Shouting at Salt

I recently had an opportunity to read some case reporting, about the social worker for a child in Irish State residential care. This was a social worker who allowed a Roman Catholic priest to perform a religious rite using salt (described as an “exorcism” by the manager of the centre) in order to protect the child from “demons”.

The case was reported by the Child Care Law Reporting Project, which is an independent project established under Section 3 of the Child Care (Amendment) Act 2007 in Ireland. The details of the incident that were reported, include advocacy by the guardian ad litem for the child. Without revealing the identities of anyone involved, the context for the exorcism followed a consultation with the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service (CAMHS) and was described as follows:

“The staff asked her would she like to have the room blessed. A priest with a lot of experience with adolescents was contacted.”

The Catholic priest subsequently arrived to perform the religious rite in the room. During the hearing of the case, the social worker for the child described for the judge what then took place.

“The social worker said there had been holy water and a circumference of salt. There were holy medals in each corner of the room … [The child] was quite frightened by the ceremony. The four archangels of the Catholic faith were asked for protection, the girl felt safer for a while, unfortunately her hallucinations re-occurred.”

 The guardian ad litem for the child sought an inquiry into the incident. Asked by the judge what his attitude would have been if such a ceremony had been suggested at the child-in-care meeting, he said he would have had serious reservations.

“She is very unwell. Hallucination was part of her mental health. It was not part of her religious belief. I feel it would be the wrong intervention to deal with that. A lot of children see manifestations. This is the first time I ever heard of such a ceremony in the bedroom of a child.”

In response to the call for an inquiry from the guardian ad litem, the solicitor for the State health service stated:

“You said, ‘this does not have a place in an enlightened modern culture.’ … but people bless cars and houses.”

I don’t want to comment on this specific case, but in general terms, it is worth noting that the use of salt in connection with “exorcism” has been longstanding within the Roman Catholic Church. It is not surprising that a Catholic priest would bring salt to any location or event, at which he intended to protect a person or a place against “demons”. For example, the Roman Rite includes the following “exorcism” and blessing of salt:

“O salt, creature of God, I exorcise you by the living (+) God, by the true (+) God, by the holy (+) God, by the God who ordered you to be poured into the water by Elisha the prophet, so that its life-giving powers might be restored. I exorcise you so that you may become a means of salvation for believers, that you may bring health of soul and body to all who make use of you, and that you may put to flight and drive away from the places where you are sprinkled; every apparition, villainy, turn of devilish deceit, and every unclean spirit; adjured by him who will come to judge the living and the dead and the world by fire.”

The Roman Catholic Church also uses salt for the blessing of specific places. For example, within the blessing of places designated for sacred purposes, the following “exorcism” of salt is included:

“God’s creature, salt, I cast out the demon from you in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, who said to His apostles: “You are the salt of the earth”; and through the Apostle says: “Let your speech be at all times pleasing, seasoned with salt.” May you become a sacred thing for the consecration of this altar, to drive away all temptations of the devil. May you be a shield for body and soul, health, protection, and a safeguard for all who use you; through Christ our Lord.”

This is superstitious gibberish. The Roman Catholic Church should recognise that there is no evidence that “demons” exist, and therefore no evidence that imaginary “demons” have any role in causing hallucinations. Nor is there any evidence that “exorcising” salt by shouting the words above at it, gives it any additional properties relevant to the treatment of hallucinations. It’s amazing that in 2017, we’re still discussing the efficacy or otherwise of shouting at salt. There is no evidence that people with hallucinations can be protected from imaginary “demons” by having a priest construct a circumference of “exorcised” salt. That Catholic priests continue to engage in such activity, merely highlights how superstitious much of Catholicism is.

John Hamill.

Exorcism and Salt
Exorcism and Salt

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