Exorcist.

This word conjures theatrical images of spinning heads, demonic voices, and levitating objects, but the truth behind what these chosen priests do in their daily lives is both more frightening and more touching than anything depicted in film or literature.

In the context of Roman Catholicism, exorcism is a ritual meant to drive out, or drive away, an evil spirit that has attached itself to a person or place. While the priest uses prayer from the official Rite of Exorcism as a guide, he does not have to follow it directly. Every victim’s situation is different, and so no two exorcisms look alike.

These evil spirits, according to the Catholic Church, are fallen angels. We often know them by their more popular name: demons. The word “demon” is derived from the Greek term “daio,” which means “to divide.” And with the intent of demons being to separate as many human beings from the love of God as possible, they live up to the name.

Demonic possession occurs when someone comes under the internal influence of a demon, where it can directly compromise a victim’s thought and action. Demonic oppression, which is less dangerous, occurs when that influence is external, wherein the demon creates feelings of unease and illness. The Rite of Exorcism handles both.

We all know what this looks like in the movies, but what does an exorcist actually do in the real world? What are their lives like? What drives them to pursue their profession, and do they really believe that their work helps people?

Let us descend into the realm of exorcism, and find out what it’s really like to be an exorcist of the Catholic Church.

Their Lives Aren’t Always Exciting

The first thing an exorcist will tell you is that their daily lives are nothing like what Hollywood depicts. The reality is both tamer and stranger.

Requests for exorcism have soars in recent years, and so many exorcists find themselves with a backlog of victims waiting for their help. And unlike what you might expect, the majority of these exorcisms are completely uneventful: a victim arrives, is prayed over, thanks the priest, and leaves after scheduling a follow-up appointment.

In many ways, the ministry of exorcism looks almost normal from the outside. People come in complaining of symptoms, thoughts, or actions that they cannot explain, and without any theatrics, the exorcist helps them.

This may seem tame, but it highlights a strange and frightening truth: demonic possession and oppression are far more subtle than many think. Film and literature play up the effects because art must sometimes lie to better tell the truth. And in this case, the truth is that demonic activity can look quite normal. It can quietly bring ruin as it redirects the course of an entire life, slowly and without theatrics.

Looking in from the outside, it is easy to think that possession and oppression are either not real, or not worth addressing. But exorcists know the truth: just underneath the seemingly mundane veil of their everyday lives is a battle for the souls of the victims they help.

The Exorcist is the Most Skeptical Person in the Room

But despite knowing the importance of the spiritual battle they face, a major part of an exorcist’s everyday life involves skepticism.

There is one attribute, above all others, that the Catholic Church looks for in selecting its exorcists: discernment. An exorcist must be able to quickly discern whether a victim’s problems are truly related to demonic possession or oppression, or if another route to healing should be taken.

Every exorcist knows that exorcising a person who is suffering from a natural ailment isn’t just useless—it’s downright dangerous. That’s why exorcists are trained to be the most skeptical person in the room.

This means that, before an exorcist even thinks of performing the Rite, he has the victim thoroughly evaluated by a trusted psychologist and a doctor. If the problem is natural, the priest leaves the rest to medical professionals.

If these professionals determine that something beyond the natural world is affecting the victim, the ball returns to the priest’s court. It is then—and only then—that exorcism can occur.

Many exorcists are faced with an unending number of people seeking relief from everyday issues. They blame their employment on demons, or their aching joints on evil spirits. But if an exorcist takes these cases, he gives these people false hope. This is why every exorcist exercises the utmost discernment in their everyday lives.

Sometimes, Things Get Downright Terrifying

The everyday life of an exorcist may be filled with the normal duties of a priest, and marked by fairly uneventful exorcisms, but sometimes, things get kicked up a spiritual notch.