterns by scarring the skin. It is usually the young girls who undergo the harsh process to be completely “decorated.”
These patterns of scars on the skin are thought to be beautiful as well as offer protection from evil spirits. Elder men of these tribes think that plain skin on a young girl is ugly. Additionally, by going through the painful process of scarification and not showing signs of fear or reaction to the pain; this is sign of emotional maturity of the young women. This means she is ready to take on the painful challenge of childbirth.
2. Zar Spirit Exorcism
The Zar spiritual practices have two types. The one for females is called Conversion Zar and is based on the worship of the fertility goddess, Atete. The one for men is called Seer Zar.
Women from the Amhara tribe and the Oromos tribe want to be possessed by Atete when they want to become pregnant and have healthy children.
To invite possession, the young woman prepares special food and sometimes an animal is sacrificed. If the spirit accepts the offering, the woman becomes possessed. Under possession, she may fall down, speak in different languages with a different voice, climb trees and not come down until begged to do so. She may also harm herself by eating broken glass or hot embers from the fire. She may cut herself with a knife.
The possession may last a few hours or up to three days. Others who participate in the ceremony sing songs, dance, beat drums, and beg the spirit to be pleased so as not to hurt the young woman.
In Seer Zar for men, the man summons a spirit to possess him that he is able to control. In this state, he can do many things like predict the future and expel lesser demons that have possessed others. The singing and dancing in the frenzied ceremony are meant to keep the Zar spirit from harming the man.
1. Forcing The Demon Out
When the holy water, chants, and prayers are not enough to compel a demon to leave a person’s body, the shaman/priest may physically force the demon out. This is done by holding the possessed person’s mouth wide open while demanding the demon leave the person.
It is said that when the demon exists the body of the person, it looks like black smoke coming out of their mouth. We could not find any photos of this claim. Supposedly, the person breathes out the dark energy, which disappears like a wisp of thin smoke in the air. Sometimes, they vomit up dark blood.
Even if outsiders do not believe in exorcisms and some strange rituals, a lot of the Ethiopian people do. Since exorcisms in Ethiopia are no longer restricted to the rites that are performed by a few Orthodox priests, there has been a massive increase in exorcisms in this country.
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