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Exorcisms: Catholic and Tibetan

Disclaimer: This work has been completed as an educational tool for students of history, religious and paranormal studies. The author wishes to discourage any use of this work in conjunction with paranormal field investigations of demons.

Presented by Kyle T. Cobb, Jr. to the audience of Dragon-Con 2014

Nos tibi credere.

A  Literary History

“The exorcism is repeated as long as necessary until the possessed is fully freed.”

Next the priest is encouraged to do The Canticle of our Lady, with the doxology; the Canticle of Zachary, with the doxology.

The Rite is concluded with the Athanasian Creed, which is a basic summary of the beliefs of the Catholic faith, and a final prayer of deliverance.

As mentioned earlier the entire ceremony takes about 25 minutes if the exorcism portion is done once. The intent is that the exorcism is repeated many times and it is not uncommon for a session to last 12 hours or more.

Beyond the simple exorcism we have just discussed, Chapter III of the Roman Ritual Part XIII-Exorcism, also contains a special general Exorcism against Satan and all Fallen Angels.

Exorcisms of Tibet and Nepal

In trying to understand the Tibetan exorcism rituals it is important to understand the religious aspects of Tibet. In Tibet, Buddhism has existed alongside and merged with ancient shamanistic tradition. The resulting Tibetan Buddhism is now filled with rituals that are both Buddhists and shamanistic in nature. Old gods are now the demons and evils that haunt the population.

The Tibetan term for demons is Bdud. The term Gto means to “expel.”

Gateway to possession

Like some sects of Indian Buddhism, Tibetan Budhhism has a strong belief in ghosts and demons. According to most traditional legends, there is a ghost world that parallels the human world. After death, the ghost is freed from the body. After a period of uncertainty, it may choose to enter the ghost world or remain in the intermediate Bardo state.

The Bardo realm is the doorway between worlds. From Bardo, you may enter into reincarnation, the ghost world or achieve Nirvana. If the ghost does not enter one of these 3 states, they will eventual simply end. While in the state of Bardo, mean or selfish ghosts are left in a perpetual state of “pain or hunger.” These “ser na” (which means yellow nose) are in a constant state of wanting to consume but they can no longer eat and therefore can not satisfy their hunger. This perpetual hunger drives the Ser Na to try to possess the living to feed.

Four ways to stop demons

The Tibetans believe that there are 4 ways to stop a ghost or end a possession:

The phurba is the ancient ritual dagger that is used to destroy spirits. It can be used to stab the spirit directly and as a result either absorbs the spirits energy and destroys it or forces the spirit to be reincarnated.

A spirit trap is a kind of yarn spindle mounted to the outside of a house or to a tree. The spindled is wound with a variety of colored interwoven yarns designed to catch the attention of spirits nearby. The spirit becomes fascinated with the colors and then trapped within the spindle. The spindle is then burned to destroy the spirits inside.

Gouduojie is the Tibetan Ghost Exorcism festival held on 29 December. Tibetans traditionally clear their houses on this day and then carry torches and recite the words of exorcism.

For Tibetans, the direct exorcism begins with the suspicion of demonic affliction called the rnam-rtog.  The spells and chants are traditionally composed of two parts:

The exorcists, usually a Paju shaman, leads the two part invocations to help reinforce social rules. Obey and prosper. Defy and be destroyed.

Once divination confirms the target to be possessed, the removal of the demon is started with the construction of an effigy on the victim. Blood or red wine is poured over the effigy as a red offering and substitute. There is a chant from the exorcist…

“Take the meat and go…”

After the demon is believed to be within the effigy, the surrogate is carried outside the village where it is then shot with arrows. The arrowed effigy is then thrown over a cliff where the chant promises a landslide to take the demon away.

As a second phase of the Tibetan exorcism rite, the Paju performs a ritual to banish the Sri demons that may be waiting to attack. The Sri demons are the escaped inhabitants of the Gurung underworld of Khro-nasa. For this ritual, small dough animal effigies are placed in a tray. A thin layer of white ash is placed on the tray and the covered by black ash. At the head of the tray a dog’s skull is placed to hold the trapped demons. All fires are put out as the chants are recited.  With the room is re-lit, the ashes are examined to see if there are demon footprints in the ash. The process is repeated over and over in hopes of capturing the demon. If the demon tracks are found, then the skull of the dog is taken to ritualistically destroyed.

As part of the destruction ritual. A phurba is used to cut a small hole in the ground. The paju then says:

“Through the crack you see nine levels. Below that is an ocean in which there is a nine-headed serpent demon (klu gi bdud) who is a prisoner of his evil deeds… He has a crocodile’s body and a dark ugly face with his mouth emitting poisonous vapors.”

The priest then lowers the trapped demon in to the hole. The chant then says that the demon will be pressed down by the mouth of the servant demon and trapped.

The philosophy of not actually hurting the demon directly is key to the Tibetan idea on non-violence and their cultural detachment from the actual act of killing for food.

Yet this is not always actually the case.

There is a class of Tibetan demon called the death demon.  A popular exorcism ritual used to stop the death demons is called the za-dre kha sgyur. In these rituals, the Paju directly threatens the demon with harm from the wrathful form of Buddha. If the demon fails to leave, the victim is ritualistically purged with the use of a special phurba to force the demon out of the spirit world. While some of the Paju assert this is a “higher rebirth” other Lama assert that the demon is destroyed.


 Another key exorcism rite used by the Tibetans in the Gyasumdo is the expelling of the 3-headed black demon, Nag-po mgo gsum. This ritual is performed annually because the Paju believe that once a demon has arrived, unless it ascends it will periodically return.

The exorcism begins with:

 “Among the eight trigrams some have become friendly, others enemies, and the planets and the nine numerical squares are fighting. By doing so, they send harm to us. Fight then develops among us and property deteriorates.”

For this ritual an effigy of the demon’s host is made to trap the demon. The dough of the effigy has the nine numerical squares of the Tibetan astrological chart and 8 religious trigrams added to it. Signs for the 7 planets are also added. These symbols are believed to attach the demon and then temporarily trap it in the effigy.

The effigy is then threatened. Chants are used to draw any other demons in the area into the effigy. The effigy is encased in a small structure to represent the house it attacked. The structure has bamboo crosses on the top with five colored threads in concentric designs. The demon is trapped inside the construct with the placement of a fence of wooden knives to seal it in. The entire trap is then placed at a crossroad to ward off any traveling demons from passing the intersection as a Zor ward against demons.

The story of the Nag-po mgo gsum is actually a story of what happens if you fail your dharma and how karma exacts revenge on the wicked.


Another Tibetan exorcism rite of note is the Gcod or severance rite. Unlike all other exorcism rites, the Gcod instead of binding the demon and repelling it, encourages the demon to enter freely and feast on the body of the ritual performer. The rite calls on the goddess Ma-gcig slab-sgron (ma-cig lab-dron) to cut up the body and distribute it among the swarms of demons the ritual attracts. Once the demons are satiated, they leave and take the anger, passion, ignorance and ego with them. The self sacrifice of the Gcod pays the Karmic debts of those at the ritual buy paying the demons with self-sacrifice.

Man Chinni exorcism

A Man Chinni exorcism is typically used when it is determined that a bad spirit has possessed a victim, causing anti-social behavior or unusual physical complaints.

The term Man refers to the heart/mind and loosely translates as Consciousness, Imagination or spirit-soul. In terms of the Man Chinni, "Chinni" is a verb (chinninu) and in this case it means "to break apart" or "to untie, sever, or cut through."

In combination, Man Chinni means to sever the hold of the malevolent spirit from the patient's soul.

The Laagu Chaapya occurs when a malevolent spirit (laagu) holds onto or sticks to heart-mind of a person. The term laagu is a broad diagnosis category that includes all types of malevolent spirits causing a person to suffer. Generally, these demons are believed to be kept as pets by sorcerers that “feed’ and keep them. So while these demons cause suffering, they are directed by the magic controlling them.

Before a shaman will agree to perform the Man Chinni, they must first confirm that the problem is caused by a malevolent spirit and not by a simple medical issue. One of the key marks of a possessed person is uncontrollable shaking.

If the shaman determines that the problem has arisen on its own (aph se aph), that is spontaneously, they will advise the patient to seek a medical doctor.

If the problem is determined to be caused by a spiritual attack, a minor healing ritual called a puja is performed. These minor ceremonies take between 5 to 10 minutes.

The Man Chinni ceremony is always held at night and involves the use of ritualistic drumming. There are four primary ritual acts included:

The ceremony begins with the shaman facing east as the shaman starts singing and drumming to the deities and the spirits. The song is usually improvised and changes with each ritual. The shaman uses a small altar called an asan that includes:

an incense bowl

Finding the source of the problem

The first part of the Man Chinni ritual involves coercing the attacking laagu to take possession of the patient so that the shaman can determine its identity and reason for attacking the person. The priest sits cross-legged, knee-to-knee with the patient while playing the drum.

The priest speaks kindly at first saying:

 “Come here now. Don’t be shy. Who are you? Why are you bothering this person?”

At this point, the shaman will offer the demons food or begin drumming in the four cardinal directions to draw the laagu into the drum. Once in the drum, the demon then goes back into its host. The victim will began shaking. This ranges from a mild tremor to violent quaking.

The possessed is surrounded with white rice to trap the spirit inside the host.

The exorcist will challenge the possessed with the phurba and demand “Speak now. Shame on you for spoiling the person.” If the spirit doesn’t respond, the shaman will threaten the demon with something like “If you don’t tell us what we want to learn, I will put hot coals in your mouth… If you do not talk now, you will never talk again… You will suffer so much, you will welcome death.”

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A Tibetan phurba

A Tibetan spirit Trap

A Sri Demon

za-dre kha sgyur, a Tibetan death demon

3-headed black demon, Nag-po mgo gsum

Burning a spirit trap during the Gcod festival

Exorcisms 5

The shaman blowing a Mantra during the Man Chinni exorcism.

The Asan altar used as part of the Man Chinni exorcism.

The shaman threatens the demon in the Man Chinni exorcism.