Demonic possession can be considered by some, as well as the religious response to it – to purge the body of the devil that occupies it – as a phenomenon of archaic belief, depending on a certain historical soil, rather tinged with obscurantism. Today, however, there is a clear increase in the number of cases[1] and a more massive appeal to exorcists to treat this invasion[2]. In fact, when we listen to them, we notice an increase in requests. The phenomenon is becoming so widespread that the Church has recently developed a procedure that allows lay people to respond to requests for prayers of deliverance, i.e., those that fall under the heading of “small exorcism” because the “big ones” can only be performed by priests appointed for this purpose. This is new and represents a real revolution, especially since the Church itself is very divided on this question. A contemporary debate then, that of the devil and exorcism? On the contrary. Our history is punctuated with episodes in which Satan plays a central role, but no one can deny that to address an exorcist priest in our modern society, rather impregnated with capitalist discourse and science, may seem, at first sight, paradoxical.

Thus, and to say it quickly, it may seem at first sight astonishing to note a recrudescence of cases of possession over the last fifty years. Indeed, at a time of triumph of capitalist discourse and science, how can we not be surprised by this subjective position which may seem a little archaic? And yet, this ancient way of being in the world, since possession has always existed and in the four corners of the planet, allows the subject to lodge himself in the contemporary social link suffering today from a collapse of the Name-of-the-Father which is horizontalized and no longer tutorizes the subject with ideals. Moreover, nowadays, contrary to the time of Freud, the malaise of our civilization is no longer of the order of the lack of enjoyment but on the contrary marked by an injunction to enjoy without limits. We have passed from an interdictive society to a permissive society, without Absolute[3]. From now on, everything is possible and the contemporary subject must find solutions to deal with this excess enjoyment that invades him. Lodging under the signifier of possessed is part of the solutions that can be found, insofar as the nomination gives a know-how with jouissance and allows a certain form of social link in which to inscribe oneself without forgetting the function that it has in a society. Therefore, would it be so surprising, at a time of “generalized psychosis”, to notice such an upsurge of requests for exorcisms?

We put forward the hypothesis that the possessed subject comes, with his subversive discourse, to disturb this attempt at the normatization of jouissance and to guarantee an elsewhere of jouissance, beyond its inscription in manuals of the good jouir, while making himself the guardian of the Other’s place. As for the question of the decline of the paternal function, we would say that there is reason to operate a partition between its ideal and its function. No longer a head of the family but a multitude of small others in community. Nevertheless, his function is no less assured, with one “flat” exception. In the sixties, Lacan wrote that “The true function of the father is to unite (and not to oppose) a desire to the law[4]“. Today, we could say that the neo-fatherly function is to unite a jouissance to the law. Thus, as Anne Beraud summarizes it “Today, (…) the modes of jouir are infinite, without exception or master. The conditions of the structure of the subject are redoubled by the deficit of symbolic transmission[5]“. We would add that today there is indeed a deficit of symbolic transmission but that a relay has been taken in another register, that of the transmission of a know-how with the real of jouissance. Consequently, if the capitalist discourse is dominant nowadays with the effect of a domination of the regime of jouissance and not desire, there is a consequence for the subject which is that of the foreclosure of the things of love and gift.

In short, the contemporary world offers a beautiful career to Hermes, the god of messengers, the translator. In his excellence in becoming “the ferryman of jouissance”, will he take over from Oedipus, whose desire is being diluted?

Image: Extract from the work of Luigi Borro, La liberazione dell’ossesso, (1850), Galeria dell’Accademia, Venezia.

[1] There were 10,000 Satanist groups in the world in 1946. There were 135,000 in 1985. In 2007, there were 25,000 French Satanists, an increase of 300% in three years, according to the 2007 report of MIVILUDES” according to GOLFIER. J-B, [Thesis] “The devil, strange servant of God for the salvation of men. Tactics of the Devil and Divine Healing in Saint Thomas Aquinas”, ICT/ISTA Toulouse, 2018, p. 523 (electronic version)

[2] Published in the Swiss Catholic Portal, article of 24.04.2018 par Raphaël Zbinden : site :, consulted the 19 of march 2019.

[3] MILLER. J-A, The Lacanian Orientation III, An Effort of Poetry, teaching delivered in the framework of the Department of Psychoanalysis of Paris VIII, lessons of 21 May 2003, unpublished.

[4] LACAN. J, “Subversion of the subject and dialectic of desire in the Freudian unconscious” (1960), Écrits, Paris, Le Seuil, 1966, p. 824.

[5] STEVENS. A, BRIOLE.G, HOLVOET.D, Staples and inventions in ordinary psychosis, Montréal, Le Pont Freudien, 2018, p. 2.